Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Winner

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


In an ideal world, we would only publish articles praising other Jews and focusing on the positive developments in the Torah world. We don’t enjoy arguing with other Jews or writing negatively about them.

However, we have a responsibility to our readers and to the visionaries who established this newspaper, and the voices of Torah media through the ages, to warn people about the danger represented by the likes of Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, and the people who work for them.

Close to home, the call for a progressive, user-friendly, liberal Orthodoxy is heard. It is lonely to be the only ones pointing out the sad fact that the particular brand of Judaism they are selling has very little to do with Orthodoxy. We wonder when Orthodox Jewry will finally proclaim, once and for all, that these “innovators,” who profess fidelity to halacha, are no different than Moses Mendelsohn, Solomon Geiger, Solomon Schechter Saul Lieberman, and others, who claimed to be all for halacha and mesorah but simply wished to tweak and modernize them.

No one wants to be a prophet of doom. Everyone wants to be liked, shake hands, and slap shoulders all around, but those who claim to love truth have a responsibility to stand for it. We wonder about the silence of organizations who claim to speak for us, and question the silence of groups formed to take a forceful stand on matters vital to safeguarding Orthodoxy in communities across this country. It isn’t easy to take a stand, but if they wish to be seen as relevant, they must.

Recently, a musmach of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah wrote what can only be referred to as outright divrei kefirah, crossing a red line by anyone’s account. Instead of disowning him, the school’s leadership slammed the Yated. That’s right. The school’s president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, and its dean, Rabbi Dov Linzer, wrote that their “Modern and Open Orthodox yeshiva… [teaches] our Torah in a way which allows our talmidim to speak freely and openly, without fear, as they seek to grasp in their own ways the very basic theological foundations of Judaism…  Our talmidim are thriving in our open, non-judgmental approach, to be the future rabbanim who will carry on our tradition.”

You see, dear readers, in our yeshivos, the talmidim aren’t permitted to speak openly and freely, according to Rabbis Lopatin and Linzer. They are afraid to express their thoughts and aren’t permitted to ask and question as they try to understand the ikrei emunah. We are backward, according to these rabbis. They are advanced. They are modern. Their talmidim are all sweet and loving, non-judgmental and open. Everything is good and everyone is good.

This coming week, Elul zeman will get underway in hundreds of yeshivos around the world. Bochurim will flock to their institutions with their Gemaros and blank notebooks, taking their places in the bais medrash. They will be attending yeshivos for metzuyonim and yeshivos for struggling talmidim, and those for students in between, but they all have one thing in common. Walk in to any bais medrash in the middle of seder and listen to the song. You will hear voices rising and falling. You will be exposed to passionate arguments, energetic give-and-takes, proofs and questions, all with genuine excitement as lomdei Torah debate the finer points of a sugya.

I feel sorry for those who don’t get to feel the cadences of ameilus baTorah and witness the intense drive for the truth. Go and see our heilige yeshivos, the pride and joy of our nation. You will find people attaching themselves to the eitz chaim, ignoring every other pursuit and focusing only on the one that brings them closer to the Creator.

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, “Ram and head of the Talmud Department of YCT,” defends the YCT graduate. “For several years now,” he writes, “the Chareidi newspaper Yated Ne’eman has attacked our yeshivah, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, on average once every couple of months… The common denominator in these attacks is the shared format: after a brief, often skewed review of some recent activity by one of our Rebbeim or graduates, we are inevitably tagged with some synonym for apikores: heretics, Reformers, neo-Reformers, etc.”

And then he gets cute.

“Like R. Akiva in the story told in Makot (24B),” he relates, “I find myself reacting differently than my colleagues and students. While many of them are disturbed and hurt by these critiques, I find myself smiling and feeling reassured. If we are being critiqued so harshly and so often, it is a sign that we are doing something important and having an impact.”

He is reassured when he is attacked, because it makes him feel that he is doing something important. He is about as important as the shualim who were defiling the Bais Hamikdosh. Rabi Akiva wasn’t happy to see the holiest place in the world in a state of ruin. He was horrified by it, but unlike his contemporaries, he saw in the churban the fulfillment of a prophecy and thus comforted himself with the knowledge that just as the prophecy of doom was realized, so would the prophecy of rebuilding come to pass.

Rabbi Katz claims to be qualified to take solace in the Yated’s attacks, because, as he says, “I do have first-hand experience with the average Yated reader. (I grew up in Williamsburg and studied in Satmar and Brisk Yeshivot.)”

And there’s more: “Their community, in Israel and abroad, is having serious difficulties, trying to stem the high level of attrition they are currently experiencing. A significant number of those who leave that community do so because they are confronted with serious questions and debilitating doubts about Judaism. Ideological confusion is a universal - across the denominations - crisis.”

I don’t know if he’s referring to the Yated community, Satmar or Brisk, nor do I care.

There are problems, to be sure, and we’ve never shied away from addressing them. Truth be told, I am proud to have learned and grown in Yeshivas Brisk, as have my sons, and neither I nor they are aware of anyone from that great yeshiva who fell away, but that’s beside the point.

I’m not sure if his insinuation that YCT is the solution to our problem is delusional or simply arrogant. It’s about as false as his statement that “YCT is a yeshiva like any other yeshiva. Like any other serious semicha programs,” he says, “we too teach punctiliousness in Jewish law, optimal observance of Mitzvot, and a commitment to learning Torah.”

We have been documenting the falsehoods of YCT ever since we began focusing on the dangers of that institution and the hypocrites who lead it.

There are battles and there are wars. Sometimes, the Torah community loses a battle and sustains defeat. Last week, in the Knesset, the haters made a mistake. When the bill to draft yeshiva bochurim passed its first vote in the Knesset, they mistook our bitter loss for evidence that they, with their anti-halacha campaign, were victorious. They didn’t realize that while they may have won a battle, they have not won the war, nor will they.

