Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mommy, Can You Spare a Dollar?

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Very often, we hear people asking why “they” don’t do this and why “they” don’t do that. There are so many things that have to be done, but more often than not, most people sit by on the sidelines wondering why someone else doesn’t step up to the plate and take charge. This is either due to feelings of inadequacy or because most of us really are not equipped to rectify all of the world’s problems.

There are so many ills that cry out for cures and problems that require remedies; there is no shortage of good causes we can all get involved in and affiliated with. Anyone with a heart pulsing with care for the human condition and for what is going on around us should require little prodding to seek to do what they can to help alleviate prevalent pain and suffering.

People who care about their surroundings should recognize that they can be one of “those people” who roll up their sleeves and get involved to right the wrongs and correct the inequities which confront us. You don’t have to be a special genius or enormously wealthy or powerful to accomplish much; you just have to care.

Fifty years after the founding of Torah Umesorah and the many battles fought to establish and maintain Jewish day schools and yeshivos in this country, rabbeim and moros still aren’t being paid enough.

When we think of Torah Umesorah, we think back in time. We think back to the larger-than-life years and dreams of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt”l, who, while living in Williamsburg and Monsey in the mid-1940s, perceived a spiritual holocaust unfolding in this country.

The Jewish people had lost six million souls in Europe; millions more would be lost if the spiritual holocaust in America went unchecked.

Where others saw wasteland, Rav Shraga Feivel saw opportunity; where others saw potential for disaster, he saw the possibility of greatness.

The situation everyone perceived as a nightmare inspired him to dream.

Back in his day, his idea of building a network of day schools and yeshivos was dismissed as totally unrealistic. Critics said it could not be done. Ehrliche Jews were prepared to relinquish their hopes for a Torah future for the youth of America.

Rav Shraga Feivel stood his ground and fought for the establishment of yeshiva day schools. His talmidim fanned out across the country, winning souls for Torah. Despite some hard-won successes, they lacked popular support at first. They were accused of being un-American, of being “old-country”.

Financial backing was meager, but their rebbi infused his talmidim with a burning dedication to carry on his mission and they made it happen. Their exhaustive efforts to lay the foundation of Torah chinuch in cities and towns across the length and breadth of the country bore fruit. We now take it for granted that every decent-sized city in this country with a Jewish population has at least one school where Jewish children can discover that they are linked in a glorious chain going back to Sinai.

That process is still growing and developing, as every year, new schools are opened, winning backing and support in more cities and towns across the continent.

And there are still thousands of children waiting for us to introduce them to the beauty of Torah and the eternal joys of its way of life.

We contribute to myriad kiruv organizations. We all read and hear about the efforts to try to stem the fallout of poor parenting, inferior education or harmful social situations. But we overlook our responsibility to the rabbeim and people who staff the schools in which our very own precious children study.

We have certain issues in our communities that we tend to sweep under the rug and make believe they don’t exist until they fester and balloon into big problems.

Teachers’ salaries is something that must be addressed. But that is not my point here. Because the rabbeim and moros are underpaid, many of them are unable to afford “luxuries”, such as life insurance. The families of people who have dedicated their lives to the education of our children are often left without protection if disaster strikes. Collections are made and more pain, shame and misery are heaped upon an already sad situation.

So why doesn’t someone do something about it? Why don’t “they” set up something to help the rabbeim? The answer is, “they” have. Jeff Kirshblum, with his “I Can’t Take It Anymore” ad campaign and personal lobbying of schools has brought this problem to everyone’s attention and, through his efforts, many rabbeim now have life insurance.

Yet, many still do not. There are still many schools which don’t provide life insurance. Numerous schools are struggling just to pay salaries and can’t afford to pay life insurance premiums for their staff members.

Torah Umesorah has taken upon itself to do something to help out the rabbeim, but they need our assistance. They have been running ads for a few months now, every week in this paper, about the raffle they have initiated to raise money to pay for life insurance plans for the rabbeim of our children.

It doesn’t require much of us. It’s very simple. All we have to do is buy a Torah Umesorah raffle ticket every time we go grocery shopping. We go to the supermarket and buy everything we want, and there is nothing wrong with that. Boruch Hashem, kosher markets are no longer rinky-dinky old fashioned stores offering only the bare essentials. There are kosher supermarkets as large, or larger, than the branch stores of the national chains. They are packed solid, stocked with everything a palate could desire. We visit these stores and go up and down the aisles filling our wagons with food for our families. And then, as we stand by the register to pay for it all, we add one dollar to the sum total of what we are spending and that dollar goes to buy life insurance for a rebbi.

