Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Blessed Life

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha of Re’eh opens with Moshe Rabbeinu telling the Jewish people that he is presenting them with two divergent paths, one of blessing and one of damnation.

The parsha is named Re’eh, which means see. Moshe told the Jews, “Re’eh anochi nosein lifneichem hayom bracha uklalah - Look, I am presenting before you today blessing and curse.”

Moshe tells the Bnei Yisroel that the path of blessing is reached by following the precepts of Hashem. Those who don’t listen end up on the accursed path.

Why does Moshe use the word “look,” when essentially he is asking them to hearken to what he is about to tell them? He wasn’t asking them to look; he was asking them to listen.

There are always people who feel as if the laws of the Torah confine them. They think that if they revolt against the precepts with which Hashem created the heaven and earth, they will be happier and more successful. They think that if they behave dishonestly and immorally, their lives will be satisfying.

Such people leave the path of the blessed, looking for the bounty this world has to offer, but all they end up with is damnation. Such people are never happy as they slither down the road of everything illicit in the elusive search for happiness.

They never find it.

Kids go astray because they feel crammed in by all the rules. They find themselves on a slippery slope of failure, and when they hit bottom, they realize that it was all for naught. They finally recognize that joy is not achieved by throwing off the shackles and being in a constant state of vertigo. By then, however, they are so far gone that it takes years of attentive effort for them to return to normalcy.

Moshe Rabbeinu tells the Jewish people that the path to happiness is by following the word of Hashem. In case they doubted him, he said to them, “Look at the people who follow in Hashem’s way and you will undoubtedly see the joy of fulfillment on their faces. Look at the people who are scrupulous in their personal conduct and you will observe people who are content. Look at the people who hew to the path of the Torah and you will see people who are living blessed lives.

“Look at the people who cheat their way through the day, look at the people who run their businesses crookedly, and I will show you people who live rotten lives. Look at the people who throw off the manacles of decency and you will see people who live lives of misery. Look at the people who think that the laws of the Ten Commandments weren’t made for them and you will see people who spend their entire lives desperately craving for an inner peace they will never find.”

Re’eh anochi nosein lifneichem hayom bracha uklalah.” I am setting forth for you today the word of Hashem. Look around and you will be able to see who is a follower and who isn’t, who leads a blessed life and who leads a cursed life.

The words of Moshe hold true until this very day. So often, we see people who are so unhappy, that no matter how large their house, how luxurious their car, and how extravagant a lifestyle they lead, they will always be groping for more.

The blessed life is not led by the guy with the most money; it is lived by the fellow who uses the gifts G-d has endowed him with for the betterment of others. The person who distributes charity to the poor, supports schools and yeshivos so that they can better educate future generations, helps feed the hungry and comforts the sick, is the one who achieves true fulfillment. This will never be known to the person who remains deaf to the entreaties of the needy and dedicates his fortune to his own personal aggrandizement.

Those who follow the path laid out by the Torah possess a glow that emanates from within their souls and a radiation of contentment that can only be acquired by living a life guided by eternal truths.

Total satisfaction is never achieved with the temporal. No matter how much money people have, the amount of designer clothing they amass, combined with the jewelry they have stashed away in their safe, will not make them happy. For money and material possessions are temporary, and just as they are temporary, so is the joy that is derived from them. A new car, watch or pin may bring a smile to your face for a day or two, but when you return to reflect on your empty life, the purposelessness, boredom, and feelings of inadequacy will return.

The Alter of Novardok was once taking a walk with a talmid when two seemingly blissful teenagers crossed their path. The Alter turned to the talmid and said, “Look at those two, do you think they are happy? They are in fact quite pathetic.”

He explained by way of a moshol. “Picture a wealthy person who lost his money. His business is falling apart, his checks are bouncing, the banks are coming after him for outstanding loans, there is a lien on his house and his wife has left him. But a person is bound to the laws of nature and must eat. So this person whose world is crashing down upon him enters a restaurant and sits down to his favorite meal. It smells wonderful and tastes great, and in fact he enjoys it. But is the man happy when he sits there eating the sumptuous meal?

“So too, this youngster who chats and giggles so amicably. He has trouble at home, and at work and even as he walks here with his friend, those issues are not far from his mind, he can’t let go of them. He also isn’t so sure of his friend’s loyalty to him and can’t really open up to him about his problems for fear that the friendship will wilt.
“So, is he really happy?

