Thursday, April 29, 2010

Counting and Transforming

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The mourning aspects of the Sefirah period have so taken over the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuos that we can sometimes forget that Sefirah is more than not shaving and listening to music. Sefirah represents a countdown to Kabbolas HaTorah and, as such, is a time to prepare ourselves and make ourselves worthy of accepting the Torah and inculcating it into our very fiber and being.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos teaches that in order to properly aquire Torah, we must advance through 48 steps. Most of those steps involve matters which relate to the way we deal and interact with one another. One who has not perfected himself ethically and morally cannot properly excel in Torah study. A person who is deficient in the way he deals with other people will also be lacking in Torah. It is impossible to grow in Torah if one is not well behaved, humble and properly disciplined.

The Ramchal in Maamar Hachochmah discusses the idea that the Bnei Yisroel in Mitzrayim sunk to the 49th level of depravity. After redeeming them from servitude, Hakadosh Boruch Hu provided for them the 49-day period between Pesach and Shavuos so that they could raise themselves from the abyss of decadence and alter their behavior in a steady progression until they would be worthy of receiving Hashem’s Torah on Shavuos.

This ability is evident every year during this time period, the Ramchal says. The Ohr Hachaim adds to this concept and writes (Vayikrah 23:15) that the counting of the days of the Omer is akin to the count that an impure person performs to calculate the time remaining until he can become pure again. During this period, we must engage in introspection, much the same as the unclean person would do.

These days involve more than a ritual counting and mourning; they demand a spiritual ascendancy to cleanse ourselves from the moral and spiritual imperfections which afflict all of us. During this period, we are to study and apply the 48 steps of Torah in order to become bnei and bnos Torah.

The mourning we engage in is directly tied to the introspection that this period obligates.
We all know that it was during this time that 24,000 talmidim of the great Tanna, Rabi Akiva, passed away, because they did not display proper respect for one another.

As we mourn their loss to this very day and emulate their accomplishments, we seek to replace them on a certain level and rectify the sin which caused their demise. As we seek to strengthen our attachment to Torah and its transmission to others, it is incumbent upon us to work to improve our middos. Only one who has perfected his personality traits can successfully study and transmit Torah. Someone who is lacking in the 48 attributes cannot grow in Torah.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman taught (Kovetz Maamarim Ve’igros) that one who is pretentious and egotistical cannot be successful in a leadership position. An effective leader communicates properly with others. He feels their pain, relates to them, and does not consider himself on a higher plane than the people he serves.

In order to reach people, one has to really care about them and want to influence them. You have to address them with respect. Nobody likes being talked down to. Most people respond to positive reinforcement and tune out negativity.

If you behave with mentchlichkeit and treat people properly, you will be able to effect change in them. People will respect you and listen to you. You will be able to help people improve their shemiras hamitzvos, their Torah learning, their understanding of life and their acceptance of their lot.

The greatest teacher is not the one who knows the most, and the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one who motivates people to accomplish the greatest things. The greatest teacher is the one who can crawl into the soul of his students and reach them.

A quality teacher gives a child the feeling that he has confidence in him and recognizes his potential for achieving greatness. The quality rebbi or morah lets the student know that he or she shares their dreams, hopes and goals for the future, and will do everything possible to help the child attain them.

You can convince people to perform positive acts by appealing to their hopes or by playing to their fears. The one who excels makes sure to speak to people’s confidence and not to their doubts, with facts and not with fantasy. People respond much better and are more likely to rise to the challenge when they are treated with dignity.

For leaders and teachers, as well as parents and friends, communication is a lot more than mere words. What matters is not necessarily what we say, but how we say it. We can inspire and motivate when we communicate with genuine love and care. By imparting our true feelings effectively, our children, students, friends and acquaintances will understand that they are admired and loved by people who have confidence in their abilities.

Others might be superior to us in intelligence, experience and diplomatic skills, but if we pay attention and exercise care when speaking to people, we can accomplish so much more. Our lives have a deeper purpose than simply fulfilling selfish impulses. There is so much we can do and accomplish if we only set our minds to it. There is no excuse to say that we are not smart enough. There is no excuse to say that we are not capable. It is no defense to say that we don’t have proper experience or ability.

