Thursday, February 28, 2013


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
In Parshas Ki Sisa, we read of the tragic downfall of the Bnei Yisroel in the incident with the Eigel. Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Har Sinai to receive the Torah. When he did not return when they expected him to, the people who had ascended to such exalted levels descended to worshiping a calf which they had made out of their own jewelry. 

We wonder how the people who stood at Har Sinai and proclaimed, “Na’aseh venishma,” gave it all up for a little getchkeh. How was it possible for this noble people to fall so far, so fast? What caused them to be led astray? How could they think that they can elevate an inanimate object to the lofty position of G-d’s emissary?

Rashi (32:1) explains that Moshe told his people that he would be back in forty days and they erred in their calculation. Rashi quotes the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (89a) which explains that the Soton “confused the natural order,” creating a mirage of Moshe’s body being carried in heaven as if in a casket.

Can we really blame the Bnei Yisroel? How were they supposed to know that what their eyes were seeing wasn’t real? 

Their mistake, it appears, was precisely the failure to question those images. They should have probed for the truth behind the mirage. They should have contemplated the possibility that their calculations were in error. Instead of being misled to conclude that Moshe would never return, they should have trusted Moshe’s promise and sought to figure how it could remain viable and consistent with what they saw. They should have restrained the impulse to invent an immediate substitute. The urge to offer an instantaneous response is one of the Soton’s tools. The Soton achieves his goals by goading people facing a quandary or tragedy into making quick decisions, spurred on by tension as well as fear.

I was with Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin, who heads Lev L’Achim, when there was some type of crisis swirling about. A very tense director called him. “What do I do,” the person asked. “The world is crashing all around me.” Rabbi Sorotzkin told him, “Ten li yom yomaim. Ani chozer eilecha. Give me a day or two to get back to you.” He explained to me that the worst thing to do in a crisis is to give an immediate response. It takes time to think through the proper course of action and how to proceed. If you answer on the spot, your response will generally be mistaken. How correct he is.

The slope from holiness to depravity is so slippery that, in a few short hours, the Jews slid from the apex of spiritual achievement to the lowest rung possible. Such is the ability of the Soton to use tension to capitalize on human frailty.

Aharon sought to delay the Bnei Yisroel. He urged them to wait until the next day, promising that “We will celebrate before Hashem tomorrow.” By the next morning, however, the people had degenerated to such a sorry state that they were engaged in idolatry and promiscuous conduct.

Moshe returned and called for those loyal to Hashem to rally towards him. Only the sheivet of Levi offered a positive response to his call. The sheivet that dedicated itself to the study of Torah and was free of Egyptian enslavement was the only one that grasped the need of the hour, casting their lot with Moshe. The others panicked in a time of perceived crisis. The people couldn’t wait until the next day and perhaps be calmer and more level-headed about their predicament and better able to analyze the situation.

Instead, they let themselves be fooled by the Soton and convinced that Moshe wouldn’t return. Even when their worst fears were proven false because Moshe did come back, they couldn’t bring themselves to accept the reality of the error. When he called out, “Mi laHaShem eilay,” they ignored him.

Life often throws challenges of this sort our way. We lose ourselves and rationalize our actions as we slide, engaging in self-destructive behavior.

The Soton destroys overnight what took painstaking effort to construct simply by sowing insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. We can outsmart him by remaining calm enough to be level-headed. We can then prevail.

We live in an age when politicians and leaders engage in demagoguery instead of offering real solutions to the problems that confound their countries. In order to solve problems, it is necessary to understand both sides of the issue. Resolutions are arrived at through calm, rational discussions between all parties. That doesn’t seem to happen anymore, when each side demonizes the other without ever attempting to bridge gaps and resolve problems for the greater good.   

They play groups against each other, alternately calming and inciting the masses as necessary to maintain popularity. They create one crisis after another, never solving them, utilizing the quagmire for political opportunism.

Several countries have never recovered from the recession, but instead of following the laws of economics - curbing government spending, lowering taxes and seeking other ways to ensure that people have more money to spend to restore economic health - they act in ways detrimental to their people.

Instead of encouraging investment and providing businesses with incentives to hire, they give speeches vilifying successful segments of the population. That makes the unsuccessful feel good, but it does nothing to contribute to a healthy economy, which would put money in the poor people’s pockets in a sustainable, honorable fashion.

Governing well and solving problems responsibly require hard work, a thorough understanding of the issues, and the ability to effectively negotiate solutions. It is simpler to demagogue and manipulate people’s thought processes, spreading fear and anxiety and polarizing the groups who don’t support you. “It’s all their fault,” they tell their supporters, setting up straw men to blame and knock down. “If we could only bring them into line and make them pay their fair share, the economy would improve and your life would be blissful,” they proclaim.

