Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Arbiter of Reality

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


A collective sigh of relief was heard when the cease-fire was announced last week, bringing an end to the most recent Palestinian attack on Eretz Yisroel, without a full-fledged war. The tension for acheinu bais Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel dissipated as life began returning to normal for Israel’s citizens.

Keeping the peace and stopping the rain of missiles was a definite immediate accomplishment, but on another level, many were wondering what Israel’s prime minister was thinking when he set up a major confrontation, massing tens of thousands of soldiers and preparing his country for war, only to back down and hand Hamas a moral, if not a real, victory. Once again, terror paid off.

Israel’s prime minister, the very one blessed with superb communicative skills and with a clear grasp of regional politics, was outmaneuvered. With bravado and pomp, he posed and postured, flexing his muscles this way and that. He unleashed his soldiers and reserves, marching to the front lines of a showdown, only to capitulate, allowing Hamas to claim victory and the newest rosha on the block, Mohamed Morsi, to gain international accolades.

Did we want war? Certainly not. But what happened, or didn’t happen, last week on Israel’s Gaza border serves as yet another reminder that we are in golus, and that we cannot rely on politicians for peace, harmony, serenity and quality of life.

This year, once again, as Parshas Vayishlach arrives, the world around us is spinning out of control and we are in desperate need of clarity in understanding how to deal with brothers who stab us in the back, those who rule over us, as well as neighbors who would love for us to disappear.

The parshiyos of the Torah and their lessons are ever-relevant to us in our daily lives in more ways than we can imagine.

Take for example this week’s parsha of Vayishlach. The famous Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 78:15) quoted and explained by the Ramban (33:15) relates that when Rabi Yannai would have dealings with the Roman government, he would learn this parsha before setting out on his mission. This was because Chazal had a tradition that this parsha is the parsha of golus, from which Jews are to learn for all time how to conduct themselves in exile. From the subtleties of the exchange between Yaakov and Eisov, the chachomim would formulate the proper angle, hashkofah and negotiating positions to survive under Roman domination.

The stories that are recorded in the Torah are there for us to study and relate to our lives. Yaakov conducted himself in this way with Eisov because it was the proper way to deal with him and to teach for eternity how to deal with the various Eisovs that Jews have been confronting ever since.

The Ramban, in fact, writes at the beginning of his peirush on Parshas Vayishlach that this parsha was written so that we may learn from it, because everything that happened to Yaakov vis-à-vis Eisov will continuously transpire to his descendants. Throughout his peirush, the Ramban offers various lessons we can apply.

The Maharshal, quoted in the sefer Tzeidah Laderech, says that we find that as a reward for Yaakov’s mesirus nefesh to return for the pachim ketanim, Hakadosh Boruch Hu repaid him through the small pach found by the Chashmonaim, through which the Chanukah miracle transpired. The seeds of the Chanukah renewal were planted by Yaakov avinu when he was left alone, in this week’s parsha.

The Megaleh Amukos discusses an instance recorded in last week’s parsha. After confronting Yaakov following his attempt to flee, Lavan called upon Yaakov to forge a bris with him (Bereishis 31:44). Yaakov and his sons made a pile of stones and called it Galeid. Lavan called it Yegar Sahadusa.

The Megaleh Amukos says that the names each one gave to the pile foretold something that would take place many years in the future. Lavan called it Yegar Sahadusa because in the 213th year of Bayis Sheini, the forces of evil would gain the upper hand and Antiyochus would slaughter a pig on the mizbeiach, defiling the Bais Hamikdosh. The gematriah of the word Yegar is 213.

Yaakov called it Galeid to signify that at that time, the Chashmonaim would pray to the One Who heard the prayers of Shmuel Hanovi on Har Gilod. Their prayers would be heard and they would be empowered to defeat Antiyochus and the Yevonim.

Yaakov and Eisov. Yaakov and Lavan. Eternal battles being fought and refought throughout the ages, all foretold in the Torah to those who properly study it.

The Alter of Novardok was mekareiv Rav Yechezkel Abramsky when he was a young bochur learning in his yeshiva. One day, the Alter said to him, “Muster’l (an endearing term referring to the bochur’s hometown of Must), do want to know how to be able to discern the will of Hashem for the rest of your life? I’ll teach you how to do that. The secret is to always remember that there is no reality other than what is written in the Torah.”

The famed mussar personality proved this concept to the bochur by quoting him the famous Gemara in Maseches Gittin (56a) which discusses the period when Vespasian besieged Yerushalayim prior to the churban. Chazal recognized that there was no way the Jews would be able to defeat the Romans and therefore sought to make peace with them.

The Baryonim, the tough guys, refused to accept the ruling of the rabbis, insisting that they had the strength to withstand the Roman might. They sought war. They prevented the rabbis from leaving the city to meet the Romans. When the rabbis refused to permit them to wage war on Rome, the Baryonim burned all the food that had been stored to withstand the Roman blockade. They thought that by doing so, they would force the people to fight the Romans, lest they die of starvation. A famine ensued in Yerushalayim.

Abba Sikra, head of the Baryonim in Yerushalayim, was the nephew of Rabbon Yochanon ben Zakai, the gadol hador. Abba Sikra was called to a secret meeting with his uncle, who succeeded in convincing him that the understanding of the rabbis was the correct one. Although he was won over, Abba Sikra feared his own followers and was frightened to inform them that he had been convinced that the plan of starving the Jews was improper. He agreed to enable Rabbon Yochanon ben Zakai to meet the Roman general, Vespasian, and helped smuggle the elderly tzaddik out of the besieged holy city in a coffin to accomplish the fateful encounter.

Finally, after placing his life in danger, Rabbon Yochanon arrived at the Roman camp. He faced the general and said to him, “Peace to you, O king.” Vespasian responded, “I condemn you to death on two counts. Firstly, I am not a king and you mock me by referring to me in that manner. Secondly, if I am a king, why did you wait until now to come to speak with me?”

Rabbon Yochanon calmly responded, “The truth is that you are destined to be a king, for it can be derived from several pesukim that Yerushalayim will be destroyed by a king.” He quoted four pesukim to back up his contention and, through a gezeirah shavah, proved to him that Yerushalayim will be conquered by a king.

The Gemara recounts the rest of the conversation, including the fact that their meeting was interrupted by the arrival of a messenger from Rome announcing that the Caesar had died and Vespasian had been appointed the new leader. He granted Rabbon Yochanon ben Zakai two wishes, which ultimately preserved the transmission of Torah. 

The Alter turned to Chatzkel Muster and analyzed the story.

