Monday, January 22, 2007

A Letter to the Editor

Reb Pinchos Gelb, a chassidisher Yid from Williamsburg, called me one day with an unusual request. He was in Stamford, Connecticut for Shabbos and had the opportunity to spend time in Yeshiva Bais Binyomin. He told me that he is not fluent enough in English to write a letter to the editor, and asked me to do it for him. “Please write for me a letter about the yeshiva in Stamford,” he said.

I don’t like talking to myself and I don’t make a habit of writing letters to the editor, but I told him I would do something for him.

This individual rarely leaves Williamsburg. He happened to be staying at the Holiday Inn for a Shabbos Sheva Brachos, he said, and upon hearing there was a yeshiva nearby, he decided to take a look. He was overwhelmed at what he witnessed.

He begged me to write about it. “The yeshiva looks like they can use money and you never know,” he said, “if people see a nice letter to the editor in the Yated, maybe someone will be impressed enough to send a donation. I never saw people like the roshei yeshiva of that yeshiva. They are so unassuming, so ehrliche and fine. I felt I had to do something to help them and spread the word about their mosad and their tremendous harbotzas Torah.”

As he was talking, I was thinking that many people have heard of the yeshiva and many have heard of the roshei yeshiva, Rav Simcha Schustal and Rav Meir Hersh-kowitz. Anyone who has ever come in contact with them is cognizant of their greatness, yet we don’t see their names plastered anywhere; they are not as renowned as other leading roshei yeshiva.

Why is that? Why is it that people of their caliber don’t make it to the headlines in the Torah community? What is it about our way of life nowadays that the Stamford Yeshiva is in such close physical proximity, yet so far from our psyche?

The man from Williamsburg continued talking, and as he spoke, I pictured him walking into the yeshiva with his gekreizelteh peyos, not knowing what to expect. I imagined him setting his eyes upon Rav Simcha and Rav Meir. In my mind’s eye, I watched him as he stood in the back of the bais medrash, taking in the sight of the bochurim learning with such hasmada. “Why is it that a yeshiva of this caliber is such a well kept secret?” he asks me.

And then I remembered, that two years ago, I was chairman at the Yeshiva Bais Binyomin dinner and I had the same question. I recalled the gist of what I said when I spoke at the dinner.

I noted that Maran Harav Shach zt”l once remarked that he didn’t understand how there could be lamed vov secret tzaddikim in our generation. There is so much to do in our world, so many issues that need our urgent attention; how can a person stay hidden as a lamed vov tzaddik? A tzaddik does not have the luxury of being able to hide in his own daled amos; he has to make himself available to the masses of people who seek Torah wisdom and guidance.

The roshei yeshiva of Yeshiva Bais Binyomin in Stamford provide the answer to Rav Shach’s question. The secret tzaddikim of our generation upon whom the entire world exists do not hide themselves from the public. They are out there in plain view, learning, teaching, davening and doing all they do with so much tzidkus.

They are tzaddikim nistorim not because they hide themselves from us, but rather because we hide ourselves from them. We don’t take the trip to Stamford to see them. We rarely invite them to speak at our functions. They don’t fit in with the world that is fueled by hype and media exposure. They are too simple, too “old fashioned,” too real to gain notice in today’s world.

This is not to disparage in any way the talmidei chachomim who have gained worldwide fame and are sought out day and night by ehrliche Yidden across the world. This is not to cast aspersions on those who have achieved worldwide renown and whose names appear regularly in this newspaper. The gedolim who stand at the helm of our community and are revered and sought after for their daas Torah are definitely most deserving of our allegiance and admiration.

They are each special in their own ways. The two tzaddikim of Bais Binyomin are special in ways that don’t encourage fame in today’s world.

We recently lost such a Yid, Rav Dovid Barkin zt”l, a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Telz in Wickliffe, Ohio. My paper devoted many pages to an appreciation of him and several of our leading writers depicted his greatness. It was a conscious decision to show that we treasure not only the leaders of our people who have achieved fame and renown and have become household names, but also those lamed vov-niks who toil valiantly in the vineyard of Hakadosh Boruch Hu.

Strangely enough, a person can be a world-class talmid chochom and tzaddik and people outside of his immediate circle have never heard of him. A person can be American-born and bred and develop into someone upon whose Torah the world stands.

Perhaps we can glean some insight into this phenomenon with a closer look at parshas Shemos.

The first few parshiyos of Shemos describe the plagues that Hashem inflicted upon Paroh and Mitzrayim. Our children relish these stories of the makos. They giggle at the stupidity and hubris of Paroh and the Mitzriyim. Despite all the spectacular wonders that demonstrated midah k’neged midah, Paroh and the Mitzriyim refused to recognize the hand of G-d. It is a remarkable lesson for our children to learn how Hashem ultimately punishes those who torture his people and exacts revenge from them.

