Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Last One

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Every year of golus brings us one year closer to geulah. There is a limit to how much we can take. There is a limit to how long we have to stay away from our home. And that limit is rapidly approaching. Each year that we are kept away from the Bais Hamikdosh forces us to slide further away from our core of kedushah.

There are chato’im which we must remedy before we can merit to have the Bais Hamikdosh returned. The recent awakening of achdus in our world would seem to indicate that we have learned the lessons and are doing what we can to prepare ourselves for the final redemption.

One just had to attend one of the recent rallies for Sholom Mordechai ben Rivka to have seen an indication of the wonderful spirit of achdus which has overtaken us. How comforting it has been to see how Jews of all stripes can come together on behalf of a Jew they don't know.

We have many problems, but there is more Torah being learned than ever before. There is a tremendous amount of tzedakah in our world. We support organizations which purvey so much chesed, helping all types of Jews in myriad ways. One has to reach back a long time to identify as much ahavas chesed as we find today.

This Shabbos, we read the comforting words of Yeshayahu Hanovi, “Nachamu nachamu ami,” and become transformed.

The novi speaks to us and he says, “Nachamu, the sadness will soon end. Nachamu, the golus is almost over. Nachamu, accept consolation over the past. Nachamu, a bright new day is dawning.”

Since the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, our people have endured much tragedy. Tisha B’Av is the repository of 1,900 years of Jewish pain and suffering. It is the day on which we mourn for all that was and now isn’t, for all that wasn’t and we wish was. It is the national Jewish day of mourning for all the sadness we have endured throughout the ages.

When we sat on the floor saying the Kinnos, we mourned the churban of the Botei Mikdosh, as well as the calamities that befell the Jewish communities of Europe one thousand years later during the First Crusade. We remembered the Jews who were ripped apart during the Inquisition, the gezeiros of Tach V’Tat, and the expulsion from Spain in 1492. We were reminded of the seforim that were burnt in Paris in 1242. As we said the Kinnos, we gained a new perspective of Jewish life and suffering. Kinah after Kinah filled us with so much sadness, it seems surreal that one people can bear so much.

We mourned the millions who were killed and maimed physically and mentally during the harrowing century that just ended.

And then we finished the Kinnos, chanted Eli Tziyon, got up off the floor, straightened out the chairs, and returned to our homes. We read about the churban a little more and waited for the fast to end.

Last week was Shabbos Chazon and this week is Shabbos Nachamu. That’s the recurring cycle of our existence. We never sink into yi’ush, despair. We never give up hope. One day we can be deep down in the dumps and the next day we can be sitting on top of the world. History has shown that pain and tragedy often give birth to nechamos.

Perhaps the minhag to say Kiddush Levana for Chodesh Av on Motzoei Tisha B’Av codified by the Rama (Orach Chaim, 551:8) can be seen as a message from which we can take consolation.Tisha B’Av commemorates all the tribulations that befell our people through the centuries. Recounting all the misery we have suffered can bring a Jew to melancholy and despair. To counteract that response, as soon as the fast is over, we venture outside and remind ourselves that Am Yisroel is compared to the levanah. Just as the moon shrinks and disappears from view only to regain its full size and completeness, so too Am Yisroel. Though its suffering causes it to diminish and wither, it revives and waxes strong and whole once again.
Though we mourn the churban all year, the mourning increases during the Three Weeks and then even more so in the Nine Days, finally peaking on Tisha B’Av, but when the period of mourning is over, we are not to linger in our sorrow.

