Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Count

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

With Pesach in the past and Shavuos in the future, we find ourselves presently in the Sefirah period. Each day, we count how many days have passed since Pesach, and by way of inference how many days remain until Shavuos.

The Ramban in Vayikrah (23:16) refers to this period as a sort of Chol Hamoed. The explanation is that this period of the year connects the holiday on which we celebrate the redemption of the body from Egyptian bondage and the day on which we received the Torah, redeeming the Jewish soul and freeing it up to a spiritual, exalted life.

More famously, though, we regard the Sefirah period as one of mourning and sadness. The Gemara in Yevamos (62a) tells us that, until this day, we mourn the 24,000 students of Rabi Akiva who died during this auspicious period. The Gemara explains that they died because they did not treat each other with the proper honor due to them.

All the meforshim are perplexed as to why this would doom them to death. There is no mitzvah in the Torah to treat people with respect. Why should someone who is disrespectful deserve to die?

Even if you were to say that the obligation to treat your fellow respectfully is derived from the mitzvah of Ve’ohavta lerei’acha komacha in this week’s parsha of Kedoshim (Vayikrah, 19:18), which means to love other people as much as you love yourself, still, it is not a cardinal mitzvah. Nowhere does it say that someone who doesn’t love his friend as much as he loves himself deserves to be smitten for that offense.

We are all familiar with the story of the would-be convert who asked Hillel to summarize the entire Torah in one sentence. Hillel responded to him by stating, “Mah de’aloch senei lechavroch lo sa’avid - What you do not want done unto you do not do unto your friend.”

Apparently, Hillel was translating the words of Ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha and telling the man that this mitzvah is the foundation of the Torah. To treat other people the way you want to be treated is not just a nice thing to do; it is not just another mitzvah of the 613 mitzvos. Rather, it is the underpinning of the entire Torah. In fact, Rashi reminds us that it was Rabi Akiva who stated that Ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha is one of the major rules of the Torah.

Thus, one who is not considerate of other people’s feelings is lacking in his knowledge of Torah. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:17) goes further and states that “Im ein derech eretz, ein Torah - Without proper conduct, there can be no Torah.” One who is unable to conduct himself properly cannot be a student of Torah.

Rabbeinu Yonah, in his commentary on Pirkei Avos, explains that the Torah cannot fit into a person who does not have proper middos. Rav Chaim Vital explains it further in Shaarei Kedusha (1:2), where he states that proper middos are the seat and foundation for the nefesh hasichlis and without them the nefesh cannot carry out its obligation to observe the mitzvos. He explains that this is the reason that there is no commandment in the Torah for a person to behave properly, for the obligation to be a mentch precedes the mitzvos, and without it we cannot observe any of the 613 mitzvos.

With this we can understand the Mishnah in the third perek of Pirkei Avos which states, “One who finds favor in the eyes of man finds favor in the eyes of Hashem.” The Mishnah does not mean to say that we should engage in activities which win us short-term plaudits by superficial, evil and power-hungry people who appreciate chanifah. Rather, the intention of the Mishnah is to teach us that whatever we say or do as we interact with others must be in consonance with the laws of derech eretz and middos tovos.

We must deal with everyone with a modicum of respect and decency. Even when we find it necessary to admonish, it must be done in a way that does not cause people to view the Torah as anything other than a Toras Chesed.

This may be an explanation for another Mishnah in the perek of Pirkei Avos which we study this week. The Mishnah (3:11) states that one who publicly embarrasses another person has no share in the World to Come, even if he has Torah and maasim tovim to his credit. Perhaps we can understand the Mishnah allegorically to be saying that because one who lacks the ability to treat people properly is lacking in the knowledge of Torah, a person like this will come to make mistakes in halacha and in Torah. He will thus deviate from the path of Torah and eventually end up losing his share in the World to Come.

The Torah states in this week’s parsha of Acharei Mos (18:5), “Vochai bohem - And you shall live if you will follow the precepts of the Torah.” Rashi, in his commentary, explains that this refers to life in the World to Come.

If you follow the chukim and mishpatim, you will merit Olam Haba. One who doesn’t behave properly demonstrates with his actions that he is lacking in his kinyanim of Torah. Therefore, he will lose his share in Olam Haba, which is promised to those who follow the mitzvos.

The Torah is referred to as a Tree of Life. One who grasps onto it merits a full life in this world and the next. But in order to develop the ability to grab onto Torah and to hold fast to it, we must study and inculcate the 48 methods of acquiring Torah. Most of those 48 steps of attainment relate to the way we deal with each other. In order to behave properly bein adam laMakom, we have to first succeed in the way we interact bein adam lachaveiro.

Since the talmidim of Rabi Akiva demonstrated through their personal conduct bein adam lachaveiro that they lacked the 48 kinyanim of Torah, they cut themselves off from the life-giving abilities of Torah and didn’t merit to fulfill their shlichus in this world as talmidim of Rabi Akiva, who taught that Ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha is a klal gadol baTorah.