“Here we had the gadol hador going to meet a powerful and influential leader. Surely, he was aware that to address him as king when he wasn’t yet appointed to that position was a crime. Couldn’t Rabbon Yochanon ben Zakai have prepared a compelling argument for mercy towards the Jews, or a speech explaining the position of the Jews, and thus seek to negotiate conditions they could live with? After all, wasn’t that the purpose of his trip? Didn’t basic diplomacy call for a better approach than telling the general about a gezeirah shavah he had darshened?

Muster’l,” said the Alter, “the explanation is that to Rabbon Yochanon ben Zakai there was no metzius, no reality, other than the words of the Torah. To him, the gezeirah shavah wasn’t merely some esoteric drasha, but rather life and truth itself, as real as heaven and earth, and it was the most natural thing to express the ideas gleaned from words of Torah.”

Since Rabbon Yochanan understood from the pesukim that Vespasian would become king, it was as real as could be and there was no danger in referring to him as such. Torah is the arbiter of reality.

And with this we arm ourselves. We have the knowledge that there is only one reality and it isn’t established by the United Nations, self-serving diplomats, generals or tough guys. The reality of the world is shaped and gleaned from Torah. Anything else is false, and while it may possess momentary glitter, it is doomed to be exposed as fiction.

A similar lesson on a different level can be learned from a halachic ruling of the Chazon Ish. A widow living alone sought to rent half of her four-room apartment. She was negotiating with a family of ten children, and though no deal was signed, they had already agreed upon a price. Along came a young couple about to get married and an agreement was reached to rent the apartment.

The head of the large family called the young chosson to a din Torah. He said that the chosson was a rosha, as he had transgressed on the sin referred to as “oni hamehapeich bacharorah, grabbing a cookie away from a poor, hungry person,” and that he must relent and permit the large family to move in to the home. The chosson said that the widow preferred renting to him, because she was afraid of all the noise the ten children would cause and didn’t know if she would be able to handle it.

Rav Yisroel Grossman, in his sefer Halichos Yisroel (45), writes that he was asked this shailoh. He ruled that there is no rule of “oni hamehapeich bacharorah” in this case, for just as there is an obligation to protect the rights of a [potential] renter, we must also observe “ve’osisa hayoshor vehatov, to do what is correct and proper.” Since the widow is definitely better off renting to the young couple, the correct and proper thing to do would be to permit her to do so. 

Rav Grossman writes that a short time after issuing his ruling, he visited the Chazon Ish and discussed the case with him. The Chazon Ish responded that even though in theory it sounded like he had ruled properly, he should research the issue in teshuvah seforim, for if the poskim rule differently than he did, then “the correct and proper” course of action is different than what we would assume it is. What is “correct and proper,” said the Chazon Ish, is to follow the ruling and the understanding of the Torah, for it is always yoshor and always tov.

Often times, we think that we understand better than others and that our comprehension is borne out by the truth, but, in fact, we must begin by analyzing the teachings of the Torah, for that is the only way to properly and correctly arrive at the ultimate truth.

The story is told of a high-ranking Hungarian military leader who came to visit the town of Satmar during the time that Rav Yoel Teitelbaum served as the town’s rov. Of course, the military leader was taken to meet the rov, who received him and his delegation with great respect. The table was set beautifully and the local baalei batim filled the room in honor of the visitors.

The general was a man of regal bearing, with a well-tailored uniform and a chest covered with an impressive array of medals and ribbons. At some point during the meeting, the rov detected that the townspeople were becoming enamored by the guest, taken in by his regal uniform, his medals and the seeming strength he exuded. The general spoke and everyone gathered close to hear his every word.

The Satmar Rov became annoyed. He leaned over to his people and said softly but strong enough for them to hear, “Voss zogt ehr, der mit di yedei Eisov?” His words were like a pin puncturing the aura surrounding the general.

Someone who was present later related, “In one instant, our enchantment with the visitor disappeared, because the rebbe, without offending the visitor, opened our eyes to the truth, the reality that we are an am hanivchar, and the visitor, decent an individual as he may have been, wasn’t as fortunate as we were. We felt that we were on a higher level, that we were better, even though he seemed to have more power than us.”

In the darkness of the exile we are tested when we see the wicked prosper and the righteous trampled upon, says the Ramchal in Da’as Tevunos. We see fiction gaining and the truth seems beat. It appears as if there is no one in charge keeping score and exacting punishment upon those who employ treachery, debauchery and lies to advance themselves and their causes. Those who are loyal, honest and decent are mocked as being foolish, as they don’t reap the rewards of the pragmatic world, and we wonder why. But such is the pattern of golus, tempting us to forsake our fidelity to the truth of Torah.

The Satmar Rov reminded his people that even when respect and deference are called for, we must never forget that we are marching toward eternal triumph, to a much higher place and towards a glorious destiny. Our steps are foretold and taught in the Torah. They are those of truth, while all the rest, as impressive as they may seem at the moment, are folly, here today and gone tomorrow.

And so here we are once again. Iran has already begun rearming Hamas with advanced weaponry. The celebrants in the Gaza Strip are already preparing for the next war, Rachmona litzlon. The nations of the world, professing to care about us, are commending Israel for showing restraint, patting the hapless Jews on the head, smug that the Jewish people are once again at their mercy.

When Yaakov bid his brother Eisov farewell, he said that since he was traveling with his children, he would have to move slowly. He told Eisov not to wait for him and that he would meet him in Se’ir. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah, 78:14), cited by Rashi and the Ramban, says that this meeting will take place at the time of Moshiach, as the posuk states, “Ve’olu moshiim beHar Tzion lishpot es Har Eisov.”

Until then, we are bein ho’amim, just as we have always been. The way we deal with national and personal enemies is by studying what our parents, grandparents and forefathers did in similar situations and recognizing our limitations in ability and intelligence.

And now, as then, we cry out the words of our forefather, Yaakov Avinu.

Hatzileini na! Hashem, save us!”

So may it be, speedily in our days.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From Tragedy to Triumph

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


When we were children, there were decorative signs that hung in classrooms. They depicted the chodshei hashanah, the months of the Jewish year, through illustrations.

Each month was illustrated with a mitzvah or a Yom Tov connected to it, to create a warm feeling and association in our young minds. Tishrei had the shofar, lulav, esrog and sukkah. Kislev had the menorah.

There was one month for which there was no specific illustration: Cheshvan. Some signs had a picture of Kever Rochel, in tribute to the mother whose yahrtzeit falls during Cheshvan. Others had a picture of driving rain, remembering the Mabul that wiped out a world during that month.

Either way, whether the picture was the water of Rochel’s perpetual tears or the furious waters of flood, the image evoked the same sense of sadness. It is Mar Cheshvan, a bitter month, devoid not only of a Yom Tov, but also of cheer.