It is such a simple campaign, such an almost effortless way to help out these families. Plus, you are entered into a raffle for a $10,000 prize. You can feel good about yourself and earn a chance to get some financial reward.

So how many of us are doing it? How many of us are asking the cashier for a raffle ticket? And how many of us who own and manage stores are pushing this campaign in our stores and making sure that every cashier asks every customer if they want to buy a ticket?

No one is asking us to go to leave your house, to listen to long, boring speeches, to make a special trip somewhere, to write a big check, to make phone calls, or to donate our precious time. All they are asking is for one dollar. Is it so hard for us to do? Is it too much for us to remember to ask for a ticket? Is the welfare of the people who care for our children all day not worth one dollar?

Rabbeim are the crown of Torah Jewry. They are the transmitters of Torah to the future generations. They and their families live simple lives and are satisfied with the knowledge that their sacrifice is for the sake of Torah. They deserve our help.

Rabbeim tend to support large families and have to struggle and do all kinds of juggling acts to make ends meet. Imagine, r”l, the main provider passing on; what is the wife to do? How will she marry off her children? Who will pay their tuition and buy them clothes? Why must the wife feel like a charity case? With this life insurance plan, the family is basically taken care of financially and they can stand up proud, knowing that they are not a burden to anyone.

Don’t you want a share in this great mitzvah? All it takes is one dollar.

Another school year is upon us. If for no other reason, let’s do this as a zechus for our children’s success. May we all be blessed with good health and much nachas.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Celebrating Growth and the Future

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

So often, we hear disparaging comments about our society and way of life that we begin to believe them and think that all is lost. We hear speakers bemoan all the things that are going wrong and begin to think that the ship is sinking. As Elul approaches, some of us grow melancholy, as we ponder our mistakes and missteps throughout the year.

If we step back and view things objectively, though, it's comforting to note that the record is not all bad.

In consonance with the Shiva D'nechemtah, the seven weeks of consolation that we are now in the midst of, perhaps we should focus more on the positive and less on the negative.

Somebody I know well and respect sent me the following e-mail, which got me thinking: "Are you putting a picture on the front page of bnei yeshiva learning at the start of the Elul z'man? Don't. It's the same thing every year. It makes the paper very parochial and predictable."

We have grown so much, so fast, that we all take our success for granted. We forget that there was a time not that long ago when people regarded the Torah way of life, which flourished for so many centuries, through so many bitter vicissitudes, as a thing of the past. People thought that yeshivos could never be transplanted to this country; they said it would never work. "Yeshiva bochur" was a pejorative term weighted with derision and scorn.

A mere few decades ago, it appeared as if the naysayers were correct. Torah, as we know it, remained alive in a couple of yeshivos, thanks to the stubborn efforts of a handful of heroic diehards. But as for Torah enjoying a vibrant future and continuity? Who was willing to place their bets on such a remote, quixotic vision?

The words of Ben Gurion, when he agreed to a draft deferment for yeshiva bochurim, are well known. When people around him were concerned about his exempting Bnei Torah from the nascent country's army, he is said to have assured them that yeshiva students were a dying breed who wouldn't last more than another generation. They weren't worth hassling over. Why not give them the deferment and avoid a major fight?

Ben Gurion didn't offer this argument to be cute and flippant. He didn't say it because he needed to quiet his advisors. He said it because he believed it to be true, and they accepted what he said because they agreed with him that yeshivos were doomed.

Boruch Hashem, they were wrong. Today, six decades after our people were almost wiped out, we are stronger and more populous than ever. Yeshivos are flourishing and bursting at the seams. They cannot accommodate all the young men who seek to study and grow within their hallowed walls.

The story of the ehrliche seforim socher who tearfully told Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch zt"l in the 1940s that he was selling him the very last copy of the classic sefer Ketzos Hachoshen captures the mood of an era when people really believed that no one would be learning Torah for much longer. The call of the outside society would be too loud, its pull too strong. The lure of the secular world, with all its "isms" and utopian visions, was overpowering. The most one could hope for was decent children who had some appreciation for their heritage.

Orthodox young men took up positions in Conservative congregations because they thought that there was no future in Orthodoxy. Some found their way back; many didn't.

