Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Achdus and Elul

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

A week before Rosh Hashanah, the call of the swiftly approaching Yom Hadin is finally reaching us. We tackle the remaining few days of Elul with anticipation and uncertainty. How awesome the challenge - yet how ill prepared we feel to meet it. What should we focus on? How should we ready ourselves for this momentous day?

Last week, a man left a message for me at my office addressing this question and suggesting that I write about achdus. The thought intrigued me. That Klal Yisroel suffers from a lack of achdus is obvious and deeply troubling. Yet, I wondered what I could add to the discussion. What could I say that would make a difference?

This past Shabbos, at the aufruf of a grandson of Michael Tress, something inspirational happened that provided an answer.

The kallah’s grandfather, a heimishe Yid, got up to speak. An eltereh Yid, bedecked in a homburg and bekishe, he was overcome with emotion. He was speaking of his joy that his granddaughter was marrying the grandson of a malach. He was recalling the greatness of Michael Tress in the most glowing of terms, and meaning every word of it.

I looked at him and the man’s request about achdus flashed through my head. That’s the definition of achdus, I thought to myself. That a chassidisher Yid should become emotional as he praised Mike Tress - a clean-shaven “American Yankee” that he should single out this extraordinary individual as Klal Yisroel’s hero testified to the power of achdus to bind together people from across the spectrum.

Mike Tress was indeed extraordinary. Behind the benevolent, clean-shaven countenance resided a malach, and everyone from that post-Holocaust period recognized it. It made no difference whether they had long beards or short, davened Ashkenaz or Sefard, wore a long jacket or a short one; they all knew that those differences were superficial.

With the same broadmindedness, ahavas Yisroel and chashivus haTorah, Mike Tress revered Rav Elchonon Wasserman and the Satmar Rebbe, for he knew that they were head and shoulders above ordinary men. They davened differently from him, they looked different, they spoke different languages and came from different countries, but they were his heroes, nevertheless.

Achdus means that we respect and care for each other despite our differences. It doesn’t mean pretending differences do not exist. It means we are all heirs to a glorious tradition and each one of us contributes an important part to a brilliant and multi-faceted mosaic. Achdus means that we recognize that there were twelve tribes of Israel and each one was distinct with its own mission and shlichus. Together they formed the Shivtei Kah, the Chosen People, Am Yisroel.

Achdus - making yourself part of a community - doesn’t mean you have to surrender your personality and individuality. The challenge is to be who you are without letting that compromise your loyalty to the community. The challenge of achdus is to subordinate your selfish inclinations and conquer your hubris so that you can work with others for the common good.

But it is more than that. When we are alone, we are vulnerable and isolated. Uniting with others allows us to benefit from their support, and to have friends with whom to celebrate joy and lighten sadness. If you live only for yourself and by yourself, then life is as small as you are.

Just like the shevotim, we each have our own distinct missions to carry out in life, referred to in sifrei chassidus as a shlichus. We are all part of a Divine plan and fit into the Divine jigsaw puzzle. We are interconnected with others and to the degree that we touch others’ lives and become indispensable to our fellow Jews, we become more vital to the larger picture and an integral part of Klal Yisroel.

One who is a part of the larger group is more important to this world than the one who sits off by himself, benefiting no one, doing little more than succumbing to his own selfish desires.

As Rav Yisroel Salanter is said to have advised, if we wish to be zoche in the din of Rosh Hashanah, be part of the klal. If we wish to be granted life, health and happiness, we need to make ourselves needed.

We need to live for others. We need to become involved with the klal, doing things that we do not necessarily enjoy, even performing acts that we may think are beneath our dignity. The more people need us, the more sunshine and happiness we bring into the world and spread around, the more reason there is to keep us here.

There are the popular chassodim that everyone competes for, and the unpopular ones that have no “takers.” One way to make oneself needed in this world is to take on an unpopular but worthy cause that no one else is interested in championing.

There are always excuses not to give, not to get involved. Rosh Hashanah is a time to resist the pull of habit and throw oneself into the effort to help others. With a little creative thought, we can make ourselves indispensable - or nearly so.