Their victory, another in a long string of wins stretching back to the election, took place last Monday. On Wednesday, the rabbi loved by the YCT crowd was rejected for the post of chief rabbi of Israel. The gedolei Torah, who perceived the dangerous intentions of those who so badly wanted Dovid Stav to be elected as chief rabbi of Israel, declared that we would not forfeit the election. In fact, we would stand and fight for what we believe in despite the likely chances of electoral defeat.

Rav Dovid Stav ran a full-fledged political campaign, with the assistance of the might and muscle of Naftali Bennett and all the related Mizrachi parties, in addition to Yair Lapid and his cronies. Millions of dollars were invested and the best public relations firms were hired by their campaign to seize the power of the rabbinate.

The Stav campaign invested in consultants, political professionals, public relations groups, media blitzes and everything else that goes into a political campaign, yet he fell short. He lost out to a ragtag bunch of chareidim, in a campaign engineered by Aryeh Deri.

Rav Dovid Lau and Rav Yitzchak Yosef were elected, respectively, to the positions of Ashkenazi and Sefardi chief rabbi. The only weapons in their arsenal were the influence of elderly rabbonim, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and Rav Ovadia Yosef, and the impact of Rav Yisrael Meir Lau. It was their perseverance when others had already given up that turned the tide and saved the rabbinic institution from falling into the hands of those who promised “a real revolution.”

One can only shudder at the thought of that revolution and what it might have spawned.

The new chief rabbis are both heirs to a legacy of ahavas Yisroel and appreciation of all Jews, and will no doubt endeavor to invest that office with distinction and prestige. We certainly hope that they will stand tall when it comes to matters of mesorah and halacha, defending traditional marriage and being firm regarding geirus. With their selection, a tragedy was averted.

Prior to the election, Rav Shteinman told one of his visitors to “tell Reb Dovid that I haven’t stopped davening for him.” Boruch Hashem, his tefillos were answered, and the glee of a media and public so eager to rejoice over the chareidi demise and loss of influence was cut short.

After passing their bill in the Knesset and succeeding in advancing their agenda on many fronts, those battling the chareidi world could hardly hide their merriment as the rabbinic election approached.

The chareidi community had sustained quite a blow. The status quo that had been in place for decades - the arrangement that had seen both military success and the flourishing of yeshivos - was abandoned by the progressive group currently in power.

The chareidi Knesset representatives were beleaguered, clearly drained from a long and persistent battle.

It’s a good thing that we don’t believe everything they say about us or accept their headlines and post-chareidi articles as fact. We do not view the pundits and commentators as possessing the final word. Despite their dire warnings, we don’t just slither away.

They proclaimed that the chareidim were done. Our representation and leadership had failed us once and for all, they declared, and the secular revolution was the new reality. The message was, “You had better get used to it, because this is the new way. You guys are the enemy and we won’t rest until we bring you to your knees.”

But victory and defeat are relative. It depends on what your goal is. If you are focused on the bottom line, then it’s absolute; either you get what you want or you lose. But if your battle is simply to ensure that Hashem’s will is being fulfilled, then even when it appears that you have lost, you accept that His will is different than you thought it is, and with humility you move on. It was decided that chareidim would mount a campaign for the rabbinate and what it represents, and Hashem blessed the effort.

Mr. Julius Klugmann zt”l, who passed away three months ago, was a role model of passionate askonus, a German-born American baal habayis whose thoughts and efforts were focused on kevod Shomayim. The unassuming Jew from Washington Heights earned the appreciation of gedolim, who perceived the purity of his intentions at each juncture.

After having undertaken a long and exhausting campaign for a particular cause, he felt defeated and dejected. To cheer him up, his rov, Rav Shimon Schwab, sent him a sefer as a gift. He inscribed it with words that Mr. Klugmann would often repeat: “To lose in a holy cause is to win, and to win in an unholy cause is to lose.”

This message of encouragement strengthened Mr. Klugmann when he was engaged in subsequent battles and campaigns.

The message represents a timeless truth that should drive those charged with representing the Torah community. Battling our enemies is not always easy or ever pleasant. Sometimes the victory is easier to perceive than at other times. In all instances, however, we are not the arbiters of victory. We do what we can to fight the good fight, following the dictate of the Torah of “Lo saguru mipnei ish, fearing not that the intelligentsia will mock us.

We forge on, because we know that our course is correct. Our path is well-trodden by the gedolim and askonim of this generation and preceding ones. There will be bumps along the way. We will witness campaigns that we appear to lose and some that we appear to win. We know that our goal remains the same: “Umalah ha’aretz dei’ah es Hashem.” Our sole objective is to prepare the world for better days and for Moshiach. 

Following the Holocaust, very few people gave Torah and halachic Judaism any chance of survival. The realists compromised and eventually lost their way. Leaders such as the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rov and the Ponovezher Rov in Eretz Yisroel, and Rav Aharon Kotler and the Satmar Rov in this country, brooked no compromise. They fought depression and apathy. They responded to those who claimed that all was lost. They hewed to an ancient creed and refused to make concessions.

They were mocked, vilified and given little chance of success. They had little money and virtually no influence over the broader community, yet they persevered. In Eretz Yisroel, their followers were beaten as they fought for religious rights. But they refused to accept defeat or to view every battle as a zero-sum game. They did their best and left the rest to Hashem, confident in His promise that “netzach Yisroel lo yishakeir.”

Each Shabbos, after reading the Torah, we lain the haftorah from the words of the Nevi’im. The haftorah is preceded and followed by brachos that are replete with references to the final redemption. We say, “Racheim al Tzion… Samecheinu Hashem Elokeinu b’Eliyohu Hanovi…” The Abudraham explains that this is because the Nevi’im provide succor to the nation by reminding us that better days are ahead and the arrival of Moshiach is imminent. Reading the words of the Nevi’im, we are encouraged by their hopeful tidings.

