Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Honesty is the Best Policy

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week's parsha details the search for a mate for Yitzchok Avinu. Avrohom sends his trusted servant Eliezer to scout out his homeland for a wife for his beloved son. Eliezer fears that he will not be able to carry out the mission and begs Avrohom for alternatives.

When he reaches his destination, Eliezer prays to Hashem and devises tests to ensure that the girl he meets is Yitzchok's designated match. Such is Eliezer's loyalty to his master that he goes beyond what can be expected of any shliach and formulates special prayers and guarantees to ensure that Avrohom's will is carried out.

Eliezer's behavior is contrasted in the parsha with that of Efron and Lavan who both sought to take advantage of Avrohom and his pressing need of the hour. They professed to be concerned about Avrohom's welfare, but actually were plotting to take advantage of him. They were seeking to exploit his desperation.

Both Lavan and Efron made their unsavory mark in history as infamous charlatans; their ruses didn't fool anyone and they are remembered for eternity as liars and cheats. Eliezer is lauded for his extraordinary devotion and honesty.

Thanks to Eliezer's unswerving loyalty, Yitzchok found his life partner and was able to help forge the glorious chain begun by his father, Avrohom, which has spanned the centuries to this very day. Lavan and Efron also contributed to Jewish history; Lovon as the brother-in-law of Yitzchok and father-in-law of Yaakov, and Efron as the man who sold Avrohom the Meoras Hamachpeilah. The actions of both men reflect their ignoble motives, as explained by the commentaries.

In life, we encounter all types of people. Many present themselves as dear friends while their hearts are full of malice. True friendship is a rare commodity; loyalty is almost an aberration among men - a refreshing surprise when encountered. Very often, we are confused about whose friendship is real, who can be trusted, and who is out to use us for their benefit without any concern for our own needs.

Each one of us has to rise above the temptations to fall into the Lavan trap; we must live by high standards of decency and honesty, despite the daily challenges we face. We must be more charitable toward our friends, forgiving them for their mistakes and human failings, without condemning them. A true friend accepts your flaws and blemishes just as you should accept theirs. A true friend doesn't let go of you when times are rough or when being your friend might be inconvenient or costly.

A true friend is the best gift anyone could be blessed with. The knowledge that you have a loyal companion with whom you can share everything is the ultimate comfort. The knowledge that you have someone who would go to the ends of the world for you is true solace in a dangerous and lonely world. It is only with the help and support of friends that we get by in a world of treachery and turpitude.

Eliezer stands for all time as the epitome of a loyal friend and student. Eliezer achieved immortality because he was a true friend to Avrohom and to the Jewish people. He journeyed to a strange land and negotiated with devious people in order to satisfy the wishes of his master Avrohom, whether he understood them or not.

So often, we are tested to determine whether we will behave like Lavan or like Eliezer. There is a little of Efron everywhere; one can always find people who seek to take advantage of others for monetary gain. People are often tempted to twist the truth just a little bit in order to gain the upper hand in a negotiation. People promote themselves as men of virtue in order to disarm others and to facilitate their exploitation.

While they may think that they have come out ahead because they pocketed some extra change, this week's parsha reminds us that the achievements of crooked people are momentary and fleeting. Ultimately, it is those who persevere in being honest whose advance is true and lasting. They are the ones who sleep well at night. They are the fortunate individuals who have loyal and dear friends who respect them and their accomplishments.

The children and talmidim of the Avrohom Avinus and Yitzchok Avinus of this world achieve immortality and earn the loyalty and servitude of people such as Eliezer. Those who follow in the ways of grandpa Lavan and Efron are eventually exposed and become figures of eternal derision.

It is not always easy to be loyal to a cause or to a person; life has a way of severely testing our moral fiber. Those who remain loyal to their ideals no matter how difficult it becomes are the ones who endure. They are the winners in the deadly contest of good versus evil.

Though it seems much longer, it is only six years since the passing of Maran Harav Shach zt”l. With his yahrtzeit this week, one can't help but take note of how drastically the world has changed in those six years. How many of us have decided that since he is no longer with us, it no longer pays to fight for what he taught us? How many have compromised and moved on? How many have made peace with those he taught us to separate ourselves from?

How many have turned the other way when seeing evil triumph because we don't want to be mocked? How many of us publicly and privately engage in behavior we know we would never do if he were alive and able to admonish us?

