Friday, December 31, 2004


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

If ever we are in danger of forgetting that placing our trust in the saving power of a mortal man is a dangerous investment in fantasy—we can count on world events for a daily reminder. The posuk’s warning—al tivtichu b’nedivim—is driven home again and again as we scan the news.

Unfortunately we forget the truth. We sit and shmooze about the virtues of one leader over the other and how this or that elected official would be the true salvation for our situation. To set ourselves straight, it is helpful to recall some very recent history.

It was not that long ago that people in Israel went to vote for prime minister. They had enough of Shimon Peres, they had enough of Ehud Barak and their Labor party, and they even had enough of Binyomin Netanyahu. They weren’t taking any chances and en masse they voted for Ariel Sharon.

Sharon’s reputation as a hard liner was such that when he was first elected, political pundits predicted it would drive Israel’s neighbors to war against them once again. In an act of provocation prior to his first election, he went up to the Har Habayis to proclaim that Israel would never relinquish its claims to Yerushalayim.

His action was the spark that Arafat needed to start the bloody Palestinian intifada, an uprising of mayhem that lasted until his belated death.

People would like to think that now that Arafat has finally been removed from the stage, peace is just a matter of time. Democratic elections for the Palestinians are just around the corner. Nice old Mahmoud Abbas in his western-looking attire will be elected and a new day will dawn for the people of Israel and Palestine.

Meanwhile, President Bush has been re-elected, to the delight of many who feel safer knowing that the tough guy who declared all-out war on terror trounced the weak-kneed Democrat and his liberal friends.

My intention is not to mock the President and his men but rather to make a point about our tendency to lose sight of reality.

President George W. Bush is rearranging his cabinet to have it conform better to the way he wants to manage his second term and establish his legacy. Colin Powel had to go because he was not considered tough enough. Homeland Security Secretary Ridge and Attorney General Ashcroft were tough enough but had become the lightening rod for too much criticism, and it was decided that it was best to start anew with other people.


All seemed to be following the script until Bush hit upon his pick for Homeland Security. At first, he was praised for his choice. Bernard Kerik seemed to be the dream candidate for the job. He was tough. He was a policeman’s policeman and Bush likes policemen.

Kerik wasn’t just any policeman, he was top cop in New York when 9/11 hit. He stood aside Mayor Giuliani at Ground Zero on that infamous day. He was a leader in the post-terror world that was created post-September 11. Americans worried about their safety could never find a better person to stand at the helm of Homeland Security and keep the bad guys at bay.

But lo and behold—Kerik has crashed and burned, and the acrid smoke of his dirty little secrets rises from the debris. Imagine, Kerik was a step away from taking charge of all matters related to keeping America safe from terror. The security of an entire nation was about to rest in the hands of someone sullied with scandal and utterly unworthy of the position.

Had his nomination gone through, Kerik would have pranced about on the national and international stage issuing proclamations on terror and security. People would have slept better at night knowing that no less a stalwart figure than Bernard Kerik was looking out for them.

Now it all sounds so ridiculous. That is indeed frightening. We almost put our faith in a fraud—a carefully packaged lie.

We can count scores of so-called leaders in whom we have entrusted our safety and security yet they all turned out to be shameless mockeries of their positions. But we have weak memories and skewed visions of the past. We still look up trustingly to leaders who spin out the appropriate rhetoric. We think that a tough-sounding president and his quick-witted and savvy defense secretary won’t let anyone get away with anything.

As believing Jews we have to know that there is more to the story.

The reason no one can reach us and do us harm is not because the local cop on the beat is a tough law-and-order guy. The reason the plane we are flying on doesn’t blow up is not because everyone aboard the aircraft had to remove their shoes for inspection before approaching the boarding gate.

Just recently, baggage screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport spotted — and then lost — a fake bomb planted in luggage by a supervisor during a training exercise.

A couple of days before that, despite an hours-long search, a bag containing a fake bomb complete with wires, a detonator and a clock, made it onto an Amsterdam-bound flight. It was recovered by airport security officials in Amsterdam when the flight landed.

If that isn’t enough to rattle you consider this: Screeners missed one in four fake explosives and weapons in secret weekly tests conducted throughout the summer by TSA agents. The removal of shoes, the beeps and bells, whistles and alarms did absolutely nothing to stop the bomb from leaving Newark and flying with passengers and a crew over the Atlantic and on to Amsterdam.

Bombs on planes are not our only concerns. Just a few weeks ago, upon announcing that he would be leaving the administration, outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommie Thomson said that it is so easy to poison the nation’s food delivery system he does not know why no one has done it yet.

Well, where is the poison? Where are the bombs? Why do we still fly? Why do we still shop in the supermarkets?

As maaminim bnei maaminim, we have to realize that we live in very dangerous times and there is no one to rely on for protection from the dangers which lurk out there whose sole aim is our destruction.

And talking about poison, would the group of would-be Ukrainian assassins who put lethal dioxin poison in presidential candidate Yushchenko’s food ever have imagined that he would win the election? They surely intended to eliminate him permanently, but the One Above had different ideas. Certain people put their faith in the secret police and/or live in dreaded fear of them and their abilities to rid the world of people they consider threats to their masters.

We can lull ourselves into a false sense of security by putting our faith in Presidents, in Prime Ministers, in airport security supervisors and in Homeland security chiefs. You can be on an American Army base inside a tent with dozens of guards in front and in back of a mess hall, and still not be protected from suicide bombers intent on destroying as many Americans as possible.