This year, Cheshvan ended on that tearful note, the images of rushing waters and ceaseless tears taking on the dimensions of real life. Very real.

During Cheshvan’s waning days, acheinu Bnei Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel were once again in the line of fire. After a relatively brief hiatus, life once again became a series of sirens and screams. The reports from that tiny country fill us with fear and trepidation, because we know that the enemy they face is inhuman. A suicidal, maniacal beast, Hamas is governed by a charter that calls for the destruction of not only Israel and Zionists, but of Jews everywhere. Yet, when Israel, which cares about its citizens and their safety, takes legitimate steps to protect them, the world is perturbed and troubled by the loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza. They ignore the barrage of hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas at Israel’s population. They ignore the history of terror and the truth of the historical facts.

Imagine Israeli soldiers forced into combat in places like Gaza City, home to 500,000 people. Our brothers are exposed to snipers in apartments and on narrow, unfamiliar streets. Focused on staying alive, they also need to be mindful of killing civilians in those very crowded neighborhoods where bombs and rockets are planted in schoolyards and backyards. They are ever attentive of doing what they must without unleashing the cynical ire of the same world that stands by silently as Syria massacres tens of thousands of its own citizens at will.

Since Israel’s last Gaza incursion, the Arabs there have improved their fighting capabilities. They have better weapons, better anti-plane and tank capabilities, better rockets and better training. In the last war, their bravado was stronger than their bravery. Their fighters ran and hid when the Israeli soldiers came. This time, they have been trained by Iran to stand and fight. Whether they will, is beyad Hashem, but the danger is real and quite serious, and we dare not take it lightly.

America, Canada and a handful of European countries verbalized their support for Israel, while the rest of the world is occupied with being even-handed, denouncing the violence on both sides. Once again, the familiar storyline repeats itself, a macabre play with everyone taking their parts: Israel as the aggressor, the Arabs as the victims, and Jewish blood considered hefker. Peace and truth are forgotten as war looms yet again.

In the past, we would look on and offer tefillos and Tehillim from our comfortable perch in America, but we didn’t know much about war, boruch Hashem.

Thankfully, the vast majority of us have never experienced war. We never experienced that fear or the panic attacks brought on by air raid sirens. We never had to run out of our homes in the middle of dinner, into the dark of night. We never had to rouse sleeping children and carry them to safety. We were never in a position where the enemy was rapidly approaching to attack and annihilate us. We never had the fear that the whole world was lined up against us, seeking our destruction and annihilation, and that death was imminent. We never had to run out of our homes to hide in concrete pipes, seeking shelter in a small dank room, or being without provisions and power for weeks on end.

We never had to deal with the aftermath of war either, picking up the pieces and putting life back together. It is hard for us to even look at pictures of what war causes, let alone imagine the situation in which our brethren all across Eretz Yisroel presently find themselves. We never contended with the sense of loneliness foretold by the posuk, which is now a reality, of an entire world condemning our every move, lined up against us: “hein am levodod yishkon.

Until now.

Now, we’re a bit more educated and more aware of what difficult conditions are like. When our brothers in Eretz Yisroel flee their apartments to hide in concrete pipes or seek shelter in dark, small, dank rooms, living without power or provisions, perhaps we have a bit more of an appreciation of the challenge. We see pictures of blown-out walls and shells of residential buildings and are well able to imagine the pain of seeing the home - the bricks and mortar that carry so many memories - wiped out in an instant.

This year, during the month of Mar Cheshvan, which ended against the backdrop of war’s first shots, we experienced devastation and destruction right here, in peaceful New York and New Jersey.

We saw what happens when the malachei chavolah are unleashed. It was no war, boruch Hashem, but it gave us the ability to really comprehend what happens when man is without options. “Nature” can be a foe too, Rachamana litzlan. Raging waters with a force none of us knew possible showed no mercy as they came aground and swallowed everything in their path.

We are fascinated by the sea and its beauty. Oceanfront real estate is most prized; the view of the waves washing ashore is coveted and calming. That is, until Hakadosh Boruch Hu decides that “g’vul samta bal ya’avorun,” the law He put in place at creation, stopping waves as they reach their Divinely-ordained border, needs to be temporarily set aside.

I had never been to Sea Gate until last week, when I visited there along with a couple non-descript tzaddikim who head the Chasdei Lev organization. It is well-known that “eino domeh shmiah le’reiyah.” There’s nothing that compares to seeing something with your own eyes and experiencing it with your own heart. Everything you’ve read about and all the pictures you’ve seen of the destruction in Sea Gate doesn’t compare to what you feel when you arrive there.

Two weeks later, the hard-hit areas we have all read about still look and feel like a war zone. It is like a war-ravaged area after the victorious army has gone and left destruction in its wake.

We saw police all over, along with sanitation workers, dump trucks, huge tractors, and all types of workers cleaning, banging, pushing, pumping and doing every type of work imaginable.

We saw houses suspended in mid-air, their contents piled up in front, waiting to be removed. It almost felt like an invasion of privacy to encounter the items and keepsakes that made up people’s lives. Their toys, clothing and books formed little mountains waiting to be taken away in a sanitation vehicle.

The piles composed of the fabric of people’s lives were wet with tears and from rain, drenched and ruined. From the outside, some homes appeared whole and undamaged, but you cannot imagine what they look like inside. You see sheetrock, beams, tiles, refrigerators and stoves along with suitcases, pictures, books and more.

You see pieces of collected memories sitting there, forlorn, at the side of the road, drenched beyond repair. You see that and your heart melts.

Who among us doesn’t associate the voice of Mordechai ben David with joy and fervor? His songs are the essence of joy. People listen to them and are uplifted. You grew up with him and his songs. You picture him as tall and handsome, exuding strength.

We pull up to Sea Gate and park in front of Reb Mordechai’s unassuming house. He is standing outside with a few people, waiting for us. Yet, it doesn’t look like him. The usually tall, strong man seems shrunken and sad. You find it hard to accept that the voice that brings joy and chizuk to so many of acheinu bais Yisroel is the same voice talking to you, speaking slowly and haltingly of sadness, of destruction, of the lives of his neighbors turned upside down. 

He shows us where the concrete wall meant to hold back the sea in times of emergency was. It’s gone. Washed away. He points this way and that. “Look at what happened here. Look at what happened there.” The voice that has spent a lifetime singing the niggunim of Simchas Torah and Purim is now chanting the bitter tune of Eichah.

“Come inside. Let me show you my house,” he says.

One room after another, destroyed and ripped apart.

“This was my recording studio,” he says.