Although his memory has dimmed among the forgetful and the ideals he taught have weakened, we must strengthen ourselves to remain loyal to the path he illuminated with his outstanding gadlus b'Torah and his brilliant example. We must remind ourselves and others that heeding that example and following that path will lead us to the reception line for greeting Moshiach Tzidkeinu bekarov.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Avrohom's Grandchildren

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

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. Their stories overflow with teachings that have shaped our people for millennia.

The mussar and lessons we derive from the tales of our forefathers should stand by us every day. Earlier today, I returned from out-of-town. I pulled up to my driveway and out of nowhere a man appeared before me as I attempted to remove my suitcase from the trunk. I wasn't too happy. I was tired. I was hungry. Why did this man have to bother me right then?

The man looked at me and smiled. He had a sense of humor and said to me, “So, how are you doing? I know, you were doing good, and then you saw me!” I really wasn't in the mood of him, but he wouldn't let me go. I let him in, sat him down and gave him some soda to drink while I pulled myself together.

“Okay, let's hear your story,” I said to him.

He is a chassidisheh man from Melbourne, Australia. You know how sometimes you see that someone is a good person and you don't even bother listening to his pitch or worrying where the money you give him is going? Well, he seemed to be such a man.

He presented himself as a travel agent who took it upon himself to travel to America to raise money for needy people in his hometown. He also said he was raising money for needy people and for the kollel in his hometown.

I then understood why he was so insistent. I also would have been if I was in a strange land raising money for people I know who had fallen on bad times. I also would have thought to myself, “I traveled all the way l'shaim Shomayim to help out these people. I have to make my way into this person's heart.” I would be so sad if I couldn't get my foot through the door of someone I thought could help me. I'd really try to get in, irrespective of what that person was doing or thinking.

Thanks to that man, I gained an insight into a question that had been bothering me every time I learned Parshas Vayeirah.

In this week's parsha, we are introduced to the chesed of Avrohom Avinu. The Torah tells us that Avrohom interrupted a conversation with Hakadosh Boruch Hu to go take care of three total strangers who had appeared at his tent.

The Torah doesn't tell us what Avrohom was discussing with G-d; rather, it goes into a lengthy description of how he cared for his guests. The Torah recounts Avrohom's conversations with them and, in great detail, portrays how he cared for them.

Everything in the Torah is intended to elevate us and to teach us how we are to conduct ourselves. Apparently, what Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Avrohom at that encounter is not as important for posterity as the lesson of hachnosas orchim that we learn from Avrohom's interactions with the desert nomads who appeared at his door.

How would we have reacted in that situation? How do we act when we are doing something, and someone we don't know comes to the door for a handout? It is one thing to be nice to a person we know; it is another to be thoughtful when dealing with a total stranger, especially an Arab nomad.

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 a nudnik after we have had a hard day shows what kind of person we really are.

Everyone is familiar with the teachings of Chazal regarding the supreme value of every human life. We all know the Mishnah in Maseches Sanhedrin (4:3) which states, “Kol hamekayeim nefesh achas m'Yisroel k'eilu kiyam olam molei.”

Still, 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.

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

It seems to defy comprehension. If we were ever zocheh to be mekabeil pnei haShechina, would we dare turn aside to go hear what someone at the door wanted from us? If someone great were visiting our home, would we walk out of the room to help someone we didn't know?

Often, when encountering difficulty in understanding p'shat in a Gemara, 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 sheds light upon our question.

The Rambam opens chapter 14 of Hilchos Aveil by stating, “It is a mitzvah midrabonon to visit the sick, comfort the mourner, hotzoas hameis, hachnosas kallah, lelavos orchim, to be mesameach a chosson and kallah… These are all included in gemillas chassodim shebigufo for which there is no limit as to what we are to do.”

He then states that “even though all of these various mitzvos are midrabonon, they are included in 'Ve'ohavta lereiachah kamochah.' Anything that you would want others to do for you, you should do for other people…”

In halacha 2, the Rambam 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 this week's parsha.

Perhaps, since the source of the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim is from the posuk of Ve'ohavta lereiachah 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 him in. Every person in grief or discomfort wants anyone who can relieve his 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 Ve'ohavta lereiachah 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. As the ultimate baal chesed, 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 all people and their needs. We need to put ourselves in their place and feel their pain and do what we can to help them.

