Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Israel is witnessing a political tsunami. While is seems as if it began three weeks ago when Amir Peretz trounced Shimon Peres to become the head the Labor party, the seeds of the storm were actually sown decades ago, in the early days of the state.

Following Israel’s war of liberation, Sefardic Jews by the tens of thousands left the Arab lands in which they had lived for centuries and laboriously trekked to the Promised Land. The Sefardim who made aliyah were faithful to the religion of their fathers. The secular Ashkenazi elites who ruled the country then sent these immigrants to forced re-education camps where religion was ripped away from them.

Young boys had their peyos cut off and tzitzis removed upon entry. Children were indoctrinated against Torah Judaism while the parents were intimidated into abandoning their traditions for fear of being blacklisted by the Histadrut and not being able to find employment.

They remained in their primitive desert tent cities until the leftist Mapainiks were satisfied that the Sefardic Olim had integrated sufficiently into the non-religious mainstream of the “new” Israel.

Amir Peretz was one of those boys. At age four, he was robbed of his traditions and of his religion; a sacred legacy passed down over centuries from father to son ended with Amir. As a child, little Amir grew up orphaned of all the glory that was contained in Yehudei Sefarad, transmitted down the generations ever since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh.

Amir rose up the political ladder and eventually became head of the Histadrut labor union. Then three weeks ago, he accomplished the impossible and toppled Shimon Peres from his perch at the helm of the Labor party.

Peres, protégé of Ben Gurion, who embodies all the ideals of the Mapai party, at the age of 82 boasts a lifetime record of accomplishment and basks in the limelight as a statesman with an international reputation.

Amir Peretz, that little Sefardi boy who the Mapainiks mugged 53 years ago, has now returned the favor. Shimon Peres, the elitist leftist who took a leading role in the secularization of Amir and so many others, was finally unseated. He left the Labor party and place his luck with Sharon’s new Kadima party.

“The only thing before my eyes is the country’s interest, and chances to bring about peace” Peres told Israel Radio, trying to shore up what little is left of his credibility. “There are no personal considerations in my decision.”

People can’t help but smirk. Everyone knows Peres is incensed that he lost to Amir Peretz and that he is fuming at Peretz for refusing to reserve the second slot on the Labor list for him. (Peretz said the only slot he could give Peres was the 120th, way at the end of the ticket.)

Had Peres and his fellow Mapainiks not stooped so low as to rob the Sefardim of their heritage, how much better off the man would be today. Menachem Begin would not have been able to fashion a victory out of disenfranchised Sefradim and Labor may never have lost to Begin and his Likud.

Needless to say, had Peretz been permitted to grow up in the ways of his forefathers he never would have had any ties to Labor and thus could not have toppled Peres.

This is an extreme example of the rule that actions carry consequences. This ironic sequence of events shows the stark difference between what might have been and the unfortunate reality we are dealing with instead. It also shows that if you hang around long enough and have an overview of history you can see Divine reward and punishment.

It may take decades, it may not always be plainly evident but for those who are attuned, it is often possible to discern the cause and effect.
Sometimes we do not have to wait long to see the pattern.

Reform Judaism’s most recent attack on authentic Jewish identity is a case in point. At a recent convention of Reform congregations, a new platform was adopted that puts on vivid display the utter bankruptcy of the movement as it hastens to write itself out of mainstream Judaism.

Faced with a membership in drastic decline — the movement’s leadership has sunk to a new low urging the active recruitment of converts.

“The movement that was the first to welcome intermarried families into its synagogues nearly three decades ago now will focus on actively inviting non-Jews to convert to Judaism,” JTA reported.

In other words, the movement that was the first to welcome non-Jewish spouses into their congregations, trampling one of the fundamental safeguards protecting the Jewish people, is now preparing to hammer in one of the final nails in the coffin.

By urging non-Jewish spouses to “convert” –in Reform’s twisted belief system, a non-Jew can become Jewish by simply regarding himself as a Jew—Reform leaders are hastening the destruction of authentic Jewish identity in their ranks.

The danger to the Jewish people of huge sections of Jewry whose Jewish lineage is suspect can not be underestimated.

We live in our own little cocoons and towns and fail to notice that the vast majority of American Jewry is being lost. If we don’t wake up soon and address the problem in a more serious way, these people may be lost forever to Am Yisroel. Rampant assimilation is ripping away Jews by the thousands every year.

