Wednesday, March 30, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Witnessing what is going on around us would be a good lesson in reinforcing in our psyches the eternal wisdom of the Torah and the perception of Chazal.

We all know the story of Shlomo Hamelech and how he advised two women who were arguing which of them was the real mother of a baby to cut the child in half and share it. He told them it was too difficult for him to decide which mother had actually given birth to the child and that this was the best solution to their quarrel.

One of the women readily accepted the ruling and marveled at the king’s genius. The other responded that she could not bear to see her baby harmed and would rather lose the child to the imposter than see it cut in half.

Shlomo Hamelech had his answer. The woman who rejected his ruling was obviously the baby’s mother. Anyone who could countenance killing the baby could not possibly be the true mother.

When you first learn that story in Nach you probably wondered how it can be that a woman would actually fall for that Solomonic reasoning and you wonder how Shlomo even suggested it. How did he think she would fall for it?


To appreciate how accurate was Shlomo’s reading of human nature, all one has to do is to read about the Schiavo travesty. In its botch-up of this case, the American system of justice is exhibiting the same twisted logic and moral bankruptcy as the phony mother in the story in Tanach.

The court’s biased reading of the letter of the law has granted a husband the license to kill his disabled wife—while her parents and siblings are begging for the right to care for her. What is this but a staggering failure of intelligence and morality?

A man fights to have his wife killed and the judicial system supports him. Incredible. How does that happen? Eight years ago this man decided that his wife had told him, before she suddenly got sick, that she would never want to be kept alive were she to be incapacitated.

Never mind that she entered her vegetative state at age 25, well before most people consider such matters. Never mind that he had forgotten about that conversation for the first seven years of her illness. There were no written instructions from the wife and no evidence at all to support the husband’s claim.

Once the judge decided to take the husband’s word at face value, in essence the case was over. Despite sworn affidavits testifying that the husband had mistreated his wife and other testimony that the woman had a strong will to live, none of this was allowed to influence the case.

The medical finding used as the basis for the judge’s decision to remove the feeding tube, that Terri Schiavo was in a “persistent vegetative state,” was written by a single doctor after a 45 minute examination. That doctor is on record as advocating the removal of feeding tubes in patients who are in a severely disabled state. It has been alleged that his findings were thus tainted to promote his agenda.

Distinguished doctors were not so sure that her condition qualified as “permanently vegetative” and believe that she could have been rehabilitated. Nurses who cared for her are on record stating that the woman was able to crudely communicate and respond at times, and was not unconscious.

In fact, one nurse swore that Terri was in distress after her husband had visited. The nurse claimed in sworn testimony that she had evidence that Mr. Schiavo had attempted to harm his wife.


It certainly appears that there were grounds to warrant a more careful investigation in light of these troubling claims. But in the eyes of the law, the above considerations carry no weight. Once the original judge ruled in favor of the husband’s “testimony” as to his wife’s wishes, no court was willing to overrule the judge’s “finding of fact.” In the eyes of the law, the so-called facts are immutable and cannot be appealed.

How can any judge in his or her right mind look into the eyes of the man who desperately seeks to end his wife’s life –so that he can carry out his stated plans to marry another woman—and believe that this man is motivated purely by regard for his disabled wife’s supposed “wishes?” Shouldn’t such a major conflict of interest disqualify the husband as his wife’s legal guardian?

How can a person who tramples on the feelings of his wife’s father, mother, brother and sister, retain the slightest credibility? How can the suspect testimony of any person who exhibits such cold-heartedness be used as the basis for a judicial decision weighing life and death?

Even more to the point: How can a judge ignore the pleas of grieving parents who pledge to care for their ill daughter? While rejecting the parents’ fervent desire to keep their daughter alive, the court instead honors the husband’s claims that he is acting out of devotion to his disabled wife by honoring her so-called “wishes” to end her life! What kind of love is it that wants the object of one’s love dead?

Can such Orwellian “logic” and perversion of justice prevail in an enlightened, humanitarian and moral nation?

Think back to the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech and how he would rule.

Think of the posuk in Mishlei (3: 16) which states “Mekom hamishpot shamah haresha,” Where justice is administered, there wickedness is found, and gain a new appreciation for the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech.

This is not to impugn in any way the United States of America and the civil liberties it affords its citizens. Indeed, this country has been a standard bearer to the nations of the world who have much to learn from its ideals of freedom, justice and equal treatment for all.

But it is a far from perfect system, depending as it does upon the wisdom of fallible human beings—who easily fall prey to pride and arrogance. Once a judge has ruled, his arrogance will not permit him to admit his error in the light of new information or a more accurate reading of the old facts. Appellate courts will follow legal precedent and not challenge a “finding of fact,” preposterous as it may seem.

A life may hang in the balance, but basic human intelligence will not be allowed to play a role in how the case is decided. An innocent person is thus sentenced to death at the hands of the courts.


At the heart of this tragedy is a simple truth: Those who advocate pulling the plug are “nogim badavar,” they have a vested interest in the case that flows from a worldview that excludes a Creator. To rule that Terri Schiavo’s life in its current state still has meaning would presuppose that there is more to human life than eating, drinking, and physical enjoyment.

To support the reinsertion of the feeding tube in someone in Terri Schiavo’s condition implies that human life is inherently a spiritual undertaking, beyond the grasp of the microscope or the human eye.