People worked on Shabbos; they couldn't withstand the trials of poverty and destitution. They felt as if they were fighting a losing battle anyway. Jews would daven in shul Shabbos morning and then head out for work. There were no day schools for their children; they went to public school and dissolved into the American melting pot, lost forever.

But then, the Second World War changed everything. Hitler's rise to power wiped out most of European Jewry. Several rabbinic leaders and good Jews managed to escape and found their way to these shores. Financially broke but rich with spirit and determination to rebuild what they saw destroyed, they refused to take no for an answer. They had witnessed the empire of Torah crumble in front of them and wouldn't let anything deter them from doing all they could do to rebuild it.

Rav Aharon Kotler zt"l founded Bais Medrash Govoah in 1943. The yeshiva began with 13 students in a building located at 617 Sixth Street which housed a bais medrash, dining room, dormitory, office and an apartment for the rosh yeshiva. Following his petirah, architectural plans were designed for a building that would service up to 500 talmidim.

The plan was dated 9-29-1946. At a time that the yeshiva's enrollment was less than fifty, Rav Aharon had a vision of five hundred. At a time when people were saying that the matzav was hopeless and no one would ever learn Torah lishmah in treifeneh Amerikah, the rosh yeshiva clung tenaciously to his vision. With a soul aflame with Torah, he ignited a revolution that even he never dreamed would be this far-reaching and successful.

There were others, to be sure; many more were galvanized by his towering leadership and encouraged to build on.

Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt"l, who arrived here much earlier and breathed life into Torah Vodaas, set up a beacon of life and light for the New York area and attracted talmidim from near and far. His establishment of Torah Umesorah led to the creation of Jewish elementary schools all across the country. Eventually, that movement changed the face of American Jewry. Children were snatched from the clutches of assimilation and hope was given to their parents that they could be saved.

The full history of that era is outside the scope of this column. There were other beacons of light that shone in the darkness of those times. There were intrepid souls who fought the tide and went on to greatness, studying under brilliant émigré talmidei chachomim and going on to lead productive Torah lives.

Rav Aharon wasn't the only one. But he was one of the most outspoken and dynamic proponents of the system of Torah scholarship that had been imported from Europe to America. He was the lightening rod for the haters of Torah who derided his vision and what he stood for. Despite them, his yeshiva has expanded beyond anyone's dreams and is today the largest edifice of Torah in this country. Lakewood, a virtual Torah town, has been blessed with a continuous growth surge.

That was on display Sunday night of this week at the wedding of the daughter of the present-day rosh yeshiva, Rav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler. Thousands upon thousands of Bnei Torah converged on the wedding hall to join with the leading roshei yeshiva of our day to join in the celebration of the marriage of Rav Aharon Kotler's great-grandchild. The Kotler name has become synonymous with the building of Torah and everyone present was deeply cognizant of the richness of the moment.

The resurgence of Torah, the drastic expansion of the Torah community, the huge numbers of Bnei Torah and the promise of their growth were on full display. The joy was palpable at the simcha as everyone joined the beloved rosh yeshiva and his family in the memorable celebration.

How many who learned under Rav Aharon or Rav Shneur could have dreamed of such a scene? Who would have believed that one day in Lakewood thousands upon thousands of present and past talmidei yeshiva would join with dozens of roshei yeshiva, marbitzei Torah, roshei mosdos Torah v'chessed and tomchei Torah in a simcha celebrating the future?

In a world awash with much more depravity than existed in the 1940s, the Torah community continues to grow despite the decadence which surrounds it. The kedusha breaks through tumah and breathes life into a nation.

Torah is our lifeblood and Bnei Torah are our present and future. We treasure them, how they live their lives and what they represent. When they return to the bais medrash after a well-deserved break and the kol Torah resounds once again from yeshivos around the world, we feel fortified and uplifted. We express our pride and elation by publishing a photo celebrating Torah.

It is our way of embracing these Bnei Torah and sharing in their enviable lot. We mark the growth of Torah and dare not take it for granted. It is not tiring, it is not trite, and no, my dear friend, it is not parochial or predictable. It wasn't always this way. We need to remember that and take pride in how far we've come. We need to support Torah with all our resources so that it may continue to flourish and flower beyond our wildest expectations and dreams.

