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.


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