Supporters of assisted suicide are fearful of anything that would hint at a Creator. Culture-of-death adherents close their eyes to any evidence that would obligate them to adhere to a Divine code of morality. Once they acknowledge that human beings are more than animals endowed with speech, it may follow that their lives require some tweaking.

That fear leads them to espouse views that are so skewed it would be comical if it were not so tragic.

As we watch the unfolding of the Schiavo saga, we are reminded of man’s power to rationalize anything at all, even outright evil, in the service of protecting his ego and bolstering his self-importance. We must take a good like at ourselves to ensure that we do not fall victim to the same kind of self-delusion.

In Parshas Shemini (10: 1) we read of the deaths of two sons of Aharon Hakohein at the time of the Chanukas Hamishkon. Nadav and Avihu brought an eish zarah and were consumed by a Heavenly fire.

They thought they were assisting the consecration of the mizbei’ach. Their intentions were of the highest order. But they were out of place; the fire they brought was one the posuk describes as asher lo tzivah osum, it was not commanded by Hashem. To them it appeared as if their contribution was necessary, but they neglected to consult with Moshe Rabbeinu.

Nadav and Avihu were swayed by their reliance on their own intelligence. Human intelligence is just that—human; subject to error.

Whenever a Jew acts, he must question whether he is doing asher tzivah Hashem. We have to be certain we are following G-d’s commandment –not our own concept of what makes sense in a given situation— but which may in fact be totally misguided.

In parshas Ki Sisa (31: 6), when referring to the people entrusted to build the mishkon, the posuk states, “U’vleiv kol chacham lev nosati chochma, in the hearts of the wise people I have inserted wisdom.”

The question is obvious. If the people were wise to begin with, why did Hakadosh Boruch Hu have to grant them wisdom? It could be they required—over and above their own gifted intelligence—Divine wisdom to be able to comprehend Hashem’s instructions for the construction of the mishkon.

The ending of the above-mentioned posuk seems to attest to that. Ve’asu kasher tzivisichah, they shall do as I have commanded you.


Man’s intelligence is finite and flawed. A person who thinks he is smart enough to figure everything out by himself will ultimately fail. Only he who follows the tzivuy Hashem will be successful in his undertaking. The ability to comprehend that fundamental truth requires extra chochmah; that is the chochmah which Hakadosh Boruch Hu placed in the hearts of the wise men.

As we go through life, we have to grapple with the temptation to think that we understand better, that we have a better way to get things accomplished. We forget our limitations and our capacity for human error. We prefer not to acknowledge our biases and our inadequacies.

We are tempered by negios; our thought process clouded by subjective thinking. We can only succeed if we are intelligent enough to follow the tzivuy Hashem. The only guaranteed formula for success is to follow the Divine path, clearly laid out for us in Tanach, Gemorah and Shulchan Aruch, as taught by the mamshichei mesorah.

When we deviate from the time-tested path we end up without our feeding tubes, without any options for appeal or avenues of retreat.

At the completion of the mishkon, Moshe Rabbeinu offered a prayer, Yehi ratzon shetishreh Shechinah bema’asei yedeichem, May it be His will that the Shechinah will rest upon your handiwork.”

Those who follow the tzivuy Hashem are blessed that the Shechinah rests upon their work. May Hashem shower this brochah upon us and all that we do.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Did you ever wonder what it is about Purim that generates so much joy and affection? What is it about this holiday that differentiates it from all others—that seems to speak to Jews of all ages and backgrounds?

There is a mitzva to be happy on Pesach and Sukkos as well, yet despite our best efforts, we don’t always manage to attain the level of happiness that Purim seems to trigger automatically.

What supernatural power was invested in the Purim miracle that led Chazal to declare that its commemoration will endure for all time?

Perhaps the reason for its universal and timeless appeal is that the Megillah story is one which everyone can relate to. We all know someone who reminds us of one or another of the Purim protagonists and villains. We can all point to someone we can compare to Achashveirosh, a fickle person playing both sides of the fence, usually making a foolish spectacle of himself. Vashtis abound. We all know someone we can caricature as Haman. We often see virtuous Mordechai-esque figures ridiculed, even by their own constituents.

Many times we find ourselves in dire situations from which no escape seems possible without Divine intervention. We have nowhere to turn to for rescue.

Purim tells us to never give up hope. Purim teaches us that all that transpires to us in this world is part of a Divine plan. It will all turn out for the good, if we are only patient and follow G-d’s word. The Purim buzzword, “venahapoch hu,” reminds us that Hashem can bring about a stunning reversal of a nation’s destiny in the blink of an eye.

To celebrate the miracle of Purim and the joy of knowing that we are under Hashem’s constant supervision even when His presence is hidden, we are commanded to drink wine—so much wine that we can no longer tell the difference between arur Haman and baruch Mordechai.

Of course it must be done responsibly and in the context of the Seudah. But why do Chazal say that losing the awareness of the difference between arur Haman and baruch Mordechai is the yardstick that determines that one has fulfilled his obligation? Why must one become inebriated to such a degree?


Throughout the year we are confronted with all kinds of people and the vast spectrum of human behavior—from righteous and noble to incorrigibly evil, and the many shades of grey in between. Because the Torah expects us to embrace good and reject evil, it is imperative that we train ourselves to discern one from the other.