So yeshivaleit, welcome home, back to the shtender and Gemara. Continue shteiging and strengthening the chain which trails back to Slabodka, Kelm, Volozhin, all the way through Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Syria, Morocco, Spain, Portugal and Eretz Yisroel, all the way back to Har Sinai. Continue making us proud and lighting up the world with Torah, leading us to zikuy b'din Moshiach Tzidkeinu b'karov.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Why the Bais Hamikdosh Hasn’t Yet Been Rebuilt

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Throughout our history, the month of Av has marked some of the most wrenching, catastrophic events for the Jewish people. That legacy of sorrow and disaster continues to hound us to the present day.

As we shed tears over the latest tragedies both here and in Eretz Yisroel, we wonder what we can do to reverse this terrible cycle and when it will all end. We flail about seeking to find answers for the seemingly continuous cycle of pain, affliction and death. We are neither neviim or bnei neviim and it is totally presumptuous of us to imagine we know why things happen.

But we should recognize that the root of all our sadness and misery is the churban Bais Hamikdosh, which we mourn not only during the Nine Days and Three Weeks, but also all year round. We reflect on the well-known Gemara in Yomah (9b) that tells us that the first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because we did not observe the halachos of avodah zorah, gilui arayos and shefichas domim.

The Gemara says that at the time of the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdosh, the Jews were proficient in Torah and gemillus chassodim. What brought about the churban was the sin of sinas chinom.

We are taught that the third Bais Hamikdosh will not be erected until sinas chinom is purged from the Jewish people.

The true nature of sinas chinom goes beyond the concept of senseless, baseless hatred. Its deeper dimensions are hinted at in the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos that discusses kabbolas haTorah.

The Gemara states that Har Sinai was given its name because of the “sinah” that Matan Torah triggered amongst the nations of the world toward Klal Yisroel. Rashi explains that once the Torah became exclusively ours, we became universally hated. We had sole access to something of immeasurable value and the world could not forgive us for that.

Jealousy seems to be the underside of hatred. Sinas chinom is the animosity a person harbors toward one who possesses that which the hater lacks - something he is not willing to go the extra distance to attain for himself. That feeling of emptiness spawns an implacable hatred.

The nations of the world could be megayeir and accept the Torah upon themselves. But instead of giving up their carefree existence, they prefer to hate.

The Gemara in Yomah quoted above states that the sin of sinas chinom is equal to the collective sins of avodah zorah, gilui arayos and shefichas domim. The reason for this is because sinas chinom is the polar opposite of ahavas Yisroel, one of the Torah’s key mandates, derived from the posuk of “V’ahavta lereyacha kamocha.”

We are all familiar with the statement of Rabi Akiva in Pirkei Avos: “V’ahavta lereyacha kamocha, zeh klal gadol baTorah… The commandment to love your fellow Jew is the major rule of the Torah;” the rest is commentary.

We also recall the tale of the ger tzedek who asked Hillel to teach him the whole Torah on one leg. Hillel told him, “D’aloch sani lechavercha lo sa’avid…what is hateful to you do not do unto others; zuhi kol haTorah, ve’idach zil gemor.”

If v’ahavta lereyacha kamocha is the most fundamental rule in the Torah, it stands to reason that sinas chinom, its diametrical opposite, is a most serious aveirah. What is so grievous about sinas chinom? Why was the punishment for sinas chinom equal to the punishment for the three cardinal sins? Why did it cause the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdosh and prevent the construction of the third?

Sinas chinom is derived from a feeling of inferiority and inadequacy. People suffering from these feelings can fill the vacuum by emulating others who lead exemplary lives. On the other hand, they can try to destroy those who do good by minimizing their accomplishments and destroying their reputations. This helps the inferiority-ridden person feel redeemed and guilt-free over his own lack of accomplishment.

Sinas chinom is the antithesis of positive involvement in the community. Sinas chinom is what prevents good people from constructive accomplishments. Sinas chinom is by no means a victimless crime. It actually prevents people from getting involved; it seeks to destroy those who do and belittles and undermines their undertakings.

If someone puts his heart into finding a remedy for a community problem and is met with nothing but snide remarks for his efforts, he will be discouraged from seeing his project through.

Poking fun at someone for having his name engraved on a building in tribute to his donation will cause that person to reconsider the next time he is solicited for a contribution.

The same holds true for someone who participates in a worthy campaign and has his picture published in the newspaper. Finding himself the butt of thoughtless ribbing by baalei sinas chinom will induce the person to stay home next time.

