Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Punch Line

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

There are people who love to speak publicly; I am not one of them. I really don’t enjoy delivering speeches. In fact, I hate speaking in public. I usually manage to wiggle out of it when asked. I hate preparing. I abhor the attention. I detest the whole thing. But this week something happened that made me think that I may be wrong.

Lev L’Achim is an organization that is so close to my heart that I don’t know how to say no to them. I have gotten to know the people of Lev L’Achim ever since its founding 15 years ago. Many of the people involved in Lev L’Achim have become like brothers to me. And as I get to know them even better, I keep on thinking that the name of the organization should be spelled Lamed Vov L’achim, not Lamed Veis L’Achim. The people of Lev L’Achim are truly lamed vovniks. So when I was asked by Yanky Arem to speak at the annual Flatbush breakfast reception for which he is moser nefesh, I couldn’t say no.

There were three other speakers at the event Sunday morning, each one an outstanding orator. Each of them tugged at the heartstrings of the people who attended. I would love to publish all the speeches, but for now I will share with you what I said.

We live in very scary times. We live in a period of financial recession. It is the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, which people still shake from with fear when discussing. The economy is in shambles. Every day there is a new report and a new statistic painting the picture as being progressively worse than what was thought the previous day. Israel is at war yet again with an unfriendly neighbor dedicated to its destruction. There are so many tragedies in our community and world that it feels almost as if before we can catch our breath from one, we hear of yet another.

We wonder why these events are transpiring and what we can do to improve the situation. A letter written by the Chofetz Chaim, many decades ago, addresses our situation and offers a solution.

In a letter entitled “Ma’amar Chinuch Habonim,” published in the sefer Kovetz Maamorei Ikvesa DiMeshicha, the Chofetz Chaim writes:

“We think about the distressing challenges of our time and the terrible tragedies which are escalating in the world, together with an increasingly rabid hatred of Jews in many countries in which Jews have lived comfortably until now. This is compounded by the poverty which threatens so many of our brethren. The economic situation is so severe that there is barely a person who is spared from these disasters. And everyone asks why Hashem is punishing us so.

“It is well-known that Chazal teach in Maseches Shabbos that the world exists because of the Torah study of children. Today there are tens of thousands of Jewish children who are distanced from receiving a Torah education. Instead of their mouths being filled with Torah, they are filled with words of silliness and idle music. The foundations upon which the world stands are weakening and the anxiety and concern are compounded daily.

“Therefore, every person who fears Hashem and to whom the torment of Am Yisroel touches his soul, he dare not weaken; rather, he has to muster all his strength to help establish proper Jewish schools for these children, for this is the foundation upon which all depends. We must also awaken our brethren not to give over their children to the Molech by placing them in the secular schools which seek to undermine our holy Torah. The good people must work with all of their strength to establish kosher schools where the children will be taught about Torah and mitzvos by G-d-fearing, observant teachers who will also influence the students positively with the earnestness of their character.”

The Chofetz Chaim is speaking to us today and telling us that if we wonder why thousands of people are demonstrating against us in every Western capital this week, and if we want to stem the financial recession which is ripping us to shreds and striking fear in everyone’s hearts, we should be supporting the work of Lev L’Achim - and other organizations - which seek to introduce children to the world of Torah and expend superhuman efforts to register thousands of children every year into religious schools.

When you add to this the words of the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah that doing teshuvah will quicken the coming of the geulah, you can easily deduce that by supporting Lev L’Achim, we will actually help our situation and help hasten the revelation of Moshiach.

As I was reading those words to the crowd on Sunday, I wished I was a screamer. I was feeling inadequate, as I wished I had the ability to stand up in front of the crowd and scream about how important Lev L’Achim is, and in what desperate straits the organization finds itself, and how we all have to do whatever we can and stretch a bit in order to help keep it alive. But I felt funny doing that.

