Wednesday, July 30, 2008

“I Will Lament Each Year”

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Al churban Bais Hamikdosh,
Ki horas vechi hudash,
Espod be’chol shana veshana
Misped chodosh
Al hakodesh, ve’al haMikdosh.

Over the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh
That was razed and that was trampled
I will lament each year, every year, a new lamentation
Over the holiness and over the Mikdosh.

-From the kinnos of Tisha B’Av authored by Rabi Elazar HaKalir [Kinah 24]

“A person who happens upon his friend who is an aveil (one who is mourning for a parent) within twelve months of his loss should speak to him words of condolence,” we are told in a Baraisa in Maseches Moed Koton. “But he should not ask how he is…”

“After twelve months,” the passage continues, “he should ask him how he is doing, but should not speak to him words of condolence. He may, however, offer him consolation obliquely.

“Rabi Meir says that a person who meets his friend who was an aveil, after twelve months and yet speaks to him words of condolence, to what can he be compared? To a man whose leg was broken and then healed. A doctor meets him and says, ‘Come to me, for I will break your leg and heal it. Then you will know that I am a good healer.’”

Raising the subject of a person’s loss after he has had due time to grieve and heal is improper, as it inflicts the hurt all over again.

But the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh is different. We are meant to feel it anew each year. The wounds are fresh. They can never go away.

The Gemara (ibid) teaches that an aveil, after three days of shivah, may visit another aveil’s house. This halacha, says Tosafos, is what we rely on when we go to shul on Tisha B’Av. Our mourning on Tisha B’Av is like the mourning of an aveil during shivah after the first three days.

Every year, we mourn the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh, we mourn over Yerushalayim, and we mourn the exile of the Shechinah. We also mourn the millions of Jews who died.

Our grief over the slaughtered members of Klal Yisroel goes back not just 2,000 years to the churban of the second Bayis. It goes back 2,500 years, to the churban of the first Bais Hamikdosh. Using the words of Yirmiyahu Hanovi in Eicha, we cry in the night, for the kohanim and elders who expired in the streets, for the babies, and for the young women and young men who fell by the sword.

Their blood merges with the blood of the millions more murdered by the Romans during the second destruction. Into it flows the blood of the untold numbers killed in Persia and Arabia in the centuries following, and later in the darkness of the Middle Ages.

Mi yitein roshi mayim,” weeps the author of the kinah for the martyred Jews of Worms, Speyer and Mainz, murdered nine hundred years ago in the First Crusade. Though they were massacred in the days leading up to Shavuos, the day we mourn them all is Tisha B’Av.

Vechi ein lehosif mo’ed shever vesaveira,” the mourner declares. One does not add a day to the calendar for new destructions and holocausts. Therefore, on this day we raise our grief. And thus, into the same stream flows still another river, from the darkness of the twentieth century, of the blood and tears of the Six Million. And to that we add the tragedies of the 21st century and the Jews who have been murdered in Eretz Yisroel on busses, in cars, in their homes and in the street, by bombs, bulldozers, and everything in between.

For every generation that does not see the building of the Bais Hamikodosh in its day, it is as if it was destroyed in its day.

And to our sorrow - the sorrow of every generation - the wounds of the people of Bais Yisroel are felt fresh each year in more than ancient memories. The task during the Nine Days, which begin this Shabbos, is to connect our practices with our awareness.

Like aveilim, we abstain from music, fresh clothes, swimming, haircuts, shaving and much more. It is the least we can do to express our participation in mourning over what we have lost. While we are observing these manifestations of mourning, we seek to transform them into genuine expressions of grief as we contemplate what we have lost.

The fundamental mourning of Tisha B’Av is for the Churban Habayis, the cessation of the avodah and the departure of the Shechinah from Yerushalayim.

The destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh was accompanied by endless slaughter. It was the starting point of the exile. The millions of tragedies and losses we have endured in the golus since then are all traced to that day.

Like aveilim, we mourn the Jews whose bodies lay in the streets of Yerushalayim and those whose lives were ended in the Kovno Ghetto and Auschwitz. We conduct ourselves as aveilim, mourning the loss of fellow Jews as though they were our own flesh and blood. We mourn them year after year and still without any consolation.

We imagine the day of consolation and redemption from what plagues us, with the Jewish people as a vibrant, fruitful nation, thriving in its land, blessed with abundance.