Because evil often masquerades as virtue, the task of unmasking the “imposter” is often extremely difficult. It demands constant vigilance and sensitivity, as well as emotional and intellectual honesty.

Once a year we are released from this demanding task—and that is on Purim, when one is in fact urged to become so intoxicated he mixes up Haman and Mordechai.

But this once-a-year release only underscores the extreme importance of our mandate during the rest of the year: to constantly scrutinize oneself and one’s surroundings in order to guard against evil in its myriad guises.

We live in a time where up is down and down is up. We have to resist being blown about and confused by the prevailing winds—not only in our own private lives but in the society around us as well.

Just take a look at what is going on in Florida. A mentally handicapped woman is the focus of the entire country as her husband seeks to have her legally killed.

As Congress passed a bill to reinstall her feeding tube, a survey showed that seventy-seven percent of physicians believe it is medically ethical to remove the tube, thus bringing about the woman’s death through dehydration and starvation.

A majority of physicians (83%) felt that a patient’s spouse, immediate family (65%) and peer review physicians (61%) should be required by law to be involved in a decision to remove a feeding tube from a patient who depends on the feeding tube to sustain life.

A minority believed that professional ethicists (30%), psychiatrists (12%), clergy (11%), lawmakers/Congress (6%) should be required by law to be involved in such a decision.

As efforts are underway to save a woman’s life, the majority of so-called “ethicists” and major media condemn those who want to keep the woman alive, as fanatics. They impugn the character and intentions of religious people, conservatives and members of the republican political party who are fighting to keep the woman from being murdered.

Those on the side of life are derided in the media and defeated in court decision after decision, as an enlightened world lobbies to pull the plug on life.

How are we supposed to maintain equilibrium in a topsy-turvy world? How are we supposed to keep faith that good will be victorious over evil?

When good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people, the Megillah reminds us that appearances are deceptive; that the “wheel of fortune” is manipulated by Hashem for His own purposes. The Megillah reminds us that all that happens is part of a Divine plan which we can’t expect to understand until the entire story has unfolded.

The evil force may appear to be advancing but it is only in order for Hashgacha to set that power up for a more drastic descent to the death. Evil may be on the ascent, but it is but a passing phenomenon, destined to fail. Goodness and virtue may appear frail and unimposing, but those who follow the path of G-d will ultimately triumph.

In every generation they plot our destruction but we are still here, thriving and prospering. And we will do so with Hashem’s help until the coming of Moshiach.

That message resonates for all time, wherever Jews find themselves. As we masquerade about exchanging mishloach manos with friends and dishing out Purim gelt to the less fortunate, we tap into the kedusha and message of the holy day.


That message never loses its timeliness. Every year we gain a new appreciation of what took place in those critical times and its relevance to us today. We also gain a new perspective. Was Haman consumed by hatred or was it jealousy that drove him mad? Was he a megalomaniac? Or was he just a common anti-Semite? Perhaps he was all of the above.

The lesson for us is that we should avoid all these forms of evil. Humility may have saved Haman as would have his high status as a trusted confidante of King Achachveirosh—had he been satisfied with that prestige. Had he been less greedy for power, he might not have suffered a devastating downfall and would not have ended up on the gallows.

Had he not been in such a mad rush for power he could have continued climbing up the corporate ladder until he reached the pinnacle. He would have remained there at the height of power instead of ending up dangling from end of a rope.

As we read the story we think of people we know who engage in self-destructive behavior and thank Hashem we are not like them. We internalize the tale and take its message to heart —and feel grateful for the clarity that enables us to be happy with out lot.

Many times we wish we had the guts to do what is right but are worried about the repercussions. What will people say about us? Perhaps they will call us baalei machlokes or say that we are triggering the wrath of officialdom upon ourselves or the community. Then we read the Megillah and study the various Midrashim about what Mordechai Hatzadik did and realize that his actions—though unpopular when he did them—in fact led to the rescue of the Jewish people.


Not everyone in his time agreed with him, but he was vindicated by the Megillah and by history. This is not to be understood as giving blanket permission for headstrong, irresponsible behavior, but rather to convey the truth that when one acts according to Halacha, he need not fear negative consequences.

Mordechai’s words “Umi Yodeiah Im L’eis Kazos Higaat L’malchus” ring in the ears of every Jew who is about to make a fateful decision. As one weighs the risks of taking the more ambitious but nobler route, Mordechai’s profound words goad him on.

Those words are an eternal charge inspiring one not to be daunted by the obstacles but to pour one’s energies into productive projects that benefit themselves and/or our people.

Esther was afraid that she was doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Mordechai was prompting her to appeal to Achashveirosh eleven months ahead of the date Haman had chosen to annihilate the Jewish people. She would rather have stalled, in the hope that between Nissan and the next Adar there would be a more opportune time for her to appeal on behalf of her brethren. Why did it have to be now?

The tendency to postpone doing what we know is crucial for us to do is familiar to most of us. We say that tomorrow will be a better time. We say we have several months in which to get it done and maybe next week we will feel better; maybe next month the other party will be in a better mood; why rush into it now?

Mordechai’s message calls out to us, telling us: “Now is the time. Don’t push it off. Don’t find excuses to do it some other time. Time is of the essence.”