We have a responsibility towards these people; they are our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, who need us to reach out a hand of friendship and rescue to return them to the fold. It is not easy, it is not always doable, but we have to try. They are being swept away by tidal waves of ignorance and leaders who lie to them and lead them astray. We have to extend an olive branch and a helping hand for them to grab onto.

People see what is happening and wonder what they can do. How can I, sitting in my home, help stop intermarriage? What can I do to help Amir Pertz’s children and cousins get back to the roots they were torn from? What can I do to make the world a better place?

Many are familiar with the work of Lev L’achim in Eretz Yisroel which has brought tens of thousands of young Sefardim tachas kanfei haShechina. In fact, there are a plethora of organizations and people who do effective kiruv work in Eretz Yisroel and it is only due to space constraints that we do not list all of them.

If Only We Cared Enough

In America there are far fewer organizations doing work on the scope of the Israelis, but if we would roll up our sleeves and open our pocketbooks to help them, their success rate would undoubtedly be a great deal higher.

Torah Umesorah and its branches, including SEED and Partners In Torah, that seek to spread Yiddishkeit through teaching Torah, cry out for assistance. Oorah and Nechomas Yisroel place Jewish children in yeshivos. Every town and city has people and organizations who endeavor to reach out to the unaffiliated and are starving for your support.

We could stem the tide if we only cared enough.

And then there are our Mosdos HaTorah. Torah is what identifies us as a people. Torah is what makes us who we are and defines what we do. Our Torah institutions should be our priority; they should claim our deepest support and respect. Instead, we see them going begging for the financial assistance they need to survive and flourish.

Last week, when I was putting together this newspaper and saw the ad for the annual dinner of Beis Medrash Govoah, I was taken aback. It announced “a major change in the format of the Annual Dinner and Journal Campaign,” for the Lakewood Dinner.

The ad goes on to state that “For as long as we can remember… [the Lakewood] dinner featured a reception, a formal sit-down dinner and a long program.” This year the format has totally changed because now there will be only “an informal buffet-style event and a short program.”

The reason for this sweeping change? The ad answers that question, explaining that “We heard you – our friends, alumni and supporters – who told us time and again of the tircha in traveling an hour or more for the dinner. We heard all those whose calendars are brimming… and don’t want to sit through another lengthy program.”

In deference to the people who grumbled and complained that they don’t have time for the yeshiva, the yeshiva is switching gears. Instead of an elaborate dinner and a full program, they will now have a buffet, a shortened program and zemiros.

Isn’t something very wrong if the Lakewood yeshiva, the very embodiment of Torah in America, can’t turn out a crowd for its main fundraiser of the year? When it comes to finding honorees for the dinner, everyone discovers humility and pleads anivus. Suddenly people who think they are G-d’s gift to the Jewish people see the light. They tell the roshei yeshiva how this year is the wrong year, they have no friends, business isn’t going well, and no one would make an appearance in their honor to join in paying tribute to the great bastion of Torah.

If we care about Torah; if the future of Am Yisroel is important to us, then we have to be prepared to sacrifice a bit for it. We have to be ready to attend dinners honoring marbitzei Torah and the people who support them. We have to be willing to accept honor if that is the best way we can contribute to the cause of Torah. For things that are important to us we make time, even when uncomfortable, Torah has to be our thing.

As far as the Lakewood Dinner is concerned, at least, the excuses no longer apply. This year you won’t have to listen to speeches extolling the virtues of Torah and those who support it. You won’t have to watch a video of thousands of yungaleit and bochurim engaged in Torah study. You won’t even have to eat dinner. To show that Torah is choshuv to you, all you have to do is show up and pledge your support.

Should all dinners go this way? Should we force every yeshiva to ignore its own needs? Will people now start clamoring for speech-less dinners? Will everyone vote to do away with the proven method of raising enough money to meet payrolls? Let’s hope not.

We all live harried lives, barely able to keep up with all the demands and obligations pressuring us. Despite that, we have to realize that we live not only for ourselves. We must make time for others. We are members of a larger community which means we have responsibilities to each other.

After we cut down on the dinners, the next casualty of a self-centered mentality might very well be the speeches by simchos. “Bar mitzvahs take too long,” people will grumble. “Weddings should be cut down to an hour, no more. I am too busy with my own selfish needs, I am too busy making myself happy, I have no time to join in making other people happy.”

If we want to be able to reach out to Jews who have fallen in with Reform, if we want to prevent the secularization of more people like Amir Peretz, we have to show more commitment and resolve. It is not enough to sit back and offer solutions, it is not sufficient to give eitzos, and taking pot shots at misguided people will solve nothing.