The Gemara in Maseches Bava Basra (60b) recounts that at the time of the churban, there were perushim who stopped eating meat and drinking wine. Rabi Yehoshua discussed their custom with them and convinced them to stop their practice because the halacha sets limitations to the mitzvah of aveilus.
The Gemara in Maseches Moed Koton (27b) expounds on the posuk in Yirmiyahu 22 which states, “Al tivku lemais, ve’al tanudu lo.” The Gemara says that one should not cry over a death for more than three days. Mourning has a prescribed limit and the Gemara discusses severe consequences that can result from excessive mourning.
The same holds true for the aveilus of this mourning period we have just concluded. Once the period of time Chazal designated for this extreme form of aveilus for the churbanos has passed, we are to learn the lesson of the levanah and the immortal call of “Nachamu namchamu” of Yeshayahu Hanovi.
Shabbos Nachamu proclaims that this year we observed the final Tisha B’Av. It says, “Seek comfort, for that awful day will never again be repeated.” The day of Tisha B’Av will no longer symbolize sadness and grief. Next year, Tisha B’Av will be a holiday.
All those through the ages who have suffered for being Jewish, who were burned at the stake, whose blood flowed at Beitar, and who were sent into exile by the Romans, the English, the French, and the Spanish will finally see justice.
All those who were tortured and killed, who were physically and mentally battered by the Germans, who were murdered in their prime, or who died as elderly, good, ehrliche Jews - all of them will gather together in Yerushalayim.
The stanza we sing every week in Lecha Dodi, “Hinsa’ari m’afar, kumi,” based upon the words of the novi Yeshayahu [Yeshayahu 52], will be realized. We will shake the dust off, arise and cover ourselves with the clothing of splendor, when Moshiach appears speedily in our day.

Shabbos Nachamu says that next year on Tisha B’Av, we will all be in Yerushalayim and we will all be singing and dancing. We will all be healed, and suffering will come to an end. There will be no more Kinnos and no need for those uncomfortable little benches. There will be no more sadness and no more pain. The enemies who wreaked such havoc and caused such anguish will meet their downfall and be obliterated.
Not only will swords be beaten into plowshares, but tears will turn into smiles, pained features will come alive with happiness, the sad will be festive, and the mournful will be joyous.This will have been the last Tisha B’Av in golus. The last time Kinnos were said. The last time the whole community sat in semi-darkness on the floor, shoeless, chair-less and clueless. Nachamu nachamu ami. Amein.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ihr Zolt Nit Zorgen