His voice is flat and the room suddenly looks so small. You imagine it pulsating with joy and music, but now it’s soggy and moldy, with a smell that drives you away.

“This is where I stored my CDs,” the voice says. And so it goes.

We go out for a tour. There is a huge tractor trailer overloaded with ruined seforim, now destined for shaimos. Outside of it is a box that caused me to glance a few times to make sure I was seeing correctly. It was a case of ruined seforim, but the covers were intact and clearly visible. The title of the seforim? “Gishmei Brocha.”

Our group began to think about what could have been and what was. What was until now for decades long; and the once-in-a-century storm we just suffered. A message from Heaven, for us to ponder, no doubt. Think of what could have been and what was.

We traveled down block after block of sandy streets, with eerie silence and no people or vehicles except for those there to help with restoring. The more we saw, the more our hearts broke.

“Come down this block,” says Reb Mordechai.

There we saw Mr. Zimmerman’s house, the one captured in dozens of photographs, ripped in half by the raging sea. We saw the house across the street. Condemned. Stay away. Don’t approach. This house is a danger zone.

Silently, we bid him farewell and move along to Belle Harbor, Bayswater and Manhattan Beach and see the same horrific scene again and again.

We begin to know what it’s like to be in a war zone.

It’s pointless to compare the destruction. Each neighborhood sustained a beating, each resident is suffering, and each and every person who was affected is an olam molei. Every family who sat in the cold and dark of a destroyed home, bereft of their possessions, is a tragedy that sits on our hearts and minds.

In each neighborhood we had previously visited, the vast majority of the residents were severely impacted, their homes ruined and their lives turned upside down. But by sheer numbers, since it is comprised of a much larger concentration of acheinu Bnei Yisroel, the Far Rockaway/Five Towns area was worst hit.

The Achiezer organization established by Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender four years ago is a multi-faceted mosad hachessed not found in any other city. In a regular week, they handle between 700 and 800 calls. Kodmah refuah lemakoh. The infrastructure was in place to deal with a calamity. Since the hurricane hit, Achiezer has been handling 1,000 calls a day.

The calls relate to everything from people who need psychological help to overcome the trauma they experienced, people who need help cleaning out their homes, to those with no food, money, or place to be. The calls were still pouring in from people without power.

Achiezer is so good at what it does that when the New York State Homeland Security Commissioner met with them to assess the damage and coordinate post-Sandy efforts, he was so impressed that he told the staff members that he had never seen a non-governmental organization like theirs.

When the storm hit, no one really thought it would be as bad as predicted.

They were right.

It was much worse.

To provide a picture of the scope of the devastation and how many people were impacted, consider that the homes of no less than fifty employees of Yeshiva Darchei Torah and over seventy employees of Torah Academy for Girls were heavily affected.

It wasn’t only Darchei Torah and TAG families. There were hundreds more, including doctors, lawyers, professionals and blue collar workers. Every strata of society was affected by a storm that didn’t discriminate. 

Think about all the families who were left with nothing. No clothes, no boiler, no electric panel, no seforim, no furniture, no books, no pictures, no cameras, no kitchen. Nothing. They were out in the street, but the street had become a rushing, angry torrent. It was dark and their children were hungry and scared. The parents didn’t know what was going to happen and when it would end. They still don’t know when they will be able to put their lives together and start all over again.

The night of the storm, 70 panicking families called Hatzolah and said that they were trapped in their homes. The water was rising, filling the basement, then the first floor and then the second floor. In some homes, the water rose until the attic. The people were frantic. Some were sure they were going die. They said “Shema Yisroel” and called family members to bid farewell. There were no options of rescue. The streets were rivers. They were impassable. There were trees and wires down everywhere.

A trooper was stopped. “There is a family trapped in a house. Do you have any boats available to rescue them?”

“No,” he responded. “I’m so sorry, but there are 37 rescues ahead of that family. They will have to wait… and pray.”

Hatzolah couldn’t get there. The NYPD couldn’t get there. Firemen couldn’t get there. So volunteers, whose hearts were torn by the anguished cries of their brothers in distress, “stole” rescue boats out of the fire stations to reach people stranded in their homes. They literally risked their lives to save others.

It is thanks to heroes like them that no one died that night in Far Rockaway and the Five Towns. And it is thanks to heroes like them that life is slowly returning to normal in a community that lost so much - not just objects, but, for many, parts of themselves.

It is thanks to heroes like the people from Achiezer and Chasdei Lev, who haven’t stopped helping people since the hurricane blew out. Achiezer has been raising and disbursing much-needed funds. Chasdei Lev supplied generators for power, pumps to rid homes of water, and gasoline to power generators and cars. They organized massive volunteer clean-ups of hundreds of homes, supplied food, and arranged for huge shaimos trucks - three tractor trailers, in fact. All of this has been done quietly, swiftly, and free of charge.

Now, they are organizing good people who are going around from house to house replacing the sheetrock they ripped out last week, laying down new floors in place of those that were waterlogged, affixing electric panels in place of those that were destroyed, purchasing and shlepping boilers and heaters, and providing one house after the next with ovens, stoves, couches, beds, clothes, toys and whatever else people need. They rescued the people physically - they fed them, clothed them, and pumped out their basements - and they are now doing whatever they can to put them on the road to normalcy again.

For two weeks, thousands of donated meals were served to people who had no food, no heat, no stove and no light. Still, last week, there were hundreds of people eating supper at Congregation Beth Sholom. We were there, and we saw proud, dignified people, like the ones who live next door, being treated to a warm, light place and a hot meal. On the way out, they packed up food for Shabbos.

In the gym of Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv, Chasdei Lev organized thousands of clothing items for entire families, all brand new and all free, so that people who were left with the clothes on their backs could rebuild their wardrobes.

Would we ever, in our wildest dreams, have imagined America of 2012 as a place where so many of our brothers and sisters would be without basic clothing and shelter?

As the Second World War began, Lithuania and Poland were sliced up like a pie by Russia and Germany, each claiming large swaths of land. Vilna somehow remained independent, under Lithuanian control, and it thus became a place of refuge for thousands of Bnei Torah who fled there from all over. Seventy years later, Rav Yaakov Galinsky remembers when he arrived there.

A young bochur, he was anxious to take advantage of the opportunity to meet the gadol hador, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, who lived in Vilna. Rav Chizkiyohu Yosef Mishkovsky was the rov of Yankel’s old town and arranged an appointment for him. The night before, Yankel was too excited to sleep, expecting the farher of his lifetime. He reviewed all he had been learning in Maseches Yevamos that zeman so that when the towering gadol would ask him a question, he would be able to offer an intelligent response.

