Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You Can Do It

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha of Ki Seitzei begins with the halachos of the eishes yefas toar. Rashi quotes the Sifri which explains the reason the Torah permits an act which violates Torah norms. “Lo dibrah Torah elah keneged yeitzer harah.” This is commonly translated to mean that the Torah understood that man cannot withstand the temptation presented by this circumstance and thus permitted it. In sanctioning the eishes yefas toar, the Torah makes an allowance for the limitations of a man’s self-control in the face of great temptation.

In fact, Rashi concludes, “she’im ein Hakadosh Boruch Hu matirah yisa’enah b’issur,” if Hashem refused to allow marriage with a yefas toar, the average person would defy the Torah and marry her anyway, living a life of sin.

The problem with this explanation is obvious. Wasn’t the Torah meant to provide a moral code to govern our behavior and to empower us to tame our base desires? How is this outlook consistent with the Torah actually legalizing improper behavior due to a person’s lack of self-control? Is the argument that “people will do it anyway” a valid rationale?

An answer came to me as I reviewed the pesukim and I would like to share it with you. It may be a simple and obvious point, but I haven’t come across it in any of the commentaries and I believe it’s an important insight.

Our Torah is a Toras Chesed and a Toras Emes. It represents the ultimate truth and the epitome of justice. Its tenets were given to human beings - not angels - to faithfully uphold. Because the Torah is perfect, it contains nothing that can be dismissed as “too difficult” to observe. There is nothing in the Torah that is not attainable by mortal men.

The words of Rashi, “lo dibrah Torah elah keneged yeitzer harah,” can be understood in light of this axiom that no mitzvah in the Torah is above the reach of the average Jew. “Lo dibrah Torah elah keneged yeitzer harah,” can be understood to mean that the Torah speaks to the yeitzer harah. The Torah was given to enable us to defeat the evil inclination which seeks to entrap us daily. Thus, since Hashem determined that in the case of yefas toar man wouldn’t be able to overcome the yeitzer harah, it was permitted.

By permitting the yefas toar, the Torah is acknowledging that the yeitzer harah that tempts a person during battle is so powerful that even an extremely ehrliche Yid who is normally always able to triumph over his physical desires, is likely to surrender to them during wartime. That is the reason the Torah made an exception in its moral code and permitted the yefas toar.

Rashi therefore states that the Torah is speaking to the yeitzer harah and informing him that this single exception itself serves to highlight the obvious inference regarding all other Torah laws -that all are accessible and within the scope of a Jew’s abilities.

It also speaks to man and says to him that there are no grounds to claim that any of the Torah’s laws are too difficult for small or average people and are only applicable to tzaddikim and holy men. It is possible for us, with our limited abilities, to adhere to every single mitzvah in the Torah. If not, those that are supposedly beyond our grasp would not have been mandated.

By contrast, man-made law is not always thought-out or sensible. Many laws have been written and passed just to make a point, even though its authors were under no illusion about their applicability or relevance. Many such laws are regularly and habitually broken - generally with impunity.

Not so the laws of the Torah. Each and every one is timeless and eternally relevant. By observing them, we demonstrate our belief in the Creator Who knows and understands man thoroughly. In fact, it is from the Torah itself that we can acquire the truest understanding of human psychology.

As an example, the year is broken into seasons, because Hashem knows that people cannot maintain the same level of intensity 354 days of the year. We need a break from the continuous stress we are under. We just experienced such a restful break with summer and bein hazemanim.

How strange that it feels as if the summer just started, and yet, it’s already over. Just when we began to relax and enjoy life and all that it has to offer, it’s back to work, back to school, back to the city, and back to all that we seek to run away from during the summer.

We wait an entire year for the summer. Through those freezing cold, snowy, icy months, people keep themselves warm by looking ahead to the summer. There are entire industries built on the summer season. People buy summer homes and invest untold amounts of money planning vacations. Then, in the blink of an eye, summer ends.

And right on its heel comes Elul.