“But do you know who I knew who was truly happy and satisfied? Rav Yisroel Salanter. He was at peace with himself. He was at peace with Hashem. His joy emanated from his inner core. Every mitzvah he did brought him added happiness. Every one of his actions brought him added satisfaction.”

Moshe Rabbeinu was standing there in the Midbar telling the Bnei Yisroel that every one of them - and us - is able to attain true happiness. A life of blessing is available to every person who dedicates himself to following the words of Hashem. Nobody should feel that their financial situation in life affects their happiness and capacity to lead a blessed life.

In Parshas Va’eschanon (4:5), as well, Moshe Rabbeinu uses the word “re’eh” to convey to the Jewish people that if they follow the Torah, they will earn the praise of the nations of the world. Perhaps it is for the same reason that we’ve discussed. Moshe is telling the Bnei Yisroel that if they follow the chukim and mishpatim, their neighbors will recognize them for their wisdom and say, “Rak am chochom venavon hagoy hagadol hazeh.” When the Jews follow the laws of the Torah, their neighbors are able to look at them and recognize that they are a G-dly and intelligent people.

It is not by kowtowing to the constantly shifting culture of the time that we earn the respect of the people who surround us. It is not by watering down our customs so that we can blend in better that we gain the veneration of our neighbors. It is not by promoting and honoring people who have engaged in activities forbidden by the Torah that we will be admired by others. It is only by following the instructions of the immortal and timeless Torah as handed down to us from generation to generation that the nations of the world will realize what sets us apart from everyone else.

The novi Yeshayahu (61:9) reinforces this idea when he foretells that the Jewish people and their children will achieve prominence among the nations and all who see them will recognize them as the seed that Hashem has blessed.

May that prophecy be realized speedily and in our day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Olympic Lessons

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Anyone following the news this past week and viewing any of the various media outlets couldn’t miss the headlines about the 2008 Olympics taking place in Beijing, China.

Following the ancient traditions of Yavan, Greece, top athletes at the Olympics compete for the coveted medals that will bring glory to themselves and their native countries, and transform the winners into national heroes. Those who come in second and third - silver and bronze medalists - have the status of also-rans, and woe to anyone who scores lower than third place. These hapless hopefuls slide quickly into obscurity.

Interestingly, the hero of the Olympics this year won one of his races by a hundredth of a second. Yes, you read that right. He made history because his finger touched the finish line a mere 1/100 of a second before his rival. For that dubious victory, he is hailed as the greatest athlete in history.

This man reports that his life is reduced to doing little else besides sleeping, eating and swimming. Despite that astonishingly empty regimen, he had to do nothing more than beat his competitor by 1/100th of a second to instantly qualify as the hero of a nation.

Is someone who wins by an infinitesimal, inconsequential measure really that much better than the person who came in three whole seconds later and finished number seven?

Of course not. Such a minute difference means that any variable could have changed the outcome. But according to the rules of the game, the person who pulls out ahead earns the accolade of victor and the one who doesn’t carries the stigma of a loser.

Why should such a small disparity make all the difference between triumph and defeat? To answer that question, let’s analyze what goes into the internal makeup of a champion.

One who is driven to excel possesses a different kind of drive than the average person. Determined to be the best at what he does, he finds a way to triumph. He finds a way to go that extra mile. He finds a way to beat the record, even if it is only by a mere second - or millisecond.

The champion is the one who is ready to surrender whatever he is doing or everything that he has in the pursuit of his goal. The winner is the one who picks himself up when he falls and goes back to his training until he reaches perfection. He doesn’t say that it can’t be done. He doesn’t say that it isn’t fair. Instead, he tries again and again until he has what it takes to win.

Someone who is determined to win takes lessons from all that transpires around him, including the accomplishments of strangers or people outside his sphere. He who looks to constantly improve himself practices the dictum of Chazal of, “Eizehu chochom? Halomeid mikol adam.” He reviews his studies one hundred and one times, and is satisfied that he knows it well enough after studying the same material one hundred times.

We know that we were not created so that we can swim 1/100th of a second faster than the fellow in the next lane. But what are we really supposed to be doing with our time, and where should we be dedicating our energies?

Let us take the time to learn this week’s parsha with Rashi and other meforshim so that we can find out. In Parshas Eikev (10:12), the Torah asks and answers the immortal question: “And now, what does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem, to follow in His ways, and to love Him and to serve Hashem with all your heart and all your soul.”

