Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Spread the Light

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Many of us who read the Yated live in neighborhoods comprised only of our co-religionists. More and more of us have a diminishing degree of regular contact with people who differ from us in religious beliefs, values and lifestyle.

One fallout of this situation is that we have little or no concept of what is going on in the big world out there. We see our frum communities constantly growing and expanding, and we imagine it is that way everywhere.

We tend to forget that Jews are a shrinking minority in the United States; many of us are unaware that Jews are on the way to becoming only 2% of the American population. We don’t realize that even among that two percent, according to recent surveys, only 15% list Israel as one of their top three concerns.

As strange as it sounds to us, it is a fact that Jews in America are overwhelmingly more concerned about a liberal social agenda than they are about the survival of Israel. With intermarriage hovering in the 50% range, Jews are less concerned with propagating the race, than with preserving a woman’s right to choose.

The results of the presidential election underscored this sad reality. Over 75% of Jews voted for John Kerry. Besides casting doubt on their intelligence, the broad endorsement of Kerry points to the great divide between the frum community and the secular Jewish one.

The latter’s primary concern was electing a candidate with the best chance of promoting an agenda that sanctioned if not encouraged “alternative lifestyles” (code for morally deviant behavior). They wanted a candidate who advocated positions on many other issues as well that are absolute anathema to traditional Jewish belief.

Last week, the United Jewish Communities General Assembly was held in Cleveland where over 3,000 Jewish machers attended. Many of you have never heard of this event —the convention of the Jewish Federations. Once a year, all the local federations assemble and ponder the future of the Jewish people and how to disburse the millions upon millions of charity dollars they amass throughout the year.

All the major players in American Jewish communal life attend the get-together. The Jewish newspapers across the county report on the convention as if earth-shattering events are taking place there. In attendance are cores of prominent secular Jewish “leaders” who speak in the name of Judaism and are widely quoted on all Jewish matters.

Typical of their momentous agenda was a major controversy that took place at the gathering. Delegates grappled over whether to send Bush a letter congratulating him on winning re-election. Their devastation at his re-election still has them reeling.

Where Do The Billions Go?

Since 1990, the federations have spent over one billion [with a b] dollars on a potpourri of programs to enhance Jewish life. What do they have to show for it? Do you really think that the Anti-Defamation League’s efforts to stamp out anti-Semitism have made a real difference? Has the American Jewish Committee’s many activities promoting the liberal agenda made Jews in this country safer? What has the World Jewish Congress done to strengthen Jewish practice here?

Yet they and many like them appear before different federation boards, make their pitches, fill out grant applications, use the right code words, and voila, the money flows. JCCs peform an important function, and it is very nice that federations support hospitals and a variety of social service groups. But how many of the federation communal charity dollars go where they are most needed to perpetuate Jewish belief and practice—the key to the continuity of the Jewish people?

If you are the administrator of a struggling Jewish Day School in New York, forget about wasting your time going through the process of applying for a grant. In addition to not being inclusive and pluralistic (today’s code words for accepting all students without regard to their Jewish status and religious commitment), you are too dogmatic. You are too Jewish. Your school teaches Torah, the eternally binding word of G-d and authentic Judaism; instead of a hodge-podge of stories and feel-good customs.

Never mind that authentic religious education is what has sustained the Jewish people throughout millennia. The secular Jewish leadership at the head of the powerful American Jewish organizations finds this very hard to handle.

If you run an outreach program for American youth at risk on the corner of 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in New York City, you stand a much better chance of getting a grant. After all, you are contributing nobly to the greater public good, not catering selfishly to your community’s narrow interests.

It is astounding to read of the colossal waste of Jewish money at the hands of secular Jewish organizations. By contrast, the federations at least represent the Jews who, while they are not religiously committed and are misguided in many of their policies, still maintain a Jewish identity and care about Judaism’s survival.

While pondering the misguided judgment of these groups, let’s also think about ourselves. The federations lavish millions upon millions of dollars for causes they hold dear. They gather and pontificate over how to achieve their goals. They lecture and issue press releases to the world about their lofty objectives and accomplishments.

What do we do? We know what the truth is and are committed to it. But are we doing all we can to support and enhance the growth of Torah in this country?

It is very disconcerting to fight daily battles virtually alone, in order to keep a mosad alive. It is so lonely and discouraging when you are fighting heroically to stay open and make a difference in Jewish lives, and no one seems to care.

The Menahel who is forced to spend his time borrowing from Ari to pay Avi in order to keep the teachers from going on strike, has a hard time marrying off his own children because he can barely make ends meet on his meager, late-arriving salary. It is almost impossible to support his own family on it—let alone his married children.

The Mechaneich who teaches Hebrew in the morning, English in the afternoon and tutors till his vocal chords and patience collapse at night - as his wife works admirably to keep the house clean and the children happy – shouldn’t have to feel that his sacrifices and dedication are unnoticed and unappreciated.