It is easy to be defeatist and convinced that the power of whoever is riding high that day will endure. It is easy to be swept up by the hype and persuaded that there is a new reality. But it is folly.

The Gemara teaches that hai alma, this world, is kevei hilula, like a wedding (Eiruvin 54a). The Chiddushei Harim explained this Gemara with a moshol. A simple peasant visited his friend in the big city. The first night, he fell asleep to the sound of joyous music coming from the building next door. The second night, the music was again very loud, but he fell asleep with a wide smile on his face, enjoying the revelry coming through the window.

On the third night, as the band struck up once again, the peasant asked his host what business the neighbor was in that he had reason to throw a party every night. 

The host explained, “You don’t understand. No one lives next door. There is a wedding hall located there. Every night, someone else rents it out. Every night, someone else is getting married there.”

The Chiddushei Harim explained, “One night, there is one mechutan, riding high atop the chair and carried aloft on people’s shoulders, his face aglow. The next night, he is back to being the simple farmer he was the day before. Such is the way of the world. There are people who have their turn sitting on top of the world, but it is fleeting. When their minutes of fame and glory are up, they revert to being whatever they were prior to the momentary flash.”

The Torah world in Eretz Yisroel appears to be in dire straits and at the mercy of a governing coalition of cynical, lustful, arrogant, power-hungry men. It won’t last forever. As Prime Minister Netanyahu releases 104 murderous terrorists, guilty of the worst possible crimes, to placate his American masters, one wonders how long the right wing will sit silent. Now it is their time, but know that the power is fleeting ketzeil oveir, like a passing shadow.

An oveid Hashem forges on, not focusing on always getting his way, but rather on doing what is right. That means not giving up when the sun doesn’t shine upon you. It means identifying chillul Hashem and pointing out for derision those who make a mockery of the Torah.

It means not being fickle and capricious. It means being true to the message of our gedolim. It means standing up for our yeshivos and the purity of our mesorah. And if it comes at a cost of being vilified by people who call for tolerance but show very little of it themselves, then so be it.

Especially during these weeks of the Shiva Dinechemta, we are reminded that good times will return. What is right and true will triumph. We look forward to that day as we do all we can to hasten its arrival.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Poetic Comfort

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


The Jewish calendar year, with its peaks and valleys, days of rejoicing and days of sorrow, defines our moods. There are very few periods of time that contain the unique healing properties of the Shivah Dinechemta. These seven weeks represent uninterrupted Divine whispers of consolation to the Jewish people as expressed by the novi Yeshayahu.

The comforting expressions began last Shabbos with the immortal words of Yeshayahu, “Nachamu nachamu ami. If we pay attention to his words of consolation, they will energize us for the next six weeks.

Poetry is the language of the soul. The saddest, most tragic occurrences are easier explained and understood when expressed in poetry, rather than in prose. Poetry affects our emotions and touches the neshomah.

With but a few succinct words, they awaken dulled senses, while hundreds of sentences may only scratch the surface. Poetry finds beauty where none is obvious, reason where it appears to be lacking, sympathy when all are indifferent, love in loneliness, and light in darkness.

Poetry is music to a soul lost in exile. Poetry is the response to those who cannot find words to express their pleasure, disdain, joy or sadness. Ideas and concepts that defy lengthy explanations can often be summed up in a few words strung together adeptly.

This past Shabbos, I sat with friends in stunned silence as we watched Abie Rotenberg sing his extraordinary composition, The Man from Vilna. We had all heard it many times previously, but this time was different. The crowd was small, sitting around a table. It was the bar mitzvah of his grandson, Nochum Levitan. It was Shabbos Nachamu. Everyone was joyous and festive.

One of the relatives is a survivor. A Litvak. He had never heard the song. He sat next to Abie as the master composer and lyricist slowly and softly began to mouth his poetic words. On the other side of him sat the bar mitzvah bochur.

The song is so mournful and yet so happy at the same time. Sitting next to Abie was a man who lost almost everything in the Holocaust. As he sang, all were humming along, but, suddenly, as the libretto describing the Simchas Torah after liberation in Vilna began to touch their souls, the humming became duller.

The listeners gazed at the survivor on one side and the young boy on the other. Here was a man who had experienced the worst humankind has to offer, listening and reliving the experiences. The old man sat quietly, as if in a trance. The bar mitzvah boy was engrossed, watching his grandfather sing. There was no way he could appreciate the thoughts going through the mind of that old man and the others around the table. 

We danced round and round in circles as if the world had done no wrong

From evening until morning, filling up the shul with song

Though we had no Sifrei Torah to clutch close to our hearts

In their place we held the future of a past so torn apart

Though we had no Sifrei Torah to gather in our arms

In their place we held those children, the Jewish people would live on…

Though we had no Sifrei Torah to clutch and hold up high

In their place we held those children, am Yisroel chai

The words and the sights combined to touch the neshamos of everyone present.

We have lost so much. So many are gone. There is so much pain. So many tears. A golus like no other. Vilna today boasts a cemetery and empty shuls. That Simchas Torah after liberation, when people were broken in body and spirit, lonely and alone in this world, they clawed their way back home, looking to see if anyone had survived.

There was no Sefer Torah in the bloodstained shul, yet when they discovered two infant children crying there, they found solace. They perceived that there was a future. The Jewish people would survive. In a place of destruction they found nechomah. The children would grow and so would they. They had each other and they had the children. Am Yisroel Chai. They scooped up the children and danced the night away.

As Abie’s words sunk in on Shabbos Nachamu in a Monsey hall, the scene was remarkable - a bar mitzvah bochur, a survivor, and friends and family reliving tragedy and comfort, destruction and rebuilding, churban and binyan, ovar and osid. The tears flowed as the simple poetry sunk in.