The Gemara in Brachos (32b) asks whether it is such a small thing to fear Hashem that the posuk singles it out as the only thing demanded of us. The Gemara answers that for Moshe Rabbeinu (for whom fear of Heaven was as natural as breathing), it was indeed a small thing.
But that doesn’t really answer the question. If it was no big feat for Moshe Rabbeinu to have the proper yiras Shomayim, it is still a challenge of some magnitude for most of us.

The Vilna Gaon explains that if we attach ourselves to a great tzaddik such as Moshe, yiras Shomayim would be easier to achieve. In fact, in this week’s parsha (10:20), the Torah states, “You shall fear Hashem, your G-d; you shall worship Him and cling to him.” Also in this week’s parsha (11:22), the Torah says again, “You should walk in the path of Hashem and cling to him.” Chazal explain that the way to “cling” to Hashem is by becoming close to tzaddikim and talmidei chachomim.

The Vilna Gaon in Mishlei (28:12) writes that although there are few tzaddikim among us in this world, and often they are hidden, we are obligated to find them.
In order to be great, we have to hang around great people. In order to achieve superiority, we must have real heroes whom we can look up to and emulate. In order to excel, we need people who teach us by word, example and deed, and, when necessary, admonish us and set us straight. Searching, discerning people find a tzaddik to attach themselves to, while those who aren’t serious about spiritual growth mock tzaddikim and distance themselves from them.

The true seeker and ultimate champion will take seriously the oft-quoted posuk in this week’s parsha, “Kochi ve’otzem yodi asah li es hachayil hazeh.” But many of us fall into the trap of wishful thinking, imagining that whatever good fortune befalls us is due to our own superior talent and ability.

We forget that we must be thankful for everything we have and realize that it is a Divine gift. To the extent that we recognize Hashem’s beneficence, we are blessed with more.

So often, we portray ourselves dishonestly and think we can get away with it. In order to come out ahead, we stoop to artificial posturing, choosing political correctness over honesty and sincerity. We think we are being convincing, but people tend to judge others by more than their words. Most people can smell artifice and manipulation faster than one would think.

The true candidate for heroism will not turn a blind eye when he sees evil being perpetrated. He doesn’t stand by and say, “It is not my problem; let someone else worry about it.” Not for him inaction and passivity. He knows evil is evil and wrong is wrong, and does his utmost to oppose it. He calls a spade a spade. He cannot permit people who harm others to operate in impunity, certain that no one will have the guts to stop them.

We live in a time when everyone’s secrets can easily become public property. We have to be cognizant of that and be especially careful to safeguard ourselves from being the cause of chillul Hashem. We have to go the extra mile to ensure that we behave with rectitude and not gloss over our moral responsibilities. When people speak falsehoods in our name, engage in flagrantly improper behavior, and commit destructive actions, we have to muster the courage to speak out publicly and make it clear that they do not represent us. Regardless of whether they happen to be powerful and influential or hapless kooks, our duty is the same.

When we read the pesukim of Parshas Eikev, we feel as if Moshe Rabbeinu is pleading with the Jewish people the way we would plead with someone we deeply care about and are attempting to influence to accept reality. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that Moshe is pleading not only with our ancestors in the dor hamidbar but with all successive Jewish generations - with you and me, too.

He reminds the people of all they have been through, of all the miracles G-d produced in order to bring them to where they are. He begs them to remember who has fed, clothed and cared for them, even as they remained ungrateful. He reminds them how stubborn and spiteful they were, and how he repeatedly interceded on their behalf.

He warns them not to delude themselves as to why Hashem has been kind to them and why they have experienced success. He reminds them that all Hashem asks for in return is that they have yiras Shomayim.

Read the pesukim (8:11 and on): “Be careful lest you shall forget Hashem… Lest you eat and become full and build nice, good fancy homes and become settled… Lest you have much gold and silver and become haughty and forget Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Mitzrayim and led you through the Midbar where he quenched your thirst and fed you. Yet you say in your heart, I did this all myself with my own strength!

“Remember it is Hashem who gives you strength to wage war … If you will forget Hashem and go after strange gods and you will serve them and bow to them, I warn you that you will be destroyed…”

These pesukim are not just written to people of the dor hamidbor who clearly went astray. They are written to us as well, and should serve as a reminder to us that we should never let our gaavah get the better of us and fool us into thinking that we are self-sufficient, that we are smart and strong enough to take care of ourselves.