Since the greatest obligation of our lives is to study and follow the Torah, we commemorate until this very day the tragedy that befell the holy students of Rabi Akiva because a certain aspect of their behavior was found lacking. The obligation to be people of impeccable integrity and behavior is a lesson we must all take to heart as we pass through the yemei haSefirah and attempt to make ourselves worthy of being given the gift of Sinai.

Furthermore, the seforim say that when a body part becomes diseased, it is because the portion of the nefesh which sustains it has become damaged by sin and is unable to satisfactorily maintain it. Thus, teshuvah heals, because when the person repents, he removes the p’gam caused by sin which has damaged his nefesh, and then the nefesh and the body part it feeds can be revived.

Since the talmidei Rabi Akiva were lacking in the middos that Rav Chaim Vital says the nefesh depends upon as a precondition to host Torah, their nefashos were unable to sustain their bodies, and they therefore passed away.

Additionally, these days of Sefirah are, in essence, a journey from the exile to the complete redemption. In order to attain that freedom and to arrive at the state we all so strongly desire, we must be prepared at times to undertake heroic actions. Sometimes we may be forced to make that trip alone, fueled only by our inner core values. The 48 steps of acquiring Torah are what give our lives their meaning and guarantee that we will reach our goal successfully.

One who achieves his migration via climbing the 48 steps will be free of superficiality and the inherent insecurity that accompanies it. He will be blessed with the brachos reserved for those who uphold the Torah and will find lasting favor in the eyes of man and G-d.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

I recently had the occasion to be in a small, idyllic, picturesque mountain town often compared for its beauty to Switzerland. While there, I met a young man from Switzerland. I thought that I had an opportunity to settle the debate we were having about whether it is, in fact, nicer there than in the vaunted European country. So I asked him for his opinion as to which place is nicer. As befits a citizen of that very proper country, he thought for several moments before responding with much candor.

“It’s very hard for me to answer the question, but I would have to say that it is nicer here. You see, in Switzerland, you are in the Alps, so you don’t really appreciate their splendor. Here, you are in a valley surrounded by the mountain ranges. As you look up and around, you are surrounded by the mountains and are much more able to appreciate their beauty.”

He said it so matter-of-factly, but I sat there in quiet amazement as his words sunk in. They were a metaphor for so much in our lives. So often, we don’t appreciate what we have because we are so close to it. Because we are involved in it, we don’t value the experience. It takes one to step back and view something from the outside in order to have the proper respect for it.

There is so much good out there, and despite the setbacks we all have in our lives, there is more happiness than sadness, more gain than pain, more to be thankful for than to be upset about. All too often, we don’t step back and take a look at the entire view and thus aren’t able to properly apprise ourselves of our own situations.

Along the mountains, streams flow with the crystal clear run-off of the melting snow of the ranges. The splendor of Hashem’s majesty is reflected in those calm waters. In fact, it is only in calm waters in which you can see reflections. Waters which move rapidly and churn about bear no reflections. In order to appreciate the goodness we are blessed with, we need to reflect with quiet patience upon the world and our gifts.

The Yom Tov of Pesach presented us with just such an opportunity. We experienced a break in the rush and flow of our harried lives. Instead of rushing off to work and the plethora of mundane activities which occupy a regular day, we were occupied with mitzvos and simcha. On Yom Tov, there are no carpools, no bills to pay, no silly obligations to fulfill. We daven, thanking Hashem for his goodness and kindness towards us, and then we return home to be surrounded by family and friends in effusive joy.

We spent eight days subsisting on matzoh and a more refined diet than we do the whole year. We spent eight days surrounded and affected by kedushah. We refrained from unnecessary work and pressure.

And then we turned around and it was over. After all the preparation and all the efforts we put into making those days into yimei cheirus, we found ourselves back in the world of avdus. It’s enough to depress you.

But perhaps while we were engrossed in the yimei kedushah, we failed to appreciate their beauty and the gifts they bore us. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can look back at those rejuvenating days and their restorative qualities. Remembering them and their summits of experiences will help inspire and strengthen us to be able to surmount the challenges we face.

In this week’s parshiyos of Tazriah and Metzorah, we learn of the plight of the metzorah, one who has spoken lashon hara and has been stricken with tzoraas. The metzorah is taken outside of the camp, where he remains.

Often, jealousy is the trigger that leads people to speak lashon hara of others. Someone who does not properly appreciate that which he possesses and has been blessed with develops a jealousy of people he thinks are better off than he. Insecurity and unhappiness grow out of a lack of appreciation for a person’s own gifts, leading people to contrast themselves with others, focusing on what others seem to have and he himself seems to lack, while ignoring the good that he has been bestowed with.