Peace will reign. All the enemies around will have been forever vanquished. Internally, our people will live in harmony. No hatred, no vilification, no crime and no inequity.

All the inhabitants of the land will be decent, kind, compassionate and honest. They will be keepers of the mitzvos, steeped in Torah. All the children will be learned of Hashem.

True justice will prevail in the land. Corruption will have been wiped out. Emes, tzedaka and chessed will be the bywords of society.

The economy will be in permanent upswing. Six days they will work, but on the seventh, everything will shut down. The banks, businesses, farms and factories will be closed. The entire workforce will be in the bais medrash. Shabbos will be a holy day to Hashem - for everyone.

Every seventh year, the field will lie fallow. No one will lack for food and produce that year - and every year.

No one will have to work on Chol Hamoed ever again. Yomim Tovim will be joyfully celebrated by all. Content and pleased, happy with our lives, we will all converge on Yerushalayim, bringing our little shepselach along with us on Erev Pesach, Bikkurim fruits on Shavuos, and our lulavim and esrogim proudly aloft as we make the trek for Sukkos.

The Aseres Yemei Teshuvah will culminate with the kohen gadol, dressed in pure white, entering the Kodesh Hakodoshim on Yom Kippur and being mispallel for the continued welfare of the nation. The scarlet thread will turn white, and all of Klal Yisroel will rejoice. For we will all know that Hashem has forgiven his people.

As we mourn for the loss of Yerushalayim, we lament not only the physical destruction, but all else that was lost. We mourn the loss of the Botei Mikdosh and we mark all the pain that the Jews have experienced since that day of destruction.

We mourn all the episodes of machlokes that have resulted from the golus we are in and the loss of the Urim Vetumim and the yedios haTorah that have become weakened through the ages of Diaspora.

We mourn the loss of so many innocent souls who became swept up in Communism, bundism, Haskallah, Zionism, Yiddishism, and many other substitutes for the truth, dreamed up by Jews who had strayed too far from home. We mourn the Jews lost in this blessed country because their parents and grandparents thought that it couldn’t work here and threw their Judaism overboard as they crossed the great ocean to the goldeneh medinah.

We also mourn those innocent simple souls who were led astray throughout the ages because they hungered for something more and different, those who were drawn in by Shabsai Tzvi, Solomon Schechter, Moses Mendelson, Chaim Weiss-man, Mordechai Kaplan and all the other Pied Pipers of sheker.

During these days, we also mourn the loss of the Jews who moved to Eretz Yisroel to hasten the geulah and were felled by marauding Arabs, by pestilence, by rampant disease and by hunger and starvation.

Every year that the Bais Hamikdosh has not been rebuilt, there is so much more to mourn. We can easily be overcome with sadness and melancholy as we reflect on our sorry state. But we must not grow despondent. We must channel that gloominess to drive us to repent for our sins which cause us to remain in this golus state of limbo. As we stare in the mirror at our oily and unkempt hair, we should reflect on the sinas chinom that prevents the arrival of Moshiach and resolve to become better people.

I remember the time I went fundraising with Rav Avrohom Golombeck zt”l, the mashgiach of the Philadelphia Yeshiva, who was niftar this week after a long, tragic illness.

He would go once a year to Pittsburgh to raise money for the yeshiva and twice I was selected to go with him. I was overcome by Rav Avrohom’s determination to help the yeshiva and how he wouldn’t let anything get in the way of his mission.

I recall going to a certain home one evening on behalf of the yeshiva. We knocked on the door and the woman of the house said she wouldn’t let us in. Not only that, but she sent out a big dog to chase us away. The dog stood there barking at us and I was petrified out of my mind.

Rav Avrohom said, “We’re not going anywhere. We are standing right here until her husband comes out, apologizes, and gives us a check.” I started walking away. He grabbed me and said, “You aren’t going anywhere. We are here for the yeshiva and the dog will not hurt us.”

As I stood there embarrassed to the core and scared of that dog, Rav Avrohom stood in all his glory like a proud Yid on a mission to support Torah.

Boruch Hashem, after what seemed like an eternity, the husband came out, apologized profusely, and wrote out a check for $100.

With that, thankfully, we got back into the car and headed to the next address on the list.