We have to discipline ourselves so that we don’t find ourselves in the same boat as people who are so chained by their egos and are no longer capable of absorbing the truth. They remain blinded by their hubris to facts that are plainly evident to everyone else. The truth can be staring them in the face, but their resistance to anything that challenges their prejudiced notions prevents them from recognizing it.

This pitfall faces each one of us in different ways as we go through life. If we are successful, we grow fat and comfortable, falling prey to the tendency to convince ourselves that it is our superior intelligence and immeasurable talent that enabled us to reach the pinnacle of success. As long as the going is good, we fail to appreciate our limitations. Despite ample evidence of our frailties, we cling to a naïve belief in our invincibility.

It takes a big fall for us to be forced to admit the obvious. By then, it is usually too late and we have turned off too many people with our arrogance and disloyalty. We can no longer count on their friendship and mercy. We played hard to get much longer than we should have. We were deaf to our friend’s entreaties and good advice. We didn’t have to listen to anyone. Rules were made for everyone else, not for us.

Then, one day, it all comes crashing down on us and there is no one around - or concerned enough - to help us pick up the pieces.

We must always remember where we come from and where we are headed. We must be constantly aware that it is Hashem who provides us with the know-how and stamina to earn our livelihood and get ahead in this world, and to survive life’s inevitable trials and setbacks.
Let us keep our eyes on the ultimate goal and not stumble and fail. We may look at the Olympics as a colossal waste of everyone’s time. But we can learn from the contestants the lesson of never giving up, of disciplining and training ourselves for years to accomplish a goal.

We can learn from them how to strive for excellence, push ourselves to the utmost, and give our all to the task, not giving excuses when we fall short. Let us resolve instead to counter failure with renewed effort, squeezing out one more ounce of talent, time and resourcefulness than we thought we possessed.

The real “gold medal” goes to those who live honest, upstanding lives marked by unstinting effort to mold themselves into the best that they can be. As the pesukim at the end of the parsha promise (11:22), “If you will observe the mitzvos, love Hashem and follow in his path…then Hashem will let you inherit nations that are larger and stronger than yours… Wherever you will set your foot down will be blessed… No one will be able to stand in your way.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nachamu Ami

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Nachamu nachamu ami. More comforting words have never been uttered than those spoken by Yeshayahu Hanovi and repeated in every Jewish shul this coming Shabbos.

You hear those words and all the sadness in the world melts away. Everything that pains us and causes us grief becomes temporary as those immortal words ring in our ears.

Wherever Jews find themselves, they view those words as a call to be joyous and free, to embark on a vacation, and to take life a little less seriously.

While we do that, we should bear in mind that shallowness and complacency are dangerous and perilous. No matter where we are and what we are engaged in, we must be wary of allowing superficial considerations to guide us.

Not that we shouldn’t be lighthearted or enjoy ourselves, or that everything we do must be analyzed to death. But given the precarious times we live in, our responses ought to reflect more discernment and intelligent assessment.

We live in such frightening times. We may not realize it, but there is a war going on in Iraq. Iran may have a nuclear weapon aimed at us. Al-Qaeda can strike at any time. The economy may not be officially in a recession, but we all know countless people who are suffering from a lack of sufficient income. So many people we know are sick; so many have been plucked away in the prime of their lives.

We don’t have to be morose and melancholy all the time, but we do have to resist shallow thinking and living. We have to fight the complacency that lulls us into coasting along peacefully as our brethren in Eretz Yisroel are fighting for their very survival. The plunge of the almighty dollar has woeful consequences for our brethren, yet when they plea to us, we roll our eyes. As we worry about trivialities, a proxy war is being fought which, if lost, may lead to future wars and calamities, not just for Eretz Yisroel, but also for America and the entire western civilization. All the warning signs have been posted, all the alarms have gone off, yet we fail to absorb their implications.

The Yeitzer Hara clouds our psyche and causes us to concentrate on the wrong things in order to dull our thinking and lead us down the wrong path. Without proper perspective, we can easily get sidetracked, with trivial concerns skewing our lives. Additionally, losing focus is the undoing of every important project and vision. When one makes the trivial important, the important becomes trivial.

We live in an age when, all too often, perception trumps reality and people who are adept at creating perceptions win and those who don’t get it lose.