But there is more to the story, and as we mature we should learn to understand the Torah on a more profound level.

In parshas Va’eira, we read how Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Moshe that Paroh will ask for proof of the Divine nature of his message. Hashem instructed Moshe to perform a mofeis. “Tell Aharon to take your stick and throw it on the floor and it will become a snake.”

The posuk relates that Paroh’s magicians were able to do the same with their sticks and thus Paroh was not impressed with Moshe’s abilities.

If Hakadosh Boruch Hu knew that magicians could mimic Moshe’s supernatural act with their sticks, why did He instruct Moshe to perform it? How could such a mofes prove that Hashem had indeed sent Moshe?

Following that incident, the posuk relates that Hashem commanded Moshe to tell Paroh, “With this you shall know that I am Hashem. Strike the water with your stick and it shall turn to blood.”

But, as we all know, the court magicians were able to replicate what they described as alchemy and appeared to turn water to blood.

Since Hakadosh Boruch Hu knew that they could imitate what Moshe and Aharon had done, why did He say that this act would prove to Paroh that He is Hashem, the true L-rd?

In Parshas Bereishis (1:26), the posuk tells us that Hashem said, “Naaseh adam betzalmeinu kidmuseinu - Let us make man in our image.” The Medrash says that when Hashem dictated the Torah for Moshe to write and Moshe came to this posuk, he protested that these words would provide a makom litos, an opportunity for people to justify their denial of Hashem’s Oneness. They would use the words “let us make man in our image” to support their contention that Hashem had other forces helping Him in the act of creation.

Moshe’s objections were overruled by the Creator, who told Moshe that whoever wants to make that mistake will do so, but that Hashem wanted the lesson to be taught that man should always consult with others before undertaking a major project.

Paroh asked Moshe for a sign to prove G-d’s dominion, but no matter what Moshe would have done, the ruler of Mitzrayim would not have been convinced. That is because he wanted to err, he wanted to believe in his own supremacy. Any Divine sign Moshe produced would have been interpreted by Paroh in a way that supported his own arrogance and delusions of grandeur.

Paroh wasn’t about to release the Jews from captivity; he was not about to renounce his egotistical belief in the deity he had fashioned of himself in Mitzrayim.

Hakadosh Boruch Hu provides signs for all to see and follow. Those who are seeking proper direction to learn and grow follow the path, and those who aren’t interested stumble over the path to righteousness and goodness on the way to their ultimate downfall. As the posuk states, “Ki yeshorim darchei Hashem,v’ tzaddikim yeilchu vom, u’foshim yikoshlu vom.”

The Rambam writes (Hilchos Yesodei Torah 8:1) that the Bnei Yisroel did not believe in Moshe Rabbeinu because of the miracles he performed. They believed in him because at Har Sinai they saw and heard the kolos and lapidim. They saw Moshe rise into the clouds and they heard the voice speaking to him and telling him, “Moshe, Moshe, go tell B’nei Yisroel the following words…”

We need people like Rav Schustal and Rav Hershkowitz to remind us why it is that we respect talmidei chachomim and roshei yeshiva. We need yeshivos like theirs to remind us why it is that we support yeshivos. It is not for the fame or the glory; it is not so that we should get kavod for ourselves by attaching ourselves to great and famous people.

We support Torah because our neshamos stood at Har Sinai. We need to be reminded that it is not the mofsim and tales of wonder which should impress us, but rather the pure pashtus and anivus, the lomdus, sinai v’oker harim, of talmidei chachomim that is of paramount importance and in whose merit the world exists.

The amount of Torah studied in our day is more than has been studied at any time since our people have gone into exile, but we don’t always appreciate that. We sometimes mock and criticize. There is a makom litos. But then there are the people who are so pure and holy that no one can doubt or mock them. They remind us what is genuine and true. They are the mofsim, the signs, that there is greatness in our midst.

We all seek out tzaddikim, but all too often our vision has been tainted by the sorcery of the Mitzriyim who surround us. The baalei mofeis, such as those our Williamsburg friend found in Stamford, serve to remind us that there is true greatness even in our beleaguered generation.

To find the tzaddikim of our day, we need to look beyond the surface and not be distracted by glitz and glitter. We need to seek out these rare individuals, support them and cling to them, as they will bring meaning and value to our lives and restore our faith in humanity and in greatness. They will guide and inspire us on the path that will lead to growth in Torah and avodah, and, ultimately, the redemption. May it come speedily in our day. Amein.


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