Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Jewish Scent

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


Once again, in this week’s parsha, we read an account portrayed in just a few pesukim which reverberates through the ages. This week, in Parshas Toldos, we study the exchange between Yaakov and Eisov which eternally defines the role of Jews in golus and draws the lines of an eternal division bein Yisroel lo’amim.

Every year, as the baal kriah reads how Yaakov Avinu, clad in the shaggy coat of his brother, enters his father’s chamber, our heartbeats quicken. We wonder how his father would accept him.

We then hear how Yitzchok Avinu, unable to see, touched Yaakov and felt the hair of his coat, proclaiming, “The gentle speech and mannerisms are that of Yaakov, but the hands are those of Eisov.”

Limited as his vision was, Yitzchok sensed something else. The posuk relates that when he kissed Yaakov, Yitzchok smelled his rei’ach and vayevurcheihu, blessed him. Rashi states that though the cloak was made of goat skin, which generally has an awful odor, the fragrance of Gan Eden entered the room with Yaakov.

The posuk continues that upon noting that scent, Yitzchok proclaimed, “Reiach beni kereiach hasodeh asher beircho Hashem.Rashi quotes the Chazal that Yaakov smelled of an apple orchard. Upon sensing the fragrance of the orchard, Yitzchok determined that Yaakov deserved the brachos of “Veyiten lecha.” Those brachos have endured through the ages - yiten veyachzor veyiten - and continue to sustain us.

The Darkei Moshe quotes the Maharil, who says that this is the reason we dip an apple in honey on Rosh Hashanah: “kedei lirmoz al sedei tapuchim hayoduah.” Yitzchok smelled the chakal tapuchim as Yaakov appeared before him for the brachos.

It is interesting to note that the Vilna Gaon in Shulchan Aruch [O.C. 583] states that it is well known that the story transpired on Rosh Hashanah. Apparently this is based on the Zohar in Emor 99b.

The sweet scent of the orchard is what made the difference in Yaakov receiving the eternal blessings.

If we approach this week’s parsha properly, we can learn a powerful lesson. We all know that we are judged by our words and actions. This week we find that we are also judged by our scent.

The intangibles and nuances of Yiddishkeit are what define us. One can be a great tzaddik, accomplished in deed and learning, but if he is lacking that “shmeck,” if something doesn’t smell right, he isn’t worthy of brochah.

We are always being judged. As soon as a religious Jew steps out of his home in the morning wearing his yarmulka and distinctive dress, he is being studied, scrutinized and observed.

The smell of Gan Eden is acquired by living a life of Torah and mitzvos, by being proper, kind, gentle and honest. Everything we do has to be beyond reproach. We have to be people about whom others can say that they sense the reiach of Gan Eden. We have to be people about whom others say that they see upon us the blessings of Hashem.

Rav Meir Shapiro traveled to America to raise funds for his yeshiva, Chachmei Lublin. He visited several cities, soliciting donations from supporters of Torah. One of his hosts recounted that before leaving the house, the Lubliner Rov would stand in front of a mirror and brush his beard. The host was stunned.

Noticing the sense of wonderment, the great rosh yeshiva explained his actions.

“Here in America, there are many people from the old country who have discovered a new way of life. Many have left the path of their parents and grandparents from the old country, tragically veering off in a different direction. At the speeches I deliver in the cities I visit, I notice people who fit that description sitting in the audience. Some even bring their children to hear me speak.

“It is likely that they come because with my rabbonishe hat, coat and long beard, I remind them of the rabbonim of their youth. As much as they try to acclimate to the new world, they miss the old one. I might be the only European rov their children have ever seen. I want the experience to be as effective as possible. I want to etch into their memory and conscience as positive an image as possible of an old-fashioned rov.”

The Lubliner Rov lived a life of perfection in deed and thought. The subtleties and intangibles were equally beautiful, so that the scent of the garden never left him.

The Torah is composed of halachos and dinim, but not every situation is directly addressed in Shulchan Aruch. In situations such as those, an appreciation for the middah which constitutes the reiach of an ehrliche Yid is needed. It is in those times that people who are truly committed to the Yiddishkeit of Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid reflect the beauty of the Torah way of life in the way they comport themselves.

This mode of conduct is what Shlomo Hamelech refers to in his admonition not to depart from your mother’s teachings: “Al titosh Toras imecha (Mishlei 1:8). The messages of a mother comprise the spirit of Torah. It is interesting to note that Yaakov Avinu embodied the middah of emitting the pleasant reiach specifically after following the direction of his mother to enter Yitzchok’s room, fulfilling the dictum of “Al titosh Toras imecha.

