Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Double Adars

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

So here we are, on a drab, wintry day in Chodesh Adar, and there seems to be nothing but sorrow all around. In addition to grief caused by dreaded diseases and untimely deaths, we grapple with problems arising from divisiveness and machlokes. The backbiting and discord come from all sides.

There are so many arguments in our community, and so many lives disrupted by these quarrels. People are wrongly blamed for things they did not do; whispering campaigns seek to destroy people without giving them a chance to defend themselves. Good people who never harmed anyone find themselves the butt of criticism and mockery.

Life itself seems so taxing at times. We work so hard to make ends meet and strive to find solutions for the problems that face us. We see no way out of so many vexing issues confronting us.

And yet we are told that Adar is a month of happiness.

There are too many people out there who wonder how or when they will ever be happy. As long as they aren’t happy, how can we be?

It is so hard to feel simcha when there are so many people barely clinging to life. We all know too many people who are in desperate need of a refuah and so many waiting for a yeshuah of one sort or another.

How can we blissfully go about our business while hundreds of single girls watch the months and years go by without having yet found a mate? How can we be happy when we know of so many people who can’t make ends meet? How can we walk around blithe and carefree when we are aware of so much sadness and confusion in our community? How can we be positive about our future when there is so much negativity and cynicism around us?

Look about you. It’s a cold, gray day. The thermometer is still way below where you’d like it to be. Life is a monotonous routine - or so it seems. Work has become a drag. You peer outside to escape the gloom and instead watch the snowflakes spiraling down through the cold night air. You fear that those mid-winter blues have you in their grip.

The chill of the exile has taken over your being.

You know that it’s Chodesh Adar and you thought the sun would be shining today. You’d like to think that soon things will turn around. Soon you’ll be feeling like the Jews of Shushan when they were saved from extermination. After all, Mishenichnas Adar Marbim Besimcha. But you just can’t pull yourself out of the slump. From all sides, the picture looks dreary and discouraging.

What are we to do? How are we to become happy in a dark world?

If we attempt to spread happiness among those unfortunate individuals who really have so little to look forward to, we will not only bring them joy, but will increase the joy in our own lives as well. If we refuse to ignore the suffering of others and resist the urge to turn a blind eye to people who could use our assistance but are ashamed to ask, we can chase away some of the darkness.

If we seek opportunities to join in a fellow Jew’s simcha, we will find that we not only have enhanced his simcha, but have deepened our own capacity to feel simcha as well.

If we seek to be mechazeik others and support them, instead of stooping to knock them down and criticize them, we can improve the world and make it a better place for everyone to live in.

If we look towards the future with optimism and seek ways to strengthen our schools, yeshivos and talmidei chachomim, there will be a brighter future for ourselves and our children.

The Megillah relates that the chachomim during the time of the miracle of Purim instituted the practice of sending mishloach manos. Chazal interpret the mitzvah as an obligation to send a friend two different types of food on Purim. Nowadays, the mitzvah has “expanded;” we send an assortment of foods to a variety of acquaintances.

Perhaps we can understand the mitzvah on a different level. The word “manna” really doesn’t mean food; its proper definition is “portion.” Manos is the plural of manna, hence the obligation to send your friends portions on Purim.

Mishloach Manos does not mean merely to send the standard nosh plus a little bottle of grape juice, but rather to send the person what he or she needs; something uniquely tailored for each recipient. This one needs a dose of hope, this one a good word, and this one a smile. That one needs encouragement to keep battling on, and someone else needs clothing for his family for Yom Tov.

On Purim, the happiest day in the Jewish calendar, the mitzvos of the day -mishteh, simcha, mishloach manos ish lereyeihu, and matanos l’evyonim - are intended to help enhance the day’s joy. In other words, the way to enhance and increase joy is by helping others, by distributing money to the poor and by giving our friends doses of what they need.

Umishloach manos ish lereyeihu.” Every person should be attuned to what his friend needs and, in the spirit of Purim, help that person by delivering it to him.

