Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Time for Kiddush Hashem

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


This week’s parsha describes changes taking place in Klal Yisroel, with the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu passing to Yehoshua, the end of the period of the generation that had left Mitzrayim, and the ascendency of the generation that was to inherit Eretz Yisroel. This is the reason, the Sefas Emes says, for the counting of the Bnei Yisroel in Parshas Pinchos.

The passing of Moshe Rabbeinu and the installation of Yehoshua to replace him as leader of Klal Yisroel was a turning point in our history. The tekufah of Torah Shebiksav ended and was replaced by the reign of Torah Shebaal Peh. Moshe received the Torah from Hashem Himself, but Yehoshua received it from Moshe.

With this we can understand the Gemara (Bava Basra 75a) which recounts that the elders of that generation were upset when the mantle was placed upon Yehoshua. They said, “Pnei Moshe kipnei hachamah, Moshe’s face was like the sun, pnei Yehoshua kipnei levanah, but Yehoshua’s is like the moon. Oy le’oso bushah, oy lah le’oso klimah. What a shame. What a disgrace.”

Just as the moon is but a reflection of the sun, the essence of light, mirroring the illumination it receives, Torah Shebaal Peh exists only through the holy words of Torah Shebiksav. The people had a hard time with this progression and expressed their longing for the original light and the essence of Torah itself, not its reflection, as great and as powerful as it was.

Ever since then, we have been experiencing a steadily diminishing essential light and forcing ourselves to become acclimated to the new and darker reality.

That was not the only change that took place, affecting our people until today. This week, on Shivah Assar B’Tammuz, we commemorated the beginning of the process that led to the loss of the Shechinah’s earthly abode, a place of extraordinary nissim, where we brought korbanos to cleanse and purify ourselves. With the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we lost the center of kedushah in our world. From that time onward we have had to rely on less substantial replacements.

Subsequent to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, when a Jew sins, he must find his way to Hakadosh Boruch Hu without the benefit of the mizbei’ach and a korban to assist him. Ever since the time of the churban, Klal Yisroel has had to adapt to a world of hester, darkness. Due to our sins, Hakadosh Boruch Hu has separated Himself from us.

With this in mind, as we study this week’s parsha, we can appreciate the significance of the Torah’s declaration that as a reward for his act of single-minded kanna’us which succeeded in removing Hashem’s wrath, Pinchos earned for himself the bris of shalom and the role of kehunah.

This is because the role of removing Hashem’s wrath from Am Yisroel is the specific mission of the kohanim. By offering korbanos in the Bais Hamikdosh, they created harmony in the cosmos and shleimus in the world. Sin creates a division between the Jewish people and Hashem, while teshuvah and korbanos remove the division and bring the Creator and His nation back together.

The silence of the Bnei Yisroel in the face of Zimri’s horrible deed spawned a plague. Twenty-four thousand had died because no one protested Zimri’s act. Finally, Pinchos, acting in accordance with a halacha v’ein morin kein, jeopardized his own future and life to stop the plague. By removing its cause, he reconnected the Bnei Yisroel with their Creator. The reward and result of his action was to be granted kehunah, because he had demonstrated that he was worthy of the sacred calling of those who repair the relationship between Hashem and His people.

Perhaps this is the depth of the message inherent in laining this parsha each year at the onset of the Three Weeks. Although we no longer have the Bais Hamikdosh and lack the avodas kohein gadol, we can learn from the example set by Pinchos.

Each one of us has the ability to study the image of that lone individual who stepped forth from the crowd and acted to remove the charon af that has kept us in golus since the churban. Each individual Yid has the ability to act selflessly to reconnect his brothers with Hashem and end the darkness.

The era we live in is particularly dark. We have no shemesh, and sometimes it appears like we have no levanah either. People despair because we are lacking illumination. But instead of complaining, we should keep our hearts awake, sensitive and attuned to opportunities to step forward to achieve great things, helping others beruchniyus or begashmiyus.

There are so many opportunities to create kiddush Hashem in a world full of the opposite. We can help build Torah and support lomdei Torah, who bring light to the world. We can help the poor and the abused, and work to achieve justice, as the posuk states, “Tzion bemishpot tipodeh.” At a time when too many of our brethren create bad publicity, we can work to conduct ourselves in a way that will cause others to remark how wonderful the ways of those who study and observe Torah are. “Mah no’eh ma’asov.”

We can demonstrate the folly of those who mock observance and we can generate genuine ahavas Yisroel and ahavas Torah.

Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandl, the famed Nitra rosh yeshiva and Holocaust hero, lost his wife and five children to the Nazis. After the war, he moved to America, remarried, and had five children. The bris of the fifth child born to him in America was understandably very emotional for him. As he spoke at that occasion, he quoted from the last piyut that is recited on Shabbos Parshas Parah: “Vechol asher yeish bema’alah yeish bematahbonim mul bonimkedoshim mul kedoshimmakdishim mul makdishimukedushah lekadosh meshalshilim.”