The Kollel member who exemplifies everything he was taught and is blessed with an equally idealistic wife who wakes early every morning for the daily commute to her 9 to 5 job, wonders how much longer he can hold out.

The lonely young man who runs a community Kollel and Kiruv center exerts a serious impact upon his surroundings, but when he appeals to us to help him and his wife spread Torah in the hinterlands, we shrug him off with a small check.

The unsung heroes know they will persevere and promise to never give up, but day by day the promise gets harder to keep.

What are we doing to help them?

Why is it that yeshivos and organizations of good will go begging for dinner honorees? Why is it that we discover the Mitzva of humility only when we must invest money and hard work for a good cause?

Why should it be that an edifice of Torah like Bais Medrash Govoah of Lakewood cannot find honorees for its annual dinner? How can you say no to a yeshiva that in size and output of Torah-learning surpasses all others in modern history? How can you tell the Roshei Yeshivos that you have other obligations? How can you tell 2000 Kollel people that there are some things more important than the meager rations the yeshiva honors them with?

Alone But Standing Erect

“Vayivaseir Yaakov Levado, Vayeiaveik Ish Imo,” Yaakov was all alone and a man wrestled with him until morning. Chazal explain that “the man” referred to here was Eisav’s angel. He was unable to subdue Yaakov and satisfied himself with hurting his “Gid Hanasheh.” At daybreak, when it was time for the angel to leave, he blessed him, saying, “From now on your name will no longer be Yaakov, it will be Yisroel.” The malach refused to tell Yaakov his name and with that he was gone.

We all know that Maaseh Avos Siman Lebanim. In the darkness of the Golus, men of faith are lonely. People attack us, try to tear us down, but if we remain faithful to the Torah and hold strong to our ideals, we can survive all assaults. All through the ages, wherever Jews have found themselves, we have been targeted for destruction. Through the merit of our forefather Yaakov, as long as we were true to the mission of Yisroel we were spared. We have been bruised, just as Yaakov was, but we have remained standing long after Eisav—and those who fight his battles in each generation—have disappeared from the scene.

At times it can be lonely and difficult holding up the banner of Torah. We are in the minority and always forced on the defensive. Sometimes Eisav appears in the guise of a brother; sometimes he sends his men to do his dirty work and at times he appears himself. We have to be prepared to do battle with him and his fan club. We have to be prepared to be lonely and unloved.

It is only when Yaakov is “Levado” that he survives. It is only when we stay apart from the Eisavs of this world that we can survive and prosper.

But the Bnei Yaakov have to join and work together, we have to support each other with more than pachim ketanim. Instead of being reactive in our public comments, we should be pro-active. We should look for ways to help support and spread Torah in our communities. We should join forces and seek out Talmidei Chachomim who need support. What about setting up organizations to help mechanchim survive? Why must those who dedicate their lives to the survival of the Jewish nation live barely above the poverty line?

Parents are over-taxed, tuition is a huge burden, but there are ways we can each raise some money to help struggling hard-working people hold their heads above water; make Yom Tov; and marry off their children.

If we really care about Torah, we need to show it by supporting those who labor in its vineyards far from the spotlight. There are noble and valiant people among us who are barely holding on. There is grandeur in what they do and how much they accomplish, but we hold them in low esteem perhaps because they lack a certain polish. Is that right or fair?

Just because the Talmid Chochom struggling to make ends meet lives around the corner, and not in some distant place, doesn’t mean there is no Mitzva to help him out.

Look in the paper and see the ads calling on you to help families who can’t make it. Don’t wait until they collapse. If your neighbor is struggling to make ends meet, make an extra effort to show them compassion and find a way to channel some assistance their way.

There are so many ways we can help people who are doing G-d’s work, but the first thing we have to do is care. We don’t need to raise millions of dollars and we don’t need federated organizations to carry out our obligations. We don’t need bureaucracies and fancy paperwork, but there is a lesson to learn from them.

It was reported last week that the UJA of New York will be giving $1.8 million to establish a so-called leadership institute for directors of reform and conservative synagogue schools. 40 school directors will have to participate in two extensive 10-day training sessions. They will also have to attend six one-and two-day seminars over the next three years. The institute will culminate with the predictable trip to Israel in January 2006.
We sit with mouths agape at the waste of almost $2 million dollars and think about what a difference that kind of money would make in the lives of heimishe mechanchim. But is there anything stopping us from going out and raising some money in our world for our people?

While not every one of us can raise six digit figures or close to it, we can help out in small ways. Picking up the phone and asking a few friends to give something small to help someone in trouble doesn’t take too much time or cost too much money. Every dollar helps and it shows that we care.

Let’s not just talk about it, let’s start doing something real, now. Every little bit we contribute increases the light in this world and chases away more of the prevalent darkness.

Our actions will help defeat Eisav in all his many guises and lead to the kiyum of “Vayizrach Lo Hashemesh,” for each and every one of us, Amen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

When Will Sanity Rule?