The posuk in Shmuel Aleph (1:4-5) uses the term “manna” in connection with a narrative describing how Elkana would go to Shilo and offer karbanos there. At that time, he would give “mannos” to his wife Peninah and all her sons and daughters. And to Chana he would give “manna achas apayim, ki es Chana oheiv, vaHashem sogar rachmah.”

Elkana would give to Chana manna achas apayim, a double portion; because he loved her and she had no children. Rashi explains that he gave her a portion intended to be accepted “b’seiver ponim yafos.” The Radak adds that he gave her a respectable portion intended to remove her sadness and anger.

That is the “manna” which we are to deliver on Purim. By giving the people we love and care about manna achas apayim, double portions, we can help assuage their anger and frustration over the things in their lives which aren’t going properly. Through mishloach manos, we can soothe aching hearts and comfort ruffled feathers. The mitzvah is to spread happiness and joy. The mitzvah is to go from friend to friend with portions of what they require in order to elicit simcha and appreciation for the gift of life.

B’echod b’Adar mashmiyim al hashekolim.” We read the parsha of shekalim, which cites the obligation for each Jewish male to contribute one half shekel to the Mishkan during the month of Adar. What is the connection of this parsha to Purim?

Perhaps the lesson to be gleaned from the mitzvah for every person to contribute a half shekel is that every Jew is meant to be a giver. All Jews are equally important and equally needed in contributing to the Mishkan. Without each person’s donation, something is lacking in the keren of the Bais Hamikdosh.

In Adar, the month of happiness, this thought ought to bring a smile to our faces. We each have a mission to fulfill on this earth and we are all treated equally by the Kohanim and Leviim in the Mishkan. Everyone’s half shekel is cumulatively what keeps the Mishkan operating.

Every person was put on this earth to fulfill his or her unique mission. Some were born bright, while others were not. There are those who, no matter what they invest in, always come out ahead, while others just drag along. That is not the yardstick by which we judge others; the only thing that matters is that we do our best to realize our potential and fulfill the goals for which we were created. What counts is that we are givers, always looking to share our gifts and portions with fellow Jews.

We fulfill our mission in life by giving of ourselves to others. We never know how much time is allotted to us here or how long the window of opportunity to fulfill our particular mission will remain open. If we use our time properly, studying Torah, performing mitzvos, effecting positive change and engendering happiness for others, our lives will be imbued with satisfaction and happiness.

Truly successful people are those who utilize their time to the fullest, advancing causes and ideas which lead to the betterment of others. Successful people are those who don’t jealously look over their shoulders to see if they have as much as the next guy. Successful people do not begrudge others’ success and joy in life. They work to help the other fellow get ahead. They do what they can to help the less fortunate find happiness.

Successful people are happy during Adar and all year round because they take the messages of mishloach manos and machatzis hashekel to heart. Such people are unbowed by the cold of winter or the lonely sadness of defeat or a temporary setback. Adar people always look ahead with the knowledge that tomorrow will be a better day. Their lives are fueled with the faith that with G-d’s help they can overcome all odds.

In the spirit of Adar, let us do what we can to cause the gray clouds to part. Let us all draw smiles on the faces of those who frown. We all have what to contribute. We can all bring joy and happiness to others, one half shekel at a time, one portion at a time.

Let us all seek to be contributors and try to offer positive contributions to the community. Let us all judge people favorably. Let us build people up and not destroy them. Let us seek to add happiness to our world and Yiddishkeit. Let us resolve not to do anything that causes sadness and destruction.

This year we are blessed with two Adars. Let’s make full use of them!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Modern Day Calves

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week, in Parshas Ki Sisa, we read of the tragic downfall of the Bnei Yisroel in the incident with the Golden Calf. Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Har Sinai to receive the Torah and when he failed to return at the expected time, the people were ready to embrace the worship of a molten calf crafted from their wives’ jewelry.

These were the people of the Dor De’ah, the generation that stood at the foot of Har Sinai and declared “Na’aseh v’nishmah.” How could they have relinquished their loyalty to Moshe for a little getchkeh?