The settlers and supporters of Yisroel Hashelaimah found out the hard way that Ariel Sharon is not their champion. He is merely a politician who originally rode the wave of settlements and settlers to power but now with the shifting wind, he is embracing the anti-settlement wave. His equally unprincipled friend Shimon Peres fights for a grander title before permitting his Labor party into the government.

It is a lot easier for us to go through life without thinking. It is a lot simpler to believe that we are safe because the State looks out for us and our interests. But the rude awakening we get from time to time reminds us to think about the reality of life and that it is folly to place one’s hope in “ben adam she’ain lo s’shuah!”

We must not lose sight of what the Ribbono Shel Olam can do “b’ruach Apav” with the slightest breath of His will.

On Sunday the whole world shook—literally. The world’s most powerful earthquake in 40 years hit in Southeast Asia. It triggered massive tidal waves and as of this writing, killed up to 60,000 people in several countries. Thousands more were injured and over a million were left homeless. It is alleged that the quake was so powerful it may have changed the earth’s rotation and shortened the day by three microseconds.

Italy’s National Geophysics Institute exclaimed that “the entire planet is vibrating” from the quake. Witnesses recounted that it was an act “of biblical proportions.” These quotes bring to mind the Chazal which teaches that the thunder was created to break our haughty spirit. If thunder is supposed to remind man of his puniness compared to the power of the Omnipotent, what should the deadliest earthquake in the last half century say to us?

Such occurrences must impress upon us how little control we have over the events of our lives. They remind us that what happens to countries is all Divinely ordained. We play a role through our actions. When we behave properly and follow the Torah and Mitzvos we are protected from both man-made evil and natural catastrophe.

Over the next few weeks we read the parshiyos that teach how our nation was forged through emunah in Hakadosh Boruch Hu. The parshiyos are packed with lessons of faith—reminders that we are not to tremble at the threats of evil leaders, nor glory in our own illusions of power.

We have to be as blind and deaf as Paroh not to heed the messages sent though the cataclysms of nature. Despite the plagues of blood, lice, frogs and pestilence, he had the arrogance to say, “Who is Hashem that I should listen to him?”

He exemplified the self-deluded tyrant who is so convinced of his power that he won’t budge until his own life is hanging by a thread.

When the Bnei Yisroel raised their voices in Tefilla, Hakadosh Boruch Hu decided that the time had come to release them from their bondage. He turned to Moshe, a man who was not blessed with oratorical gifts, and sent him to Paroh with the message to let the Bnei Yisroel go free.

For it is not the politician with the gifted tongue who secures a nation’s redemption, but the man who hears the voice of G-d. The man who can lead a people to true emancipation is the one who is Divinely inspired and stands at the helm of a nation that has earned G-d’s mercy.

But the lesson of emunah is so difficult to ingrain, it must be repeated again and again.

Even Moshe Rabeinu is taught a lesson when he asked the Ribbono Shel Olam, “Why have You done evil to this people? Why have You sent me? From the time I came to Paroh to speak in Your Name he did evil to this people, but You did not rescue Your people.”

The Ribbono Shel Olam exhorts Moshe with the lessons of faith that we must learn from our experience in Mitzrayim. He tells him to learn from the Avos who realized that even when world events appeared to contradict everything they believed in, they held strong in their faith. Nothing, no event, no leader, no tsunami and no terror threat should shake our faith in Hashem’s total control.

As we learn the parshiyos of Golus and Geulah it is time for us to raise our voices in Tefillah instead of seeking false messiahs to protect us. Let us internalize the lesson that it is only the One above who determines our fate, and that in the Divine scheme, the destiny of nations hangs on the tefillos, tzedaka, limud haTorah and maasim tovim of the Jewish people. These alone ensure His mercy and protection.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In Parshas Vayechi we learn that as Yaakov Avinu was approaching the end of his life, he called for his son, Yosef. The aging father asked the powerful son for one last favor. “Swear to me that I will not be buried in Mitzrayim.”

In justifying his request to Yosef, Yaakov refers to the tragic episode of Rochel’s death which had taken place many years earlier, when he was returning from Padan Aram after his long sojourn with Lavan.

Va’ani bevo’i mipadan meisuh alai Rochel b’eretz K’na’an, baderech, be’od kivras eretz lavo Efrasah, va’ekbereha shum be’derech Efras, hi Bais Lochem. Rashi, in words that have been chanted with a special nigun by cheder children for hundreds of years explains that Yaakov was saying to Yosef, “I am troubling you to bring my body back to Eretz Yisroel for burial, though I didn’t do the same for your mother, Rochel, (when she died on the journey, after giving birth to Binyomin). I didn’t even bring her to Bais Lechem, and I knew that you were unhappy with what I did.”

“Now I want you to know that I acted according to the Divine wishes, for when the tyrant Nevuzradan will exile the Jewish people from their land they will pass by the grave of your mother, Rochel. She will then go out onto the kever and cry and beg the Ribono Shel Olam to have mercy on the Jewish people, as the posuk states in Yirmiyahu, “Kol beRamah nishmah, nehi b’chi samrurim” (A voice is heard in Ramah, bitter weeping…”)

And Hakadosh Boruch Hu answers, “Yeish sechar lifulasaich ne’um Hashem, veshavu vonim legvulam.”

Yaakov explains to Yosef that he buried Rochel just outside of Bais Lechem because of an event destined to take place centuries later. The rationale is puzzling. Does it seem fair that Rochel Imeinu should be left in a lonely, deserted kever for millennia because of a single moment in history—albeit one of great importance—when she would intercede for the Jewish people and win the promise of Hashem’s salvation?

