Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Grab the Opportunity

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Yerushalayim Exerts A Magical Hold On The Jewish Heart And Soul. The Subject Of Jewish Yearning For 2,000 Years, The Holy City, Its Buildings, Its Yeshivos, And, Most Of All, Its People, Fascinates Us.

The people of Yerushalayim are blessed with unique chein and charm that you don’t find anywhere else in the world. If there are ten kabim of chein with which the world is blessed, nine of them were granted to the Yerushalayimer Yidden.

There is a special feeling you get when you speak to them. They are unfazed by the razzle dazzle of this world. The rat race is something they take no part in. Their lives are much less complicated, and unaffected by so much of what we think life is about.

It sounds simplistic to describe them this way, but it’s the truth. There is nothing in Jewish life which closely approaches the charm of the Jews who have been living in Yerushalayim for several generations, hailing from the students of the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov. These noble souls, seeking to increase Torah and holiness in their lives and to hasten the redemption, abandoned all their worldly possessions and comforts in moving to Eretz Yisroel. Their descendants, the Yerushalayimer Yidden, reflect their passion for Torah and kedusha.

Their chein is hard to define and to quantify in words. But the old Yerushalmi Jews are ‘the real thing’. They are pure. Their lives are not tainted by all the nonsense that contaminates and corrupts us. They are so welcoming to everyone and so full of love, not because anyone told them to be nice to all, but because being good and kind is their essence. They are naturally good, without any manufactured additives to make them that way.

They are unfailingly humble, seeking for themselves neither honor nor glory. They are only concerned with fulfilling the wishes of Hashem and finding favor in His eyes. They are benevolent people. Jealousy of others is foreign to them.

They really live the lives that everyone preaches but few are able to fulfill. They are good, honest, happy, humble, sweet Yidden. They are what we would all be if we were on the level demanded of us. They are what we should be trying to be.

Many of us have read stories about Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, Rav Shmuel Salant, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, and others like them, who established the Yishuv Hayoshon in Yerushalayim. The stories of the poverty and deprivation that they and their followers contended with as they pursued a life of Torah are the stuff of legend.

Kollel members in those days survived on the generosity of people back in the alter heim, who would send a portion of their meager incomes so that their brethren wouldn’t freeze or starve to death. In those days, many were lost to these and other misfortunes. Most survived only with difficulty. There were tradesmen who earned a few pounds here and there fixing shoes, tailoring, delivering water and milk, and engaging in other menial occupations. And when they weren’t working, they were plumbing the depths of Torah shebiksav and b’al peh; niglah and nistar.

These were the people who established the community inside the ancient walls of Yerushalayim and then, as the community grew, built the new neighborhoods of Meah Shearim and Shaarei Chesed. Their descendants are the people we know today as Yerushalayimers, who dress with the distinctive levush and display the old-time ingenuity and practical wisdom built on Torah and years of deprivation, independence and fortitude. They have a different value system that sets them apart from everyone else, and enables them to maintain their equilibrium in a turbulent, ever-changing world.

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to one such person, Rav Gershon Sirota. He was speaking about his grandfather who eked out a living as a carpenter. Building bookcases in a community where most of the people barely had enough income to feed their hungry children meant that his business made little money.

One day, an American immigrant walked into his shop and expressed interest in having a beautiful bookcase designed and built. After taking down the order, the carpenter asked the man who the fancy furniture was for. The man explained that he had just retired and now lived in Yerushalayim. He desired the type of furniture he was accustomed to back home.

The carpenter refused the order. Though he was desperate for the business, he couldn’t bring himself to complete the order. He explained to the would-be customer, “If a young couple comes to me and asks for a strong, sturdy, beautiful piece of furniture, I look at them and think that this young, happy couple is just starting out, with many years ahead of them. I am thus more than happy to build them the stuff of their dreams. But you are already older. You ought to know by now how temporary life is. How can you build yourself furniture like what you’re describing to me?”

Thus, although times were so hard in the depression years, and every drop of income was precious, this Yid obeyed a higher order that told him that this was not a job for him to do. Nobody told him how to react. He didn’t run to his rov to ask a shailah. His own spiritual sensitivity led this simple son of Yerushalayimer perushim, as desperate as he was for income, to turn down a profitable business opportunity.

These people appeared as simple craftsmen to the outer eye, but their inner refinement and sensitivity betrayed their true spiritual status. They were steeped in Torah and it permeated every aspect of their lives.

Another such person was Rav Hirsh Kroizer, a talmid of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld and a great gaon, who learned in the Eitz Chaim Kollel while his wife supported him. A glimpse of the level attained by the chaburah of Rav Hirsh can be gleaned from what Rav Kroizer told a dear friend of mine. He said that talmidim of Rav Yosef Chaim who had no money at all, would leave their homes not knowing where they would find the means to buy food. While walking about, they would invariably find a coin on the ground.

This friend remembers Rav Hirsh walking to the neighboring Machaneh Yehuda shuk in the mornings and giving the chickens that were scheduled to be shechted, water to drink. He would explain that since they were soon going to be slaughtered, nobody bothered feeding them and they were doubtlessly thirsty. To relieve their suffering, this gaon would bend down and give them water to quench their thirst.