How was it possible for this noble people to fall so far, so fast? What caused them to be led astray? Had they decided to seek the authority of an exalted individual such as Aharon Hakohein after losing a leader of Moshe’s stature, we could understand. But that they were willing to elevate an inanimate object to the lofty position of G-d’s emissary seems totally irrational and incomprehensible.

Rashi (32:1) explains that Moshe told them that he would be back in forty days and they erred in their calculation. Rashi quotes the Gemara in Shabbos (89a) which explains that the Soton “confused the natural order,” creating a mirage of Moshe’s body being carried in heaven as if in a casket.

Can we really blame the Bnei Yisroel? How were they supposed to know that what their eyes were seeing wasn’t real?

Their mistake, it appears, was precisely the failure to question those images. They should have probed for the truth behind the mirage; they should have contemplated the possibility that their calculations were in error. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that Moshe would never return, they should have trusted his promise and restrained the impulse to invent an immediate substitute. The urge to give an instantaneous response is one of the Soton’s tools.

On a personal note, I have made it a policy that whenever someone offers me something or discusses something and needs an immediate answer, my answer is always no. I prefer not to be rushed into conclusions. I believe it is prudent not to get involved in anything without clearly thinking it through.

Don’t act without consulting people who are smarter and greater than you. Don’t think that you see the whole picture and have it all figured out, because generally you don’t.

Aharon sought to delay the Bnei Yisroel. He urged them to wait until the next day, promising that “We will celebrate before G-d tomorrow.” But by the next morning, they had degenerated to such a sorry state that they were engaged in idolatry and promiscuous conduct. Aharon’s plan went up in a cloud of smoke.

The slope from holiness to depravity is indeed so slippery that in a few short hours, they slid from the apex of spiritual achievement to the lowest rung possible. Such is human frailty.

Moshe returned and called for those who were loyal to G-d to come to his side. Only the tribe of Levi rallied to him. The shevet which dedicated itself to the study of Torah and was free from Egyptian enslavement was the only one that grasped that the need of the hour was to cast their lot with Moshe. The others were too far gone.

They left the fold because they were convinced that Moshe wouldn’t return. And when he did return, they failed to heed his call.

Life often throws challenges of this sort our way. Things appeal to our senses, tempting us against our better judgment. We find ourselves being seduced by outward appearances and scenes that the Soton paints for us. We disobey our teachings, traditions and common sense because we are dazzled or enraptured with something we can’t resist pursuing. We convince ourselves that there is nothing remiss with our behavior. We resort to all kinds of excuses and rationales to justify our actions.

A person of high standards can work hard and construct an edifice of Torah and gedulah. Unexpectedly, the Soton appears in various guises in an effort to bring the building crashing down. It may be through machlokes or perhaps through the temptations of kinah, taavah and kavod. With his vast arsenal of tools, the Soton attempts to destroy what took decades of painstaking effort to build. Bnei Torah have to see through his attempts to sow mayhem and remain loyal to the cause. They dare not be led astray by false messiahs and snake oil salesmen, charming as they may be. If the message leads to diminished respect for Torah or manhigim, that is a clue that following the pied piper is leading one astray. In every generation, there are false prophets blessed with amazing grace and charisma who feed opium to the masses. No matter how many are smitten by the charm, we must remember that our eyes (and ears) can fool us. We must resist the deceptions of ego-driven people with self-serving agendas. Early Maskilim of the nineteenth century were religious people who sought to tweak some minhagim and halachos here and there, in order to perfect the religion and make it conform to the mores of the day. But Haskalah was a Golden Calf that entrapped so many of our brethren, uprooting their beliefs and estranging untold thousands from their heritage.

Zionism was another eigel. On paper, it had a compelling logic. How many more pogroms could a beleaguered people endure? However, those who bought into the ideology became ensnared in apostasy and ended up rejecting the yesodos of Yiddishkeit and emunah. In each instance, it fell upon the Bnei Levi to rally around the Moshe of the generation and attempt to minimize the casualties. The Soton works in other ways as well. He portrays death and desolation and plants seeds of despondency and despair among the Jewish people. Bnei Levi must not be deterred. They must remain steadfast in their devotion to Torah and its causes despite the apparent bleakness of the situation.