Perhaps, then, one purpose of sending the metzorah from the machaneh is to allow him to contemplate and gain cognizance of the brachos that exist in his life. Unencumbered by his everyday activities and no longer surrounded by his family, neighbors and friends, he is granted a clear mind and an unobstructed view of his life. The metzorah goes out of his regular environs and is given the ability to think about his life and his family and the myriad gifts that have been given to him from Above.

When we are surrounded by everything Hakadosh Boruch Hu has granted us, we can lack the vision or ability to fully appreciate our lot in life. Similar to the person living in the Alps, we lack the ability to see the full picture. It is only when we are able to look on from the outside that we can truly comprehend how wondrous our lives really are.

I thought of a deeper related lesson inherent in that person’s comment about the valley surrounded by the mountain ranges. Sometimes, we need to be in the proverbial valley to truly appreciate what we have achieved at the top of the mountain. We can never adequately give thanks to Hashem for having been blessed to reach the heights we have attained without ever having been at the bottom, which allows us to see just how much we have accomplished and how far we have come.

It is with these thoughts in mind that we can approach the introspective days of Sefirah leading up to accepting the Torah anew on Shavuos. We are thus positioned for a better view of where we stand in our mission on this world and what our goals and aspirations ought to be for the bright future which lies ahead of us.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

I had driven there dozens of times, but last Thursday was different. For so many years, I had made the trip to Philadelphia full of anticipation. Questions and dilemmas preoccupied me. I needed direction. I needed support in what I was doing. I knew that once I left there, my questions would be put to rest, my mind would be clearer, my perspective would be sharper and my task would be clarified.

But first I had to prepare for the visit. I had to be ready to have my arguments torn apart, my premises invalidated. Yet, I always left with a deeper understanding of the issues, a renewed appreciation for the truth and the strength it would take to fight for what was right.

When I drove down the New Jersey Turnpike last Thursday, it was with a heavy heart. I had many questions I knew would remain unanswered. Clarity, support and direction would no longer be forthcoming. In place of the renewed energy and conviction I had once counted on, confusion and sadness would prevail. I feared that I would leave there even weaker than when I arrived.

I was driving to the levaya of my rebbi, Rav Elya Svei zt”l, the rebbi and father of American bnei Torah. Though we haven’t merited his leadership over the past few years, whenever we have a decision to make, we hear his voice in the back of our minds, guiding us about what to do, where to go, where not to go, what to say and what not to say.

It was not always easy to follow his dictates. To do so, we usually needed the strength and chizuk he provided us in order to fulfill what he wanted. Now we are left with enduring memories - his voice, his image and his teachings.

He demanded much from us, and when we didn’t live up to his expectations, he let us know that. But at the same time, he inspired us to rise to our full potential. He forced us to dig deep into ourselves and to find latent intelligence we never knew we possessed. He strengthened us, as steel gets hardened by going through fire.

In the early days of this newspaper, I was sensitive to criticism. I would repeat to him the negative comments people made and ask him how to respond. Finally, one day he said to me, “You have to develop thicker skin. You can’t go on publishing the newspaper if you remain this way. You have to become tougher.” I didn’t think I had it in me. He calmly guided me and helped me grow the thick skin which he felt my shlichus required.

Rav Elya took an early interest in the paper, and guided me from its inception for as long as he was able to. He pushed and admonished me, and he gave me the courage to persevere in the face of what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles.

There was one time I wrote a particularly caustic article against a specific person. I spent hours weighing each word and when I was just about done, I accidentally hit the delete button. It was gone for good, impossible to retrieve.

Since I had discussed the article with Rav Elya before setting out to write it, I called him and told him that I suspected Hashem was sending me a message - that perhaps we were better off not stoking the flames. Maybe I should just forget it and drop the topic, I told him. “No,” he said to me. “Absolutely not. You have it all wrong. The article was erased because it wasn’t strong enough. Get back to work.”

It was Sunday night at 10:15 and I had expended all my emotional energy, but the rosh yeshiva’s command had to be heeded. I went back to my computer, painstakingly writing and rewriting that article. It took all night. When I faxed it to him in the morning, he was full of praise. The next day, the article was published, unleashing a torrent of criticism. But I remained silent for I knew that my rebbi backed and encouraged me.

There was a time when I did everything related to the paper, unassisted, and he watched me almost destroy myself. He said, “You can’t go on like this. You have to hire people to write and edit. You can’t continue doing it all yourself. You’ll collapse.” I told him that I was concerned that others wouldn’t be sufficiently dedicated to the goals of the paper and it would result in more mistakes. What I really feared was his displeasure when encountering those errors, but I was afraid to say that.

As if reading my mind, he said to me, “I will be your biggest supporter, don’t worry. There comes a time when you have to train people to fill in for you. If there are mistakes, I will defend you.”

It was thanks to that prodding that the paper was able to grow and flourish.

By no means, though, did he then lighten up on me. He remained as tough as ever, pushing me to be better and do more. But I knew that he realized my nisyonos. He knew what I was going through.