Some leaders call for the rich to pay their “fair share,” as if they don’t already pay a large enough share of their income in taxes. But it’s worse than that. Even if all the money of all the rich would be impounded by the government, that would only cover several days of the government’s out-of-control expenditures.

In Israel, a country beset by myriad problems that are too numerous for any person or group of people to realistically solve on their own without obvious Divine assistance, demagogues are riding high, calling for everyone to pay their fair share. While here, in the US, they blame the rich, and in Europe member countries of the EU blame each other, in Israel they blame the chareidim. The demagogues assuage the pain of a people under constant attack, fearful of the future, anxious about the designs of international enemies and friends, and worried about how they will pay next month’s rent, telling them that it’s all the chareidim’s fault.

If only the chareidim would contribute their fair share, the country would be so much better off, they tell the masses. And the poor people lap it up. They reward those who seek to divide and conquer with votes and higher poll numbers. As the country totters, they play hard to get and dig in their heels. The more hatred they incite, the more support they gain and the higher their poll numbers rise, all while they have neither accomplished anything nor offered realistic solutions to the country’s problems.

In every generation, there are false prophets blessed with amazing grace and charisma who feed opium to the masses. No matter how many are smitten by the charm, we must remember that our eyes, and ears, can fool us. We must resist the deceptions of ego-driven people with self-serving agendas.

We must not be deterred. We must remain steadfast in our devotion to Torah and its causes.

When the great posek, Rav Shmuel Wosner, was younger, after partaking of several lechayims on Purim as per the halacha, he would repeatedly ask of Hashem, “Hoshana nefesh mibeholoh, save us from acting with panic, haste and a lack of yishuv hada’as.” As a Torah leader, he recognizes that acting in haste can be extremely dangerous.   

The posuk at the end of Megillas Esther recounts that upon the conclusion of the Jewish victory over Haman, many people converted to Judaism: “Verabim mei’amei ha’aretz misyahadim, ki nofal pachad haYehudim aleihem.” They converted, the posuk tells us, because they feared the Jews.”

The sefer Manos Haleivi remarks that despite the severity of Haman’s gezeirah, there is no record that any Jews converted to Haman’s religion out of fear to spare themselves the awful fate.

Despite the threat of decimation, he says, the Jews remained calm and didn’t panic. Their faith was strong and held them. People of menuchas hanefesh don’t take action based on circumstances, but based on what’s right and true. Those who sought to destroy them, however, panicked when the Jews emerged victorious and thus converted.

The Torah doesn’t only provide instruction for how to live. It is the tool by which to live with serenity and yishuv hada’as. If we follow it, we will be empowered to shake off the tremors brought on by the Soton and his drive to deter us from our missions.

Eitz chaim hee lamachazikim boh. It will lead us to a life of happiness and fulfillment if we maintain the spirit of Purim all year around.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Purim View

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim, “Rabbim machovim lerasha, vehaboteiach baHashem, chessed yisovevenu - There is much pain along the path for the wicked, but one who trusts in Hashem is surrounded by kindness” (Tehillim 32:10).

An explanation of this posuk is given by the darshonim. They pound on the bimah and proclaim, “Rabbim, when there are many needs and obligations weighing on a person; when individuals and institutions turn to him for help and it seems as if the requests are coming from all over, all at once, and he can’t handle them; at a time like that, a wicked person sees what’s happening to him as a machov, a wound.

“However, a person who trusts in Hashem knows that at a time like that, ‘chessed yisovevenu,’ he is being blessed with so much kindness. A good person knows that he is being gifted with so many opportunities to help. A person who perceives people appealing to him for assistance as an opportunity, merits to be the recipient of Divine kindness.”

Rabbeinu Tam in Sefer Hayoshor writes, in fact, that, “When Hashem wants to send a present to his faithful, he sends a poor man to the door of his house.”

This message is especially relevant on Purim. The holiday of Purim represents an ultimate yom tefillah. Purim is the day regarding which Chazal proclaimed, “Kol haposhet yad nosnin lo.” In fact, the mandate of Chazal that whoever extends a hand for help on Purim should be answered, applies to us in our tefillos. Unworthy as we may consider ourselves, the very act of being “poshet yad,” extending our hands in supplication to Hashem, makes us worthy of a Divine response.

We should try to keep this in mind as we see and hear people beating to our home, ringing our bell (don’t they know how late it is?), stomping in on the carpet (can’t they at least wipe off the snow?), and singing out loud (they will wake up the baby!) for what they really are: chessed yisovevenu. Opportunities.