When we are asked questions by outsiders, we should ensure that we speak in a way that will generate Kiddush Hashem and not, chalilah, the opposite. Torah and mitzvos are not bargaining chips. They are a way of life. When politicians come around tempting us to support them, we should let them know that we follow an ancient creed and we are not for sale. We don’t always go with the winner. We have more pride than that. We have values and principles that are not for sale.

When people turn to us for advice and counsel, and look up to us for guidance, we should present a proper tower of faith and always behave in an upstanding fashion.

For a most inspiring example of how we can engage the outside world while maintaining a value system and living by its dictates, we need look no further than Reb Moshe Reichmann zt”l, a global figure with business interests in many realms and countries, but first and foremost an ambassador of Toras imecha.

Whoever dealt with him sensed the reiach hasodeh. They saw the seriousness on Reb Moshe’s face and understood that this was a man with a higher calling. They blessed him and they trusted him, for they knew he was a scion of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. They knew he wouldn’t lie, cheat or take advantage of anyone.

In his business dealings, he was a gentleman of stature, dignity and integrity. In tzedakah, he was a trailblazer, setting the bar and standard of what is demanded of the wealthy, going to unprecedented lengths in supporting the poor and needy. He was an unparalleled builder of Torah, establishing and supporting yeshivos, kollelim and Bais Yaakovs throughout Klal Yisroel, never seeking anything for himself.

At the levaya, Rav Yaakov Michoel Hirschman spoke of the Motzoei Shabbos he escorted someone seeking a donation for a worthy cause to the Reichmann home. Reb Moshe gave the man $250,000. An hour later, another person went to see Reb Moshe for a different cause and also received a $250,000 check. Rav Hirschman said that it was just a regular Motzoei Shabbos, and that’s how Reb Moshe was.

Wealthy, yet simple. Regal, yet humble. He was blessed with a huge heart, a brilliant mind, the wherewithal to assist so many, and the burning desire to create a reiach nichoach lifnei Hashem.

One year, right before Pesach, he completed a successful business deal. The first thing he did was send Maran Rav Elazar Menachem Shach $3 million to distribute to Bnei Brak’s needy to brighten their Yom Tov. He felt that since he had earned that money before Yom Tov, it was granted to him so that he can benefit others, enhancing their Yom Tov. That is a person with a reiach nichoach.

He thought in large terms, never compromising on excellence. No mission was impossible to complete.

Over thirty years ago, an expectant Yerushalmi woman became seriously ill. Her husband rushed to the Steipler Gaon in Bnei Brak, begging him to daven for his wife’s health. The Steipler told the man that he wasn’t able to help him, but that there was someone else who could. “Go travel to Reb Moshe Reichmann and ask him to daven for you,” he said.

This story transpired years before Moshe Reichmann was a household name. The man thus asked the Steipler who he was referring to and why he was sending him to this person. The Steipler responded, “He lives in Toronto. Go there and find him. Ihr darft em betten. Ehr ken poilin.

The Steipler explained that the Gemara says in Maseches Pesachim (49b), “Lo motzah talmid chochom, yisah bas gedolei hador.” Therefore, he said, “You should go to him and ask him to daven for you.”

Many years later, the man was in Toronto and introduced himself to Mr. Reichmann, confident that he would remember him and the time the Steipler said that his tefillos have much value. Reb Moshe was so humble, he did not recall the episode.

When Israeli mosdos haTorah were threatened by financial deficits several decades ago, he made up the difference and saved the world of Torah. He didn’t just give, he gave happily. He made himself available for collectors, never talking down to anyone. Every Toronto institution knew that he would cover their deficit. And when his business experienced a downturn and he lost billions of dollars, he didn’t sulk in a corner. He felt that he had the responsibility to keep the local mosdos afloat until they could regain their bearings. He himself went around soliciting on their behalf. And to the extent that he was able to, he contributed.

His investment in Canary Warf imploded along with much of his wealth shortly before Shabbos. He told his wife what happened, and that Shabbos was conducted as usual. There was no way to discern from his demeanor that he had experienced an enormous loss. Word had not yet spread of what had transpired and meshulochim lined up outside his door that Motzoei Shabbos. He sat in his room as he always had, happily writing checks. Though the amounts were much smaller than what he had previously given, he was happy nonetheless.

His shlichus was to be a giver, and although he had experienced a loss that would have broken smaller men, he was happy that Hashem allowed him to continue his mission. That is a person with a reiach nichoach.

A prominent Toronto chessed personality and confidant of his accompanied hundreds of needy individuals to the Reichmann home over the years. He related that although Mr. Reichmann was always generous, what most touched him was not the size of the check. Nor was it the way he patiently listened to the pitch, respectfully asking questions and displaying a genuine interest in the cause.