And it doesn't just mean to write a check to a man from Melbourne who is raising money. All through life, people experience ups and downs. It is not always possible for us to solve the problems of our friends and family going through hard times, as we are not always able to rectify the situation. We can, however, always let them know that we are aware of their predicament and care about them.

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 are all able to find ways of expressing our concern, solidarity and friendship. The mitzvah of Ve'ohavta lereiachah kamochah obligates us to put ourselves in their place and do for them what we would want someone to do for us.

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 can find the time and the patience to help others.

The right word at the right time is often more effective than anything else. A boy in a yeshiva away from home can be feeling lonely, and a cheerful hello from a familiar face can make his day, bring a smile back to his face, and put him back in a good mood. A person can be feeling down, and all it takes is a friendly voice to cheer him up. It is not so much what we say, but the fact that we say something.

Show people that you care about them, that they aren't alone in their misery, that they have a reason to go on living, that there is room for hope. Show them that the world isn't all that bad, that not everyone is cynical and bitter. Show them that most days the sun shines and most of the time everything turns out good. Show them that there is a G-d who cares about them, and us. Show them that nothing is happenstance.

Show them that you are a grandchild of Avrohom Avinu, and so are they.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Opportunity and Challenge

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Lech Lecha begins with the immortal words Hashem spoke to Avrohom Avinu, telling him to leave his land and home and to travel to the land which He will show him.

Avrom heeds Hashem’s command. He gathers his wife, nephew Lot, material possessions and flock of followers and leads them on a journey to the Promised Land. We are taught that this was one of a series of ten challenges that Hashem sent Avrohom which he rose to admirably.

But what was the big deal, many ask. After all, Hashem promised him great material wealth and endless blessings, so why wouldn’t he go? Why is Avrom’s compliance in this situation regarded as one of the ten tests? Who wouldn’t have readily accepted such a challenge from G-d?

We all get comfortable with our surroundings. We grow accustomed to the people we associate with and develop friendships with them. We may be stuck in a dead-end job, live in the wrong part of town and have little sense of accomplishment, but conditioning sets in and makes it difficult to uproot ourselves.

When an opportunity appears that would lift us out of our rut and make our lives more rewarding, we find excuses to stay put. We blame it on our spouses, on our children, or on external factors, but the truth is that we are scared to make a move; we are afraid of new challenges.

Yet those who take the plunge despite the human tendency to fear change, often accomplish far more than those who bow to that fear.

Some see change as a disaster; others see it as an opportunity for improvement.

Change is, in essence, a challenge. Are you good enough to succeed in a strange town where people don’t know you? Do you have what it takes to succeed in new surroundings and convince a new group of people of your qualifications?

Suppose you lived in a small town until now; can you make it in the big city where there is so much more competition?

Perhaps you’ve eked out a living from your little grocery store all these years, but now big stores are the rage. Do you have what it takes to expand your store and enhance your prospects, or will you surrender to defeatism and permit the other guys to overtake you?

Many are content with what they have and turn down opportunities which could lead to serious advancements in their career and income. Quite often, they don’t even recognize promising prospects right in front of them.

Certainly, change is difficult, but if you view it as a challenge, and not as a tragedy, then you can succeed as Avrohom Avinu did. He could have reasoned that if he picked up stakes and traveled to a strange country, people who once held him in esteem would view him as a failure who couldn’t make it in his town and had to try his luck among strangers. He’d lose credibility and would have a hard time winning respect and acceptance in a new environment.

The test would determine which force in him was stronger; his commitment to the word of G-d; or the desire to remain safe and secure in his ancestral home. It was also a test to see if he would rest on the laurels of what he had accomplished in spreading the awareness of G-d in his society, or if he would rise to the challenge of continuing his mission on foreign turf.

The dilemma of whether to reach for higher spheres of accomplishment or rest content with what one has accomplished is universal.

There are always a plethora of excuses for not taking a risk, even when the opportunity is a solid one that promises great benefits. Avrom could have argued with Hashem; he could have tried to explain why he was better off where he was and why it was dangerous for him to move. He could have ignored the requested move or interpreted it in a way that would not have entailed jeopardizing his current position.

Avrohom Avinu rose above the natural tendency to shy away from change. In return, he was granted material possessions and blessings from Above and earned the distinction of becoming the Am Hamon Goyim. With the birth of Yitzchok Avinu, he forged the first link of the glorious chain of the Jewish people.

When we are confronted by change, it is a time for us to reinforce our belief in ourselves and those around us and reject the insecurities which plague us.