The rov of the Lithuanian city of Ponovezh lost almost everything in the Second World War. Most of his family, talmidim and townspeople, and virtually his entire world, were destroyed. He arrived in Bnei Brak after the war and set about rebuilding what the Nazis had annihilated. People thought his war experiences had robbed him of his sanity. All they saw was death and destruction. It seemed obvious that the world of Torah could never be rebuilt. European Jewish civilization was gone and could never be replicated, they argued.

That’s what smaller people believed and said. Smaller people gave up. They considered the Ponovezher Rov totally out of touch with reality.

Smaller people see the confusion and falsehood spawned by evil forces in this world to confound people and destroy their confidence. Bnei Levi must resist the urge to view reality through despairing lenses, and remain purposefully committed to the greater truth.

The yeshivos of Lakewood, Telz, and others as well as the flourishing Chassidic communities so many others, built in this country by penniless Holocaust refugees, are a testament to the fortitude and persistence of those lofty souls who are the Moshes of the generation and the Bnei Levi who gather around them. Try as he might, the Soton cannot conquer them and lead them down the path of the Golden calf.

So many Jews fled to this country during the first half of the last century, victims of anti-Semitic persecution. Tragically, once they assimilated, they and their children became lost to our glorious chain and heritage. It is not for us to judge them, but apparently they fell prey to the Soton’s sheker that the new country demanded a new lifestyle and that those who clung stubbornly to the old ways would never succeed.

The meraglim also failed because they permitted their eyes to fool them. As a consequence of their refusal to accept the exhortations of Yehoshua and Kaleiv, they ended up revolting against Moshe, Aharon and G-d. They met the same fate as those who danced around the eigel.

How do we save ourselves from drowning in a sea of illusion? How do we remain straight in a topsy-turvy world? How can we distinguish right from wrong when the evil is so enticing? How do we discern truth from fiction in a world awash with seductive falsehoods?

How do we remain loyal to the chain stretching back to Har Sinai?

It is only when we rally around the Torah and those in the generation who bear the mantle of Moshe Rabbeinu that we have the power to save ourselves. We must maintain our bond with them, deepen our study of Torah and mussar, and ignore the blandishments that seek to derail us from the path of the righteous.

If we seek for ourselves the mantle of the Bnei Levi and grasp onto the Torah, we are guaranteed help in keeping our vision pure and uncorrupted and earning Hashem’s blessings. And that is something no one can take away from us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Apathy and Us