What this person found most touching was the way Reb Moshe would walk each visitor to the door and help them into their coat, offering them a parting message about their own significance. The askan recounted how the people he would accompany left the Reichmann home feeling ten feet tall, ready to take on the world, certain that their particular cause was a special one.

Reb Moshe managed to imbue them with chizuk to go on, not only with words and actions. With his bearing and conduct he transmitted a strong unspoken message, enabling fundraisers to have the self-confidence to continue in their missions and visit benevolent Jews in the tzedakah-capital of Toronto.

Mr. Reichmann worked his way up the economic ladder. Following the war, he learned in England, Mir and Ponovezh, where he was beloved by his rabbeim and chaveirim. Recognizing his talents, Rav Avrohom Kalmanowitz dispatched him to Morocco to direct the local Otzar Hatorah school. He improved the yeshiva and attracted one thousand children to be educated in the ways of Torah. He established schools throughout that country for thousands more. In fact, The New York Times, in a glowing obituary, wrote that “in an interview with Institutional Investor [in the year 2000], Mr. Reichmann said his business accomplishments had never given him the sense of fulfillment he experienced as a youthful” mechanech back then.

When he immigrated to Canada, Reb Moshe settled first in Montreal, where his initial commercial efforts didn’t meet with much success. The Satmar Rebbe came to town, and when they met, the Rebbe asked the young Moshe Reichmann how business was going. Reb Moshe told the Rebbe that he wasn’t doing too well. He said that although the opportunities for success were better in Toronto, he remained in Montreal for the chinuch of his children.

The Satmar Rebbe advised Reb Moshe to move to Toronto and told him not to worry about his children. They would do well there as well, the Rebbe said, assuring him that his children would make him proud. The brochah went on to be fulfilled in a most obvious fashion. There is something special about the entire family, a mishpacha of elegance, grace, tznius and genuine achrayus to Klal Yisroel, children and ainiklach who stand as tall as the buildings he built.

In his hesped at the levaya, Rav Yaakov Michoel Hirschman recounted that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l told him that Toronto is a meritorious city because Reb Moshe Reichmann lives there.

It can be said that he possessed the “reiach hasodeh asher beircho Hashem.”

Several years ago, I read a book that recounts heroic tales of the Holocaust, describing what transpired when the Nazis arrived in Kelm and the Yidden there knew that their end was near. They were rounded up and marched out to their certain deaths. Rav Doniel Movoshovitz of Kelm asked for permission to return home one last time. Once permission was granted, he went home, brushed his teeth and then returned to the lineup.

Calmly and softly, Rav Doniel explained that the Yidden were going to be offered as korbanos tzibbur. A korban tzibbur, he said, is described as bearing a reiach nicho’ach, a pleasant smell.

“I wanted to be sure that as a korban, I will have that reiach nicho’ach, so I went home to brush my teeth,” said Rav Doniel.

He then proceeded to address the other korbanos tzibur, preparing them for their holy mission.

Rav Doniel, Rav Gershon Miadnik and Rav Kalman Beinishevitz led the talmidei hayeshiva and residents of Kelm in the singing of Adon Olam and ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu as they returned their holy souls to their Maker.

The Kelmers lived lives of reiach nichoach, attracting talmidim from all over and inspiring generations. Their tragic petirah was also a reiach nichoach, a kapparah and a source of merit for the rest of Am Yisroel.

When the famed mashgiach, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt”l, was niftar, Rav Doniel delivered a hesped. He recounted that during the First World War, the Slabodka Yeshiva was exiled from Lithuania to Kremenchuk in Ukraine. When the war ended, the Alter of Slabodka sent a telegram to his talmid, Rav Yeruchom, asking him to reopen the yeshiva in Slabodka so that when the talmidim would return, they wouldn’t come to an empty shell, but to a flourishing yeshiva.

Rav Yeruchom, who combined the grandeur of Kelm and the gadlus ha’odom of Slabodka, rode the train to its last stop in the capitol city of Kovno. From there he set out to walk to Slabodka, a distance of a half hour. As he began walking, people saw him and began flocking to him. His regal stature and comportment were magnetic. Storekeepers who saw him walking by closed their shops and approached him. Before long, there was a trail of shoemakers, smiths, grocers, peddlers and young boys following Rav Yeruchom as he walked from Kovno to reopen the Slabodka Yeshiva.

By the time they reached the building, there were three hundred people with him. He led them into the yeshiva.

Rav Doniel recalled that they cleaned up the building and Rav Yeruchom delivered a shmuess. When he finished, the 300 people sat down and began to learn. Thus, the world-famed Slabodka Yeshiva was reestablished, and from there Torah emanated to the entire world.