In this battle for the soul of the Jewish people, we have to turn inward and strengthen ourselves in our dedication to Torah, and dip deep into our pockets and our neshomos to safeguard what is most holy and precious to us.

There is so much good in our community, there are so many people who dedicate themselves to enhancing the tzibur in a myriad of ways; they need our help if they are to succeed.

Next time someone asks you to help them get a kid in yeshiva; next time someone asks you to help raise money for a communal project, think of Amir Peretz and of the difference your donation of time, effort and money can make in the life of one person and in the future of Am Yisroel.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


The parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis are replete with inspirational accounts of the Avos and Imahos that impart lessons we are to apply to our daily lives. Far from mere tales, the stories of the Chumash overflow with teachings that have shaped our people for millennia.

In Parshas Vayeirah we are introduced to the lofty form of chesed that characterized Avrohom Avinu. The Torah tells us that Avrohom interrupted a conversation with Hakadosh Boruch Hu to care for three wayfarers who appeared at his tent.

How strange. Although the Torah does not disclose the subject of Avrohom’s conversation with the Creator, it does give a lengthy description of how he cared for his guests. The Torah recounts Avrohom’s conversations with them and goes into detail portraying how he rushed about to prepare food for them and take care of their needs.

Everything in the Torah is intended to elevate us and to teach us how we are to conduct ourselves. Obviously, what Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Avrohom at that encounter must pale in comparison with the message of the importance of hospitality that we glean from Avrohom’s interactions with his guests.

Avrohom Avinu thought that the three men whom he saw were desert nomads; he did not know they were malachim. How would we have reacted in that situation? How do we act when we are doing something and a beggar comes to the door? It is one thing to be nice to a person we know, it is another to be thoughtful when dealing with someone who is not a well-dressed and respectable-looking person.

Anyone can be nice to a likeable person; the test of greatness is how we treat ordinary folk who may be different from us and for whom we have no special affinity. How we talk to the nudnik after we have had a hard day ourselves shows what kind of person we are.

There is another point. Avrohom treated each person as if he were important. Actually, to him, every person truly was important. It is one thing to pontificate about the importance of every individual and it is a totally different thing to actually act upon that belief.

Everyone is familiar with the teachings of Chazal regarding the supreme value of every life. We all know the Mishna in Maseches Sanhedrin, 4:3, which states, “Kol hamekayeim nefesh achas m’Yisroel k’eilu kiyeim olam malei,” but do we always conduct ourselves that way?

Many times we hurt people by acting without considering their feelings. Other times we know how the other person will feel but we think that our end goal takes precedence over the way just one or two people will feel.

At times we take the liberty of rebuking people publicly for behavior we could have chided them privately about and achieved the same result. We feel the matter is so urgent that we are entitled to overlook the posuk of “Hocheiach tochiach es amisecha velo sisa olov cheit, give mussar in a way in which you yourself don’t end up sinning.”

Our people have had such a miraculous resurgence since the Holocaust and boruch Hashem there are so many of us that we don’t consider each person as an olam malei anymore. In small towns and communities each soul is precious; the value of each person to the minyan is so obvious that people think twice before hurting each other. People aren’t so quick to insult and berate the other when there are not that many Jews on the block. But when our numbers rise, many of us begin to take our fellow Jews for granted.

The obvious question is: from where did Avrohom Avinu learn that the proper reaction was to ask Hakadosh Boruch Hu to wait for him while he cared for the orchim?

The Gemorah in Maseches Shabbos, 127a, quotes Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav who derives from Avrohom’s conduct that “Gadol hachnosas orchim m’kabolas pnei haShechinah - hachnosas orchim is greater than speaking with G-d.” The Gemorah does not explain how Avrohom derived this understanding.

It seems to defy comprehension. If we were ever zoche to be mekabeil pnei haShechina, would we dare turn aside to go minister to some nomad who is at the door? If someone great were visiting us, would we leave their company to help someone we didn’t know?

Often, when encountering difficulty understanding p’shat in a Gemorah, it helps to examine how the Rambam quotes the passage. The Rambam brings this memrah of Rav Yehuda Omar Rav in Hilchos Aveil, 14:1-2, and a reading of his words there sheds light upon our question.

The Rambam opens chapter 14 of Hilchos Aveil by stating: “It is a mitzvah m’drabonon to visit the sick, comfort the mourner, hotzoas hameis, hachnosas kallah, lelavos orchim, to be mesameach a chosson and kallah, etc. These are all included in gemillas chasodim sheb’gufo for which there is no limit to what we are to do.”