Perhaps the lesson here is that yes, indeed, a single act can be of such sweeping, far-reaching importance that it transcends every other consideration, and justifies enormous sacrifice. That act may be the defining moment of a lifetime. It may have the potential to alter a person’s or nation’s destiny.

It takes wisdom to recognize such an act for what it is. And often great courage to carry it off.

Most of us have no interest in being ordinary, insignificant cogs in the wheel. That’s for the “hamon am.” We want the satisfaction of knowing that we make a difference. We await our own defining moment, eager for the opportunity to do something heroic, or at least noteworthy. It’s not a matter of ego, but of knowing that we’re not just passing time in this world. Knowing that our lives and labor count.

In the scope of our day-to-day, humdrum lives, though, it is hard to feel that we are accomplishing anything grand, anything that could not be done by somebody else. The sneaking suspicion comes upon us at times that we may be ordinary, after all. And for some people, that is a depressing thought.

But it wouldn’t be, if we only realized that the big moment is just around the corner. During the course of life, one encounters many pivotal moments when a specific action or inaction may be the ticket to eternity, but they arrive so quietly they are barely noticed. Without a splash and lots of hoopla, those special moments are often missed. It may be an act of great self-restraint or self-sacrifice that is asked of us. It may be an act of Kiddush Hashem, mesiras nefesh for a mitzvah, or for an ideal.

It may be as uncomplicated as an admission of truth, a sincere apology, or a kind greeting. It could be an act of simple giving that is waiting patiently in the wings for us to seize the moment.

Rarely is one told, as was Esther Hamalkah by Mordechai, “mi yodaiya, im l’ais kozos higaat lamalchus.” Mordechai told her that the entire chain of events leading her to the heights of wealth and power had been orchestrated for this defining moment. But even people who don’t achieve wealth and power have a defining moment. Don’t fumble the ball! Don’t mess up when it comes your way.

The big moments invariably come to us well-cloaked in mundane trappings that we tend to treat them with carelessness, if not disdain.

How important is that one phone call, after all, to someone who knows someone who knows someone closely connected to a top specialist who might be able to save the eyesight of your friend’s father?

How important is that note of recommendation on behalf of a student who’s a bit of a lo yutzlach, who will probably not end up staying in yeshiva anyway, who has family problems and no money to pay tuition?

Why bother redding the shiduch or pushing it along, neither side is really interested; since when is it your responsibility to help them see where they may have misread the story on the way to meeting their designated mate? Let some yenta worry about getting the world married, it’s not your job, you’ve got other things to do.

Why keep someone on the job who’s not producing the way he should, who you could replace with someone far more efficient, accommodating and best of all, cheaper? So what if he won’t find another job? Are you supposed to take care of the whole world?

Why give a loan to someone in deep financial trouble? It’s probably a bottomless pit and who knows if you’ll ever see the money back?

Why yield to your spouse’s demands when you’re always the one giving in? Isn’t it about time you drew the line?

When the time comes to find a job, why take the job which will enhance the Jewish community and give meaning to your life? Why not take the job that pays more, even though it may be one which consists of performing mind-numbing activities all day, it pays well; and who says you are responsible for saving the human race. Let someone else do that while you earn money doing something which contributes little or nothing to benefit humanity.

Why go out of your way to be friendly to the new family on the block when you know from reliable sources that the husband is crooked in business and the kids are brats?
What do these issues have to do with “big moments?” The answer is that in each instance, through our actions or inactions we might indeed be deeply impacting lives and altering destinies —our very own or that of others. But if we pass up the moment because we don’t have a clear grasp of how high the stakes are it is often too late to reverse course when awareness finally dawns.

There is no one who stands by ready to whisper in our ear that this is our chance to achieve immortality and to give our lives purpose and meaning. It is only by doing all that we do properly, and as if it counts for something, that those small moments aren’t missed.

The few kind words you wrote to a teacher, student or colleague may be what propels them onwards to greatness. You may never know it, but that little slip of paper upon which you wrote an encouraging line or two may hang alongside their bed giving them comfort every night. Don’t scribble your lines, write them neatly and clearly so that they may stand the test of time, for you never know, they may mean the world to the recipient.

A rabbi delivers sermons every Shabbos and feels as if he doesn’t get through. It is only months later that he realizes how he has impacted the life of the man in the back who seems to sleep thru the speech week after week. Were he to get dejected by looking at this person, he would have stopped delivering his messages and then this sleepy old grouch would really have been lost. But because the rabbi kept at it, a whole family was turned around.

As a teacher you may have a student you reach out to, but he never reciprocates the friendship. You may feel as if you are wasting your time, but it may very well be that he simply has trouble expressing appreciation but your acts are what keep him attached and together. You may never know it until years later when he finally opens up and admits that you have been his godsend.

You really don’t want to go to that dinner. It’s boring and they have lots of speeches. But your attendance means so much to the poor frazzled executive director that by showing up and showing him that you care about him and his cause you energize him to persevere in his mission to bring the light of Torah or Chesed to yet more people.

Your friends are making a Simcha and you are tired and not in the mood of going. Besides, you won’t know anybody there. But you go anyway and your friends tell you how much it meant to them that you came. Years later they still remind you how nice it was of you to shlep there.

You were offered a chance to do something great but turned it down because the money wasn’t right or because it wasn’t presented exactly the way you would have liked it to be. Right there you missed your chance.

The regret of missed opportunities is one of the most bitter kinds of pain, Chazal say.