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Jews are baffling. We are constantly amazed when confronted with the world’s double standard. With every reminder that we are in Golus, we are astonished anew. With every new instance of the world’s hypocrisy, we fume and rail as if we had expected a fair deal.

People meet each other and they say “Did you see the way the New York Times wrote about Arafat? Wasn’t it terrible? How can they do that?” Some even send letters to the editor of leading newspapers, bemoaning their coverage, thinking that they will effect some kind of change.

People hear the newscaster on the radio and they get incensed, “Did you hear that? How can they say that? What’s the matter with them?” They call the station and rant at the talk show host, thinking that this way they will accomplish something.
Permit me to let you in on a little secret: it won’t make a difference. The world hates Jews. The world has no use for us. Neither the New York Times, NPR, nor any of the newspapers of note have any allegiance to the truth.

World leaders like French President Chirac, Russia’s Putin and Britain’s Blair made a mockery of the truth in their press statements extolling the world’s arch-terrorist.

Before leaving for Washington to press President Bush into pushing Israel into a new deal with the Palestinians, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, America’s closest European ally, praised Arafat for having “led his people to an historic acceptance of the need for a two-state solution.”

French President Chirac made available the best French medical care for the murderer on his deathbed. The pompous head of state found time to visit his patient and personally ensured that he was afforded the best treatment. He even gave the terrorist a final gift: an official French ceremony befitting a head of state, after his death was finally made official.

John Kerry [remember him?] made it a pillar of his campaign to try to discredit President Bush for not ingratiating himself with Jacques Chirac, the same Chirac who gushed over a mass murderer “as a man of courage and conviction who for 40 years has incarnated the Palestinians’ fight for recognition of their national rights to nationhood.”

Not to be outdone, Russia’s Putin called Arafat “a great political leader of international significance.’’ For Chinese President Hu Jintao, “great” was not good enough. Arafat was “an outstanding leader of the Palestinian cause and ... an outstanding politician.’’

Spain rhapsodized over “Arafat’s charismatic personality, the international status that he gave to the Palestinian nation and his unrelenting fight for recognition for his people…”
At the United Nations, where Arafat once addressed the General Assembly with a pistol strapped to his waist, flags were flown at half-mast as Secretary General Kofi Annan praised him as “a symbol of national aspiration.”

I don’t want to bore you so I will stop here hoping that the point has been made. A vile murderer who made the mass killing of innocents a billion-dollar business is lionized as if he were a heroic world leader.

A joke made the rounds following bin Laden’s emergence as Public Enemy Number One after the 9/11 attacks. America threatened that they would hunt him down and capture him, dead or alive. Bin Laden met Arafat and asked him, “Tell me, Yasser, why is it that we both do the same thing. You blow up planes, I blow up planes. You kill innocents of all ages; I kill men, women and children who are guilty of no crime. Why is it that you get away with it? Why are you invited to leading capitols of the world and treated with respect? Why are you rewarded with peace prizes and international funding and I am hunted down with a price on my head?”

Arafat responds: “You fool! I only kill Jews, you kill Goyim! That’s why I get away with it and you won’t!”

The joke is supposed to make us chuckle but the truth is bitter, so the smile is a bit forced.

We would rather it weren’t so. We would all rather live in a world that is fair, where good and evil are recognized for what they are.

Once in a while, a lone voice of truth can be heard above the din. Somebody writes a column setting the record straight and it gets published on an Op-Ed page. It doesn’t matter if it is in a paper in a small media market; it doesn’t matter that it is unlikely if many people will be swayed by it. Jews find solace when they read something intelligent and correct defending their position in the secular media.
They print and reprint the article and distribute them out in shuls and through e-mails and faxes. As if to console ourselves with the thought the whole world reads our little shul pamphlets and will suddenly be enlightened to the truth about the evil in our midst.

Well, pinch yourselves. Because whoever thinks that the few lonely words of truth describing the real Arafat will gain credence on the world stage is living in dreamland. Such words ease the pain of Golus for us, but we should not lull ourselves into thinking that they carry weight on the scale of world opinion.
Whoever thinks that boycotting the New York Times or writing letters to CNN will change their opinions of Yidden has clearly forgotten last week’s parsha and the eternal rule of Esav sonai l’Yaakov.

We don’t like to be reminded that we are in Golus; we don’t like to be reminded that it is Mipnei Chatueinu that we have to contend with such wicked people and their hypocrisy. We don’t want to be prompted to realize that the way to halt this double standard is to increase our Torah learning and give more Tzedakah to deserving people and causes.

Too many people are so preoccupied with the mundane things in life that they resist the need to ponder life in a more serious way. People whose priority is shopping and traveling derive a false sense of security from hearing a single voice of sanity. Too many people, who live in neighborhoods where the price of homes seems to increase every time you turn around, think that we really belong here.