There is a photo of Rav Elya that I have hanging in my study. Many times, when I am beat up from all sides and in need of some moral support, I look at him. I see him smiling at me and can hear him saying, “Don't pay attention to them. Just keep on doing your job. Just remember, your job is to shaf kevod Shomayim. As long as you do that, you will be okay.”

I remember going with him to meet people on behalf of the Philadelphia Yeshiva. At one home, we were treated so poorly that I walked out of there in tears and thought I couldn’t go on. He was my rebbi and I revered him. I couldn’t bear seeing him abused. The shame and embarrassment were just too much for me.

Rav Elya turned to me and said, “Es iz gornisht. You can’t let it bother you. This is the way Torah is built. This is the way the Ponovezher Rov did it. This is how the rosh yeshiva [Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l] did it. Let’s go on to the next name on the list. If you want to be involved in building Torah, you have to be able to handle this.”

He was prepared to be embarrassed and never worried about his own personal kavod. Yet, he refused to go to certain people I suggested who might offer donations. He felt that they didn’t have the proper appreciation for Torah and gedolei Torah.

He taught us talmidim by example. He never spoke about himself and the great lengths to which he went to fight for the truth and for what was right and proper. We learned by watching him, by seeing how he exhausted himself in order to enhance the honor and prestige of Torah. He taught us by example in the way he took strong positions and refused to back down, even in the face of bitter opposition. Taking our cue from him, we learned that the uppermost goal must always be to uphold the truth, not to score popularity points.

There was nothing that he wouldn’t do for a talmid. There was no wall thick enough to stop him when it came to helping a talmid. He sacrificed his own learning for his talmidim. He could spend hours learning with a young talmid to show him how to understand a sugya, even during his “free” time when he would have much preferred to be learning by himself. If a talmid insisted, he would stop what he was doing and learn with him.

We sometimes tend to defer taking action or involving ourselves with one task or another, with the excuse that we are not worthy or qualified. The rosh yeshiva would prod us not to be lazy. He would show that we were up to the task. While in private he was demanding from us, in public he showered us with his full support, shielding us from the wrath of people who seized any opportunity to mock Torah.

Rav Elya had the patience to wait for his talmidim to respond to his tutelage, to gradually figure out on their own what they should be focused on and what they should be doing.

His hasmadah and yegiah were legendary. His gadlus in Torah was achieved not only by means of his superior intelligence, but also as a result of the massive amounts of effort and time expended in horeven in lernen, from his earliest years and onward. Any talmid can tell you how drenched in sweat the rosh yeshiva was when he finished delivering his daily shiur. But not every talmid knew that he would go to sleep very late and then wake up a few hours later to learn.

Rav Elya’s shiur was a masterpiece of amkus and cheshbon which required much effort to follow and even greater effort to prepare and deliver. He showed a reverence for the words of the Rishonim and Achronim and demonstrated how much discipline and exertion was required to begin to understand their intention.

Talmidim would arrive in the yeshiva for ninth grade, barely older than bar mitzvah. It was Elul zeman. Most were like me and had no idea what Elul really was. We had never heard of it, much less experienced it. But then selichos and Rosh Hashanah came and we were changed forever. Elul and the Yomim Noraim would never be the same for me, as I’m sure is the case for the many hundreds and thousands of talmidim of the yeshiva.

On the first night of selichos, we heard the voices of the roshei yeshiva, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky davening for the amud and Rav Elya leading the chorus in response. We heard Rav Shmuel crying out, “Vaya’avor Hashem al ponov vayikrah” in that beautiful, haunting yeshivishe nusach, and then Rav Elya would shout back the spine-tingling words, “Hashem, Hashem, Keil Rachum Vechanun!”

Their tefillos were more moving and powerful than anything a professional chazzan can utter. Our hearts were opened, our neshomos were touched and our psyches were pierced as they had never been before. His Yomim Noraim shmuessen added to the davening experience and reached the core of our being, forcing us to have charatah al he’avar and make kabbalos al he’osid.

Rav Elya’s drashos were the crowning moment of any event he addressed. He had tremendous respect for the people who came to listen, and he would spend a great deal of time preparing. His public talks would leave audiences spellbound. He would begin slowly and softly as he laid the groundwork for what he was going to say. Carefully and methodically, he would build the structure of his drasha. By the time he reached the crescendo, he was full of fire and energy, driving home his point in a way that left audiences in awe.

As in the shiur room during his shiur, there was a palpable energy in the air as he spoke. He breathed oxygen and vitality into his listeners, providing them with the stamina they were so desperate for. People walked out enthused and strengthened, ready to take on the challenges of the day. Many of those drashos remain fresh in the minds of those who merited to hear them, providing guidance till this very day.

Our rebbe was a real people's person who loved people of all ages. Children would gravitate to him and he didn't consider it beneath his dignity to play children's games with them. He could carry on conversations with people on any subject.