If you think about it, you will notice that at every one of life’s milestones, we were compelled to take a leap of faith. From the day we let go of our mother’s loving hand and stepped forward into kindergarten, up to the momentous decisions surrounding engagement and marriage, we were goaded into taking that leap into the unknown.

We often had to fight off cold feet and inertia, but how much poorer our lives would be if we had let ourselves stagnate and refused to embrace change?

If a person finds himself in an area where people are on a lower moral rung, he can write the place off as depraved and corrupt or he can see it as an opportunity to bring G-dliness to those people and help them right their ways.

In a situation that cries out for help, one can either throw one’s hands up in despair or adopt the cause of helping the disadvantaged and the abused. One can hear their silent cries and exert himself to alleviate their pain and suffering and making the world a better place for everyone to live in.

Avrohom wasn’t some kind of pie-in-the-sky utopian idealist. He separated from his nephew Lot when he felt he couldn’t influence him to desist from dishonest behavior. He fought the Four Kings and refused to accept any remuneration from the wicked king of Sedom.

He wasn’t an abstract, impractical dreamer. He was simply always on the lookout for an opportunity to do good. The reason the Torah records the accounts of his life is to have us learn from them and follow in the ways of our forefather Avrohom.

If we want to be blessed, if we want to establish a legacy of good, if we want to raise upstanding children, we must study this week’s parsha and glean its many lessons.

We are put here to raise a new generation of greatness and make a positive mark on the world. We are to make it a better place than it was before. In order to accomplish our mission as Bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok, V’Yaakov, we have to be constantly attuned to hear G-d’s challenges and rise to them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sukkos in Yerushalayim: Glimpses of a Trip

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This year, I had the very special zechus to travel with my family to Eretz Yisroel for Sukkos and to spend the wonderful Yom Tov in the land of our forefathers.

Every day in Eretz Yisroel is an experience. You wake up, daven, eat breakfast and wonder where your day will take you. Every day has the potential to teach you lessons for a lifetime. Each day has the potential to introduce you to people, places and things that create a lasting impact.

Some of the places we have heard about and revered since childhood, such as the Kosel Hamaarovi and the Meoras Hamachpeila, only come to life for us when we merit to be there in person, touching their stones, breathing in their sanctity.

I still remember the first time I arrived in Yerushalayim as a bochur coming to learn in Yeshivas Brisk. Walking down the streets of Geulah and Meah Shearim, I felt as if I had been transported to a different planet. The buildings were different, the people were unique, the food was special. The smells, the cars, the streets, stores and homes fascinated me.

In addition to the physical differences, there were the intangible spiritual ones…the heartfelt way people davened, keenly aware that they were conversing with Hashem. The level of authenticity and devotion in their tefillah made a lasting impression on me.

The learning was different. Shabbos and Yom Tov were different. In the streets and neighborhoods of Yerushalayim, you felt Shabbos and chagim more potently than ever before.

Indeed, the soul is stirred so often during the sacred days of Yom Tov in Eretz Yisorel that they trigger a spiritual reawakening that you never expected and could never describe to anyone. It was a timely opportunity to introduce my children to holy people, places and concepts and watch them absorb it all.

We visited the bais medrash of Belz in Yerushalayim, surely one of the most beautiful in the world. It is breathtakingly massive and pristine. The Belzer sukkah is also quite impressive. Thousands attend the tishen held there every night of Chol Hamoed. It was very moving to be at a tish and a special honor to meet the Rebbe afterwards.

In fact, Chol Hamoed Sukkos evenings are a very special time in Eretz Yisroel. From every corner, you hear music and spirited singing at Simchas Bais Hashoeivah gatherings held in every shul and yeshiva. The dancing is very spiritual and very moving; you get swept up in the fervor just by watching.

We dedicated one day to meeting gedolim. I was heartened by how much my children begged and looked forward to the appointment with Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. It was a name that they had heard so often in their home, and they couldn’t wait to associate the name with a living, breathing gadol who would be giving them a brocha.

Though they will have to wait until they are older to know and appreciate the great zechus they had in receiving brachos from so many other gedolei hador, the awe they felt in the presence of the gedolim will remain with them throughout their lives.

A relatively insignificant encounter on the flight to Eretz Yisroel actually enhanced my overall experience there. The echo of a rather mundane conversation with my seatmate took on a spiritual dimension and helped me perceive some hidden truths.