He then states that “even though all of these various mitzvos are m’drabonon, they are included in ‘Veohavta l’reiachah kamochah.’ Anything that you would want others to do for you, you should do for other people…”

In halacha 2 he goes on to detail more of the halachos of hachnosas orchim which are derived from the way Avrohom Avinu dealt with his guests as recounted in Parshas Vayeirah.

It may be that since the source of the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim is from the posuk of Veohavta l’reiachah kamochah, which the Rambam explains to mean that you should treat others the way you want others to treat you, Avrohom felt obligated to interrupt what he was doing to help the three people at his door.

Every person, when sick and in pain, hopes people will stop what they are doing and care for him. Every person who is lost in the desert, hot and thirsty, wishes that the people in the house they see up ahead would open the door and let them in. Every person in pain wants anyone who can relieve their hurt to drop what they are doing and rush to his rescue.

Even when one understands that the person with the painkillers may be busy doing something else and not available at the moment to help everyone, one tends to think that he and his needs are exceptional. One looks at the person capable of helping and thinks, “You may not be able to help everyone who needs help, but you can help me.”

When you are hungry and lost and need a cool drink and directions, and the person who can help you is busy at the moment, you may understand that he doesn’t want to be interrupted. Nevertheless, you think that in your particular case the person should make an exception, stop what he is doing and take care of you.

That means that the mitzvah of Veohavta l’reiachah kamochah demands that you have to treat other people in precisely that way. From this perspective, Avrohom derived that he was obligated to interrupt his conversation with the Shechinah to care for the orchim. He felt obligated to subject his own desire for attaining greater spiritual heights to the mitzvah of caring for the needs of others.

In so doing, he forged a legacy that would follow the Jewish people down the generations.

We have to absorb that lesson and recognize the importance of every single person and his or her needs. We need to put ourselves in their place and feel their pain and do whatever we can to help alleviate their suffering.

All through life, people experience ups and downs. It is not always possible for us to solve the problems of our friends and family as they go through hard times, as we are not always equipped with the resources to rectify the situation. We can however, always offer messages of support.

When people go through hard times, it gives them consolation to know that other people care about them. Even if we aren’t all blessed with the gift of always being able to find the right words, we ought to be able to find ways of expressing our solidarity and friendship.

People who seek shidduchim and others who are in need of assistance need us to pay attention to them in an un-patronizing way. They need and deserve from us more than lip service. The mitzvah of Veohavta l’reiachah kamochah obligates us to put ourselves in their place and do whatever we can to help them.

Avrohom Avinu showed us the way. Just as nothing was beyond his dignity, nothing should be beyond ours. Just as he stopped what he was doing to help his fellow human being, so, too, we must find time and the ability to help people desperate for someone to come to their aid.

In parshas Chayei Sarah, we see the difficulty Avrohom Avinu had in finding a suitable shidduch for his son Yitzchok. Avrohom sent his servant Eliezer on a mission to find a suitable mate for Yitzchok. He makes him swear that he will follow his directives about where to look for the right girl.

The Torah spends so much time recounting how Eliezer went about his task, that the Medrash, in Bereishis Rabba 60:8, states, “Yofeh sichasan shel avdei botei avos m’torasan shel bonim.” The parsha of Eliezer offers so many lessons regarding how we are to lead our lives that the Torah elaborates on everything that Eliezer thought, did and said.

The purpose of the Torah relating the entire episode of Eliezer is to instruct us in middos. The reason these stories are retold is not to make for interesting, charming tales for youngsters in the primary grades. They are meant to be studied on a deep level and used as a practical guide in our own lives.

Eliezer was determined to find a girl blessed with middos tovos for his master’s son. He used his situation to test her and ensure that the girl who would marry Yitzchok possessed a refined character and excelled above all in her dealings with others.

He displayed an unflinching dedication to his master coupled with an unfailing faith in Hashem despite all of the difficulties inherent in the situation. In fact, in referring to Eliezer, the Medrash, 60:1, states that the posuk in Yeshaya, 50:10, “Asher holach chasheichim v’ein nogah lo,” refers to Eliezer when he went to find a shidduch for Yitzchok.

Even when it seemed entirely dark and there was little hope he would be able to fulfill his master’s request, Hashem lit the way for him. The Medrash states, “Hakadosh Boruch Hu haya meir lo bezikim u’bevrakim.” When the baal bitachon appears to be lost in the dark, the light of Hashem will burst forth as lightening through the darkness and dread.