What do those words mean?

Rav Weissmandl cried out with great emotion, “I had five children who were mekadeish Hashem. They are now in ma’alah. They died as kedoshim, who were mekadeish Hashem. I pray that just as those bonim died as kedoshim, mekadshei Hashem, the fifth child, whom I have now merited to perform a bris on, along with his siblings who are with us lematah, will be mul those who are lemaalah.”

He pleaded that he should merit for the rach hanimol, along with his siblings, to be kedoshim, mekadshei Hashem with their lives, as the previous five were mekadeish Hashem with their deaths.

Following the recital of the aforementioned paragraph, the congregation and chazzan call out, “Nekadeish es shimchah ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom. We will sanctify the name of Hashem in our world the same way those who are now in Heaven sanctified it.”

Rav Weissmandl told his listeners, “Let us all cry out together, ‘Nekadeish es shimchah ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom.’ Let us all resolve to be mekadshei Hashem, to live lives of kiddush Hashem.”

That baby, who was named Menachem Meir, is today the rov of the Nitra kehillah in Monsey. He is a well-known and admired rov who is indeed mekadeish Hashem in all he does. I heard the story from him.

Not only Holocaust survivors, whose every mitzvah following that awful period was a kiddush Hashem, and not only their children have the ability and obligation to be mekadeish sheim Shomayim, but so do all of us as well.

One of the most enduring drashos of modern Jewish history was delivered by one of the clearest thinkers of the past century. Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s mission in life was to be a melamed, to set young bochurim on the path of understanding, appreciating and growing in learning, as they began their journey through the olam hayeshivos gedolos. His clarity of mind and insightful analysis still light the way for new generations of lomdim.

On Sunday afternoon, 11 Tammuz, July 6th, seventy-two years ago this month, Rav Elchonon was led to his death together with other gedolei Torah and ehrliche Yidden at Kovno’s infamous 9th Fort. Rav Elchonon addressed those with him whom the Lithuanian Nazis had arrested, sharing poignant words which echo through time.

“It appears that in Shomayim,” he said,they consider us tzadikim, because our bodies have been chosen to atone for Klal Yisroel. Therefore, we must immediately do teshuvah. We don’t have much time, the Ninth Fort is nearby. We will be better korbanos if we do a proper teshuvah, and that way we will be able to save the lives of our American brothers and sisters.

“Let us not have any machsheves pigul, forbidden thoughts that could render an offering unfit. We will soon fulfill the greatest mitzvah of all. Yerushalayim was destroyed through fire, and in fire she will be rebuilt. The fire that consumes our bodies will one day rebuild the Jewish people.”

Rav Elchonon - described by an eyewitness as bearing the countenance of a “malach Elokim - and the rest of the Jews were led to the Ninth Fort, where they were slaughtered in a hail of bullets. Their mesirus nefesh, their kiddush sheim Shomayim, and their becoming korbanos, saved multitudes of other Jews from death. Like Pinchos of old, Rav Elchonon and the victims of the Kovno ghetto seized the moment to remove Hashem’s anger.

Rav Shimshon Pincus, the rov of Ofakim, once hurried into his home and lit a cigarette. He took a few puffs and then dropped the cigarette on the living room carpet, stubbing it out with the heel of his shoe.

His family looked on in surprise. Rav Pincus didn’t smoke, and why would he put out a cigarette in the carpet? The whole thing was strange, but knowing their father, they waited for the explanation they were sure would follow.

Sure enough, as they looked on incredulously, Rav Pincus related that in shul, he noticed how a young man, immersed in learning, finished his cigarette and dropped it onto the floor of the bais medrash. Rav Pincus considered this an act of tremendous chutzpah, chillul Hashem, and bizayon hakedushah. He worried about the effects of that action.

“As a rov,” he told his family, “I have a responsibility to remove the kitrug that was caused upon this Jew and our town, so I hurried home to do the same thing, as if to show that even in my own living room, I would do this, minimizing to a certain degree the avla perpetrated by this Jew with his cigarette.”

By doing so, Rav Pincus set an example of what it means to live with awareness of one’s obligation to remove Divine wrath.

As young children, we all learned the poignant Chazal of how Yaakov Avinu elected to bury his wife Rochel alone on the side of the road, rather than in Chevron, alongside the other avos and imahos. His reasoning was that when her broken and devastated children would be exiled by Nevuzaradun, they would pass their mother’s kever. Passing the resting place of Mama Rochel, they would perhaps be uplifted. They would daven and cry out before her tomb, knowing that she would intercede on their behalf. Indeed, she would, as the posuk states, “Rochel mevakah al boneha.”

