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.


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