Rav Avrohom taught me a lesson that day that I have never forgotten. It was a lesson about who we are, why we are here, and the lengths to which we have to go to support Torah and bring the geulah.

Let us all do our missions without fear or fuss and prepare the world for the arrival of Moshiach speedily in our day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Truth and Moshiach

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

How many times have you been stuck in traffic and forced to crawl along for miles for no apparent reason? It is a beautiful summer day and your family is off to Lakewood for Shabbos to visit Uncle Chaim and Tante Chani and spend an enjoyable Shabbos with the cousins. You left early so that you will make it on time. You are zipping along in your air-conditioned car, the kids full of anticipation and excitement about the trip. Everyone’s in good spirits; it’s going to be a wonderful day. You can almost taste the potato kugel from Shloimy’s you know will be waiting for you when you get there. The kids play games and count license plates as some singer croons in the background.

You’re almost there when, suddenly and inexplicably, traffic slows to a crawl and then stops altogether. The Garden State Parkway becomes the Garden State Parkingway. You sit there for what seems an eternity, moving inch by agonizing inch. The kids don’t stop asking when they are ever going to get there. You shut off the air-conditioning because you’re afraid the car will overheat. The music starts giving you a headache and you grow increasingly aggravated as the traffic doesn’t move.

For as far as your eyes can see, the cars are lined up bumper to bumper. In each car are people who, like yourself, are slowly going out of their minds. Time drags on with excruciating slowness and you begin to regret having started out on your trip to begin with.

Finally, after your nerves are frayed to the breaking point, you come upon the reason for the multi-mile-long backup. You see them there off to the side - two old, small cars, apparently involved in a fender-bender. It’s hard to tell what exactly happened, so you slow down even more as you rubberneck to get a quick look at the cars. After a few seconds of taking in the situation, you move on. Quickening your pace, you ramp up to normal highway speed and move quickly on to your destination.

When you get there, your hosts ask why you came so late. What caused the delay? You blame it on the automobile accident. But think for a moment. Is that really the case? A minor traffic accident is itself incapable of causing such an exaggerated backup.

What ruined your day and everyone else’s was nothing short of the instinctive but thoughtless behavior that characterized the actions of just about everyone on the road.

“Me?” you protest. “What did I do wrong? How can you blame that on me?”

The answer is that the rubberneckers, who slow down - each for just a few seconds - to get a good look at the accident, are the ones who cause so much anguish for thousands. Those seconds add up cumulatively to a huge chunk of time, causing a huge traffic jam that stretches for miles and miles.

Our actions affect others. What we do carries consequences that are more weighty than we imagine. We cannot exonerate ourselves by arguing that a few seconds don’t count and that dropping our guard for mere moments cannot possibly have harmed anyone.

If you are sitting in a bais medrash filled with the melodious kol Torah and you stand up and turn around to see who is standing by the door, countless other pairs of eyes will follow your example and peek out from their Gemaros to see what it is that interests you. In such a case, you have not just wasted your own time, you have caused bittul Torah of a rabbim.

If you scoff at things that everyone around you considers hallowed, you have not just mocked the holy; you have caused others to lose chashivus for what is sacred. You have weakened their observance. If you talk during davening and those around you say, “If he can do it, so can I,” you have done something far more serious than merely share a tidbit with your neighbor.

The ripple effect of your own transgression magnifies that deed many times over.

From one person’s lack of decorum in shul can flow greater harm than you would imagine. There can be an entire shul full of yeshiva bochurim davening with great intensity, but if some ignoramus focuses on the one person talking, he has another excuse to degrade Bnei Torah.

In a bais medrash filled with hundreds of people learning, one person rising to stare at the guest being shown around by the yeshiva fundraiser has given that visitor an excuse to say that the yeshiva is not really all that great. He may even decide not to give the nice-sized donation he was planning on giving, using one person’s indiscretion to rationalize his tightfistedness.

When we study Torah and observe its precepts, it is not enough to go about it lightly, cutting corners and slacking off here and there. We have to embrace it with all our being, never taking our minds off of it for even a brief period, and never lowering our guard. Even the tiniest indiscretion can lead to disaster.

For if we allow ourselves a lapse here and there, we are akin to the rubberneckers, each of whom wastes only a few seconds of their time gawking but whose collective bittul causes misery for thousands.