Yaakov Avinu buried  Rochel there, instead of with him and her sister Leah, as well as with the other three couples in the Me’oras Hamachpeilah, so that she would be in position to help her children much later. This was a message that surely wasn’t lost on those exiles, a call to each one of them to step forward and demonstrate self-sacrifice for the good of Klal Yisroel.

Rochel’s descendant, Esther Hamalkah, similarly sacrificed for her people. She forfeited her own olam hazeh, marrying a rashah to save her people. She was even prepared to die on their behalf, as she uttered, “Ka’asher ovadeti ovadeti.” As she entered the room of the hateful king, she whispered, “It’s not about me.”

Today, we need to seize these examples, finding ways to stand tall. We cannot be content when our brothers and sisters are suffering. We have to feel their pain and do something to alleviate it.

As we experience these difficult periods, marking the three weeks of churban at a juncture when we feel the churban more acutely than we have in quite some time, the words of Rav Weismmandl must resonate in our minds, driving us to act and prompting us to step forward and do what is right, even when it is uncomfortable. Remembering all the tragedies that befell our people during these weeks reminds us of what we must do. Reading this week’s parsha empowers us, for it lays out our obligation, directing us with regard to what we must do if we want to remove Hashem’s wrath and achieve redemption.

Nekadeish es shimchah ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom.

Let us all resolve to do so, thus bringing closer the day when these weeks of mourning will become days of celebration, zeh mul zeh, bevias Moshiach Tzidkeinu bimeheirah beyomeinu.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Substance Versus Optics

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


The Torah refers to a prophet with two terms, chozeh, a seer, which means that he sees into the future, and novi, which has as its root the word “speech,” as in “boreh niv sefosayim.” The abilities of the biblical prophet lie in his Divine gifts of extraordinary vision and speech.

Bilam was one of the most powerful neviim, and this week’s parsha is one of sight and sound, re’iah and amirah. Parshas Bolok is a parsha of vision, a story of images, descriptions and metaphors. Bilam, the novi retained by Bolok to cause damage to Klal Yisroel, is described by the posuk as possessing a “shesum ayin,” a punctured eye (Bamidbar 24:3). Rashi explains that only one of his eyes was open, for he was blind in the other.

Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa explained Bilam’s affliction by quoting the maxim of baalei avodah, who taught that a Jew should live with two pieces of paper in his pocket. On one he should write, “Bishvili nivra ha’olam,” as a reminder of his limitless potential and the mandate to grow. On the second piece of paper he should write, “Va’anochi afar va’eifer,” a reminder of the necessity for humility. The balance created by the two lessons injects man with a proper perspective, being constantly aware of his weaknesses and challenges, while maintaining clarity about his own worth in the eyes of the Ribbono Shel Olam.

Thus, concluded Rav Simcha Bunim, Bilam had only “one eye,” meaning that he saw only one of those papers. He lived with the notion that he was the center of the universe, but he didn’t temper that with a perception of humility. He was therefore an arrogant person who sought to destroy, not to build, to curse and not to bless.

Balanced and clear vision is necessary to navigate life’s paths. We live in a world of dimyon, where things are rarely as they appear to be.

The president of the United States ran on a promise to bring people together, cure partisan gridlock in Washington, open government to the people, be transparent and fair, and restore America’s glory. What he turned out to be is a demagogue who seeks to divide people. While engaging in class warfare, he seeks to raise taxes on the rich, Robin Hood-style. Though he campaigned against President George W. Bush’s aversion to deficit-fighting, Barack Obama has added more to America’s deficit than all his predecessors combined.

The president has, in his own words, led from behind, dithered while Syria disintegrated, and slept while the country’s Benghazi consulate was under terror attack, then lied about it and sought to cover up what transpired.

He forced Mubarak out of Egypt and then handed the country to the Islamists, whom he coddles and supports as they destroy the country. 

The president’s tax gathering authority eroded the people’s trust in the ever-expanding government, singling out right-wing groups for special attention and then lying about it. That scandal was compounded by the revelation that the security agency secretly gathers unprecedented amounts of information about American citizens and also lies about it.

The man whose career’s trajectory was aided by his supposed oratory skills, has been otherwise occupied and has not found time to address the scandals unfolding all around him and the deep constitutional issues at their heart.  

In Judaism, we see people singing one song and living to the beat of another. People who call themselves Orthodox Jews behave as Conservative apikorsim of old, breaking down one halachic wall after another. This week, a so-called Orthodox group ordained three female rabbis in a ceremony held at an Orthodox shul. They pursue an agenda that they hope will lead to a reformation of Orthodoxy, but which has instead led to their self-removal from the union of Torah-observing Jews. Yet, few raise their voices in protest or feel the pain of the desecration of Torah, halacha and mesorah. As long as they refer to themselves as Orthodox, they are treated as such by those who ought to know better.  

