Wednesday, December 03, 2008

We Are One

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Two weeks ago, 4,200 Chabad shluchim gathered in New York to celebrate their accomplishments and dedication. This week, no one is celebrating. But they are more united than ever before. After the atrocities in India, all of us are more united.

Today, the shluchim sit in their outposts around the world and mourn the loss of a couple who gave their lives al kiddush Hashem. All disputes between brothers are brushed aside as Jews everywhere join in mourning the senseless slaughter of beloved, exemplary Jews.

Lubavitch, Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok, Bobov and Volover chassidim, along with Mexican and Indian Jews, and unaffiliated Israeli Jews. Jews of all stripes are mourning as one.

Today we ought to realize that while we view the world with different perspectives, the ties that bind us are stronger than our differences. Wherever we live, we are one with Jews across the globe. The world is a small place. The things that divide us are marginal compared to the fundamental values and beliefs that make us brothers. When one of us is targeted, we are all under attack.

This hits home especially in an era such as ours when we are surrounded by evil forces bent on our destruction. As Iran points nuclear weapons at us and radical Islamists scour the internet for Jewish addresses to target, it is a time for reconciling and coming together. With incomes down, contributions to charitable causes taking a steep dive, and people fearing for their very homes, it is time for unity.

Our hold on life is as delicate as it is precious. We like to think we are strong and in control of our lives, yet all too often we are reminded of the temporary nature of it all. At a time when we are reminded of how vulnerable we are, we must attempt to untie the knots that separate us from each other and strive for togetherness.

That doesn’t mean that we all have to agree on everything. It means that despite our disagreements, as long as we are in concurrence on the ikkrim, we should be able to sit together without demonizing each other.

Chanukah commemorates a dynamic that has operated since the dawn of our history as a nation. When righteous Jews band together to fight the forces of evil and darkness, Hashem brings them victory. A tiny, dedicated and united force was able to vanquish a vastly more numerous and better-equipped army. That victory cleared the way for the relighting of the menorah in the Bais Hamikdosh which brought G-dly light down to this world.

Our mission, too, is to do our utmost to fight evil, and to be on guard against the foe lurking in every corner it can infiltrate. We cannot sit by and rationalize that there is nothing that we can do. We must be able to rise above the inertia which paralyzes us and declare that we have had enough.

We have had enough of ineffectual leadership, ‘pragmatic’ organizations, lethargy and apathy. We have had enough of being afraid to stand up for the truth. We have had enough of being perpetual punching bags.

We have had enough of wallowing in exile in confusion and turmoil, without any sense of where we are going.

We will hew to the path as laid out for us by the Rambam. That means repenting for our misdeeds and rising above the maelstrom so that we can arouse ourselves and our brothers to correct the breaches of faith that hold back the geulah.

Desperate times require desperate moves. Desperate times call for people to break with habit and come forward to shed light on the true path. They demand that we move outside our comfort zone and venture forth to right wrongs, to tread where smaller men fear to go.

Desperate times dictate that we maintain our faith and never give up in the face of mounting pressures and losses.

People stumble about in the dark not knowing which way to turn, not knowing whether they will have enough money to make next month’s rent or mortgage payment. People search desperately for leadership, for guidance, for succor and support, and we have to be there to provide it for them.

As we are reminded of our tenuous hold on life and finances, and the temporal nature of much of our lives, we rediscover the permanence of Torah and Am Yisroel. We resolve to do what we can to cleave to that which is permanent and real, and leave behind the petty and trivial.

We shouldn’t need a tragedy of this magnitude to remind us that we are all brethren in exile. But now that we have been reminded, we shouldn’t forget the message. We should reach out and befriend others and draw them near. No Jew should ever feel alone and left behind. He should know that he has brothers who care, who are ready to embrace him and help him.

The power of achdus is underscored in this week’s parsha of Vayeitzei, where we learn how Yaakov Avinu prepared himself for his first rest in fourteen years. He gathered twelve stones to place around his head for protection. The stones joined together and became one, and then he slept.

The question is obvious. How would these stones offer protection for Yaakov? How did they enable him to sleep securely at that location and dream the magnificent dream in which Hashem made epic promises to him and his descendants?

Allegorically, those stones represent the twelve tribes of Klal Yisroel whom he was to propagate. He set them under his head as a symbolic reminder to Hashem of the future Am Yisroel which he was on his way to launch.

Each stone represented a shevet and a derech in avodah. When the stones united and became one, Yaakov knew that he would be safe, for he understood the symbolism that the twelve singular individuals would mesh and combine to form Am Yisroel.

The message is there for all time. When there is achdus and unity, we are safe as children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. When divided, we are at the mercy of forces seeking our destruction.