We live in a world of lies and illusions. What’s right and wrong doesn’t count; those considerations take a back seat to what is sold to us in the media. The truth is so often twisted and mangled that it is no longer recognizable.

Everywhere we turn, it seems as if the forces of sheker are gaining. It is astonishing to see how people can be so willfully blind. It is truly mind boggling how they can twist around the facts so that black is white and white is black. We don’t have to travel that far to see the koach of sheker.

Examples of the ascendancy of sheker are too prevalent and obvious to thinking people to require a listing of examples. We all have to make extra efforts to be more truthful in our own lives. We have to make sure to speak the truth and not engage in devious behavior. Even little white lies have the power to bring us down. They snowball. And like those rubberneckers, they slow us all down and give us all a bad name.

In these days of bein hametzorim, we should show that the truth appeals to us, that we are not guided by the ever-changing trends of the day, but rather by what is true and good. Let us give strength to the emes and not become victims of the sheker. Let’s do what we can to weaken sheker and its henchmen.

In this period, when we mourn the churbanos and destruction our people have endured during this time of year, we grieve over the loss of the Botei Mikdosh and the loss of the light of truth and holiness which they provided the world.

Each one of us has the power to hasten the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu to redeem us from all that plagues us and to rescue us from the falsity around us.

Talmidei HaGaon taught that since Moshiach will return the emes to its rightful place and cause worldwide kiddush Hashem, the sitra achra seeks to do everything in its power to cause ascendancy in sheker and chillul Hashem during the period of ikvisah dimeshicha, leading up to the redemption.

Thus, in the period of as’chalta d’geulah, every little lie makes a difference. And every time we speak the truth, we are bringing Moshiach closer. We have to beat back the forces of evil by doing our utmost to enhance the koach of emes and increase kiddush Hashem.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Substitute For Listening Well

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Recently, I was in someone’s home when the mother served ice cream to everyone. When she was done, she gave the container to one of the children and asked him to put it in the freezer so that the remaining ice cream wouldn’t melt.

An hour later, the precocious child sheepishly came to his mother and said, “Mommy, I think you should give out more ice cream now.”

“Why?” asked the mother.

“Because it’s melting,” responded the young lad.

“How can it be melting?” the mother asked. “Didn’t I ask you to put it in the freezer?”

“Because, um, Mommy, you see, there wasn’t room in the freezer, so I put it in the refrigerator,” said the boy.

The poor child didn’t realize what he did wrong. He thought his mother would be happy with him.

A story is told of an Israeli makolet (grocery store) in the 1950s. Someone came in to the shop and asked for herring, and the proprietor gave him a can of sardines.

“I asked for herring, not sardines,” the man protested.

“I know,” answered the storeowner. “But you’ll like this better. It’s much tastier.”

Well-intentioned people often err because they don’t heed instructions. They mean well, they believe by improving on the request or directions they are doing the right thing. Instead they hit the wrong note, or end up making more of a mess than doing anything beneficial.

It sounds elementary but it still needs to be said: In order to be a good person and do well, one needs to carefully follow instructions. Without improvising. Without interpreting. Do as you are told and be sure you understand what is wanted from you. When you substitute your own agenda for what the other person requested from you, or seek the easy way out, you fail. When you try to read the person’s mind and to divine what he really meant to say, you cease to be a messenger. You become a person who cannot be relied upon to complete a mission.

The Gemara in Sotah (47b) says that when the number of egotistical students increased in the beis medrash, the disputes involving halachic matters increased. Rashi (ibid) explains that a haughty person doesn’t lower himself to pay special attention when his teacher speaks, for he presumes he can rely on his own intelligence when it comes to determining a course of action. Such a person is prone to making serious errors of judgment, all the while claiming he is merely following what he was taught.

People of this sort increase machlokes in Klal Yisroel.

Pinchos ben Elozor ben Aharon Hakohein observed Zimri’s outrageous conduct and remembered the halacha his rebbi had taught. He was a humble student who had nullified his own ego; thus he was confident that he had learned the lesson properly and could uphold the halacha with pure motives. Only in this way was he able to bring shalom to Klal Yisroel. Without hesitation, without stopping to ponder the consequences he might suffer from the act he was about to commit, he found a spear and stabbed it through Zimri.