Proper focus and clarity of vision are essential for every aspect of existence. Nations will topple without a vision and political leaders can fall to the most inexperienced challengers when their vision becomes distorted. Take a look at the election campaign in our country, home to so many intelligent and educated people. A neophyte smooth-talker has a chance to defeat a national hero experienced in government and become president of this once proud country.

Similarly, our brothers in the Israeli army find themselves somewhere they have never been. They have always denigrated their Arab enemies and proudly patted themselves on the back as being intellectually and militarily superior.

Since the war of liberation in 1948, though the lone sheep has been surrounded by a pack of wolves, with all the odds stacked against survival, Israel has successfully beaten back enemy armies and emerged triumphant. Religious people recognized the Hand of G-d in each of Israel’s victories. Countless soldiers had miraculous tales to retell when they returned home. The Six Day War of 1967 had such an obvious miraculous outcome that it spawned a teshuva revolution whose repercussions are still felt today.

However, many military planners chose to close their eyes to the obvious and now face a new reality. Once again, their delusions about their omnipotence have been shattered. It has been shown for all who care to notice that without Divine assistance, Israel cannot win.

On its Gaza and Lebanon borders, Israel is faced with enemies who are sworn to fight the country to death. The enemy is getting stronger and more brazen by the day.

As much as we would like to ignore the deadliness of the dangers we face, we have to realize that we live in a pivotal time in history and our actions can have lasting impact. We have to recognize that ‘small’ problems that aren’t taken care of tend to fester and grow, turning more threatening with time. We have to understand that no part of Olam Hazeh is constant; everything is subject to change.

Most of all, we have to remember that without siyata diShmaya, we cannot succeed. We have to do everything in our power to secure Divine merit.

Though the more serious days of the Three Weeks and Nine Days have ended, we still need to focus on what counts. Study more Torah and engage in additional acts of tzedaka and chessed. Assist those who need our help and pay attention to issues which are really important. Speak softly. Tough times demand that we act tenderly. Remember that the book of Tehillim is as relevant today as it was when Dovid Hamelech wrote it over 2,800 years ago. Cling to it. Don’t just say its words, but comprehend them and let them sink into your soul.

Superficiality and small-mindedness breed sinas chinam, which caused the churban to begin with. Myopically focusing on our own petty interests without seeing the big picture can be catastrophic. The story of Kamtza, who was more concerned with his own minor personal grievances than about what he was doing to Bar Kamtzah, is a classic illustration of this failing. Too often, we get locked into a negative mindset and ignore the feelings and interests of others. By fighting this tendency, we can bring about the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.

Last week was Shabbos Chazon and this week is Shabbos Nachamu. That’s the recurring cycle of our existence. We never sink into yei’ush, despair. We never give up hope. One day we can be deep down in the dumps and the next day we can be sitting on top of the world. History has shown that pain and tragedy often give birth to nechamos.

We bounce back so quickly from Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’Av, because we know that this was the last year that we had to sit on the floor on Tisha B’Av. Next year, we will celebrate this mo’ed as we do the rest, eating, drinking, singing and dancing. May we merit to see sustained happiness and the fulfillment of the comforting words of Yeshayahu speedily in our days.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

Lynch by Media

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As I waited patiently for my flight which kept on being delayed, my attention switched to the TV screen broadcasting to the spaced-out people at the airport gate. I thought I heard someone say the name Postville, so I looked up. It was CNN. Representative Louis Gutierrez (D-IL) was railing against the owners of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa. He was calling for authorities to bring them to justice in the wake of the recent raid by the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE].

In that raid, almost four hundred people were arrested on suspicion of being illegal aliens. Hundreds were summarily formally charged and incarcerated, prior to their slated deportation.
The congressman, for good measure, also lashed out at the federal government for its “dehumanizing” treatment of illegal aliens.

The interview captured the lynch mob mentality that has been gathering momentum against the Rubashkins in the press, led by the New York Times. The Times has run a spate of one-sided articles painting the meat-plants’ owners as unscrupulous people intent on criminally exploiting immigrants for their own personal profit.

A prominent front-page article in their Sunday, July 27 edition, and another one the following day on page 11 tried to recast a recent demonstration in Postville protesting the government’s mistreatment of the illegals as a demonstration against the Rubashkins.

