Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Being a Yid is All About

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

I had the occasion last week to address a gathering aimed at raising funds to pay for the legal defense team of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, as they seek to right a wrong and regain his freedom.

Let me share with you a story I retold.

It was following a Yerushalayim hafganah (protest rally) that a religious chaplain went to the office of a local police chief to seek his intervention on behalf of some people who were arrested at the rally and were being held in prison.

As the chaplain entered the office to meet with the obviously secular chief, he saw behind him, on the credenza, a framed photo of a religious family. As he stood there looking at the crusty policeman and the picture behind him, his curiosity was aroused and he asked who the people in the picture are and why their picture is displayed in his office.

“Sit down,” the chief said, “and let me tell you the story.

“It was many years ago, when I was still a rookie cop on the beat. It was a very hot week and I was overworked and bone tired. I was looking forward to having a couple of days off. I needed the rest. I was tense, stressed, and hot.

“The chief called me in and said, ‘You’re not getting off tomorrow. Those crazy chareidim are calling for a massive demonstration and I need all hands on deck. All personal days have been cancelled.’

“I begged. I pleaded. I said, ‘Please, I can’t do it anymore. I need a break.’ The chief said, ‘No way. Everyone must come in to work tomorrow. No exceptions. There will be thousands of them out there demonstrating, and every officer must be on duty to ensure that there is no mayhem and that they don’t spill over past where we can corral them.’

“I was furious. I was fit to be tied. It was to be my day off. I was looking forward to that day all week. I couldn’t go on anymore. I so desperately needed the break I wasn’t getting.

“So when I woke up that morning and dressed for work, instead of sleeping late and taking it easy, I cursed the chareidim. I was so angry that I had to go to work. I was tense beyond description.

“I got to the station and into my riot gear. I was so hot. It was 100 degrees outside, and with all that gear, I was going to sweat and go nuts. As I grabbed my baton, I swung it around and swore that the first chareidi who steps out of line would have that baton hit him on his head.

“I got the location of the rally and saw them gathering. My blood was boiling, as was the rest of me. I was sweltering in the sun and the heat, cursing my fate for forcing me to be there instead of in my air conditioned home. I swung that baton around and said to myself over and over again that the first one of them to cross the police line will regret it. That baton will smash him in the face and all over his body. I’d let out my building frustrations on that poor guy and beat him without mercy.

“For a while, I was just standing there, drenched in sweat, dreaming about the one I would whack, but no one was crossing the line. Then I saw an old lady approaching. She was walking towards me very slowly and had something in her hand. I hoped she wouldn’t be the one to meet my baton, but I made myself a promise and had no intention of breaking my word to myself. If she would cross the line, I would whack her.

“She kept on coming and I called out to her to halt. I said, ‘Stop! Don’t come closer. Please, lady, stay where you are. If you come any closer, I will have to hit you with this stick.’ I swung the stick around to show her I meant business. She kept on coming, walking slowly towards me. She was about ten feet away. I called out to her again, ‘Giveret, hafsiki! Stop where you are! Turn around and go back. Al titkarvi. If you come any closer, I will beat you. There is zero tolerance today. I am warning you. Any closer to me and you will seriously regret it.’

“The woman kept on coming. She was right on top of me and I’d had it. I picked up my baton to strike her and I shouted, ‘I warned you repeatedly, I asked you to stop, to go back, but you wouldn’t listen, so here it goes.’

“The woman lifted her hand and for the first time began to speak. She spoke very softly, but I heard every word and will never forget what she said. She said to me, ‘You can do what you want to me, you have the uniform, you have protection, you have that stick, but before you do what you want with the stick, I have something for you. It’s hot, its 100 degrees out here, you are sweating, and you must be thirsty. I’m sure you can use a drink, so please take this bottle of water from me. Then you’re free to do what you want.’

“Well, that was the story. I didn’t beat her. I thanked her. I put my baton back into its holster. I drank the water.

“When I got home, I spoke to my six-year-old daughter. I said to her, ‘I want you to play with those religious kids down the street from where we live.’ I said that any group of people who can produce a woman like that can’t be all that bad. It was too late for me, but not for my daughter. One thing led to another. My daughter became friendly with those kids and eventually wanted to go to the same school as them. She did. You see that picture? That is my daughter with her family.”

This story is a great one, because it portrays the greatness of Am Yisroel. It imparts a lesson taught by a Yerushalmi bubbe who wouldn’t let an out-of-control policeman rob her of her humanity. Her care and concern for a fellow Jew gave her strength and courage. She believed in the innate goodness of all Jews, even a furious, secular Tziyoni brandishing a stick over her head.