How much longer can the charade continue?

At the Yeshivat Maharat ordination ceremony on Sunday, the rosh yeshiva drew an analogy of his historic undertaking to a 1913 Parisian ballet. At the debut of that musical piece “fistfights erupted and people were escorted out of the theater.” The conferring of semicha on his female graduates was akin to that ballet, which went on to earn worldwide fame and appreciation in the world of culture and music. Orthodoxy will look back at this day and mark it as a historic turning point. “It is not often that we are blessed to appreciate that we are witnessing history,” he said, adding that those present were indeed blessed to be on hand to watch history being made.

The gushing continued with the speech of Avi Weiss, whose misguided efforts set the Maharat ballet into motion. “This is a moment of kedusha, a moment of real holiness,” he said as he urged the crowd to bless the women clergy.

Mocking rabbinic tradition and halacha, yet referring to it shamelessly and with a straight face as an act of kedusha. Where is the outrage? How much further do they have to go for us to recognize that these people are no different than the pioneers of the Conservative movement? With hypocritical use of halachic terms they lead hundreds of thousands of Jews astray from the path of kashrus, shabbos and shmiras mitzvos.

A rabbinic group criticizes those who are pained by the sight of women cloaked in male garb, mocking prayer at the holiest place in the world, without condemning the blasphemers. The same group scoffs at those who fear the Israeli government’s war on religion and religious people, yet offers nary a word about what the government has done and is doing to negate the role of Torah and halacha in the Jewish state. They do precious little to stem the growing flood of unorthodoxy emanating from their circle.

Jewish politicians in Israel, schooled in public relations and armed with glib slogans and code words, have set into motion changes that they hope will destroy the Torah way of life in their country.

They cloak their agenda in innocuous phrases, such as “shivyon banetel,” as if they are really seeking to correct some inherent social imbalance. They create the impression that they care about the chareidim and that the campaign is aimed at improving their economic welfare.

They claim that the army is in desperate need of manpower to fight regional battles and that without drafting yeshiva bochurim the army is in danger of weakening. In actuality, what they want to achieve has nothing to do with the army. They have merely hitched a ride on a convenient emotional wave.

They seek to force kollel people into poverty, contract yeshivos by shrinking their budgets, and change the face of the Israeli rabbinate by introducing a liberal chief rabbi and scores of like-minded rabbis and dayonim all across the country.

They wish to do away with conversion standards, with Shabbos laws, with kashrus laws, with gittin, kedushin, traditional marriage, and with traditional religious customs honored since the founding of the state. They desire to reduce the role of Torah and halacha with thousands of cuts and slices. Their religious enablers cheer them on for the  momentary glory and reward.

Under the guise of “ahavat Yisrael,” they promote candidates for rabbinic positions who have promised to erode halachic standards, as they mock standard-bearers and famed rabbonim who have spent decades immersed in Torah. We are shrill baalei machlokes, they are men of peace, progress and conciliation. We are divisive haters and demonizers, they are progressive purveyors of optimism and hope. 

This week’s parsha provides us succor for times like these. Nothing was what it appeared to be. Bolok was worried about the size of Am Yisroel and that they would conspire to destroy him and his nation. Having heard from his enemy, Midyon - with whom he formed a coalition in order to overcome the hated Bnei Yisroel - that the strength of the Jewish people lies in their peh, their mouths, he procured the services of Bilam to curse them (Bamidbar 22:4, Rashi ibid.). Bilam appeared to be reticent to perform the job for Bolok, appearing as if he would not defy Hashem. It was a charade. When he was promised sufficient money and fame, he saddled his donkey and set out to plot the destruction of the Jewish people.

His posturing is reflective of today’s time, when people mouth pious expressions as they pronounce reassuringly that they are driven by pure intentions, motivated to fulfill Hashem’s will. They simultaneously engage in behavior designed to be detrimental to the future of Torah Judaism.

Bilam was confronted by his donkey, which began to berate him for his disloyalty to the one on whose back he rode so often. Chazal teach that the peh of the ason, the mouth of the donkey, was created on the first Erev Shabbos following creation. The Ramban and the Seforno teach that there was a message in the beast’s expressiveness, teaching Bilam that the gift of speech he was blessed with was from Hashem. The same One Who enabled him to speak enabled the donkey to do the same. He was thus warned not to attempt to deviate from the wishes of Hashem and not to curse Am Yisroel. He continued along his way, but instead of curses, his mouth uttered blessings.

People are confused and wonder how they can tell those who are like Bilam apart from those who not only preach fidelity to Hashem’s will, but actually follow it. How do we know who speaks with a glib, cynically forked tongue and who is honest, holy and deserving of respect and support?

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:22) asks what the difference is between the talmidim of Avrohom Avinu and those of Bilam.