The bochur arrived at the appointed time, only to find some thirty people ahead of him on line. Finally, Rav Mishkovsky opened the door and called his name. Before he knew it, young Yankel was standing in the company of Rav Chaim Ozer. He mentally readied himself for the inevitable: “What are you learning? What daf? Let’s hear a chiddush.

But that didn’t happen. Rav Chaim Ozer asked three questions, which were quite different than anything Yankel imagined they would be.

The first one: ‘When is the last time you received a letter from your parents?”

“Um, half a year ago,” stammered Yankel. “They are on the Russian side and we ran to the German side.”

The second: “Do you have a blanket?”

The city was so overrun by refugees that many of them had no place to sleep. At night, the yeshiva bochurim slept in their clothes on benches in unlit, unheated shuls. The lucky ones had blankets with which to cover themselves and provide a measure of comfort and warmth.

“Yes, boruch Hashem, I do,” said Yankel.

Then came the third and final question: “Please, can I see your shoes?”

An embarrassed Yankel showed the aged gadol hador, upon whose shoulders rested all of Klal Yisroel, the ripped strands of leather wrapped around his feet.

Upon seeing them, Rav Chaim Ozer reached into his pocket and gave the boy money, telling him to use it to purchase a pair of shoes. “This is your new home,” he added. “Whenever you need something, I want you to come here and I will take care of you, any time of day or night.”

When Yankel heard that, instead of dancing for joy, he began to cry uncontrollably. He remembers that he cried because someone cared about him. Someone felt what he felt. He wasn’t all alone. He cried from emotion at feeling, once again, the love he’d left back at home. Someone actually cared about him.

When I was in Far Rockaway, I asked people, “What do you want from us? What do you want us to do?” The response was repeated again and again: “We want you to know what we went through. We want people to know what went on here. We need people to know what we experienced. We need their help.”

In other words, they were saying that they need us to care. They need us to show that we care. They need us to show that we feel the pain of our brothers and sisters. They are in distress. They need our help. They need money to get their lives back together. They don’t need us asking silly questions about insurance and FEMA. They need boilers, they need heaters, they need food, they need a stove; they need mattresses.

And yes, they need blankets.


• • • • •


On that heartbreaking note, with devastation at home and war in Eretz Yisroel, did the month of Cheshvan end. And as goes the story of our people, the notes of tragedy were followed by the inevitable notes of hope.

Kislev, a month when tzaddikim rebuilt a Bais Hamikdosh that had been sullied and defiled, was ushered in with a resounding song of promise; a mass event dedicated to paying tribute to a man who embodied resilience and hope, who did the ultimate rebuilding in the aftermath of ultimate destruction.

Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l arrived on these shores to confront an organized Jewry that was, in most cases, apathetic, and sometimes even cynical and mocking. Europe, with its values and customs, was over, they assured him. America was different.

Rav Aharon looked them in the eye, and with the tenacity that defines an am keshei oref, he told them otherwise.

For us, today, it is difficult to imagine that, in his day, Rav Aharon was in the minority on so many levels, philosophically and in other ways. It’s hard to imagine what the world looked like after the war. Torah Jews were mocked and given little chance. Musmochim took shtellers in Conservative and Traditional shuls because they wanted job security and Orthodoxy was about to perish. The anti-Kotlers, as they referred to themselves, occupied almost every position of power in Judaism.

But Rav Aharon wasn’t deterred. He didn’t see them. He didn’t hear them. He stood up to them. He had the courage to tell them to their face that they were resho’im, that they represented the force of evil. He didn’t see them, because he had true vision. He didn’t hear them, because he heard the eternal word of Hashem and followed it.

Think about the amount of Torah studied and the lives of Torah being lived today thanks to one man’s mesirus nefesh to carry on an unrelenting battle for the truth, never bending to conventional wisdom, to what everyone said and to what everyone thought. He was never influenced by the times or by the air of churban that surrounded him.

He laid the groundwork that allowed tens of thousands of ehrliche people to come forth. He inspired those of his generation to seek greatness, not compromise, growth and not regression. He breathed life into a nascent group which was sputtering. His fire gave light and warmth to those who had none. It lit the path which led to what we see today.

As the flame of Torah in his day flickered because it didn’t have enough fuel; and only weak wicks with which to draw the small amount of oil, he touched them with his torch and flames shot forth, lighting up the entire continent and bringing to life the embers of a Jewry decimated by the Holocaust.

He taught everyone to hear the bas kol and ignore every other sound. He taught a generation that if they could withstand the tide and let it wash over them, they would triumph. They did.

And so, on Sunday, there was a sea of people who gathered at the yeshiva Rav Aharon established. The people just kept coming, thousands upon thousands, one after another. They came to celebrate a legacy. They came to celebrate the triumph of truth, the triumph of Torah. They came to say no to compromise, no to negativity, and no to cynicism. They came to say yes to greatness, yes to growth, and yes to the future.

During these days, when we face oppression on so many fronts, with forces of hate in Eretz Yisroel and the after-effects of a hurricane in New York, Sunday’s gathering in Lakewood could not have come at a better time. It announced that we will persevere. We will overcome. We will triumph. We are an eternal people. The great soul that breathed fire into Bais Medrash Govoah and Yahadus Hane’emonah both here and in Eretz Yisroel knew it. Our growth is proof of it.

The Israeli Jews under attack live with that truth, as do the good people of Sea Gate, Far Rockaway and all the other communities that are rebuilding their homes and lives.

It is incumbent upon us to demonstrate in every way we can that we care about them.

Lakewood reached the pinnacle at which it stands today because of people who care enough about Torah to support it.

Rav Aharon couldn’t have done it alone.

Rav Shneur couldn’t have done it alone.

Rav Malkiel can’t do it alone.

The victims of Sandy can’t rebuild alone.

They need our help and support.

Netzach Yisroel lo yeshakeir.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Chastened, But Not Defeated

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Like a clear, refreshing well whose waters appeal to everyone, the Torah and insight of the Chofetz Chaim have become the property of an entire nation, providing hope and clarity, meaning and depth. Bitachon and Hashgocha Protis shine through each word of his seforim and the biographies that describe his life.

In a story that took place nearly a century ago, the words of the rabbon shel Yisroel help us make sense of things. The tale was related by the renowned maggid, Rav Yankel Galinsky.

There was a Jewish merchant from China whose travels led him to Europe to seek out new avenues of distribution and sources of goods. Before heading home, he made a detour to the hamlet of Radin to seek a brochah from the Chofetz Chaim. He introduced himself to the Chofetz Chaim.

Foon vanet kumpt a Yid?” asked the Chofetz Chaim.

“I am from China,” the man told him.