My seatmate was a Sephardic Israeli. After getting comfortable, I said hello to him and we exchanged a few pleasantries. In his heavily accented English, he told me that he’d been living in Nashville, Tennessee, of all places, for the past 20 years. He lives there, he said, “because there aren’t too many Israelis there,” plus he has a successful commercial renovation business there.

As I took out a small gemorah, I wondered if he was another victim of disillusionment with secular Zionism and the American melting pot, lost to the Jewish people.

To my surprise, after eyeing me for a short while, he asked, “What is that book you are reading?” Before I could answer, he smiled and said, “I know what it is; look what I have with me.” With great pride, he reached into his carry-on bag and pulled out an old book covered in plastic. “Open it. Open it,” he urged me. “Look what I have with me.”

It was a Sefer Tikkun Leil Shavuos printed 163 years ago in Baghdad. He told me that it was his treasure, handed down to him by his father. He has more holy books in his house, he said, where he prominently displays them in a case he himself built for them.

He seldom opens those books, but they are very precious to him. Whenever he travels, he takes the Tikkun Leil Shavuos with him in his bag. “I read it very little, but it’s my life, you know. It’s what I am; it’s what I am about.”

“I gave two books to my shul, where they are on display. I go to the Orthodox shul. I like the rabbi. He’s a very fine fellow.”

You never know. You never know who the person sitting next to you is. You never know what he is all about, and you never know what he may be carrying in his bag that will reveal something crucial about him. It was this man’s words that reverberated in my head days later.

Our True Passport
On the day of our departure from the United States, prior to leaving our house to head for the airport, my friend called and reminded me to make sure we all had our passports. “You know they won’t let you on the plane without a passport,” he said.

Such a commonplace reminder. Which traveler hasn’t heard it dozens of times? But my friend’s comment got me thinking that perhaps this is the p’shat in the Gemara, “Ashrei mi sheboh lekan vetalmudo beyado” (Bava Basra 10b). Our Talmud, our Torah, is our passport to a good life in this world and in the World to Come.

The fellow from Nashville had taught me something profound. His words triggered a new understanding of the Gemara. Praised is he who carries his sefer with him. Praised is he who, though quite far gone, cherishes his heritage enough to carry a crumbling old sefer printed in Baghdad 163 years ago along with him on his travels. It speaks to his essence and gives him a fighting chance to keep that heritage alive and pass it on to his children, even as they grow up in the golus of Nashville, Tennessee.

Life is, in certain ways, like a long airplane flight. You begin the flight with much hesitation, praying that there be no unnecessary discomforts on board and that everything will go as scheduled and planned. We take aboard seforim and books to keep us occupied and help us use the time productively. Often, however, sleep sets in and other intrusions ruin our plans. We end up wasting much of our time aloft.

Ashrei mi sheboh lekan vetalmudo beyado. Praised is the one who does not lose sight of what is important, who refuses to let life’s distractions take his mind off of limud haTorah and being productive.

It is not allegory, it is real. Though I went with my children to visit gedolim only during the official times of kabbalat kahal - the designated times when they meet with people, the gedolim always had a Gemara nearby and seemed ready to delve back into the Yam Hatalmud at the first opportunity.

We were zoche to be at the home of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman at 1 p.m., two days before Yom Tov. He had awakened that morning to daven k’vasikin at 4:30 a.m., as is his custom every day. He then attended a bris in Bnei Brak before traveling to Yerushalayim to be menachem aveil the family of Rav Zvi Shapiro z”l. He then came home for his regular morning shiur there. We were told to be there at 1 p.m. sharp, when the shiur ends and he would have time for us. What they didn’t tell us was that at 1:10 he begins another shiur which lasts until Mincha at 1:30.

Vetalmudo beyado. Ninety-four years old, he wakes before dawn to perform the Creator’s commandments, and spends his day with a Gemara always at the ready.

At Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s abode, the line snakes out of his humble second floor home, as dozens of people wait on line to see him. A gabbai keeps the traffic flowing, making sure that everyone gets his five seconds in the presence of greatness before moving on to make room for the next person in line.

Two of my older sons had shailos to pose to Rav Chaim. They had both previously written and mailed him their questions and he responded to them, “When you will be here, come to me.” The gabbai was upset, because we were slowing down the line. One of the boys asked a kasha on something Rav Chaim wrote in one of his many seforim. Everything stopped, as Rav Chaim asked for the sefer to be brought so he could look it up. Rav Chaim appeared as if he had all the time in the world, making sure he understood their questions and discussing the issues with them. Torah hi velilmod ani tzorich.