It is interesting that the Mishnah does not discuss the differences between Avrohom Avinu and Bilam Harasha themselves. Instead, Chazal delineate the differences between their students.

Rav Yechezkel of Kuzmir explained that while it may have been possible to be fooled by Bilam and his demeanor, a study of his students and followers reveals the truth about the man and his goals.

Often, purveyors of sheker will use some emes as a means of gaining credibility and spreading their messages, making it difficult to tell apart the genuine from the phony. With some patience, the intentions of the leader become obvious. Avrohom became “Avinu,” spawning a nation of rachmonim, bayshonim and gomlei chassodim, paragons of decency and virtue. Bilam became the role model of their antagonists, the hero of those governed by ayin ra’ah, ruach govoah, nefesh rechovah, pettiness, greediness of soul and arrogance.

The Mishnah is teaching us to ignore what the leaders say and how they present themselves, but rather to look at the effects of their words and actions. They may proclaim that they are all about peace and love, but beware if their actions lead to machlokes and hate.

Rav Shimshon Pincus related the tale of an aged Russian immigrant who was interviewed upon her arrival in Eretz Yisroel, because she said that she was a granddaughter of the Chofetz Chaim.

The woman, who led a secular life, recalled that as a young girl, she had read the works of the Maskilim and, like many others of her time, was drawn in by them and fascinated by the ideas they presented. Slowly, she left her religious upbringing and made her way to a university. During that period, she went to visit her grandfather, the Chofetz Chaim.

Zaide,” she told him, brimming with youthful enthusiasm, “you have to step out of your insular shtetel and discover the new world. You’ll see that it’s a new era. Technology and science are creating a new reality. Zaide, you have to let go of your old-fashioned ideas and get with the times. Soak in the excitement and learn of the many possibilities that exist in today’s world.”

She recounted that the Chofetz Chaim told her, “Tochterel, I want you to know this: With their innovations and inventions, they will one day reach a point where they make a bomb that will kill thousands of people. Ubber mir machen mentchen. Mir machen mentchen. Do you hear? We are making people. They will destroy people.”

The Chofetz Chaim’s response is instructive to us as well. On the surface, the technological revolution seemed to be the wave of the future and the harbinger of development and growth. His penetrating perspective was to look past the initial impression and see what will come from it.

The “advanced, educated and acculturated” scientists ultimately created tools of mass destruction, while the “archaic, antiquated and backward” yeshivos made, and are still making, people, refining and raising man to higher levels.

The Brisker Rov once told MK Shlomo Lorentz, “When someone plants a seed in the ground, I can see the tree that will sprout, with all its leaves and fruits. If I see a dangerous tree, I try to ruin the seed before it takes root, because once it grows tall, it is much harder to uproot.”

The comment was made during the post-Holocaust era, when the Israeli government was engaged in bringing war orphans to the country through aliyat hano’ar. These neshamos, born to the finest chassidishe and litvishe homes and heirs to rich legacies, were sent directly to secular kibbutzim, where they were forcefully ripped from their heritage and fed neveilos and treifos, chometz on Pesach, and candy on Yom Kippur.

A group of rabbonim assembled at the home of the Brisker Rov to discuss the issue, and they decided that they would publicize what was going on behind barbed wire.

One of the askonim entered the home with good news for the cause. The chief rabbi of the country had also been apprised of the situation and was livid. He said that he would issue a public condemnation of the government. No doubt, his words against the very government that employed him would send shockwaves throughout the Jewish world and help put an end to the government’s scandalous behavior.

While the others cheered the report, the Brisker Rov was visibly upset. He said that the rabbi’s involvement would be disastrous.

He explained that the rov, in his sincerity, would no doubt write a strong letter against the Israeli government, and it would certainly generate lots of attention. Then, said the Rov, the Zionist leaders and Sochnut officials would create a committee to look into it, after which a delegation would visit the rov’s home and ask him to issue an update. They would assure him that the situation had improved and that there was a plan in place, over time, to upgrade religious life for these new olim. The rabbi, as well intentioned as he was, said the Brisker Rov, would write a letter rescinding his previous protest.

“And that,” concluded the Rov, “will be worse, because it will be a hechsher on their entire shmad operation.”

Today, we have letters, ideas, and sound-bites flying in every direction. The ideas sound nice, the concepts convincing. Just as Bilam’s power was with his peh and he attempted to use it in a fashion detrimental to Yidden, too many of the people who seek our demise right now have reached power due to their use of slogans and speeches.

A member of Yair Lapid’s team has carved a niche for himself, using his black velvet yarmulka as a fig leaf to cover his participation in a party whose banner is the destruction of Torah and halacha in the Jewish state. This charade has earned him a top speaking slot at the RCA convention and at other Orthodox venues.