Esther is tested time and again through the period in which the story takes place. Each time it appears that there is no way she can outmaneuver the evil facing her. But she is the heroine of the story because she is galvanized by her hopes rather than her fears. She relies upon the sage counsel of her uncle, the Rosh Sanhedrin. With Mordechai supporting her, she refuses to allow fear to paralyze her.

Faced with situations from which we think there is no way we can extradite ourselves without getting hurt, we can remember Queen Esther and gain strength from the knowledge that by doing the right thing she saved her people from certain destruction. In following Mordechai’s instructions, she became immortalized in the consciousness of the Jewish people, as a righteous and strong woman who put the fate of her people ahead of her personal safety and happiness.

The Jews of Shushan, too, taught us a message that carries down through the ages. They had given up all hope. They felt doomed. The lot was drawn and their fate was sealed. But Mordechai and Esther taught them the power of prayer and fasting. They rose to the challenge, and thanks to the leadership of Mordechai and Esther, G-d heard their tefillos and accepted their teshuva. A day marked for sadness and death was transformed into a day of celebration and deliverance.

During the rest of the year we may get despondent and lose our smiles, but on Purim we are reminded to never become depressed or downcast

We all have problems, everyone has a pekel, and on Purim we are reminded that just as our ancestors were delivered from despair, so too can we be spared of our burdens in our day.

The sun will shine again, good will triumph over evil.

It’s Purim, come on, raise your feet in dance, turn your lips to smiles, erase the frown; stop dragging your feet; let the happiness mask the sadness today and every day. Look at the positive and not the negative, be optimistic not pessimistic. Let the spirit, and spirits, of Purim pervade your psyche and influence your outlook. Simcha is contagious.

It happened in Shushan; it will happen here, too.

Happy Purim.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Vayikrah, which details the complex laws of korbanos opens with a lesson seemingly unrelated to the bringing of a korban.

The first word of the parsha is Vayikrah. As we all know, the alef at the end of this word in the Sefer Torah is considerably smaller than the four other letters which comprise the word.

Vayikrah means “he called.” Without the final alef, the word is vayiker, which means “he happened to [appear to] him.”

When transcribing the Torah, Moshe Rabbeinu in his humility wrote vayikrah with a small alef, in order to downplay his importance and his closeness with G-d.

Rashi explains that vayikrah is an expression of love, one used by the angels as well. Vayiker, on the other hand, is a euphemism applied to something tamei, unclean, or something that happens infrequently.

Moshe Rabbeinu would rather have had future generations think that his relationship with Hashem was akin to the relationship Bilaam had with Him. He preferred that no one know its true nature; that it was derech chiba, as Rashi says, one of singular love.

Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest leader the Jewish people ever had, the greatest Novi who merited the unparalleled distinction of peh el peh adabeir bo, wanted to leave an impression that he was not all that great after all.

The Medrash states that Moshe wiped his forehead with the extra ink that remained from reducing the size of the alef in vayikrah, and this caused the koran ohr panav, the unnatural brightness of his face. The drop of ink wiped across his brow is what gave Moshe Rabbeinu’s face the brilliant glow.

The posuk that recounts how Moshe returned from Har Sinai with the facial luster tells us that the Jewish people were afraid to approach him. But Moshe was unaware of how his face had been altered and called out to Aharon, the Nessiim and all of the Jewish people. From then on, he concealed his face with a mask during the times that he was not in communication with Hashem.

Moshe was the anav mikal Adam, the humblest of men who walked the earth. Chazal teach that the Torah was delivered on Har Sinai because it was a small and unassuming mountain. Torah leadership and Torah itself demand humility. The “alef” of Torah leadership—and the foremost requirement in molding oneself into a Torah personality—is to conduct oneself with anavah.

Moshe Rabbeinu had just spent forty days and forty nights in the company of Hashem. He had written the luchos, received the secrets of the Torah and all the halachos leMoshe mi’Sinai. And when he returned he was prepared to speak to the Jewish people just as he had before, as if nothing had changed.

After spending forty days and nights in Divine company he was still able to communicate with ordinary people; he didn’t consider it below his dignity to deal with the common folk. But the people knew better. They saw that he had changed, that it wasn’t the same Moshe Rabbeinu; that he was treated with a special love by Hashem.


Moshe Rabbeinu was strong and assertive when it came to chastising Bnei Yisroel when they sinned; he did not hesitate to confront Korach and his evil group; he did not vacillate when dealing with Pharoh; but when it came to interacting with his fellow Jews he did so with pure anavah.

Somebody smaller than Moshe would have considered it beneath his dignity to speak with mortals. Moshe Rabbeinu was great enough that he didn’t. After writing the luchos, when he ascended the highest levels of kedusha, Moshe approached Klal Yisroel no differently than prior to that Divinely uplifting experience.

It was the very humble act of writing the small alef that instead of veiling his greatness, caused it to become known. Kol haboreach min hakavod hakavod borei’ach acharov; Moshe sought to escape from honor and thus proved himself most deserving of the ultimate kavod.

It would surely be to our advantage if we followed the lesson of Moshe Rabbeinu and realized where we stand in society—on equal terms with each and every other Jew. Only a person who is indeed small can perceive himself as better than others.