Elul closes the door on everyone’s favorite season, as if to teach us that life is not really made for summers. Life is not meant for lounging around the pool and taking it easy. That’s good for once in a while. Everyone needs a break. But as we know, life is essentially very serious business.

If the purpose of life was to have fun, Hakadosh Boruch Hu would have set up the world and the seasons of the year differently. The sun would always shine and the weather would always be spring-like and comfortable. Instead, most of the civilized world goes through seasons of cold and hot - spring, summer, fall and winter.

We are meant to live a full and varied life, a life of Torah and mitzvos, a life of challenge and accomplishment. If we spent our days uniformly in vacation-mode, nothing of importance would be accomplished. People might think that they are enjoying life to the hilt, but at the core there would be emptiness. A person would realize that he has nothing to show for his time.

When summer and vacation end so quickly, when it begins to feel as though not just days and weeks but years are passing by in a flash, we realize the fleeting nature of life itself. Just as we are thinking these sobering thoughts, Elul arrives. Just as we are reminded that there has to be a higher purpose to life, just as we come to that realization on our own, Elul arrives to help us channel those solemn thoughts properly.

Some people get depressed when vacation time is over, when the season they so longed for seems to slip through their fingers. Elul consoles us. “Don’t be depressed or upset that the summer has ended so quickly,” it says. “Use that lesson you have just learned to help you progress in life. Learn that lesson and you will be happy later on. Instead of being depressed when the summer ends, you will greet the upcoming months with a sense of purpose.”

When we internalize that lesson, we will also be on the road to a more fulfilled life, one filled with accomplishment. The joy that it will bring will not be of the transient variety, but rather the type that fills our body and soul. The joy will last much longer than the ephemeral summer months. It will last longer than the four seasons of the year. It will last us throughout our lifetime.

Elul is a month that is meant to be used to reassess our priorities. Teshuvah flows from that reassessment. Elul reminds us that the Torah was not given to malachei hashoreis, but to bosor vodom.

Parshas Ki Seitzei and Elul coincide to remind us that “lo dibrah Torah elah keneged yeitzer harah.” Our obligation in this world is to subdue the yeitzer harah and withstand the temptations that confront us daily, in innumerable ways. Parshas Ki Seitzei and Elul are here to remind us that we can be better than we are, that Hashem created us with the ability to be great people.

We were born with 248 limbs with which to carry out the 248 mitzvos asei. Far from being a random coincidence, this is a powerful testament to the Torah’s exquisite planning that matches a human being’s spiritual resources with his physical makeup.

Now that Elul is here, let us resolve to use all our resources to improve our observance of the mitzvos. Let us resolve to overcome the temptation to feel that we lack the capacity to be as pure and holy as the Torah expects us to be. With this renewed embrace of our purpose in this world, we will greet the Yom Hadin with the confident prayer for Hashem’s blessings for a year of health and happiness for ourselves, our loved ones and all of Klal Yisroel.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vanquishing The Middas Hadin

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Rosh Chodesh Elul is upon us. As the summer winds down, we marvel at how swiftly the days flew by, these weeks that began with so much promise. A blur of shining sun, beckoning green fields… exhilarating country air... and it’s all over.

So short-lived our summer vacation, so fleeting that wonderful wave of rejuvenation! Just as the tension of our daily schedules began to dissipate in the sunshine, news of one heart-wrenching tragedy after another struck our community, waking us up from our summer reveries. The most recent, just last week, when a precious six year old boy was, in a second, snatched away. Even at his young, tender age, he already displayed a mature understanding of Hilchos Shabbos and an appreciation for middos tovos and mitzvos appropriate for someone much older than he. A special boy with much potential, Dov Ber ben Rav Shmuel Yaakov was plucked away suddenly, without warning.

K’tzais hashemesh batzohorayim; the sun was extinguished in midday, plunging us into darkness.

And so, hearing the words ring out in shul last Shabbos, “Rosh Chodesh Elul yehiyeh beyom hachamishi uveyom hashishi”—we felt our hearts give a jolt, thinking of the Yom Hadin only a month away, and how all of life’s blessings are so precarious.

