Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kedoshei Adar

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

A family is slaughtered
Like animals
A three-month-old baby
Shechted like a korban.

A four-year-old
An eleven-year-old,
For no crime
Innocent as can be.

Being a dirty Jew
Is all that mattered.

A young mother
Ambushed in her bedroom
A young father
Sliced as he slept.

All they talk about is
To make peace.
They agitate about the poor Palestinians
A nation
Which never existed
A ragtag band of
They need a state
A launching pad
For terror

Give them land

They will respond with
As human beings.

How many times
Will this happen
Before we learn
Our lesson.

The world doesn’t care.
They just don’t care.
They don’t even make believe
that they care
About us.

They wish
We would

Shrivel up
Dry out

All across
Arab lands
People are dying
For freedom.

America is

The world’s leader
The beacon
Of freedom
Of democracy

Doesn’t lift a finger
To help

Arabs desperate for

She is only
Concerned with the Palestinians
A fictitious group
Who never had a land
A leader
A country.

Terror is their weapon
The reason anyone pays attention to them.

The month


Korbanot hashalom
Evicted from
For peace.

Found refuge

Itamar beckoned
Udi to teach
In the yeshiva,
Ruti cared
For the

With simplicity
Kindness, charity,
And deep bitachon.

They believed
They would

It wasn’t
Meant to be.

Their children
Will carry on
The dream
The mission
The ambition.

Thy waysHashem.

The wait
The pain is

The cries
Melt battle-hardened hearts

How much pain
Can one people

How much


Al hageulah
Ve’al hatemurah
Re’u mah bein beni

Lebein chomi.

Yado sholach
Bekedoshei Eil
Nilbash sack
Nikshor mispeid
Tzom ubechi.

Chevron Yeshiva
Netanya Hotel at the seder
The 12 bus
The 841 bus
Too many buses to count

Merkaz Harav bochurim
Naharia school children
Ben Yehudah

Dr. Appelbaum
Hillel Café
Rechov Shmuel Hanovi

When will it end?

Mitzom ubechi
Lesimcha vesasson
Miyagon lesimcha
Mei’eivel Leyom tov


Holocaust survivors
Who thought it was
Finally in the past,
Reliving horrors

Hitler killed
One and a half million children

Another one
Another one.

The world stood by

“Never again”
They said
They swore

Once again
Here they go again
Slaughtering babies

Then it was
Now its

A hesped by a chief rabbi
Dragged in a sack into Buchenwald
At age seven
Hidden by his brother.

He survived
So will the young orphans
So will we
So will Am Yisroel.

They kill

We build

We are

Vehu yoilicheinu komemiyus

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Life is Not a Popularity Contest

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
“Jews in the news” lately pose a disturbing trend. The portrayals are far from flattering and thrust us into a dilemma. Do we ignore the unsavory stories or do we report on them? Do we publicly dissociate ourselves from individuals who have brazenly betrayed Torah ideals but continue to claim to represent our community?
We educate our children to be upstanding members of the community and to do what is correct and proper. We teach them to live honestly and never to steal, lie or abuse others. We teach them respect for authority and strive in our own lives to exemplify the ideals we extol. But we can no longer take it for granted that everyone is inherently good or deserving of our trust and respect. This means that, at times, we are preaching one thing to our children and thinking and doing another.
How do we deal with the problem of people in our community who engage in dishonorable conduct? By ignoring it and by remaining silent, we are communicating a message that we tolerate and even condone the conduct. Is that the message we want to send?
I’m not advocating that we join the muckrakers and sensationalists who thrive on gossip. But we must conduct an honest appraisal of where our say-nothing-do-nothing policy is leading us. We need to assess what we are doing wrong so that we can halt a pernicious trend and improve our people, their future, and the way we are being perceived by the world around us.
This process does not need to be played out in public or reported on in the media. It can be done quietly and internally. The effects may take time to be felt, but at least the graph will be moving in the right direction.
We also need to distance ourselves, publicly and privately, from people whom we know to be engaging in improper conduct and giving us all a black eye. There are prominent people who speak in the name of our community, whom we are quick to criticize and disown when speaking among close friends, but whom, for some reason, we never condemn publicly.
The media and bloggers have a field day painting these miscreants as representative of all religious Jews and rabbis. While many of them are motivated by pure hatred, how can we condemn them, as long as we continue to convey the impression through our silence that we are all of one stripe? If we do not disavow them, how can we expect the media and people removed from our community to differentiate between us?
Perhaps we remain silent out of fear. The notion that these people are arrogant and vindictive and will come after us is intimidating. Also, no one wants to be seen as a troublemaker. It can ruin our children’s prospects for shidduchim if we engage in activities which would allow unscrupulous people to paint us as baalei machlokes. People will say that we are negative, cynical, obstinate and arrogant. So we sit off to the side and permit these frauds to parade as Orthodox Jews in good standing.
It is almost as if we care more about our own kavod than that of Hakadosh Boruch Hu, as our silent acquiescence leads to repeated chillul sheim Shomayim.