And then, every once in a while we get a painful reminder that we are still in Golus.
Does this mean that we should just ignore the travesty of anti-Semitism, without trying to counteract it? Must we simply resign ourselves to the double standard?
We have to constantly remind ourselves: Halacha hi Eisav soneih es Yaakov. Letter-writing campaigns may make us feel better but only Divine intervention can bring about a change in world opinion and media coverage.

The hypocrisy we are witness to today transcends the normal levels of social order. The outrageous turn of events and the deification of a monster is so bizarre that it can only be understood as a consequence of Golus. Hitler and Stalin after their deaths were almost immediately demystified and unveiled as the twisted barbarians they were. Not so Arafat. The post-mortem treatment of that murderous fiend is yet another reminder that we are in Golus, the Geulah has not yet come and this is part of what it means to be in Golus.

We can try to reason with the world. But we will be scornfully dismissed. In the world of Golus, justice is stood on its head and all one’s efforts to set things right are ridiculed.

At a very advanced age the Chofetz Chaim decided that he wanted to move to Eretz Yisroel. He went to the local Polish government office to apply for a passport. He was asked his age. When he responded, the clerk then asked him for proof.

The Chofetz Chaim calmly explained to the gentleman that when he was born, there were no birthing hospitals or birth certificates. “I was born at home in a small town. There are no papers nor are there documents,” he said.

The clerk would not be put off. “The rules are that you have to bring two people who can verify your birth date.” The Chofetz Chaim tried again. “Do you realize that I am over 90 years old? How can I find two people from my small shtetel who are still alive and would remember when I was born? It is impossible.”

The apparatchik stuck to his guns, saying, “The rules are the rules.” The elderly sage tried to reason with him. “Do you really think that there are 2 people alive from my little town who would remember when I was born? They’d have to be over 100 years old!”

It didn’t matter. As absurd as they were, the rules were the rules. The Chofetz Chaim had to leave the office without any hope of getting a passport.

As the Chofetz Chaim left the passport office he commented to the person accompanying him that the incident epitomized the essence of Golus.

He added that this began when our grandfather Yaakov Avinu was accused by Lavan of stealing from him, Yaakov Avinu went into a long emotional answer justifying his actions. He explained how he worked in the freezing cold and with the sun beating on him. In twenty years he never missing a day of work and never lost any of Lavan’s sheep. He explained how it was he who increased Lavan’s flock to astounding numbers. Yaakov delineated the progression of Lavan’s rags to riches, proving that it was Yaakov’s sweat and tears that were the true catalyst to Lavan’s success.

But Yaakov might have been talking to the wall, for all the impact his words had. Lavan was unfazed. The explanations were a waste of his precious words. Lavan responded “Habanim banai, habanos benosai…The sons are my sons and the daughters are my daughters and everything you have is mine! It is all mine!”

Lavan has set the standard for how we are dealt with by the nations of the world until Moshiach comes: “I have no interest in what you have to say. It’s all mine. You are a Jew in Golus; you have no rights! Your villains are my heroes, your security is impingement, your land is my land, your wealth is my wealth!”

And though certainly we know that in terms of oppression, this Golus is better than any Klal Yisroel has endured and we are very appreciative of that; But Golus it is. And since it is so comfortable here, we may have forgotten that we are in exile. If anything good can come out of the present situation it is that we recognize that we are far from our home.

In order to work our way out of Golus, first we have to recognize that we are in Golus.

What more has to change for us to wake up and realize the true state of affairs? Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that anyone really cares about the justice of our cause. Let’s think about the causes of Golus and recognize that it is a Halacha that Eisav Sonei LeYaakov.

We recently learned Parshas Vayeirah which tells of the birth of Yishmael, “Vehoo yihiyeh pereh adam, yado bakol veyad kol boh.” The Pirkei D’Reb Eliezer explains the name Yishmael to hint that “Yishma Keil.” Hashem will listen to the prayers of the Jewish people in the period leading up to the coming of Moshiach, when they will cry out from the pain Yishmael’s offspring inflicts upon them.

In the same parsha, Hakadosh Boruch Hu promises Avrohom Avinu that if he and his children keep His bris and follows the mitzvos, they will return to Eretz Yisroel.
“Ahl Tir’ee Tolaas Yaakov, have no fear you lowly children of Yaakov,” who, like a lowly worm, have no physical strength. “Your only true strength is with your mouths, with Tefillah…. “Vegoaleich Kedosh Yisroel,” your redeemer is Hakadosh Boruch Hu.

The road to salvation is through utilizing the Kol Yaakov to pray that Hakadosh Boruch Hu has rachmanus on us and sees fit to send us Moshiach to return us to Yerushalayim. The way to see justice done is by having serious kavana when we say three times a day in Shemonah Esrei: “Veleyerushalayim Ircha Berachamim Toshuv.”
May we be zoche to see the realization of the prayer “Vechol Harisha K’rega Tovaid. Vechol Oyvei Amchah Meheirah Yikoreisu.”