The words of the Chofetz Chaim shout in their own merit. Divrei chachomim b’nachas nishmaim.

The work of Lev L’Achim is being accomplished by individuals. The individuals who make up Lev L’Achim are no plain individuals. They are each very special. They are each lamed vovniks.

It is a huge, mainly volunteer organization comprised of three thousand yungeleit who are out knocking on doors, offering to teach people Torah, but at the end of the day, no system, no corporate structure and no organizational chart can hold a candle to the individual P’eylim - those activists in the field - who set their sights on something and just never let up.

If three hundred Kiryat Sefer yungeleit are changing the face of Ramle with their Wednesday night visits - and they certainly are - it is only because the local advance men like Chaim Heller have paved the way.

If there are five hundred kids learning in really good Torah schools today in Afula - and there certainly are - it is only because Menachem Gold moved into the town ten years ago and has not stopped working for a minute.

These p’eylim, and there are hundreds of them, acting as the spearheads for kiruv and Torah in every corner of the country, are the true heroes at the core of Lev L’Achim.

Read the following amazing tale of one of these p’eylim, Avraham Sa’ada from Netanya.

In towns you have never heard of and will probably never visit, like Kadima, Kfar Yona, Pardesia and Tzoran, Avraham has become a living legend. His official position is that of Rishum Enrollment Coordinator in the Shfeila region of Netanya and Herzliya. His unofficial position is that of one-man crusader for Torah.

First Avraham comes to town and gets people interested in giving their children a frum education. When he has enough children signed up, he goes to the next step, and does what has to be done to get a school off the ground. He doesn’t do this to build a personal empire. Every school he has started and every gan he has founded is integrated into one of the existing school networks. It can be Shas, Chinuch Atzmai or Ohr Tzion. It does not matter to Avraham Sa’ada. His only agenda is to ensure that there is a responsible entity to keep his schools running and the curriculum at a level that will produce nice, fine, frum kids.

A couple of years ago, Avraham had a breakthrough in a town not far from Netanya. After much effort, he convinced enough families to send their children to a religious school that it was time to open a frum kindergarten in this completely secular place.

With much determination, he got permission to house his new kindergarten in the basement of an old building. The municipality promised not to give him a hard time as long as he gave his word that he’d find a real facility before long.

Avraham was ecstatic, but it was the end of August. He needed to open the new school the following Sunday morning or be left with nothing. After all, once the children would be placed elsewhere, he would not be able to get them again for at least another year. Now he had his building and a devoted ganenet ready to teach, and he had let the parents know where to show up. There was just one problem.

It was now Friday and his facility needed to be transformed from a dirty, unused basement into a bright and inviting pre-school, so that the teachers could hang up their pretty signs and make the room come alive on Motzoei Shabbos. There was literally no time to spare.

With no helpers, no budget, and no thought of the fact that none of this was ever included in his job description, Avraham got to work.

Have you ever noticed how things you must do end up taking more time than you thought they would, and before you know it, your day is gone and the job isn’t done? Well, Avraham Sa’ada had such a day that Friday. The place was in much worse shape than he thought it was before he started working that day, but he had no alternative. This was all he had. So he cleaned out all the garbage from the place and tried to make it seem presentable and inviting as a kindergarten. Finally, he got the dust and dirt out of there. He even cleared a path through the overgrown brush to allow the children access to the back door that led down to the basement.

But he still wasn’t happy, because it still looked dingy in there. So he went to the hardware store. He bought paintbrushes and enough bright white and yellow paint to give the gan a fresh look for Sunday morning. He started painting. Throughout the morning and afternoon, he painted and painted. There was so much to paint and so much to do. He kept on saying to himself, “Ode kama dakot and I’ll be out of here on the way home for Shabbos.”

It was now or never. He kept on thinking that he had enough time to make it home.