Kano’im pogim bo. The letter of the law does not demand such radical action. Only those whose hearts are pure and burn with a fervent love of G-d are entrusted with the prerogative to take radical measures when faced with such an exigency.

Those who have not achieved that rare greatness of character; those who are not wholly dedicated to following the L-rd’s dictates and who are not totally attentive to their masters’ teachings, are urged to stand aside and do nothing. Those who do not fully comprehend the will of the Creator are not relied upon to break the protocol to right a wrong and return a people to the righteous path.

Only individuals such as Pinchos, who are totally subservient to halacha and selfless in their fealty to Torah, can bring an end to plagues that smite the Jewish people when they sin.

It is only people who are shlaimim in their service of G-d who can ignore the opinions and demands of the hoi polloi in order to do what is correct and proper.

Pinchos was rewarded for his act of kano’us with the bris shalom, covenant of peace, to demonstrate to the naysayers who mocked him that Hashem testified that he had acted as an ish hashaleim - and an ish hashalom. His act of zealotry came from a perfect man’s desire to achieve shalom, and not a thirst for blood, or glory, as his detractors alleged.

Aharon Hakohein was the paradigm of the ish hashalom, the quintessential man of peace. He was by no means a meek, timid person who lacked the physical ability or mental acuity to fight with people, and who by default chose the role of pacifist seeking to make peace between feuding brothers.

On the contrary. Aharon Hakohein was a tall and strong leader of men who wielded enormous influence over people. He utilized his strengths to bring about peace between fellow Jews and between man and G-d. Because of his devotion to peace, he was chosen to be the kohein whose sacred avodah, the offering of korbonos, brought about reconciliation between Hashem and the Jewish people.

His actions created the conduit through which forgiveness and love flowed from Above to the person whose sinful actions estranged him from G-d.

Though he was a grandson of Aharon, Pinchos wasn’t chosen as a kohein and given the mandate to heal the separation between a sinner and G-d until he had slain Zimri. With this courageous act, he demonstrated his total dedication to the will of Hashem and attained a new spiritual level. He showed that he was a worthy messenger who was committed with every fiber of his being to upholding his rebbi’s teachings.

He carried out his mission without “personalizing” the act, neither adding or omitting anything or investing his own ego into it. Only a person of such humility and spiritual stature could effectively carry out the emergency measures that appeased G-d’s anger and averted the catastrophe that was poised to strike the Jewish people.

Pinchos lives on as Eliyahu, the immortal angel of peace, who will return soon to inform us that the barrier between Hashem and the Jewish people has been broken for all time. We will then all rejoice with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, may it be bekarov beyomeinu.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fame and Fortune

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha provides us with a stark contrast. The parsha begins with the story of Balak’s attempts to entice Bilam to curse the Jewish nation. Without the commentary of Chazal, it would seem to a casual reader of the parsha that Bilam was not an entirely evil person.

By just reading the pesukim, it appears as if Bilam is seeking to follow the command of Hashem and is unwilling to follow Balak’s messengers to curse the Jews if that was not the will of Hashem.

In truth, Bilam was a phony. He mouthed the proper words to Balak, as he sought to convince G-d to permit him to engage in the mission to curse the Jewish people. In his heart, he lusted after the money and prestige that Balak was offering him for the commission of his odious mission.

Bilam was a gifted individual, but he sought public acclaim. He used his talents to enrich himself. He tried to twist his G-d-given abilities to win himself popularity and fame. Though he knew he was acting improperly, he sought to fool G-d, kivayachol, into going along with his plan. His words were those of a great man, but his heart was filled with malice.

As hard as he tried to conspire with Balak, the king of Moav, he was unable to fulfill the malicious desires of the depraved king. When he saw that he would never be able to curse the blessed nation, he devised a nefarious satanic plan to annihilate those whom he could not curse. And though the pesukim don’t attribute the plan to him, Chazal, with their wisdom, teach us that it was Bilam who guided Balak and the Moavites in creating pernicious moral corruption with which to afflict the holy nation.

At the conclusion of Parshas Balak, we learn that following the episode with Balak and Bilam, the Bnei Yisroel began to sin with the daughters of Moav. A nesi bais av committed a sinful act with a daughter of the leader of Midyan before Moshe and all of the Bnei Yisroel.