Any believing Jew ought to know that if he is born more intelligent than others, it is a gift from Hashem and it obligates him to do more than those created without these gifts. Smart as a person is, there is so much he doesn’t know and will never be able to learn. A humble, G-d fearing person feels smaller as he gains more knowledge, for the more he learns the more he realizes that there is yet more to know—and the more he becomes aware of his own inadequacy.

Any intelligent person who has been blessed with wealth also ought to realize that his largesse is a gift from G-d, as well as a challenge to see if he will use it for good.

If a person were to honestly review all he did as he was climbing up the corporate ladder and building his business, he would have to acknowledge all the missteps he took, or almost took, which had the potential to sink him. His mistakes didn’t wipe him out and his near-mistakes were caught in time, only because Hashem wanted him to succeed. Therefore, even the most grievous miscalculations failed to torpedo the pre-ordained plan. Only a fool can think that his genius and dazzle earned him his millions.

And the same is true with any gift a person possesses; only someone thoroughly blinded by conceit can think that they did all by themselves. Did they create themselves with beauty and intelligence? Do they have anything to do with the way they look? Was it something they did that made them smarter than other people?


The foremost prerequisite in bringing a korban—the proverbial “alef” of the entire process—is to realize that humilty is the first letter of Torah observance. Someone who is coming to offer up a sacrifice to atone for a sin he committed has to be cognizant of the fact that he is but a small cog in a Divine plan. One who sins may have forgotten that all he has is from the Creator and has thus fallen prey to temptations of his Yeitzer Horah.

A person who realizes that all he has is from Hashem is much less likely to sin and to harm his fellow man.

It is not enough to dwell in the House of the L-rd; it is insufficient to seek atonement through a Korban if one fails to appreciate his proper place in creation. A haughty person will continue to trample on people’s property and feelings. An arrogant individual will continue to be careless with his observance of mitzvos. After all, who out there can tell him what to do?

One who wishes to set themselves upon the path of perfection and atonement must first follow the example of Moshe Rabbeinu and seek to minimize his own self-importance. One who wants to achieve true greatness must realize how small he is in the grand scheme.

True Jewish leaders have time for children and the peshutei am who line up for their blessings. Gedolim through the ages have been beloved and renowned as much for their gadlus b’Torah as their midos tovos. Gedolim have always been eminently accessible and approachable by supplicants who seek out their wisdom and counsel. Since the days of Moshe Rabbeinu, our manhigim have never considered it beneath their dignity to minister to the masses.

Rav Shach would distribute candy to children; Rav Boruch Ber posed for the camera of a widow who wanted to earn a few desperately needed kopeks selling his picture; we all know the stories. They were not just sweet old men; they were giants who made time for everyone. They knew that it didn’t take away from their own kavod to give kavod to others.


I recently heard a story about a contemporary Rosh Yeshiva that exemplifies the trait of kindness fused with humility. It is doubtful whether its hero even remembers it happened.

Last summer, a young man who had recently become a baal teshuvah went to Yerushalayim to study in Yeshiva Ohr Someach. On Friday night he was sitting in his rebbi’s home, recounting a story that had happened to him in the holy city.

He told the rebbi that he had gone to the Kosel to daven and noticed some excitement and commotion nearby. People were crowding about, craning to get a look at someone.He shouted out to nobody in particular, “What is going on?” A man heard him and came over to him, explaining that two great rabbis had come to Israel on a mission for an organization named Lev L’Achim. The man told him that they are very famous and beloved American rabbis and the people at the Kosel wanted to catch a glimpse of them. One of them, he said, is Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levin who heads the Telshe Yeshiva in Chicago. He identified the other as Rabbi Aharon Schechter who heads a famous yeshiva in Brooklyn called Rabbi Chaim Berlin. The man suggested that the baal teshuvah join the others and approach the rabbi and ask him for a brocha.

Feeling bashful, the man declined. His new friend then took him by the hand and said, “Come I’ll take you over to the rabbi.” He introduced him to Rav Schechter and asked him to give the young man a brocha that he should succeed in his studies in Yerushalayim.

The young man relating this story marveled at the kindness and warmth of a total stranger who went out of his way to make sure he received a coveted brocha from the visiting rabbi. He had had wanted to thank his benefactor, but before he could do so, the man got swallowed up in the crowd and disappeared from view.

The rebbi commented that there were actually three American rabbis on that mission, not two. “Didn’t the man tell you about Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky? He is the Rosh Yeshiva of the Philadelphia yeshiva and a leading rabbi in America. He was part of the mission. Unfortunately, you missed on opportunity to meet one of the senior and leading roshei yeshiva.”

The rebbi then showed his guest one of the various Israeli publications that had published pictures of the Lev L’Achim mission. “Look right here,” he said to him, “here is a picture of the three of them, and that one is Rabbi Kamenetsky.”

The young man blinked in amazement. “That is the man who befriended me!” he exclaimed. “He’s the one who took me by the hand and brought me over to Rabbi Schechter for a brocha.”

Rav Shmuel was the selfless and unassuming man who had slipped away from the paparazzi and dozens of followers. He was busy extending a helping hand to a young man at the Kosel, answering his questions and bringing him to the great Rosh Yeshiva for a brocha.

That is anava. That is something for us to emulate. We don’t always have to push to the front to the center of action. There is plenty to accomplish behind the scenes and from the sidelines.