The stories told and retold about the secret tzaddikim and ga’onim of Yerushalayim are not fiction. They are not exaggerations. They are true.

Rav Hirsh Kroizer’s son today lives in Yerushalayim as he approaches his ninetieth year. He has written and published seforim on all of Shas, Chumash, Tanach and Tehillim. He even published a siddur with his own peirush. Yet most people have never heard of him.

His name is Rav Zundel. Rav Chaim Brim, a Yerushalayimer giant who was steeped in Torah and all its secrets, is quoted as saying that if there are two people in this world in whose merit the world stands, they are Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Zundel Kroizer.

If so, you will ask, how can it be that a man of such caliber remains unknown in a generation in which giants are so needed and so venerated?

It is actually a gift from Hashem, says Rav Chaim Kanievsky. He remarked that it must be that Hashem loves Rav Zundel more than he loves Rav Chaim, because He keeps Rav Zundel hidden, and people don’t bother him with shailos; for brachos and tzorchei tzibbur the way they bother Rav Chaim. Since he did not become famous, he is able to learn Torah uninterrupted, day and night.

And he does. He wakes up around chatzos every night to learn until daybreak, at which time he davens Shacharis kevosikin. He has been doing so for as long as anyone can remember. Every Shabbos morning, after davening, the bochurim in his presence are treated to the special zechus of being able to ask him any question on any sugyah in Shas and receiving his answers.

The learning didn’t always come easy. There was a manuscript of his chidushim on Maseches Kesubos which Rav Zundel uncharacteristically wouldn’t lend out. Finally, a young talmid chochom who was learned in that mesichtah pestered him to the point where Rav Zundel loaned it to him. The fellow took it with him to Meah Shearim and lost it. He was shattered and couldn’t conceive of returning to Rav Zundel without the manuscript. Finally, he mustered up the courage and told Rav Zundel the truth: the manuscript was gone.

Rav Zundel consoled him over the loss of the “hefteleh.” The fellow walked away regretfully, assuming that was the end of the story and those chiddushim.

Several months later, a man came to Rav Zundel with the booklet of his writings and asked if they were his. The man was a collector of antique seforim. One day as he was trying his luck, going through piles of sheimos before they were buried, a handwritten pamphlet grabbed his eye. He took it home, miraculously saving it from burial. He later showed it to someone who recognized that the handwriting to be Rav Zundel’s. And so, the precious manuscript was returned to its owner.

Rav Zundel thanked the man and shared with him a remarkable story. He said the booklet of chiddushim was written with tremendous mesirus nefesh in 1948 as Yerushalayim was being bombed. While everyone huddled in the dark, cramped bomb shelter, he found it impossible to learn there, so he returned to his home.

“Bombs were exploding, the windows were shattering,” related Rav Zundel, “but I didn’t move from that room. It was under those harrowing conditions that I learned Kesubos and was mechadeish the Torah that is written there. I knew it couldn’t be permanently lost. I knew it would come back.”

Rav Zundel rarely talks about himself, but sometimes the truth escapes and people get a glimpse of his spiritual stature. A story went around Yerushalayim about an incident that took place when Rav Zundel was already older and learned by himself at home. People would come by to check up on him, and make sure that all was in order. One day, Rav Yaakov Trietsky arrived at Rav Zundel’s apartment and found him lying in his bed, badly bruised and unable to move. Alarmed, Rav Trietsky asked Rav Zundel what happened. Rav Zundel told him that he had collapsed and fallen on the floor.

“But how did you get up on to the bed?” asked Rav Trietsky.

The response floored him. “Der chavrusah hut mir oifgeheiben un geleikt oif der bet - My chavrusah picked me up and put me on my bed.”

“But you don’t have a chavrusah,” wondered Rav Trietsky.

“That’s all I’m telling you,” said Rav Zundel. “No further questions.”

Everyone who knew Rav Zundel was certain Eliyahu Hanovi had picked him up off the floor and put him on his bed. That’s the type of Yid he is.

Until a few years ago, Rav Zundel refused to give brachos. Then he became very ill. His talmidim approached him and told him that when Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach was approximately 75 years old, he became very ill. He felt that Hashem had kept him alive so that he could help people. Until that time he was well known to talmidei chachomim but generally did not involve himself in public matters. After he recuperated, though, he overcame his previous reluctance, and involved himself in all communal affairs. Rav Shach lived for another 30 years.

The talmidim proposed to Rav Zundel that if he would undertake to give brachos to people in need of yeshuos, in that zechus he would recover from his grave illness. Until that time, Rav Zundel had been reticent to give brachos and engage in activities that would take him away from his learning. When convinced that people would derive chizuk from his brachos and that through them, Jews would strengthen their emunah and bitachon, he agreed.

Since then, his fame has slowly spread beyond the parameters of Yerushalayimers and talmidei chachomim; many people seek his brachos and receive chizuk from them.