Vos hert zach in China?”

“It’s very difficult there,” said the man. “There is no proper chinuch. There is no shechitah. It is very hard to keep Shabbos.”

“It is a tzoras rabim,” responded the Chofetz Chaim. “In many countries around the globe, Jews are experiencing the same problems. I published a sefer for them. It’s called ‘Nidchei Yisroel.’ Please take some seforim with you and distribute them in China. The sefer teaches how to maintain your Yiddishkeit in difficult surroundings.”

The Chofetz Chaim paused. “What else is doing in China?” he asked. 

The man discussed the state of the Jews there, not sure what else to add. He told the Chofetz Chaim that he had been away from his country for several weeks.

Before you left,” asked the tzaddik, “what were people there speaking about? What were they writing about in the newspapers?”

The visitor thought for a moment, suddenly recalling an incident that had been widely covered by the newspapers back home. He shared the account with the Chofetz Chaim.

“The Chinese government built a huge dam, making available a tremendous amount of land for agriculture,” said the man. “But the dam was built very sloppily and could not withstand the awesome power of all the water it had backed up. The dam collapsed and flooded a very large area. 100,000 people died.”

The Chofetz Chaim was visibly shaken and became emotional.

Oy vey. Oy vey. The middas hadin is running rampant! It reached as far as China,” he said.

The man was perplexed.

“Can I ask the rebbe a question?” he queried. “Why is it that when I told you about the matzav of the Jews in China, you accepted it without much emotion, but when I told you about the Chinese people, you cried bitter tears?”

“During your European trip, were you in Warsaw?” asked the Chofetz Chaim of his visitor.

“Yes,” the man replied.

“How many Jews live there and what percentage of the population are they?” asked the Chofetz Chaim.

“There are about 300,000 Jews out of a population of a little over one million,” said the man.

“If a man stands on a soap box on a street corner delivering a speech in Yiddish, who is he addressing?” questioned the Chofetz Chaim.

“The Jews who are passing by, of course,” responded the man. “Why are you asking?”

“But you yourself said that they are but a minority in the city, correct?”

“Sure,” said the man, still confused. “But the goyim don’t understand Yiddish, so if someone is speaking in Yiddish, he must be addressing the Jewish passersby and not the gentiles.”

“Exactly,” replied the Chofetz Chaim. “The same is true with the dam that burst in China. When the water was unleashed to kill 100,000 people, that was the language of Heaven. It was a warning from Hashem. But the Chinese don’t understand ‘Shomayim language.’ We do. The Yidden are the ones who cry out on the Yomim Noraim, ‘Mi bamayim.’ We understand that when such occurrences take place, they are meant to send us a message. But how are we, in Radin, to know about what happened? That’s why Hashem sent you here. He sent you to tell us what took place and for us to hear the Heavenly speech.”

With the crystalline clarity that Torah gives a person, the Chofetz Chaim taught us how a Yid reacts to headlines. These last few weeks, though, the headlines weren’t referring to episodes from across the globe, but, literally, to events occurring in our own backyards.

Stop, said the Chofetz Chaim, and think! When floodwaters are unleashed, their waves crossing borders and flooding homes and businesses, sending thousands of people running and causing billions of dollars of damage, Hashem is sending a message to us. Ein od milvado. Comfortable as it is to wave it off and ascribe these natural disasters to climate change and global warming, we know better: They are the result of our ma’asim and are a call for us to become better Yidden.

And so, as we seek to grow and learn from the headlines, we contemplate the world around us and it isn’t a pretty sight. Our problems are not just meteorological. They are political as well. We’ve endured a difficult week and it behooves us to learn the lessons that can direct us back to timeless truths.

The day after the election, so many writers, columnists and pundits wondered: Why did Mitt Romney lose? And perhaps more pointedly, how was it allowed to happen? How did America pass up this chance, the lifeline it had been extended? Good questions, all of them. Rarely has there been a candidate for high office who is as decent a person as Romney is, self-made and accomplished, charitable and generous. Intelligent, well-spoken, and well-versed in all the issues facing the country, he not only appeared presidential, he also acted that way.

His opponent basically failed in almost everything he attempted during his first term, except for his law that will change health care in this country as we know it, driving up costs and enforcing inefficiency in the system. His first term was such a failure that he tried as hard as he could not to discuss it. During the entire campaign, he never ran on his record, for doing so would have been inviting defeat.

So why did Romney lose and what lessons can we learn from his defeat?

Obama beat Romney by approximately 2.7 million votes, an impressive number, especially when considering that, in the 2008 election, Republican Senator John McCain, a much weaker candidate than Romney, received 3 million more votes than Romney. In other words, if all the Republicans who voted for McCain would have voted for Romney, he would now be president-elect instead of a vanquished loser. The defeat is compounded by the fact that McCain garnered fewer votes than George W. Bush did in 2004 and that over 9 million people who voted for Obama in 2008 did not vote for him this time around.

How did Romney lose?

Apparently, the Romney campaign concentrated on raising hundreds of millions of dollars and spending it on pricey consultants and television advertising. Obama and his advisers also raised a lot of money and advertised heavily, but they did something else. They worked hard for four years. They were in every town and every city and every county and every voting district of this country where they saw potential. They worked for votes. They had hundreds of offices in Ohio alone. They went door to door and spoke to communal leaders, politicians, and regular folk. They pressed their case on a retail level. They made friends and they rang doorbells. They brought people out to the polls in early voting and on November 6th. They didn’t stop working until Election Day. They out-hustled Romney’s campaign.

Yes, the Obama’ites ran a dirty campaign. Yes, they were negative. Yes, they lied. No, they had no record to run on. However, at the end of the day, they won. They were victorious because they did the grunt work. They didn’t rely on the big money. They didn’t depend on advertising campaigns. They rolled up their sleeves and recruited voters, one by one. It’s hard work. It’s no fun and no glory. It’s getting to know people, making friends, motivating people, and getting them to work.

But that is what you have to do if you want to win elections. Had the Republicans operated that way and turned out their base, it would be a different country today.

This lesson - that of retail politics, as it’s called - is the first of many that are so relevant to us.

There are no quick-fix solutions to change, and great accomplishments never come without great effort. Often, even in our communities, the glory pulls us. We are drawn to the cause or project that offers glitz and glamour and floods the market with public relations material extolling its virtues. Yes, publicity is important and without it we stand little chance of advancing our causes. People have to be familiar with a cause in order to support it. People have to talk about it and have a good feeling about it, and that does not happen without effective PR, but that is just one component of what it takes to succeed. What spells success in the field of lofty ideas, mosdos and building Torah is the work of raising money, in small amounts, at a grassroots level.