In 30 days, we will face a trial which will determine the future course of our lives. Our every action and thought will come under scrutiny in this Heavenly investigation. Everything that we own and everything we hope and pray for is at stake. Our health, security and prosperity hang in the balance. The outcome of that trial will determine whether we will live in peace or in war, in luxury or as paupers.

How are we preparing ourselves for the coming Day of Judgment? An army that doesn’t properly strategize loses the war. Similarly, a person who doesn’t adequately prepare for the Yom Hadin can, chas veshalom, lose the most important case of his life—with dire consequences we would rather not contemplate.

In order to win a favorable judgment, we have to be realistic about the actions and outcomes for which we’ll be held responsible, and the obligations still left undone. We must straighten things out and get our profiles and résumés in order.

If we start out early enough, we can work on improving ourselves slowly, step by step and day by day. We can begin with the easy things and work our way up to the areas of self improvement that are more difficult. Our middos need improvement, and our davening needs to be more authentic and meaningful. We can increase the amount of time we spend learning. We can disburse more tzedakah. Our dikduk b’mitzvos can be taken up a level.

In the latest volume of the Sefer Machsheves Mussar based on the shmuessen of Maran Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l, the aveirah of chomos which sealed the gezar din of the Mabul is discussed.

The common explanation of how this cataclysm came about is that the Divine decree was sealed because the people habitually stole. Rav Shach, however, quotes a Medrash which states that they were also guilty of chomos devorim. He cites the Vilna Gaon who explains that just as it is sinful to steal less than a shava perutah, one who protests too loudly against a person who robbed him is also considered a chamson. And just as the gezar din was caused by those who were financial chamsonim, so was it caused by verbal chamsonim.

If you scream too loudly at someone, even someone who caused you a loss, and embarrass him more than he deserves to be shamed, it is considered chomos and leads to tragedy.

Tragedies have inundated us this summer. People are left bewildered, wondering what we can do to merit Divine mercy. As ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim, we know that we are to take mussar from all that occurs in this world. Especially when tragedies strike so close to home, we can’t escape the sense that these bitter events carry a specific message for us.

When we see the most honorable families suffering great misfortune, we know that they have been afflicted not as a punishment but as a means of inspiring and purifying their fellow Jews. As the posuk states, “Bikrovai ekodeish.” Through the response of these righteous people to their Divinely decreed fate, Hashem’s name will be sanctified.

But the formula works only if the klal takes these lessons to heart, if people strive to improve themselves and become closer to Hashem.

Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman recently wrote a letter addressing the many tragedies and illnesses that have struck the religious community of late.

“I’ve been trying to understand the enormity of what is happening,” Rav Shteinman said to someone. “I tell people who need a yeshuah to try and remember if they hurt the people closest to them. By closest, I’m referring to parents, friends, melamdim. A father sometimes thinks that he can slap his son, or insult his wife. He thinks it’s permitted, because, after all, they’re his to treat the way he likes. Teachers [believe they] are acting for their students’ benefit when they criticize and humiliate them. Everything is done in the name of well-meaning mussar and rebuke. Nevertheless, their actions are often unjustified.

“It’s known that in our holy Torah, there are laws bein adam laMakom as well as bein adam lachaveiro. The Aseres Hadibros are composed of halachos pertaining to the relationship between man and his Creator, and laws that prevent us from harming our fellow man.

Ona’as devorim, the sin of hurtful speech, is more serious than the sin of harming another financially. It applies equally between a man and his wife and a woman and her husband. Ona’as devorim is even worse when said to a woman, because she tends to be more vulnerable and sensitive, being easily hurt and prone to tears. This ban includes hurtful words of any kind, especially those used to wound the feelings of a widow or orphan.

“The opposite of this conduct is chessed. The merit one can gain from it is immeasurable. The Rosh at the beginning of Maseches Pe’ah explains that Hakadosh Boruch Hu especially desires mitzvos that bring goodwill among mankind even more than mitzvos bein adam leKono.