We have to care about others. We must have passion in what we do. And we have to let it show. We can all help other people and remind them of their inherent greatness. We have to be optimistic about life and about our own abilities, and we have to convey that to others.

Every one of us possesses the ability to affect the world. If only we would maximize our G-d-given abilities to study Torah as well as we possibly can; if only we would utilize the strength that Hashem gave us to build instead of destroy, to be optimistic instead of pessimistic; if only we would use the brachos that Hashem blessed us with to shower others with material and spiritual goodness, we could transform the world, person by person, station by station, town by town, and city by city.

Sefirah is a time for us to dedicate ourselves to perfecting those abilities so that we can grow in the lilmod as well as the lelameid of Torah.

On Lag Ba’omer, hundreds of thousands travel to the kever of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron to daven at that holy site together with so many other good Jews. Those who don’t make the trek build a neighborhood fire, which they dance around as they sing songs dedicated to Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai and Rabi Akiva. The festivities inject a spiritual energy into the day.

Lag Ba’omer brings a welcome interruption to the Sefirah mourning period. We take haircuts, shave, trim our beards and allow music to cheer us once again.

Why is it that the customs of mourning in commemoration of the passing of the talmidim of Rabi Akiva have taken over Sefirah? Why is it that Lag Ba’omer has become a day widely celebrated, though it is in no sense a holiday?

Rabi Akiva was the greatest sage of his generation. It is said that he was the shoresh of Torah Shebaal Peh. The line of transmission of the Torah from Sinai to future generations ran through him and his students. When his 24,000 students were wiped out, it was a major cause of depression. How would the chain continue? Who would provide the light of Torah to future generations? How could they ever be replaced? How could a grieving people on the run from Roman persecution be consoled for the loss of so many great men crucial to the spiritual survival of the nation?

The urge to say it’s all over must have been overwhelming. The less faithful and more pessimistic among them must have been ready to give up. But Rabi Akiva recovered from his devastating loss and proceeded to transmit the Torah through a new group of five students.

On this day, which marked a cessation of the deaths of Rabi Akiva’s students, we commemorate the renewal. We celebrate the determination. We foresee the future bright with hopefulness and optimism. On this day, the talmidim stopped dying and Rabi Akiva’s talmid, Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai, revealed the secrets of Toras Hasod, which infused all future generations with added dimensions of kedushah and understanding.

As the centuries pass, and as the Romans of every period seek our destruction and annihilation, we look to Rabi Akiva and Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai for inspiration. We note how they looked the enemy in the face and persevered, ensuring that our nation and our Torah are alive and flourishing to this very day. In the wake of a tragedy which would have felled lesser people, Rabi Akiva strengthened himself and set about ensuring that the chain would remain unbroken.

As the golus continues and our situation becomes more precarious, as enemies surround us within and without, we must not weaken in our devotion to Torah. Noting how many giants our people have lost, we hear voices stating that we can never recoup the losses. We are doomed to mediocrity, they proclaim.

Lag Ba’omer rejects that hopelessness. It stands as a beacon and proclaims that we are never to give up hope or allow the chain of greatness to break. The fires of Lag Ba’omer burn vibrantly and call out to us that the future will be bright, the mesorah will continue uninterrupted, and our people can and will be great once again.

The more our exile is prolonged, the more we turn to days like Lag Ba’omer for inspiration and encouragement, and the more popular their observance becomes.

But it is not enough to just light a fire. It is not enough to sing and dance. We have to be prepared to work as hard as Rabi Akiva did. We have to be prepared for the deprivation suffered by Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son, Rabi Elazar. We have to be ameilim baTorah if we want to merit the blessings of rebirth and redemption. We have to perfect ourselves and apply the 48 steps that Torah accrual requires.