Life is composed of a long string of individual moments, many of which are pivotal, or “crossroads” moments in disguise. The true greatness of an individual lies in his ability to roll back the disguise and recognize the moment for what it is.

True greatness lies in choosing to do right even bechadrei chadorim, away from the limelight in the belief that every act of bechirah triggers a powerful reaction in both the physical and spiritual spheres.

Every circumstance of one’s life—the most gratifying along with the most painful and frustrating—is orchestrated to provide one with opportunities for growth. Only by treating the seemingly “small” challenges as we would the big moments, are we capable of mining every opportunity for greatness.

We may be called upon to step outside our comfort zone, or deny ourselves what we feel entitled to; we may have to embarrass or lower ourselves by admitting we were wrong; sacrifice until it hurts; pay a price monetarily or in terms of prestige.

But what price is too high for nitizchiyus? What shouldn’t we be prepared to do to attain the eternity of Rochel Imeinu?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The Chanukah miracle evokes images of the weak overpowering the mighty—a reversal of the natural order. Our senses are trained to expect the stronger army to prevail in battle; the side with more protekzia to win in politics, and the one with the most money to succeed in the business world.

We are conditioned to believe in the “survival of the fittest.” When we encounter the exceptional person who not only violates this rule but acts as though it doesn’t exist, it comes as a shock. That shock is at the heart of the Chanukah story.

Did the Chashmonaim know in advance that they would prevail in what seemed like a hopeless situation? No, they acted l’shem Shomayim and Hashem answered their tefilos. That singular approach —grounded in Emunah and Bitachon— is as applicable today as it was when the Chashmonaim faced hordes of immense elephants carrying thousands upon thousands of skilled warriors.

In these days of mass media hype, the only way it seems a little guy can score some points with a good cause is by making a media blitz. Others opt for the legal front. Any individual can take on a huge corporation when he has been wronged, and even a child can initiate a lawsuit. The pursuit of outrageous settlements has been turned into some sort of national pastime by the trial lawyers who work on a contingency of 33% and higher.

There is another, less ostentatious way to fight for justice. Like the Chashmonaim of long ago, there are rare individuals who simply forge ahead with bitachon, refusing to shrink before the seemingly insurmountable. Instead of resorting to dreidelach and hype, they seize the challenge head on.

Rav Zvi Schwartz, of Rechovot, is one such individual.

Almost every person in Rechovot has his own favorite story about this unassuming tzaddik. Rav Schwartz has a never ending flow of guests at his Shabbos and Yom Tov tables and arranges weddings on a regular basis, yet still finds the time and strength to deliver food parcels to the needy. He simply never stops going; he is a veritable chesed machine.

The Rechovot branch of Lev L’Achim has grown to encompass a plethora of programs. The central location, where shiurim and learning take place at all hours of the day and night, is so crowded, people reserve seats in the Bais Medrash.

Five years ago the Rechovot Municipality, in recognition of Rabbi Schwartz’s devotion to the people of the city, granted him a plot of land for a community center for L’ev L’Achim. Construction of the building’s frame cost close to $500,000, at least half of which was donated by local ba’alei teshuva in gratitude to Rav Schwartz. The generosity of his students brought Rav Schwartz to tears at the time, and was the greatest affirmation of his life’s work.


The Shinui party in a joint effort with the Reform movement, filed suit in the Supreme Court challenging Rechovot’s right to allocate the land. The court, although it has no jurisdiction in Municipal matters, overturned the decision and halted construction.

Furious at the Supreme Court’s interference, the lawyer for the Rechovot municipality came up with a plan to counteract it. The plan was for Rav Schwartz to sue the city for breaking its commitment to him and causing him financial loss. The city would “lose” the case and then have to reimburse him. Lacking the funds to meet its obligations, the municipality would resort to a legalism whereby land is used to pay a debt when the municipality lacks the funds. Thus, the municipality would turn over to Rav Schwartz the land originally intended for the L’ev L’Achim center and construction could go forward.


The brilliance of the plan pleased the city officials who were intent on allowing Lev L’Achim to resume construction. But the plan had a hitch. Rav Schwartz doesn’t just blindly follow the law. He answers to a higher authority. Much to the consternation of the Rechovot City Board, Rav Aron Leib Shteinman ruled against their plan of action for fear it would result in a chilul Hashem. He said the Left would showcase the shpiel as an example of religious subterfuge. “Even if it will delay construction, we had best pursue a different route,” the aged Rosh Yeshiva told him.

The United States just went though a presidential election. People went to vote and chose one of two candidates; one of two philosophies. The country was almost evenly divided. Yet the winner is the president of the United States, most powerful man in the world and his opponent is back to being the nobody he was before the election.

Nobody asks John Kerry anymore what he thinks about Iraq, or the choice of Bernard Kerik for Homeland Security Chief. No one asks him what he thinks about anything, because nobody cares. He lost and he’s out. In the end, all he ever stood for was his own ambition and opportunism and the public is savvy enough to know that.

Contrast politicians of this stripe with an individual like Rav Zvi Schwartz. For the past five years, he has been resubmitting building proposals and yearning for the completion of the center’s new home. He didn’t give up and go home when he lost to the Shinui rabble rousers. He kept at the task doggedly because it represented not his own ambition but the opportunity to spread the beauty and truth of Torah.

Recently, the City re-approved the land allocation, and Rav Zvi is hopeful that with opposition dying down, the building may finally be built. His mesiras nefesh for yashrus extended the project by five years, and incurred much additional expense. The city of Rechovot – from the Mayor down to the janitors at City Hall - has a newfound respect for this unassuming man who took the high road…even when he was 100% in the right.