Rav Gedaliah Sheinen, who heads a yeshiva in Yerushalayim, tells of the time he brought a wealthy American to Rav Zundel for a bracha. The man wished to express his gratitude with a gift of money. Rav Zundel refused to accept it. “Ich tor nisht nemen gelt far mir. Ich bin a gevir. Ich hob ah dirah. Ich hob vos tzu esen. Ich bin a gevir.”

He told the man that he couldn’t accept anything for himself because he’s a wealthy person. “I have a house. I have what to eat. I am a rich man,” he said. He wasn’t saying it to be cute. He meant it. And hearing him say it, you knew it was true.

But now that has changed, and this is the reason I am writing about Rav Zundel. Recently, his youngest son suddenly passed away, leaving behind a widow and six children. This tzaddik in our times, who has never asked anyone for anything and never accepted anyone’s help, is now crying out for us to come to his aid.

He recently wrote a letter expressing his profound pain. He literally begged people to help him, as he must support the penniless family.

This mitzvah represents a rare opportunity to rush to the aid of a holy and pure person. When giving tzedakah, we often wish we could know for sure that the money is really needed. We look for guarantees that our hard-earned money is going toward a worthy cause. All who seek out special mitzvos will want to donate to this cause.

An additional benefit to helping Rav Zundel in his time of need is the power of his brachos. He writes in his letter that he davens that all those who help alleviate his immense burden and assist him in supporting the grieving family, should be spared from any tzarah and should merit to see nachas from all their children, for long healthy years.

If anyone needs an inducement to help Rav Zundel in rescuing a family of yesomim, could there possibly be a better one?

Please make out your check to Congregation Ateres Yeshaya and mail it to Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, 53 Olympia Lane, Monsey, NY 10952.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reading Between the Lines

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The upheaval in Egypt has grabbed the attention of people worldwide. In every country across the globe, people are discussing the revolution that toppled the autocratic leader of a 30-year regime and sent him into hiding.

What is remarkable about the uprising that unseated Hosni Mubarak in the most populous Arab country is that the opposition had no apparent leader. It seemed as if the street protesters were created by spontaneous generation, seemingly materializing from nowhere. After 18 days of unrest, the target of popular hatred was driven from power. He fled the scene, handing victory to the ecstatic masses.

Long considered one of the strongest Arab leaders, admired by America, Israel and secure countries in the Mideast, Mubarak's downfall came with shocking suddenness. The relationships he had built over the decades were of no use in his hour of crisis. His many political friends just stood by and watched as the house of cards on the Nile collapsed.

The White House fumbled embarrassingly as it tried to stay on top of Egypt's seesawing political situation. Intent on coming out on the winning side, the Obama administration allowed its official stance to be governed by the rapidly changing political winds.

Each day’s official statements contradicted those of the previous day, as senior administration officials dithered about, trying to read the future. One day Mubarak was described by White House spokesmen as “a strong ally” in a neighborhood where America has very few friends. The next day he was told to move aside to make way for the next government of Egypt. The White House's indecision and vacillation invited ridicule from friends and enemies alike.

Popularity With Egyptian Youth Trumps American Interests

As media reports gathered steam and portrayed Mubarak’s departure as inevitable, President Barack Obama and his advisers became obsessed with public opinion on the Egyptian street. What would Egypt's revolutionary youth think of the American president if he did not throw his support behind them? The White House’s driving concern appeared to no longer be over which steps America should take to bolster its strategic interests. Nor was it about how the world would view the United States. Incredibly, the key issue Obama and his advisors fixated upon became how the ranks of young protesters in Egypt would judge the American president.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department, to their credit, pushed back and sought to move ahead cautiously. They attempted to walk a careful line between calling for a peaceful transition to a more democratic form of government, while at the same time remaining loyal to a longtime political ally. In the face of growing concern in the region about a powerful vacuum in Egypt should Mubarak step down, U.S. officials reassured America’s allies - Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia - that America could be counted on to stand by its friends.

But, on the contrary, according to the New York Times, President Obama was determined to be “in total sync with the protesters” and feared “[revealing] that the United States was… putting its own interests first.”

That is not the Yated talking. It is the New York Times, which also reported that “The diplomats at the State Department view the Egyptian crisis through the lens of American strategic interests in the region, its threat to the 1979 peace accord between Egypt and Israel, and its effects on the Middle East peace process.”

The Times continued: “The White House shared those concerns, officials said, but workers in the West Wing also worried that if Mr. Obama did not encourage the young people in the streets with forceful, even inspiring language, he would be accused of abandoning the ideals he expressed in his 2009 speech in Cairo.”

For those who are apprehensive that Obama’s foreign policy is weakening America, his exaggerated concern with Egyptian public opinion to the neglect of America's strategic interests does little to allay those concerns.

Democracy Overnight?

A country in which all freedom of expression has long been suppressed would naturally lack the leadership necessary to coordinate serious opposition to the regime. Democracy cannot evolve overnight, nor can it flourish in a political vacuum. No matter how desperately people in an autocracy hunger for political freedom, unless the institutions necessary to create a democratic government are in place, the autocrat’s departure can produce chaos. It can pave the way for power-hungry, ruthless people to seize the reins of government.