And then we sang and danced as if the world had done no wrong, knowing that the pain and torture would soon end. Loneliness would be a thing of the past, while tragedy and suffering will be transformed into a joyous, bright future. 

Nachamu nachamu ami.

The haftoros of the Shivah Dinechmemta contain lyrical words and buoyant assurances that can touch any neshomah, bringing joy and consolation, yet, at the same time, they share a very deep message. Yeshayahu not only prophesized assurances of the future glory, but also admonished the Jewish people that destruction and desolation were looming. Yet, despite his nevuos of criticism and coming disaster, he is the eternal novi of nechomah and consolation.

The word nechomah has double meaning. Besides connoting comfort, it has another implication, as evident from the posuk which states, “Vayinochem Hashem ki asah ess ha’adam” (Bereishis 6:6). Rashi offers two explanations of the posuk. The first is that Hashem was comforted for having created man. The second is that Hashem reconsidered and regretted the creation of man.

Rav Moshe Shapiro of Yerushalayim explains that the basis for nechomah, comfort, is derived from viewing the past and reassessing what you had previously thought was reality. You look again, you examine what transpired, and you perceive a different metzius.

Take, for example, the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. At first glance, it appeared that all was lost. Life was over as we had known it. There was no Bais Hamikdosh. We were driven from our land, sold into slavery, mocked and vilified, and unwanted by all, seemingly by Hashem as well. Hashem no longer had any interest in our korbanos and no desire for His dirah betachtonim. The place that was the depository of Jewish hope, connection, greatness and holiness was gone. We were lonely and forsaken, unable to go on living.

At that juncture, the novi Yeshayahu offered a nevuah of comfort. He declared, “Nachamu nachamu.” He told the Jewish nation that Hashem still views us as His people. “Ami. You are still mine. Be comforted. Nachamu nachamu ami. All is not lost. Happier times will come. There is still reason to smile.”

You can still dance round and round in circles as if the world had done no wrong... It may be that there are no Sifrei Torah to gather in your arms and close to your hearts... The Jewish people still have a glorious future, though the past is so torn apart. We are still Hashem’s nation. Our children will grow and prosper. The Jewish people will live on. Am Yisroel chai.

Nachamu. Reconsider what you have and you will find comfort.

Rav Yaakov Meir Schechter, one of the tzaddikei Yerushalayim, told a story about a man who was walking in Tiveria one rainy winter evening and heard singing. He followed the sound and found that it was coming from behind a broken basement window. He crouched on his knees and peered through the broken glass to see into the dank basement.

Through the window, he saw Reb Michel, a Breslover chossid, dancing and singing as rain dripped into his horrid basement apartment. The place was a picture of poverty and deprivation. Reb Michel seemed oblivious to his surroundings as he sang and danced.

The man couldn’t control himself. He knocked on the door and was welcomed into the small basement.

“Reb Michel,” he exclaimed, “look around you. Your children are cold, the place is soaked, and there is suffering all around. How can you dance?”

“My dear friend,” Reb Michel answered, “don’t we both believe that ess vet ah mol zein gut,  there will come a time when things will be good?”

“Yes,” the visitor responded. “One day it will be good.”

Az voss geit eich un oib ich borg ah tantz fuhn yenneh tzeiten - Why do you care if I borrow a dance for today from that happy time?”

Rav Yaakov Meir uses this true story to explain how we can draw on the promises that are the bedrock of our faith, to rejoice today, comforted in the knowledge that the nechomah is sure to come.

The pesukim of Yeshayahu are more than enlightened poetry. They are the blocks of binyan, forming the design with which we forge on through golus until the great day comes. While they foretell of a brilliant future, they also invest the present with much meaning. Golus is not a dead end. It is part of a Divine plan, where there is room, purpose and a destiny for every Jew.

People with sensitive neshamos feel the message of these prophecies and pesukim, experiencing their relevance.

Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Be’er Yaakov, lived with nechomah, feeling and expressing it during every stage of his life. He once shared with his talmidim how he learned to live with that vision.

He related that he became engaged to his wife in 1946, at a time when Klal Yisroel was still in the throes of mourning and shock following the Holocaust. After the engagement, the young chossan and kallah went for a walk on the grounds of Yerushalayim’s Reich Hotel.

The young couple strolled for a while, oblivious to their surroundings. Suddenly, they looked up and saw a most distinguished-looking Jew watching them.

“That distinguished looking man is the Ponovezher Rov,” the chosson whispered to his kallah.

Rav Yosef Shlomo Kanaheman had lost most of his own family, his yeshiva, his town and almost everything else he had ever known and owned to the Nazis. If there was someone who should have been shattered by tragedy and distress, it was the Ponovezher Rov. Yet, despite it all, he was consumed by his ambitious plan to rebuild the yeshiva he had lost. He stood in the yard of Pension Reich with a wide smile on his lips, as his eyes followed the chosson and kallah on their blissful walk.

He called out to them, “Freit zach kinder. Freit zach. Rejoice, children. Rejoice. For as much as you will rejoice with each other, the Ribbono Shel Olam will rejoice with us. That’s what the posuk tells us: ‘Kimsos chosson al kallah, yosis olayich Elokayich. Like a groom rejoices in his bride will Hashem rejoice over you.’

“You are the moshol, the metaphor, for Hashem’s eventual delight in us. Freit zach kinder. Freit zach!”

The Rov walked on smiling, having reassured himself of a bright future and providing the future rosh yeshiva and his rebbetzin a memorable insight into life, as well as a new appreciation for the poetic words of the novi.

A few years before that walk took place, two yeshiva bochurim were hiding in an underground bunker. They knew that being found would mean a certain and cruel death for them both.