Ashrei mi sheboh lekan vetalmudo beyado.

The visit with Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz was like a trip back in time. His kindness and graciousness touched us to the core. His brachos were effusive, his words so warm and moving. We all walked out of there on a high.

We then visited Rav Meir Zvi Bergman in Yeshivas Rashbi, and when we left, he too was back to his Gemorah almost as soon as we were out the door. He was very cordial and spent much time with the children, an experience they thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from.

At the home of Rav Elyashiv, there were so many people waiting on line that we were afraid we would never make it in before he had to leave for his shiur. Boruch Hashem, we did. We merited receiving words of encouragement and brocha from him. And then, before we even left the room, he quickly opened the Maseches Shviis sitting on the table in front of him and began learning. A few minutes later, he left for his 7:30 p.m. shiur.

Even at the age of 97, bli ayin hara, he delivers a shiur, crisp and sharp. In the middle, as he is speaking, people ask questions. Before they can even finish their questions, he quickly responds, quoting from all over Shas in explanation. What an amazing sight.

Of course, not everything in that country is rosy. For so many, the terrible economic catastrophe facing yungeleit in Eretz Yisroel has taken a terrible toll, forcing thousands of families to live below the poverty line.

Emergency measures to raise funds for financial assistance, unprecedented in recent history, have been undertaken by Torah leaders. Successful, caring people were called upon and a Keren was established to help the needy talmidei chacomim until things improve.

On Chol Hamoed Sukkos, the sukkah of the noted askan Reb Rubin Schron in the Shaarei Chesed neighborhood of Yerushalayim was a magnet for gedolei Torah and gedolei tomchei Torah. On leil Hoshanah Rabbah, they gathered to offer support for the Keren.

It was an amazing sight to see so many great people dedicating themselves to the cause of supporting the kiyum haTorah.

The emotional highlight of the evening was when Rav Shmuel Berenbaum arrived. Despite his severe illness and weakened condition, he traveled from Bnei Brak to speak of the importance of the Keren and the work it does distributing much-needed funds to thousands of yungeleit for Yomim Tovim.

With a strong voice matching his fiery determination to help the cause of the Keren which he himself founded, he held the audience spellbound as he rallied support for the cause of spreading Torah and supporting Torah.

Every day we received a new dose of inspiration wherever we turned. Davening k’vasikin at the Kosel with what felt like tens of thousands of Jews was spine-tingling. Standing there Hoshanah Rabbah morning, one got a feeling of what Chazal meant when they said, “Omdim tzefufim umishtachavim birivacha.”

There were so many people there, one could barely move. The voices of all the various minyanim joined together and you could just hear them rise to the Heavens beseeching the Almighty to have mercy on His people.

Watching Jews of all stripes streaming to the Kosel, parading down the ancient streets of the Old City of Yerushalayim with their lulavim held aloft, I couldn’t help think that this is what the kibbutz goliyos will look like.

There were Sefardim and Ashkenazim, Chassidim and Misnagdim, and everyone in between, every imaginable mode of dress and expression, happy people, serious people, men, women, children, people of all ages and stripes all marching along with a common purpose. A sight to treasure.

Spending a Yom Tov in Eretz Yisroel is like living a dream, impossible to compare with any other experience. Yes, Yom Tov is nice everywhere, but in the days of the Bais Hamikdosh, everyone was oleh to Yerushalayim. We have no Bais Hamikdosh now and everything holy is in a state of destruction, but the special feeling of the olei regolim is still in existence in some form in the land of our forefathers.

Before I knew it, the time to depart Eretz Yisroel arrived and I was left with memories and inspiration which I hope will last longer than my aravos.

The dream came to a crashing end as I packed up my little carry-on bag and walked out to the waiting taxi. The airport strike I was praying for didn’t materialize and before I knew it, I found myself sitting in seat 34C waiting for the flight to take off for the ride home. The flight was delayed 2 1/2 hours and I wasn’t even upset. I looked at it as an extra 2 1/2 hours in the Holy Land. And then the plane took off, and I was on the way back to our version of the golus.

I hope that wherever the Yom Tov found you, you had an experience that leaves you exhilarated and energized for the coming months ahead.