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Some questions boggle the mind. No matter how often we contemplate them, they leave us totally stymied.
One of those unfathomable questions concerns the world’s apathy during the Holocaust years. How was it possible that as millions of Jews were being murdered, the world stood by and watched without a murmur of protest, without lifting a finger to help the victims?
Yes, a few heroic individuals tried to sound the alarm and halt the killings. Their names are quite familiar to us, but they are lonely exceptions on a bleak landscape of indifference. We read the history of that era and wonder how apathy of such magnitude could have been possible in the face of so much horror. We try to find a rationale; we would like to believe there is something wrong with the story.
Indeed, the only thing wrong with the story is that it is true. Millions of Jews and others were systematically tortured and killed as a callous world went about its business.
Still, one can rise to the defense of that generation by recalling that many people were not aware of the magnitude of the crimes being committed. The media was not as open or as global as it is now. The New York Times did not have a blaring front page headline documenting the slaughter of the Jews day by day.
In addition, telecommunication was in its nascent stage and people were unable to transmit what they knew to the masses. Jews were not as wealthy and influential as many are today. Many were impoverished refugees, working themselves to the bone to put bread on the table to feed their starving children. They were so consumed with the effort to stay afloat and to care for their families that they had no time or strength to fight for others, even had they the ability to do so.
None of those excuses apply today. As the threats to our existence multiply, nobody today can claim ignorance. No one can say, “I don’t know what’s going on.” No one can say that we are a nation of poor, disheveled souls on the run. No one in our day and age can feign impotence in the face of impending doom.
Face it, we are apathetic. We suffer from abundance, affluence and plentitude. The golus is so good to us, boruch Hashem, that we can’t pause to visualize how drastically different our circumstances could be. In all of our history in the Diaspora, there probably has never been a period when Jews were as well off as we are now.
We read about our brethren in Sderot, Israel, being bombarded every day by Kassam rockets and we turn the page without shedding a tear. We read of an 8-year-old boy who had part of his leg blown off this past Shabbos and it breaks our hearts, but we flip the page and seek out the ads for Pesach in Cancun or some other exotic locale where we can pamper ourselves with a stamp of approval.
We watch in resignation as an illegitimate prime minister, heading a misbegotten government elected on a platform of sham and held together with avarice and corruption, bargains away portions of Eretz Yisroel. Nobody rises in protest. We all seek peace in our daily lives and as a people, and understand that shalom is a paramount virtue, but we know that the road map the government currently follows will lead to neither reconciliation nor a cessation of bloodletting.
We, and so many others, warned that Gaza would turn into a terror enclave if Israel pulled out, but those in charge didn’t listen. Evacuating Gaza would lead to peace, the leaders of nations said. All of them, from Israeli hero Ariel Sharon to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, gushed over the prospects for tranquility that would result from making that small section of the world Judenrein and adopting Palestinian democracy there. Tens of thousands of Jews were unceremoniously chased out of their homes; their towns were chopped up and turned over to their tormentors.
Jewish settlers were cursed by the government and a compliant media for standing in the way of progress; it is their fault that radical Islam seeks to destroy Israel and the US. When Israel pulls out of Gaza, a new day will dawn and the peace that has eluded us for decades will break forth across the Middle East, world leaders promised.
Of course, it was nothing more than empty rhetoric and delusional thinking on the part of men driven by a delirious lust for power, adulation and prestige.
That was then. Then we could have said we didn’t know, that we erred and had poor judgment. We could have justified our misguided pacifism by arguing that it was worth a try; that government leaders know better than rank and file citizens.
A case could be made that it was correct to give those leaders the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps we can be forgiven for looking aside from their faulty logic, their failed subterfuge, and the connivances they employed to gain governmental and parliamentary approval for their plan.
But now we know. This time we have no excuses. Now, as Olmert and Livni negotiate away the country’s security, no one can say they didn’t know. It can no longer be argued with a straight face that they have the best interests of the country at heart. They lie, they cheat, and they try to fool everyone around them into ignoring the bitter facts.
They ignore that Abbas is a failed and weak leader who is powerless and uninterested in stopping terror. They ignore that the Palestinians seek nothing less than complete capitulation of the Jewish state. Some desire it to collapse in one fell swoop and the more moderate ones are willing to see it take place in piecemeal fashion.
They promise not to divide Yerushalayim, while it is an open secret that this is exactly the plan. Shas sits in the government which allows the security of 6 million Jews to be bargained away as it willfully ignores the obvious facts.
A Ramallah PA official tells The Jerusalem Post on the record that “The main progress has been achieved during the secret talks, particularly on the issue of Jerusalem. Today we can say that Israel is prepared to withdraw from almost all the Arab neighborhoods and villages in Jerusalem. Israel is prepared to re-divide Jerusalem and this is a positive development.”
Makor Rishon reports that Foreign Minister Livni has explicitly confirmed that in secret negotiations with the Palestinians they are dealing with “all core-issues, including Jerusalem.” And the erstwhile minister confirmed that the negotiations contradict the commitments Olmert gave to Shas.
But Shas is unfazed. Its spokesman, Roi Lachmanovitch continues to peddle hollow assurances that “Nobody is talking about Yerushalayim. As soon as they talk about Yerushalayim, Shas will leave the government.”