One of his greatest attributes was that he was a great listener. He would never interrupt anyone who was talking to him. He always let them finish their thoughts before responding. He had a smile on his face when meeting and greeting people, he actually was happy to meet them. He did everything he could to make people feel comfortable in his presence.

He had dear personal friends and would delight in meeting them and speaking to them. He had a healthy sense of humor and appreciated a good story.

He was unfailingly kind and generous, always a gentleman. He never left a simcha before wishing mazel tov to both parents, if they were present. At a simcha he actually rejoiced with the celebrants, their simcha was his simcha. He never complained about how far from home he had to travel to join them; why would he, he was happy to be there. And when there was a tzora, lo aleinu, he was the first one there, crying as if it would be his tzora and providing fatherly and grandfatherly support.

There was a local repairman who was a Holocaust survivor, who experienced many tragedies in his life. He would come to Rav Elya’s office unannounced and sit down and pour out his heart. He recounted how Rav Elya would cry along with him. “He didn’t cry because he was weak, he was a strong man, he was a gadol baTorah but he cried with me because he was my friend. He was my best friend,” the man said.

The great rosh yeshiva; the fiery leader; the rebbi who demanded excellence from his talmidim, was also the softest and most gentle person any of them could know.

Rav Elya had no intermediaries who would stand between him and Klal Yisroel. His phone was never taken off the hook. He had one phone line and his number was listed in the phonebook, so anyone could call him and get through.

I can recall numerous times when I was sitting with him and the phone would ring. “Why can’t you just ignore it?” I would ask. “Why do you have to talk to everyone who calls?” He would respond that he was there for everyone. Anyone with a question had a number they could call for an answer. He was emphatically opposed to having a gabbai who, by screening his calls and deciding who would get to meet him, would try to influence his thought process.

His ahavas Yisroel and love for Eretz Yisroel were legendary and infectious. He really cared. There was a period in which there were several dreadful bombings in Yerushalayim and scores of innocent Jews were killed or injured. The pictures were horrific. Many people called to complain about the photographs that the Yated published, which caused them great anguish. I asked Rav Elya what to do. He said to continue publishing the pictures. “Let the Amerikaner Yidden feel the tzaar of Eretz Yisroeldiker Yidden.” Anyone who heard him speak and recite Tehillim during times of tzaros knew that he felt that pain.

A person who was experiencing a difficult period in her life would regularly call Rav Elya for support and advice on a wide range of pressing issues. She called the night that the yeshiva's main building was destroyed by fire. Rav Elya was very traumatized by that blaze, which forced the yeshiva to close for a short period of time. For a long time afterwards, he would think and speak about the fire, as he engaged in long periods of self examination to determine why Hashem had punished him so.

Yet, when the person called in the midst of the tumult surrounding the fire, he calmly and patiently gave her the time she needed, not once betraying what was going on in his life, not even mentioning the fire. He put everything else on hold in order to help a person who depended on him.

This incident was typical of his way of subjugating his own needs and wants to those of the klal and the people who turned to him for help.

Unless he was preparing for shiur, you could always call him and speak to him, and he’d respond as if he had all the time in the world. Nothing took precedence over helping out a talmid, a friend, a family member, an askan, or a needy person. Every ben Torah and every mechanech had him as a protector. Every askan who was oseik b’emunah had someone he could call as many times as he wanted for guidance and succor.

Rav Elya had no tolerance for hypocrisy and could not countenance anyone who used their position to advance a personal agenda. When a person stepped out of line, the person knew that there was someone he would have to answer to. And when someone acted irresponsibly or abused his talmidim, Rav Elya did everything in his ability to end that person’s career. Single-handedly, he fought the perpetrator and his enablers, long before it was fashionable to expose and denounce such offenders. Rav Elya paid no attention to how powerful the person in question might have been, what connections the person had, what the action would cost Rav Elya personally, or how it might hurt the yeshiva he gave his life for.

He didn’t only provide an ear and a shoulder to cry on, he offered penetrating insight into whatever issue was being discussed. He would dissect the point in question. He would set aside all the tangents and details that would confound others and cloud their ability to formulate a response. He would analyze the matter from all angles, probe the consequences of each course of action, and carefully plot a strategy.

Rav Elya would attend meetings, and after everyone had offered their opinions, he would quietly, in a sentence or two, deconstruct their suppositions. He would state his position so lucidly and brilliantly that everyone realized the veracity of his decision. The conversation would end right there.

He was on top of the news and always remained current with what was going on. His responses were not knee-jerk, but fastidiously thought out and unfailingly accurate. He saw things that no one else saw. He sensed danger where everyone else thought it was safe to tread. With the passage of time, we often saw his predictions about various developments in local and world events come to pass.