They followed Rav Yeruchom because they sensed in him the reiach nichoach of the chakal tapuchin. They followed him because the aroma was too strong to resist. It was a scent of authenticity, sincerity and truth, the fragrance of their fathers and grandfathers.

A bochur once informed his rebbi that he was leaving yeshiva. He said that he was going to sign up for the United States military, where he intended to distinguish himself as a marine. He told his rebbi that he wouldn’t miss the yeshiva, or frum life for that matter, saying, “They don’t speak to me at all.”

The rebbi quickly sized up the boy, who had grown up in a fine home and had attended good yeshivos.

“You say that you are sure that you will not miss the rituals and practices of Yahadus,” the rebbi remarked. “Please do me a favor and imagine your first morning in the barracks, surrounded by people who never learned in yeshiva, to say the least. Think about the smells - the sweat of hardworking soldiers, perhaps the odor of a cheeseburger or pork rinds mixed in. Then think of the smells you’ll be leaving behind.

“Think of the slight hint of esrog your hands absorb by the second day of Sukkos. Think of the smell of the s’chach. Think of Chanukah’s fragrance of olive oil burning late into the night and frying latkes. Imagine Purim’s unique aroma of red wine soaking through tablecloths. On Erev Pesach, you breathe in the sweet spring air and get a whiff of fire coming from every direction. Then think of the special smell of the matzos themselves. Think about how much you’ll miss that.”

The bochur was quiet as he contemplated the reality, imagining the various scents of the Jewish year, and he nodded slowly.

“Okay,” he told his rebbi, “you win.” 

The boy unpacked his stuff and returned to his seat in the bais medrash, along with the familiar smell of a well-worn Gemara he pulled off the shelf and the binding tape that held it together.

Chazal tell us that the sense of smell is spiritual. It is pleasing to the neshomah. Even if this bochur’s guf was frustrated, his neshomah wasn’t about to give up on the lovely scent of avodah and the reiach nichoach of Yiddishkeit.

Talmidei chachomim and great men always knew how to conduct themselves in a manner that allowed the Torah they acquired to be reflected. The ways of Torah are pleasant. “Derocheha darchei noam.”

A friend of mine walked past the mikvah in the Shaarei Chesed neighborhood of Yerushalayim one Erev Shabbos. The great gaon, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, was leaving the building as someone right behind him was asking him a halacha question. Before answering the question, Rav Shlomo Zalman stopped at the door and turned to the simple Sefardic Jew who sat at a table near the mikvah’s entrance. In addition to taking the mikvah gelt, it was the man’s task to heat the mikvah and ensure that there were enough towels. It was apparent on his face that he took great pride in his job,

As he was about to leave, Rav Shlomo Zalman leaned over and patted the fellow on the shoulder. “Hamikvah hayom hayah achla,’” he said, using the slang term borrowed from Arabic which means “wonderful.” The attendant’s face lit up. The gadol hador had found words to please him, reaching beyond his vast repository of Torah and tapping into the reiach nichoach to lift the heart of another Jew.

An encounter with a great person, a gadol, is to breathe in the reiach nichoach, which different people experience on diverse levels.

Biographies of many roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, rebbes and all types of good Jews feature different versions of the same story: how non-Jewish workers and storeowners came and mourned at their funerals, and how even people oblivious to the niftar’s levels in Torah and avodah were saddened by their passing.

The scent that Yaakov Avinu emitted while in that chamber can be reflected in so many ways. It can be expressed in middos, in conduct, in honesty and in temperament. The recently departed Reb Moshe Reichmann was a person who demonstrated how a Jew in business ought to smell. . He felt that he was an emissary of the Jewish people and always ensured, even at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, that none of his actions could in any way cause a chillul Hashem. He gave off the aroma of a person who is entrenched in the words of sifrei halacha and mussar coupled with the splendor of Zevulun.

Thus, he merited the brachos that Zevulun earns for supporting the Yissochors. In fact, at the levaya, it was noted that it was this family, the Reichmanns, who first embodied the concept of hachzokas Torah in the modern era. They didn’t merely help Torah. They were machzik it. They strengthened and encouraged and actively inspired those involved in disseminating it. Their prosperity was a tool which they used to make the world a much better place to the degree that Rav Shach said he would want to sit with Reb Moshe in Gan Eden. There is no doubt that they are together now, being neheneh miziv haShechinah.

Sifrei chassidus offer insight into the sodeh to which Yitzchok referred when he said that Yaakov’s aroma was that of a field - “reiach beni kereiach hasodeh.”

Last week, in Parshas Chayei Sarah, we read that when Rivkah was brought to Yitzchok, the chosson was deep in prayer: “Vayeitzei Yitzchok losuach basodeh (Bereishis 24:63).