Let’s gather in the rays of Torah and spread its light. We each have the ability to light up the world with Torah and maasim tovim, with intelligence and splendor. Let us pray that the fires spark within our souls a flame of holiness; dedication to proper middos as well as the mesorah and Torah. That way, we will merit the realization of the prophecies discussed in the works of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, bimeheirah biyomeinu. Amein.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Marking an Anniversary

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week Israel celebrates another anniversary of its founding as a modern Jewish country. It’s illuminating to turn back the pages of contemporary history to get a grasp of the origins of Zionism and how it brought about the spiritual alienation and moral decay that today threaten the tiny Jewish state.

Zionism emerged in the late nineteenth century in response to decades of anti-Semitic persecution in Europe. It was the appalling outburst of French anti-Semitism in the Dreyfus affair that first catalyzed the movement, convincing Herzl and his followers that the key to solving the Jewish problem was to rid the Jewish people of their statelessness.

Since being driven out of Eretz Yisroel over two thousand years ago, the Jews had wandered the globe. Without political autonomy or control over their fate, they had been dependent on hostile host countries which sometimes granted them brief periods of relative affluence and comfort, but more often exploited them as convenient scapegoats and deemed them second-class citizens with no legal rights.

For hundreds of years, Jews in one country or another were condemned to abject poverty, murder, pogroms, random rampages of violent religious persecution, and worse.

Through it all, the Jewish people, inspired and nurtured by Torah and mesorah in the face of every adversity, still flourished. Torah was everywhere, as was the sincere and meticulous observance of its laws and customs.

With the dawn of the age of Enlightenment in the mid- to late-18th century, and the lure of social acceptance of Jews into some Western European societies, a new challenge to the Jewish people emerged.

The Haskalah movement led a large percentage of Jews astray from their religious heritage. It promised them that by secularizing themselves and turning their backs on religious faith, the Jews of Europe would at last gain equal rights in their host countries. Yet, though they were now living secular, materialistic lives in the big cities, Jews still could not win full acceptance.

They were never allowed to forget their Jewish roots and continued to be excluded from the upper ranks of society. They were still despised, mistrusted and the first to be blamed whenever anything went wrong. In Eastern Europe, the bloody pogroms continued, and even in the most civilized societies of Western Europe, anti-Semitism remained deeply ingrained.

Haskalah spawned the Zionist movement which professed that if the Jews had their own country like every other ethnic people, and they became nationally strong and self-sufficient, anti-Semitism would become a thing of the past.

The historic Jewish mode of surviving by playing up to host countries and corrupt ministers would no longer be necessary, Zionism preached. For in the land of the Jews, a utopian existence ushered in by a socialist state would be established. Jews would cast off the shackles of the exile, finally free of the tyranny of governments, priests and rabbis.

Many Jews bought into the Zionist dream. The idea of returning to the land of our forefathers held emotional sway all over Europe. Jews were starving to death in many places. They were poor beyond our comprehension. They were tormented by their neighbors, landowners, and people in power.

They thought that this was, at long last, the answer to Jewish poverty and starvation, the end to the centuries of torment. Especially following the Holocaust, many Jews felt that a state of their own would solve so many problems and lead to the ultimate redemption.

Of course, in hindsight, we all know that it was a false hope, never to be fully realized. There were many rabbonim who foresaw that a secular Zionist state would solve few, if any, of our problems, and would create many more.

Those gedolim and askanim were shunted aside by the people in power and lost almost every power struggle in the new land.

Looking back over the past 60-plus years, one is struck by the many failures of the enterprise. Yes, they made the desert bloom. Tel Aviv is a cosmopolitan city. Israel has more companies traded on the NASDAQ than any other country besides the U.S. Israel provided a home for some Holocaust refugees, as well as hundreds of thousands more Jewish refugees chased from North Africa, a true ingathering of the exiles.

But at what price?

The Laborites who held onto power until Menachem Begin wrested it from them, robbed many of these newly arrived Jews of their religious heritage, a sin that can never be forgiven and whose repercussions continue to produce bitter fruit in our own day. They set up a state devoid of Yiddishkeit, seeking to substitute Jewish history, Hebrew language, nostalgia and Jewish ‘folklore’ for real Judaism and faith.