You may say that she was naïve, foolhardy and misguided, but if you do, then you never met those beautiful Yerushalmi Yidden, who have made it through everything, from hunger and deprivation to the vagaries of people who don’t always appreciate them. Tucked into their own corner of the world, in the holiest of the holiest, they are the holiest of the holiest, with their pure and simple dedication to doing what is proper and correct, despite apparent cost and danger.

We, who live far from that corner of the world, have much to learn from them. It is not simplistic to say that we should look at everyone we meet today with warm eyes. If someone treats us harshly, we should realize that they may be having a bad day. Maybe they are hot, maybe they are thirsty, or maybe they want to be home in bed.

If a child is misbehaving, maybe he needs attention, maybe he’s hungry, or maybe he’s bored. Maybe the reason he misbehaves in school and at home is because he’s frustrated that he can’t read. If I would just reach out with a friendly hand, a cup of water, or a little love, I will let him know that I know and I care. If I would hint to him that I sympathize with his pain, I’d be able to get through that veneer of anger and reach his soul.

If a person treats me with anger and vilifies me in a way which I certainly don’t deserve, if I am the victim of irrational animosity, instead of fighting back and exacerbating the situation, I should display self-control and pity the person who is antagonizing me with his petulance and irascibility.

And it is not just people who antagonize us with whom we should deal with mercy and love. It is anyone we come in contact with. Any time we deal with people, we should remember that we are heirs to a golden chain of rachmonim, bayshonim and gomlei chassodim. We are a merciful and charitable people. We should never betray our heritage, as deserving as we think we are of exasperated indignation. We must think of how that Yerushalmi bubbe would respond.

Think of the times you were hot, sweaty, tired and irrational. Consider how you would have been impacted had you encountered a woman such as the one that rookie policeman did on that hot day when he didn’t want to be working. Think of how her singular act changed the life of his family.

Think of the good you can accomplish if you would treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s what Hillel Hazakein said being a Yid is all about. Let’s put it into practice.

• • • • •

Thanks to Rabbi Yechiel Spero, Yated columnist, master mechanech, best-selling author, orator and more, for sharing the story with me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bringing the Geulah Closer

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The posuk at the beginning of this week’s parsha relates that as Moshe grew to adulthood, he left the house of Paroh and observed firsthand his brothers’ suffering. The first day he ventured forth, he saw a Mitzri beating a Jew. He looked around and, assuring himself that there were no witnesses, killed the Mitzri and hid him in the sand.

On the second day, Moshe saw two Jews, Doson and Avirom, fighting. Addressing the one with a raised fist as “rasha,” Moshe asked him why he was striking his friend. The man responded, “Who appointed you a ruler and judge over us? Are you going to kill me the way you killed the Mitzri?”

Moshe became frightened and said, “Achein nodah hadovor - Indeed, the matter is known.” The posuk’s intent would seem to be that Moshe feared that there were witnesses to what he had done the day before to the Mitzri. “Achein nodah hadovor - I have been discovered and I am now in trouble.” In fact, the next posuk relates that Paroh heard about what happened and Moshe was forced to flee for his life.

The Medrash, quoted by Rashi, offers a different explanation: “Achein nodah hadovor - Now I understand the matter that was troubling me.” The suffering of the Jews had been a mystery to Moshe, but upon observing the way these two men interacted with each another, he understood.

Let us try to comprehend the Medrash. Moshe was raised amidst the regal splendor of Paroh’s palace. At the age of twenty, after being appointed by Paroh to a position of authority, he left the palace to identify with the suffering of his people. He was overcome by the sight of their anguish.

The first time he left the palace to explore the plight of his brethren, he came across a Mitzri beating a Jew. The sight of a Jew being persecuted, the sight of evil and injustice being perpetrated, affected him to his core. He couldn’t stand by passively and he immediately struck down the tormentor.

As a member of Paroh’s royal household, he had never been permitted to see the Jewish people up close and was baffled by their enslavement and suffering. Why was their inhumane treatment allowed to continue? Why did they not rise up to defend themselves from their evil masters? Why were they doomed to a life of servitude?

The incident with Doson and Avirom, who mocked him when he appealed to them to cease quarrelling, answered his questions.

Rashi explains that Moshe saw that they were baalei lashon harah, and he thus understood their captivity. Granted that lashon harah is a terrible trait, and even worse, one who speaks it transgresses many sins, but how does the fact that the Jews are guilty of lashon harah explain why the Jews weren’t worthy of being rescued from Mitzrayim?