The Times article played up the complaints of a few aggrieved former Agriprocessors employees, some of whom had lied about their age and their status to secure jobs in the plant. The newspaper’s transparent effort to whip up public outrage against the meat-plant owners has given a tremendous boost to secular Jewish organizations and agencies that have their own ax to grind against the Rubashkins.

In particular, the JTA, the Jewish news agency that supplies dozens of local Jewish newspapers with news tidbits to stick between the ads, has been generating a stream of anti-Agri articles, as they promote the Conservative “Heksher Tzedek.”

What is this all about? Why is so much attention being focused on this kosher plant located in Postville, Iowa, in the middle of Nowhere, USA?

To answer these questions and many more, I set out last Wednesday night on an eleven-hour journey to Postville. After writing several articles defending the Rubashkins, owners of the beleaguered plant, I wanted to see for myself what really goes on there. The leadership mission was organized by Rabbi Pesach Lerner of the National Council of Young Israel. I agreed to participate only after being promised that I would not be expected to write an article about my visit.

I am no stranger to slaughterhouses. My father has been involved in the field of kashrus for decades and has taken me with him to visit several facilities. During the years I was learning for semicha, I visited a couple of places on my own. Killing is never pretty, even if it’s only cows and chickens under the knife.

The New York Times, in its lead editorial this past Friday, August 1, described the Agri plant as “A slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, develops an ugly reputation for abusing animals and workers. Reports of dirty, dangerous conditions at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant accumulate for years… The plant has been called “a kosher ‘Jungle’…The conditions at the Agriprocessors plant cry out for the cautious and deliberate application of justice…

Is it possible that they are really that wrong? Can it really be true that the New York Times, CNN, Representative Gutierrez, the Des Moines Register, the Associated Press and everyone else is making it all up?

Having read much about Postville, I sort of expected to find a picture-perfect little town of homes surrounded by beautiful lawns and gardens which could be featured on stunning postcards depicting idyllic life. I was also led to believe that the Agri Jews were ruining this fine picturesque town with their unkempt homes and un-mowed lawns. In addition, the impression is made that their strange and poor habits are on display as they parade around town and drive their old jalopies as if they own the place.

Well, not exactly. Driving through Iowa is indeed a special treat. As far as the eye can see, all one encounters is growing corn. You see a lot further in Iowa than you do in New York, because the land is flat and there are no hills or tall buildings to block your view. You can literally see from one end of the horizon to the other. The simple, pristine beauty is breathtaking. There are miles and miles of nature’s bounty, interrupted only by a farmhouse, silo, barn or tree here and there.

And then you enter Postville, not even a one-stoplight town. Downtown is all of two blocks long. The homes are neat and much closer to each other than you would expect. They are nothing grand; many are old and weathered. Though the Jews live on the same blocks as the indigenous population, you cannot tell which homes are Jewish and which are not. All the lawns are trimmed, and the outsides of the homes are clean. So much for yet another lie which began to spread when the chassidim came to town and was perpetuated in print and made the official truth for years thereafter.

Nobody is double-parked. Nobody is seen speeding through the town or seems to be in any rush at all. And the “pushy, money-grubbing” Jews, as the media paints them, are the nicest people in the world.

Perhaps we can understand the need to vilify Agriprocessors in part by pondering the controversy surrounding Wal-Mart. This chain store has become the all-around scapegoat for media and liberal Democrat bashing. Despite all the decent jobs they provide and all the products they sell at lower prices, which make them affordable for the lower-class families, the media and politicians profess to care so much about, they have been virtually demonized. Politicians and demagogues who seek a cause and a headline have set up Wal-Mart as their convenient whipping boy.

From the day Wal-Mart decided to keep their expertly managed stores union-free, they have been targeted. Vicious rumors are continuously fabricated about the company. The jobs, products and convenience they provide, and the charity they give, are negated. The wealth they create is ignored. The unions lobby against them relentlessly, while a rumor-mongering media and self-promoting politicians throw in their punches wherever possible.

Is what is going on in Postville akin to what happens in Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Wal-Mart, or is there something even more sinister transpiring here?

Did you ever wonder how a blood libel works? When reading stories of blood libels from years gone by, did you ever wonder how people fell for those stories? Did you ever wonder where the people of goodwill were and why they didn’t speak up? Did you consider that perhaps the stories were just fairytales that were overblown by writers eager to sell books?

It wasn’t that long ago that pogroms were perpetrated against the Jewish population by illiterate peasants egged on by the Church and government authorities.

