Wednesday, March 08, 2006


I had been wanting to go to Eretz Yisroel for a while, but every week there was a different reason I couldn’t go. Boruch Hashem, last Wednesday, things fell into place, and thanks to an accommodating wife and family, I was able to take advantage of a last-minute opportunity to spend Shabbos in the Holy Land. I threw a few things into my carry-on bag and was on my way.

I was sitting in the airport speaking to my wife on my cell phone when an elderly gentleman sat down next to me. With a patch over his left eye, he didn’t notice that I was talking on the phone and began speaking to me. “How do I look?” he asked in heavily accented English. I wasn’t sure how to respond. He needed help to walk, couldn’t hear well and was blind in one eye.

I told him that he looked quite fine to me and that I hoped that whatever the problem with his eye was, he should have a refuah sheleima.

He smiled and said, “Let me tell you how I look. I look at Hitler; ich bin nuch doo. He took me away as a youngster to der lager. He took my wife to Auschwitz for three years, un geb ah kook, how do I look? I lived here 50 years, I have children, grandchildren. At my age, I am about to go to Israel. That’s how I look like. Boruch Hashem I can go; Boruch Hashem I am here. Frages vegen altz, ich bin doo. That’s how I am looking at it. They tried so many times in my lifetime to get rid of us and now they are trying again. But we are still here.”

Teshuosom hayisah lanetzach v’sikvosom bechol dor vador.

An old, crippled, partially blind Czechoslovakian holocaust survivor understands it. Shouldn’t we as well?

As I took my seat on the plane, my seatmate gave me dirty looks and refused to answer when I put on a smile and said “shalom.” I didn’t take it personally. After all, his flight was ruined because he had to sit next to someone who wears a black hat. But it does hurt to meet people so far removed from Yiddishkeit that they are revolted by people like us.

I felt like asking him how I look, but it was to be a long flight and I wasn’t keen on making a bad thing worse. He was an unhappy fellow, I observed. My being there didn’t cause his ill humor, though it certainly added to it for the duration of the 9-hour trip. Poor guy.

While visiting Israel, you never know who you will meet or what they will say. There is so much that can be learned about our people and our way of life there, it is most enlightening.

Israelis are stereotyped as cantankerous and always being in a rush. The truth is surprisingly different - people there have an innate calmness. They are less hassled than people here. The rat race does not dominate their lives as it does here. You don’t see masses of people rushing to and from work. Even people who work don’t seem to be in any particular rush. Storekeepers can be in the middle of a transaction, but if they have somewhere to go, they say “slicha” and close up shop.

People there have an instinctive trust that all will turn out well. Many of them have been through so much and have seen that despite all the difficulties, the country continues to grow and flourish. You meet people who have been through one war after another, through terrorist bombings, through hunger and years of deprivation, and despite it all, they persevere. You enter a taxi and ask the bare-headed driver how things are and he answers, “Todah l’Keil.” The knowledge that they live in a country which “einey Hashem elokecha bo mereisishis hashana v’ad acharis shana is omnipresent.

Americans who visit for a week and can barely speak the language are smitten and talk of moving there one day. Besides the attraction that Eretz Yisroel has for every Jew, there is an indefinable core of calmness one doesn’t experience at home in the exile.

When Yom Tov comes, they have time to prepare for it. You walk in the street and feel the chag in a way you never can around here. Jews from all over the world are drawn by it, and flock there for Yomim Tovim. In fact, flights and hotels are already booked solid for Sukkos.

With Purim around the corner, Jews in Eretz Yisroel give it serious thought and sheloshim yom kodem hachag they ponder the upcoming holiday and its meaning. They treat the chiyuv to be marbin b’simcha with utmost seriousness.

In fact, while in Yerushalayim this past Shabbos, I found myself grappling with several novel questions posed to me by people I met there.

Someone pointed out that we have an obligation to be marbeh b’simcha on rosh chodesh Adar. Inasmuch as the month of Adar starts on the second day of rosh chodesh, the first day of rosh Chodesh Adar is not in the month of Adar, it’s the last day of Shvat.

Is there then an obligation to increase happiness on that day, or does the chiyuv begin on the second day of rosh chodesh—which is when Adar actually begins?

When Chazal say marbin b’simcha, what did they mean? Is it a mitzva to increase our level of happiness? If it is a mitzvah how do we know when we have generated enough simcha to fulfill our obligation? Every mitzva has a shiur; if the marbin b’simcha is an obligation then it ought to have a defined measurement.

By contrast, on Yom Tov when there is a mitzvah d’oraiosah of simcha, the gemorah and poskim define what is meant by that obligation. Where is the mitzvah of Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B’Simcha defined?

In Yerushalayim, they think about Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B’Simcha and wonder how they can fulfill their obligations. They ponder when precisely the obligation begins, although they know that tov lev mishteh sumid, they take seriously the chiyuv of the added simcha and wonder what they have to do to be yotzeh their chiyuv.

They think about Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha and wonder how they can fulfill their obligations. They ponder when precisely the obligation begins, although they know that tov lev mishteh somid; they take the chiyuv of the added simcha seriously and wonder what they have to do to be yotzeh their chiyuv.

People in Eretz Yisroel have much less money than most people here; many frum families live in cramped small apartments, yet you never hear them complain. They can have ten children and live in a 2-bedroom apartment and they are happy with their lot.

Yes, there are exceptions; there are plenty of people who are happy here, and there are people there who have a difficult time bearing their loads, but the general ruach there is a feeling of being content with less.

There is nothing like a Shabbos in Yerushalayim, especially when it starts off Friday evening at the Kosel Hama’arovi, in the company of thousands of Jews of all stripes. Every daled amos that you walk, you find yourself in a different minyan with a different dialect and a different nusach. It is overwhelming to take in the sight and to be part of it. Jews stream towards the s’rid beis Elokeinu from all directions and unfailingly find themselves a minyan in which they feel comfortable.

As you walk between minyanim and hear the different nuschaos and niggunim change every few steps, it is almost like flipping through radio stations. The difference is that here all the stations are tuned to the same frequency. The different voices join together as they rise up to Heaven and form a symphony of prayer. The sounds of the Sefardim with their special tunes and minhagim unite with the Yerushalmis in their golden coats, as the Chassidim dance to tunes of Lecha Dodi.

Like many of you, I enjoy listening to music but find it difficult to find good new CDs here. When in Yerushalayim, I make it my business to go into Gal Paz in Geulah where the nice boy behind the counter, whose name, I think, is Dahnny, supplies me with nice Sefardic music. They never fail to touch my soul.

This time I walked out with a recording of traditional Sefardic tefillot. There is one song which especially moved me. It works much better in Hebrew, but the translations of the words are as follows: “There are those who dream of luxury and abundance. There are some who want to be rich instantly. I am a simple person and this is what I want from life. I found myself a comfortable corner and this is all I request: Give me love in my heart and let me be happy; give me a good soul and a heart that only forgives…Give me the strength to only remember the good and to forget the bad.”

The traditional song kept on playing in my head. “Ani adam pashut, ten li ahava balev, tein lehiyot sameach.” The secret of simcha - take it from the old Sefardim – is to look for the good, and aim for a heart full of love and forgiveness. There is no time better to start than right now.

That’s the way to look if you want to be makayeim the dictum of being marbeh simcha.

How should I look? How do I look?

Before I knew it, the trip was over and it was time to get back on the plane for the eleven-hour-and-thirty-one-minute flight back home. It is truly miraculous when you think about it, even though we take the miracle of flight for granted, but that’s a subject for another article.

Purim Someach.


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