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Adapted from an address at the Lakewood Rubashkin asifa, Monday night, 2 Av.
We gather once again on behalf of our chaver, Sholom Mordechai ben Rivka, thousands of people united under one banner.
It has been said that this campaign for Sholom Mordechai is no longer about one man; this is not about a cause. This has become a movement. What is this movement all about?
It is a movement of genuine achdus, a movement fostering nesius ol im chaveireinu, a movement of dikduk b’mitzvos. This is a movement of strengthening emunah and bitachon, a movement which we hope and pray is being mekareiv the geulah.
We live at a time when people are divided and prone to machlokes. So many are occupied with nonsense, focused on their own needs and whims. We are here tonight to proclaim that we have not forgotten what is of real and lasting importance. We are here to proclaim our loyalty to Torah and to unite in carrying out its mandates.
This is a movement that is gaining momentum every day, from actions both visible and those that go almost unnoticed.
Just last week, a woman called me and related an incident involving her son at Camp Silver Lake. With the recent hot temperatures, campers playing ball wished to take off their tzitzis in order to be a bit cooler. “How can you remove your tzitzis,” this woman’s son asked his friends, “when Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin is moser nefesh to wear his tzitzis?”
Young boys playing ball in the heat of a summer day resist the urge to remove their tzitzis, inspired by the thought of Sholom Mordechai’s mesirus nefesh for this mitzvah. That’s what this campaign represents.
Every time a Yid mails in a contribution to the Klal Yisroel Fund at 53 Olympia Lane in Monsey, every time a child somewhere sells lemonade to raise some money for Sholom Mordechai, every time a Yid davens for Sholom Mordechai ben Rivka, every time a Yid sheds a tear for a person they don’t know, he is taking this movement of royalty and kiddush Hashem to new heights.
Every time thousands of people gather to express their pain over Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin’s plight, and pour their hearts out in prayer that Hashem rescue him, this movement gains momentum and brings us closer to our goal.
When Jews of all stripes came together with broken hearts on behalf of a fellow Jew they don’t even know, they are proclaiming that achdus is our mantra and nothing will break us.
Let me tell you a story about achdus and tzedaka, noseh be’ol and chavivus haTorah that took place many years ago, when Rabbis Dov Kreiswirth, Simcha Lefkowitz and Shmuel Lieberman started Keren Hachesed here in Lakewood to provide yungeleit with food for Yom Tov.
They went into Mr. Aaron Rubashkin’s store in Boro Park and asked him if he can make a donation. Mr. Rubashkin said, “Do you see these showcases? Take whatever you see. Take everything in the store.”
They said, “But you need it for your customers, what will you sell?”
He said, “Don’t worry about me and my customers. It’s for Torah. It’s for Bnei Torah tzu kenen machen Yom Tov. Take everything! Es iz far Torah, altz far Torah.”
That is the way Sholom Mordechai was brought up: gornit far zich, altz far Torah.
I could keep you here all night with stories about Sholom Mordechai’s tzedaka, but the hour is late and the program is long. Ask R’ Yossi Schreiber from the local Lakewood Tomche Shabbos about the unparalleled generosity of the Rubashkins. They illustrate for us what it means to be a person who knows mah chovaso be’olamo.
This is the legacy that Sholom Mordechai carried forward in his own life. He knew why Hashem entrusted him with wealth. He kept nothing for himself besides the bare minimum and he gave the rest away. From his appearance and demeanor, he looks like a simple, poshuteh Yid, but on the inside, he is a ball of fire.
A good man was targeted for prosecution by the U.S. Government, who wasted millions of our tax dollars on an unwarranted two-year persecution against Sholom Mordechai, culminating in a sentence of 27 years.
Some say that since he disobeyed the law, he must pay the price. A law that was signed into the books in 1921 requiring cattle suppliers to be paid within 24 hours of purchase was never before used to prosecute anyone. Such a law is known as a “dead” law. But when it came to finding ways to go after Sholom Mordechai and the immigration charges didn’t stick, this law was unearthed and used to stage a show trial.
Can a judge who sanctioned this travesty be considered impartial?
What else was he prosecuted for? He borrowed more money for his father’s company than Agriprocessors was entitled to borrow. Is justice served when a single count of bank fraud is double and triple counted in order to ramp up a jail sentence to unprecedented heights?
Should the findings of this judge who approved this injustice be given the status of binding facts that are not subject to appeal?
It was established at the sentencing hearings that prospective buyers of the $85 million company were scared off by the prosecutors. These potential buyers signed affidavits attesting that government officials had warned them that they would seize the business if anyone named Rubashkin would be hired in a managerial capacity.
Now, who would spend tens of millions of dollars buying a business if none of the family members who knew the business best would be permitted to serve in a managerial role under the new ownership? These businessmen were not prepared to do something reckless, and they backed off.
The result of the “No-Rubashkin” edict was a lowering of the plant’s worth until it was worth a fraction of its value. At that point, the bank’s collateral could no longer be repaid.
That is how Sholom Mordechai was charged with causing $26 million in losses.
The judge disregarded the affidavits and testimonies of the businessmen who attested to how the government had scared them off. She rejected all this evidence of government manipulation. She instead credited the testimony of a government witness - the lawyer for the trustee - that there never was a “No-Rubashkin” injunction and that such claims were fabricated.