It is not always easy. In fact, it can be very hard. Merubim tzorchei amcha. There are many groups and many people going door to door hoping for a dash of good mazel, but if you take the time to listen to their stories, you can hear amazing things.

It is true for every Yid, but is especially poignant when it comes to the bochurim, the groups of dancing yeshiva boys who have become such an integral part of the Purim evening.

Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, felt that every talmid in his mosdos should raise money for good causes. A wealthy chossid once approached the Rebbe and asked that his son be spared from collecting. The wealthy chossid assured the Rebbe that he would happily reimburse the mosdos whatever money the Rebbe thought his son would be able to collect had he ventured out to engage in the inglorious task of knocking on doors and going around the bais medrash with an outstretched hand filled with nickels, dimes and quarters.

The Rebbe smiled and said that davka this boy should join the others in going up and down stairs, ringing doorbells, and circulating shuls for donations.

“With the Ribbono Shel Olam’s help,” the Rebbe explained to the bewildered rich man, “your son will one day be in a position to give tzedakah and many people will solicit him. How will he know and understand what the collectors feel like if he has never experienced the anticipation, the humiliation and the ultimate fulfillment of collecting money for a holy cause?”

And so on Purim, when you think that you have just about had it, here’s something to bear in mind. For a seventeen- or eighteen-year-old bochur, Purim collecting might be his first steps into a world of klal activity. There are no formal classes in askonus or in feeling achrayus and acting upon it. The Purim experience can charge the boys with the desire to be responsible and organized, swallowing their pride, asking for money, and learning how to sell their cause with passion. When they succeed, they are rewarded with the good feeling that comes with raising money for tzedakah. The door they knock on first might be yours, and your reaction might shape their attitude towards klal work. Make it a positive experience for them.

If one takes the time and makes the effort to see past the commotion, the extra traffic and the noise, one will see a magnificent thing.

Chazal state, “Nichnas yayin yotzah sod - When wine comes in, secrets come out.” The sod of Eisov is “al charbecha tichyeh, to live by the sword.”  The Kotzker Rebbe explained that this is the underlying association of a bar or tavern with brawls and fistfights. The sod of a Yid is “ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha. This is why there is no day in the calendar so dedicated to ish lerei’eihu like Purim is, said the Kotzker. The drinking of Purim brings out the mutual love and greatness of the Jew.

Kol ha’omer dovor besheim omro maivi geulah le’olam - Repeating something in the name of the person from whom you heard it brings redemption to the world.” This rule of Chazal is derived from the story of Megillas Esther. Esther passed on Mordechai’s revelation concerning the plot of Bigson and Seresh to the king, who quickly acted upon it. Achashveirosh was thankful that because of Mordechai he was able to nip the assassination attempt in its infancy. His desire to repay Mordechai for his kindness set in motion a series of events that resulted in bringing geulah to the world. Thus, we learn the importance of always sharing the ideas and thoughts of others with attribution.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, who did much to reveal the depths and splendor of Purim to generations of American talmidim, explained how this lesson, which is seemingly a basic premise of mentchlichkeit, is connected with Purim.

He related that you can only quote someone’s statement if the person spoke honestly and of his own free will. If the person only said what he did because he was threatened with bodily harm or injury and because he was under duress, then what he said does not reflect him or his opinion. His comments cannot be attributed to him, because he was forced to say them. Essentially, it wasn’t him speaking. He was merely giving voice to the outside factor that had caused him to utter those words.

Similarly, at the time the Jews accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, they weren’t “quotable,” as their acceptance of the Torah was under duress, having a mountain held in a threatening fashion over their heads. At the time of the miracle of Purim, they willingly affirmed their commitment to kabbolas haTorah. When they did so, their words were worthy of being quoted and attributed to them, since those words now reflected their true desire. Thus, the dictum of “ha’omeir dovor besheim omro” became eminently applicable to the acceptance of Torah and its derivation is thus tied to Purim.

Perhaps we can suggest that this idea is true on an individual level as well. People say many things throughout the year. Often, the statements are well intentioned, but the reality is that the people making them are not really holding by what they say.

On one day of the year, people really do mean what they say and don’t just say things for effect. The day on which there is no daas, there are no cheshbonos and ulterior motives prompting the statements. Words emanate from the heart and reflect the speaker’s true feelings. The Purimdike Yid doesn’t worry about kavod, politics and political correctness, so when he speaks, his essence is speaking, and what he says is quotable and attributable to him.