He warned me about people whom I thought were my friends, and I responded that perhaps he was being too negative. He always ended up being right and I always ended up being wrong. I would have saved myself much aggravation had I listened to him initially, but my youthful exuberance got in the way. Even though I didn’t follow his warnings, when those people turned on me, he was right there to guide me on how to deal with them, and also interceded on my behalf.

Rav Elya didn’t bear grudges. He wasn’t small-minded and always remained focused on the big picture. He was unencumbered by pettiness. His primary motive in all he did was to be marbeh kevod Shomayim. His ego played no role.

He never sought anything for himself. He lived in a modest row-house in an integrated area across the street from a towering public high school, several blocks from the yeshiva. He cared only about being marbitz Torah, and raising the level of respect for Torah. He was dedicated to helping people realize the true path, even if that meant engaging in activities beneath his dignity. He took many hits for his strong stances and made many enemies, but it didn’t deter him. The bottom line for him was maintaining the Torah as a Toras Emes. He showed us by example the ends to which we must be prepared to go in order to fight for the truth and Toras Emes.

Rav Elya taught us the overriding importance of taking responsibility in action, deed, thought and learning. He taught us how to deal nobly with others, how to treat people with whom you disagree. He was able to work with all types of people without betraying his own personal opinions of them. He was able to publicly respect others with whom he vehemently disagreed, to the extent that they continued to count him as their friend.

I once asked Rav Elya about running advertisements for seforim of a rov whose hashkafos he (along with Rav Aharon and Rav Elazar Shach zt”l) had criticized. To my utter surprise, he saw nothing wrong with advertising the seforim. “His Torah is Torah,” he said. When I told him that people wouldn’t understand and would accuse me of not adhering to his guidelines, he wasn’t impressed.

It is already several years since we merited being able to speak to our great rebbi. We had hoped that in the merit of our tefillos and in recognition of how greatly his voice was needed, he would recover and once again lead us. Alas, we weren’t zoche.

The heart doesn’t want to believe. The heart doesn’t want to bear. Day by day, the news gets worse and worse. We think it can’t get any worse. And then it does.

The tears flow freely. The pen can’t write. We shudder. We weep. A million thoughts fly through our minds. Who will lead us to Moshiach? In whose zechus will we be able to withstand the worsening golus? The heart doesn’t want to believe. The heart doesn’t want to accept the pain of a deteriorating situation in which we need leadership and comfort as never before.

We didn’t merit the rosh yeshiva’s leadership these past few years; the dor wasn’t zoche. But we had the zechus of his kiyum. We merited having Rav Elya with us and his tremendous zechusim advocating for us in a world of kitrug.

We were lacking his milchamtah shel Torah. His powerful messages exhorting us to preserve and protect the pach shemen tahor were keenly missed. Gone from the scene was his shining example of a Yid who was areingeton rosho verubo in Torah, but also felt a tremendous achrayus for the klal.

When he was in the bais medrash, the talmidim of the yeshiva had no inkling of the place he occupied on the public stage. To the talmidim, he was a devoted rebbi and rosh yeshiva who surrounded himself in the daled amos shel halacha. To members of Klal Yisroel who maintained a fidelity to the mesorah, he was the bearer of the torch of Torah, the protector of the pach shemen tohor, the arbiter of difficult questions, the trailblazer showing the path to follow in tumultuous times.

Whenever he spoke, he would unfailingly quote from the sefer Meshech Chochmah and from his great rebbi, Rav Aharon Kotler. Their images, and their Torah, were ever-present in his mind. He would weigh all his actions and decisions on the scale of their daas Torah, using his knowledge of how they would have reacted. He never lost sight of his upbringing in Slabodka, of his rabbeim, of their Torah and of their mesorah which he carried with so much pride. With his passing, we have lost them as well.

When a great person passes away, you stand at the funeral and contemplate the immense loss, the vacuum the individual leaves behind and whether anyone will fill that gap. We have all seen the changes that have taken place in the world during the rosh yeshiva’s illness. With the termination of our hopes for his recovery, we fear for the future more than ever before.

So many of Rav Elya’s talmidim feel the way immigrants in the last century felt when they arrived in America. They were in a strange country, faced with an alien culture, a new language and foreign customs. No one understood them or where they were coming from. Their past was gone and the people around them weren’t too interested in their old-fashioned ideas. They had no one to whom they could pour out their hearts. There was no one around who could feel their pain and understand their lot. Since we lost Rav Elya's leadership, the world has changed much and has strayed from the ideals that our rebbi espoused. At times we feel as if no one even recognizes those ideals to be true anymore.

As I was driving home after the levaya, I followed the same roads I had traveled dozens of times before. Though the way out of Philadelphia is complicated and requires traveling on several different highways until you finally arrive at the New Jersey Turnpike, I have done it so many times that I don’t even look at the signs. I thought I could do it in my sleep. For the first time in over thirty years, I made a wrong turn and got on the wrong road.

We are indeed lost.