The entire nation stood around weeping, at a complete loss. Hashem was about to send a plague as punishment for the crime when Pinchos arose from the crowd.

He was the sole individual who was not confounded by the unprecedented outrage - the only one who remembered the halacha and knew what had to be done. Even as cynics mocked him and he himself was unsure of the outcome his act would produce, Pinchos ignored the scoffers and sprang forward, plunging a spear into the bodies of Zimri and his partner.

He thus stopped the already devastating plague and brought a swift end to yet another inglorious chapter in our people’s history.

Next week’s parsha, Pinchos, opens with Hashem telling Moshe Rabbeinu that “Pinchos, the son of Elozor, the son of Aharon the Kohein, turned back G-d’s wrath from the people of Israel with his act of kana’us, and He did not destroy the Bnei Yisroel in His anger. Therefore, say [the following]: Hashem is bestowing upon Pinchos his covenant of peace. He and his children who follow him shall be privileged with the covenant of kehunah forever.”

By following the dictates he had been taught by Moshe Rabbeinu and intervening in a machlokes, Pinchos merited the blessing of eternal peace. The man of peace is not necessarily the one who sits back passively and does nothing. The one who sits on the sidelines weeping as evil rears its ugly head and seems to triumph is not promoting peace, he is encouraging evil.

Pinchos is deemed worthy to bear the torch of kehunah and carry on the tradition of Aharon Hakohein, to be an oheiv shalom verodef shalom, because he put his own ambitions aside and rose to the challenge. Pinchos was given the eternal blessing of peace because he made peace possible in Klal Yisroel by exterminating evil.

Pinchos halted the plague which had already killed 24,000 Jews because he had the moral courage and clarity to act when others were confounded and immobilized. He wasn’t guided by a desire for fortune, fame or popularity.

He didn’t let popular opinion deter him from slaying those who brazenly defied the Torah authority. He knew that an oheiv shalom verodef shalom sometimes has to act courageously, even if his actions invite misunderstanding and recrimination.

Pinchos knew that the cause of peace is advanced through fidelity to halacha. Shalom is achieved by pursuing shleimus, even if that involves sacrificing sacred cows and jeopardizing a career.

Shalom is rooted in shleimus. When everything is proper, when everything is complete and whole, it is then possible to also have shalom. If you are lacking in shleimus, if everything is not absolutely intact, then you cannot have shalom. Torah is the absolute truth. With it, the world was created, and it serves as the ultimate yardstick in defining our behavior. If we stay true to it, we will be blessed with peace.

Pinchos passed this test and was therefore singled out as being worthy of following in the footsteps of Aharon Hakohein, who exemplified the pursuit of shalom through the service of G-d.

With all of the countless misfortunes besieging our people as yechidim and as a klal, it would seem as though we are living through a period of mageifah.

Perhaps what we need are more people like Pinchos in order to stop the plague in its tracks. We need people whose loyalty to Torah compels them to arise from the mourners who sit weeping and demonstrate by action what needs to be done.

There are no prophets among us and no one can say why specific tragedies befall us. But we all are aware of evils being perpetrated which nobody fights. We all know that most things are not b’shleimus in our world. We are all aware of people who suffer and urgently need someone to rush to their aid. Apathy and often fear prevent us from carrying out these missions of mercy and justice.

Despotic rulers count on the passivity and fear of the masses. Despots are experts in playing the game of brinkmanship and taking advantage of people’s reluctance to rise up against injustice, even in self-defense.

In our daily lives, we, too, confront people who abuse their position or our own good natures to serve their own selfish, destructive ends. We must have the fortitude to stand up to them in the tradition of Pinchos. We must speak up when confronted with injustice, while being careful to remain within the Torah-prescribed parameters.

We have to seek to achieve perfection in our personal lives and slay the demons which lurk inside our camp and in each one of us.

An eis tzara is a clarion call to us to do teshuvah and help return the world to a condition of shleimus. Tragedy calls out to people of inner greatness to conquer the urge to remain passive and, instead, to take action to return our world and our people to shleimus through Torah. The only way to merit peace and tranquility is by following the path of shalom and shleimus as defined in the Torah.