There are countless times that Rav Shmuel is at the front, on the Mizrach and on the dais where he rightfully belongs. Yet he is great enough to know that it is not beneath his dignity to step back when necessary, in order to befriend someone lost in the tumult and seeking some direction.

And if it’s not below his dignity it should not be beneath ours to find time for other people and not always be so self-centered. Let us try to inculcate in ourselves anavah and ahavas Yisroel and do our best to implement these qualities in our dealings with our fellow Jews. We can take the time to say a nice hello, give directions and assistance to those who need it. Life is not all about us; it’s about what we can do for the other guy as well.

That is the alef of Torah—the very first step. From this foundation, all the rest follows.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This Shabbos we bentched Rosh Chodesh Adar Beis. But the usual rush of simcha that accompanies that event was overshadowed by tragedies that have our community reeling with sadness. Sunday was the Levayeh of Rav Yissocher Rothschild, a young Rosh yeshiva; Monday was the levayeh of Rebetzin Zehava Braunstein, a renowned and beloved mechaneches. The losses continue to pile up.

So here we are, on a drab, wintry day, three weeks into Adar Alef and there seems to be nothing but sorrow all around. In addition to the grief caused by these untimely deaths, we are grappling with problems arising from divisiveness and machlokes. The backbiting and discord come from all sides.

There are so many arguments in our community, and so many lives disrupted by these quarrels. People are wrongly blamed for things they did not do; the whispering and insinuations continue behind their backs. Good people who never harmed anyone find themselves the butt of criticism and mockery.

Life itself seems so taxing at times. We work so hard to make ends meet, to find solutions for the problems that face us. We see no way out of so many vexing issues confronting us.

And yet we are told that Adar is a month of happiness.

There are too many people out there who wonder how or when they can ever be happy. As long as they aren’t happy, how can we be?

It is so hard to feel simcha when there are so many people barely clinging to life. We all know too many people who are in desperate need of a refuah and so many waiting for a yeshua of one sort or another.

How can we blissfully go about our business while hundreds of single girls watch the months and years go by without having yet found a mate? How can we be happy when we know of so many people who can’t make ends meet? How can we walk around blithe and carefree when we are aware of so much sadness and confusion in our community? How can we be positive about our future when there is so much negativity and cynicism around us?

Look about you. It’s a cold, gray day. The thermometer is still way below where you’d like it to be. Life is a monotonous routine - or so it seems. Work has become a drag. You peer outside to escape the gloom and instead watch the snowflakes spiraling down through the cold night air. You fear that those mid-winter blues have you in their grip.

The chill of the exile has taken over your being.

Shabbos you bentched Rosh Chodesh Adar Beis and thought maybe the sun would be shining the next day; maybe with the announcement that Adar Beis is around the corner things would turn around. Soon you’d be feeling like the Jews of Shushan when they were saved from extermination. After all, Mishenichnas Adar Marbim Besimcha. But you just can’t pull yourself out of the slump. From all sides the picture looks dreary and discouraging.

What are we to do? How are we to get happy in a dark world?

If we attempt to spread happiness among those unfortunates who really have so little to look forward to, we will not only bring them joy, but will increase the joy in our own lives. If we refuse to ignore the suffering of others and resist the urge to turn a blind eye to people who could use our assistance but are ashamed to ask, we can chase away some of the darkness.

If we seek opportunities to join in a fellow Jew’s simcha, we will find we not only have enhanced his simcha but have deepened our own capacity to feel simcha as well.

If we seek to be mechazeik others and support them, instead of stooping to knock them down and criticize them, we can improve the world and make it a better place for everyone to live in.

If we look towards the future with optimism and seek ways to strengthen our schools, yeshivos and talmidei chachomim, there will be a brighter future for ourselves and our children.

The Megillah relates that the Chachomim in the time of the miracle instituted the practice of sending mishloach manos on Purim. Chazal interpret the mitzva as an obligation to send a friend two different types of food on Purim. Nowadays, the mitzvah has “expanded;” we send an assortment of foods to a variety of acquaintances.

Perhaps we can understand the mitzvah on a different level. The word “manna” really doesn’t mean food, its proper definition is “portion.” manos is plural of manna, thus the obligation is to send your friends portions on Purim.

Mishloach Manos does not mean merely to send the standard nosh plus a little bottle of grape juice, but rather to send the person what he or she needs; something uniquely tailored for each recipient. This one needs a dose of hope; this one a good word; this one a smile. That one needs encouragement to keep battling on, and someone else needs clothing for his family for Yom Tov.

On Purim, the happiest day in the Jewish calendar, the mitzvos of the day —mishteh, simcha, mishloach Manos ish lereyeihu, umatanos L’Evyonim—are intended to help enhance the day’s joy.” In other words, the way to enhance and increase joy is by helping others, by distributing money to the poor and by giving our friends doses of what they need.

Umishloach manos ish lereyeihu. Every person should be attuned to what his fellow needs and in the spirit of Purim, help that person out by delivering it to him.

The posuk in Shmuel Aleph [1, 4-5] uses the term “Manna” in connection with a narrative describing how Elkana would go to Shilo and offer karbanos there. At that time he would give to his wife Peninah and all her sons and daughters “mannos.” And to Chana he would give “manna achas apayim, ki es Chana oheiv, vaHashem sogar rachmah.”