How many people shy away from getting involved because they are aware of the negative feedback trailing them? How many people shun awards at yeshiva dinners, which could raise much needed funds for Torah, because they know they will be mocked by their neighbors and friends? And if someone donates a lot of money to good causes and is honored for his largesse by roshei yeshiva and rabbonim and smart people, why do people feel an obligation to minimize what the person has done to benefit the community and the world?

Baalei sinas chinom compensate for their lack of accomplishments by knocking others and ripping down what they have done. They create a negative spirit that kills the desire of people to rise above the masses to enhance the lives of others and help prepare the world for Moshiach.

This may be why sinas chinom has to be thoroughly uprooted in order for the redemption to arrive.

Good people need encouragement to succeed. Good people need other people to work with. Good people need to be surrounded by positive, pro-active people in order to facilitate their accomplishments.

As long as sinas chinom breeds naysayers and cynics, too many noble but orphan causes will be left to peter out.

How many at-risk kids would be drawn closer if people would not hesitate to get involved? At- risk children need people to care for them, as do children who have been abused and harmed in different ways. Yeshivos need people to come to their aid. Mechanchim desperately seek saviors to help them make ends meet. How do we expect “umalah ha’aretz dei’ah es Hashem” if we don’t pay our teachers a living wage and don’t provide children the education and care they are entitled to?

People who raise money for good causes need people to answer their calls and let them in their homes. How many more volunteers would there be for worthy chesed organizations if people didn’t have to fear the ridicule of their neighbors?

There are too many people who are sick and need physical and emotional support; too many orphans who need a shoulder to cry on. How many of us are willing to be there for them?

Several years ago, I wrote an article on this topic and quoted something that the noted askan of Detroit, Mr. Gary Torgow, had told me. We were talking and I commented that it is truly amazing to consider all that Rabbi Avrohom Abba Freedman zt”l of Detroit accomplished - how many causes and people he helped, and how many individuals he was able to draw to Torah.

Gary told me that he once had a similar conversation with Rav Matisyahu Salomon when he visited Detroit and he asked the Lakewood mashgiach to what he attributed Rabbi Freedman’s success.

Rav Salomon’s response was penetrating. He said that the secret of Rabbi Freedman’s success was that no one was jealous of him.

Think about that.

Because no one was jealous of Rabbi Freedman, he was able to operate under the radar and not be destroyed by envious people out to undermine him. Because no one was jealous of him, he was able to be wildly successful as he brought more and more people into the tent of Torah. He was able to lead “missions” to Torah centers and minister to dozens because no one tried to impugn his character.

Because no one was jealous of him, he was able to convince hundreds of children to go to yeshiva. He was able to help so many people and be the best friend of every good cause in town.

There may be other people like Rabbi Freedman out there who have the ability to prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach, but we get in their way, we doubt their intentions, we play down what they have done and we impede them from doing more.

If we’d banish sinas chinom, we’d permit more Rabbi Freedmans to flourish and prosper, and we’d be closer to the place we need to get to in order to merit the geulah shelaimah.

In all times and in all places, there are always people who are richer than others. There are always people who have been blessed with wealth and people who are poor. There are smart people and there are those who are not so smart. There are tall people and there are short people. That’s how G-d made them. Everyone has a mission to accomplish in life, and looking over our shoulders to see how we match up to the other guy will not help us accomplish our mission.

We constantly remind our children to look at their own plate and not at that of the child sitting next to them, to be happy with what they have and not to always look at what other people have. The same applies to us as well.

Jealousy is a terrible middah, but it’s worse than that; it leads us to be miserable, grumpy and unhappy with ourselves. It leads us to hate people we don’t even know. It causes us to misjudge and be disparaging of others.

We each have our own pekel. We each have been blessed in different ways. As we enter the month of Elul, let us begin with some introspection into what lies inside of our hearts and remove the evil thoughts we have about others from there.

I once had the occasion to introduce an Israeli journalist to Rav Aharon Schechter. The conversation didn’t last too long. Rav Aharon looked at the man and said to him in Hebrew, “Tilmad l’histakel al kol dovor b’ayin tovah.” Literally translated, what the Rosh Yeshiva said was, “Learn to look at everything with a good eye.”

I don’t know if his words had any affect on that fellow; I hope they had some influence on me. These words should be a mantra for everyone, not just journalists. The world would be a better place and it would lead to the imminent arrival of Moshiach.