Pinchos lives on as Eliyohu Mevaser Tov, who will announce to us the arrival of Moshiach when enough of us follow in his path. That path was forged for him by his rebbi, Moshe Rabbeinu. In every generation, there are individuals who carry a nitzotz, a spark, of the neshama of Moshe Rabbeinu and continue to light up that path. Let us seek them out and learn Torah at their feet, so that we may all merit to hear the call that the geulah sheleimah has arrived.

Every act we take to bring perfection to the world will bring us that much closer to the day when Eliyohu will announce that the golus has finally ended. May it come to pass speedily in our day.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rhyme and Reason

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha begins with the words “Vezos chukas haTorah.” Rashi quotes the words of Chazal who explain the use of the word chukas in describing the laws of parah adumah. He says that the term chok represents a Divine law, the reasons for which we were not made privy to. The nations of the world scoff at us, asking why we observe these strange laws and customs. Instead of engaging in debates with them, offering up explanations and rationales, we are to state simply that we follow these laws because G-d commanded us to do so. End of conversation.

But some of us tend not to be content with this approach. We seek to understand the deeper wisdom behind the mitzvos and the reasons for the gezeiros derabonon. We believe that by attaching a reason to a mitzvah, we will enhance its observance. If we can explain the word of G-d in contemporary terms, we can bring more people into the tent of Torah and expand the popularity of its observance. Offering explanations for the mitzvos will not only make us more effective in kiruv, we think, but it will strengthen our own observance.

One can’t deny that there may be some validity to this approach at times. Yet, when we fail to take Chazal’s advice seriously, we pay the price. We open the door to a form of Judaism “a la carte” - where people choose to observe the mitzvos that “resonate” and suit their taste, while neglecting those that appeal less to their reasoning or emotions.

As an example, let’s take the mitzvah of shechitah. The reason we eat only animals whose necks were slit with a swift cut of a shochet’s sharpened blade is not because that is the humane method of killing animals. The reason we eat meat only from animals whose innards were checked and found to be without blemish is not because those animals are healthier.

Why, then, do we scrupulously adhere to the smallest details of ritual slaughter? For the sole reason that we are required to follow the word of G-d as commanded in the Torah, as delineated in the Gemara, and as codified by the Shulchan Aruch. A mashgiach must attest that the shochet cut the majority of the two simanim, the konah and the veshet. A hair’s breadth - kechut hasa’arah - makes the difference between kosher and non-kosher, between something fit for consumption and neveilah.

Rashi states in Maseches Sanhedrin [90] that one who believes in techiyas hameisim because he came to that conclusion on his own and not because he believes the drashos of Chazal is a kofer, an apostate. We follow the commandments, chukim and mishpatim because we believe with our innermost fiber that G-d created us for that purpose. Once we inject our own human reasoning into the equation, we are no longer following the will of G-d.

Once we get into the business of interpreting the will of G-d for the masses, we lose our footing. We lose perspective. We lose appreciation for the mitzvos as we bring them down to our superficial, fallible level.

And there is another way we lose. Witness the ongoing campaign against the Rubashkins by those who consider themselves more liberal and advanced than we are. Since they believe that the laws of shechitah were created to provide a humane form of animal slaughter, and the laws of kashrus were designed to provide us with healthy and clean meat, it follows that if the slaughterhouse does not conform to their concept of clean and humane, the meat is unfit for consumption.

When a company such as Rubashkin supplies 60% of kosher meat in this country, that is not a situation to trifle with. No longer are there kosher slaughterhouses dotting the country; they are few and far between. To jeopardize their production is to cause a shortage of kosher meat and guaranteed price hikes.

Jews were in this country for many decades before systems of competent and reliable kashrus were set up. For years, the kosher industry was chaotic, controlled by mafia-style gangsters. Rabbonim who came over from the old country and attempted to establish proper standards were run out of town, humiliated and maligned.

It was only after the Second World War that Holocaust survivors such as the Satmar Rebbe, the Tzeilemer Rov and Rabbi Alexander S. Rosenberg stood up to the charlatans and succeeded in finally bringing genuinely kosher food to the masses of Jews living here. Rabbi Rosenberg, in particular, as head of the OU, brought to fruition the dream of providing kosher food to Jews across this country wherever they lived, in large cities and small towns. The kashrus organization he developed enabled people to go into any supermarket and purchase kosher food.