They created a state which, in many ways, was Jewish in name only, using the Jewish heritage as a convenient backdrop. They seized political control over the new country and purported to act and speak on behalf of the entire Jewish people.

The founders of the new state expected its religious community to quickly shrivel up and disappear in their new socialist Zionist utopia, but they were wrong.

Instead of withering, those devoted to Torah and Yiddishkeit were inspired by the Holy Land and breathed a religious flavor into the state. Torah took root, grew and flourished in the nascent country. The number of frum Yidden, as well as their intensity in learning and devotion to the observance of Torah, has multiplied many times over.

The prosperity of the Torah community sparked surprise and dismay in the children of the secular founders. A new generation has come of age, and many descendants of the early Zionists reject their parents’ Zionism. Yet, far from receding with the weakening of Zionism, contempt and hatred for religious Jews and a Torah lifestyle have increased in this land.

It’s possible to visit Israel and not see overt signs of this contempt. We travel to Yerushalayim and are overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and flavors the land has to offer. We pass chadorim, yeshivos and yishuvim, and our hearts skip a beat as we think of all the blood, sweat and tears that went in to reestablishing everything in the Holy Land. We go the Kosel, the Meoras Hamachpeilah and Kever Rochel and are overcome by the holiness and the communal memories of thousands of years of Jewish history connected with these sacred places.

We walk down the streets of Yerushalayim and marvel at the great miracle of the rebirth of our people. On Rechov Chazon Ish in Bnei Brak, we can’t help but visualize the holy Chazon Ish zt”l walking these same streets, dreaming of a city of Torah arising from the ashes of the Holocaust.

Wherever we go in the country, there are stirring reminders of the history of our people. In Beer Sheva, we are shown wells and walls which are dated to the times of Avrohom Avinu. If we travel around the country, we encounter Har Gerizim and Har Eivol, and the pesukim of the Torah reverberate in our minds. At Har Hakarmel, the pesukim in Nach come alive. The pools of Shlomo Hamelech can actually be touched. The palaces of Hordus, Ihr Dovid, the Beis Haknesses of the Ramban in Yerushalayim and the shul of the Arizal in Tzefas are all testaments to our glorious history in this land.

The graves of the ancients evoke shivers of awe, from Adam and Chava, to Avrohom and Sarah, and all the Avos and Imahos, to the kever of Shmuel Hanovi overlooking Yerushalayim, the kever of Dovid Hamelech, and all the historical figures whose Torah we study day and night.

It is so easy to be overwhelmed when visiting the Land of Israel.

But then you realize that so much of what touches you about this land has nothing to do with the modern state. It is the history and kedushah infusing the land that touches your soul and causes you to feel that you have found home.

There is much we don’t see when we go for a visit to Eretz Yisroel, and much they don’t show us. Were we to wander into Tel Aviv, we would be lost; we wouldn’t believe that Jews live this way in Eretz Yisroel. This is also true in Haifa, Eilat, and so many other places not on the Chareidi tourist map. If you happen to find yourself there, your heart breaks; you know that these are Jews, yet they inhabit a different universe. You cringe and you can’t wait to get out of there.

Yet, that universe is what the founders of the state set out to create. They weren’t interested in enclaves such as Meah Shearim, Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak and Kiryat Sefer. They didn’t even want places like Bayit Vegan and other more cosmopolitan religious areas. They wanted the Tel Aviv nightlife, the beach in Eilat, and kibbutzim where families were separated from each other and all was bliss.

I hate to offer a negative retrospective and point out the downside and the sad parts of the state. Yes, there is what to be thankful for, but you can’t praise the good without noticing and examining what has gone terribly wrong.

Thus, it is with a great deal of ambivalence that the anniversary is marked. Obviously, Zionism didn’t cure the Jewish problem. Anti-Semitism is as ugly as ever, and much of it seems to be caused by the very state which was founded to get rid of it. Once again, Israel is in the news as a young American president appears to be beholden to a long discredited anti-Israel agenda.