The sefer Chovos Halevavos, in Shaar Habitachon, states that at times we see a righteous person who cannot make ends meet and we wonder why that is. Hashem provides for all who trust in him; why is that person unable to earn a living? The Chovos Halevavos answers that it may be because the person was not zealous and outspoken enough in taking up Hashem’s cause by protesting vehemently and vociferously against the misdeeds of his generation.

This is based upon the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (55b), which states that even though Pinchos didn’t sin, “mitoch shehaya lo l’Pinchos limchos velo micha, maaleh alav hakasuv ke’ilu chatah - Because Pinchos should have protested against the sinful actions of Chofni and didn’t, the Torah considers it as if he had sinned.”
In the face of this intolerable situation, one feels the painful absence of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach and Rav Elya Svei, zichronam livracha. These two individuals impacted this newspaper more than anyone else and therefore I am using them as an example to make this point. This is not to infer that we are not blessed with giants of high moral fiber and character at the helm of our community. May we merit to benefit from their wisdom, acumen, and leadership for many years to come. These giants knew and know that leadership means taking unpopular stands. It means shining the light on improper behavior, demanding the best, and demonstrating how to achieve the standards expected of us.
These troubling reflections were spurred by the awareness of Rav Elya’s approaching yahrtzeit. His absence continues to leave a void in the hearts of his talmidim and followers. This is not because we don’t know how he would have reacted to the troubling situations that plague us. It’s not because we don’t know what he would say about people who abuse their mandates, are irresponsible and are dishonest. We know that he would move heaven and earth to see them dismissed from their positions. We know how intolerant he was of aberrant behavior. We know how he would speak, fiery and fearless, in the way of his great rebbi, Rav Aharon Kotler.
We know only too well what he would say and how he would guide us in dealing with them, yet, we talmidim, and askonim who basked in his glow, who are in a position to do something, sit by silently.
Prominent shady characters are given carte blanche to enact their agendas and the dishonest are permitted to continue their detrimental behavior and actions. We beat gingerly around the bush, dancing around the edges, afraid to proclaim the truth.
What are we afraid of? Why are we silent? How can we live with ourselves as we see yet another rabbi or religious Jew creating yet another chillul Hashem? It would be bad enough if we waited until the scandal hit the papers and only then took corrective steps, but we haven’t mustered the courage to do even that.
There was an American rabbi who grew close to the Ponovezher Rov in the course of the Rov’s travels to America to fundraise for the Ponovezher Yeshiva. This rabbi would drive the Ponovezher Rov around town and take him to his fundraising appointments. When visiting Eretz Yisroel, the rabbi always made a point of traveling to Bnei Brak to visit the Ponovezher Rov and the yeshiva.
When the Rov passed away, the rabbi made his customary detour to see the yeshiva, marveling at its growth and at the amount of Torah being studied by its talmidim. He went in to see the rosh yeshiva, Rav Shach.
The rabbi introduced himself to the rosh yeshiva and told him of his past closeness to the Ponovezher Rov, stating that he hoped to establish similar ties with Rav Shach.
With great love, and without a drop of condescension, Rav Shach responded that he would have to find someone else to maintain that relationship with. “I see,” Rav Shach explained gently, “that you are an American rabbi. A rabbi needs everyone to like him. It is nothing personal against you, but I don’t think you will feel comfortable with me.”
Rav Shach was an overarching gadol baTorah and he wasn’t afraid to be unpopular. He wasn’t afraid to take stands that would not endear him to the masses. He did what was right, and if that meant that his “poll numbers” dropped, so be it. It was because of his fastidious loyalty to the truth and because he took his responsibility as a leader so seriously that he went on to become the leading Torah authority of our generation and the father of bnei Torah the world over.
We are beset by so many problems in our community, but if we are prevented from honestly assessing and addressing them, we will not be able to solve them. As any edifice built on a shaky foundation cannot endure over time, an ideological house of cards built on illusions will not survive. Closing our eyes to the facts won’t change them and will not remove the rot at the core.
Dealing with superficial issues which are merely symptoms of the malady while failing to invest time and energy in remedying the underlying causes is as effective as slapping a band-aid over gaping wounds.
Megillas Esther, in its final posuk, states that Mordechai was “gadol laYehudim, veratzuy lerov echov, doreish tov le’amo vedoveir shalom lechol zaro - Mordechai was a great man among the Jews, and found favor among the majority of his brethren; he sought the good of his people and sought peace for all his children.”
The Megillah ends by informing us that Mordechai was not appreciated by all the Jews, only by a majority of them. And why was that? Perhaps, as the posuk continues, it was because he sought the good of his people and took whatever measures he could to increase peace and brotherhood.
Mordechai at times had to take actions which were controversial. In order to maintain peace, he had to be forceful and advocate for the downtrodden and forlorn, at times spurning the wishes of the rich, famous and powerful. In all his actions, Mordechai Hatzaddik always remained loyal to Torah and its supreme system of justice, even at the expense of his own popularity.
The Megillah considers it a virtue that he was not universally adulated and includes this fact as a lesson for us in our exile. We, too, need to put aside our concern with what others think of us when facing important choices regarding the complex issues that confront us. Let us seek the direction of our gedolim and pray for siyata diShmaya in standing up for what is right.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Revealing the Hidden