Refusing to label Livni a liar, he resorted to double-speak. “I am not saying she is lying - but I am saying that nobody is negotiating Jerusalem.”
And then another day’s news cycle comes and everyone’s attention slips to something else and the charade continues.
The same turpitude prevails with Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons with which it vows to wipe out Israel. Everyone knows Iran’s game plan—they have been announcing it for years—yet everyone buries their heads and tries to banish reality by engaging in diplomatic gibberish. World leaders content themselves with issuing a few tough-sounding but meaningless, pathetic speeches.
Apathy coupled with a leadership vacuum—this is the scourge of our prosperous, weak-willed world.
The reason no one rises up in Israel to protest Olmert and force his overdue resignation from office is because there isn’t a single real leader to rally around. There is no one who can effectively coalesce the opposition forces to the current government. Netanyahu is just as inept and ego-driven as the others. In place of a genuine leader, he represents a poor substitute. Without leadership giving them a voice and unifying them into a real force, people sit at home, apathetic and brooding in despair.
For an example of how people rally around someone with even a modest degree of charisma, let us take a look at the current political campaign in this country. Barack Hussein Obama, basically just another inexperienced politician, has become a cult figure racking up one primary victory after another and generating more cash and delegates than any other candidate. Through his masterful speeches, this one-term senator motivates thousands and touches their hearts and souls. He speaks of change, of hope, of leading the country to a better time. And the people follow.
They don’t ask for details; they don’t ask how he will do it. He speaks to their aspirations. He issues an appealing invitation to hop aboard his campaign and be swept along on a journey to a better place. As more people hear the message, they join the campaign, giving it more energy and enabling it to expand even more. It is my contention that if he wins the Democratic Party nomination, he will go on to win the presidency in a landslide.
Obama leads by inspiring the masses to believe that although they may be ordinary, they can accomplish extraordinary things if they follow him. He tells them that their dream will be attainable if they strive towards it. “Change, change, change,” they chant in unison. “Yes, we can! Yes, we can!” is their mantra.
By contrast, the Israeli people lack a political leader who can excite and rally them together. They therefore languish in alienated contemptuousness and vacillation. But we can’t use that as an excuse for our own lethargic indifference toward anything that threatens to shake up our equanimity.
There are so many people who suffer in our midst, and we turn away and pretend not to notice. There are so many people we all know who could use our moral and financial support, yet we ignore them and their silent pleas. We avoid eye contact with people we know are longing for us to acknowledge them and their needs.
Apathy and pure indifference are coupled with a lack of interest or concern about what other people are experiencing because we are too infatuated with ourselves and our own lives. We are so consumed by our labors to make it in this land of plenty that we have no time or strength left over for others less fortunate than us. We become numb and impervious to their hurt and hunger.
Late one Sunday evening, I answered a knock on my door, something I don’t usually do. There was a Yerushalmi melamed standing there seeking a donation. Before I knew it, there was a second Yerushalmi melamed there and then a third came running. I felt as if I were under attack. I sent one of my family members to retrieve my wallet which I had already put away for the day.
As I stood there waiting for my wallet to be found, I made small talk with the three gentlemen. I asked them if they needed the bathroom, or a drink perhaps. I was able to convince the first one to accept a can of soda he could drink later, but the second one wanted nothing. The third asked for a tea. “Oh no,” I said to myself. “It’s so late and you’re so tired. Why did you have to open your big mouth? Now you’re going to be stuck with them.”
The man had his tea and everyone had some mezonos. We sat around talking for 45 minutes about the cheder they teach in, and about Yerushalayim and related matters. Finally, even they agreed that it was late and decided it was time to get on their way.
But altogether as one, as they rose from their seats, they said, “Before we leave, you have to answer one question. What mitzvah did you do before we came that you were zoche to be mehaneh us like this?” I laughed, not realizing that they were serious.
“We were shlepping around all day, going door to door, getting quarters and dollar bills, if anything. We are all so desperate for help; we were at the breaking point,” they said. “You took us in and treated us like people; you were mamesh mechayeh us. You must tell us what you did to have that zechus, and then we’ll leave.”
I am far from a tzaddik, and I very rarely spend so much time, if any, with people who come to my door. But that day, I really did have a zechus for I gained a whole new understanding of what it means to be “mitchashev” with another Jew.
That night, I realized what it means to make a person feel like a person. I gained a new perspective on what it means to be hungry, destitute and lonely in a strange country, far from home. I grasped how vulnerable a person feels having to rely on the compassion of strangers for a cookie, a cup of tea and a few dollars. That night, I understood the cost of apathy to a pure and holy Jew, who, through no fault of his own, becomes a traveling noh venod.
The problems that confront our world are too great for any of us to tackle and they are not easily solved. In terms of concrete action, there is not a great deal any of us can do to alleviate the suffering of Jews in Sderot or Yerushalayim. There isn’t much we can do to change the minds of Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But what we can do is care. We can share the pain. We can daven, we can write letters, and we can vote for the right people.
We have to care. We have to do more than shrug our shoulders and turn the page. We can devote ourselves to acts of charity and kindness and pray that the merit of our caring will shield and deliver us from all that plagues us.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Friday Night at the Kosel