“People are moreh heter to themselves, such as when a teacher or rov says that they have to humiliate someone to ensure discipline. But this is not correct. We can only do whatever is necessary to prove the point, but not to humiliate one another! It’s even more serious when the humiliation is done in public.

“A rov or teacher must get his point across, but in a way that doesn’t embarrass. Generally, the one who feels he is being humiliated will retaliate twice as strong. The teacher’s act of shaming the child is certainly in the category of ona’as devorim. One must be very careful with this. Parents also shouldn’t embarrass their children.

“When one causes suffering to others, he is punished in Olam Hazeh, too. Every person must pay attention to what he does and what he says so as not to hurt his fellow man. The truth is that the punishment is much worse in Olam Habah, but most people are not aroused by what they can’t see directly, so I am speaking about something that everyone understands well.

“On the mitzvah of ‘Lo sonu ish es amiso - Do not afflict pain upon someone else,’ the Sefer Hachinuch writes that even though there is no malkos for a lav she’ein bo maaseh, and thus there is no apparent punishment for this transgression, a person will get malkos from the One Who commanded this.

“One who is careful not to hurt other people will merit all the brachos of the Torah and will enjoy a pleasurable life in this world and the next.”

In his sefer Ahavas Chessed, the Chofetz Chaim explains the posuk in this week’s parsha (19:9) which states that we are to love Hashem and go in his ways - “laleches bidrochov kol hayomim.” He says that this posuk is similar to the one in Parshas Eikev (10:12) which states, “What does Hashem ask of you, but to fear Hashem, to go in His ways, to love Him, and to serve Hashem with all your heart and soul.”

The Sifri explains that the way to walk in the path of the L-rd is to be merciful and generous just as He is. “Mah Hamakom nikrah rachum vechanun, af atah hevei rachum vechanun ve’oseh matnas chinom lakol.”

The Chofetz Chaim expounds that just as there is an obligation to study Torah every day, so too there is a duty to perform acts of chessed daily. He says that by doing chessed, a person’s sins are forgiven, his life is lengthened, and he is spared from tragic incidents and the pangs of Moshiach.

He goes even further, adding that if these concepts would take root among Am Yisroel and people would rush to perform the mitzvah of gemilus chassodim, the world would become full of middas hachesed, and all tragedy and sorrow would be banished.

Perhaps the way to understand his words is by realizing that when hardship and tragedy befall good people, it is due to our sins which cause middas hadin to be unleashed in the world. The way to combat the middas hadin is by increasing the amount of chessed in the world.

“The shift from selfish and mean-spirited behavior to kindness and generosity would empower the middas hachesed to overcome the middas hadin. It follows that if all Jews would be involved in chessed, it would cause a revolution, and evil and sadness would be replaced with goodness and joy.

When we see the middas hadin running rampant, when we see the Soton score one victory after another, we have to recognize that it lies in our power to defeat the forces of evil. Through breakthroughs in our own character, we have the power to dictate the moral and spiritual climate of our environment. Collectively, our inner victory over pettiness, egotism, anger and jealousy can enable the middas harachamim to overcome the forces of destruction that r”l are striking down some of our noblest.

As we mourn the latest korbonos, and as we prepare for the awesome days of Elul, our response must be to heed the advice of the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Shach, zichronam livracha, and Rav Shteinman shlita. These giants strove to give us the weapons of the spirit to protect ourselves and our community from the ravages of the middas hadin. Only by training ourselves to use these tools to the fullest will we be helped from Above to merit the vanquishing of the middas hadin, along with full absolution, on the coming Yom Hadin. Amein.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Look and Listen

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas 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 look. 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 listen 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 heaven and earth, they will be happier and more successful. They assume that if they behave dishonestly and immorally, their lives will be satisfying.