A transition to democracy requires the formation of political parties, the grooming of candidates, the creation of a political infrastructure, and a free press with the ability to introduce the candidates and their positions to the public. People have to be given time to form opinions and to be educated on how to vote. The constitution and laws of the country must be amended to allow for free and honest elections to take place.

Today, the only organized political group in the country is the radical Muslim Brotherhood, formed in 1928 and still bent on its mission of turning the entire Middle East into Islamic republics. Allied with Hitler during World War II, they retain their radical platform and have been working quietly and patiently in pursuit of their goals. Were an election to be held in Egypt now, the Brotherhood would likely cause a tidal shift in Egypt’s relationship with the world.

All the treaties and policies that governed Egyptian behavior during the past decades were signed and formulated by dictators who were answerable to no one and, as such, will not obligate the next government in any way. Agreements signed by Mubarak and his predecessors may be tossed out by the next Egyptian ruler.

Thus, Egypt's political upheaval promises serious ramifications for America and Israel. The strategic interests of those two countries are heavily tied to the 1979 peace accords between Israel and Egypt that were signed in Camp David. Will that peace treaty hold up under a new government? Already, Ayman Nour, the man who came in second behind Mubarak in the most recent 2005 presidential election, said that the Camp David era is now over and that he believes Egypt should rethink the peace deal.

Feeding The Monster

Peace and stability in the world depend upon leaders who can correctly assess the strengths and weaknesses of other nations, friendly ones as well as hostile governments. Leaders must be able to distinguish between the two. Adopting an enemy group as a friend because it postures and makes politically correct statements is an act of tunnel vision and dangerous naiveté. Allowing that enemy group to enjoy any kind of power is a vital mistake.

A leader who can first recognize and then, through the cover of a democratic election, empower a group such as the Muslim Brotherhood because they mouthed democratic expressions demonstrates a lack of comprehension as to the nature and aims of that group, which has spent decades seeking to engineer the very revolution which took place last week.

Followers of that same philosophy - a philosophy of make peace with your enemies, recognize terrorists and then accept them at their word that they have embraced democracy - advise Israel to cut a deal now with the Palestinians. The irony is overwhelming. Especially now, as it becomes evident once again that deals cut with tyrants can go up in smoke in a flash. Especially now, as dictators, shaken by recent events, worry about being overthrown, why would Israel be so foolish as to negotiate its existence with a group of terrorists who happen to hold power today but do not represent any part of the population?

Should Egypt fall now in the Iranian column, the change of regime will prove disastrous for America, Israel and the West. Even the more moderate Arab countries are fearful. If radical Islamists score a victory in Egypt, the domino effect will be felt quickly in Jordon, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and by other allies in the war against al-Qaeda and terror.

Doomed To Repeat History?

For now, the Egyptian army is firmly in charge of the country, but for enlightenment about what may lie ahead for Egypt, turn back the pages of Iran’s contemporary history. Three decades ago, there was jubilation in Iranian cities, similar to the ecstasy that erupted in Egypt over Mubarak's departure. The Iranian masses, hungering for democracy, brought a 2,000-year-old monarchy to a crashing end. President Jimmy Carter and much of the world rejoiced with the Iranians who pulled off a democratic revolution.

Yet, the leaders who grabbed the reins of power from the Shah of Iran, a staunch American ally, could not hold on. Ayatollah Khomeini swept them from power, removing them and all they stood for. Today, a dangerous regime on the verge of going nuclear threatens the free world. That is what remains of the democratic revolution that, with American help, overthrew the Shah of Iran.

And now, once again, in a move which can very well contravene American interests, we had an American president pushing an ally out the door, because of his overriding concern about his image among protesters in a far-away land. How strange is that? Is it not outrageous that the leader of the strongest country in the free world would set policy and engage in actions detrimental to his country due to the hunger for adulation from street revolutionaries in far-off Egypt? He doesn’t know who is controlling them. He doesn’t know who will lead them. He doesn’t know if a responsible, legitimate democratic figure can emerge from the mess. He doesn’t try to reduce the tension until a proper election can be held. Yet, he gets caught up in the utopian fervor shouting for freedom.

We read the news hoping to gain an understanding of how the world works. Viewing current events through the prism of history ought to help us in that effort. We wonder how this country’s leader can ignore the past and why he is unable to draw the most elementary conclusions.

How could America have forgotten the results of the democratic revolution it helped shepherd in Iran? How could people have forgotten how the election that the United States helped force through in Gaza impacted Israel, America and the world in general?

We watch events unfolding and fail to understand. America has an obligation to itself and its allies and those who have faithfully stood by them, helping to battle terror and evil in a dangerous world.

We wonder why the Obama administration didn’t try to steer a transition to democratic change and aid in the proper development of a political culture in Egypt. This would have provided a fighting chance to the emergence of a democracy that would be loyal to the goals of democratic countries the world over, without falling prey to the dangerous power vacuum it is now trying to navigate.

We watched the people of Iran revolt against their brutal dictatorship and desperately wait for American support, which never came. We wonder why the White House bully pulpit which was exercised against Mubarak, was not, and is not, utilized to sustain the Iranian freedom fighters as well.