And perhaps, that bracha will come true for us when we come to the realization that our hope lies not in the Malshinim, those who deliver the warped lies called “news.” When we realize that we can place no tikva in the words of the Malshinim, we will merit to see the krisas oiyvim and the humbling of all our enemies.

The reporting will only change when we realize it is up to us to change the perception of the world through our actions that bring the Geulah. The Chiracs of the world will only change their tune when we change ours, when we pray with thought, introspection and serious Kavanah for the redemption to finally arrive, and bring an end to the Golus with all its injustice.

So instead of writing a letter to the editor of the New York Times and instead of calling up talk shows, let us better use our writing and speaking skills to help others. Let us use our energy to help prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach.

On that long-awaited day of reckoning when true justice will finally be meted out, all wrongs will be righted, the guilty will suffer retribution, and true independence will be ushered in for the Jewish people.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Lies, Lies, Lies

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

A newspaper’s duty is to report the news, to be an organ of information and enlightenment. To state that we live in an “Almah D’shikra” does not qualify as news; it is stating the obvious. Yet some truths bear repeating. Sometimes we forget the way the world really works and imagine that things have changed. A small reminder every once in a while may open our eyes.

In this week’s parsha of Toldos, we read about the father of Redifas Yehudim. The father of Retzichas Yehudim. The father of Sinas Yehudim. The father of hatred of Yaakov. This arch-foe cloaked himself in the garment of false piety. The cunning Eisav hid behind the mantle of righteousness with his deceptive halachic sheilohs of how one takes ma’aser from straw, and how one tithes salt. The Torah teaches us that our mortal and eternal enemies will, like Eisav, disguise their true selves in the cloak of sheker. “Yecharsemenah Chazir M’Yar. The swine will show its ‘kosher feet.’”

Dear readers, we live in a world of sheker and lies. And those lies shroud the evil deeds of the wicked, shielding them from the light of truth. The wicked mask their perfidy with the split hooves of the swine, smiling to the world as they innocently ask, “How do we ma’aser the straw?”Let’s examine some recent developments that illustrate this ongoing charade.

Yassir Arafat spent his life killing people, robbing and extorting on a scale that defies the imagination. He invented the fiction of a Palestinian people. He foisted upon the world the lie that this fictitious people has a right to self determination and has superseding rights to the land of Israel. As the father of modern terrorism, his victims were mostly Jews, but he had no qualms about targeting Christians and Arabs, too, when that helped promote his agenda of destroying Israel.

Despite his villainy, he is celebrated as a statesman. The arch-murderer received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. He was invited to the White House under former President Clinton more times than any other world leader.

You turn on the radio or glance at a paper and read about him as if he were one of the world’s leading statesmen. Jimmy Carter let it be known last week that he would be at Arafat’s funeral; Chirac of France sent a private plane to bring him to France and paid him a special visit.

Good riddance to a base and despicable creature as he lays brain dead in a Paris hospital amid the world’s game of make-believe that he is ill with a mysterious illness and may soon recuperate. The world media plays along with the Palestinians as they scramble to settle scores before the death is official, and report lies as if they were the truth.

There is an old saying: If you repeat a lie often enough people begin to believe it. We think we are immune. But in the next few weeks, wherever we turn in the secular world, we are going to hear the most inflated and grandiose lies about Arafat. The darling of the left-wingers, he will be portrayed in the most complimentary light. His gruesome acts of terror will be reinvented as acts of desperation and liberation, ad nauseum. We will meet people, even Jews, who have no moral conviction, who sway like leaves in a fall wind. They will parrot what the anti-Semitic anchors of the media want them to believe. And they will swallow those lies wholesale and retell them to you. They will say now is a perfect time for peace.
Cold-Blooded Killer

As a newspaper, we have a job to tell the truth.

So let’s repeat: Arafat is a cold-blooded killer. He devised a new way of murdering innocent civilians en masse which is being copied today by Zarqawi and bin Laden, and legions of like-minded barbarians who are beyond the pale of civilization.
He was a creative killer. He was the first to attack sportsmen; his 1972 Munich Olympics massacre left 11 Israeli athletes dead. The world was actually stunned for a few moments. He was the first to choose diplomats as targets — the 1973 murder of American diplomats in Khartoum. He was the first to choose innocent school children as targets — the 1974 massacre of schoolchildren in Ma’alot. He was the first to hijack airplanes and he also invented suicide bombing. Then he began using children as suicide bombers while the list of inhuman attacks against Yidden and humanity keeps on growing.

This Nobel Prize winner and partner in peace with Rabin and Peres is the child of Yishmael as well as Amelek. His crimes against humanity surpassed in evil the worst crimes contemplated in the Geneva accords. The suffering he inflicted on innocent Jews is incalculable. The September 11th attacks were all outgrowths of his evil.
Yet, as his atrocities multiplied, Arafat’s political star rose. In part, this had to do with European cravenness in the face of an implied Muslim threat; partly with the Left’s secret infatuation with the authentic man of anarchy. Whatever the case, by 1980 Europe had recognized the PLO, with Arafat as its leader, as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people. The U.S. held out for another decade, but eventually it too caved in to international pressure under the first Bush administration.