In recent years, I’ve made many new friends, individuals who’ve stopped me in the street to offer crumpled bills and small checks for the Klal Yisroel Fund, people who reminded me how the great communal infrastructure we enjoy was built.

From amcha bais Yisroel, bit by bit.

The bricks in these spiritual edifices aren’t made of mortar or lime, but hard work, bizyonos, humiliation and determination. Rav Shlomo Lorencz recalled accompanying Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l to the office of a wealthy American Jew. The secretary informed them that the prospective donor wasn’t in and they had best return another time.

Rabbi Lorencz left his card, which featured his name and title, “Chaver HaKnesset,” emblazoned across it, and they turned to go. Suddenly, the door swung wide open and the host magically appeared. The donor wasn’t prepared to miss the glitz of a visit from an Israeli politician, even though he wasn’t available for the rosh yeshiva.

Like many others who spent their years raising money for Torah causes, Rav Henoch Cohen of Chinuch Atzmai was privy to many incidents that underscore this reality, the readiness of our leaders to sustain humiliation and scorn in order to build Torah. He recalls driving three gedolim, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky. Each man was a giant, yet the reception they often received was unceremonious.

One evening, Rabbi Cohen was driving them to Long Island to visit someone in a bid to convince him to help Chinuch Atzmai. One of the roshei yeshiva spoke. “Drive slower,” he said, “so that we will arrive there after eight o’clock. He probably has a butler who works until then, but after eight, he’ll open the door himself and, hopefully, once he sees us, he won’t have the heart to turn us away. With a butler, it’s easier to do so.”

Today, we utter these names - Rav Aharon, Rav Moshe, Rav Yaakov - with such phenomenal reverence. It is difficult to fathom that they were treated with disrespect by anyone, but that was the reality back then. Today, the situation may be better, but it still leaves much to be desired.

We see pictures of gedolim, their countenances aglow as they deliver a shiur or sit at their shtenders, but we don’t see the long, hard nights when they toil for hachzokas haTorah, sustaining the world.

A great man once compared this world to a cruise ship, where passengers and guests enjoy the entertainment, food and view, lining the deck and chatting. Deep in the recesses of the ship is a room where the captain and engineers work to keep the ship moving, their faces and arms black from grease. They are the ones working. Everyone else seems to be enjoying, while they are soiled and exhausted.

These are the roshei yeshiva and roshei kollel who get “shvartz in ponim” running around seeking partners they can enlist to support Torah.

I remember accompanying the Philadelphia rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Svei, to a wealthy fellow, only to receive an embarrassingly miniscule donation. I was uncomfortable, but Rav Elya was unfazed. “Azoi boit men Torah,” he said.

In order to have a broad base of supporters who are not fickle and dependent upon the vagaries of the economy or on constant massaging, you must work among the amcha people, selling your project and earning respect. It is this support that provides the backbone upon which you can build and develop relationships while you are seeking out larger contributions.

The Chofetz Chaim famously rejected a proposal to have the Vaad Hayeshivos support the Olam HaTorah out of a central fund, rather than have meshulochim circulate through the cities and towns, because, as he said, “Torah belongs to every Yid, and every yochid deserves, and needs, the zechus of hachzokas haTorah.”

Lehavdil, the difference in approach between the two parties in the recent presidential election hammers home that lesson. There is no match for hard work, not even a better platform and better connections.

Which brings us to another lesson to be learned from Romney’s defeat.

Communication is vital to success. The Democrats successfully defamed Romney and created a negative image of him in the minds of the populace. The hundreds of millions of dollars they spent portraying the kind, successful businessman as a vicious, heartless, cruel, money-hungry shylock was money well spent. Romney was slow to respond, and throughout the summer, the negative narrative was played and replayed. The imagery sunk in and could not be dislodged.

We hear shmuessen about the effects of lashon hara, but here we have clear and resounding proof of just how powerful it is. Snide and supercilious as it was, the labels stuck. In Mitt Romney’s defeat, we see so many other unhappy endings that result from a hateful comment here and a mean-spirited remark there. Life is full of them.

This leads us to the next lesson.

Romney is a dignified gentleman, with a history of achievement. He espouses moral beliefs and the traditional path of American greatness. Though born to wealthy parents, he took no money from them and started out at the bottom, working his way up, by himself, earning his fortune rather than inheriting it. Yet, he lost the election to an opponent whose only accomplishment was successfully getting elected to public office thanks to his ability to speak and position himself as a historical transitional figure. It was - and is - superficial, with little or no depth. It was a victory of style over substance.

The narrative that the Democrat party has succeeded in spreading is that Republicans are against the poor and middle classes, which is clearly not true. The Democrats worked long and hard to make the people believe that the Republicans are evil, that they hate the poor, that they are cold, heartless and cruel, and that were they to be in power, everyone receiving public assistance would starve to death.

This is of course false. The Republican Party is and has always been for small government and fewer taxes, working with the philosophy that if left to their own devices, people will rise and succeed. They believe that the job of government is to stay out the way and to enable people to work, grow, find and maintain good jobs, grow and build their own businesses, and enable them to provide with dignity for their families. The party also has supported a good many entitlements helping those who are unable to make ends meet.

The fact is that the government has to be able to pay its bills. The policy of continuously borrowing to expand spending can eventually bankrupt a government.

As a New York resident, I feel like my vote was wasted. I put in little dots next to each Republican candidate on the ballot, but as I did so, I felt I was wasting my time. I knew that not one of them would win. The Republican Party on a local level has totally failed in recruiting and fielding quality candidates and working to get them elected.

The vision and principles of the person who will occupy the Oval Office really does make a difference. His position on Eretz Yisroel should impact how we vote.  His plan for the economy is important to us. We need a viable economy to make ends meet, to pay tuition, to support mosdos and to help others. We all know too many horror stories of households where space and even food are lacking.

A liberal president and liberal politicians really do impact the moral climate of the country. More deviancies are accepted and supported.

It won’t be long before the health care law starts impacting not only your pocketbook, but also your ability to seek out a doctor and treatment of your choice. As our friends in Far Rockaway can tell you, the government, overstaffed as it is, has a hard time delivering services on a practical level. The bureaucracy and long lines at the various government offices symbolize the make-up of a government where little gets done. And yet, under Obamacare, it is those overwhelmed bureaucrats who will be deciding where and how a patient should be treated, if at all.

The lesson in this bitter defeat is a scary one. The accomplished one fell before his photogenic opponent, because we live in a freeze-frame, photo-op world. It is not about what type of person you are or how much you’ve accomplished. It’s all about the picture you portray of yourself. It is about how you appear in pictures and how many photos of yourself you are able to publicize.