In last week’s parsha, Vayechi, Yaakov Avinu gathered his sons prior to his passing and wished to reveal to them when Moshiach would come and what he would usher in. The posuk states, “Hei’asfu va’agidah lochem eis asher yikrah es’chem be’Acharis Hayomim - Gather and I will reveal to you what will transpire at the End of Days.”

The Medrash explains that Yaakov was saying to the shevatim that when their children will be unified, when they will all gather together as one, the period of Acharis Hayomim could then begin.

Perhaps we can suggest that when Moshe saw that the Jews engaged in lashon harah, indicating a deep hatred and jealousy for others, he knew that they weren’t unified. If they could speak that way, he knew that there was no unity among them. He knew that they were fractured and divided, and thus, “nodah hadovor,” he understood why they did not deserve Divine deliverance.

Moshe observed that the reaction to someone who considered Jewish life sacred, and to someone who cared enough about the way the Jews were being treated that he put his life in jeopardy, was mockery and scorn.

Instead of thanking Moshe for his heroic act, they vilified him. Instead of praising a fearless stranger for his defense of one of their brethren, they raised their hands to strike each other.

When had they ever seen a person intercede on behalf of the Jews? Was there anyone else who lifted a finger to help them? Yet, instead of recognizing the person and seeking to win him over to their cause, they vilified him.

Achein nodah hadovor. They were insecure in their greatness. They viewed themselves with derision. They beat themselves. They took the side of their enemies. They were tormented beyond belief, yet when someone came along to help them, they sided with the oppressor and not with the man who rescued a Jew. They adopted the thinking of their slave-drivers, thinking they weren’t deserving of help. Thus, they would never be able to rally around a redeemer; they would never cease speaking lashon harah and committing other aveiros which caused a wall to be erected between them and Hashem

Achein nodah hadovor. Moshe understood why no leader had emerged to unite the Jews against the Mitzriyim. They had to do battle with the likes of Doson and Avirom, who stood ready to slander them, and sabotage and mock them for their efforts.

In our day, as well, there are people who adopt the position of those who vilify us. When Jews rally in unity and seek to help one another, there are people who mock them and admonish them for banding together. When the media seeks to paint us all with old stereotypes, we find bloggers and others who join in the anti-religious chorus and, rather than defend the Jewish victims, they adopt the bigoted vitriol.

An extreme example of this harmful behavior is a personage like Henry Kissinger. In recently released tapes, he is heard telling President Richard Nixon in 1973 that were the Soviet Union to put Jews into gas chambers, it would not be an American concern.

Though he himself was rescued from the clutches of the Nazis by the generosity of this great land, when he was in a position to help the Jews of the Soviet Union, he was subservient to the anti-Semitic bias of his boss.

That is the syndrome in its extreme, but quite often of late, we have seen Jews not only acting foolishly in the public eye and badmouthing their brethren in the media, but we see them inexplicably taking the side of those who express an anti-Jewish bias, even when doing so flies in the face of the obvious truth. These people harm us, our causes and our prospects for deliverance.

When we encounter such people, we should say to ourselves, “Achein nodah hadovor,” and work even harder to spread goodness and kindness. We cannot permit them to lower us to their level. We have to overcome the actions of such people through education and dedication to Torah, mitzvos and our ancient credo.

When we encounter the Dosons and Aviroms of our time who show contempt for our leaders and those who seek to help other Jews, we should recognize them for what they are and not give them credence.

If we want to bring the geulah closer, we have to be supportive of those who display communal responsibility and concern. We must encourage people to get involved in helping to build organizations and mosdos. We must support people who seek to resolve community-wide dilemmas that affect each and every one of us.

We must collectively declare that we have had enough of the Dosons and Aviroms among us. We must engage in actions which foster ahavas Yisroel and seek to bring love and respect amongst Jews. We have to work to help the downtrodden, the poor, the abused, the forlorn, and the people nobody seems to care about. We have to strive to remove the plague of jealousy from amongst us.

We have to dedicate ourselves and our free time to help build mosdos of Torah and chesed. We must rise to the occasion, whether or not we will be recognized or thanked for our efforts. We have to view every Jew as a brother and treat him with brotherly love and concern.

If we will adhere to Yaakov Avinu’s credo of “hei’asfu,” we will bring about the period of Acharis Hayomim speedily, in our day.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Enduring Legacy

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Vayechi, which we lain this Shabbos, marks the final chapter in the saga of Yosef and the other shevatim. Embedded in this gripping narrative about Yosef’s interactions with his brothers are profound lessons that can be applied in every generation.