Perhaps this story is something to be held up: the story of a bashaidener yid working quietly and with ehrlichkeit. Perhaps now we can understand how he was zoche to transform an entire region and bring thousands of precious Jews back to Yiddishkeit.

Rechovot is world renowned as a university town, due to the presence of the Weizman Institute and Hebrew University College of Agricultural Studies. Having made the acquaintance of a number of precious Yiddishe neshamos who are students at Hebrew U, Rav Schwartz began to visit the college campus. Before long he had a steady stream of students frequenting his Lev L’Achim center and an even greater number who would stop by at his home for a Shabbbos meal.


One day a student directed Rav Schwartz to one of the dormitory buildings that was only half used. An entire wing of the building was sealed off for no apparent reason.
This student had done some homework. It seems that the benefactors, who sponsored the construction of this particular building thirty years before, had included a beautiful Bais Medrash - complete with an Ezras Nashim in a second floor gallery! It had existed right there on campus all this time. After the initial dedication ceremony, the Bais Medrash was locked up and kept off limits.

A couple of Rav Zvi’s recruits quietly obtained permission to use the abandoned wing as a meeting room for their new campus society. Soon, the area was completely refurbished. The young women sewed draperies and decorated the walls. The young men brought in tables and benches. Amazingly, a sympathetic secretary arranged for a sefer Torah to be moved from the vault of Hebrew U in Jerusalem to grace the Aron Kodesh of the ‘Shul’ in Rechovot.

Today, thanks to Rav Zvi’s tireless efforts, there are minyanim 365 days a year and an endless series of shiurim in the Hebrew University shul.

Who is this man and what drives him to do things that others consider too hard, not mechubadik enough, and not worth the time and trouble and expense?

I had the pleasure and inspiration of discovering the answer to this enigma when I met Rav Zvi in person in connection with a L’ev L’Achim parlor meeting that I hosted in my home some time ago.


To all outward appearances he seems to be an ordinary Jew. Okay, a little more than ordinary. He’s a rav, a fine Ben Torah with a ready smile who tells nice vertlach. He’s got a warm handshake, an unassuming air and tremendous energy. To meet him is to know that here is a man who is l’shem Shomayim. There’s neither glory nor money to be had in his work.

But that said, he’s a regular guy, without any special aura of distinction and importance. He reminds you of the person standing next to you in shul. When someone like that comes knocking on your door asking you to help out his mosad, you look at him and think, maybe I can squeeze out a few bucks. If you’re in a generous mood, you write him a check for $50.00. I know because I spent a week of evenings going around with him.

There was to be a parlor meeting on a Sunday night for Lev L’Achim. I spent the week before going around with him knocking on doors; it seemed to me his fund-raising trip would barely pay his airfare home. To put it mildly, it had all the earmarks of a disaster. We knocked on tens of doors and rang many bells, but only got admitted to one home. At that one house we didn’t do well. We stood at the door and made our pitch and were politely rebuffed.

I was dejected. But while the apathetic responses we received put a complete damper on my own expectations, they didn’t make the slightest dent in Rav Zvi’s. Despite the clear signs that the parlor meeting would be a flop, he remained supremely optimistic; he kept on saying that the evening would be a tremendous Hatzlocha, “Natzliach, natzliach, atah tireh.”

The day of the parlor meeting he insisted that we rent and set up 250 chairs for the crowd he was anticipating. The chairs came and I attempted to hide them in the garage. I knew the worst thing is to have a roomful of empty chairs. Bad enough no one will show up, we don’t have to advertise it.

He caught me and set them up himself.

No matter how I tried to brace this ardent baal bitochon for an evening of disappointment, he was having none of it.

At the appointed hour streams of people began appearing until there was no place to park and the house was overflowing. Hundreds showed up.

He came over to me and said, “So you see, I told you it would be a Hatzlocha, and it is. We don’t even have enough seats!”

I said to him, but my dear Reb Zvi, it is true that there are many people here, but there is little money, what good is it without making money.

He repeated his mantra, “Im Ani Omer Shezeh Yatzliach, Zeh Yatzliach.”
I laughed.

He said, “You still don’t trust me. Stand right here in this spot next to the Lev L’Achim gentleman who is writing out receipts at a small table. In two minutes someone will walk over and say that he wants to give a sizeable donation. When you hear that, call me, I’ll be outside welcoming the people who are still arriving.”
I laughed in disbelief at his outrageous confidence in the impossible. I stood where he placed me, dreading the moment when reality would dawn on Rav Zvi.

But when reality dawned, I was the one in shock.

I didn’t have to wait long. A Rebbe from a local yeshiva walked over to the table and said he’d like to make a donation. The receipt writer said, “Fine, write the check, I’ll give you a receipt.”

“Actually, I want to talk to someone about giving something substantial,” the man said. “I came here to see Uri Zohar, and I was so inspired I want to give something big.”

Startled, I ran to get Reb Zvi and brought him in to speak to the man. The conversation netted $50,000. (The parlor meeting netted another $50,000.)
I was shaken to the core by what happened. When I finally regained my composure I sputtered to Rav Zvi, “How could you do that?” How could you know something like that would happen?”

He was very nonchalant. I said to him, “Reb Zvi, how could you have known? How can you say something like that and really believe it will happen?

“Im ani omer shezeh yatzliach, zeh yatzliach,” he answered with a smile.” If I tell you we’ll pull it off, we will.”