On Purim, too, the lechayim we proclaim as we fulfill the mitzvah of chayov inish livisumei bePuriah brings added life to us, as it raises us to the level of being able to speak words of unvarnished truth, without designs or machinations. It leads us to declare devorim hayotzim min halev and reveal what really lies in our hearts.

In a world filled with darkness and spiritual apathy, if we are willing to tilt our ears to listen, we will hear that timeless cry of “retzoneinu la’asos retzoncha.” If we open our ears to really listen to people of all ages who reveal their innermost thoughts on Purim, we can have the merit of being able to provide the chizuk and reassurance those people need, making sure that their holy, Purimdike words and thoughts remain with them long after the lechayim has worn off.

On Purim, if the person seated next to you begins to express feelings that are attributable to a lack of self-worth, remind him how much good he possesses and how much Hashem loves him. Give him an injection of simcha that will last long after the seudah is done. You can remind him of special things he has accomplished and that others really do appreciate him. If he tells you how much he wants to learn but is held back because of this and that, and that if only he had a good rebbi, if only he had time, if only he had the ability, you can help him see and appreciate the myriad opportunities that are around - and within - him.

If at times during the year we feel besieged and get weighted down by negativity, Purim presents an opportunity to rise above the pessimism and to recognize potential and hope.

In 1945, the Klausenberger Rebbe held a Purim tish in Feldafing, the first Displaced Persons camp established by the Allies for survivors of Nazi concentration camps. Despite the terrible losses and years of deprivation sustained by those who participated in that tish, the mood was intensely joyous. There was a palpable sense there that the netzach Yisroel, the eternity of the nation that had just undergone a brutal beating, was never more assured. Heroic lager Yidden sat around the table, listening to the Rebbe share divrei Torah, stories and insights. The Rebbe himself was in a particularly festive mood, his smile never leaving his face. At one point during the tish, the Rebbe called a man to the head of the table.

“Reb Yankel,” he said, “you are deserving of malkos. Come here next to me to receive your punishment.”

Reb Yankel, though unsure of what sin he had committed for which the Rebbe believed he was deserving of malkos, smiled as he walked towards the saintly tzaddik. Everyone in the room watched, trying to figure out what was going on.

When the survivor approached the head of the table, the Rebbe grew serious and addressed those present.

“Reb Yankel worked next to me in the camp,” he began. “He would turn to me and worry that we are lost. He feared that we would never leave the camp alive. I want you all to know that you must never give up hope. Never. Ever. For that, we need to punish him.”

His point made, the Purim spirit returned to the Rebbe, to Yankel, and to everyone else in that room.

On Purim, the Jew must know that everything is possible. Yesh tikvah.

On Purim, it all comes together - the ordinary, the extraordinary, the mundane and the miraculous. Nothing is a miracle and everything is a miracle. On Purim, we know that no matter how desperate everything looks, and regardless of how bleak and depressing our world may appear, we must never give up hope. We must always find a reason to smile.

This Purim, we can all do our part to increase joy in the world. We can give the people we encounter reason to hope for a better day. We should allow the people we meet to express their dreams, bringing forth the longing in their hearts. We can help make those dreams reality.

So when Purim arrives, be ready. It might be with your money and it might be with your time and patience. Either way, you can give a matonah la’evyonim like no other.

For every Jew is an evyon, needing so much from his fellow man, but every Jew is also the biggest nosein, blessed with resources of kindness and love with which he can make miracles for those around him.

Ah freilichen Purim.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Rewards of Hard Work

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


My wife is originally from the Bayit Vegan neighborhood of Yerushalayim. For the past several decades, whenever I have visited there for Shabbos, I have davened at Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel, a makom Torah known for its illustrious rosh yeshiva, Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi. Rav Ezrachi is a gifted maggid shiur, a compelling and dynamic orator, whose deep, penetrating lomdus fuses with his natural energy and enthusiasm to make it a particular joy to hear him speak. He is also a genuinely nice and fine person.

Now Rav Boruch Mordechai ben Hinda Malka, a man who so personifies chiyus and vibrancy, needs our tefillos, after his heart stopped beating last week.

I thought it would be a zechus to learn some of his Torah over Shabbos. Providentially, perhaps, I opened his sefer on Chumash, Birkas Mordechai, to a piece on this week’s parsha, where Rav Boruch Mordechai quotes the words of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh.

The Torah lists the various donations to the Mishkon, beginning with the most valuable (25:3) and continuing in descending order, until the most basic. Yet, it is only much later, at the end of the list (25:7), that we read about the donations of the avnei shoham and the avnei miluim, precious stones that were used in the sacred bigdei kehunah.