From the saga’s prelude in Pashas Vayaishev to Yehuda’s confrontation with Yosef in Pashas Vayigash, we find a wealth of insights that can be especially useful in our own times.

Healing Estrangement Between Jews

In Parshas Vayeishev, the posuk [36, 15] recounts that Yaakov sent Yosef to meet up with his brothers who were shepherding their sheep in Sh’chem. The Torah tells us that a man - who Rashi, quoting the Medrash, tells us was the malach Gavriel - found Yosef wandering about in the sodeh and asked him what he was looking for. Yosef responded that he was looking for his brothers. The man told him that they had moved on and directed him to where he could find them.

Perhaps al pi drush we can say that just as Yitzchok went out lasuach basudeh - which Chazal interpret to mean that he was davening Mincha - Yosef was tofeis emunas avosav and was seeking to daven in the sodeh. The malach discerned that Yosef was toeh baderech, was unable to concentrate on his tefillah, and asked him what was disturbing him. Yosef explained that he was estranged from his brothers – es achai anochi mevakeish. The message here is that when there is a separation - pirud - between Jews, we are unable to properly concentrate on our obligations.

The malach directed him to his brothers in the hope that when he would meet up with them, they would be able to patch things up. The Hashgacha Elyona had other plans and Yosef was subsequently sold into slavery.

In our day when a fellow Jew is in trouble, and through no fault of his own isolated from the klal, we must do all we can to help him. We should regard him with the same love we have for a brother and do all we can to help alleviate his plight.

When conflict drives people apart, we have to seek to bring them together. Jews should be united, not divided. Divisiveness drains us of our power. The reality of machlokes should devastate us, cause our hearts to ache, and prompt us to do all we can to bring about reconciliation and shalom.

No Future Without A Past

Other lessons about how we are to conduct ourselves come to the fore in the confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef in last week’s parsha of Vayigash. Yehudah reminds Yosef of the peculiar questions he had posed to the brothers when they first arrived in Mitzrayim: he inquired as to whether they had a father or a brother. What was the purpose of this odd question? Doesn’t every person have a father? And what difference is it to an Egyptian ruler whether these men who had come looking for food have a father or brother?

A Chasidishe Rebbi once explained that Yosef was asking the brothers whether they had family traditions to which they were loyal. Do you have a solid foundation, he wanted to know? Do you have a Father in Heaven whose word you follow and whom you worship, or are you just a clan of roving nomads, intent on harming Mitzrayim?

Perhaps we can add that by asking about their father and brother he was referring to the future. Are you people concerned with the youth? Do you connect them with their past; educate them about their heritage? Or do you permit the winds of the times to impact and indoctrinate them?

Yehuda responded: Yeish lanu av zakein, we have an old father, a glorious past, v’yeled zekunim, and a bright future. Vanomer el adoni, lo yuchal hanaar laazov es aviv, v’ozav es aviv vames. The future cannot sever itself from the past, for we understand that if we would permit that to happen, our future is dead.

In order to inculcate in our children - and ourselves - the strength to withstand the onslaught of secular culture with all its ills, in order to build the spiritual fortitude to fight off the daily temptations and pitfalls, we must embrace the minhagim passed down with such devotion from generation to generation.

In fact, it is Yosef himself who set the most powerful, enduring example of moral purity and self-control in a degenerate society. Egypt was infamous for its culture of licentiousness and moral filth. By maintaining his righteousness in such an environment, Yosef attained a stature almost comparable to that of the Avos. He imbued his descendants and all of Klal Yisroel with the spiritual fortitude to rise above temptation and seductive influences in all their lands of exile.

The harchokos in tznius, the gedorim which have been handed down from parents to children throughout the ages have kept us whole, and have kept at bay the forces of assimilation and religious estrangement. Clinging to the path set down by our parents and grandparents, recognizing their spiritual accomplishments and striving to emulate them will enable us to persevere through the darkness until the coming of Moshiach.

Sterling Credentials of Shimon And Levi

In this week’s parsha of Vayechi, we hear Yaakov Avinu delivering his brachos and parting words to each one of his sons. Shimon and Levi are admonished for the way they dealt with Sh’chem and Chamor. Yaakov then tells them “Achalkeim B’Yaakov, va’afitzeim b’Yisroel.”

Rashi states that Yaakov, in this verse, is referring to the tribe of Shimon, and that from this tribe will come the mechanchim who are melamdei tinokos. The Medrash [found in Otzar Hamidrsohim] states that Yaakov was blessing Levi that his offspring will be the talmidei chachomim in the botei midrashos who will be the morei hora’ah. The Medrash derives this insight from the root of the word afitzeim, which means hora’ah.