Never Give Up

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

At the beginning of Maggid, we hold up the matzoh and say in Aramaic, “Ha lachmoh anya d’achalu avasana b’arah d’Mitzrayim, This is the poor man’s bread that we ate in Mitzrayim.” Rashi explains that the slaves were fed matzoh in Mitzrayim because it digests very slowly and thus keeps the person who ate it full far longer than other foods do.

This would seem to indicate that the reason we eat matzoh on the seder night is because this food recalls our degradation as slaves in Mitzrayim.

However, the Haggadah later refers to matzoh as the food of redemption. “Matzoh zu she’anu ochlin al shum mah….” The reason we eat matzoh is because the dough our forefathers took out of Mitzrayim as provisions for the journey did not have time to rise because Hakadosh Boruch Hu redeemed them so quickly. The dough was therefore baked in its flat state as matzoh.

Which is it? Do we eat the matzoh because it recalls the slave fare we were fed in bondage, or does matzoh symbolize the bread we tasted as free men?

Perhaps both reasons are correct. Indeed, it is the dual symbolism of matzoh that seems to lie at the heart of the lessons of Yetzias Mitzrayim.

As we begin the seder, we identify the matzoh as the bread of affliction we ate as slaves. After recounting the saga of our slavery and redemption, we proclaim that the very same matzoh which a little while ago was lechem oni has now become lechem geulah.

The same exact matzoh which was a symbol of avdus has been transformed, so to speak, into a symbol of cheirus.

It is noteworthy, therefore, that this passage of Ha Lachma Anya is said in the language of the exile and, according to the Ravan and Ravyah, was composed in Bavel. It is not mentioned in the Gemara and unlike the rest of the Haggadah is not recited in Hebrew, because it is an expression of the exile; it is the way matzoh is perceived before the redemption.

This dual nature of matzoh speaks to all of us. Many times in life, the very things which are a source of torment and tzaar are actually strengthening us and preparing us for greater challenges which lie ahead. Years later, we look back and realize that had we not endured this or that painful experience, we wouldn’t have acquired the toughness and training to excel in what we are doing now with our lives.

The matzoh highlights the concept that the very same experience that brings affliction also brings redemption.

Matzoh’s essence goes even deeper. At the seder, the matzoh we eat is lechem geulah and a cheftzah shel mitzvah - even though all year round the very same item has no special significance. This is what the Haggadah refers to when it says, “Matzoh zu she’anu ochlin al shum mah, ahl sheim shelo hispik betzeikom shel avoseinu lehachmitz ad sheniglah aleihem Melech Malchei Hamelochim Hakadosh Boruch Hu uge’alam miyad.” The matzoh we eat on the seder night may look like any other matzoh, but it is totally different. Having been formed in the desert as a result of the haste of the redemption, it is therefore a lechem geulah.

Consequently, it may be that for this reason we are forbidden to eat matzoh on Erev Pesach. The Rambam (Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 6:12) rules that one who eats matzoh on Erev Pesach is given makkos mardos ad sheteizei nafsho. The Maggid Mishnah explains that this is based on a moshol brought in the Yerushalmi. Perhaps we can understand that one who is standing at the threshold of geulah and partakes of a food which resembles avdus is not worthy of redemption and deserves to be beaten.

Perhaps this is also why we are not allowed to eat anything after the matzoh of afikoman. The Rambam says (ibid. 8:9) that the reason it is forbidden to eat anything after the afikoman is to keep the flavor of matzoh on our palates. And yet, the flavor of the matzoh is a fleeting one. Even tastier food rarely lingers more than a minute or two. But if we understand that the matzoh of the seder is lechem geulah, then it follows that we should not eat anything after the matzoh so that the flavor and idea of cheirus, freedom, should remain on our tongues and in our hearts. Having partaken of the food that symbolizes the redemption, how can we eat anything afterward?

The Rambam (7:3) paskens that it is an obligation to make changes during the evening of the seder so that the children will notice and ask why this night is different than all other nights, thereby giving us an opening to tell them what transpired. As examples of changes in routines, the Rambam suggests that we give children foods like klayos and egozim, foods they enjoy but would not usually receive in the middle of a festive and formal meal. We also move the table away, we grab the matzoh from each other and we do similar things to provoke children to question why this night is different.

Why do we have to perform acts specifically to provoke questions? Isn’t every aspect of the seder night already strange and mystifying enough to prompt our children’s curiosity? We sit at the table wearing kittels, with all sorts of strange items before us, and everything we do is outside our normal routine. We sit differently, eat differently, drink differently and wash differently. Almost nothing is the same. Shouldn’t that be sufficient to provoke the young and unlearned ones to ask what is going on? If they haven’t caught on that this night is different by the time they are seated at the seder table for a few minutes, is distributing nuts any more likely to elicit the questions that can lead to an explanation of Pesach?