It is unquestionably a matter of public record that the Rubashkins were to be boycotted from the business as per government order. The government’s denial of it, and the judge’s confirmation of this lie in the face of so much overwhelming evidence, is an unspeakable outrage
The government’s denial of the “Rubashkin boycott” is a powerful giveaway that the Feds know that their actions were unethical and could get them in trouble.
We are law-abiding citizens. We are honest and G-d-fearing people. And we are gathered here to support Sholom Mordechai’s effort to be granted a new trial. We have faith that the justice system can right itself and provide Sholom Mordechai with a fair trial.
A neutral judicial review of this case will blow the lid off the legal shenanigans responsible for the destruction of Agriprocessors and the continuous scapegoating of Sholom Mordechai. It will show that it was the government, not Sholom Mordechai, who is at fault for the bank losing its money. It will get him a new trial and a chance to declare his innocence to the entire world.
We gather here on the evening of Rosh Chodesh Av as we begin the Nine Days of mourning over the churbanos. We reflect on the causes of the churban, and we resolve to do what we can to merit the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh in our day.
The Gemara in Maseches Yoma discusses the churban, and we are all familiar with the Gemara. “Mikdosh Rishon mipnei mah chorav mipnei gimmel devorim shehayu boh, avodah zarah, ushefichas domimAval Mikdosh Sheini shehayu oskin beTorah umitzvos ugemillus chassodim, mipnei mah chorav, mipnei shehoysa boh sinas chinom, lelamedcha sheshkulah sinas chinom keneged gimmel aveiros…
The Gemara then states that during the period of the first Bais Hamikdosh, “reshoim hayu elah shetalu bitchonam b‘Hakadosh Boruch Hu.”
The Vilna Gaon explains that during the period of the first Bais Hamikdosh, their actions were bad, but their hearts were very good; their bitachon was strong. During the second Bais Hamikdosh period, their actions were good, but their core was rotten. Jealousy and hatred arose out of a lack of bitachon.
We all know that a generation in which the Bais Hamikdosh was not rebuilt is regarded as if it actually suffered the destruction. We all want to see the geulah. In order to do that, we have to uproot the sinas chinom in our midst, and according to the Vilna Gaon, we must strengthen the middas habitachon as well.
By joining together as we are tonight, we are proclaiming to Hakadosh Boruch Hu that we are ready for the Bais Hamikdosh Hashlishi. Look at our ahavah for another Yid. Look at how people rush to support a Yid they don’t even know. Look at how they contribute to his cause.
And look at that Yid’s middas habitachon. He doesn’t just learn Chovos Halevavos, he lives it. It sustains him. It is what keeps him in touch with reality. And his bitachon is a living, shining example for so many others to follow.
How would we react if, Rachmana litzlon, we were told that we had been sentenced to jail for 27 years? What would we do? We would probably fall apart. We would say that our life is over. We would surrender to despair. But not this tzaddik. When his wife told him that the judge was going to announce a sentence of 27 years, he made a Shehecheyanu. He now had a most rare opportunity for the mitzvos of emunah and bitachon, to show that he accepts the ratzon Hashem besimcha.
His knee-jerk reaction was to make a bracha. A Shehecheyanu! Is that not a Yid who is consumed with emunah and bitachon? Is that not a lesson for us during these Nine Days?
In this week’s hafotrah of Shabbos Chazon, the novi Yeshaya says, “Limdu heiteiv, dirshu mishpot, ashru chamotz, shiftu yasom, rivu almanah.” The Radak explains that Yeshaya is saying, “limdu heiteiv,” learn to do good to each other, “dirshu mishpot,” demand justice, “ashru chamotz”, straighten the perverted justice that robbed an innocent person, “shiftu yasom,” make sure the yasom gets true justice, and “rivu almanah,” hear the cries of the almanah and make sure that she is justly treated in court.
Close your eyes and picture this. Sholom Mordechai’s wife and young children were in Boro Park a couple weeks ago to visit their Zaidy. They were walking down the street and the signs for the Boro Park rally were still hanging. The Rubashkins’ six-year-old son, an adorable little boy named Uziel, was so excited to see the pictures of his Totty.
“Mommy, Mommy, look! There’s Totty!” he exclaimed. He couldn’t contain his excitement. He then ran up to each poster and began jumping up and kissing the pictures of his father. “Mommy, Mommy, I am kooshing Totty! Look, I can koosh Totty!” he kept repeating.
You see, this little boy hasn’t been able to kiss his Totty, or have his Totty kiss him, since November, when his Totty was ripped away from him and thrown into jail. When they see Sholom Mordechai during their half-hour visit, Uziel’s father is kept behind a glass panel, because he is so “dangerous.”
And now, Uziel was able to “koosh Totty,” big, life-sized, pictures of Totty hung in the streets of Boro Park. Picture it. Is there anything more heart-wrenching?
Imagine the pain of a mother who has to witness this. Her husband is alive and her child’s father is alive. But I am sure that when Yeshayahu Hanovi uttered those immortal words, “ashru chamotz, shiftu yasom, rivu almanah,” Sholom Mordechai, Uziel and Leah Rubashkin were included.
Rabbosai, shiftu yasom, rivu almanah. We must do what we can to carry out the command of Yeshayahu Hanovi. We will then be zoche to the words that we read a few pesukim later: “Tzion bemishpot tipodeh, veshoveha b’tzedakah."
Sholom Mordechai, ihr zolt nit zorgen Tzion bemishpot tipodeh, veshoveha b’tzedakah.
Yidden, ihr zolt nit zorgen Tzion bemishpot tipodeh, veshoveha b’tzedaka. Bimeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Never Again