His tefillos in the field at that time were no doubt those of a Jew about to build his home. They were the tefillos of a chosson under the chupah, constituting the eternal plea of “Vezakeini legadel bonim uvnei vonim…zera kodesh baHashem d’veikim.

When Yaakov entered his room, Yitzchok sensed the effects of the prayer he had offered as a chosson so many years earlier. “Here,” he says. “In this son I feel the scent of the sodeh, the results of those tefillos.

Yaakov Avinu was the av, the father, of those who engage in commerce as a means to serve Hashem. Meforshim explain that Yaakov embodied many middos, including the middah of bechol me’odecha, the mandate to love Hashem with all our possessions.

Yaakov Avinu is the one who promised to donate maaser of his possessions to Hashem (Bereishis 28:22). From him we derive the valuable lesson that “tzaddikim chavivin mamonom, tzaddikim cherish their possessions. Upon his return from Lavan to face Eisov (Bereishis 32:25), he went back to retrieve pachim ketanim, small vessels, which had been left behind. He did so because his way in life was to raise the physical gashmiyus to the spiritual ruchniyus. To him, everything had the potential for elevation and was thus holy and worth recovering.

That trait is evident in effective mechanchim, who recognize the potential in every student. Mr.  Reichmann, who excelled in his shlichus as a mechanech, never lost the ability to appreciate and recognize even those things in which others saw little value.

And as he did, he maintained a hint of the coveted sodeh, the fragrance of a life revolving around the middah of bechol me’odecha. Perhaps it was that zechus that allowed him to build like few others, having the merit of supporting so many yeshivos, kollelim, mosdos and individuals.

The fragrance of serving Hashem bechol me’odecha is still found among us even after these many years in golus, as evidenced by Mr. Reichmann and those like him who dedicate their lives to helping and supporting others.

He and they demonstrate the beauty of those who walk in the ways of the avos, not compromising their values and helping others who are less fortunate.

He showed the way, an example for all people, teaching us that we can elevate ourselves, our lives and our possessions to create a reiach nichoach laHashem.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Who Are You?

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As we study the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis, we must learn to develop proper perspectives. At the outset of the stories that are told regarding our forefathers, the Ramban (Bereishis 12:6) reminds us of Chazal’s admonition: “Ma’aseh avos simon labonim.” Seemingly regular occurrences are painted with the brush of eternity. The Torah’s recollection of stories that took place during the lives of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov reveal layers of significance in ordinary encounters.

In this week’s parsha, we read that Avrohom Avinu sent his trusted servant, Eliezer, to find an appropriate match for his son, Yitzchok. The journey and its subsequent lessons guide us, until this very day, through the daunting path of shidduchim.

The posuk (24:22) relates that when Eliezer determined that Rivkah was the girl who was destined to marry Yitzchok and become a mother of Klal Yisroel, he presented her with a golden nose ring, which weighed a beka, and two bracelets, which weighed ten zohov.

Rashi explains that the beka hinted to the shekolim of Klal Yisroel, regarding which the posuk says, “beka lagulgoles.” The two bracelets hinted at the two Luchos, and the “asarah zohov mishkolom” alluded to the Aseres Hadibros.

Rashi is teaching us that very often, things are not the way they appear to us at first glance. There is no way any person watching what was transpiring between Eliezer and Rivkah could have understood what was going on. It is only years later, in hindsight, with the aid of the Torah and its meforshim, that we are able to comprehend the entire shlichus and the manner in which Eliezer went about finding Yitzchok’s basherte.

Rivkah’s brother, Lavan, saw what Eliezer had given his sister and ran towards him, for he was impressed by the gold jewelry and the possessions with which Eliezer traveled. Most people are like Lavan, only seeing what is transpiring in a superficial manner and not thinking into the depth of what is going on. They don’t realize that everything that happens is from Hashem and therefore what occurs in this world may not really be what it appears to be.

Nothing happens without a reason. Although we are not always privy to understanding why we are placed in certain situations, we must know that Hashem caused that experience to transpire. It is our duty to be strong enough to withstand it and accept faithfully what comes our way. We must always use the strengths we are blessed with to fulfill Hashem’s will and to encourage and assist others to do the same.

There is always more going on than what meets the eye.

In last week’s parsha, we read that after the destruction of Sedom and Amorah, Avrohom looked out at the smoldering cities, “vayashkeif al pnei Sedom (Bereishis 19:28). It is interesting to note that the posuk uses the term “vayashkeif” to describe Avrohom Avinu’s gazing at the cities. Lehashkif denotes a deep, penetrating gaze. It implies looking and contemplating. He didn’t merely go there to glance indifferently as a tourist would. He stood there beholding the scene.