Such people leave the path of the blessed, looking for the bounty they think 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 their 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 obligations we have and placing themselves 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 achieved 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 person with the most money; it is lived by the one 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. His sense of accomplishment 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 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 beautiful clothing hanging in their closets, 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 said that the one person he knew who was truly happy and satisfied was Rav Yisroel Salanter. Rav Yisroel 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 sooner we hear that lesson, the better off we will all be.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Bring Back the Pride

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

I recently had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with the noted and famed baal teshuvah, Rav Uri Zohar. He told me that lately, when he speaks in front of secular audiences in an attempt to be mekareiv them, he opens with the following introduction: “It is said that I am a chareidi. Well, don’t believe it. Chareidim are terrible people. They steal. They are dishonest. They all have money hidden under their floorboards. I am not chareidi, chas veshalom. I am really just a chiloni who observes the mitzvos.”

He brings the house down and is then able to open their hearts to the truth.

Chareidim are under attack. We are being vilified wherever you turn. All forms of media - secular, Jewish and religious - write and propagate about how evil the chareidim are. Spokesmen of every stripe are falling over themselves giving interviews to whoever will spell their name correctly about how there is something wrong with those chareidim. There is something wrong with their educational system. There is something wrong with the water they drink. They have gone off the deep end. They are insular. They are uneducated. They have no manners. No decency. Nothing.

And, of course, they are so different than everyone else.

And you know what? They are right. We are different than everyone else. Our chinuch is different. We do behave differently. We really do. Let’s admit it.

We don’t rob people. We don’t have guns. We are good neighbors. We don’t have all the problems that general society has. We don’t have 50% intermarriage and divorce rates. Our children, by and large, are well behaved and intelligent. They are neat, clean and raised well. They don’t cause mayhem on the block late at night drinking beer or smoking weed, with their boom boxes booming, keeping the neighborhood awake.

We live our lives for our children. We work day and night so that we can pay tuition for our children’s schooling. We seek the best for them and, of course, we spend much of our time learning with them and making sure that they will grow up to lead responsible lives.

Yes, we are different. Our lives are guided by an ancient code of laws, behavior and ethics. We try to ponder how G-d would judge our actions and we endeavor to find favor in His eyes as well as the eyes of man. After all, that is the way the sages of the Talmud taught us to live and that is the way we have been doing it for centuries. We taught the world ethics. We introduced to the world laws and jurisprudence. And though much of what we taught to various societies through the ages has been forgotten, we have never forgotten it and we have never given up on finding favor in the eyes of G-d and man.

Are we always successful? Of course not. We are human. Humans make mistakes. We have a yeitzer harah which seeks to entrap us daily. But when we do fail, we seek to learn from our errors and we pick ourselves up and become better for it.

If we are intellectually honest, which by our very nature we are, we know that our educational system has flaws and is far from perfect. But it is so far superior than to any alternative that some who have had to endure what is offered out there would even find our self-criticism to be excessive. However, while we point out the flaws and encourage more accountability in our mosdos hachinuch and improved standards of education, we must acknowledge the beautiful and unadulterated system of education that our communities are blessed with. And we should, at the same time, point out how shameful it is that some would suggest that it is our educational system - and its flaws - which produces dishonest individuals who go on to break the law.

Jews who cleave to the Torah and observe its precepts are without a doubt the most generous of any civilized people. It is in our genes. We have been giving charity ever since the Torah commanded us to. Even Jews who have strayed far from their home from Torah and have little or no connection to their religion have charity so embedded in their psyche that they rise to the top of communal giving.

There is no community which is as charitable as the Jewish community. Go anywhere in this country where there are plaques commentating generous donations; it can be a zoo, aquarium, museum, hospital, or any other non-profit entity serving the public. Look at the names and you will be amazed at the percentage of Jewish ones listed there. If those who have strayed from the Torah are so charitable, imagine how much chesed and tzedaka are performed by the people who follow the Torah. The amount of chesed that goes on in our chareidi world is unparalleled and is taken for granted. And, pardon my asking, but when was the last time you read an article anywhere about the middas hachesed so prevalent in our world?

The purpose of this column is not to sing our praises and not to whitewash the inevitable slippage. It is to put everything in perspective. It is time we all took a deep breath and said, “Hey, hold on a second. Who are you talking about? Why are you talking that way about us? Who appointed you as chief apologist for our way of life?”