“I don’t know how it happened,” he said. With much humility, and with a nonchalant smile, he added “I have a special siyata d’shmaya, so I took the liberty and Hashem helped me.”

It still brings tears to my eyes when I tell over the story. It affirmed my belief that miracles and mofsim are not only legacies of the past, they happen in our own day.


The Ramban in Parshas VaYechi writes that the Chashmonaim were ‘Chasidei Elyon’.
The Mesilas Yeshorim quotes the Gemara in Berachos that says ‘Ashrei mi she’amolo baTorah, v’oseh nachas ruach l’Yotzro’. There are those who simply seek to fulfill the minimum required of them in Avodas Hashem. Then there are those who seek to provide Hashem Yisborach with a ‘nachas ruach’.

Those individuals are the ones who go the extra mile. They act on the assumption that so much more can be achieved in our avodah if we go beyond the bare requirements. They strive to reach the pinnacle of avodah—they are the chasidei Elyon.

The Chashmonaim did not let the minimum suffice. They did not declare themselves ‘maxed out’ in avodah. They faced the enemy’s marauding hordes and did not calculate the odds. They were driven above all to do the will of the Almighty; whether or not victory would be granted them was not part of the cheshbon.

Quietly, courageously changing the world. No noise, no demonstrations. Just the message of truth that is the power of the Torah. Shedding light where there once was only darkness.


A person like Rav Zvi, blessed with unique siyata d’Shmaya, recalls the Chashmonaim of ancient times. Such a person, seemingly so ordinary, can perform a moifes in a home in Monsey, NY, in our day and age.

He walks upright, he seeks neither honor nor glory; nor does he engage in dreidlach to advance his cause. He takes the time and patience to do things properly. He endeavors to spread love, brotherhood and Torah and never, ever would cause a Chilul Hashem, even when he is right.

A Chashmonai for our times, indeed. There are more like him; we just have to seek them out and attach ourselves to them. If we learn from them how to infuse our lives with goodness, sincerity and bitachon, maybe one day, though we will not perform moifsim, we will be granted siyata d’Shmaya in all that we do. We can all be like Reb Zvi, if we would only try; if the cause was our only motivation and not the glory; how much more we could accomplish.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Chanukah comes to warm our hearts. Menorahs with little dancing flames shine radiantly in the windows of Jewish homes, banishing the darkness and cold of winter. The tiny lights call out to all who observe them to stop and listen to their message.

In Parshas Behaalos’cha, a Medrash is cited by Rashi to explain the juxtaposition of two topics: the parsha that commands Aharon Hakohein to light the Menorah with the parsha of the Chanukas Ha’nesiim.

The Medrash explains that Aharon was upset that he had no share in the Chanukas Hamishkon as did the Nesiim. Hakadosh Boruch Hu told him that his share in the Mishkon would be greater than that of the Nesiim—shel’chah gedolah mi’Shelahem— for he would light the menorah.

The Ramban explains the Medrash differently. He says that the consolation to Aharon was not only that he would light the menorah every day, but that his act would live on for millennia. He was comforted with the Chanukah of the Menorah which would take place in the period of the Second Beis Hamikdosh through his grandchildren, the Chashmonaim. That zechus would last throughout centuries of exile, embodied in the lighting of the Chanukah menorah until this very day.

In other words, the menorah that we light today is part of the consolation to Aharon Hakohein for not participating in the Chanukas Hamishkon. Hakadosh Boruch Hu chose to console Aharon Hakohein in the days of the Mishkon by telling him that in 5765-2004, Chaim and Yankel would stand at their windows and take a little Telzer candle to light their menorah.

What an extraordinary feeling to know that we are perpetuating the legacy of Aharon Hakohein as we light our menorahs and sing Maoz Tzur and Ahl Hanisim. If we look deeply into the matter, we will discover profound lessons in that legacy for us.
The Gemorah in Shabbos (21b) asks Mai Chanukah – What is Chanukah? It goes on to describe one of the miracles that took place in the times of the Chashmonaim. The Gemorah states that following the victory over the Yevonim, only one small flask of pure and holy oil was found with the seal of the Kohein Gadol. Though it only contained enough oil to burn one night, miraculously it burned for eight days and nights.

It may be that the Gemorah is stressing that that the flask bore the seal of the Kohein Gadol even though his Hechsher was not mandatory for the oil. The seal of any kohein would have been acceptable. The Gemorah makes a point of telling us that it was sealed by the Kohein Gadol because that fact had a special significance.

That the first flask of oil to be used in the Bais Hamikdosh following the victory of the Chashmonaim was the one that carried the Kohain Gadol’s hechsher was in keeping with Hashem’s promise to Aharon Hakohein. It is also part and parcel of the essence of the Chanukah miracle.

The Gemorah relates that the Menorah should be lit at the door of the home facing the street, so as to advertise the miracle that transpired during the period of the Second Bais Hamikdosh.

The Gemorah then states that in times of danger, the Menorah should be lit inside. This is unusual, for in no other instance does the Gemorah instruct how to perform a Mitzva in times of danger. Why here by the Mitzva of Chanukah does the Gemorah, (and all the Poskim) say that in times of danger we should light inside? Would we then think that we are obligated to jeopardize our lives for the Mitzva of Chanukah which is only M’Drabanan?

The miracle of the Pach Shemen Tahor – the holy flask of oil— is commonly misunderstood. In fact, it would have been Halachacally permissible to light with oil that was found in the Bais Hamikdosh even if it were not certified as being tahor. It was the desire to perform the mitzvah of lighting the menorah with a Hidur that inspired the Chashmonaim to search until they found an unopened certified flask.