We stand a much better chance of a positive verdict if we are judged as part of the group and based on our connection with others, as opposed to standing trial alone.

“Tzedaka tatzil mimo-vess,” charity saves from death. The more we give, the more we share with others, the more unselfish and humble we become and the greater our chances of a favorable outcome on Judgment Day.

The more we realize that all we have is but a gift from G-d, to utilize not only for ourselves, but for the benefit of our fellows, the more He will give us.

The more we realize that we are part of a group ruled by Hashem, the closer we will be to realizing our goal. When we truly grasp that kol Yisroel areivim zeh bazeh, and comprehend that we have little to offer when standing alone but can achieve so much when united, the more we find favor in Hashem’s eyes and in the hearts of our fellow Jews.

Chazal say, “Eizehu chochom? Halomeid mikol odom. Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.” The isolationist remains with his tunnel vision, deprived of the scope and richness he could have achieved had he been humble enough to learn from others.

As much as we learn from others, we must take a lesson or two from our own actions - and mistakes. That is the work of Chodesh Elul. We all make mistakes. “Ein tzaddik ba’aretz asher yaaseh tov velo yechtah.” There is no one who accomplished anything with his life who has not made a mistake or two along the way.

What Chazal are hinting is that we should be aware that if we make a mistake, it is not the end of the world. The point is to learn from our mistakes and emerge from them stronger, more honest and ehrliche Yidden. The only people who don’t make mistakes are those who take no initiative and therefore accomplish nothing.

When this paper was founded, it met with objections from certain quarters. One of the arguments was that the pressures of producing a newspaper coupled with human error would result in the public occasionally being fed erroneous information. In one of my discussions with Maran Rav Elazar Shach zt”l, I brought this up. Maybe those objections were valid, I wondered, and perhaps we shouldn’t go ahead with the paper. In addition, given the immense responsibility of such a venture, I had grave doubts whether I should be the one doing it.

Rav Shach turned to me and said, “Du bist ah mentch, oon a mentch macht ta’usim,” You are human, and humans make mistakes. “Uber men lernt fun zey, oon men geit veiter un di nexter voch kumt arois nuch ah tzeitung.” But you will learn from your mistakes and the next week you will publish another, better edition.

Is it better that our community remain without a voice and that we should leave it hefker for others?

The gadol hador’s advice applies to all of our endeavors for the klal and no less to our private endeavors in avodas Hashem.

Elul is the time for cheshbon hanefesh, to perceive what we did right and what we did wrong and what we can do to correct those errors and reinforce the good. The process of teshuvah involves charatah al ho’ovar, kabbolah al ho’osid, regret for the past and positive resolutions for the future. The two must be linked. Engaging in charatah over our past failings must bring us to undertake specific kabbalos to better ourselves in the coming year - and to conscientiously carry them out.

Perhaps a deeper understanding of Rav Yisroel Salanter’s advice to become indispensable to the klal is that subjugating oneself for the greater common good requires a refinement of many middos. To become needed and important to the klal, one has to develop the attributes of savlonus, anavah, chesed, among many others.

Rav Yisroel Salanter was saying that one who wants to emerge victorious in the judgment of Rosh Hashanah has to uproot his evil inclinations and replace them with good ones. By vanquishing the malignant turpitude which lies in the heart of man who doesn’t learn mussar, and which prevents him from doing good for others without an agenda, a person will be acquitted in Judgment.

The Botei Mikdosh were destroyed because we lacked achdus and judged others with a jaundiced eye. To merit the redemption, we have to overcome the temptation to judge people cynically and belittle others who are different, based on superficial, false notions.

One who has perfected his ethical conduct to the degree that he can be a productive and harmonious member of the klal, is one who can truly appreciate the oneness and unity of Klal Yisroel. May we all be zoche to be part of the collective zikui b’din, as Hashem looks down upon his beloved people on the Day of Judgment.


Blogger Hadassah Rivkah said...

Very nice, thank you! May we merit to have real and eternal achdus!

8:37 PM  

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