The present President Bush, to his great credit, refused to deal with him, unlike his predecessor who treated him as a great statesman. Very few others stood up to Arafat against the railings of left-wing politics.

All the people who now jostle to fill his place are terrorists. They all cut their teeth under Arafat. Every one of them, now portrayed as moderates, has overseen terror attacks and has cheered on others.

Each one of the would-be inheritors of the mantle is committed to the destruction of Israel; each one of them is a murderer, their hate fastened upon every Jewish soul – right, left, religious and secular. Even the wild-eyed Jewish maniacs who march alongside Arafat’s henchmen in the misguided notion they will be spared the terrorists’ hatred by currying favor with them must be regarded as murderers’ accomplices. Yet the world stands united in seeing the passing of Arafat as an opportunity to pressure Israel into negotiating with, and capitulating to, terrorist murderers.

British PM Tony Blair who stood with President Bush facing down Saddam Hussein is trying to convince Bush that the time is ripe to force Israel to set up a terror state within its miniscule borders.

No less an American hero than John McCain is in the European Amen corner as well. He said pushing Israel into a so-called peace deal would go a long way towards restoring European friendships.

“I know the president believes that this is an opportunity,” McCain said. “If we can bring about a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it will have a huge effect on the European public opinion.”
Lies, lies, lies.

We are so used to it, we say nothing. We shrug our shoulders say “almah d’shikrah” and move on.

But the lies don’t begin and end with promoting the gruesome deeds of murderers. They have the effect of skewing society’s morals and re-defining the norms of civilization.

Last week’s presidential election was another case in point. The Democrats really had themselves convinced they were going to win this time. They read the polls in the compliant media; they read the newspapers of record that were sympathetic to Kerry; they believed the fictionalized documentaries. The country hated Bush and couldn’t wait to rid itself of him, they were told. They viewed him as an anachronistic caricature of the old-world. His values for normal family life were not in tune with America’s new-found acceptance of depravity.

But they masked their agenda in self righteousness. “Bush was the most divisive figure in American politics,” they said. “Americans couldn’t wait for the opportunity to send him back to Crawford Texas for life.”

“The Republicans are so out of touch,” we were repeatedly told. “They are religious and even worse, they hew to an old moral code. They advocate enshrining in law traditional family values. There is no way they can win the election. Come November 2nd and it will be Kerry time.”

But, contrary to the Left’s wishful thinking and blatant lies, most Americans do care about moral values. Most Americans still care about moral decency. The election results drove home the message that moral depravity has not yet been accepted and enshrined as the “new normal.”
It is bad enough when we must counter the lies of people with whom we know we are at opposite ends of the pole religiously and morally. But what happens when people with features similar to many of us and our friends and relatives promulgate lies to the entire world?

As newspapers were reporting on Arafat’s stay in the French military hospital, several chose to publish a picture of a “Rabbi arriving with a bouquet of flowers to the Percy Military Hospital.”

How can you not be revolted?

How can you not be aghast when seeing the picture of someone described by Reuters as a rabbi bringing flowers to the deathbed of one of the deadliest enemies of the Jewish people?

How can you not be offended when pictures are splashed around the world of religious Jews celebrating the man who was personally responsible for the murder of more Jews than anyone since Hitler?

What more do they have to do to be totally ostracized? Why do we let them cross our doorstep when they come to our homes to raise money to enable them to continue their missions of hate?

Some of those same people who protested a 91 year-old living Sefer Torah flew off to Paris to kneel at candles (a custom cherished by admirers of saints and other Christian icons) lit by supporters of one of the most notorious Jew-killers of our time.

They refer to themselves as Kanoim. That is a lie. They are not Kanoim. They are Rodfim. And they should be treated as such. Kana’us when applied properly is a most treasured midah. Redifah is a repulsive and despicable act that must be expunged from our midst.

People who stand with them and support them in their wretched ways are equally culpable. People who proudly participated in and supported a noisy protest of an Asifas Chizuk led by an aged and venerated Gadol Hador are not Kanoim. The Gemorah in Sanhedrin 99b makes this absolutely clear.

Chazal teach us that in the time of Moshiach, Chutzpah will become strong, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it and be resigned to it. That doesn’t mean we should sit idly by and not protest their brazen Chutzpah; that doesn’t mean we should be quiet.

Yes, we live in an Almah D’Shikrah, but we have to recognize truth from fallacy; we have to remain loyal to the truth. We shouldn’t be cowed into playing along. We should not become like those who suppress the truth for ulterior motives.

As children of Yaakov we have to live a life of truth. We have to remember that there is no truth like Torah. There is no respect like the reverence we display for Talmidei Chachomim.