The Rambam in Hilchos Avodah Zorah [1, 3] writes that “Yaakov taught all of his sons, but separated Levi from amongst them and appointed him the rosh… He commanded his sons that they should never transfer the task of the transmission of [the Torah] away from the B’nei Levi…”

Although Yaakov was upset with the way Shimon and Levi handled Sh’chem and Chamor, the degree of mesirus nefesh they demonstrated on behalf of their sister proved that Shimon and Levi were the ones worthy of transmitting the traditions to the future generations. In order to be a moreh hora’ah, or a good mechaneich, one has to be prepared to give his life for the truth, and to consistently withstand temptations and external pressures.

There are so many enticements luring us to turn our backs on our values and morals that only individuals possessing the steadfast integrity and moral character of the B’nei Shimon and Levi can be entrusted to enlighten and guide us.

In a time when degeneracy in the surrounding culture is rampant, we must search out such teachers and role models for ourselves and when we find them, support them fully in their holy work educating and leading the community.

Dealing With Adversity

And finally, let us turn to Yosef’s response to his brothers following the passing of Yaakov, for insight in to how to deal with those who have sought to harm us. The brothers were worried that no longer having to fear Yaakov, Yosef would exact his revenge upon them for the way they treated him. Yosef allayed their fears, explaining that despite their bad intentions when they sold him, Hakadosh Boruch Hu designed a positive outcome to the episode. Through being forced down to Egypt as a slave, Yosef was ultimately able to provide for the entire family.
Yosef demonstrated for all future generations the highest level of bitachon, in being able to see the good even in circumstances that appear hopelessly negative. Though we may not understand why we are being subjected to pain, and though our tormentors are motivated by malicious intent, we believe that everything that happens to us is for a higher purpose and a higher cause. It may not be readily apparent, and it may take time for the truth to be revealed, but as believers, we understand that nothing happens at random. Everything is orchestrated by the Borai Olam.
Armed with this kind of faith, we will be able to carry ourselves through all of life’s vicissitudes; the positive ones as well as those in which the good is sometimes hidden. We will be able to withstand tragedy, adversity, humiliation and affliction, and emerge from them stronger and better.

Our faith in Hashem’s benevolence and total mastery over our fate will enable us to use these experiences to become better Jews, and better brothers and sisters to our family, friends and neighbors.

Although Parshas Vayechi ends the narrative of Yosef and his brothers, the profound lessons of these chapters continue to blaze a path for Klal Yisroel through the darkness of galus. Let us bring the geulah closer by internalizing these lessons. Let us be more active in healing estrangement between Jews and in strengthening our moral character. Let us take greater care in safeguarding the transmission of Torah to our children. And most importantly, let us focus on building our faith in Hashem’s unfathomable goodness and omnipotence.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

If there is a lesson to be learned from the leaking of hundreds of thousands of previously secret diplomatic cables, it is the dishonesty governments employ when dealing with their citizens. When confronted with evidence of skullduggery, spokesmen engage in double-speak. Statesmen evade truthful answers and substitute obfuscation for honesty. Apparently, this is common practice in all countries.

America makes believe publicly that Russia is a democracy led by upstanding politicians, yet in private it admits what everyone knows: from Putin on down, the entire Russian government is run as a mafia.

America speaks highly of the presidents of Germany, France and Italy, yet away from the spotlight, diplomats who engage with them refer to them as feckless, wimpy and lazy.

Arab heads of state tell their subjects and the media that Israel is at fault for all the ills of the world. They say that if the Palestinian problem would be solved, peace would reign throughout the world, from Iraq to Iran and everywhere else. Yet, when they think that no one will find out, they beg America to cut off the head of the snake and kill Iran’s Ahmadinejad before he gets the nuclear bomb.

They engage in hypocrisy to prop up their failing regimes. When they are alone and out of earshot, they demonstrate that they know the truth, but in public they deny it. They would rather instigate their masses to murder innocent Jews and to demonize Israel and its citizens than own up to the fact that behind closed doors they are hoping that Israel will do the dirty work for them.

Politicians do it all the time. They think the people fall for their lies. They believe that by being dishonest, they will gain popularity. They delude themselves into thinking that by being all things to all people, all people will love, respect and vote for them.

Other people also make that mistake, thinking that by being dishonest, they will get ahead. They believe that by not answering questions truthfully, they will win more friends and arguments.

The honest person faces loneliness. Most people do not want to be confronted with the truth. Oftentimes, they prefer to believe that the world is a good place, filled with kind, compassionate people. They imagine a simple world where all people can really get along. They fall for sugary advertisements and deceitful sales pitches designed to separate them from their money by promising them fanciful bliss.