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The sefer which tells the tale of Purim is called Megillas Esther. In truth, the name contains two words which are diametrically opposed. The word megillah has at its root the word gilah, as in giluy, which means to reveal. The root of the name Esther is seiser, as in hester, which means hidden.

Thus, the translation of the words Megillas Esther would indicate that this is a sefer which reveals that which is hidden. If so, we would imagine that the Megillah would reveal the Hand of Hashem in all that transpired when Haman and Achashveirosh plotted to kill all the Jews in the 127 medinos under the dominion of Achashveirosh.

But, in fact, the Megillah doesn’t appear to be revealing any secrets. If you read the story the way it is written, without the Medrashim and the drashos of Chazal in Maseches Megillah, you would think that the Megillah is simply a depiction of a story which happened without any Divine involvement.

If the Megillah is, in fact, living up to its name of being megaleh the nistar, revealing that which is concealed, it should go beyond the tevah and relate how the Yad Hashem guided all the events that transpired.

The truth is, the Megillah does just that. During the time the events took place, the Jewish people were devastated. One day they celebrated in the palace of Achashveirosh and the next day they were slated for destruction. When one of their own was picked to be the new queen, sadness was felt throughout the Jewish world. When Haman publicized his plan to eradicate the Jews, they were despondent. When the king’s messengers fanned out across the kingdom, all hope was lost.

It was only when the story was complete and the people experienced it from beginning to its successful end that they saw how everything that had taken place was intertwined and coordinated from on High. They were able to trace one event after the other and see how they followed a pattern and were designed not only to deliver the Jews from the hands of their tormentors, but also to restore them to their former position of glory and strength.

Thus, the title of the sefer which tells this amazing tale is indeed correct. The Megillah really does perform the task which its name indicates. It is megaleh and reveals that which was nistar, hidden.

The halacha (Orach Chaim, Hilchos Megillah 690:6) therefore dictates that the Megillah must be read in order, and if one skips around, reading the later pesukim before reading the earlier pesukim, even if he reads the entire Megillah, he has not fulfilled his obligation. In order for the message of the Megillah to be absorbed, the story has to be read in its entirety, following the sequence of events. It is only in that way that the mitzvah of pirsumei nisah is realized.

Furthermore, the halacha (ibid., 17) is that the Megillah is folded before being read aloud in shul. The bracha that is recited following the reading can only be said when the Megillah is properly rolled up. This is to signify that it is only when we read the entire story from beginning to end and go back to the beginning that we can understand what really took place and celebrate the miracles which the day of Purim commemorates.

It is interesting that the bracha which we recite after the reading is written in the present tense, unlike most brachos recited to commemorate past events, which are said in the past tense. It is telling that before reading the Megillah, we say, “She’asah nissim laavoseinu bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh,” thanking Hashem for miracles which took place “on this day in those times.”

Perhaps that is because before we read the Megillah, we acknowledge that on this day of Purim, we are celebrating the miraculous deliverance of the Jews from Haman’s evil plan. But once we finish reading the entire story from beginning to end and we roll up the scroll, we recognize that just as the Yad Hashem becomes evident when reading the entire story as it transpired, so will we begin to realize the Divine Hand in so many other happenings which we thought were merely coincidental.