The two young men, prize talmidim of the glorious yeshiva of Telz, had been on the run for so long and experienced so much inhuman suffering and torment. Now, as they sat in an awful, cold, dark underground bunker seeking momentary salvation, they once again sensed impending danger.

They heard loud footsteps of murderous soldiers on top of their heads, pounding out a tune of sadism and brutality.

With those steps ringing in their ears, Rav Chaim Stein looked at his friend, Rav Meir Zelig Mann. “Meir Zelig,’ he said, “you have musical abilities. Can you compose a niggun to the words ‘Mah navu al hehorim raglei mevaser tov’?”

In the footsteps of murderers, the future Telzer rosh yeshiva heard a herald of the raglei mevaser, the footsteps of the one who will come bearing the most joyous tidings in history.

The pesukim of the haftorah that we read during these summer months are laden with promise and hope. They offer us a means of endurance in the darkness of the exile until the day of redemption arrives. They provide a glimpse of the bright future and grant significance to the bumpy road we are on, assuring us that there is a plan unfolding and that we are a part of it.

They tell us that instead of seeing darkness, we should reconsider and see the light beneath it. Instead of seeing impediments all around, we should reconsider and sense the holy struggles that will lead to our redemption. Instead of lamenting the uphill climb we face, we should reconsider and see the ladder to everlasting joy, the contentment awaiting us when we reach the top of the mountain.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Flash of Comfort

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


All around the world, in shuls, shtieblach and botei medrash of all types, Jews feel waves of comfort and peace this Shabbos. As the haftorah is read and the words “Nachamu  nachamu” ring out, everyone smiles at the heavenly consolation.

As he addresses the forlorn nation, the novi Yeshayahu repeats himself, proclaiming, “Nachamu nachamu.” Why the repetition? What, we wonder, is added with the repetition of the word nachamu? 

The Medrash explains the binary Nachamu as referring to a double dose of comfort, “nechamah bekiflayim.

The Yalkut Shimoni states that when Yeshayahu Hanovi spoke the immortal words, “Nachamu nachamu,” the Jewish people wanted to kill him. When he followed with “yomar Elokeichem,” they were calmed.

The Medrashim require explanation. When referring to nechamah, either the person who experienced loss is consoled for what has been taken from him or he isn’t. How can he be doubly consoled? Additionally, why were the people only pacified when the novi told them that the words “Nachamu nachamu” were those of Hashem?

To answer the first question, the Yerushalayimer maggid, Rav Mordechai Druk, explained that man’s nature is that after enduring a difficult period in his life, he wants to put the bad experience behind him and move on. It was painful enough to have struggled through the rough episode, and once it passes, the individual resists reliving those awful memories. He’d rather have them fade into the distance. 

However, if a person realizes that the trying event was a blessing in disguise, he happily reminisces about what he went through. Recognizing that what seemed at the time to be a negative experience was really a positive one, enables him to relive it.

With this, we can understand the double consolation the Medrash refers to. Nechamah bekiflayim is indeed a double dose of comfort. The novi foresaw the great solace that will occur with the arrival of Moshiach. The final salvation which will redeem us from the bitter golus will bring a much-needed and appreciated nechamah.

Additionally, at that time, we will understand everything that transpired along the long, dark, bitter path of the exile. We will then realize that what was perceived as tragedy was necessary in order to bring about the redemption. We will see that what was perceived as a curse was really a blessing. That will be the second nechamah.

In golus, we feel pain. We grope in darkness, we mourn tragedy, and we fret about current events. In geulah, the ohr chodosh will enable us to appreciate in hindsight the arduous tribulations we encountered along the way.

That consolation can only come about through Hashem, the ultimate Menacheim.

A talmid of Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l was experiencing a very difficult period in his life. He approached his rebbi in an effort to unburden himself. The talmid, trying to maintain a lofty level, remarked, “I know that everything Hashem does is for the best, so I will embrace this situation with simcha and joy, appreciating that what I am going through is really chassodim.”

Rav Hutner reminded his talmid of the Gemara in Maseches Pesochim (50a) which states that the next world is different than this one. In this world, upon hearing good news, we recite the bracha of Hatov Vehameitiv, and upon hearing bad news, we say Boruch Dayan Ha’emes. In the next world, there will only be the blessing of Boruch Hatov Vehameitiv.

The rosh yeshiva told his grieving talmid, “If you look at your suffering and accept that everything Hashem does is for the best, and you give a krechtz and say, ‘Boruch Dayan Ha’emes,’ acknowledging that He is the Ultimate Judge, then you are following the Gemara. But to say, ‘Boruch Hatov Vehameitiv,’ in a time of challenge in this world, when you really think that you are experiencing something bad, is to make a bracha levatalah.

In other words, our obligation is to accept in our hearts yissurim that befall us, knowing that they are part of a Divine plan and that “kol de’ovid Rachmana letav ovid.” Pain will give rise to something good. However, it is only in the next world that we will be granted the clarity of hindsight to actually rejoice over all of our agonizing, distressful experiences and recite a bracha upon them.

In this world, we acknowledge the suffering and make a bracha upon experiencing it. However, at the dawn of the olam hasholeim, which will arrive after the realization of the prophecy of “Nachamu nachamu,” we will be given the power and vision to comprehend the mercy that lies at the root of all suffering, referred to in the seforim as hamtokas hadinim beshoroshom. At that time, we will also be provided the ability to make a bracha of Hatov Vehameitiv upon it.

Nachamu, nachamu. It will be good. It was always good.

I was recently discussing the current matzav in Eretz Yisroel with a leading Israeli rov. He explained the travails confronting the Torah community. “We don’t know what to make of the return of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel,” he said. “Some say it is ‘as’chalta d’geulah,’ the beginning of the promised ingathering of exiles in the messianic period. Others disagree and see sinister undertones in the return dominated by secular Zionists.