We live in a world that seems drastically different from the world of 60 and 100 ago. Communism, once so terrifying in its global power and tyranny, has crumbled. Jews who live in the West experience freedom, enjoying the same rights as Christians to work, live and worship as they please. Pogroms are but a distant memory, something children learn about in school and old people talk about, but seemingly totally irrelevant to today’s world.

How about Israel? Is this country the great refuge and safe harbor for Jews that its founders envisaged? With so many rockets aimed at it and so many people bent on its destruction, it’s hard to see it that way. An entire country seems bent on attaining weaponry with which it can wipe Israel off the map while the entire world stands by and watches. Despite their bravado, Israel’s leaders seem powerless to do anything.

The country has been in a state of war since its founding. Its enemies are not interested in making peace with it or even officially acknowledging its existence. Miraculously, the army succeeded in fighting back the country’s attackers several times throughout the decades.

The country is aflutter with the revelation that a former prime minister faces new indictments on top of the charges he is already on trial for. The previous president was thrown out of office in disgrace. Ministers have been accused and found guilty of crimes of moral turpitude. Corruption is endemic to that country. It is an open secret that greasing palms is alive and well there and bribery is considered a natural way of doing business.

It is truly appalling that a country invested with so much hope, and which people still believe to be a harbinger of the Messiah, is led by people of low moral caliber.

The great debate whether there are still Zionists left anywhere continues to rage. I maintain that there are. It may be that we don’t meet them. When we travel to Israel, we generally stay in Yerushalayim where we meet and spend time with other like-minded English speakers. Most of us can’t speak Hebrew coherently and thus have no real interaction with Israelis other than superficial chit-chat. The Israelis we do converse with are Chareidim like ourselves. The only secular people we engage in conversation with are Arab waiters or rabidly right-wing Sephardic taxi drivers. It is unfair to judge an entire country based upon our interactions with those small segments of the population.

No matter what the secularists do, they cannot rob the country of its special chein. The very air of Eretz Yisroel is redolent with its history. No one and nothing can eradicate that. There is Torah everywhere. Wherever you go, there are people on a quest for teshuvah, people searching for a more spiritual life, people searching for the way back to the paths of their forefathers. Despite its flaws, the country serves as a modern, comfortable home for millions of Jews who feel free to live, grow and flourish there.

It is the land we pray towards three times a day. We pray for the people who live there. We direct so many of our charity dollars there. We hang pictures of its buildings in our homes. We are invested emotionally in its survival and success. And, as its anniversary is marked, we are reminded that we are still in golus and our physical existence is as precarious as ever. The country’s anniversary ought to remind us to increase the fervor of our tefillos for a hastening of the geulah sheleimah bimeheirah.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

His Story is Ours

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
I’m sorry for writing about Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin again, but I can’t help it. His tale haunts me.

I have a painting in my house of an old Sephardic woman. Painted in 1963 by a famous Israeli artist named Weintraub, I bought it for $200. It was dusty and banged up and lying in a pile of junk in the back of a store, but the minute I laid eyes on it, I knew that it had to be mine. The lady was talking to me from under the dust and grime which had accumulated on the sorrowful painting that the storekeeper had purchased as part of an estate.

What is so great about this painting and what attracted me to it is that when you study the woman portrayed in it, you sense in her the tale of the Jewish exile. You can almost hear her telling her tale of woe: how she was driven from her native land and brought to the Promised Land where she was forced to live in a tent city. Her children were educated by the state in a language and fashion totally unfamiliar to her. Yet, she attempts to maintain her dignity and pride. And if you look carefully, you can note the hints of a smile on her lips.

This well-executed portrait tells the tale of an era much as a couple of stanzas of well-written poetry so potently because the author is able to illuminate and portray a detailed, complicated story in but a few words.