To most onlookers, the city was nothing more than a bastion of hedonism and immorality, inhabited by sadistic and selfish people. They were so vicious, they would kill a girl for the sin of offering hospitality to strangers. It was a place whose destruction most people would view as a cause for celebration.

Yet, our forefather Avrohom had a deeper perspective. He gazed into the town’s innermost soul, and what he saw there caused him to beg Hashem to have mercy upon them.

What did he see? The posuk states in Tehillim, “Motzosi Dovid avdi - I have found My servant Dovid.” Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 41:4) ask, “Heichon motzosi? Where did I find him? B’Sedom.” The roots of Dovid Hamelech were found in Sedom.

Dovid Hamelech descended from Rus, a daughter of Moav, one of the lone survivors of the destruction of Sedom. Moshiach ben Dovid emerged from Moav, a fulfillment of Avrohom Avinu’s vision and conviction that there was something good and holy in Sedom.

Rav Shlomke Zviller was well known as a holy person, detached from his surroundings and living on a different plane. Yerushalayim, where he resided, is a city with a tremendous number of stray cats. Old Yerushalayimers say that the rebbe would feed cats and display great kindness toward them.

The rebbe’s custom aroused the curiosity of many, but no one made anything of it. One day, his gabbai decided that he had to understand why the rebbe, whose time was so precious and who was only involved in holy acts, spent time with the cats. He began pestering the rebbe about his habit until the rebbe revealed his secret.

“I feed the cats because they have holy neshamos,” he said. “They are the gilgulim of chassidim who were involved in a certain bitter machlokes many years ago. They are sent here to achieve a tikkun for their neshamos.”

Sometimes, a person experiences terrible hardships and begins wondering what he did wrong to deserve such punishment. In the times of the Arizal, people who were facing adversity would approach the Arizal for assistance. Sometimes he would tell them that the torment they were living through was connected to their neshamos in a previous life and not brought on by anything they had done.

The Arizal was able to see beneath the surface and perceive the reason for people’s misfortune. He saw the blemishes on their soul that needed to be rectified.

A person in difficult straits approached Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach and shared his tale of woe. Rav Shach took out a Shabbos zemiros and turned to the zemer of Koh Ribon. He read aloud the words, “lu yichyeh gevar shenin alfin lo yei’ol gevurteich bechushbenaya.”

Rav Shach explained that these words mean that even if a man were to live for one thousand years, he would be unable to comprehend the cheshbonos of Hashem and the constant chassodim being performed for him.  

To emphasize his point, Rav Shach began a discussion about Akeidas Yitzchok. Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer states that Yitzchok Avinu’s neshomah left him at the Akeidah. The Zohar states that when Yitzchok was revived, Hashem sent him a different neshomah. He explains further that Yitzchok’s initial neshomah was one of bechinas nukvah, and had it remained, Yitzchok would not have been able to have children. The neshomah that Hashem sent him following the Akeidah was bechinas duchrah and was able to give birth.

Rav Shach told the broken man, “In other words, what the Zohar is saying is that if not for the Akeidah, Yitzchok would not have had children. It was due to the experience of the Akeidah that the bechinas nukvah was removed from Yitzchok and Klal Yisroel sprung forth from him. It is impossible for us mortal beings to understand why things are happening to us, to others and to the world, but we must know that everything that occurs is part of a clearly designed Divine plan.”

The Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo instructs us to appreciate each event and every moment of each day for the miracles they are and to realize the cosmic significance of whatever happens to us:

“In fact, this is the purpose of creation itself, for we have no other explanation of creation. Hashem has no desire except that man should know and acknowledge the Hashem Who created him… Through recalling the great revealed signs of Yetzias Mitzrayim, a person acknowledges the concealed signs of everyday life, which are the foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no share in the Torah of Moshe unless he believes that all our affairs and experiences are signs from Hashem, that there is no independent force of nature regarding either the community or the individual.”

The worst mistake we can make when we wake up in the morning and begin our day is to think that our actions, and our very being, don’t make a cosmic difference. A person’s most serious error is the belief that he isn’t part of a bigger picture. We may look at our friends and ourselves as being small and insignificant, however, we must be confident in the belief that our words and actions have unseen and untold affects on the world.

Reading and internalizing these parshiyos should invest us with a heightened sense of self-awareness.

The Kletzker Yeshiva was experiencing great financial difficulties and the rosh yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler, thought that there was a ray of light to rescue the yeshiva from its dire straits.  The great yeshiva of Volozhin was closed by the government and the building sat empty. Rav Aharon had an idea to move his yeshiva to that building.

Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach was then serving as a maggid shiur in the yeshiva. Rav Aharon sent him to Volozhin to see if he could obtain permission from the roshei yeshiva to move the Kletzker Yeshiva to their empty building.