That same rabbinic organization has now written a letter supporting the man Lapid and Naftoli Bennett are pushing, because if elected as Israel’s chief rabbi, they are confident that he will further their anti-halachic agenda by compromising the Israeli rabbinate.

In their letter, they mock Chacham Ovadiah Yosef, a most brilliant, classic talmid chochom, posek and leader, whose long life has been wholly devoted to Torah and Am Yisroel.

If this is what they do to assist a hypocritical charlatan, what does that say about them and their entire organization?

Their keynote speaker, whose yarmulka covers his hubris and callous disregard for the enabling role he plays, prides himself that he learns Mesillas Yeshorim every day before he begins his Knesset work. He says that his colleague, Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron, whose mission is to destroy yeshivos, begins his work day with the Igeres HaRamban.

We are to be impressed with their tzidkus. Like Bilam, they cloak their agenda in religious terms, thinking they can fool their victims into willing submission.

Israel’s prime minister, Yair Lapid, his underlings and partners have achieved success based on their rhetorical abilities. Their enablers, who promote themselves as religious Jews, also travel the country and the world delivering speeches, uttering lies and half-truths, and ensnaring audiences of the uneducated and unknowing, as well those who seek to curtail our growth, glibly fictionalizing their intentions by using code words and stale propaganda. Fame and power coupled with old hatred is a lethal combination, and it currently appears to be gaining traction.

The evil ones see the growth of the Torah community and fear that it will take them over. They understand that the Torah community’s power emanates from their peh, from the study of Torah and tefillah, so they enact slogans they can easily fling from their mouths. They elect and empower master communicators to use their rhetorical gifts to subjugate the power of our piyos, punishing the mouths that study Torah, taking food out of the mouths of young innocent children, and sloganeering and campaigning against halacha.

For a time, it seems that they are gaining and that their Bilams are coalesced and saddled, armed and advancing.

Thankfully, bnei Pinchos lo meisu, and their charade and cute dance are by now exposed for even the most naive to recognize. Even as they continue to insist that they have come to help, to save us from ourselves, to rescue the chareidim, we are forewarned. We know that the malach will stand in their way. Sometimes they will perceive him standing there blocking them and other times they won’t. The result will be the same: “Vehi lo sitzloch.” They will not succeed.  

Bolok was upset at Bilam and brought him to view the Jewish encampment from a different angle, thinking that perhaps he would succeed in finding fault with them. Alas, Bolok failed. The posuk (24:2) relates that Bilam raised his eyes and saw Klal Yisroel and its tribes as they camped, and the spirit of Hashem rested upon him. He then uttered the immortal words of “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov.”

Rashi (ibid.) quotes the Gemara (Bava Basra 60a) which states that as Bilam looked out at the Jewish people from afar, he saw that their doors were not facing each other, so that they would not peer into their neighbors’ homes. Seeing this caused him not to curse them.

What was so special about the fact that they didn’t look into each other’s dwellings that it caused Bilam to bless the Bnei Yisroel instead of cursing them?

The answer may be that, by this time, Bilam recognized that he was lacking in his personal ethics and that he was a person with a shesum ayin, an afflicted eye. He knew that because he had an ayin ra’ah, he was jealous of others, and this led him to want to curse them for their success and achievement. When he looked at the Jewish tents and saw that they didn’t face each other because the Jews didn’t want to look inside the other homes, he knew that they were people of ayin tovah and he recognized that such people are deserving of bracha, as they personify the greatest blessing.

Bilam perceived that the reason for the positioning of the doors was not because they feared others looking in at them. They weren’t afraid of that. They didn’t want to look at other people’s homes. Such people are people of ayin tovah and bracha.

Mah tovu oholecha Yaakov. How great are the tents of Yaakov, filled with Torah and chessed, maasim tovim and shalom, brotherhood and ayin tovah.

May Hashem bring bracha into those homes. May He return peace and brotherhood; as well as fidelity to our hallowed code, to our people, and may we merit the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh, the great house from which bracha and kedushah spread.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Living with Torah

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


This week’s parsha opens with the halachos of Parah Adumah. A lesson contained in Rashi on the first posuk is often repeated. The posuk states, “Zos chukas haTorah adam ki yomus b’ohel ­- This is the chok of the Torah: When a person dies, anyone who is under the same roof as the body shall be tomei for seven days.”

Chazal derive a classic lesson by homiletically interpreting the words “Zos chukas haTorah adam ki yomus b’ohel” to mean, “This is the way of the Torah: In order to ‘own’ Torah, you must sacrifice your life for it.”

We study this lesson and we wonder how we can adapt that admonition of Chazal to our lives. How is it possible for us to negate everything in life and achieve the single-minded dedication Chazal say is necessary to “own” Torah?

Some question whether or not it is indeed possible for people to attain that lofty level; they therefore compromise and aspire to lesser degrees of accomplishment.