We have been highlighting the plight of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin for some two years now, portraying it as a man fighting for his life. We were accused of being hyperbolic and, at times, I wondered if perhaps I was overplaying the drama. Maybe some secret journalistic juices which I never knew I possessed had gotten the better of me and caused me to exaggerate what was transpiring in the heartland of America. But on Friday, when government prosecutors recommended that Sholom Mordechai be sentenced to life in prison - yes, life in prison - for his bank fraud conviction, the veneer of justice was peeled off. No longer can anyone claim that the government is simply carrying out their mandate of pursuing equal justice under the law. Now it has become blatantly obvious for all to see that there is something sinister at work here.

In our Pesach edition, we published a painstakingly researched article documenting the way in which the Rubashkin case was prosecuted and the way he has been treated since his conviction. It appears as if the tale of Rubashkin is a microcosm of the tale of the Jewish people.

A simple, G-d-fearing man gave up his rabbinic position to move to an area of this country which had never had Jewish residents in order to assist his father in providing affordable kosher meat to the citizens of this land. Successful beyond anyone’s imagination, he aroused the ire of unions and radical vegetarians who marked him for destruction. Though he was an exemplary citizen, providing employment for an entire town, dispensing charity to people from all walks of life, supporting religious and educational institutions, and contributing immeasurably to the betterment of mankind, once the fix was in and the word from the bosses came down, he could do no right. The man who was regarded as a heroic figure and revered by people of all religions in town was vilified to such an extent that representatives of a country known for its pursuit of justice and fairness dedicated themselves to locking him in jail for the remainder of his life.

A nationwide media storm convicted him of crimes against humanity and cruelty to animals long before he even went to trial. In fact, those charges were never heard in a court of law. They didn’t have to be. He was convicted in the court of public opinion. Charges unrelated to what had caused his downfall were brought, and he was convicted in a case which will be pointed to for years to come as a travesty. Deemed a flight risk, because he would flee to that far off country of the Jews which embraces all Jewish crooks and swindlers, he sits in a country lockup dressed in a bright orange uniform, is housed in a small room with a pillow-less bed fit for a murderer, and is treated like one of the worst predators to ever walk the lily white streets of Iowa.

Yet, he maintains his belief and refuses to be broken. His relationship with G-d remains steadfast and he prays and studies holy books from that awful place as he awaits his redemption.
My friends, that is the story of the Jewish people in exile. His story is our story. His tale is our tale. His pain is our pain. And it’s no exaggeration. Wherever we have gone, we have been buffeted about. In whichever country we have found ourselves over the past two thousand years, we have done our best to be model citizens, to support ourselves and to help others. We have sought to cause no harm to anyone and we have brought wealth, education and health to whichever exile we landed in. Yet, we have been accused of poisoning the wells, murdering babies, demanding pounds of Christian flesh as loan repayment, and every other crime imaginable.

Without comprehension, we were pushed beyond the pale of settlement, crucified, imprisoned, and taxed into poverty. We were unable to work or go to school. Our sin? We were Jews. We believed in a Higher Authority. We hewed to an ancient honor code and moral system. We looked different. We acted different. We spoke different. We dressed different. Yes, we were different.

It made no difference to anyone how much we paid in taxes. It was never enough. We were never patriotic enough. Never clean enough. Never good enough. We were always suspect. We were always despised. We were always, dare I say, dirty Jews.

We have risen to unprecedented levels in this country and thought that here it would be different. Here we would always be accepted. Here we would always be tolerated. In this land of opportunity, anti-Semitism wouldn’t rear its ugly head so obviously. In this malchus shel chessed, we thought that we would forever be given a fair chance.

This week, many Jews will celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, the holiday of Israel’s independence. Zionists believed that if there would be a Jewish state which would act as a civilized, honorable country, the scourge of anti-Semitism would come to an end. No longer would we be treated as a pariah nation. No longer would we be judged by a double standard.

The Jewish state would herald the dawning of a new era in which all of mankind would once and for all recognize that all Jews want is to be treated like everyone else - no better, no worse. Having a Jewish state would demonstrate to the world that Jews really are capable of belonging to the brotherhood of nations. Yidden would be welcomed to the group and never again would we fear pogroms, blood libels, trumped-up legal cases, and mass annihilation.