Is everyone perfect? Of course not. Are there people who cheat and steal? Of course. But why is it that we permit the world out there to paint us all with the broad brush of those few rotten apples? Are we lacking in self-respect? Have we forgotten where we come from and what we are all about?

A kulturkampf has been fought for the past one hundred years in Eretz Yisroel. The secularists have had the upper hand most of the time and have won many of the battles. Despite all the attempts to destroy it, the religious community has continued to thrive. This drives the anti-Torah forces crazy and they never miss an opportunity to mock and deride us as well as attempt to curtail our growth and minimize our power and effectiveness. But nothing they try works, and despite all their best efforts, they realize that they are losing and we are gaining.

Many years ago, I met Ariel Sharon and interviewed him for this newspaper. He told me of the time he went to meet a rebbe as part of the coalition building process. The rebbe’s office was located upstairs of a bais medrash. Mr. Sharon arrived for his morning meeting after he had woken at 4 a.m. to see his son off to his army base, in the driving rain. As he walked in to the building, he saw the chassidim assembling to daven. No one was in a particular rush, he said.

He recounted that he was furious. “My son had to wake up at 4 a.m. to go train for war, and these young people were able to live freely, seemingly without a care in the world.

“But then I thought to myself, you know the difference between me and them? They all know that their grandchildren will be Jews. I don’t.”

And with that he forgave them.

The man who gave his life for the Zionist dream realized that it was the religious folk who would guarantee the Jewish future of the land. He didn’t have the courage to mend his ways and return to the G-d of his forefathers in the city of Brisk, but somewhere in his conscience, he knew the truth. And he’s not the only one.

Different people of his ilk deal with the truth differently. Some harbor a modicum of respect for the chareidim and for the lives they lead, while others build up hatred for all that the religious people represent. It is as if they lie in wait for the minute a religious Jew is accused of doing something wrong. They pounce on the perpetrator and, as true racists and bigots, convict all religious Jews of aberrant behavior. If one religious Jew is indicted for a crime, immediately every religious Jew in the world is accused of the same misdeed.

And we let them get away with it. We don’t respond that we are bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. We don’t respond that we have a common creed which predisposes us to an unassuming, law-abiding way of life. We don’t respond that we are the Am Hanivchar and that one yungerman living bemesiras nefesh and learning in Lakewood is worth more to us than all the educated crafty spokesmen who pour oil on the anti-chareidi fire with their erudite, pedantic, pithy soundbites.

When they use the sorry situation of a couple of out-of-control teenagers to besmirch masses of fine young frum boys, we don’t analyze the numbers and show how many thousands of boys travel thousands of miles away from home to grow in Torah and become better Jews and better men.

Since the time Jews have been driven into exile, there haven’t been as many people learning Torah as there are now, there hasn’t been as much money given away for hachzokas haTorah, there haven’t been as many families dedicated to the values of Torah, and there haven’t been as many children following in their parents’ ways as there are today.

The yeitzer harah can’t take it. He can’t stand to watch all this go on. He fights mightily to ensnare us and our children. Despite all that he has thrown at us, the Torah world continues to strengthen. Now he has drafted the media in a way we were unprepared for. They contribute a lot more than we think to the way other people view us and the way some of us have begun to view ourselves.

It’s about time we stood up and proclaimed that we have had enough of this. Stop lecturing us. Stop judging us by the alleged actions of a tiny percentage of our people. Stop ignoring all the good, and concentrating on the bad.

Let us do all we can to return the shine to our lives. Let us work harder on improving ourselves and separating ourselves from all types of thievery and heresy. Let us cleave yet stronger to the words of the Torah, ki heim chayeinu ve’orech yomeinu.

It’s all nothing new. The novi Yeshayahu [66, 5] said over two thousand years ago, Listen to the words of Hashem you who are chareidim to his message, your wicked brothers who despise you and seek to shunt you aside, tell you that they are closer to G-d than you are and He likes their actions and the way they conduct themselves more than He favors the actions of the chareidim, for in the end you the righteous ones will be blissfully exultant while the evil ones will fade away in embarrassment. May it come to pass speedily in our day.