“Everyone, though, acknowledges that something Divine is taking place and that the founding of the state is definitely part of some type of Heavenly plan. Whatever is taking place now - all the strife - is part of that plan and process, which will ultimately prepare the world for Moshiach.”

This is the way ehrliche Yidden always viewed what has transpired and the way we ought to as well.

We wrote previously of a shmuess delivered by Rav Simcha Zissel Broide zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chevron, in which he quoted his predecessor, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt”l.

Imagine, he said, living at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. As the Spaniards were brutally chasing the Jews from their country, the Jewish people were no doubt waiting to see Divine retribution exacted upon their wicked former hosts.

Instead, to their great amazement, not only was the kingdom not punished, but it was rewarded. In 1492, the same year the Jews were expelled from Spain, Christopher Columbus discovered America and opened up avenues of wealth and commerce for the countries that the Jews thought were about to be punished. No doubt, for generations after that, they sat in puzzled wonderment, unable to comprehend why Hashem had rewarded the very people they thought be penalized.

It was only centuries later that the questions were answered. America became a place of refuge for Jews, and defeated the Third Reich, which sought our destruction. In fact, it was the Spaniards themselves who were laying the groundwork for the salvation of the Jews through their discovery and settlement of the American continent. It was all part of the Divine plan. Before fading off into oblivion, the very monarchy that had so tortured the Jews established the land that would welcome and save them many years later.

Rav Broide would repeat this idea and compare it to the awful Holocaust that engulfed our nation in the last century, claiming so many millions of innocent lives. He said that Hashem is preparing the world for the ultimate redemption. Sometimes, within a few generations, the Divine intention becomes apparent, while in other instances it can take centuries to comprehend the ways of Hashem. For many of the tragedies that have befallen klal Yisroel, we will have to wait until the coming of Moshiach to understand how all that transpired was part of a plan to bring the world to its ultimate purpose.

In this world, when anger and despair seem to be the only response, we must internalize the fact that Hashem runs the world and that everything He does is for our benefit. With that awareness, we can rise above our trying circumstances.

In olam hazeh, we are aware that there is a plan. We know that one day it will be revealed. For now, we allow ourselves a moment of joy as we hear the prophecy of “Nachamu nachamu ami” heralding a time when all will be clear.

On this special Shabbos, olam hazeh and Olam Haba merge as the words “Nachamu nachamu ring out. For a moment, we taste the sweetness of what will be. Armed with the awareness that soon all tragedy will be explained as chassodim, we march forward, waiting for the day of that revelation. The knowledge makes life more bearable and gives us the strength to endure the challenges we face.

This feeling is explained with a parable of a person lost at night in a forest during a blinding rainstorm. All around him it is dark, his path obscured by trees, stones and fallen branches. He cannot move without tripping and falling. Suddenly, there is a flash of lightning and for a moment the forest is illuminated.

In that moment, he sees a clear path leading out of the woods, but before he can move, it is dark again. He can’t proceed. But as the man stumbles and gropes in the darkness, he does so with the knowledge that there is a cleared path leading out of the forest. He continues his search with hope and optimism, because he knows there is an exit. After seeing the goal, the quest becomes attainable.

On Shabbos Nachamu, we see that flash.

There is so much sadness in our community. So many people are sick and so many are barely holding on. Every week brings news of yet another accident, yet another korban. We read the news emanating from Eretz Yisroel and we fear what will come next. There are too many people who are still single, desperately seeking to find their mate. There are too many abused individuals seeking a menacheim.

Since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we have known incessant tragedy. Yes, there was a comfortable break here and there. Through the ages, there have been stations that were more hospitable than others.

Tisha B’Av is the repository of 1,900 years of Jewish pain and suffering. It is the day on which we mourn for all that once was and is no longer, for the hopes and dreams that turned to ashes, for all that our people have lost in the Diaspora.

When we sit on the floor saying Kinnos, the list of tragedies for which we mourn seems endless. The churban of the first Bais Hamikdosh and the second Bais Hamikdosh. The Harugei Beitar. The calamities that befell the Jewish communities of Europe one thousand years later during the First Crusade. We remember the Jews who were ripped apart during the Inquisition, the gezeiros of Tach Vetat, and the expulsion from Spain in 1492.

We remember the 24 cartloads of handwritten seforim that were set aflame in the streets of Paris in 1242, and the subsequent expulsions from France, England, Germany and other regions.

We sit on the floor thinking of the Jews who were shipped across the world throughout the ages. Just when they achieved a measure of comfort in a country, they were expelled. All too often throughout our history, we were lonely refugees, seeking shelter in yet another strange, unwelcoming land.

On Tisha B’Av, we mourn the millions of Jews who were killed and maimed during the previous harrowing century. We bemoan the sadness that surrounds us and those we love.

As we read kinnah after kinnah recording so much sorrow, the amount of suffering our people endured becomes unfathomable.

Finally, we rise together and sing in unison the last kinnah, the kinnah of Eli Tzion, which speaks of the anguish of Zion and compares it to the pain of a woman in childbirth. Birth pangs are the most intense pain a person can suffer. But the pain is made somewhat bearable because the woman knows that it will lead to the birth of a child. The pain is an indication that a new life is entering the world. We mourn the churban, but we show that we believe that the desolation is part of the process that leads to the ultimate and final redemption of the Jewish people.

And so it will be when the prophecy of the novi Yeshayahu is realized. We will then perceive that all the pain we endured personally and throughout the centuries was a process leading to the final redemption.

The novi cries out, “Nachamu, be comforted. The torture will soon end. Nachamu, the golus is almost over. Nachamu, be consoled over the calamities of the past. Nachamu, a bright new day is dawning. Nachamu, you will soon understand the reasons for all the pain you have endured. Nachamu, be comforted, knowing that Tisha B’Av will soon be a Yom Tov and not anymore a day of sadness.”