In the Almah D’Shikrah we only celebrate people after their death. People find it easier to pay respect to the dead than the living. Let us break that pattern. Let us resolve to fight for the honor of living Talmidei Chachomim and against anyone who attempts to belittle them with the same passion that we honor the memories of Talmidei Chachomim who have passed away.

Chushim ben Dan was deaf to the arguments of his evil uncle Eisav who claimed the Meoras Hamachpelah as his own. He did not involve himself in nit-picking arguments nor did he compromise his holy mesorah by affording Eisav the chance to protest.

It is time to take a public stand against purveyors of hate, whether they come to cheer on Palestinian conventions in North Carolina; visit murderers in France or travel in busses to Boro Park to harass Gedolei Yisroel who came to America to be mechazeik thousands of B’nei Torah.

Let us not be afraid to stand firm against the detractors and purveyors of lies, whether they come in the name of humanistic moralism, or lehavdil in the name of Hashem.

Let us not be influenced by the dominant lies of the day. Let us use the yardstick of Torah to assess the prevailing trends around us and find the moral courage to stand up for the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be. Let us purify ourselves so that we are worthy to live lives of truth.

Vetaheir Libeinu L’Avdechah B’Emes.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Be Good, Do Good


by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

By the time you read this America will be a different country.

The presidential elections will be over. You will be getting used to darkness descending much earlier than you would like it to.

But there will be another change which will affect us—the departure of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and the void created by his return to his own home, Talmidim and yeshiva in Bnei Brak. The experience of loss is a time for reflection.

What lessons can we learn from his visit that we can apply to our daily lives?

So many of us only care about ourselves and what goes on in our own daled amos. So many of us are so busy keeping our heads above water that we fail to see what is going on around us.

More of us have to care; more of us have to care about more people. There are so many excuses not to get involved; there are so many reasons to keep to ourselves. But we have to rise above that mentality; we have to find excuses to be more involved in communal efforts.

We go through life and see things that aren’t right but we don’t try setting them straight. We give ourselves good reasons for neglecting to do anything about the problems that surround us. We say we don’t have enough money and only people with money can get anything done. We say we aren’t smart enough; we say we aren’t astute enough.

But just as every person has different kochos, so too, every individual has something to contribute.

Instead of harnessing those kochos, we relegate ourselves to little more than complaining. We rationalize that we have no power and that nobody will listen to us.

There really are many good excuses to sit at home with folded hands. Many times when you look around and see the injustice and suffering, you feel the hopelessness of the situation, but that is not a good enough excuse for inaction.

It may be that we don’t care deeply enough about doing good. If only we would, we would do something about it. It is not enough to know what is right; it is not enough to want to do good, if you do not implement the desire and actually do good. We have to know what should be done and then go ahead and do it. People who are truly good are so totally consumed by it that they look to spread it.

If all people of goodwill would get involved in doing good, how different the world would be.

Not everyone can travel to a strange country at age 91 in a mission to deliver chizuk to thousands. Not everyone can lead and teach and influence masses. But everyone can appreciate the people who do accomplish these things, and give them chizuk.

Everyone can call a teacher and rebbe to let them know their dedication is appreciated. The chizuk will encourage them to continue and maybe even do better. Everyone can help a yeshiva and Kollel raise money, even if one can’t write a check himself. Everyone can lend a shoulder to a person in trouble. Everyone can lend an ear to someone desperate for sympathy and kindness. Everyone can influence and help another person.

Even if you can’t run a Bikur Cholim, you can contribute with time and effort to comfort and aid the sick. Even if you can’t run a Gemach you can help people who have fallen on hard times pick themselves up and gain a new lease on life. Even if you can’t run a hotline for abuse victims of all kinds and children at risk, you can help in a myriad of other ways.

This week’s parsha opens which the passing of Sorah Imeinu at the age of 127 years. We are all familiar with the Rashi that states, “Kulan Shavin Letovah – All her years were equally good.”

What does that mean? I asked several people what the words mean. They weren’t really able to answer me. We’ve learned the Rashi so many times but we haven’t thought into it.

It would be superfluous for Rashi to hint that her years were all equally good because they were free from sin, since this is already stated in the previous Rashi. “Bas Kuf Kevas Chof Lecheit,” Sorah was free from sin.

If it means that all her years were good, we know that they weren’t. The day she was snatched from her husband and brought to Pharoh certainly wasn’t a good day. The day she was kidnapped by Avimelech was surely terrifying. The day she saw Yishmael being Metzacheik with Yitzchok could not be described as a good day. The days that Hagar caused her pain were not good days. Of course she accepted whatever was thrown her way, but that alone does not turn bad days into good days.

The explanation may be that Sorah Imeinu was the personification of goodness. She was so good and so concerned about other people and the welfare of the world that she seized every opportunity to do good. Her days were occupied with performing chesed and tzedakah.