Vayivaseir Yaakov levado vayei’oveik ish imo ad alos hashachar - And Yaakov stood alone and a man wrestled with him until morning.” The posuk recounts that while Yaakov Avinu was left alone, the malach of Eisav attacked him. Rashi quotes the Medrash which derives from this verse that Yaakov had returned to this site of his camp to fetch pachim ketanim which he had left behind. It was when he was alone that Eisav’s angel caught up with him.

The sefer Imrei Shefer (Shabbos 21b) quotes a Medrash which states that in the merit of Yaakov returning for pachim ketanim, the Chashmonaim found a pach shemen with the seal of the Kohein Gadol.

The question is obvious. What does the miracle of Chanukah have to do with the fact that Yaakov left his camp and returned for pachim? Obviously, there is more to this lesson than the use of the words pachim and pach.

Yaakov returned for the small pachim alone, and the inference is that only Yaakov had the presence of mind to return for these small possessions. Lesser people wouldn’t go back for such small, seemingly inconsequential items. But to Yaakov, and to tzaddikim like him, everything in this world is here for a purpose. Nothing here is extra and nothing is inconsequential. They utilize every minute of their lives for noble purposes, and to them no period of time is insignificant.

The actual language of the Medrash is that Hashem said to Yaakov that because you were moser nefesh for pachim ketanim for Me, I will reward your children with a pach koton in the days of the Chashmonaim.

At first glance, the language stating that Yaakov did this act for Hashem is difficult to understand. After further reflection, however, we can understand it by comprehending that Yaakov returned for the pachim because he recognized that every one of man’s possessions is a gift from Hashem and is given to him to utilize and not waste. To people who value what they have, din perutah kedin me’ah, they treat a penny with the same respect as they treat a hundred dollars. Additionally, they treat all people the same, no matter how simple the people appear to be, because they know that all human beings were created in the image of Hashem.

There is nothing trivial and unimportant. Nothing is overlooked. They seek perfection in all their actions and never cut corners.

Tzaddikim do not fear being alone, if that is the price they must pay for their fidelity to honesty, faithfulness and morality. Chazal state that because Yaakov was levado, alone, he merited to be saved from Eisav’s angel.

It is interesting to note that it is from this word, levado, that Chazal derive that Yaakov returned for the small items. Perhaps this is the source of the lesson that in the merit of the pachim ketanim, the pach shemen was found. Because the Chashmonaim did not fear being alone in their day, they merited a miraculous deliverance. Most of the Jewish people back then were convinced that they had to compromise with the Hellenists in order to survive. Thus, the Chashmonaim were outnumbered in the smaller and larger pictures of their own community and in the world in general. But they weren’t impressed and remained loyal to their ideals and the truth. They were like their forefather Yaakov, and in that merit they found the untainted small jug with which to light the menorah and thus re-consecrate the Bais Hamikdosh.

The Bnei Chashmonai were not born fighters. In fact, they were descendants of Aharon Hakohein, the quintessential man of peace. They were holy people, in whose hearts burned an uncompromising, insatiable desire to rid the world of evil. As we say in Al Hanissim, they were few and they were weak. But they were righteous. And they had the courage of their convictions. They refused to subjugate themselves to the profane practices and worldview of the Hellenists no matter how unpopular their position was. Under the leadership of Matisyahu ben Yochanan Kohein Gadol, this handful of die-hard tzaddikim and oskei Torah rose up to provide leadership for a dejected, suppressed people. Hashem took note of their courage and self-sacrifice and empowered them with the ability to rally the Bnei Yisroel and to emerge victorious over a powerful and deeply entrenched enemy.

With its roots branching out from the time Yaakov Avinu had to fend off the angel of Eisav because he was concerned about pachim ketanim to the avodah of Aharon Hakohein in the Mishkan, the lighting of the menorah reminds us of Yaakov’s lessons and how Aharon and his family ascended to the kehunah.

At the time of the sin of the Eigel, Moshe Rabbeinu proclaimed, “Mi laHashem eilay - Let all the men of G-d appear before me.” The shevet of Levi rallied to the side of Moshe.

Aharon and his shevet did not take a poll to see which side would be victorious. They didn’t take a head count to try to determine which side would win the battle. Moshe needed them and they rose to the occasion. Hashem caused them to win and beat back the idolaters and thus the plague that threatened the Jewish people was squelched. That same fire for Hashem and His Torah burned in the hearts of his grandchildren, the Chashmonaim, and thanks to them, the forces of evil were defeated. They, too, didn’t check to see which way the wind was blowing before taking action. They were not manipulated by public opinion. They did not seek compromise in the face of the campaign to separate the Jewish people from the Torah.