The Chashmonaim searched for a sealed, undefiled bottle because they were seeking to do the mitzva lifnim m’shuras hadin; they wanted to perform the mitzva in the loftiest, most sanctified way. To their great merit, they searched until they miraculously found such a jug.

The Gemorah recounts that this jug wasn’t just certified kosher with any Hechsher, it bore the stamp of the Kohein Gadol because this was the fulfillment of Hashem’s promise to Aharon: his offspring would endeavor to fulfill the commandments in the Bais Hamikdosh according to the highest standards. They wouldn’t try to get by with doing the mitzva just to be yotzei, they would seek the lifnim m’shuras hadin.

Thus, Aharon was consoled. He had wondered if it was possibly a lack of zeal in the performance of his priestly duties in the Mishkon which led to his non-participation in the Chanukah of the Mishkon.

To this he received the Divine response. “No, your performance is exemplary. I know that you are not one who seeks shortcuts. For I am aware that you will be the one who kindles and tends to the lights of the Menorah even though these duties don’t require that the Kohein Gadol perform them.”

Even though Aharon didn’t have to busy himself with cleaning out the oil and wicks from the previous night’s service, he was always the one who performed those tasks.
Hakadosh Boruch Hu told him further that this trait would be preserved through the line of succession down to the period of the Chashmonaim. Even though they could have used other oil, they held out tenaciously, not relying on the lenience of Tumah Hutrah B’Tzibur. Though exhausted from waging a war against forces more massive and powerful than them, the Chashmonaim did not rest until they were able to perform the Mitzva of lighting the Menorah in a way that would have done their forefather Aharon proud.

This is why the Gemorah states that the flask bore the seal of the Kohein Gadol, a descendant of the great Aharon Hakohein. It was part of Aharon’s consolation that in the centuries to come, Jews who perform the service of G-d wouldn’t seek the easy way out. It is also a sign that the Aharon’s rarified dedication endures through all the vicissitudes of history.

And perhaps that is why the Gemorah makes a point of saying that in times of danger we light the Menorah inside the house. Let no one think that when angry winds are blowing, and the mitzvah requires courage and sacrifice, we are exempt from lighting the Menorah. Even in times of danger we are commanded to honor the Pach Shemen Tahor – the holy flask of untainted oil. If we cannot prominently display it for all to see, our minimum obligation is to place it on the table for the benefit of ourselves and our children and family.

Let no one ever say that the times are difficult and we can therefore suspend the performance of mitzvos. We must always have that Pach Shemen Tahor on display for us to learn from.

That points to another aspect of the consolation granted to Aharon implicit in the Ramabam. Hashem told Aharon that Jews of all generations would derive great chizuk from the Menorah. Jews will point to the Menorah and say, “When you are dedicated to properly fulfilling G-d’s commandments, He performs miracles for you; spares you from your enemies and grants you the ability to perform His mitzvos.

Indeed, Shel’chah Gedolah M’Shelahem, Aharon Hakohein’s Mitzva is eternal. Every time Yisroel Meyer and Yanky and Moishe light their Menorah, wherever they are, they are proclaiming the eternal words of G-d. They are proclaiming that one must never compromise on matters of holiness. We never will be enveloped by the darkness of Galus. We will resist the corruption of Hellenism and its countless manifestations and variations throughout history.

The Gemorah (Shabbos 21b) states that one may light the Menorah “for as long as there are people in the marketplace.” As long as the Tarmudai are still about, the obligation to light the Menorah is in force. Rashi explains that the Tarmudai are people who sold twigs for light in the period of the Gemorah. They were the last to leave the streets for they waited there for everyone to go home, at which time some would then discover that they were short of fuel, and would rush out to purchase more twigs. Only after the Tarmudai were assured that everyone had sufficient fuel, would they go home.

The Gemorah may be telling us allegorically that as long as there are Jews in the secular world who seek the truth, even if they are misguided and seek it from strangers, we have an obligation to feature the Pach Shemen Tahor and proclaim its message and that of the Menorah to them. Though darkness has descended and it appears that there is no one to talk to, as long as there are people searching we have to leave the light on for them.

The Rambam ends off Hilchos Chanukah with the statement that “Gadol Shalom, peace is great, for the entire Torah was given to establish peace in the world, as it says, ‘deracheha darchei noam vechol nesivoseha shalom.’”

Perhaps that is also a reference to Aharon Hakohein who was the quintessential man of peace and outreach, “Oheiv shalom verodef shalom, oheiv as habriyos umekarvan leTorah.”

When we light the Menorah and follow the Divine commandments we must always be cognizant of that portion of Aharon’s legacy—that of pursuing peace. It is not enough to be bearers of the holy mantle and the untainted Pach; we can not let our obligations serve as an excuse to offend or harm others. Shalom must always be a foremost priority.

As we light the menorah and watch the little flames dance, let us take heed of the message the menorah is imparting. Let’s bear in mind that we are part of the consolation given by Hashem to Aharon Hakohein and therefore must attempt to perform the mitzva with the same kedusha and pure intentions he would have invested in it.

Let us pray that we will soon merit once again having Aharon kindle the great menorah in the Bais Hamikdosh, be’vias moshiach tzidkeinu, bimeheirah b’yomeinu. Amen.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The drama that takes place between Yehuda and Tamar in Parshas Vayeishev is replete with lessons that, if we absorb them fully, could alter some of the most ingrained patterns of our lives.

Tamar was prepared to be burnt alive, rather than embarrass Yehuda. In her eyes, sparing Yehuda humiliation took priority over preserving her own life.