Trying To Connect The Dots

The Gemara in Maseches Chulin (139a) states that a hint to Queen Esther can be found in the Torah in the words, “Ve’anochi hasteir astir es Ponai bayom hahu.” Hashem foretells that He will hide himself on that [future] day. The words “hasteir astir” are commonly understood as more than a play on words. They are an acknowledgment that the Hand of Hashem, during the saga of Queen Esther, was hidden. The neis was nislabeish in tevah. The miracle was disguised by seemingly natural events.

One who read the newspapers in those days did not recognize that a Divine plan was unfolding. They read about Achashveirosh’s party and about Queen Vashti, including her tail and death sentence. Those headlines were followed first by the political advancement of Haman and then his plan to rid the kingdom of Jews. It all made for fascinating reading. Some, no doubt, wondered at the strangeness and unpredictability of the king having his wife killed, or Haman being catapulted to power, or the Jews being singled out for destruction. Most people, though, probably went about their daily lives without trying to connect the dots.

It was only when Mordechai and Esther alerted the Jews to Haman’s diabolical plot, calling on them to fast and repent, that they began to recognize that the seemingly random events were part of a Divine plan, which they could influence through their actions. And it wasn’t until all parts of the story came together that everyone recognized that Hashem had all along been pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Chazal teach that all the holidays will be annulled after the coming of Moshiach, except for the holiday of Purim. Perhaps this is because the miracle of Purim came about due to the unified teshuvah of the entire Jewish people. The Jews sinned at the seudah of Achashveirosh and a decree of destruction was issued against them in Shomayim. After they repented and reaccepted the yoke of Torah, Hakadosh Boruch Hu spared them.

This ability of the Jews to guide their own destiny through teshuvah is eternal. Thus, the posuk says in the Megillah, “Vehayomim ha’eilu nizkorim venaasim.” These days of Purim and the ability to achieve what the Jews accomplished at this time will always be remembered. Not only will they be remembered, the posuk says, but “venaasim,” they will be done. Because, for all eternity, when Jews are threatened with destruction, they will be able to repeat what their forefathers did during the period of the neis of Purim and achieve their salvation.

In our day, when we witness bizarre events clothed in seemingly natural developments, it is a tip-off to the Divine Hand guiding events. Inexperienced people unsuited for high office manage to attain power in the strongest country in the world. Entrenched tyrants are swept from power in a matter of days. We are confronted with the prospect of a sudden realignment in the balance of power that has for decades held sway in the Middle East. All of these happenings whisper to us that there is an invisible Hand guiding the forces of history.

The posuk in Yeshayahu (ibid. 30:7) states, “UMitzrayim hevel varik yazor - Egypt does not help.” The Malbim explains that for all time, Mitzrayim never helped any nation that depended upon it. Perhaps, if we learn a lesson from what has transpired there now, they will have helped us this one time.

We must recognize that it is not this or that leader who controls our destiny, nor is it political brinkmanship that dictates the rise and fall of world leaders. Because we live in a period of hester ponim, brought on by our sins, we have to be able to look beyond the headlines and recognize Hashem’s guiding Hand in the strange patchwork of world events. We must try to see in this bewildering landscape the potential for the stirrings of the guelah, if we but make ourselves worthy.

We say in Shoshanas Yaakov,Teshu’osom hayisah lanetzach - You, Hashem, were the salvation of the Jews in the times of Mordechai and Esther, vesikvosom bechol dor vador - and You are the hope of the Jewish people in every generation.” So too in our own day, may we merit to see the long-awaited yeshuas Hashem.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Simcha, Unplugged

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Have you ever noticed that when musicians play at weddings, they appear indifferent to their own music? They sit or stand impassively as their fingers run up and down their instruments. As they blow their trumpets, pound their drums and glide their fingers across the keyboard, their faces are expressionless. No wonder. Their ears are plugged. They are unable to hear their own music, much less enjoy it.

The only musicians who visibly enjoy their own music are those who sing. For these artists, singing is an opportunity to express their deepest longings and emotions in music. The singer whose soul is wrapped up in his music has the uncanny ability to touch his listener’s soul.

I attended a simcha this past Shabbos where the Mezamrim choir led the davening and sang during the meals. Their beautiful rendition of old niggunim and classic chazzanus stirred the neshamos of all those present. The singers wore no earplugs. Their voices, attuned to the timeless words of tefillah and zemiros, penetrated the cold, dank, weather outside and warmed the souls of all present.

In fact, following a most moving rendition of Yossele Rosenblatt’s “Tal,” a senior Litvishe rov overcome with emotion, hugged the young chossid - bedecked in a bekesheh, shtreimel and gekreizelteh payos - who had sung the classic piece of chazzanus. The niggunim were poiretz all mechitzos, reaching into the recesses of the heart, where the essence lies and all are equal.

How can one who is not blessed with a good voice reach the neshamos of fellow Yidden and cause them to be so b’simcha? How can one without musical talent plumb the depths of the Jewish heart and be marbeh in Yiddishe simcha?

“Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha.” We all know that when Adar arrives, we are to increase the simcha in our lives. That halacha suggests that we are always to be b’simcha, but during the month of Adar, we are to increase that ever-present joy. How can we be joyous all year round and what can we do to cause us to be marbeh b’simcha during these two months of Adar?

In Parshas Shemos (4:13-14), the Torah relates that Moshe attempted to convince Hashem to appoint his brother Aharon instead of himself to be the one who would relate the words of Hashem to the Jewish people in Mitzrayim. The posuk recounts that Hashem grew angry with Moshe and informed him that Aharon would travel to greet him and would be happy that Moshe was selected. The lashon of the posuk is, “Vero’achoh vesomach belibo.”

Rashi explains that Hashem was telling Moshe that he was incorrect in assuming that Aharon would feel upstaged by Moshe’s appointment as the leader of the Jewish people. Moshe was told that, to the contrary, Aharon would be truly happy for him.

It is interesting that the posuk states, “Vesomach belibo - In his heart he will rejoice for you.” Rashi states that as reward for his genuine, heartfelt happiness over the promotion of his younger brother, Aharon was zoche to wear the Choshen - which was placed over the heart - and to serve as the kohen gadol in the Mishkan. What proved his worthiness to serve lifnai ulifnim was the fact that he experienced true, selfless joy over his brother’s spiritual attainments.

The posuk’s statement that he will rejoice in his heart is telling. It hints as to how he attained that level of selflessness that he would be able to rejoice with his younger brother’s exalted position. It was his “lev” that was special, and he was thus rewarded with wearing the Choshen on his lev.

Aharon was a selfless giant, unencumbered by jealousy, because he had a lev tov. How do we attain that level of spiritual cardiac fitness?

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim opens with the verse, “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid,” and ends with the posuk, “Vetov lev mishteh somid.” The connection between the two statements seems to be obvious: Awareness of Hashem’s constant presence in one’s life puts one in a perpetual state of feeling fortunate and blessed. Realizing that all that happens in this world is a fulfillment of Hashem’s will promotes inner contentment and the ability to live in harmony with others.

One who fails to recognize the Hand of Hashem in every situation tends to fall prey to negativity and jealousy. One whose thoughts and actions are guided by the posuk, “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid,” is free of these negative emotions. He is happy with his lot because he realizes that everything that happens is the will of the Creator who knows what is best for him. Such a person is a “tov lev” and is “mishteh somid.”

A lev tov can delight in his neighbor’s happiness. He isn’t bothered when he sees other people being more successful than himself. Someone who is a lev tov and ever-mindful of the posuk, Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid, isn’t driven to seek honor and respect from society and everyone around him. He is only concerned with how he will appear in the eyes of Hashem. He is thoughtful respectful toward others, happy to do a favor without needing a payback. He doesn’t engage in one-upmanship with others. He looks out for his fellow Jew and seeks their welfare.

In the last halacha in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, the Mechaber writes that in a year in which there are two months of Adar, there is no obligation to celebrate the fourteenth day of the first Adar with a seudah or with increased joy.

The Rama concurs and says that even though some argue with the Mechaber’s ruling and state that there is an obligation for mishteh and simcha, our custom does not follow that ruling. Nevertheless, says the Rama, in deference to the ruling of those who are more stringent, it is proper to add something special to our meals on the fourteenth day of Adar Rishon. To complete this thought, as well as to conclude his discussion of the halacha and the entire Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, the Rama quotes a posuk which seems to sum it all up: “Vetov lev mishteh somid - One who possesses a good heart constantly feasts.” In other words, one who is a lev tov, a good-hearted person, is always happy.

One who fails to recognize the Hand of Hashem in all that transpires tends to fall prey to negativity and to be jealous of those around him. One who leads his life with the posuk of “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid;” ever-present in his mind is a person who is happy with his lot because he realizes that everything that happens is the will of the Creator. Such a person is a “tov lev” and is “mishteh somid.”

A lev tov can delight in the happiness of his fellow. He isn’t bothered when he sees other people being more successful than him. He is always joyous.

Aharon Hakohein, who was able to be happy for his brother Moshe, was an “oheiv shalom verodef shalom.” Because he was blessed to be able to achieve the madreigah of lev tov, he was able to relate to other people and their problems; to bring people together and to minimize the issues that caused them to be separated.

He was able to bring people closer to Torah. He merited to wear the Choshen in the Mishkan because he possessed the middah of “Vero’achah vesomach belibo.”

One who seeks a life of accomplishment should endeavor to shape his heart in the mold of Aharon Hakohein. One who wants to effect positive change should work on his middos so that he will be selfless, non-judgmental and not consumed by jealousy of others.

Someone who is a lev tov and remembers the posuk of Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid isn’t driven to seek honor and respect from society and everyone around him. He is only concerned with how he will appear in the eyes of Hashem, rather than the simple people with whom he comes in contact. He is emphatic, thoughtful and respectful of everyone. He seeks not to master them in anything. He looks out for their good and for ways to benefit them. But he doesn’t crave their approval.