All those who throughout the ages have suffered for being Jewish, who were burned at the stake, whose blood flowed at Beitar, and who were sent into exile by the Romans, the English, the French and the Spanish will finally see justice.

All those who were tortured and killed, who were physically and mentally battered by the Germans; all those young people who were murdered in their prime; all the old people who died as good, ehrliche Jews; all of them, together, will gather in Yerushalayim.

Soon we will all be in Yerushalayim, singing and dancing. The sick will be healed and suffering will end. There will be no more sadness and no more pain. The enemies who wreaked havoc will be gone, their memories obliterated.

Not only will swords be beaten into plowshares, but tears will be twisted into smiles, and pained features will be transformed into happy ones. Sadness will turn into festivity and mourning will be replaced by joy and ecstasy.

Nachamu nachamu ami. Bemeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


An apocryphal tale is told about a man who came to town presenting himself as a traveling tzaddik. Since he arrived late and without prior notice, he and his devoted gabbai were put up at the home of a simple shoemaker, as there were no rooms available in the town’s kretchme, inn.

The shoemaker and his wife were honored to have the tzaddik in their home and did their best to make him and his gabbai comfortable until a room at the inn would become available.

The two guests ate something and went to bed. As midnight approached, the tzaddik rose to recite Tikkun Chatzos, the tefillah of mourning for the destroyed Bais Hamikdosh. His bitter cries over the churban woke his attendant, who joined him in the mournful prayers.

The gabbai began to complain. “Rebbe,” he said, “it is unbearably cold here. I cannot have the proper kavanos when I feel as if I am going to freeze to death.”

The tzaddik agreed. The gabbai proposed that they drink a small lechayim, just a sip of brandy to warm their bones. That way, they would be able to say the tefillah properly. The alcohol warmed them and they resumed their supplications. Soon enough, though, the gabbai was cold again.

Rebbe,” he said, “I think we need another drink. Who can say Tikkun Chatzos when they are this cold?”

Thus, to warm themselves, they drank a little more - just a drop, of course - to stay warm.

A few minutes later, they agreed that a third drink was necessary, the cold being so intense. In no time, the bottle was emptied. The gabbai managed to find another bottle in his suitcase and offered a fresh lechayim.

As they consumed the alcohol, they returned to their tefillos, crying over and bemoaning the churban habayis. Both men were davening with fervor and spirit, crying out, becoming cold, drinking a bit, and then returning to their cries and prayers.

Their bawling was so loud that they woke up the simple host couple, who stood at the door in silence, watching in amazement as the tzaddik and his gabbai wailed over the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. They felt so proud that they merited hosting such holy people in their simple home.

However, as the men finished the second bottle of brandy and their alcohol level was dangerously high, they began dancing and singing the words of the sacred, mournful tefillah.

The half-asleep shoemaker came in from the shadows to interrupt them.

“Listen,” he said. “I am but a simple, uneducated man, and I never learned much Torah. I never saw anyone say Tikkun Chatzos before either, but I think I know enough to be certain that it shouldn’t be said amidst singing and dancing.”

Sometimes see people work very hard to accomplish good things, but instead they become so involved in the details of what they are doing that they lose sight of their goal. The process becomes the mission as their original objective remains elusive and forgotten.

Last week, I was asked to join a panel in the Catskills to discuss current events in Eretz Yisroel. I shared the following story.

A wealthy, well-known philanthropist would make it a point to go bid farewell to Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach zt”l before leaving Eretz Yisroel. One evening, as he was in the vestibule and about to enter Rav Shach’s room, a man asked him for a favor.

“I know that when you go in,” the man began, “you will probably be with the rosh yeshiva for a while. I am here with my fourteen-year-old son. I just want to ask the rosh yeshiva for a bracha for him. It will take a minute. Would you permit me to go in before you?”

The kind gentleman graciously agreed, and the fellow and his son went in to Rav Shach’s room. The philanthropist watched through the open door as they approached the elderly rosh yeshiva at his table. Rav Shach said something to them and then stood up, walked to the door, closed it and locked it. The door remained locked for two and a half hours, while the famed philanthropist waited outside.

Finally, the door opened. The man remorsefully approached the dignified industrialist. “I am so sorry,” he said. “I had no idea it would take so long. I really thought it would only be a moment. Please be mochel me.”

“I forgive you,” he said, “but please tell me: What happened in there for two and a half hours?”

The man explained: “My fourteen-year-old son is having a hard time in yeshiva. He complains that he has no cheishek for learning. He’s a good boy and we agreed to go to Rav Shach to ask him for a bracha that he develop a cheishek for learning. When I told Rav Shach what our problem is and why we came, the elderly and weak rosh yeshiva got up to close and lock the door.

“Then he asked my son what masechta he is learning in yeshiva. My son said Bava Metziah. Rav Shach removed two Gemaros from the bookcases, one for himself and one for my son. With much love, he looked at my son and said, ‘If you don’t feel a geshmak in learning and if you learn without cheishek, it is because the Torah is not being taught to you correctly. You don’t understand the sugya, and that is why you have no cheishek. Let’s learn a sugya and you’ll see that you will have cheishek.”

Together, the gadol hador and the young boy sat down to learn, tasting the sweetness of Torah and experiencing the intense joy of havanah and the exhilaration of true ameilus.

For two and a half hours they learned. Nothing was important besides the Gemara, Rashi and Tosafos. Then, when the rosh yeshiva sensed that the boy understood the sugya and was finally learning with cheishek, he bid the boy and his father farewell.

The elderly leader, who carried a nation on his shoulders, knew that the wealthy man upon who supported many Torah institutions close to his heart was waiting outside. The rosh yeshiva had his own shiurim to prepare and many issues required his attention. But the most important thing in the world to him was that a bochur zol kenen lernen mit cheishek. He didn’t forget his goal. He didn’t ignore his mission.

