Monday, January 17, 2005

OPEN YOUR EYES AND LOOK AROUND

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Last week I had the opportunity to go to Eretz Yisroel for a few days. The trip was successful and offered me a welcome break as well as some profound lessons that made it even more worthwhile.

For some reason while there I paid more attention than I usually do to people around me, listening to them, watching them and trying to learn something from them.

The Mishna states Eizehu Chochom Halomeid Mikal Adam. As with all teachings of Chazal there is so much to learn from following their precepts.

Let me introduce you to a couple of the people I met along the way and share what I learned from them.

A year ago I was introduced to Rabbi Menachem Gold from the town of Afulah in Israel. The son of a long-time Young Israel rabbi from Hempstead, New York, he grew up as a regular kid on Long Island, graduated the Yeshiva of South Shore and moved to Eretz Yisroel a few years after his Bar Mitzvah. His is the only American English-speaking Chareidi family in that town.

On the way to Tiveria, I saw an exit for Afulah and asked the driver to turn off. We found our way to Rabbi Gold’s school, knowing he’d be pleased to see some American visitors. Rabbi Gold is an amazing person who is doing tremendous things in that city. Working with Lev L’Achim, he has almost 300 children enrolled in his elementary school. He tells us that all the students come from non-religious homes, but when you look at them you don’t see that. When you look at the kids what you see is a group of precious Yiddishe neshamos on the path to Torah-true lives. Each has his own unique story, we are told.

Rabbi Gold and the staff of the school, which operates under the Chinuch Atzmai and Keren Nesivos Moshe umbrella, are so successful in what they do that they will soon have to create a high school for the graduates as there is no religious high school in town for them.

He is undaunted as he discusses the difficulties ahead. The school operates in cramped, but neat, clean and well-lit quarters. He says they hope to undertake the construction of a proper school building and is confident that Klal Yisroel will support the endeavor.

He seems like such an ordinary person, but at the same time, far more determined, driven and successful than most. Who else would live in a town like Afula, so far from a Torah center, dedicating himself to ensuring that there will be generations of good Jews returning to their roots? The difficulties of living there are many as are the trials and tribulations of building a mosad haTorah, but he is a happy person who takes pride in his accomplishments and looks ahead to even greater goals.

We leave there amazed at what one determined person, armed with siyata d’shamya and willpower, can accomplish.

We went there to be machazeik him, but left mechuzak ourselves, determined not to let stumbling blocks prevent us from doing our utmost to accomplish good in this world. We see once again that a positive outlook, combined with dedication to Torah, overcomes all obstacles.

We traveled on to Tiverya, Tzefas, Naharia and Netanya. There we met my good friend and Netanya resident, Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin. He was late and explained that he had spent the day in Yerushalayim with his wife and their son Yossi who was born with spina bifada. The day was spent taking Yossi through the yearly battery of tests administered by an array of doctors, each one specializing in one or other of the various disabilities which plague Yossi.

Yossi is a very special boy and despite his handicaps, has always attended regular yeshivos. Today he is a 16 year-old star talmid in the Mir Brachfeld yeshiva in Kiryat Sefer.

But the battery of tests was not why Rabbi Sorotzkin was late. He had heard about a family in Yerushalayim to whom a child was born with the crippling disease of spina bifada. He didn’t know them, but decided with his wife that once they were in Yerushalayim they should look the family up and pay them a visit.

He tells me this in a matter of fact way, not realizing how it reveals his giant heart. “I told Yossi to wait in the car and to come up after we were inside, when we call for him. We knocked, and when they opened the door to let us in, we felt as if we had come to a home where people were sitting Shiva. The mother and grandmother were sitting there crying. It was so sad. I sat there and spoke with them. My wife spoke to them—she is so special. She spoke about emunah and bitachon.

“Then we called Yossi to come in. When he entered the room, they were shocked. He joined the conversation and you could see the color returning to their faces. By the time we left, they were smiling and laughing. We had walked in on a shiva scene but when we left, it was as if they were at a wedding.”

He said it with a smile, but there was so much pain behind that smile.

I sat there and looked at him and thought how people tend to complain about all kinds of nonsense and focus on the things they can’t have or can’t do. We don’t know how to appreciate what we have. Here is my friend telling me how he sat for hours with people he didn’t know, giving them back their simchas hachaim and their hope in Hashem. So many of our problems pale by comparison—they are but stumbling blocks placed in our path which we can overcome by raising ourselves above them.

We learn from them, we deal with them; we smile and encourage others to do the same.

I stayed in the Prima Palace Hotel, formerly known as the Merkaz when it was owned by longtime Agudah Knesset member Rav Menachem Porush. He stills davens shacharis and eats breakfast there every morning. Someone came over to me and notified me that he had arranged for me to speak to him. “He’s 91 years old and has many stories to tell,” my friend said to me. “Maybe you’ll get something good out of him and it will be worth it.”

I wasn’t in the mood to hear old stories but the meeting had been arranged so I walked over to him and began listening to what the wizened old veteran askan had to say.

It turned out my friend was correct. Rav Porush indeed has much to say. At 91, he has been involved in klal work for some 70 years and has insights and valuable information on a variety of topics. With the gift of hindsight he can look back over those decades and tie things together, not looking at each incident by itself but in the context of a much broader picture.