Let us seek to praise others and find sources of merit for their actions and not seek to rip them down. Let us be blessed to recognize the good which lies in others, instead of looking to find their faults. Perhaps that way, others will look to find the good in us and judge us favorably.

The Yom Hadin is approaching. We all want Hashem to judge us favorably. A definite source of merit would be to judge others the way we want to be judged.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In Parshas Eikev, Moshe Rabbeinu continues his admonishing of the Jewish people for their waywardness. He warns them not to delude themselves as to why Hashem has been kind to them and why they have experienced success. He reminds them that all Hashem asks for in return is that they have yiras Shomayim.

It’s not really much to ask for, especially when you consider the miraculous survival of the Jewish people through centuries of persecution. Without obvious Divine intervention, we would have been wiped off the map many times over. Yet, more often than not, we fail to heed the message of this week’s parsha. We discover that honoring Hashem’s request for Yiras Shomayim is far from a simple task.

We grow fat and comfortable, strong and haughty, and convince ourselves that it is our superior intelligence and mighty muscles that enabled us to reach the pinnacle of success. As long as the going is good, we fail to appreciate our severe limitations. Despite blatant evidence of our human frailties, we cling to a naïve belief in ourselves and our abilities.

It takes a downturn for us to be forced to admit our human fallibilities. By then, it is usually too late. By then, we have turned off too many people with our arrogance and disloyalty. We can no longer count on their friendship and mercy. We played hard to get much longer than we should have. We were deaf to our friend’s entreaties and good advice. We didn’t have to listen to anyone; rules were made for the dopes, not for us. Then, one day, it all comes crashing down on us and there is no one around to help us pick up the pieces.

We all know people whom we would like to shake up a bit to alert them about the true state of affairs, but we hesitate to burst their bubble—to shatter their delusions of grandeur. We reach out our hands to them in friendship and are smacked. We can do little more than stand on the side and wait for these people who we care about to right themselves.

When we read the pesukim of Parshas Eikev, we feel as if Moshe is pleading with the Jewish people the way we would plead with someone we deeply care about and are attempting to influence to accept reality. He reminds them of all they have been through, of all the miracles G-d wrought in order to bring them to where they are. He begs them to remember who has fed, clothed and cared for them, even as they remained ungrateful. He reminds them how stubborn and spiteful they were and how he repeatedly interceded on their behalf.

It is as if we have met someone who knew our grandparents and therefore had a warm spot for us. They reached out to us with kindness and tried to help us in our pursuits. Instead of appreciating where that kindness came from, that it was inspired by their warm memories of our grandparents, we lull ourselves into thinking that it is we ourselves who are so beloved.

Quite often, we meet people who are so chained by their egos, they are no longer capable of absorbing the truth. They remain blinded by their hubris to facts that are plainly evident to everyone else. The truth can be staring them in the face and their resistance to anything that challenges their prejudiced notions prevents them from recognizing it.

Some examples from last week’s newspapers put this willful blindness on display.

Throwing Good Money After Bad

Michael Steinhart retired from the hedge fund business in the mid 1990s with half a billion dollars in his pocket. Obviously, he was a brilliant trader. Since his retirement, he has spent $125 million on philanthropy in the Jewish world to ensure Jewish continuity. He now tells the JTA that he is unhappy with the results of his largesse. While he is to be commended for his fine intentions, and several of his initiatives are widely regarded, we agree with him that much of his money was misspent.

But the steps he is taking to rectify his mistakes will accomplish nothing more than throwing more good money after bad. He is now building, among other projects, a $100 million “Fund for the Jewish Future,” to be known also as Areivim. For a man like Mr. Steinhart who does not believe in G-d to be building grand projects to guarantee Jewish survival brings absurdity to a whole new level.

Let’s turn to Shimon Peres who in his inaugural message, mentioned his Volozhiner background, giving secular writer Hillel Halkin goose bumps of nostalgia. The writer’s great-grandfather was none other than the famed Netziv of Volozhin. Halkin wrote in The New York Sun that Peres’ reference “led me to reflect on a lost world that both of us ultimately derive from.”

Lost Souls Pining for Volozhin

When I read Peres’ words, I pondered the fact that this man was born right outside Volozhin and learned Gemara every day with his grandfather, a Volozhiner talmid. How painful to reflect on what he might have become as opposed to what has, in fact, become of him. Though he may occupy a prestigious position, he cannot shake his image as a loser, and not only because he lost every popular election in which he ever ran. He cut himself off from the chain descending from Sinai. Instead of spending a fruitful life observing Torah and mitzvos and continuing Talmudic study, as his grandfather would have wanted, he spent his life in syphsian political debauchery.