Sometimes people involved in shidduchim grow so despondent that they give up all hope. A good study of this week’s parsha and its midrashim can help instill in us the faith necessary to endure the shidduchim period and other trying times. In every other difficult situation we find ourselves in, we must always remain optimistic and maintain hope. The dark clouds will eventually part for men and women of faith and their world will be brightly lit.

We must never let anyone rob us of hope. We are entitled to dream of brighter and happier days. As long as we can keep hope alive, we will not lose sight of our goal and will remain loyal to our ambition. For when we lose hope we have lost everything. Even if people are thoughtless and say things to hurt us as we seek to find what we are looking for, or if we are, chas veshalom, ill or have fallen on hard times, we must not lose our faith and optimism.

Whether we are looking for a shidduch, or doing a shlichus for someone, or dealing with shysters like Lavan and Besu’el, Parshas Chayei Sorah shows us how to proceed.

If we don’t do more than scratch the surface of these parshiyos, we will be overlooking the Torah’s teachings intended to help refine our characters and infuse our lives with holiness. That timeless wisdom will draw us closer to G-d as well as to our fellow man.

Let us all endeavor to expend the effort to increase our study of Torah quantitatively and qualitatively. We will thus be better able to help ourselves, as well as to be more sensitive and attuned to those around us and better equipped to ease their pain and hardship.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Our generation has little patience to think things through and arrive at conclusions. We all seek simple solutions even for complicated problems.

Due to marked advances in science, medicine and technology, a process that may have taken months to accomplish can now be done in seconds. Ulcers used to require surgery; today people ingest a small pill. Diseases which used to wipe out entire populations are cured with a shot. Computers can make trillions of computations a second and solve problems man thought could never be solved.

Meals that used to take hours to prepare are now packaged in a box, ready to be popped into a microwave and in just a few minutes, to satiate the desires of all those who want it “now!”

News travels around the world in mere seconds. Leaders no longer have the time to stop and think before responding to a crisis. They are expected to come forward with instant answers to deep questions. America went to war in Iraq to rid the world of a dangerous and insane tyrant. Results didn’t happen as fast as they do in storybooks and films, so Bush’s presidency is said to be in crisis as people grow impatient with the war.

Within our own community, we are facing a crisis of another sort: shidduchim. Are we grappling with it as we should? People fish about looking for solutions as if expecting one to pop up. Life is not that simple. Problems that took years to develop, and are the accumulation of social, economic and a host of other factors can not be solved with the snap of the fingers.

Last week in this paper appeared one of the most touching letters to the editor in recent memory. It was on the topic of Shidduchim, written by an older girl who feels time is passing her by. Why must this young woman suffer so? Why is it that the shidduch system that determines our children’s futures and the future of our people remains so flawed, so fraught with pain and hardship? We read the letters, we hear the stories, and if we don’t have someone close to us in the parsha that we are worried about, we go on to the next topic.

The problem runs deep, with baffling complexity. Simplistic solutions will not do, catchy phrases will not solve anything. What is required is a thorough examination of the problem and then a serious analysis followed by viable solutions.

We each have to do what we can to bring about the day that all Jewish men and women find life mates without first coming to the brink of despair. We have to treat the problem as if it were our own personal burden and leave no stone unturned to help people find shidduchim.

It is hard and tedious work and many times huge efforts lead to only one meeting. Many times you are not rewarded for your efforts. You will talk and talk and try to set something up and you will get nowhere. You may even be rebuffed, rebuked, or ridiculed. Do not get disillusioned. Keep on trying; don’t quit until the job is done.

Someone wrote a letter to this paper stating that initially he was expressing exasperation at how much space and attention we are giving to the shidduch crisis. But after further thought, he was singing a very different tune. He began taking the matter to heart, and sat down with a friend to discuss what they could do and were very happy when they came up with some shidduch suggestions.

There is no magic pill, there is no databank you can go to and punch in a name and address and have a computer spit out the perfect match. You just have to keep plugging away and refuse to accept defeat.

If you see a successful person, know that he or she has labored hard for many years. They have cried themselves to sleep many times; at other times, they went for days without sleeping. They never ceased working, thinking, doing, moving and most important—refusing to let anything get in the way of their goal.

They davened as if their lives depended on it. They gave tzedaka, they helped other people. They ran around looking for segulos. And they worked and worked and worked until one day the brocha was fulfilled.

There are no shortcuts in life.