The Ohr Hachaim asks that if the donations are listed in the order of their value, why are the precious stones listed last? They should have been on top of the list.

In one of his answers, the Ohr Hachaim quotes an opinion in the Gemara in Maseches Yoma (75a) that the stones required for the eifod and the choshen were inaccessible in the desert and were brought to the Bnei Yisroel in miraculous fashion via the clouds. Rav Shmuel bar Nachmeini said in the name of Rav Yonason that every day, precious stones would fall together with the monn. He derives this from a posuk which states that the nesi’im brought the avnei shoham. While nesi’im is commonly translated to mean the leaders of the shevotim, the word can also be defined as clouds.

The Ohr Hachaim explains that as precious as the stones were, since the donations of the stones needed for the eifod and choshen didn’t involve any work, self-sacrifice or financial cost, they were listed after all the other donations.

Rav Ezrachi analyzes the message here. While we understand that Hashem values hard work, how does the lack of effort expended in obtaining the precious stones cheapen their actual worth? Since the Torah lists the donations received for the Mishkon in the order of their value, they still should have been mentioned near the top of the list and not at the bottom. He answers that we can derive from this that in the eyes of the Torah, a lack of toil and hard work actually affects the essential value of the goods. Although they may be rare, beautiful and expensive, items that are acquired at little or no cost are considered as having little value to their recipient.

In a speech, Rav Yissochor Frand once connected this principle to a report he found in an old Vilna newspaper, Dem Vort. A reporter described the chanukas habayis of the Kletzker Yeshiva, led by a young Rav Aharon Kotler. The celebration was crowned with the presence of Rav Elchonon Wasserman, Rav Shimon Shkop and Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, who made the arduous trip from Eretz Yisroel in order to be present.

The writer painted a picture of the festive parade as it wove its way through the small Lithuanian town. He described how, as the procession reached the yeshiva, askonim stood at the bimah and the townspeople - hardworking folk, all of them - approached with their donations. In the presence of gedolei olam, the gabboim made a mi shebeirach for each donor.

The article describes a very short old woman entering the bais medrash, taking labored steps through the room towards the bimah. Tears were coursing down her wizened cheeks as she handed over a few rubles to the gabbai, but her eyes shone with joy. “She was not just giving her few pennies. She was giving her very Jewish soul towards the building costs of that yeshiva building,” reported Dem Vort.

This is the Jewish way of giving tzedakah. Both gabboim and donors understand that far more than amounts, the Ribbono Shel Olam appreciates what lies behind the donation, the heart and effort invested in it. Throughout our history, from the times of “Zos haterumah asher tikchu mei’itom,” through our stops in golus in big cities and small towns such as Slutzk d’Lita, until today, great edifices of Torah and kedushah have been built through the generosity of the poor, as well as of the rich, individuals giving with their hearts and souls, the fruits of their hard work.

Thus, the posuk states, “Veyikchu li terumah mei’eis kol ish asher yidvenu libo.” Hashem desires the donations of those who give whatever they can with eager hearts.

This idea is especially appropriate for the rosh yeshiva of Ateres Yisroel, who personifies ameilus and the joy of hard work in a sugya.

A few years ago, a friend of mine, a rebbi, asked the rosh yeshiva during one of his many American visits to speak in his yeshiva. Rav Boruch Mordechai graciously visited the yeshiva. Upon entering, he quickly realized that the students at that particular institution were weak in learning. Many of them were disinterested and apathetic, so instead of delivering the shmuess he had prepared, he told a story.

He recalled how, as a bochur in the legendary Chevroner Yeshiva, he and his friends encountered a young man who found his way to the yeshiva one day. Rav Boruch Mordechai related that the visitor looked out of place in his shorts and a torn shirt. He wore a cap on his head instead of a yarmulke.

He introduced himself to the bochurim, telling them that he had survived the Second World War and escaped Poland. He asked the curious spectators how he could be accepted into the yeshiva. While the bochurim felt bad for him, they didn’t consider for a moment that he was likely to remain in the yeshiva. They sent him to the mashgiach’s office, chuckling inwardly at his boldness for thinking that he might be accepted to the prestigious yeshiva. They were shocked when the young man emerged from the office of the mashgiach, Rav Meir Chodosh, with the news that he’d been accepted.

Rav Boruch Mordechai said that over the course of the day, he and his friends studied the boy. They pitied him as he held his Gemara upside down and clearly had trouble with the basics of reading. Then, continued Rav Boruch Mordechai, it came time for Minchah and the boy rose to daven.