Had he remained loyal to the Volozhin of his grandfather and observed a Torah lifestyle, that life would have been of so much greater worth to the Jewish people. He and his progeny would not today be cut off from the tree of life hewn by the L-rd of Israel.

Alas, it is never too late. Perhaps now that his career climb has ended, Mr. Peres can yet still let go of his fantasies of a new Mideast and return to his forefather’s Torah without fear.

Doctoring Up The Netziv

As for Halkin, he twists historical truths around to portray the failures of Volozhin—those who left the yeshiva world and renounced their religious beliefs in order to embrace secularism—as the yeshiva’s greatest success stories. Not only that, he casts the Netziv as a progressive thinker molded in Halkin’s own image.

He expounds on the “intellectual and historical approach to Talmudic studies” that he ignorantly claims the Netziv introduced, as an innovation that “was unusual in its day…” And he lauds the Netziv who he asserts “broke with the ultra-Orthodox of his time” to preserve solidarity with those in the secular camp, recognizing that all Jews are brothers.

Therefore, the great-grandson concludes—and we would agree, albeit for very different reasons than Halkin—that “the ultra-Orthodox world in both Israel and America needs another Tsvi Yehuda Berlin today.”

It is so bitterly ironic, and another sign of our sad golus, that this lost soul proudly traces his lineage to the holy Netziv and believes that he can admonish the “ultra-Orthodox” about how they should be leading their lives.

It does not diminish the Netziv in any way to note that “Kol Yisroel areivim zeh bazeh” is not a Volozhiner concept, but one that is Biblical in nature and native to all Torah observant Jews. It does not minimize the greatness of the Netziv to note that ultra-Orthodox Jews would love nothing more than reaching out to their wayward brethren to return them to the fold, if only they were receptive.

The Netziv, as did all the leading rabbinic figures of the time, relentlessly battled the Maskilim who not only fought to introduce secular subjects into Volozhin but had the audacity to recruit government authorities to bolster their demands. Rather than surrender his principles, the Netziv closed the yeshiva, an act which he wrote at the time so devastated him he was afraid it would lead to his death. To even suggest that the Netziv looked benevolently upon those evil-doers who created so much havoc is historical revisionism at its most pernicious.

It was one of the oft-repeated canards of the Maskilim who hounded the Netziv to the point where his health broke down, that the rabbis were indifferent to the welfare of the Jewish community outside of their own narrow circle. It was so often repeated that even people who benefited from their chesed began to believe it. People like my great-grandfather, Rav Yaakov Haleivi Lipschutz zt”l of Kovno, devoted themselves to foiling the Maskilim’s schemes and to refuting their lies and distortions. They sought with all their strength to return kavod haTorah to the pedestal upon which it belonged.

Despite the best efforts of Mr. Halkin’s great-grandfather and mine, the Haskalah infiltrated the yeshivos of Lita and extracted many korbanos, The Netziv towered over Volozhin for decades, sleeping but a couple hours a night while serving as a bulwark of spiritual strength in the Volozhiner bais medrash, which pulsated with Torah 24 hours a day. He encouraged the talmidim to grow in Torah and showed them the path to leadership and greatness. A father to thousands of talmidim, it would be hard to exaggerate his impact on Jewry.

But a grandson who has strayed far from Volozhin has tried to doctor up the Netziv to fit his own image—an image antithetical to the principals the Netziv lived and died for. Halkin measures this Torah giant’s legacy by the Bialiks and Berdichevkys who drifted tragically far from their spiritual moorings, trading in nitzchiyus for temporal fame in this world.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews recognize more than anyone else the vacuum that could be filled by the Netziv were he to return today. But we have no use for the hollow doctrines of Haskalah that have caused the spiritual demise of whole sections of Klal Yisroel.

Modern Orthodoxy— From A Renegade’s Perspective

That leads us to an article in the New York Times Magazine which has aroused much angst in the Modern Orthodox world.

Harvard law professor Noah Feldman wrote a very personal and blunt critique of Modern Orthodoxy entitled “Orthodox Paradox,” in which he takes to task the school he attended, Maimonides Yeshiva in Brighton, Mass.