In parshas Lech Lecha we learn that Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Avrohom Avinu to leave his home and birthplace for a promised land. Avrohom received Hashem’s promise that he would be blessed in the new country. The posuk relates that following the command to leave his home, Avrohom took Sarai and Lot and the nefashos they made in Charan and they left for Canaan.

Lot’s shepherds were not able to get along with those of Avrohom Avinu, and Avrohom decided that they had to separate. He could not bear the thought of entering into a dispute with Lot, and told his nephew to choose the area where he preferred to live.

The posuk relates that Lot saw that the Kikar Hayarden was blessed with fertile abundance and he chose to move there. He was looking for the quick fix. He was looking to make a fast buck. It didn’t bother him that he would be living with the wicked people of Sedom. All he was interested in was making money. The dollar bills were dancing in his eyes as he surveyed the territory he had to chosen as his own.

He left the company of Avrohom, the holiest and kindest man alive, to go live among the most wicked and selfish people ever to walk the earth. He did not argue with Avrohom and pledge to keep his shepherds in line. As soon as Avrohom asked him to leave he was gone, off to the Kikar Hayarden where he thought he would be better off than living in close proximity to an honest and righteous man.

Avrohom had rules that Lot didn’t care for. He didn’t let Lot cut corners and he got upset when Lot fed off of other people’s property. Lot couldn’t wait to leave and join the rich and successful people of Sedom.

We all know the end of the story. Sedom was destroyed and its inhabitants and their wealth were obliterated. Lot was saved in the merit of Avrohom Avinu.

The solution to Lot’s problem would have been to plead with Avrohom Avinu for guidance and direction. The solution would have been to stay true to the principles taught him by Avrohom since they had lived in Choron.

We are all affected by outer appearances; promises of fame and glory tempt many people. The things we chase after may not be good for us, but we don’t admit that. We rationalize and fall prey to the lure of Sedom. The glitter dazzles us and blinds us to what lies beneath the veneer.

We look out at the beautiful foliage these days and comment on how gorgeous the trees are. All summer long they seem bland, they are all the same color. How boring. But with fall, the trees change to brilliant red and bright orange and yellow. Warm brown hues emerge and we are all taken by the blast of beauty.

But it doesn’t last long. The colorful exhibition is a signal that the end is coming. The brilliant red means that the leaves are about to fall off and die; and be swept away to eternal oblivion.

As long as the leaves are green, we know that they will live and endure. The bright ostentatious colors are a sign that they are about to meet the fate of Sedom and all Lot’s friends and neighbors there.

The next time you hear people around you proclaiming their solutions to all of life’s problems, don’t be taken in by what they have to say. Remember that it doesn’t work that way. Remember Lot and the Kikar Hayardein.

Don’t just dispense flippant advice. When you hear about someone in need, don’t just give eitzos, share the burden. Shed a tear or two, and be mispalel for them. Follow up. Call a week Later. A month later. A year later. Jot the problem down in your calendar, daily planner or even your palm pilot and instruct it to pop up at you at regular intervals.

A friend of mine who had a child who was ill a number of years back told me that the greatest chizuk he had was when total strangers approached him to say they had heard of his plight and davened for him.

He remembered how much chizuk he drew from their phone calls following up on his child’s progress—months, even years after the initial diagnoses.

It so easy to forget about other people’s pain, but we dare not take the easy route.

The next time someone tells you they can make you a 100% return on your money guaranteed, run the other way. Remember Lot and the Kikar Hayardein.

If you want to be successful at what you do, and if you want to really solve pressing issues of the day, know that you have to work real hard at it.

A story bearing out this truth concerns two successful businessmen from a small shtetel who had a financial dispute. It happened that they were near the city of Tizmenitz where Rav Meshulom Igra, one of the generation’s foremost geonim, was Rav. Rav Meshulom was known across Europe for his genius in Torah and halacha as a kadosh v’tahor m’rechem blessed with a brilliant and sharp mind.

The two baalei din came to the gadol hador with their shaaloh. He heard the two sides and paused to consider. After a while, he admitted he was at a loss and that he did not have an answer for them. It would take him several days to decide the dispute.

Having no choice, the two men went back to their shtetl. They decided that since the great rabbi was stumped, they had nothing to lose by asking the klein shtetl rav to decide for them.

Upon hearing the complexity of the matter, the Rabbi turned white. He was afraid to say that he had no idea how to rule — after all, such a response could cost him his job — so he asked the men to return at the end of the day. He had no clue what to do but hoped that somehow he would find a resolution to the complicated problem.