“I watched him begin Shemoneh Esrei, and then I knew, in one instant, that this boy would make it and that he would succeed in the yeshiva,” recounted Rav Boruch Mordechai.Why? Because as soon as he started to daven, tears flowed down his face. His burning desire was evident as he cried.”

The boy wept during davening and the bochurim around him took notice. They concluded that he was for real. He desperately wanted to succeed in the yeshiva. They drew him close, learning with him and helping him until, Rav Boruch Mordechai said, he overtook them all. He rose to become one of the lions in a yeshiva of metzuyonim, eventually achieving renown as the gaon Rav Shaul Barzam, son-in-law of the Steipler Gaon.

“Do you know how he became a gadol?” exclaimed Rav Boruch Mordechai to his enraptured high school audience. “With those tears. No one succeeds without effort; in those tears we saw the strength of his desire and how hard he would work.”

The Ribbono Shel Olam values blood, sweat and tears above all else. As Chazal famously said, “Rachmona liba bo’i,” Hashem wants each person to utilize his abilities for the good. Irrespective of how much one has been blessed with, it is the effort and heart one invests in one’s undertakings and contributions that counts.

We have entered Adar, the most festive month on the Jewish calendar, and we are instructed by Chazal to be b’simcha. How do we become happy? What is the secret to feeling joyous?

The surprising answer is through hard work. Nothing makes a person feel accomplished and fulfilled like working hard and achieving results.

A bochur wrote to the Chazon Ish complaining that he didn’t feel joy in the performance of mitzvos. The Chazon Ish responded with a suggestion. “Purchase a begged suitable for tzitzis and then affix the tzitzis strings yourself after learning the halachos. When you will wear those tzitzis which you assembled with your own ten fingers,” the Chazon Ish wrote, “you will experience a deep sense of joy.”

Rav Tzadok Hakohen of Lublin, in his sefer on Chumash, says that this is the secret to the supremacy of Adar’s joy.

Chazal tell us, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha. When the month of Adar arrives, we increase our happiness.” This obligation is not present in any other month, even the month of Nisson, during which our greatest Yom Tov occurs. What is there about Adar that causes it to be a happier month than even the month in which we gained our independence and were formed as an independent nation?

Rav Tzadok says that there must be more at the root of Adar’s simcha besides the salvation that our forefathers experienced during this month, since there was a much greater deliverance in the month of Nisson. Pesach freed us from slavery and domination by Paroh. Following the neis of Purim, we were still “avdi d’Achashveirosh,” subservient to a wicked tyrant. The happiness of the month of Adar requires an explanation.

Rav Tzadok illuminates the conundrum, differentiating between the nissim of Purim and those of Pesach. The miracles that led to the Yom Tov of Pesach were so extraordinary that they were brought about completely by Hakadosh Boruch Hu Himself. He took us out of Mitzrayim by Himself, removing one nation from the midst of another, a miraculous feat. It was all publicly and openly done by Hashem, with none of our hishtadlus.

He split the sea to save us from the advancing Egyptian army. At Krias Yam Suf, the nation was instructed, “Hashem yilacheim lochem, v’atem tacharishun.” The Jewish people were told to stand passively on the side and to permit Hashem to fight their battles. Great miracles were performed in that effort, but the salvation was not caused by us.

In the neis of Purim, however, Hashem’s involvement was hidden. The mitzvah of mechiyas Amaleik requires us to bring about the decimation of Amaleik. The actual Purim story involved Mordechai and Esther, Divine shlichim who saved their people. The victory was solidified when the Jews killed the ten sons of Haman. They then triumphed in battle, slaying those who wished to exterminate them. The tale of Purim is one that came about through our effort. Thus, its successful culmination brings a pervasive simcha.

The miracles of Pesach were greater, but since Purim celebrates a miraculous deliverance in which Hashem was ever present but was hidden, and we fought and labored mightily to bring about our salvation, the joy is that much greater.

The intense joy that fills our homes and streets at this time of year celebrates the miracles brought about with Jewish blood, sweat and tears. There is no joy like delighting in the fruits of hard work.

In the world of drush, this is reflected in the mitzvos hayom, specifically the drinking of wine. The shivah mashkin, the seven fluids recognized by the Torah as liquids in regard to tumah v’taharah, are known by their acronym, Yad Shochat Dam (yayin, wine; dom, blood; shemen, oil; cholov, milk; tal, dew; d’vash, honey; and mayim, water.)