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Shabbos is a gift from Hashem, a weekly twenty-four hour flow of holiness, perspective and rest.

Shabbos is many things to many people, but almost everyone agrees that it is a time of Heaven on earth. It enables us to recharge our physical and spiritual energies with enough fuel to keep us going through yet another week of life, growth and challenge.

Shabbos reminds us of what is important and should be treated as a priority in our lives. All the intrusions of Olam Hazeh are set aside and kept at bay, unable to hinder and consume us as they do the rest of the week.

Already Friday evening, the davening is different. We daven with more kavanah, without the pressure to rush and get on to the next thing on our agenda. We arrive home to a royal meal prepared with love and devotion by our queen and princesses. We sanctify the day and the meal with kiddush. The two challahs of lechem mishneh remind us that we don’t “live by bread alone,” but rather by Hashem’s unending kindness. Just as our forefathers in the desert subsisted on monn, a Heavenly food, we, too are dependent on Hashem’s largesse, although He makes us work hard for our daily ration.

Glowing in our Shabbos clothing, we partake of the most sumptuous meals of the week in the company of our family. The entire week, our hectic schedules often rob us of that pleasure; we have to travel to distant places and are often harried and stressed with multiple obligations and responsibilities dragging us in different directions.

But on Shabbos, all that is gone. We have time to talk and catch up on the lives of our children, parents and families. We have time to discuss and reflect upon the finer points of the weekly parsha with young and old. Philosophical questions which are submerged during the week are discussed at the Shabbos meal.

No matter what is going on around us and within us, when Shabbos comes we feel better. As the candles are lit, our spirits lift. An air of serene calm descends upon the house.

There is more to Shabbos. It also provides us with a signpost. We can push ourselves harder during the week, knowing that in a couple of days Shabbos will be here. We hang in there because we know that Shabbos is coming.

When Shabbos arrives and we review our accomplishments of the past week, we gain the courage to carry on during the following week. If we never had a respite from our labors, we would never have the opportunity to take stock of our personal inventory. We’d never have a chance to realize how good we really are and how much we really can accomplish in the sheishes yemei hamaaseh.

Quite often, what holds us back from realizing our potential is that we get bogged down with the little stuff and lose perspective. Problems loom so large that we feel they are insurmountable, before even trying to tackle them.

Shabbos stands as a wall in the face of negativity, blocking it. When dressed in his Shabbos attire at the head of his table, looking across the table at his blessings, a person realizes that G-d looks out for him, helps him, guides him and sustains him. Thus, he is empowered to take on the challenges of another week. Those self-defeating feelings evaporate.

Shabbos reconnects us with who we are and what we are. Shabbos reconnects us to our soul and to our Maker. Shabbos is an oasis of Torah in a turbulent world.

The blessings of Shabbos are magnified when one has the zechus to be standing at the Kosel Hamaarovi at the onset of Shabbos. As you daven Mincha with thousands of others, many of whom you would never cross paths with in your golus hometown minyan, you feel a unique solidarity with every Yid at the Kosel plaza who seeks to connect with our Creator.