Yaakov said he would fashion this stone - ha’even hazos - as a matzeivah and a bais Elokim, as a reminder that in unity there is security and holiness. In dissention, there is fear, uncertainty and the driving away of the Shechinah.

Chazal teach that Yaakov instituted Tefillas Arvis, the prayer we say in the dark of night. From Yaakov comes a special legacy of faith and hope that enables us to endure the bitter exile. Even as we grope our way in the darkness, we can still pry open a window to admit light in our lives.

Even when all we have is an inert stone, we can transform it into a tool of holiness and use it to fashion a temple of G-d. We can be enslaved by tyrannical, maniacal people like Lavan, but if we are bearers of kedushah, we can outmaneuver them and build edifices of holiness.

Yaakov was able to roll the stone of darkness off the well of water and life while the others just stood by, lacking the strength of purpose to accomplish the feat. They did not know that it was possible to lift stones which impede the forces of good. Because they assumed it couldn’t be done, they didn’t even make the attempt.

Yaakov showed us that we should let nothing stand in the way of our pursuit of Torah, of goodness and of life itself.

The next time you face what appears to be an impossible task, remember Yaakov Avinu and the stone he lifted from the well. Always endeavor to bring kedushah to your life, wherever you are and whatever you do.

Gather your strength, collect yourself and focus your energies in worthwhile ways. Fight back by building. Let our success be our response. Our positive actions will speak louder, last longer and accomplish much more than negative acts of retaliation and spite.

The parsha concludes, “V’Yaakov holach ledarko veyifge’uh bo malachei Elokim.” Because Yaakov didn’t join Lavan in the gutter, he merited that malachim came to greet him as he left Lavan behind.

In the face of evil, there is hope. In the face of tragedy, there is consolation. In the face of despair, there is expectation.

R’ Gavriel and Rivky Holtzberg Hy”d were killed, but their child lives on as a testament to the kindness of a nanny. They are dead, but will never be forgotten. And their young child will be the repository of many tears, but also many prayers and much hope.

Purveyors of evil and hatred spent a year painstakingly planning a depraved attack on unarmed innocents in an attempt to settle old scores. A handful of madmen meticulously schemed and executed their plan to terrorize civilians and cause as much harm as possible to Britons, Americans and Jews.

While others seek to destroy the world, we seek to repair it. Others seek to spread darkness and hatred; we must be as dedicated to causing light and love to shine wherever we go.

As radical Islamists increase their appetites for terror, security forces are unable to keep pace with them. Governments’ retaliation and counter measures don't inspire confidence. Law enforcement in our own country is paralyzed by its subservience to political correctness. Security has become a handmaiden to politics and instituted a mass of unrealistic laws to delude us into a feeling of safety.

Rational people ought to know that forcing obviously harmless, innocent people to remove their shoes before boarding planes will not deter attacks. Such measures accomplish little more than to annoy law-abiding citizens and remind them of their government’s ineffectiveness in the face of serious concerns.

Even in Israel, where you'd think experience would have made a better teacher, and where every public building has a person providing security at the front door, anyone can gain access from an unguarded rear door.

We repeatedly place our faith in men and fail to remember that were it dependent on human protection, we would all have been victims long ago. It is only because Hashem protects us that we do not succumb to the evil machinations of wicked people. But we must be worthy of that Divine protection. We must display fidelity to our Heavenly Father if we want to be treated as beloved children worthy of protection.

We have been slapped in the face and need to be roused from our complacency. To remain indifferent, as if we feel unthreatened in the face of the storm winds swirling around us, does not bode well for our future.

The economy stumbles in fits and starts. Crisis dominates foreign affairs. Terror rears its ugly head and exacts a terrible price. Yet, despite it all, we remain unruffled, betraying no anxiety beneath our equilibrium.

We cannot survive in this world by backing away from the challenge and failing to rise to the occasion. We have to stop undermining each other and looking for things to criticize. Cynicism should be out of vogue at a time when the first order of business is to repair and build.

We don't have the luxury now of being able to be perfectionists. When a fire burns, we can’t afford to waste a second. We don’t check the identification papers of the firemen who come to fight the fire, or ensure that the water coming out of their hoses is unpolluted and chlorinated.

Our brothers and sisters are being lost to the Jewish people at an alarming rate. Assimilation and intermarriage have wreaked a heavier toll on our people than bin Laden or Hitler, yemach shemom. We are under attack and have to become more organized and resolute in fighting back. Jews of all stripes who believe in the same G-d and follow the same Torah must band together and fight this battle more energetically and with renewed dedication and a well thought-out strategy.

As we are reminded once again of man's capacity for evil, we must fight back by displaying our capacity for good. We cannot be deterred by those who seek to demean us and our way of life. Nor will we be derailed from our collective shlichus to prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu.


Post a Comment

<< Home