America, it seems, has gone superficial. Where it was once a nation of idealists, it has become a nation where ideas are secondary to externals. 

Truth will endure forever. As the posuk in Mishlei states, “Sefas emes tikkon lo’ad” (12:19). One of the quietest admorim in Chassidic history - so quiet, in fact, that many people did not appreciate the depth of his knowledge - left this world with the words of that posuk on his lips. He knew that the light of truth can never be extinguished. The written notes he left behind were published under the title “Sefas Emes.” His chiddushei Torah today help make the complex sugyos of Kodshim understandable to scholars, posthumously revealing him as a gaon olam. Until this very day, his sefer on Chumash is a classic, opening the doors of Chassidic thought to all sorts of Jews.

Our disappointment in the political process reminds us how fortunate we are to have a process all our own. Speak the truth and you will be heard. Go into any bais medrash, look on the shelf, and you will see that sefer, Sefas Emes. You will witness just how truth endures through the ages.

We need to learn to invest our kochos, our money, our energy and our resources in eternity. We must not be taken in by the here-and-now, but by what lasts for eternity.

On a visit to America, the Ponovezher Rov heard about a wealthy Canadian who was interested in having his name on a building in Eretz Yisroel, but all the Rov’s efforts to reach the man were futile.

On his flight back to Eretz Yisroel, the Rov was seated next to an irreligious Jew. Ever the gentleman, he reached out his hand to his seatmate. “And what is your name?” he asked. To his great surprise, it was the very millionaire he had tried vainly to meet. He saw it as a sign from Heaven and spent some time sharing his dream with this Yid, telling him about himself, his yeshiva and his need for a building to accommodate the yeshiva. Finally, he made his pitch.

“Your name belongs on that building,” said the Rov. “Your name would be perpetuated upon a beautiful building on top of a mountain. Additionally, it would be a tremendous source of merit for you for eternity.”

The man responded that the Rov was a week late, for one week prior he had donated money for a stadium to rise in the city of Yaffo. It would be named “Bloomfield Stadium” in his honor.

This man didn’t have the zechus. He wanted to have his name perpetuated in Eretz Yisroel. He wanted to help the state develop and flourish. He wished to effect change, but he didn’t. He failed. His money was wasted. Had he assisted the Rov in building the yeshiva, he would have helped share in the development of bnei Torah who would go on to raise Torah families, to become leaders of Am Yisroel, and to serve as rabbonim, roshei yeshiva, dayonim, menahalim, mechanchim and productive members of society. He would have had a share in bringing more light and more kedushah into the world. Alas, he missed his opportunity.

Let us not be like Mr. Bloomfield.

Another vital lesson from this election debacle:

We need to inspire and cultivate real leadership.

There are well-intentioned people in our community who want to bring about change and improve the world. While their efforts should be encouraged and commended, we need to bear in mind how the brilliant, widely-hailed, oft-quoted architect of campaign victories, Karl Rove, raised $300 million and spent it on various elections this year. According to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that studies campaign financing, only one percent of that money - only one percent! - achieved a positive result.

We need to identify people with depth, knowledge, leadership and communicative skills who can identify problems, work on solutions, and convince people to follow them. We have to stay away from those whose only interest is their own. We should demand intelligence and competence. We can no longer afford the same old sound bites. Tough times demand tough leaders, tough answers to tough questions, and real solutions to real problems. We have to demand better leadership in our world. We must find people who have the achrayus to think every issue through thoroughly before registering an opinion. Askonus takes hard work and big dreams, as well as clear, articulate communication. Leaders must know what they stand for, communicate and articulate a vision, and be prepared to defend and fight for what they believe in.

Intelligent Mitt Romney, as good and as decent as he is, and as moral and accomplished a man as he is, couldn’t explain what he was for. He couldn’t get a positive message out. We need to be able to do that if we are to succeed in this new world. We need to promote people who are competent and effectual.

Romney was, in the words of a columnist, refashioned into something very different, to the point that nobody really knew what he was. In fact, even he might not have known.

And one more point to ponder.

There are some now in the Republican Party who are ready to throw in the towel. They haven’t yet analyzed the numbers. They haven’t crunched all the data to ascertain why their party lost the race. Still, they are ready to capitulate and compromise on the primary issues their candidate ran on and for which their party stands.

We must remember not to capitulate. At times like these, there are always those who say that we can’t be so doctrinaire and we shouldn’t be so glued to the old ways. We have to bend halacha here and there, they contend. We must be more welcoming, more forgiving, more objective, more accepting and more tolerant of those who have chosen the wrong path.

No matter what happens in life, we should not be handcuffed by setbacks. The posuk in Mishlei (24:16) states, “Ki sheva yipol tzaddik vekom. In the unfortunate event that a tzaddik repeatedly falls, he picks himself up and continues on.

If we fail, if we lose, if we strike out as we are pursuing a dream, we must not become dejected. We must regroup and move forward. We do not grow bitter and, by extension, ineffective. We have to view what happened as a setback, but nothing more than that. We figure out where we went wrong, we adjust the game plan, we recalculate the route, and then we get right back at work. Because that’s our way.

We don’t give up. We realize that all that transpires is from Hashem and that He is sending us messages. His plan in preparing the world for Moshiach is being played out. We must be chastened, but not defeated. Instead, we must be motivated to work even harder in being mekayeim our shlichus in this world so that we may be zocheh to the ultimate geulah quickly.

There is a delightful story about a chassidishe Yid named Reb Mendel Futerfass, who spent a long year in the freezing Soviet gulag. One morning, as he sat with his cellmates, one of them asked him why he always seemed upbeat while they were so glum.

“I will answer you,” he said. “You, Ivan, were a prominent lawyer prior to your arrest. Now, you have nothing. Your fancy degrees don’t help you. You, Boris, were a doctor, with patients lining up to see you. Here, no one remembers. You carry logs all day. But I was simple. I was just a plain chassidishe Yid, content to serve my Maker. Now, I am still that very same thing, a simple Jew trying to serve my Creator.”

Before the election, we wanted to do Hashem’s will, and now we want the very same thing. So we march on, upbeat, because even though much has changed, everything is really the same.

The way many have risen to help our brethren affected by Hurricane Sandy gives us cause to see light amidst the darkness. This past Shabbos, from New York to Los Angeles and in every frum city in between, from sea to shining sea, appeals were held to raise funds to help Sandy’s victims begin to put their lives back together. The response was overwhelming, enabling tzaddikim, like those from Achiezer, and roshei yeshiva, like those from Long Beach, as they pick up the pieces. May the response be a source of merit to all of Am Yisroel in these trying times.