She didn’t just stand by and say “why doesn’t someone do something?” When she sensed an opportunity for improving the world, she grabbed it. When she saw someone who needed help, she didn’t just offer them advice about where to go and what to do. She brought them into her tent and took care of them herself.

Because she was so intrinsically good, she spent her days and years doing good. She spread goodness and G-dliness wherever she went. In every situation and in every predicament she found herself in, she discovered the means to increase good in the world.

When Rashi describes her years as “Kulan Shavin Letovah,” the Tovah is not only a noun and an adjective, it is a verb. All her years were consistently spent performing good. That is the mark of a person whose essence is goodness.

Chazal say, “Avrohom megayeir es ha’anashim veSorah megayeres es hanashim.” Avrohom and Sorah were mekareiv tachas kanfei haShechina untold numbers of people. Yet, when the same Avrohom became aware of the behavior of Lot’s shepherds, he sought to distance himself from him. He could no longer live together with him in peace. They separated and Lot moved to Sedom.

It is not enough to just do good, we also have to separate ourselves from evil. We can’t simply close our eyes and make believe it’s not there. We can’t delude ourselves into thinking there is no evil among us. We can’t just let it fester and say “Tsk, tsk, how sad.”

Rashi in last week’s parsha comments on the Posuk (19, 4) which states that all the people of Sedom surrounded Lot’s house. Rashi says that no one in the city protested their actions. The Sifsei Chachomim points out that it is impossible for thousands to surround one home. Rashi is alluding to the fact that one who should protest against something evil and does not, is punished as if he too had committed the crime.

Since no one in Sedom stood up to be Mocheh against those who were besieging Lot’s house with evil intentions, all anshei Sedom were accomplices in the crime, Rashi tells us, it was as if they all participated in the demonstration against the guests who had appeared in their town.

The people of Sedom who said “It’s only a couple of deranged people at Lot’s door;” the people who urged everyone to ignore them were punished as if they themselves stood with the deranged.

We have been privileged to have a living, breathing Malach in our midst for two weeks. Not everyone appreciates that gift. There are ignorant, misguided, leaderless souls among us who are not blessed with the wisdom to appreciate greatness. There are people among us who are used by the Yeitzer Horah to plant hatred and Machlokes among Jews.

We dare not fall in their trap. But at the same time, we can not stand by quietly when they display a lack of common human decency. We can not just shrug our shoulders and write them off as “meshugoyim” and turn the other way.

When something hurts, you scream out. When the Kovod of Torah is trampled on, it ought to cut us deeply. When a 91 year-old living Sefer Torah is targeted by a violent protest, we have to raise the flag of Torah and proclaim for all to hear that this is not the way of Torah. When someone who personifies ahavas Yisroel is assailed by people consumed by hatred, how can it not hurt?

When we ourselves have been insulted; if someone were to impugn our own character or the character of someone dear to us, we would know how to respond, we would not take it lightly.

When so many people can go through the trouble and expense of hiring buses and engaging in destructive activity to sully an adom chashuv, it is only because they know they will not be taken to task for it.

It is high time we rose up together and announced that the respect for an outstanding talmid chochom and an exalted oved Hashem is not up for negotiation. Showing respect for individuals who have devoted a lifetime to learning and teaching Torah and purifying themselves, is axiomatic to Klal Yisroel and always has been. It’s high time we learned to express disagreement with dignity and civility. Rancor and hatred have absolutely no place in our midst.

We can not let such activity pass without responding to it. If Torah is our life, we can not let its champions be disgracefully trampled upon. Room for differences in approach and for respectful disagreement, yes. But Machlokes is pure poison. It can only backfire, leaving destruction and downfall in its wake. There is something wrong with a system that teaches people to hate and taunt people with whom they may have a political disagreement.

There is no room for gross disrespect for one of the Gedolei Torah and Tzadikei Hador who is a standard bearer of Daas Torah.

We can all learn from the aged Rosh yeshiva to be like Aharon, an oheiv shalom verodeif shalom. We should always seek to influence and accomplish through peaceful means. We should be suffused with love, not with hate; look to do good and affect the community in a positive way.

We can learn from him to be like a Leib, a lion; To follow the dictum of the Shulchan Aruch, “Yisgaber ka’ari la’amod baboker.” As the Mishna Berurah explains, when you wake in the morning, do not say that you are still tired, do not find excuses to lay in bed struggling to fall back asleep; rather you should fight like a Leib to rouse yourself and undertake a day of service to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Even if you collapse from exhaustion and fear that you can not go on doing good, understand that you must persevere. Pick yourself up and carry on with your task of spreading goodness in this world.

Never give up, never get down; never say I am too old, too tired, too hungry to accomplish my personal mission in this world.

May the memory of the trip of Rav Aharon Leib shlit”a remain with us long after the pictures have faded. May his humble gaze stare us in the face; may his soft words punctuate our actions; may his plea for greatness in Torah and Emunah inspire us as we prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu Bimheirah Biyomeinu, Amen.