The Alter of Kelm explains that this is the meaning of the posuk in Mishlei (3:35) which states, “Kavod chachomim yinchalu.” For true chachomim, chochmah is a nachalah. It is their possession, and no one can take it away from them. One who needs others to validate his chochmah has placed his need for respect in their hands and is dependent upon them for honor. The real chochom doesn’t require the respect of others, because he knows that he is in possession of the truth. Thus, no one can remove his respect and no one can take away his honor from him.

The Alter says that the objective of Amaleik in every generation is to demoralize the Jewish people and cause them to seek the recognition of others. He explains that this is the meaning of the posuk in Shemos (17:11) “Vehayah kaasher yorim Moshe es yado vegovar Yisroel.” When Moshe was able to keep his hands and heart upraised, not permitting them to droop in discouragement in the face of Amaleik’s mockery, Klal Yisroel triumphed. If he looked to Amaleik for acceptance and honor, Klal Yisroel weakened.

Chazal state, “Kol zeman sheYisroel nosim libom l’Avihem shebaShomayim vegovar Yisroel.” Am Yisroel, as well, has to follow Moshe’s example. When we strengthen ourselves to the point where we choose the correct path without needing the smiles and nods of others, we prevail. When we look to others for honor and approval, we stumble and fail.

This is what is meant in the Megillah where it states, U’Mordechai lo yichrah velo yishtachaveh.” Mordechai would not behave submissively to Haman in any way. He refused to seek his approval or good will. He focused on remaining devoted to Hashem and His Torah, and was therefore able to overcome Haman and his people.

A lev tov is not koreiah umishtachaveh to anyone, yet he is mitchashev with everyone. A lev tov doesn’t just partake in mishteh and simcha by himself; he seeks to spread simcha wherever he goes.

A lev tov is happy for himself and his lot in life, and he is just as joyous for someone else’s good fortune. He touches people’s neshamos as did Aron Hakohein: “Oheiv es habriyos umekarvon laTorah.” His love for others is contagious and his simcha and appreciation of Hashem infuse his surroundings.

Tov lev mishteh somid. He effects people’s neshamos, without singing and without music, because he doesn’t plug his ears to shut out their pain and suffering. He doesn’t block his ears when he is told of how well someone else is doing either. His ability to rejoice over a friend’s success or simcha compounds the joy of the occasion. His eyes and ears are in concert with his lev tov to see how he can help a fellow Yid, how he can contribute to the betterment of the community.

A person of this caliber raises the spiritual level of those around him. He helps make the world the kind of place that will merit the arrival of Moshiach and our victory over Haman’s evil descendants who continue to persecute and threaten the Jewish people.

Adar is a month of simcha not only because of the geulah the Yidden experienced during the time of Mordechai and Esther, but because Adar immediately precedes Nissan, the month designated for the ultimate geulah of all of Klal Yisroel. May it happen this year. Amein.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Nedivus Lev: Contentment And Gratification

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

From this week’s parsha of Terumah, we can learn several lessons about how to accomplish and build. In the Torah’s instruction of how to raise money for and how to construct the Mishkan, we can glean lessons for today as we seek to build and maintain institutions.

The pesukim in Parshas Terumah state that the Jewish people were asked to donate gold, silver, copper, wood and other materials for the construction of the Mishkan in the midbar. While the posuk mentions donations of gold, silver and copper, Rashi states that the silver necessary for the building of the Mishkan was acquired through the donation of a half-shekel by every Jewish man. The half-shekel was contributed as a means of counting the Jewish nation, and every man gave a coin of the same denomination, a machatzis hashekel, which went towards the bedek habayis.

The Chofetz Chaim explains that the reason that the silver used in the construction of the Mishkan was taken from a mandatory equal contribution was because silver was used to construct the adanim, braces, which held up the Mishkan. Since they were the foundation of the Mishkan, everyone had to have an equal share in them.

Perhaps we can understand this on a deeper level. In order for the Mishkan to be able to house the Shechinah and serve as a repository for kedushah while the Jews were traveling in the midbar, its foundation had to be built on unity. Thus, everyone gave the same amount. Since no one gave more or less than anyone else, there was no jealousy and no one felt that he didn’t receive his equal share in the adanim.

With respect to every other component of the Mishkan, there was no mandatory contribution required per person and no cut-off point. Once the foundation was built on achdus, each person could contribute as much as he wanted or was able to. Kechol asher yidvenu libo. As long as a person was giving happily, of his own free will, there was no limit to the amount he could give and the share he could garner for himself in the Mikdash through his contribution.

This teaches us that if the foundation is proper, there is no limit to the kedushah a person can possess. One who is grounded in achdus can soar and achieve the highest connection to kedushah. Unencumbered by petty jealousy and rivalries, he can muster the nedivus lev needed to attain the highest levels of accomplishment. He can give substantial amounts to the proper causes free of grievances that typically derail people from giving or lead them to donate to unworthy causes, thereby forfeiting the merit of supporting institutions of Torah and chessed.