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Is it anti-Semitism? Everyone I meet who brings up the Rubashkin case has the same question. Was Sholom Mordechai targeted for prosecution because he is a Jew? Was the disproportionate sentence he received tied to his religion?

It is a fair question, with no fair answer. We see what was done to him. We see that he was prosecuted for crimes for which no one was ever charged in the history of the United States. We see that he received a sentence so blatantly exaggerated when compared with any sentence handed down to anyone previously convicted of similar crimes. We see the way the prosecutors set him up as one of the most evil men ever to walk the streets of Iowa. Yet, when it came down to it, they couldn’t prove any of their charges and had him sent away for actions totally unrelated to the onslaught of the federal government with its now infamous 2008 raid.

We are now in the period of the Three Weeks. This week we bentch Chodesh Av. This time of year commemorates the calamities the Jewish people have faced going back to the years we spent in the desert before we entered Eretz Yisroel. When we accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, “sinah yordah le’olam,” an irrational hatred took hold of the nations of the world. They hate us without rhyme or reason. There is no rational explanation for it. That’s just the way it is.

Ever since we were thrown out of our land, we have suffered at the hands of oppressors. Wherever we have been in the Diaspora, our hosts have been repelled by us. They said we were too clean or too dirty, too rich or too poor, too good in business, thiefs, crooks, and parasites. We were taxed into poverty, forced to live in ghettos, and forced to wear yellow stars, not only in Germany.

They forced us to convert to Christianity or be burned at the stake. People who converted were burned anyway, because their conversion wasn’t genuine. We poisoned the drinking water, they said. We killed little babies for the Seder, they claimed with all seriousness. We were kicked out of country after country, and in those countries where we were allowed to remain, we were rounded up and burned alive. This happened in countries such as England. Yes, England. In France they burned the Talmud. In Italy too.

Our lives were made miserable. Our children were taken into the Czar’s army at young ages and never heard from again. We were forced to build coliseums and then sent into them to fight starved lions until they ate us for dinner. We were sold into slavery and sent around the world in chains.

We were persecuted by every means that civilized man could dream of, and the collective memory of the Jewish people has not forgotten it. Many Jews have adopted the slogan “Never Again.” They think that by saying it, they can ensure that never again will we be singled out for murder, pillage, torture, or inhumane treatment. But we know that is not true.

We look around the world and see Iran arming itself with nuclear weaponry and we watch a world sitting by, barely lifting a finger. Can we truly say, “Never Again”?

We see the State of Israel held to a double standard by all nations of the world. Can we say, “Never Again”?

We see Jews being targeted for derision again all across Europe. Can we say, “Never Again”?

We see an American president publicly humiliate the Israeli prime minister. Can we really say that America will always be there for Israel and ensure that never again will the Jewish people be liquidated?

We see what happens when Israel attempts to enforce a blockade that’s intended to hamper the ability of their terrorist enemies to rearm themselves. We see a world gone mad in hypocritical condemnation of a besieged country as it tries to defend itself. Can we really say, “Never Again”?

Recently, a Jewish group met with Vice President Joe Biden. In an unguarded, off-the-record moment, he said to them, “You people have a saying of ‘Never Again.’ Well, let me tell you that it could happen again in an instant.”

And he ought to know.