The Sefer Chashmonaim (Medrash Chanukah 2) recounts that when Mattisyahu ben Yochanon Kohein Gadol saw that the Jews weren’t able to observe the Torah, he commanded his son Yehudah to go forth to the cities of Yehudah and call out, “Mi laHashem eilay.” When they heard the call of “Mi laHashem eilay,” the Maccabim answered without hesitation, just as Aharon Hakohein and his shevet did so many years prior.

In our day, as well, there is a kolah delo posik, a silent call emanating from Sinai and from the Har Habayis and from every bais medrash around the world. “Mi laHashem eilay,” it proclaims. Those who are the spiritual heirs of Aharon and his shevet respond, “Hineni shalcheini - You can count on me. I will make myself worthy of this mission.”

Too many people seek to advance their own careers and agendas without regard for what is right. People try to gauge which side will win and then line up on that side. As soon as they sense a shift in public opinion, their allegiance does a turnabout. People trade their ideals and commitments so as not to be left standing alone.

People minimize the accomplishments of others and mock them. They aren’t careful with other people’s possessions and don’t appreciate the blessings that Hashem has granted them. There are those who compromise with evil and rationalize their actions by saying that they must do this to stay a step ahead of the competition and the nations of the world who seek our destruction.

So it is with all who seek accommodation with Eisav and his ways. They seem to be enjoying the blessings this world has to offer, but it is all fleeting. Only those who treasure pachim ketanim and their lessons can merit the Divine assistance necessary for true success.

We need to have the strength to be prepared to go it alone and not with the flow. We have to maintain the courage to remain in the dalet amos shel halacha and not necessarily where the crowds and cameras are. We have to know that fame and fortune are not reserved for the pragmatic ones who eschew eternal truths for temporary gain.

We must recognize the lessons Yaakov taught us by returning to retrieve Hashem’s blessings, minute as they may be. We must not fear being alone, for when we walk in the valley of loneliness of the principled, upstanding and uncompromising, Hashem will walk alongside us and spare us from the Eisavs and the Yevanim of the generation who seek to trip us on our trek through life.

The honest people are never alone. They are proud, brave and, in the end, victorious.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Eternal Flame

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As the joyous days of Chanukah are upon us, we should contemplate what it is that we are celebrating and why Chanukah is such a momentous period that has lasted throughout the ages, while holidays which were declared to commemorate other miracles have been forgotten [Gemara Rosh Hashanah 19b].

In truth, during the period of the Chashmonaim, Klal Yisroel experienced many miracles which we celebrate during the eight days of Chanukah. As the Rambam (Hilchos Chanukah 3:1) states, when the Yevanim ruled over Am Yisroel during the period of the second Bais Hamikdosh, they enacted many evil decrees to prevent the Jewish people from observing the Torah and fulfilling mitzvos. They stole their money, defiled their children, broke into the Bais Hamikidosh and profaned the holy. They tortured the Jews terribly, until Hashem had mercy on His children and saved them from the clutches of the evil Yevanim. The children of the Chashmonaim, the kohianim gedolim, battled the Yevanim, defeated them and rescued the Jews.

The Chashmonaim reestablished the Jewish kingdom and ruled for 200 years until the second Bais Hamikdosh was tragically destroyed.

When the Chashmonaim took back the Bais Hamikdosh and purified it, they rededicated it with a celebration, they rebuilt the mizbei’ach (Avodah Zarah 52), and they held an eight-day Yimei Hamiluim celebration (Meshech Chochmah, Beha’aloscha 10:10; Darkei Moshe 670, 1). They relit the menorah with oil miraculously found in a pure flask and watched it burn for the eight days of the miluim.

The observance of Chanukah, which celebrates the chanukas haMikdosh, evolves completely around the miracle of the pach shemen, to the exclusion of the other miracles that took place at that time. Why?

The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (21b) asks, “Mai Chanukah?” Rashi explains that the Gemara is querying for which of the many miracles that transpired at the time of the neis Chanukah was the Yom Tov established by Chazal. The Gemara answers that the Yevanim defiled all the oil in the Bais Hamikdosh, and when the Chashmonaim defeated the Greeks, they found only one flask of oil possessing the seal of the Kohein Gadol. They poured the oil into the menorah, and although there was only enough oil to burn for one day, it miraculously burned for eight. To commemorate this miracle, Chazal established an eight-day Yom Tov of Hallel and hoda’ah.