Elkana would give to Chana manna achas apayim, because he loved her and she had no children. Rashi explains that he gave her a portion intended to be accepted “B”seiver panim yafos.” The Radak adds that he gave her a respectable portion intended to remove her sadness and anger.

That is the “manna” which we are to deliver on Purim. By giving the people we love and care about manna achas apayim, double portions, we can help assuage their anger over the things in their lives which aren’t going properly. Through mishloach manos we can soothe aching hearts and comfort ruffled feathers. The mitzva is to spread happiness and joy. The mitzva is to go from friend to friend with portions of what they require in order to elicit simcha and appreciation for the gift of life.

B’Echod B’Adar Mashmiyim Ahl HaShekolim. This Shabbos we read the parsha of shekalim, that cites the obligation for each Jewish male to contribute one half shekel to the mishkon to the month of Adar. What is this parsha’s connection to Purim?

Perhaps the lesson to be gained from the mitzvah for every person to contribute the half shekel is to teach us that every Jew is meant to be a giver. All Jews are equally important and equally needed in contributing to the Mishkon. Without each person’s donation something is lacking in the keren of the Beis Hamikdosh.

In Adar, the month of happiness, this thought ought to bring a smile to our lips. We each have a mission to fulfill on this earth and we are all treated equally by the Kohanim and Leviim in the mishkon. Every one’s half shekel is cumulatively what keeps the mishkon operating.

Every person was put on this earth to fulfill his or her unique mission. Some were born bright, while others were not. There are those who, no matter what they invest in, always come out ahead, while others just scrape along. That is not the yardstick by which we judge others; the only thing that matters is that we do our best to realize our potential and fulfill the goals for which we were created. What counts is that we are givers, always looking to share our gifts and portions with fellow Jews.

We fulfill our mission in life by giving of ourselves to others. We never know how much time is allotted to us here or how long the window of opportunity to fulfill our particular mission will remain open. If we use our time properly, studying Torah, performing mitzvos; effecting positive change and engendering happiness for others, our lives will be imbued with satisfaction and happiness.

Truly successful people are those who utilize their time to the fullest advancing causes and ideas which lead to the betterment of others. Successful people are those who don’t jealously look over their shoulders to see if they have as much as the next guy. Successful people do not begrudge others success and joy in life. They work to help the other fellow get ahead. They do what they can to help the less fortunate find happiness.

Successful people are happy in Adar and all year round because they take the messages of mishloach manos and shekalim to heart. Such people are unbowed by the cold of winter or the lonely sadness of defeat or temporary setback. Adar people always look ahead with the knowledge that tomorrow will be a better day. Their lives are fueled with the faith that with G-d’s help they can overcome all odds.

In the spirit of Adar let us do what we can to cause the grey clouds to part; let us all draw smiles on the faces of those who frown. We all have what to contribute; we can all bring joy and happiness to others; one half shekel at a time, one portion at a time.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week, when the Siyum Hashas of the Daf Yomi occupies center stage in our community and in religious Jewish homes, is a most fitting time to examine our relationship with Shas, in general, and Talmidei Chachomim, in particular.

For everyone to gather and celebrate the major accomplishment of having completed Shas is without question a wonderful thing. The question is, what does it ultimately accomplish?

“Ah Shas Yid” was once one of the greatest compliments you could pay a Jew; a man would walk into the shul and someone would say “Ehr iz a shas yid,” and everyone would exclaim “Aahhh!” and stand up in respect.

Once upon a time, a Jew’s goal was to finish and know Shas. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this grand siyum would be if people would resolve to actually sit down and make friends with the Gemorah.

It is very nice that tens of thousands of people thronged together to join in the celebration of a major accomplishment. It is tremendous that with each passing siyum the number of attendees grow larger and larger, attracting successively more people. But it seems as if perhaps too much attention is placed only on the number of people who attended the siyumim, instead of on how many people actually rise early and go to bed late in order to achieve this milestone. The excitement of the climax should not overshadow the story of the struggle to get there.

The emphasis ought to be on the day-to-day heroes of the Daf Yomi, the people who labored for seven and a half long years to reach this milestone. Over that period of time, through times of happiness and sadness; deep cold and oppressive heat; ups and downs; good days and bad days; births and rch”l deaths, engagements and weddings; through every challenge that life throws at us, these people persevered and found a way to do the Daf.

The massive gatherings are in essence a tribute to the Mesaymim. Yes, the magnitude of the turnout is evidence of how far we have come as a people and as individuals since the decimation of our brethren during the Holocaust, and that is something to take pride in. But it doesn’t mean we should forget what the gathering, at its core, is really all about.

People go to a wedding and meet old friends and family members they haven’t seen in a while. They catch up on old news and enjoy a good meal and in the process forget what the celebration is all about. They get so wrapped up in the outer trimmings that they forget that celebrating a Jewish marriage is akin to celebrating the rebuilding of a part of the churvos Yerushalayim.

A new Jewish couple brings promise into the world; they carry the potential for rebirth and renewal of the Jewish people—another link in the glorious chain linking back to Yerushalayim of yore. They embody the hope and dream that our nation’s future will continue through them and their offspring. Sharing this dream are hundreds of family members and friends traveling from near and far to join in the festivities.