The posuk therefore states after delineating the various materials which Moshe Rabbeinu was to collect from the nedivei lev, “Ve’asu li Mikdash, veshachanti besocham - They shall construct for me a Tabernacle, and I will dwell amongst them” (25:8). Those who are blessed with giving hearts are the ones who will merit constructing the Mishkan, and they will benefit that the Shechinah will dwell amongst them. The nedivei lev are the ones who are zoche to serve as repositories for kedushah.

A person has to focus on improving himself, rising to the level of purity that allows him to bring more holiness into his work. This is accomplished by laying a foundation of achdus, which, by definition, requires one to curb his ego and subdue his desire for honor and recognition. One who is on that level and dedicates himself to doing what is necessary for the benefit of the community is one who can grow in his devotion to Hashem.

This is a lofty level, attained only by those who truly seek to strengthen their devotion to Hashem, as opposed to promoting themselves. For these individuals, it is the communal benefit that carries the highest priority, even if it brings no personal honor or glory.

We can now understand Chazal’s comment on the following posuk (25:9) which speaks of the construction of the Mishkan. The Torah states, ‘Vechein taasu - And so you shall do…” Rashi quotes the Gemara in Maseches Sanhedrin (15b) which extrapolates that this is a commandment “ledoros,” for all future generations.

The simple explanation is that the way they constructed the keilim of the Mishkan in the midbar is the same manner in which they were to be constructed in the event any were lost. They were also to be fashioned the same way in future Botei Mikdash.

Homiletically, perhaps we can understand the admonition to be a declaration that whenever the Jewish people seek to construct a building for a holy cause, a mikdash me’at, they should also construct a foundation of achdus and then seek out the nedivei lev to solicit their donations.

If you follow the halachos relating to the construction of botei knesses and botei medrash and take care to ensure that the financial aid you count on is from proper sources, then you are guaranteed a measure of success. If you are not scrupulous regarding the sources of your funding and rely upon people who acquire their monies through deceit and deception, then while you may succeed in erecting your mikdash me’at, it will not be worthy of the Shechinah and will not qualify for the posuk of “Ve’asu li Mikdash veshachanti besocham - ledoros.” It will not flourish for long.

This is not meant to demean any mosdos, since we never fully understand why some are successful and others aren’t, but we do see this often times even in our day. Rav Elya Svei would often tell me that you can deduce the greatness of his rebbi, Rav Aharon Kotler, the Lakewood rosh yeshiva, from the growth of his yeshiva. “Despite all the difficulties thrown in its path, the yeshiva continues to grow and flourish,” he would say.

Rashi also quotes the lesson Chazal read into the word “li” in this posuk. Chazal explain it to mean that the Mishkan should be constructed lesheim Hashem.

Isn’t this obvious? For whom else were the people constructing the Mishkan?

It is well-known that when Rav Chaim Volozhiner first approached his rebbi, the Vilna Gaon, about his plan to open the first yeshiva as we know it, the Gaon did not grant his approval. It wasn’t until he came back a second time, much later, that the Gaon gave his blessings to revolutionize Torah study through the opening of the Volozhiner Yeshiva.

The Gaon explained that the first time Rav Chaim presented his plan, the Gaon detected too much excitement in his voice and feared that his intentions may have been tainted a bit. When Rav Chaim returned the second time without the same enthusiasm, the Gaon was confident that his intentions were purely for the advancement of Torah. The Gaon then approved the plan and the rest is history. As long as there was the remotest possibility that the foundation of the yeshiva wasn’t entirely pure, the Vilna Gaon couldn’t approve of its establishment.

The father of one of the roshei yeshiva in the great Talmud Torah of Kelm once went to visit his son. The famed rov was overcome by the sight of so many dedicated talmidei chachomim studying Torah and tears began trickling down his stately elderly face. One of the mashgichim approached him and asked him if he would have had the same reaction to the wondrous site had his son not been a rosh yeshiva in the yeshiva.

Sometimes, there is but a hairbreadth’s difference between our understanding of what constitutes purity of heart and what the Torah demands in order to be the type of person qualified to construct the Mishkan and mikdash me’at ledoros, and sometimes it is more pronounced.

As for chicanery or subterfuge, we can all recognize it when we see it. Although those who engage in such conduct seem to succeed in the short run, we must ensure that whatever endeavor we are working on is worthy of the Shechinah’s Presence. The Shechinah doesn’t rest in unholy places or efforts supported by corrupt people or practices.

A home is a mikdash me’at. The table we eat on is compared to a mizbei’ach. “Bilvavi Mishkan evneh - In my heart I shall construct a Mishkan,” writes the Rishon, basing his poetic words on the posuk, “Ve’asu li Mikdash veshachanti besocham,” and underscoring the importance of purifying our innermost feelings and intentions.

If we are to accomplish lasting achievement and realize contentment and sipuk hanefesh, we must follow the guidelines the Torah establishes for nedivus lev in this week’s parsha.

We cannot expect to carve out for ourselves a corner of holiness, purity and tranquility in this turbulent world if the means utilized to support our lifestyles are hypocritical and unethical.

May we all merit to attain the lofty level of nedivus lev and the permanent gratification which accompanies it.