As you say Kabbolas Shabbos, you feel the tranquility of Shabbos descend to the spot where the Shechinah never left. You imagine the kedushas Shabbos beginning here and spreading out to botei knesiyos and homes across the world.

You stand at the srid beis mikdosheinu and feel the arrival of the neshama yeseirah. You feel Shabbos. You feel the gift of Shabbos.

You stand there looking at the ancient stones and imagine all that they have witnessed since they were placed there alongside the Bais Hamikdosh so long ago. You imagine all that has taken place in the area upon which you stand. You think of all the kedusha experienced here. You think of all the people who have trekked to this spot to pour their hearts out to G-d. You think of the Kohein Gadol on Yom Kippur standing not too far away. You think of all the Bnei Yisroel walking by here with their shepselach on Erev Pesach. You think of the korban tomid and the lechem haponim. You think of the kohanim b’avodosom and the leviim b’shirom v’zimrom.

And then you think of yourself and your fellow Jews in these turbulent, frightening times. You think of all the attempts down the ages to destroy this vestige of holiness and the Jewish nation that reveres it.

Your thoughts turn to the Churban Habayis. You think of Yirmiyohu Hanovi who foretold the churban and Yeshayahu Hanovi who spoke of triumph and nechama.

You think of the Rambam and the Ramban who gave up everything in order to be able to stand here. You think of the students of the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov who took up residence here in dire privation in an attempt to hasten the redemption. You think of the Vilna Gaon who yearned to come here and couldn’t, and of the Chofetz Chaim who longed to stand in the very spot you stand on. And as you look to the heavens, you wonder what message he would have for you if he were here today.

Standing at the Kosel is a bechinah of Shabbos. Standing there ought to give us the chizuk to continue; it demonstrates to us that despite all the plans that have been hatched to rid the world of the Jewish people, we are still here and will remain here forever.

Chodesh Adar, which we usher in this week, is a bearer of that message more than any other month. When we think of Adar, we think of Haman and his many evil counterparts down the generations, and their murderous hatred for the holy nation who represented their antithesis.

The posuk in this week’s parsha states, “V’asu li mikdosh veshachanti besocham.” Hashem tells Moshe that the Jewish people shall build for him a Mikdosh and he will dwell amongst them. In our day, we no longer merit to have the Mikdosh or Mishkon. Nevertheless, we have to seek to create a place of holiness within us, as Chazal derive from the aforementioned posuk, “veshachanti besocham.”

Hashem says that he will dwell in the hearts the Jews who contribute to the construction of the Mishkon. We don’t merit to have the Mishkon amongst us, but we can make ourselves worthy of meriting that Hashem’s spirit can find a space within us.

We must seek out the Shechinah in our local botei knesiyos and botei medrashos and do what we can to prepare the world for the final redemption.

As I was walking towards the Kosel this past Friday, I overheard part of a conversation between a young Israeli boy and his father. The father was explaining the holiness of the area to the little boy: “Zeh makom kadosh - This is a very holy place. Titpalel tov al kol mah she’atah rotzeh - Pray well for whatever it is that you want and G-d will hear you.”

The boy walked on quietly, a thoughtful look on his face. Finally, he turned to his father and asked so innocently, “Abba, mah ani rotzeh? Abba, what do I want?”

We are like that boy. We stand at the apex of kedusha and can ask of Hashem anything we want, yet we are lost. We are confounded by the darkness of golus. The Yeitzer Hara engulfs our being. Amaleik dilutes our holiness. We can have anything we want, but we don’t know what we want.

We get sidetracked, we lose focus; we neglect what is important. We get caught up with silly things that take over our lives and derail us from concentrating on what we should be doing.

We forget that there is a Father in Heaven who looks out for us, who waits for us to call out to Him, to tell Him what we need. If only we could give words to it, if only we knew what we truly wanted.

So this Shabbos, the third day of Adar I, as we read the parsha of the Mishkon, let us all look deeply within ourselves to experience love and appreciation for the gift that is Shabbos. Let us devote our energies to creating a Mishkon within our hearts and souls. And may Hashem reach out to us and help us prioritize our lives so that we attain happiness and fulfillment.