He opened his sefer Tehilim and began to pray. He cried bitter tears and begged the Ribono Shel Olam to help him and save his job. He feared that if he could not pasken the shaaloh, he would become a laughingstock. Not appreciating the complexities of the matter, the ignorant baalei batim would fire him.

After several hours of prayer he went to his bookshelf and randomly pulled out a dusty old sefer. He noticed that it had a section on Choshen Mishpot and turned to it. His prayers were answered. The mechaber of that obscure teshuva sefer discussed the very same situation which stumped him and successfully resolved it.

Full of joy and thanksgiving to the G-d who saved his job and kept him from disgrace, the rabbi presented his answer to the disputants. They were duly impressed with their rabbi’s acumen and gladly accepted his solution.

At the prescribed time, the two returned to Tizmenitz and to Rav Meshulom Igra. He told them that he had spent much time over their dispute and had finally arrived at a solution. To their amazement the great gaon had the very same response as their own rabbi back home. And their rabbi had produced the answer in a matter of a few hours.

They told this to Rav Meshulom who immediately demanded, “Take me to your rabbi, I must meet him. He must be a great gaon. I must make his acquaintance.”

The men took Rav Igra to their village and brought him to the home of their rabbi. The Rabbi opened his door and was shocked to see Rav Meshulom Igra standing at his doorstep. He was even more stunned when Rav Igra began heaping praise upon him, announcing, “It is an honor to meet you!”

The rabbi was confused. “Why do I deserve such honor? I am but a klein shtetel rav - a simple small-village rabbi?”

Rav Igra explained that indeed it took him days to resolve a matter which the rabbi solved in a few hours. “If you are such a gaon that you can solve that shaaloh so quickly, I had to meet you,” he declared.

The humbled rabbi welcomed the Torah giant into his home and explained to him what happened. “I cried out to Hashem for hours to help me find the answer and then I went over to the seforim shrank and min hashomayim, the answer fell into my lap.”

Upon hearing the tale, Rav Meshulom Igra became agitated. “You davened for an answer?” he rebuked him. “You cried?” “Veinen? Veinen kenen mir aleh. Davenen? Davenen kenen mir aleh!” I can also cry, I can also pray. Indeed, the Ribono Shel Olam responded to your lofty Tefillos, however, I came searching for a gaon to speak to in learning and I didn’t find one.

“Men darfen hureven!”

Our job is to toil, to work hard, to study and study and study some more; to concentrate as hard as we can. We have to break our heads to come up with solutions.

Our job, too, is to plug away and give it all we got. Of course prayer is essential and tears help. But if you want greatness in Torah or in any other endeavor, you have to couple fervent prayer and emotion with blood, sweat and tears.

If we want it to be real, if we want it to last, if we want to be the best we can be, there are no shortcuts. Whatever it is we are engaged in, if it is worth doing, it is worth doing properly; and if it’s not worth expending the effort to do it right, it’s not worth doing at all.

Hureven, hureven, oon veiter hureven.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In parshas Noach we are reintroduced to the great tzadik, Noach. The Torah recounts that as the world degenerated into a morass of depravity, immorality and dishonesty, Noach found favor in the eyes of Hakadosh Boruch Hu.

The posuk says that Noach was a righteous man, a tzadik tomim, in his generation. There are different interpretations as to why the Torah uses this qualifying expression “in his generation.”

Some interpret it derisively. They say Noach was only great in comparison with the people around him who were far beneath him. Had he lived in the generation of Avrohom Avinu, he would not have been considered anything special.

Others interpret the expression as a mark of added respect. If he remained good in a generation of evil, he would have been even better in the generation of Avrohom.

In the words of Rashi, yeish dorshim oso leshevach veyeish dorshim oso legenai, some look at him favorably and some with disfavor.

Many have asked what the purpose is of belittling Noach and appraising him so critically. Among the many answers given, I would like to suggest that the Torah is reminding us that no one is perfect; genai, disparaging information, can be found about anyone.

If a committee had been formed to find someone to build a teivah and then rebuild the world, how likely is it that that Noach would have been chosen?

The selection committee would have said he has the wrong accent; they would have said he has no experience in construction and thus is ill-suited for a job which requires putting a boat together over a period of 120 years. He was never a carpenter and never apprenticed in any of the trades. Who in their right mind would deem him an acceptable candidate for building a ship upon which the survival of mankind and the animal world depended?

Others would have complained that he was not known for his expertise in animal care. How could he be expected to live in close quarters with all the animals of the world and care for their needs if he didn’t specialize in veterinary care?