Today, thankfully, the gentiles don’t come after us with sticks, knives and guns; today, blood libels are a thing of the past. However, as I was walking through the Rubashkin plant last week, I could not help but think that today, blood libels and pogroms are still being perpetrated against us. Today, the pastor preaches to illiterate aliens who benefit from a lifestyle they could only dream of back home and encourages them to battle the Jewish boss who is the source of their largesse.

Today, instead of knives and spears, the warmongers’ implements of battle are the New York Times, CNN, JTA, and every other media outlet looking for a good story and willing to twist the facts wholesale in order to fabricate one.

What can be a better story than illegal aliens employed by Hasidic Jews in a Bible Belt lily white corner of Middle America? Who will rise to the defense of the Jews? Who will cast doubts on the story of “Jungle” savagery perpetrated by the rich, money-obsessed New York Jews everyone knows only care about money? It’s a perfect real-life illustration of the rich taking advantage of the poor and downtrodden.

Everyone buys into it - even our own people - as the Hasidic Jews are portrayed as wild-eyed, fanatic, money-grubbers straight out of Shylock, taking advantage of a lower class population to further enrich themselves, and destroying a pristine American town in the process.

We have previously exposed the hypocrisy of Jews who couldn’t care less about kashrus, having the temerity to lambaste the kosher standards of the finest kosher meat plant in the world. What is perhaps sadder is when people who ought to know better scratch their heads and wonder if perhaps they should also be boycotting the company and its products. They don’t realize that they have been hijacked by fraudulent individuals who have poisoned their minds with the steady drumbeat of their propaganda. They don’t realize that they have fallen victim to a cleverly laid trap.

Ever since I toured the plant, it has been gnawing at me: How do I say what I want to say about what I saw without people suspecting that I was paid off?

I can only report the unvarnished facts and hope that people will be influenced to take a closer look at an epic injustice unfolding there.

The story of Agriprocessors and the Rubashkins of Postville is a tale of two cities, two factories, and two owners. Incredibly, the same people the mainstream media wants to lynch are hailed as heroic, charitable, kind-hearted, decent bosses and honest businessmen by those who deal with them on a daily basis.

I had never met any of the Rubashkins prior to my visit to Postville. I found them to be eminently loveable, geshmakeh, heimishe people you’d want for neighbors and friends. They are full of chein and seem to possess good doses of seichel tov.

You see the distinct pride they take in the place that their family built up through many years of hard work and much siyata diShmaya.

Yossi Rubashkin, together with the rav hamachshir, Rav Menachem Meir Weissmandel, both repeatedly went out of their way to point out the many hiddurim in the shechitah, bedikah and salting process at the Agriprocessors plant. There is no cutting of any corners. You see how calmly the shochtim and bodkim go about their work with patience and precision.

You realize how important it is to keep this operation humming and supplying Klal Yisroel with mehadrin meat. This is not a potato chip factory, which we can all live without. It contributes the most vital component of a kosher home.

It is a priceless gift to have such a large enterprise supplying American Jews - and Jews the world over - with the finest in kosher meat. We need to recognize the worth, quality, importance and magnitude of this gift, or we may very well lose it, chas veshalom.

As you walk through the modern, clean, state-of-the-art facility, all the employees you witness seem happy with their jobs. They smile as they work and mill about during breaks outside and in the clean, air-conditioned lunchroom, which the media alleges doesn’t even exist.

Every worker you meet speaks in glowing terms about his employer. They say that they like the hours, are satisfied with the pay, and yes, Mr. New York Times, they are satisfied with the overtime pay they do receive.

Everyone is so nice, friendly and chatty, it seems like a big, happy family. You begin to wonder, what is going on here? How can this be? According to media reports, the workers are supposed to be disgruntled, mistreated malcontents working in a filthy, dirty, primitive plant overseen by cruel overseers, who force them to work long hours performing inhumane tasks.

You meet with Postville’s mayor, Robert Penrod, and hear him say, “We are very proud of the Rubashkins… I’ve always had faith in the Rubashkins… We’re looking at everything positive and we have the support of the community… They have helped us and helped the community. This plant is our livelihood. You are our livelihood and will continue to be our livelihood. We need to get this company back to what it was… It’s gonna be a tough ballgame, but we will get over it.”