While we were talking about the current political climate in Israel, he recounted an amazing tale.

“The day after the elections of 1977, I received a call from Menachem Begin. He told me that he would be able to put together a governing coalition. ‘Go to the Rabbonim and tell them that if your party joins with me, we will be able to turn back years of anti-religious governments.

“I went to Rav Shach and told him about Begin’s offer. He said to me that before I answer Mr. Begin I should make sure that it was numerically impossible for Shimon Peres to put together a coalition.

“There had been a threat to the arrangement which keeps religious girls out of the army and Shimon Peres was the one who worked out an understanding which protected girls from being drafted. Rav Shach told me that we must have Hakaros Hatov to Peres. ‘That comes first, Hakaras Hatov comes before everything,’ is what he told me.

“I sat down with a colleague of Peres and we worked the numbers every which way and it was evident that there was no way Peres could do it.

“Rav Shach told me to meet with Peres and tell him that we did the calculations and the numbers won’t work in his favor and therefore we will be engaging in discussions with Mr. Begin about the possibility of our joining his government.”

The rest is history.

Rabbi Porush had other stories to tell, but that one made the greatest impression on me. The Agudah’s entry into Begin’s government was a historic turning point for the religious community. Rav Shach was prepared to forgo it all out of Hakoras Hatov to Shimon Peres for something he had done years before.

Oftentimes we take people for granted; we do what is expedient at the moment without looking at the whole picture. Hakaros Hatov is such a simple, basic obligation, but so often we have no time for it. We don’t want to be burdened with feeling gratitude. It takes a Gadol and leader of the stature of Rav Shach to remind us that this is one of the highest priorities.

People look at politics as a dirty business where every man is out for himself, every politician is preoccupied less with the common good than with promoting himself. It’s all about what did you do for me today; it’s an opportunistic, dog-eat-dog world.

But Rav Shach taught a powerful lesson that day which we can all apply to our daily lives: everything else can wait, Hakaros Hatov comes first. Don’t take people for granted, don’t take advantage of people; don’t ignore the feelings of other people—even if their name is Shimon Peres.

If we would only stop and listen to the people who have been around for a long time and can draw on a wealth of life experience, we would no doubt learn something profound from them. But we are too busy running, coming and going that we don’t have patience for them. Slow down, take a deep breath and take the time to listen. You never know how much you will learn from the experience.

SHABBOS IN YERUSHALAYIM
IS A VERY SPECIAL EXPERIENCE.

Friday night at the Kosel in 70 degree weather with thousands upon thousands of Jews surrounding you, davening in every dialect and singing all types of nigunnim, is a high you can get nowhere else. The feeling is indescribable to someone who has never been there. It is one place where every Jew feels as if they belong; no matter what nusach, accent or type of outfit. Standing there, even after you’ve finished davening, you are glued to the sights and sounds and have to be prodded away. It is as if the heart and soul of every Jew pull them to this spot.

And how can you describe the shtibalch of Zichron Moshe to someone who has never been there? How do you describe the feeling of walking through the streets of Yerushalayim trampling on Garinim shells? People of all ages walking in front of you, behind you, alongside you….seeming to have not a single care on their minds. They are all Shabbosdik, through and through. The cars, noise, buses, taxis, beeping, hustle and bustle have vanished. Shabbos reigns supreme.

Before I knew it, Shabbos was over; I was rushing to the plane and was back at work. But I hope I have learned something from my trip.

You don’t really have to fly off to Eretz Yisroel to learn to listen to people. You don’t really have to travel so far for inspiration. But sometimes it is only when you get away from your usual surroundings that your brain clears enough to be open to new lessons. There are many good people all around us, but sometimes you only appreciate them when you have traveled halfway across the world.

There are people doing great things; leading courageous lives and telling enlightening tales on this side of the ocean as well. There are great Batei Midrashim and great halls of Torah and Tefilla in this country, too. We just have to open our eyes and hearts to appreciate them.

Look around at the people in your shul and Bais Medrash, you’d be amazed at how truly good some of them are. Pay attention to the person running your child’s school, he may also be a hero. Your friends also face down difficulties and rise above them; let them know that you appreciate their struggles and when they need you, be there for them.

1 Comments:

Blogger Stx said...

Thank you so much for posting these articles online! I'm nervous to be the first commenter, but I thought it was important for you to know that people in the frum world ARE out here, searching for inspiration, and are glad to find it here.

There's so much garbage in the "blogging world," so much apikorsus floating about, and many of those who portray themselves as "frum" or "yeshivish" are on the internet specifically because they're hoping to throw everything away, chas v'shalom. People search the internet for hints as to what Orthodox Judaism is, and they see blogger after blogger going off the derech or villifying Yiddishkeit. Not quite the biggest kiddush Hashem.

But these articles, these are kiddushei Hashem. Your description of a Shabbos in Yerushalayim is beautiful and true to life, as I well remember. Your messages of the importance of hakaras hatov and of searching for lessons in others' experiences are poignant. But most of all, just the existence of a blog like this will IY"H help to strengthen yidden around the world.

Thank you again.

7:20 PM  

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