Last Friday, I met someone who demonstrated how it can be accomplished. My friend Rabbi Yisroel Besser was going to visit Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin and asked me to join him. We drove to the prison in Otisville, New York.

Jail is an awful experience, even for a visitor. The picturesque drive made it even worse. Otisville is a quaint old town, similar to the thousands of towns that dot this great country. Passing by nice, old Victorian homes, neatly trimmed lawns, wide expanses and forests just made the trip harder. We knew where we were headed, and somehow, the view was incongruous. We finally arrived at our destination. It was the hottest day of the year so far, the sun was shining brightly, the grass was green and luscious, and the razor wire surrounding the buildings glistened.

We sat in an intensely hot visiting room, the whirr of noisy ceiling fans overhead, and waited for the prisoner to be allowed out to join us where inmates receive their guests. After a few minutes, Sholom Mordechai came bouncing into the room. On his face was a wide, infectious smile. The drab brown khaki uniform he wears there was unable to camouflage his personality.

We sat with him, chatting about this and that, and in middle of our conversation, the inevitable question came up: “How do you do it? How do you stay sane in this place where an ordinary visitor has trouble remaining calm, even with his car parked outside and the freedom to leave at any time?”

Sholom Mordechai explained it very simply and matter-of-factly.

Many of the inmates invest considerable effort toward improving their physical situation there. They jog, work out, play ball, and do what they can to strengthen their bodies. They watch TV or engage in other activities that bring them some degree of pleasure. They try to spice up their food to give it extra taste and avail themselves of the opportunities in the prison that provide even momentary minor physical satisfaction.

It is understandable that people seek to improve their situation. If they wouldn’t, it would be a sign of depression and that they have given up on life.

Sholom Mordechai decided that the drive to achieve fleeting enjoyment is just that - fleeting. It’s gone in a flash. The meal is spicier, but then it’s gone and forgotten. A few extra spices won’t make ordinary food into haute cuisine. A stronger body is of no use behind bars and won’t lead to earlier parole. The guy with the spicier fries and bigger muscles, at the end of the day, is locked up behind bars, away from everyone he loves and cares about, unable to be productive or happy.

When he was imprisoned, Sholom Mordechai decided that while his physical body can be locked up behind bars and subjugated to the will of others, his spiritual side is his – under his control - and cannot be walled in and held down by anyone. He began concentrating on feeding and satiating his neshomah, rather than worrying about pleasing his guf. 

And that is what he does. He gets up, he davens, he learns and he concentrates on observing the mitzvos as best as he can. He doesn’t have a mortgage to pay, car payments to meet, or any social obligations. He can learn and do mitzvos all day. With his neshomah steadily improving, he remains happy and content with his lot.

He said it so simply, so matter-of-factly, but the impact of what he related was so powerful.

Boruch Hashem, most of us reading this column are not imprisoned by other people. We are not locked behind bars and barbed wire. We get all the spices we want and we can jog and walk anywhere we please. Yet, we are imprisoned by our guf, by our wants and our needs. We have so many things that we must do, places where we must go, and positions that we must take, that, at the end of the day, we are often left drained and empty.

As Sholom Mordechai was telling us about his day and how he maintains his sanity and good cheer, I was thinking about the posuk of “Zos chukas haTorah” mentioned earlier. Happiness and satisfaction are achieved through suppressing the guf.

The Torah uses the appellation “adam” when referring to a person. The name adam refers to man’s earthliness. As the posuk (Bereishis 2:7) states, “Vayitzer Hashem Elokim es ha’adam afar min ha’adamah.” Perhaps we can expound on the message of Chazal on “Zos chukas haTorah adam ki yomus b’ohel.” The way to be koneh Torah is to slay your bechinas adamah. The way to rise above the pettiness and depression of life is to eliminate the gufniyus that confines us. We should do what we can to ensure that it is our ruchniyus that defines us. We will thus enjoy not only Torah, but life as well.

One of the great talmidim of the Lubliner Rov, Rav Meir Shapiro, was Montreal’s late Rav Pinchos Hirschprung. A famed gaon, it is said that he would review entire masechtos while taking walks. During a car trip from Montreal to New York, he would review several masechtos. When people would speak to him, it was apparent that it took some effort for him to disengage himself from learning even for a few moments. One time, when asked where he lived, he quipped, “In Bavel,” hinting that he dwelled in Talmud Bavli.

It was a pithy remark, but one that reflects man’s ability to be transported through learning Torah to a higher level and a different playing field.

There was a meshulach who traveled through the shtetlach of Lita raising money for the legendary Novardoker Yeshiva. Blessed with an engaging personality, the townspeople and rabbonim would joyously welcome him, eager to hear him report on his travels, keeping people abreast of what was doing in the other towns and telling many interesting stories.