Feldman was valedictorian when he graduated from Harvard; he was a Rhodes scholar and a Truman scholar, and finished his doctorate in Oxford faster then anyone else had before him.

He is very upset. He says, that the Maimonides Yeshiva tried “reconciling the vastly disparate values of tradition and modernity” and tried to combine “Slobodka and St. Paul’s.”

“I have tried in my own imperfect way,” he writes, “to live up to values that the school taught me, expressing my respect and love for the wisdom of the tradition while trying to reconcile Jewish faith with scholarship and engagement in the public sphere.”

Feldman’s “imperfect way” of achieving the synthesis he sought led him to marry out of faith. He is distressed that in reaction to his choice, the school now refuses to recognize him as a student and actually cut his photo out of a report on an alumni reunion he attended.

Much like Halkin’s remaking of the Netziv, he absurdly brings his alma mater’s namesake as a witness for his defense. He cites “Maimonides” as advocating the study of the world as an intelligent way to get to know G-d. Nonsensically, he equates such study with the abandonment of halacha, ignoring the obvious fact that it was the Rambam himself who was the first to codify the halachos.

It is the height of ignorance and arrogance on Feldman’s part to imply even indirectly that the Rambam would countenance his marriage to a gentile woman.

But such is the folly of a brilliant person trapped by his desires, unwilling to grasp how antithetical his life is with the Torah’s imperatives. Once again the Orthodox are the ones projected as myopic, heartless and cruel.

Middle East Madness

What article about ego-driven people would be complete without a peek at the current leadership of the State of Israel? The current prime minister, who is approved by three percent of the population, give or take a few percentage points, was elected on a platform of unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the West Bank. The theory was that it would lead to peace and the new Middle East of Shimon Peres and Oslo.

Of course, we all know that Gaza has turned into a virtual terror state and base for yet more violent murderous acts against the Jews of Israel. But that hasn’t stopped Olmert and his gang from continuing along their path of self-destruction. They lost the war in Lebanon last year and lost the vital deterrence factor, as the Arabs saw that they don’t have to fear the vaunted Israeli army anymore. Iran threatens with a nuclear weapon and the Zionist haven is powerless to bring the process to a halt.

One Zionist icon after another is toppled by corruption, malfeasance and bankruptcy, yet the government muddles along and the people, amazingly, keep swallowing it. Incredibly, they do not rise up in disgust and indignation, crying out, “Dayeinu. We have had enough of the lies and deception.”

Deposed and now-resurrected minister Chaim Ramon, in any other civilized country, would hang his head in shame and sink into oblivion. In Israel, however, he is a leader - a deputy prime minister, in fact. Last week, he said, “Israel must move quickly, because we have a ‘partner’ in the non-Hamas leadership. I don’t know for how long, so we must act quickly.”

That’s right: act now before the Palestinians of the West Bank depose Abbas like they did in Gaza. Let’s quickly rush and give them over the West bank before Hamas comes.

Can rational people really think that way? Can thinking people be so misguided? Can it really be that they don’t see the folly of their ways? How can people be so totally blinded?

Fateful Warnings Meant For Our Own Times

Read the pesukim of this week’s parsha (perek 8, posuk 11 and on): “Be careful lest you shall forget Hashem… Lest you eat and become full and build nice, good fancy homes and become settled… Lest you have much gold and silver and become haughty and forget Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Mitzrayim and led you through the Midbar where he quenched your thirst and fed you. Yet you say in your heart, I did this all myself with my own strength. Remember it is Hashem who gives you strength to wage war … If you will forget Hashem and go after strange gods and you will serve them and bow to them, I warn you that you will be destroyed…”

These pesukim are not just written to the people who have obviously gone astray; they are written to us as well, and should serve as a reminder to us that we should never let our gaavah get the better of us and fool us into thinking that we are self-sufficient, that we are smart and strong enough to take care of ourselves. We must always remember where we come from and where we are headed. We must be constantly aware that it is Hashem who provides us with the know-how and stamina we require to earn our livings and get ahead in this world, and to survive life’s many challenges and pitfalls.

Let us not fall prey to self-aggrandizement. Let us ensure that we don’t become blinded by ego and evil inclination, and that we remain loyal to the One who sustains us.

For as the parsha ends (11:22), “If you will observe the mitzvos, love Hashem and follow in his path… then Hashem will let you inherit nations that are larger and stronger than yours… Wherever you will set your foot down will be blessed… No one will be able to stand in your way.”