The Rambam apparently follows this interpretation of the underpinning of the holiday of Chanukah. The tefillah of Al Hanissim that we recite on Chanukah also follows this approach. This supplemental prayer, recited during Shemonah Esrei and Birkas Hamazon, mentions the miracles that took place during the battles with the Yevanim and concentrates on the consecration of the Bais Hamikdosh through the lighting of the menorah. The rebuilding of the mizbeiach and the Yemei Hamiluim celebration are conspicuously omitted from Al Hanissim.

The Ramban, in Parshas Beha’aloscha, shares an oft-quoted explanation of the juxtaposition of Parshas Beha’aloscha and the parsha of the chanukas hanesiim in the Mishkon. Rashi explains that Aharon Hakohein was upset that neither he nor his shevet had a share in the dedication of the Mishkon in the midbar. Hashem told him that his share was greater than those of the nesiim who participated in the chanukas haMishkon, because he prepared and lit the menorah each morning and evening.

The Ramban adds that the consolation was that the consecration of the second Bais Hamikdosh was performed by the offspring of Aharon through the lighting of the neiros of the menorah by the Chashmonai Kohein Gadol and his children.

This is difficult to understand. How was it a consolation for Aharon that his grandchildren would light neiros during a future chanukas haMikdosh? He was upset because neither he nor his shevet had any role in the chanukas haMishkon in the midbar. How does an assurance of his descendants’ involvement in a later event allay his disappointment?

An answer to this question can perhaps be gleaned from the words of the Ramchal in Derech Hashem (4:7), where he writes that on every Yom Tov, the Divine light which had been lit on the date which the Yom Tov commemorates burns again. The hashpa’ah which empowered the tikkun of the world that we celebrate on the particular Yom Tov exists once again on the date of the Yom Tov, even many years later.

With this we can understand that on Chanukah we don’t merely commemorate a miracle or event that occurred two thousand years ago. On these days, as we light the menorahs in our homes, we also celebrate the fact that the tikkun which was brought about by the Chashmonaim in their day is once again empowered in ours.

Perhaps it is this concept that consoled Aharon Hakohein. Hakadosh Boruch Hu explained to Aharon that the tikkun which he brought about every day through his kindling of the menorah in the Mishkon would be apparent and reinstituted in the second Bais Hamikdosh when his offspring would light the menorah after vanquishing the enemies of the Jewish people. That same koach which Aharon brought into the briah and was handed down to his offspring would also manifest itself every year on Chanukah as Jews around the world light the menorah, until the coming of Moshiach.

Aharon was consoled when he recognized that his shlichus in the briah would carry on eternally and wouldn’t end with the celebration of the chanukas haMishkon. The contribution of the nesiim had an expiration date. Aharon’s did not. It is eternal. It remains vibrant to this very day.

Though there were many miracles performed on behalf of the Chashmonaim during their battle with the Yevanim, and although there was a chanukas haMikdosh akin to the chanukas haMishkon, the tikkun that we celebrate is the one which heralds back to Aharon Hakohein. Therefore, in our celebration of Chanukah and our commemoration of those miraculous days, we feature and concentrate on the miracles pertaining to the finding and lighting of the pure crucible of shemen zayis that had the seal of the Kohein Gadol.

Aharon Hakohein, through his dedication to the Mishkon and the kedushah implanted in Am Yisroel, instilled in the Jewish nation the ability to bring about holiness and spiritual light until our day in the Diaspora.

When we light the menorah, we are not simply performing a mundane act of striking a match and causing a wick to suck oil and give off light. We are proclaiming that the tikkun habriah introduced by Aharon Hakohein back in the midbar was perpetuated in the Botei Mikdosh and can be present even in our times of golus and choshech if we dedicate ourselves properly to the mission of kedushah.

Much the same, Chazal make a point of informing us that the pach shemen was certified as pure by the Kohein Gadol, in order to teach us that to tap into the koach which manifests itself during these days we must maintain purity of purpose and action. We cannot expect to be vehicles of light in the darkness of the exile if our souls and bodies are nourished by impure and improper substances of sustenance.

Our act of kindling the menorah is part of the consolation of Aharon, because through our lighting, we demonstrate that we have purified ourselves in order to bring about holiness in this world. We show that we are prepared to light up the darkness of the exile with the light of holiness. We demonstrate our fidelity to the Torah which Aharon and his grandchildren, the Chashmonaim, gave their lives for. We are proving that we are prepared to do what we must to bring about the tikkun hashaleim, when the ohr haganuz vahashaleim will light up the world bevias Moshiach Tzidkeinu, bekarov. May it take place speedily, in our day. Amein.