When his travels brought him to Karlin, the meshulach immediately went to visit the rov, the great gaon Rav Dovid’l (Friedman) Karliner. When he arrived at the rov’s home, Rav Dovid’l was learning. Not wanting to disturb him, the meshulach sat down and waited patiently for the rov to look up from his Gemara. Finally, the rov looked up.

The meshulach introduced himself and told the rov why he was there. The rov gave him a donation.

Unable to tear himself away from the beautiful sight of the aged rov learning, the meshulach sat back down to watch the venerated Rav Dovid’l engrossed in a sugya.

The rov was oblivious to him, as he was focused on the Gemara. After a long while, he looked up and noticed the meshulach watching him.

 Shalom aleichem,” Rav Dovid’l said to his guest. “How can I help you?”

The meshulach was confused, for he had earlier explained his reason for coming. Nonetheless, once again he told the rov his name and why he came, and Rav Dovid’l handed him a donation. Within seconds, Rav Dovid’l was once again lost in his Gemara.

The meshulach sat down yet again to watch the beautiful sight. He just couldn’t pull himself away. He remained there unnoticed for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, the rov raised his head a third time and asked the meshulach who he was and why he had come to see him. The visitor apologized, told Rav Dovid’l that he had already given him money twice, and said that he was simply watching him learn.

The gaon of Karlin shrugged sadly. “Apparently I am beginning to forget,” he said. But then his face brightened. “Efsher ich fargess, maybe I forget. Ubber duh, but here,” he said pointing to the Gemara, “bin ich frish vi a bochurl, I am as fresh and sharp as a young yeshiva bochur!”

The meshulach was greatly moved by this comment and, during his subsequent travels, in every town he stopped, when the local rov and lovers of Torah asked him for a good story, he recounted his experience in the study of the beloved Karliner Rov.

Sometime following that incident, Rav Dovid’l passed away. The Chofetz Chaim tracked down the Novardoker meshulach and sent him a message asking him to please come to Radin. The meshulach immediately made his way to Radin.

The Chofetz Chaim explained why he called for him. “Rav Dovid’l iz avek. I want you to say a hesped on him.”

“I would love to. But rebbe,” protested the meshulach, “I didn’t know him. I wasn’t a talmid or even an acquaintance of his. I met him once a little while ago.

“It doesn’t matter,” the Chofetz Chaim replied. “I simply want you to get up and repeat for the public the story you recently shared with me. That will be a powerful hesped.”

The Chofetz Chaim perceived the incredible depth of the comment, the powerful corroboration of this reality, what Torah can do to a man, and the different realm inhabited by those who immerse themselves in it.

Rav Dovid Karliner’s life was Torah. Everything else was irrelevant and easily forgotten.

Zos chukas haTorah adam ki yomus b’ohel. A person must eradicate his afar and adamah. Only then does he really start to live.

Rav Shlomo Kanievsky once told my son Yishai that every time his father, Rav Chaim, finished eating, he would ask his rebbetzin what he ate so that he should know which bracha achronah to make. Food is so not important to him, he doesn’t even remember what he just ate. The only reason he has to know what he has eaten is to be able to recite the proper bracha achronah.

The rebbetzin’s father was the same way. Someone I know once asked Rav Elyashiv a shailah about kashering liver and whether it is necessary to kasher the grates upon which liver has been broiled. Rav Elyashiv told the person to go into the kitchen and ask Rebbetzin Elyashiv how she kashers liver.

When the fellow walked into the kitchen and asked the rebbetzin, she responded, “Ich leb shoin mit Reb Yosef Shalom zechtzig yohr, un mir hoben doh in shtub kein mohl nit gegesen kein leber (I am already living with Reb Yosef Shalom for sixty years in this home and we have never eaten any liver).”

The yungerman went back to Rav Elyashiv and repeated what the rebbetzin had said. Without expressing any emotion or commenting on the fact that he hadn’t known that he had never eaten liver in his home, Rav Elyashiv said to the person, “Oib azoi, darf min paskenen dem shailah.” He discussed the halachic issues with the yungerman, quoting verbatim teshuvos of Acharonim, and he then said that the grates upon which liver is kashered do not need to be kashered prior to being used again.

Such people are the embodiment of the Chazal of being meimis their adam, and adamah, and thus merit being koneh the entire Torah.

These people inhabit a different sphere. The pettiness that entraps us presents no allure to them. The silly machlokes and internecine battles that roil our people don’t touch them, because they are removed from the humdrum of temporal life. They set the example for others to follow and embody the happiness and joy that are reserved for those who are able to achieve spiritual domination of their lives.

Parshas Chukas comes on the heels of the sad saga of Korach to impart to us the importance of adam ki yomus b’ohel as our guidepost for what our ambition should be and where our efforts should lie so that we benefit a life of accomplishment, joy, contentment and fulfillment.