We also ought to know, and we do. We know that our existence here is tenuous. We are thankful for the freedoms granted us by the great country in which we reside. We are as patriotic as our neighbors and recognize how lucky we are to live at this time in this place. But we know our history and we are always on edge, constantly on the lookout for signs of “it” rearing its ugly head. We are always on the defensive and doing our best to protect ourselves. We do what we can in the form of hishtadlus to make sure that it won’t happen again and that it won’t happen here.

And then we see a Jew’s business targeted in a way in which no other business was ever targeted. We see that business blasted in the media as a hotbed of all forms of evil. We see that Jew painted as an individual who has taken advantage of the poor and the weak. We see that Jew locked in jail awaiting trial, denied release on bail because he is a Jew who can run off to Israel.

When we see all this, what do we expect people to think?

We have been chased from country to country and have been victimized by courts of justice around the world for millennia. We are a nation whose members have been jailed on libelous charges since time immemorial. When we see one of our own found guilty by a biased judge who prevented a jury from hearing the truth, and then we watch in horror as that man receives a life sentence in jail, what do people expect us to think?

When the trial outcome and the sentencing don’t stand the test of common sense, what are people supposed to think? When they see five people submit affidavits that they were threatened with forfeiture by the government if they would purchase the man’s business and hire any of his relatives, and then they see in a sentencing memorandum that the judge ignored their testimony in favor of the word of a government-hired lawyer who testified that it never happened, what do you expect people to think?

When people see that this fine gentleman was found guilty of defrauding a bank of $26 million, they wonder how the government arrived at that number. They wonder why the $21 million of interest he paid on that loan doesn’t count towards the $26 million he is accused of causing the bank to lose.

Above all, people wonder why the man is sitting in jail for causing the bank a loss which was caused by nothing less than the government’s unprecedented actions which forced the company into bankruptcy, something Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin could never have anticipated. Whatever actions he did or didn’t do had nothing to do with the business’s ultimate bankruptcy.

Can anyone blame our people, who have been persecuted forever and finally planted roots in this wonderful country thinking that it would be different here, for wondering in bewilderment and exasperation when they see these things taking place?

This country’s government is based on the principle of being of the people, by the people, for the people - in the words of President Abraham Lincoln - not against the people due to the power and influence of entrenched interests, unions, radical vegetarians, and out-of-control prosecutors. People have a sense of fear that the politicians are ruining the country and want to stop them before they can do more damage to the social fiber of the United States.

People are astonished that a 13-story mosque is being welcomed at the site where 3,000 people died at the hands of Islamic murderers. The edifice will cost $100 million and people wonder who will be paying for it. Politicians welcome the building in a bizarre, gullible and naïve commemoration of diversity, and in the name of tolerance and brotherhood. Following that line of reasoning, Nazis should be permitted to construct a memorial at Auschwitz.

People feel that respect for the values which make this country great is under attack and they worry whether it can happen here.

Am Yisroel is rallying to the side of Sholom Mordechai ben Rivkah and doing all they can to ensure that he is given a fair chance at appealing the awful verdict he received. The achdus generated in the wake of his trial is unprecedented in recent years and we pray that it will help bring the final redemption closer.

Am Yisroel is comprised of maaminim bnei maaminim, who know that all that transpires in the world is for a higher purpose and that nothing is haphazard. However, as a people who have suffered so much, we pine for the arrival of Moshiach.

We are currently marking days of aveilus for the churbanos and tragedies our nation has endured, and we pray that they won’t ever happen again. We have had enough pain and enough tzaros. We have been victimized by enough courts and plead for Eliyahu Hanovi to come and tell us that the geulah is here.

Is it anti-Semitism? Who knows? We don’t know why things happen. We only know what happened and we know that there is something wrong in Iowa. We see a lone Jew in Cedar Rapids treated the way Israel is treated at the United Nations, and we shudder.

And we continue to wonder. Can it happen here? Is it anti-Semitism? Is the ancient scourge of humanity rearing its ugly head again? Is the ancient curse taking root here? Can it happen again?

We lift up our eyes in prayer and we pray, “Hashem, please. Never Again.”