Seforim teach that each one of the liquids hints to a specific Yom Tov. Yayin hints to Purim. Dom hints to Yom Kippur, when the blood of the korbanos is so central to the avodah; Shemen hints to Chanukah and cholov to Shavuos. Tal hints to Pesach, when we begin davening for dew. D’vash hints to Rosh Hashanah and mayim hints to Sukkos, when we are judged about water and offer nisuch hamayim at the Simchas Bais Hasho’eivah.

The natural state of the fluids tied to the Yomim Tovim is liquid, except for oil and wine. These two started out as solids and, through a laborious process, become liquids after being squeezed from their parent fruits.

The Yomim Tovim that oil and wine represent are unique in that they are not Biblical, but rather miderabbonon. The holidays of Chanukah and Purim were formulated by Chazal following much toil and effort, using the middos shehaTorah nidreshes bohen.

As Chazal say in many places in Shas, “d’asya midrosha chaviva lei,” halachos that the rabbonon arrived at through extrapolation are particularly beloved.

Perhaps in line with Rav Tzadok’s teaching, in the glasses of wine that Chazal tell us to drink on Purim, we perceive the obligations and joy of the day. Just as wine is not a naturally formed liquid, but the result of squeezing the prized and intoxicating spirit from a grape, so too, the miracles that led to this day and the avodas hayom prescribed by Chazal came in a similar way: through work.

Chazal derive that on Purim we accepted anew, and willingly, Torah Shebaal Peh, the Oral Torah. Though delivered to Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai, it came to us through much human toil, as it was not Divinely written, but was produced by man and is mastered to this day only with the arduous ameilus exemplified by great people such as Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, who is in need of our tefillos.

On Purim, the day which commemorates a miraculous salvation brought about through our hard work, we merited accepting the Torah anew and gladly received the word of Hashem which is arrived at through drashos and ameilus.

Torah Shebiksav is Hashem’s holy, written word, but in Torah Shebaal Peh we taste human labor and exertion on every line, the sweetest, happiest taste on earth. Let us all pray that we merit to exert ourselves for Torah and good causes and benefit from the happiness that emerges from that endeavor.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Yesh Tikvah

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


The calendar says that this Shabbos is Parshas Shekolim and Sunday will be Rosh Chodesh Adar, yet outside it is freezing, there is snow on the ground, and everything around us indicates that it is winter. When Adar arrives, we are told to increase our happiness, yet there is so much sadness that we wonder how we can possibly do that.

How can we be happy when there are so many sick people? How can we be happy when there are so many people who cannot make ends meet, having lost their jobs and money in the economic downturn and in failed investments? How can we be happy when there are so many people who need shidduchim and can’t seem to find the one they are looking for? How can we be happy when there is no one to lead, no one to follow, and no one to rally around?

This past Friday afternoon, I was sitting with a few friends in Lakewood, NJ. One of them said something about Benny Freidman’s song “Yesh Tikva.” He could not believe that I had not heard it.

“You have to hear it,” said this friend. “It’s all I listen to. It gives me so much chizuk. You will love it.”

With that, he ran out to his car and brought me the CD.

He was right. This is how the song goes:

Tistakel poh vesham, misaviv la’ulam,

Yesh tzarot, da’agot, hachiyuch ne’elam,

Ach al tireh rak shachor, ki gam zeh ya’avor,

Vehakol yistader, ki Hashem ya’azor.

Yesh tikva im nashir kulanu yachad,

Yesh emunah chazakah mikol hapachad,

Lo nipol, lo nirad, ki anachnu lo levad,

Yesh lanu Hashem echad.

Hey achi, bo iti, sam yadcha beyadi,

Al tidag, al tifchad, ki nitzad yad beyad,

Hakadosh Baruch Hu et kulanu oheiv,

Od tireh shemachar yigmar hake’eiv.

In English, it would translate loosely into:

Look here, look there, look around the world,

There is sadness, fear, the smile is gone,

Don’t see everything as black and bleak,

This, too, shall pass and

everything will work out,

Hashem will help.

If we all sing together,

There is hope,

Our faith is stronger than any fear,

Have no fear, for we are not alone,

Hashem is with us.

Come with me my dear brother,

Put your hand into mine,

Don’t be afraid,

We will walk together, hand in hand,

Hashem loves us all,

Tomorrow the pain will be gone.

Music has the ability to reach into the recesses of your soul and affect you. That impact is magnified when the lyrics are relevant.

Is there anyone you know who couldn’t benefit from someone tapping them on the shoulder and saying, “I love you. Let me take your hand and walk with you”? Why don’t we try it, at least once?

Is there a teenager, an adult, or someone in between who is down on himself and couldn’t use a friendly reminder that Hashem loves them?