The Siyum Hashas commemorates the same promise and it can surely be said that one who attends it and joins in the celebration is regarded as having taken a role in the rebuilding of the ruins of Yerushalayim. It is through the study of Torah and support of Torah that Yerushalayim will be rebuilt, speedily in our days.

But weddings and bar-mitzvahs and other simchos do not always bring out sunshine and happiness in others. People complain about the many simcha obligations they have. “Don’t tell me there’s another bar mitzvah we have to go to,” they groan. “Why do people have to make such a large affair for their son’s Bar Mitzvah, what’s the big deal, why do they need me there?”

The big deal is that we celebrate yet another Jew accepting upon himself the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos. The big deal is that despite all the sufferings and persecutions of Golus, we are still here. We are still the nation of Hashem, we are still the Am Hanivchar, and we still remain loyal to the Torah and its precepts.

Another Jewish boy is beginning life of a Bar Chiyuvah, the ranks of the Torah people are growing and thus we celebrate.

All too often the point of the simcha gets lost in the frivolity of the occasion or shunted aside by our preoccupation with life’s problems. We forget what the celebration is for and we’d rather stay home.

We fail to realize the momentousness of a Jewish child’s entrance into the covenant of his forefathers. We don’t see that every child has the potential for greatness and thus don’t appreciate the importance of the celebration.

A siyum as well is as much a celebration of the future as it is of the past. The siyum says, “I have surmounted multiple obstacles and succeeded in completing something significant.” But it also says to those who have not yet made the siyum that they can undoubtedly do so. It celebrates the potential for greatness in everyone.

A siyum is a time for a beginning. Perhaps that is the reason why it has become de rigueur for boys to make a siyum at their Bar Mitzvah celebrations. It is not only to guarantee that the meal is a Seudas Mitzva, but also as a further indication that the young man is off to a good start.

When we see so many people gathering we should draw inspiration for the potential of Am Yisroel and each one of us. We should all be motivated to undertake additional learning for ourselves. We should be convinced that it is possible to squeeze more time into the day for more constructive pursuits.

Should everyone learn Daf Yomi? Perhaps not; perhaps some of us should take upon ourselves to learn a masechtah b’iyun, one and then another and then another until we complete the study of the entire Shas in depth. Is it a realistic goal? It is as realistic as the goal of completing Shas with the Daf-a-day program.

Perhaps we should undertake to gain a more complete and well rounded knowledge of Halacha so that we could be yet better Shomrei Torah Umitzvos, ereim Ushlaimim.

No matter which path it is upon which we embark, no one has grounds to say that he can not learn Shas. No one can say that he can’t learn a daf a day. No one can say that it is an insurmountable challenge.

Oftentimes we aspire to study or accomplish something and over time, as we continue pursuing the goal, it appears to slip further and further from our grasp. Those of us who are weaker begin slackening off and delude ourselves into thinking that perhaps the goal is indeed unattainable. We become defeatist and begin giving up.

The initial inspiration wears off and if we don’t have people around us supporting us and encouraging us forward, we can fail.

So often we can be so close to the summit and we slip back because we get discouraged by the obstacles and ridges on the path to the crest. The Siyum Hashas is our cheering squad. The Siyum Hashas beckons us onward, proclaiming to us for the next seven and a half years that we can do it.

Next time we are at the end of our line and want to quit and give up, we should think of all the people at the various international arenas who gathered to celebrate all those who persevered through every difficulty, and reached the finish line.

Think about the multitudes who gathered to cheer on the people who quietly pursue excellence and accomplishment. So many triumphed over everything thrown in their path. So can we. So many set themselves a goal and were able to reach it. So can we. So many were able to master a daf a day and much more. So can we all.

At the very minimum, we can set a goal and set out on a path to reach it. The siyum marks a chance for a new beginning. Let us at least make the attempt. It’s never too late to make a new beginning. We’re never too old for a new start.

Did you ever notice how a snow storm gets underway? It starts as a few little flakes fluttering down to the ground. They don’t stick at first. Then more and more flakes hurl downward. It appears to be a futile exercise. The flakes reach their destination on the ground and melt, disappearing without a trace.

But if the flakes persist and continue falling to the ground, eventually they increase in size and amount; the wind kicks in and starts blowing the flakes about. After a while, the flakes start sticking. And then before you know it snow starts piling up, millions of flakes converge and pile on each other. Depending on the severity of the storm, millimeters turn to an inch and then 2 inches, and then 3 and 4 and 5 and before you know it, you are snowed in.

The snow is everywhere, piling up on the streets, houses, cars, gardens, tree limbs and everything in its path.

So it is with Torah. In the beginning it may be difficult. In the beginning we may feel as if we are wasting our time. We may feel as if nothing sticks. We may ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this? Why am I going to sleep so late over this? It’s a waste of time and effort.”

Don’t pay attention to the Atzas Hayeitzer. Keep at it, one blatt and then another and another. They will pile up and before long you will begin noticing their effect. Stick to it. Keep at it. The learning will inject you with a new spirit and cover all the cobwebs in the recesses of your soul. Torah does that. It improves and enhances our lives. One blatt at a time. One Halacha at a time. One sugya at a time.

Im lo achshav aimosai!