We know that the reason the Torah recounts events for us is not for entertainment value or to offer historical insights, but to teach us the proper way to live.

Yet week after week, we learn the Parshiyos and barely scratch the surface of the story, much less internalize the lessons they are meant to teach us.

The story of Yehuda and Tamar is a powerful example of how sipurei Tanach impart to us profound lessons in how a Jew is to behave. Let us analyze and study some of the sources to uncover this story’s riches.

Rashi points out that this story is the source for the Gemorah in Sotah 10b and Bava Metziah 59a, that teach that it is better for a person to throw himself into a burning furnace than to cause public embarrassment to his friend.

When we learn that Rashi, we recognize the value of the lesson that it’s not nice to embarrass other people. We think, okay, I’ll be more careful next time. When the opportunity presents itself, I will try not to embarrass anyone. We give it a little thought and we go on to the next story and the next Rashi.

We don’t come close to grasping the enormity of what the Gemorah learns from the tale of Yehuda and Tamar.

Tosfos in Sotah asks that if a person is required to jump into fire rather than humiliate another Jew, then it follows that publicly humiliating another person is on par with the three cardinal sins that a Jew must avoid even at the cost of his life— yayhoraig v’al yaavor; why is it then not listed with them.

Tosfos answers that Halbonas Panim –shaming someone publicly—is not included with the cardinal sins of Avodah Zorah, Gilui Arayos and Shefichas Domim, because those three are commandments explicit in the Torah and halbonas ponim is not.

Tosfos takes the Gemorah very literally and rules that publicly humiliating someone is as severe as killing the person.

Rabbeinu Yonah holds like Tosfos, while other Rishonim, such as the Me’iri in Brachos [43a], Sotah [10a], and Kesubos [77b] differ. Their position is that the Gemorah’s intention is to underscore the seriousness of halbonas ponim, while not attaching the same severity to it as to the three cardinal sins.

With regard to publicly shaming a fellow Jew, the Gemorah in Bava Metzia [49b] says that one who is malbin pnei chaveiro berabim, as well as one who is mechaneh shem lechaveiro – someone who calls his fellow by an embarrassing nickname, are both punished with Gehenom.

The Gemorah asks that if calling someone by a nickname he dislikes and embarrassing someone seem to be the same crime, why does the Gemorah list them individually as two separate aveiros?

The Gemorah answers that the case of mechaneh shem refers to an instance when the fellow is accustomed to being called by that name. Rashi explains that even in this case, when the subject has become immune to the name, if the one using it on his fellow Jew intended to embarrass him, the action still falls under the rubric of mechaneh shem lechaveiro and he is punished for the act.

The Maharasha points out the difficulty with Rashi’s explanation of the Gemorah. If the person is not embarrassed and not pained by the nickname, why should the person who used it be punished so severely?

I was discussing this with one of my sons and he astounded me with his explanation of the Gemorah that answered the Maharsha’s question.

He referred me to the Rambam in Peirush Hamishnayos on Perek Cheilek in Sanhedrin, [DH Veatah]. The Rambam states there that the sins of malbin pnei chaveiro, mechaneh shem lechaveiro and mis’kabeid bekalon chaveiro–reveling in someone’s disgrace, even though they may appear to be minor crimes, are symptomatic of a defective soul. Such a soul lacks shlaimus and is not worthy of Olam Habah.

In other words, the reason a person who humiliates others has no share in Olam Habah and is sentenced to Gehenom, is not that he is being punished for his cruelty to his fellow man. It is rather that through his attempted belittlement of his fellow man he demonstrates his own diminutiveness, and as such is not worthy of a share in the world to come.

The Gemorah in Bava Metzia is teaching a profound thought: If one addresses or refers to someone in a way intended to humiliate or degrade him, even if the person is hardened to the ridicule and no longer feels pained by it, the offender has exposed a source of corruption in his soul that forfeits him his share in Olam Habah.

Often we find ourselves speaking to and about people in a derogatory manner which causes them pain and public humiliation, without giving it a second thought. We say things to be cute and sound smart, and someone else pays the price for our display of humor or genius. We think we are scoring points with our great wit, but what we are really doing is displaying for all to see that we have a defect in our own souls.

We now understand Rashi differently. We know now that Rashi is not speaking allegorically when he says it is preferable to throw oneself into a fire than to make fun of someone, but is quoting a Gemorah. Rashi was not exaggerating the severity of causing someone else pain in order to motivate people to take heed. He was conveying the reality of how harshly the act of halbonas ponim is viewed by the Torah. Halbanos panim is literally on par with retzicha.

When we interact with others, when we speak about other people, we must exercise supreme care not to cause anyone pain. To consider another’s feelings is not just a nice thing to do; to address people properly is not just good manners, it defines who we are. If we want to be Bnei Olam Habah, and have a share in the world to come, we have to mend the defects in our souls. We can start by taking other people’s feelings into consideration.

Taking advantage of other people is not the road to getting ahead. Instead, learn the Parsha week by week and internalize its potent lessons.

We must turn to Rashi to clarify those lessons, and to the Gemorah, the Maharsha, the Rambam… and sometimes even to our own children. We have to be tuned in to the right frequency, with an open mind and a receptive soul. That way we can absorb what the Torah wants us to learn, and adapt it to patch up the holes in our psyches and neshomos.

If we spend some serious time thinking about the world to come and planning what we can do to get there, there are so many messages and guideposts along the way to lead us there. May we all be zoche to Shleimus Hanefesh.