Avraham painted that Erev Shabbos and painted some more. Before he knew it, the sun was about to set. He figured that he had to keep on going, even if it meant walking home. He finally finished. He washed himself off as best he could and, moments before shkiah, set out to greet the Shabbos Queen by foot. It was too late to drive and too late to take a shower, and he had a 45-minute walk to Maariv in Kiryat Sanz.

Sweat-drenched and paint-splashed, Avraham Sa’ada found a seat in the back of the Sanzer Bais Medrash just in time for davening. As the people around him took in his paint-stained clothes and assumed he was some deranged, homeless person who had wandered in off the street, they moved away from him and shook their heads with a mixture of disgust and pity.

Avraham didn’t notice the dirty looks he was getting. He was in heaven. His clean and newly painted gan would welcome its first class on Sunday. He was envisioning the posters and decorations that his wife and the ganenet would be hanging on the walls Motzoei Shabbos to greet the children and their parents Sunday morning.

The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe didn’t miss the unusual scene in the back of his bais medrash. He saw the paint-covered shlepper, but he also noticed the simcha on the face of the guest. He saw the way he davened. He studied the man’s face and decided that he wasn’t just some deranged person looking for a place to sit. He suspected that there was a story hiding under those clothes and that face.

When davening was over, the Rebbe motioned for his gabbai to bring Avraham Sa’ada to him.

All motion to the exits stopped, as the tzibbur stopped to gawk at the strange scene unfolding before their eyes.

Git Shabbos,” the Rebbe said to Avraham. “I am guessing that you have a story to tell.”

Avraham could not hide his exhilaration. He shared his story and his excitement over the prospect of twenty precious Yiddishe neshamos who would be beginning Torah lives in their new gan come Sunday.

With everyone watching, the Rebbe embraced the sweaty Avraham Sa’ada, paint-stained clothes and all. He kissed the hem of Avraham’s shirt and called out in a loud voice, “These are bigdei Shabbos! These are clothes that truly honor the Aibishter!”

What a great story. What a special person. The Lev L’Achim people really are lamed vovniks.

But that is not the punch-line.

Earlier this month, Avraham Sa’ada was laid off. His salary was less than $15,000 a year.

That is not the punch-line either.

He was not the only one who was let go. These terrible economic times are more terrifying for mosdos which depend on donations to survive.

Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, Director of Lev L’Achim in Eretz Yisroel, has been doing the only responsible thing he can under the circumstances. Besides for ratcheting up the fundraising efforts, he has been cutting back on salaries, on programs and even on personnel.

At Sunday’s reception, I made my pitch and sat down, hoping that my words would have some effect. But I was not prepared for the person who came over to me when the program ended and handed me a folded up check. “This is for Avraham Sa’ada,” he said.

Before I had a chance to say anything, the man disappeared into the crowd. I unfolded the check and, to my amazement, saw that it was made out for $15,000, Avraham Sa’ada’s annual salary.

And that, my dear friends, is the punch-line.

Despite all that is going on around us, despite the fact that no one knows what tomorrow will bring, and despite the fact that everyone is holding onto every penny they have, a person can be moved enough to write out a check for $15,000 so that Avraham Sa’ada can run around Eretz Yisroel bringing Jews tachas kanfei haShechinah. Such an act should bring the day closer when Hakadosh Boruch Hu will say, “Higi’ah zeman geulas’chem.”

Let us all remember, and never forget, what a special nation we are fortunate to be a part of. We are each a precious member of a nation that demonstrates altruism and selflessness that defy description. We each have the ability and can merit the siyata diShmaya to make a difference and change the world, just as Avraham Sa’ada is doing, one person at a time.

Let us not wallow in self pity. Let us not worry constantly about what the morrow will bring. Let us not concentrate on all the things that go wrong, but rather sing the praises of the anonymous tzaddikim and lamed vovniks - like the person who wrote out that check - who do all they can to prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach.


Blogger Shmuel Grainom said...

"i abhor the attention"

you are so full of yourself!

11:30 AM  

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