This past Sunday, most of the Jewish world commemorated the awful Holocaust that took place during the period of World War II. Yom Hashoah speakers in synagogues, schools, and various public gatherings, who believe that we are in control, all thundered that “never again” will Jewish people stand defenseless, waiting in vain for an apathetic world to rise to their defense. Never again will Jews be marched off like sheep to death camps. Never again will desperate Jews go begging at the shores of foreign nations to be let in. Now that the Jewish people have a state and armed forces at their disposal, they will stand proud and tall and defend themselves against all comers. As if it’s up to them.

Yet, at the same times as they uttered their slogans, the enlightened nations of the world played word games with the militant Islamic regime of Iran. The Iranians continue with impunity in their mad rush towards procuring nuclear weapons with which it promises to wipe Israel and the people living there off the face of the earth. At the same time as Yom Hashoah gatherings take place, Jews were taught once again that as many times as they scream never again, they are still powerless to stem the rising tide of international state-sponsored anti-Semitism. Jews are impotent as they flail about in a desperate losing battle to stop the Iranian nuclear march.

As Israel celebrates its Independence Day, it is confronted by an American president who makes no secret of his animosity towards the state. The posture of the administration towards its strongest ally in the volatile Mid-East is troubling to lovers of peace and democracy the world over. The Israeli head of state just recently suffered unprecedented humiliation at the hands of the American president over Israel’s right to build homes for civilian Jews in the eternal capital of the Jewish people. Enemies are coddled, friends are threatened, and Jews wonder what is going on.

“What have we done to bring this upon us?” they ask. “What does he want from Israel?” they wonder. “How can this be taking place in the modern era?” they ponder.

It is an age-old question, as old as the anti-Jewish canards we all thought were things of the past. Apparently not. What can we do about it? Where do we go from here?

In this, as well, the Rubashkin saga has a lesson for us. Sholom Mordechai maintains his bitachon. As a true eved Hashem, he knows that all that transpires is for a greater purpose, which we do not yet understand. Yidden of all types demonstrate true achdus as they stand by him. Our appeal to write letters to him brings him writings from Jews of all ages from around the world, who pen letters of chizuk which warm the heart and move the people who read them to tears. The mail delivers checks of all amounts for the Pidyon Shvuyim Fund, from Jews rich and poor, with nothing more in common than Jewish compassion.

People who will never meet him, who daven a different nusach than he does, pour their hearts out in tefillah for Sholom Mordechai ben Rivkah.

Thus, not only does all this assist him in ways we can perceive and feel, but the achdus generated by the care and compassion rises above and evokes Heavenly mercy on behalf of a righteous man who spent his life helping others prior to his legal battles. It will no doubt lead to his eventual freedom.

This is the secret of Jewish survival throughout the ages. The way we cling to emunas avoseinu, the fact that we stubbornly refused to surrender in the face of overwhelming adversity, the fact that we maintained our emunah and bitachon in the darkest days of golus - all this is our lifeblood.

The Chofetz Chaim writes that if the mitzvah of gemilus chassodim would spread among our people, the world would fill with chessed and all tragedy would disappear from the world. He says that while in Mitzrayim, all of Klal Yisroel, rich and poor, looked for ways in which they could do chessed with each other and this was one of the things that led to their redemption from slavery.

It is comforting to see how even in a shaky economy, people continue to contribute to institutions of Torah and chessed. Untold amounts were distributed by maos chittim funds in every town and city where Jews reside to those unable to afford the myriad expenses of Yom Tov.

The forces of Torah strengthen from day to day as yeshivos burst at their seams and more bochurim and yungeleit than ever before in Jewish history dedicate their lives to aliyah in Torah.

The Rubashkin case portrays our tribulations in golus, but it also hints that we may very well be on our way out of here. The way Yidden have risen to the challenge and performed so many acts of chessed and achdus has created major zechuyos for all of us and has hastened the day of our redemption.

May it happen speedily, in our day. Amen.