Gary Catterson, pastor of the local Presbyterian Church and president of Postville’s Food Bank, is effusive in his praise of the Rubashkin family and their charitable acts on behalf of all members of the community. He says in jest that when he hears all the stories and wild rumors swirling around about the company, he wonders how anyone survived working there.

He ascribes the root of the anger directed against the company as coming from people who want the town to revert back to the way it was in 1955 - white Anglo-Saxon protestant, and Norwegian and German Lutheran. The obvious target for their anger is Agriprocessors. It is clear that Mr. Catterson’s heart goes out to the fine people under attack.

You hear from a variety of high-level managers. They are all clean-cut, intelligent, experienced, well-spoken professionals, who clearly take great pride in their jobs and the standards they have established and maintain at the company. They express their strongest support for the factory and their faith in its system and owners.

You wonder how this calamity befell them. What sin did they commit, besides being successful in a capitalist society, that they deserve to be demonized and dragged through the mud daily in the media across the country and targeted by the US Government for selective prosecution?

Pondering the bizarre unfolding of events, you realize, finally, that there’s no mystery here. It’s really nothing new. Because this family is successful, because they resisted the unions, because they refused to honor the sham credentials of the Heksher Tzedek promoters, the Rubashkins became a natural target.

But on a deeper level, it’s not the Rubashkins that the world is in a frenzy about, it’s what they represent - the archetypical Jew, the eternal scapegoat. We have become spoiled in this free land of plenty. Unlike our parents and grandparents, we haven’t been constantly forced to defend our principles, our practices and our patriotism.

We live in a country where every man is supposed to be treated equally, regarded as innocent until proven otherwise. Thus, when age-old stereotypes and canards rear their ugly heads, we are surprised and don’t know how to react.

But it is all essentially just another chapter in the sad saga of the exile that we commemorate this coming Sunday on Tisha B’Av.

Rav Weissmandel reminded me of what his rebbi, Rav Berel Soloveitchik zt”l, would repeat from his grandfather, the Bais Halevi, during his Chumash shiur.

If a person senses that someone else hates him because of his looks, he can try to alter his appearance. He can seek to amend what it is about him that arouses the ire of the person he would like to befriend.

However, if that person despises his very existence, then all he does to transform himself will be of no avail. The other fellow will continue to despise him. In fact, the more he does to improve himself and make himself a better person, the more the other fellow will hate him.

And so it is with Eisav and Yaakov. So, too, with our unfortunate brethren who don’t believe in the sanctity of Torah and mitzvos min haShomayim and lead other Jews astray.

The plant can be operating smoothly with two or more shifts a day, pumping money and resources into what was a dying town, and the people who want to find fault with Jews will still try to find the horns which they know we hide under our funny-looking beanies.

We have to be upright, honest and forthright. We must fulfill the commandment of “Vehiyisem nekiyim mei’Hashem umi’Yisroel” [Bamidbar 32: 22]. We must never lower ourselves to the levels of those who mock and torment us. We are an am kadosh, and will always be, no matter what they say about us or do to us.

We must go to whatever lengths possible to help each other. “Ish lirei’eihu yaazoru ule’ochiv yomar chazak.” When ehrliche Yidden are in trouble, we must rally around them and support them so that they can maintain their stamina to be able to withstand the onslaught of the yordei bor.

We don’t jump to conclusions and accept innuendo, no matter what the source, regardless of whether the subjects are Lubavitchers, Satmar chassidim, or Jews from Bnei Brak or Teaneck.

That is the meaning of achdus. That is what Tisha B’Av is all about. That is why we spend these Three Weeks and Nine Days mourning. During this period, we must confront the fact that the reason the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, and the reason it has not yet been rebuilt, is because of the sinas chinom which still divides us. What can we do to bring back the Bais Hamikdosh? We can seek to improve our love for fellow Jews. We must increase our ahavas Yisroel - not just profess it, but show it, prove it and live by it.

We need to show our compassion for the poor, the maligned, and the abused, and feel their pain. We need to help people affected by the current economic downturn, along with those who worry where their children are and what they are doing, and others who can use our support.

We would do well to engage in more caring, sharing and thinking about our priorities should be, instead of being caught up with trivialities and superficial matters.

Sometimes, we become so accustomed to acting in a certain way that we think nothing of it and don’t realize how our actions appear to others and how inconsiderate we appear to be. Cynicism takes over our thought process and corrupts the way we think about our fellow earthlings. There is no better time than now to replace negativity with a positive outlook and sarcasm with affirmative thought.