Is there anything wrong with reminding people who are broken, or worried, fearing the future or something in their past, that there is hope? “Yesh tikva!” we should be saying. “Put it behind you! Be strong! Everything will work out!”

It seems so simplistic, but it isn’t. People who are in pain, who have had a bad experience, or who fear what the next day will bring need to be given reason for hope. They need to be reassured that Yesh Tikva. People who feel that their world is closing in on them need to be reminded that someone loves them, someone cares about them, and they must never give up hope that the next day will be better. As bad as their situation is, there is always a glimmer of light and a ray of hope. There is good in their lives that they cannot feel when they succumb to the hurt and the fear.

Think about the good. Think about what has gone right for you. Think about what Hashem has done for you so far, and know that whatever happens, and however dark today may seem, the end will be good.

I was walking on Rechov Ramban in Yerushalayim on a Friday night a couple of weeks ago. From the distance, I saw a chassidishe bochur walking in circles. He seemed to be mentally unbalanced. My suspicions were confirmed when I got close to him. With a face expressing great fear, he lunged at me and said, “Vi iz Yerishalayim?” He was so agitated that I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly, so I asked him to repeat his question. Once again, he said to me, “Vi iz Yerishalayim?”

I said to him, “Do you speak English?”

When he responded yes, I told him to ask his question in English - and he did! “Where is Jerusalem?” he asked.

“Where is Jerusalem? You’re in Jerusalem,” I told him. “You’re standing in Yerushalayim ihr hakodesh.

It was Rosh Chodesh Shevat. This young man had gone to daven at The Great Synagogue to hear the special chazzan and choir there, and when he came out of the shul, had lost his bearings and couldn’t find his way back to Meah Shearim. He was on a street with cars whizzing by and, nebach, he didn’t know where he was. He was losing his mind, afraid that he’d never make it to where he wished to go.

So often, we are like that lost bochur. We think that our world has closed in on us. We can be standing on a street corner in the holiest city in the world and not know we are there. We think we are hopelessly lost, while our salvation is around the corner. When we find ourselves in trying situations, our first course of action should be to calm down, tough it out, and remember that Yesh Tikva.

A teacher wanted to make a point to her class. She took a blank, unlined sheet of paper and drew a small circle on it. She held it up to the class and asked the students what they saw. All together, they called out, “A dot!”

“Wrong,” she said. “What you see is a totally clean, new, bright, unfolded sheet of white paper. There happens to be a tiny dot on it. But you shouldn’t be concentrating on the negative. You should be looking at the positive.”

That lesson applies to all of us. If we want to be happy, if we want to help others find joy in their lives, we should train our brains to look for and spot the good, in ourselves, in our lives, in others, and in everything. Now, as we approach Rosh Chodesh Adar, would be an appropriate time to try doing that.

Although we are beset by many reasons to frown and many things we wish we could change, on the cusp of a month of simcha we have to look for ways to be joyous.

During the period leading up to Tisha B’Av, we are told by Chazal to be mema’eit b’simcha, to tone down the joy. During those weeks, we zealously avoid eating meat, swimming, shaving and listening to music, among other activities, all in order to sear into our minds the solemnity of the season. As Adar approaches, let’s do the opposite. During this month of marbin besimcha, let us try to find things to be happy about. Let us remember that we are ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim. We are people of deep faith. We are not alone. We know that just as sure as sun follows rain and Adar follows the winter, there is reason for hope and our faith will definitely be rewarded.

The Chazon Ish was encumbered by many personal hardships, which were compounded by him listening to challenges and tzaros of the people who flocked to him seeking advice, consolation and support. Yet, he projected an image of simcha.

The Kamenitzer rosh yeshiva, Rav Yitzchok Scheiner, was recently speaking about his memories of the Chazon Ish. He related that besides his amazing brilliance and tzidkus and everything else that the Chazon Ish is famous for, “upon meeting him, you were overwhelmed by the impression of a freilicher Yid, with a face that radiated happiness.”

How did he do that? The Chazon Ish offers a hint in his published letters, where he writes, “Ein kol eitzev ba’olam lemi shemakir ohr ha’oros shel ho’emes. Those who perceive the light of truth have no sadness.”

Those who know that everything that takes place is Divinely ordained for a purpose, those who know that there is no such a thing as happenstance, those who know that a proper life is one lived with emunah and bitachon, and those who know that there is never a reason for total yi’ush and that there is always room and reason for tikvah, are never sad.

The Chazon Ish was one of those people. We can all be among those people and always find reason for joy, especially during Adar.

Ah freilichen chodesh.