Part of his job description was that he would stand in his driveway for 120 years building the teivah, prompting passersby to ask him what he was doing. He would tell them that a mabul was coming and that they should repent in order to save themselves.

The selection committee would have sat around the table facing their candidate with glum faces. They’d ask him what kiruv experience he had; did he take any public speaking courses? What made him think he was qualified to preach to the world for over a century?

People tend not to see the big picture when examining a candidate for an important position. They look for flaws, they look for external factors; they look for education and degrees. They don’t generally look into the person’s soul and determine if he is a righteous, G-d fearing man; if he has fire in the soul and if he is made of the right stuff.

They get caught up with the genai and don’t get to see the shevach.

The Torah specifically wrote about Noach in a way that is open to interpretation to teach us that even though to superficial observers Noach may not have been the most qualified candidate and could have been perceived bederech genai, in the eyes of Hashem he found favor. Hakadosh Boruch Hu looked throughout the world and found this one man, a tzadik tomim, and selected him for the job of building the teivah.

Don’t look for the genai in a person. If you do happen to find it, don’t let that blind you from allowing him to move up the ladder of life and responsibility, because shortcomings can even be found in a person the Torah testifies was pure and righteous.

Many years ago my rebbe, Rav Mendel Kaplan zt”l, brought me a gift. It was a crumpled yarchon - journal he had found in the sheimos. Its brown pages crinkled as he handed it to me. I looked at him quizzically and asked what type of gift he was giving me. “There is a very good article here written by your great-grandfather.” he replied. “I want you to read it and remember it.”

A passage written in that journal by my great-grandfather, Rav Yaakov Haleivi Lipschutz of Kovno, Lithuania, in the year 1887, comes to mind:

“An illness which plagues the masses is their faulty judgment in choosing whom to respect and whom to disrespect. They live calm, boring lives and they respect people who are apathetic and indifferent.

“They lack sensitivity for anything good, nor do they lift a finger to contribute to the public betterment. As far as they are concerned the entire world can be destroyed, but they will not go beyond their own daled amos and their own closed circle to worry about anything besides themselves.

“These people praise themselves to others by openly declaring that they do not get involved in any causes. The masses in turn heap honor upon them and present them as paragons of virtue and righteousness. When these people die, they are eulogized for never having offended anyone and never having hurt a fly.

“Such praise is deserving of blocks of wood or inert stones, not of a human being with a living soul inside him. Such people who can only be praised as good husbands don’t care a wit about the local Bikur Cholim; nor do they care about helping yeshivos, the elderly, the hungry and/or the indigent.

“If there is a local dispute or any communal problem, these people don’t lift a finger to try to alleviate the situation.

“Such people who work only to stuff their own mouths, never getting involved or performing any acts on behalf of the community at large, are praised by the masses.

“Meanwhile, those who ignore their own personal egos, who, while seeking no honor for themselves, freely give their time and energy and spend their days working on behalf of others, are targeted and derided by the masses.

“They are called kanaiim, baalei machlokes; they are accused of not being serious people, of seeking to cause others to fail. Sometimes malicious gossip is spread about these good people. Their family members get fed up and complain about their communal involvement, referring to the slander and negative publicity their work has stirred up.

“If these good people manage after much hard work and heartache to finally accomplish something good, their detractors rise up in indignation. Included among them are the aforementioned “indifferents” and those who supposedly seek to find good people for positions of communal responsibility even as they lament that such people don’t exist.

“They are small-minded, jealous and suspicious. Instead of being honest and forthright and throwing their support behind men of action, they permit their negativity and cynicism to overcome them.”

We should always seek out excellence and we should always strive for the best. When seeking to fill positions of leadership and responsibility, we should definitely search out the preeminent person for the job.

People of character do not bend in the wind nor do they bow to convention. They fight for what is right. At times they roll up their sleeves and get dirty. Sometimes they offend certain people by their unyielding stances, but when they are right, they do not crumble.

Nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Imperfection should not automatically discredit or disqualify a person.

Parshas Noach teaches us to ignore the drashos of genai. Noach was an ish tzadik tomim and he was not diminished in the eyes of Hashem because he had detractors.

When we find ourselves in a position to judge, hire or appoint people, we should take heed of the Torah’s lessons regarding Noach. If the person is righteous and upstanding, with a heart and soul aflame with kindness, goodness and a passion for good causes, we should look upon such a person with chein – favor and grace.

We may not be able to save the world, but we can make it a better place in which to live.