Everyone is concerned about the political situation in Israel. People are concerned about the looming military draft of yeshiva bochurim, and the bill the Israeli cabinet approved this week to effect that; as well as the draconian budget cuts to yeshivos, and the weakening of the role of halacha in the Jewish state. But at the same time, we must remember what it is that we are fighting for: az ah bochur zol kenen lernen mit cheishek.

What are our priorities? What are our goals? What is it that we desire? What is it that we aspire to? 

We are in a period in the Jewish year when we are instructed to conduct ourselves a certain way, reflecting the mourning we feel within. Chazal direct us not to eat meat or listen to music. However, it is possible to observe all the halachos and refrain from all forbidden activities, and yet not experience the mournful feeling that our actions are meant to express.

The goal of the Nine Days is not to be deprived, but rather to be aware of what we lack and what we are missing by being in golus.

Being in jail is dreadful. Even the so-called “country club jails” are awful, sad places. Though they are not surrounded by barbed wire and filled with dangerous criminals, they are not home. Every waking moment, a person incarcerated there is reminded that he is not home.

The prisoners have a certain degree of freedom in their dormitory-like rooms and can walk about the campus unencumbered, but the knowledge that they are not home is a constant punishment.

Children go to sleep-away camp, where nowadays they don’t lack many creature comforts, yet they get homesick. Camp is great. It’s a lot of fun. Campers get to meet other youngsters from all over, swim, play ball, and go on exotic trips. But it’s not home. They get homesick and call up their parents crying that they want to come home.

The campers receive packages from home, letters and cards, and after being away for a whole week and a half, their parents sit through what feels like endless traffic to spend time with them on visiting day.

The prisoners, and lehavdil the campers, are comforted in their longing by remembering home, thinking about home, and getting updates and packages from home. Yet, we, the Jewish people, are so far removed from home. We don’t remember it. We have become accustomed to being imprisoned and don’t know what we are missing.

We live in historic times. Look at what is transpiring in Eretz Yisroel. On one hand, there is terrible suffering. There is constant in-fighting and the security situation is tenuous. The citizenry is suffering economically. Many can’t afford to feed their families. Secular Israeli culture is once again battling the chareidim as in days long forgotten.

Yet, somehow, amid all the despair and heartbreak, Hashem’s imprint is strikingly bold. Eretz Yisroel is a land of kedushah. In cities as disparate as Be’er Sheva, Ramle and Dimona, and in every other spiritually downtrodden area of the country, there are eruptions of kedushah. Even as politicians battle and deliver bombastic statements against the chareidi community, there is a yearning for Yiddishkeit. The teshuvah movement continues to grow.

The Chazon Ish once remarked, “Hasinah sheyeish bahem hu machmas kedushah sheyeish bahem - The deep animosity and mistrust that secular Israelis feel toward their religious counterparts stem from an innate Jewish holiness.”

The opposite of love is indifference. Hate is a sign of care, and passionate hate is a sign of passionate care. The friction in Israel indicates that the time is ripe for devoted p’eylut.

Yes, there is certainly good news to report in Eretz Yisroel. News that has gotten lost amidst the sea of negative reporting that seems to be our daily fare. The estranged people of Israel are yearning for Torah and for emes.

Although there is much kicking and shouting in public, deep down there is love and brotherhood. Away from the spotlight of the media and politicians, people are trying to get along, attempting to bring the light of Torah to those who live in darkness, who are so close to kedushah yet so far removed from it. Those who have their priorities straight haven’t lost sight of the goal.

Rav Azriel Auerbach, familiar to our readers from his halachic teshuvos published here weekly, visited America last week on behalf of Lev L’Achim. Speaking at the organization’s annual asifa in Lakewood, he said, “People ask me why I left Eretz Yisroel for the first time in my life. They ask how I could leave if my father and father-in-law never left.

“I answer them that the reason to live in Eretz Yisroel, and the reason to refrain from leaving, is to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel. But if tens of thousands of children are going to public school every day in Eretz Yisroel and do not even know how to say Shema Yisroel, how much is missing from yishuv Eretz Yisroel!

“The posuk [Vayikra 18, 28] says, ‘Velo soki ha’aretz es’chem betama’achem ossah,’ tumah and aveiros cause the opposite of yishuv Eretz Yisroel.   

“If Lev L’Achim will be helped, they will be able to bring thousands of Jews to a life of Torah umitzvos. That will surely enhance yishuv Eretz Yisroel. I did not come here despite the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel. I am here to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel!”

Three times a day, following the recital of Shemoneh Esrei, we ask, “Yehi ratzon sheyiboneh Bais Hamikdosh bimeheirah beyomeinuvesein chelkeinu beSorasecha.” We pray for the Bais Hamikdosh to be restored and to receive our proper share of Torah.

The Vilna Gaon explains that we will only receive our share in Torah when the Mikdosh is rebuilt, because in the absence of the Bais Hamikdosh, although we study Torah, it is but a reflected light. In a time of churban, the essence of Torah is lacking.

We are surrounded by blessings. We can learn in peace from beautiful seforim and we can listen to shiurim delivered by gifted maggidei shiur in attractive botei medrash, but we aren’t home.

We enjoy our families amidst summer’s laid-back pace, with the sun shining brightly in the background, but we aren’t home.

We are surrounded by relative peace and tranquility, free to live our lives as we please and serve Hashem, but we aren’t home.

We are homesick. We want to go home. We daven and cry out to Hashem, “Please, come and take us home. Please come soon. We can’t take it here anymore.”

For our priorities and goals to be properly realized, we need to be home, with the Bais Hamikdosh rebuilt. May we see it soon, speedily in our day.