The Rambam appears to be saying that there is a special din to perform actions at the seder strictly for the purpose of getting the children to ask questions. We are not yotzeh that chiyuv by doing everything else that we do at the seder. Drinking wine, washing hands differently, the ka’arah, the matzoh - their purpose is to fulfill other obligations, not to induce questions. There is an obligation to deliberately perform certain actions for the express purpose of stimulating questions from the youngsters.

The question-and-answer framework is central to the seder and is not limited to children. If there are no children present, the adults must ask each other questions. If a person is conducting the seder by himself, he directs both the questions and answers to himself. Perhaps that is because only one who is interested enough to ask a question will actually hear the answer.

Chazal instructed us when telling sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim to begin bignus and culminate bishvach, to start with the shame and end with the glory. So many of the things we do at the seder are performed in a manner to express cheirus. Why, then, does the Haggadah hearken back to the period of gnus? Once again, we encounter the dual message of bondage and redemption.

Every person is obligated at the seder to envision himself as if he had been released from bondage in Mitzrayim. “In every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he personally had exited Mitzrayim,” the Haggadah states. As we begin the seder, we also recite the chapter that testifies that if our forefathers had not been released, we would still be subservient to Paroh in Mitzrayim.

How do we know that a revolution or other world events leading to the eventual overthrow of Paroh would not have set the Jews free? Paroh and his institutions are but a distant memory today. How, then, can one assume that the Jewish people would still be subservient to Paroh in Mitzrayim?

Perhaps these statements are alluding to how a person should deal with times of challenge. We all have our ups and down, sad times and happy ones, triumph and success, as well as defeat and despondence. When all we see is doom and gloom, we can easily fall prey to confusion and despair.

The seder speaks to us. It shakes us out of this negative mindset and helps us put everything in perspective.

We begin bignus, recounting that we were lowly slaves in Mitzrayim. We think about the tears we have shed over our own problems and humiliation that we have had to endure. Our minds wander as we think about our own golus Mitzrayim, and the things that afflict us.

And then we are mesayeim bishvach. The Haggadah continues and recounts how G-d kept his pact with the Avos and redeemed the Jews from the misery of Egypt. The darkness and gloom came to a radical and abrupt halt. The slavery ended, the decades of being enslaved to an evil master were finally over. We were out of Mitzrayim, free and triumphant.

The Haggadah proclaims to every Jew to never give up. The Haggadah reminds every Jew that all that transpires is part of a Divine plan. The plan is not necessarily evident to us as we live through the downside, but often times, when the period of torment is over, with the benefit of hindsight, the entire picture becomes clear. The light at the end of the tunnel shines upon what transpired and gives one a more complete picture and understanding of what happened and why.

Bechol dor vador chayov adam liros es atzmo ke’illu hu yotzoh miMitzrayim.” Everyone has to reflect upon the departure from Mitzrayim and transpose that epic event to his own life. Every person has to see that just as he was freed from Mitzrayim, he will be released from the crises weighing him down in this golus.

At the seder, we say Vehi She’amdah, which proclaims that in every generation the Jewish people are targeted for death, but with Hashem’s help, they eventually triumph. In every generation, in some part of the world, there is a Paroh who seeks our annihilation, but G-d foils his plan and rescues us.

So too, in our personal lives, there are times when things seem hopelessly tangled and headed for disaster. We feel thwarted at every turn. At times we feel utterly lost.

We often are bothered by questions. Why does it have to be me? Why is this happening? Why don’t my plans succeed? We keep the questions bottled up inside of us, afraid of asking them and perhaps afraid of facing the answers.

But questions can lead us to better understand life as well as our mesorah and the yesodos of emunah. Those are the questions that we are taught to ask on the seder night.

We are taught that every question has an answer. Although we may not be privileged to attain or comprehend the answer, there is one. That is why we recite the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim in question and answer format, for our own lives parallel the tale of Yetzias Mitzrayim.

Matzoh is the bread upon which we answer many questions as we sit at the seder. Therefore, it is referred to as lechem oni. And why do we answer many questions in the presence of the matzoh? Because matzoh is lechem geulah, eaten because Hashem rushed us out of Mitzrayim, symbolized by the hastily baked matzohs. Eating this food generates an internal understanding about the connection between hardship and spiritual growth. Lechem oni is the “answering” bread - a powerful spiritual “vitamin” leading us to a higher dimension of awareness.

As we eat the lechem geulah and recognize that this same lechem was just a little while ago lechem avdus, our eyes are opened to some liberating truths: events that appear to sap our strength and lead us to despair can actually open the door to recovery, redemption and success.

No matter how bad things seem, as long as there is life there is hope. Ki bechipazon yotzosah mei’Eretz Mitzrayim. In great haste you left Mitzrayim… In the twinkling of an eye, the bread of affliction becomes bread of resurgence.

May we all be zoche to go mei’avdus lecheirus in our personal lives as well as in our destiny as a klal. Venodeh lecha shir chodosh al geuloseinu ve’al pedus nafsheinu.