Rav Shach returned from his mission on a Friday, just prior to the onset of Shabbos. He quickly prepared himself for Shabbos and made his way to the home of the mashgiach, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, to hear the weekly shmuess he delivered at that time.

When Rav Shach entered the room, Rav Chatzkel turned his attention to him and said, “Eved Avrohom anochi.” Rav Shach and everyone else who was listening to the shmuess looked at Rav Chatzkel in wonderment, trying to understand why he welcomed Rav Shach back with the words that Eliezer articulated in this week’s parsha.

The famed mashgiach explained: “Reb Leizer has just returned from performing a shlichus on behalf of the rosh yeshiva. Let me tell you what happened. He reached his destination and said, ‘I came to find out if it would be possible to transfer the yeshiva of Kletzk to here.’ The people asked him if he is the rosh yeshiva, but since he is an ish emes, he said, ‘No.’ They asked if he is the mashgiach, and again, he said, ‘No.’ ‘If so,’ they asked, ‘what is your role in the yeshiva?’ He answered, in his humility, that he is merely a maggid shiur in the yeshiva and that the rosh yeshiva sent him [to inquire about the building, but by then, it was too late. He hadn’t made the right impression.]”

Rav Chatzkel continued: “We see from the parsha that we should say right way, ‘Eved Avrohom anochi,’ as Eliezer presented himself in Besuel’s house. This is the greatest honor. ‘I am a maggid shiur in the yeshiva. I am a shliach of the rosh yeshiva.’ It is a mark of pride. Reb Leizer ought to have said, ‘Rav Aharon Kotler sent me!’ Then he might have been successful.”

Rav Chatzkel concluded, “Now ask him if that is what happened and you will see that it is.”

Rav Shach would repeat the story and say that everyone in the room was shocked at what Rav Chatzkel said, for he had depicted exactly what had transpired upon Rav Shach’s arrival in Volozhin.

“Rav Chatzkel didn’t arrive at his conclusion by way of ruach hakodesh,” Rav Shach would explain. “Rather, he arrived at his conclusion through chochmah derived from learning this week’s parsha and appreciating man’s kochos hanefesh.”

To be successful on a mission, the shliach must appreciate his own significance and worth. He has to announce himself appropriately, as did Eliezer. “Eved Avrohom anochi.”

Rav Chatzkel’s shmuess was one that found its mark. Anyone who listened to Rav Shach’s messages later in life, as he assumed his role as leader, captain and steward of the olam haTorah, saw that he was imbued with a shlichus.

He understood his role as the transmitter of the path of the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. He understood that he was an heir to his rebbi, the Brisker Rov, and his uncle, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer. All his drashos, shmuessen and directives were delivered against a backdrop of “Eved Avrohom anochi.” Like Eliezer, Rav Leizer Shach was charged with a mission and he recognized it.

Every one of us is charged with a shlichus. There are so few of us and so much darkness to dispel. We all have our jobs and missions. No matter what they are, we should perform them with great pride.

Rav Yankel Galinsky was imprisoned in Siberia by the communists during the period of the Second World War. He related that one of his cellmates was a Polish national whom he noticed waking up in the middle of the night, every night. As he watched him in the darkness, he could faintly see the man bending down to reach under his own bed, putting on a set of clothing and standing immobile. After standing that way for a minute or two, the fellow would remove whatever it was he had put on, place it under his bed, and go back to sleep.

Intrigued, Rav Yankel asked the Pole what this strange custom was. The fellow prisoner wouldn’t answer, but the future maggid persisted and finally got an explanation.

“In Poland,” the man told him, “I was a general in the army. Here, as a prisoner of the Russians, they attempt to break and dehumanize me. I won’t let them. I don’t want to ever forget who I really am, what I represent, and what I will yet be. So, under the cover of darkness, I take a few moments each night to put on my military uniform and contemplate what it means to be a general. That way, they will never break me.”

Though we are in golus, each of us is a general. Every action has import and carries weight. Our words and deeds reflect our regal essence. The parshiyos we study these weeks inspire us to recognize who we are, bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. They remind us of the implicit obligations in our lofty status.

The Gemara tells us that Shlomo Hamelech experienced suffering at the hands of Ashmedai, king of the demons, and ended up alone and anonymous. The Gemara recounts that Shlomo went from being ruler of the universe, to ruling over people, to ultimately only ruling over his staff and cloak. He was reduced to knocking on doors, insisting that he was a king.

The baalei mussar point out that throughout all his travails, despite all that he had lost, Shlomo remained a king. Molach al maklo. He never lost the self-perception of his own royalty.