Therefore, when the Megillah is rolled up, we recite the blessing in the present tense and thank Hashem for fighting our battles, exacting retribution on our enemies and saving us in our times of danger. We now realize in hindsight how so many things which happened to us were not happenstance. We see history in a different light. We see our lives differently. Things that happened to us which we thought didn’t make sense are now viewed differently. People who are living through difficult, trying experiences are given new hope as they realize that everything happens for a higher reason and purpose. They look forward to the successful culmination of the nisayon.

These thoughts came to me in the merit of Sholom Mordechai ben Rivkah Rubashkin, whom we all daven for. He called me asking for a vort and some chizuk, and Hakadosh Boruch Hu put these ideas into my head to convey to him. For now, the purpose of his extreme suffering is still unrevealed. The way he accepts his lot, with emunah and bitachon, as he awaits his private giluy and geulah, can serve as a lesson to many of us as we stumble our way through life’s trials and tribulations in periods of seeming hester.

We are living through a historic period, when events are transpiring at a rapid pace. Countries are spiraling out of control, as the rest of the world watches helplessly. For no explainable reason, a plague of revolution has taken root in Arab states and is spreading like wildfire. Entrenched monarchies, dictators, and murderous sycophants who exercised tight control over a domicile public are either gone, going, or teetering.

Wise men who study these things are at a loss to explain how this all began and where it will lead. Egypt, the bulwark of normalcy in a sea of radicalism, is under military junta as it heads for democracy. The man who stood by America’s side against al-Qaeda, Hamas and Iran was publicly vilified by the leader of the free world and told to leave “now.” As he sits in isolation in his beachfront palatial estate, while neither we nor anyone else has any pity on him, Iran continues it victorious march throughout the area, celebrating the loss of its greatest nemesis in the region.

Mubarak was far from perfect. He was a virile anti-Semite who used State propaganda to vilify Israel in particular and Jews in general. Egyptian authorities are investigating how much money he plundered from the poor state he ruled over with an iron fist for three decades. But he served as a reliable and steady ally, and if Iran gains entry into that country and the Islamists win power, his removal will prove to be a detrimental turning point in history.

Already, Iran has sailed two warships through the Suez Canal, which Mubarak never permitted. The ships were on their way to Syria, where they will sit in port to remind the world of Iran’s overarching ambitions for the region and the world.

This took place as word leaked out that Syria is presently operating at least three nuclear enrichment sites. They are back in the nuclear weapons business and no one seems to know or care about it. The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency is lobbying not to include Syria is his upcoming UN report on the nuclear menace. He says that it will remove the focus from Iran. As if the world is about to focus on Iran. Perhaps the UN will issue another statement, as it has done previously and as it has done in the case of Libya and its maniacal dictator, who mows down innocent civilians in a bid to stay in power.

It should be obvious by now that a toothless UN resolution will stop neither Muammar Gaddafi nor Iran. Nothing short of total isolation coupled with a strong stand for democracy and basic human decency will influence events in those troubled areas governed by out-of-touch, irrational men.

We look around the world now and see Israel surrounded by a strengthened Hamas. We watch a revolution brewing in Jordan and Hezbollah in control of Lebanon. Among America’s few remaining Arab friends, Yemen is on fire, as is Bahrain and Oman. Saudi Arabia is quaking in its oil-drenched boots, praying that it will not be affected next by the spreading wildfire.

At a time like this, America is governed by a president who has lost the trust of the majority of his people and the world. People are at a loss to explain his lack of action in the face of the historic changes sweeping through a region vital to America’s immediate future. His disappearance from the world stage is as mysterious as it is dangerous. He has neglected his responsibility to encourage and support the forces of decency and democracy. He reads faint words of condemnation against the forces of evil and doesn’t back them up with anything real.

Analysts compare the American leader to former presidents and wonder what they would have done had they been in power, as simple people across the world seek freedom. In the place of a powerful advocate for liberation, we see an apathetic and arrogant president. It wasn’t that long ago that French fries became freedom fries as a symbol of a world furious with French vacillation in the face of terror. Today it is France which is taking the lead, together with England, in exercising leadership standing up to tyranny and dictators.

People search for answers as to how this all started and why this is happening. They wonder why Obama is so impotent in the face of a historic opportunity to spread democracy in parts of the world which have never experienced it. People fear how all this will end. Where will the street revolutions lead? Will the forces of liberty triumph or will those who seek to pull the world backwards emerge victorious?

We, who read the Megillah, know that we have to wait for the last chapter to be written to understand the inexplicable events of our day. Currently unfolding in front of our eyes is a historic drama whose outcome no one can predict. It is a time for us to do as the Jews in Shushan did, bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh, engaging in self-improvement and beseeching Heaven that the story ends positively for us and for all of humanity.