We, who live in neighborhoods overflowing with religious Jews like ourselves, are deluded into thinking that there are millions of us out there. We fail to realize how small our numbers are in relation to the population of the United States. We don’t appreciate the kindness that G-d has showered upon us, brought about through the brilliance of people such as Rabbi Rosenberg, in having such a wide array of kosher products freely available. When you think about it, it is a miracle that international food companies such as Coca-Cola and Proctor and Gamble permit rabbonim to snoop around in their facilities, and actually pay them to do so, all in order to sell an additional small amount of their product.

Yes, there are many heimishe companies, but without the large multi-nationals at the top of the food chain, they could never exist. They could never supply enough product and produce all the necessary ingredients on their own; there simply are not enough resources and capital to provide the infrastructure.

This paper has been writing periodically about Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and warning of the dangers it presents. Some were not convinced and sent in letters to the editor asking why we are bothering with them. What does the Yated care about what Chovevei does? How does it affect you?

The answer is as follows. In addition to the principle of kol Yisroel areivim zeh bazeh, every city they penetrate and every beachhead we permit them to create represents a step backwards for the cause of Torah in this country.

To illustrate the point: Chovevei students have now created common cause with members of the Conservative clergy and secular Jewish organizations seeking to curtail the distribution of Rubashkin’s kosher meat based on unproven pretensions and pretences.

The Conservatives aren’t stopping there. The same group which, since its founding, has wreaked havoc upon Jewish communities, misleading uninformed Jews into believing that they were comporting with Judaic law and tradition as it drove them away from authentic observance, now seeks to bring kashrus under its jurisdiction. The same group that introduced chillul Shabbos as shemiras shabbos and estranged tens of thousands of fellow Jews from the mitzvos now has the temerity to dictate to us the laws of kashrus.

The Conservative Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue breached the most basic bounds of decency by issuing a statement urging its constituents to seek kosher alternatives to Rubashkin products.

The May 22nd statement read, in part: “The allegations about the terrible treatment of workers employed by Rubashkin’s have shocked and appalled members of the Conservative Movement as well as all people of conscience. As Kashrut seeks to diminish animal suffering and offer a humane method of slaughter, it is bitterly ironic that a plant producing kosher meat be guilty of inflicting any kind of human suffering.”

And they are not stopping there. They are setting up an organization by the name of “Hekhsher Tzedek” to operate as a rabbinic kosher supervising agency. According to one of their statements, “Hekhsher Tzedek would bring certified kosher food into compliance with the Torah’s tradition of ethical laws and the Jewish community’s commitment to social justice. Hekhsher Tzedek will seek endorsement from all producers of kosher food and will have its symbol serve as an indicator of a product’s acceptability. Only food already certified as kosher would be eligible to receive a Hekhsher Tzedek. We hope that this initiative will serve as an ethical model throughout the entire food industry.”

As did mosrim of old, they are engaging in a massive propaganda campaign through a compliant Jewish and secular media, bashing Orthodoxy and its “archaic” standards. How ironic. The people who uphold the Torah and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, who brought monotheism and a system of civil laws, jurisprudence and decency to a pagan and depraved world, are being lectured to by charlatans who have destroyed for their followers every vestige of the very religion they claim to promote.

These same leaders who have robbed their followers of every remnant of kedushas Yisroel by substituting Torah law with fictitious “halachot” and other innovations seek to undermine the system of kashrus which took so long to establish. In so doing, they will willingly destroy our ability to purchase kosher meat and poultry in every corner of this vast country.

So swept up are they in their role as great humanitarians that in the name of benefiting immigrant workers and animals, they are willing to do a terrible disservice to the Jewish people in this country - robbing many of the blessings made available by decades of mesiras nefesh on the part of dedicated people.

By parading the unproven allegations of PETA and other aberrant groups through the press that “kosher is not really clean,” that Orthodoxy does not guarantee civil rights, who knows how many people these “humanitarians” will cause to turn away in revulsion when they see a kosher symbol on a product?

How many stores will they be able to convince not to carry kosher meat? How many companies will they be able to hoodwink into accepting their rabbinic supervision? How many people will begin to honor the endorsement of their rabbis? How many will begin questioning our system of kashrus while swallowing the pop-propaganda of these arrogant groups?

Let us wake up and put a stop to this misguided and dangerous crusade before it is too late.