We sometimes forget who we are, our innate value, and the inherent holiness we possess.

Rav Michel Shurkin recalled that when he was a bochur learning in Yeshiva Bais Hatalmud, there was a simple woman who worked in the yeshiva kitchen. Every time one of the yeshiva bochurim would walk into the room, the elderly woman would rise to her feet in deference to their status as bnei Torah. Her obvious reverence for the Torah and those who study it was a marked contrast to the prevalent attitude at that time, when yeshivos and yeshiva bochurim weren’t especially respected.

One day, Rav Shurkin decided to ask this woman where she had developed her refined value system. He writes that she told him one word and all his questions were answered.

“What town do you originate from?” he asked her.

The cook responded, “I am from Kelm.”

Kelm was a small hamlet, but everyone there appreciated the role and significance of a Yid, a mitzvah, and, of course, a ben Torah.

May these parshiyos open our eyes causing us to become more introspective and capable of recognizing who we really are.

Eved Avrohom anochi.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Non-Compromising Orthodoxy

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The memoirs of former Knesset member Rabbi Shlomo Lorencz are replete with anecdotes and encounters that underscore the acuity and foresight of gedolei Yisroel.
In his book, Bemechitzosom, he discusses the time an Israeli army chaplain posed a question to the Chazon Ish concerning a soldier who was engaged to be married. The army schedule precluded him from arranging any time off for a wedding, the chaplain said.
The chosson was finally approaching a furlough, which would allow him to celebrate his long-awaited matrimony. However, his break fell during Sefirah, the period in the Jewish calendar when weddings are not held.
The chaplain asked if an exception could be made to make the wedding during the days of Sefirah. He argued that if the wedding couldn’t be held during Sefirah it would have to be delayed for a very long time, perhaps an exception to the general rule could be made.
The Chazon Ish responded that he could approve having the wedding during Sefirah, but with a caveat: It could be held on any date except the fifth of Iyar. Rabbi Lorencz, who witnessed the exchange, was surprised by the p’sak. He made a face, but the Chazon Ish simply smiled back at him.
The great gaon explained that the chaplain’s question wasn’t really about Sefirah. It was about Zionist legitimacy. The Chazon Ish perceived that the question was a sly attempt by the Zionist leadership to help achieve acceptance of Israel’s national Independence Day as a Yom Tov. They hit upon this question as a way to produce a “heter” from the revered rabbinic figure for weddings to be held on that day, despite the injunction of Sefirah, a de facto admission that the 5 Iyar Independence Day had halachic status of a Yom Tov.
Rabbi Lorencz recounted in his diary that the chaplain was very upset with the Chazon Ish’s ruling that the wedding may be held on any day of Sefirah except the fifth of Iyar. His sad face revealed his true intentions and the penetrating wisdom of the Chazon Ish.
Last week, Rabbi Asher Lopatin was officially installed as president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT). Last month, we commented on the fact that the noteworthy aspect of his installation was a so-called rabbinic roundtable titled “Training Real Rabbis for a New Generation,” featuring the leadership of Hebrew Union College, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Hebrew College, plus a female Reform rabbi from the Wexner Foundation, along with Rabbi Lopatin.
To promote their agenda and spit in the face of Orthodox conduct and practice, they held a roundtable with clergy who don’t follow halacha. That may be their prerogative. The question is why the group that proudly veers from Orthodoxy insists on being called Orthodox.
Essentially, for all their talk about openness and progressiveness, they crave the legitimacy conferred by Orthodoxy. They cavort with the open-minded intelligentsia, yet refuse to give up the branding of the denomination of Judaism that is thriving and is destined to survive.
When Lopatin was chosen to serve as YCT’s new president, we were optimistic that under his leadership, YCT would chart a corrective course. Perhaps we erred. He might put a nicer face on the school’s agenda, but it remains the same and, if anything, is now more dangerous than ever.
Though such programming is typical of YCT and its Open Orthodox movement, to begin his presidency chatting about rabbis - religious leaders, by definition - with four heretics who deny the divinity of Torah says a lot about what can be expected from him or the institution.
Whose Orthodoxy does he see himself addressing?
Certainly not the Orthodoxy of Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky and the eleven roshei yeshiva who left no wiggle room in their 1956 landmark p’sak forbidding cooperation with non-Orthodox movements. Does he see himself as heir to the Orthodoxy of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who forbade joining with non-Orthodox movements for theological debate? Apparently not.
So which Orthodoxy is YCT so eager to be part of? Perhaps it is that they merely wish to tap into what’s right and good about Orthodoxy - its dynamism, appeal and future - but not the halachos that define it.
Responding to published concerns about the message delivered by the non-Orthodox roundtable, Lopatin told JTA, “We can’t be afraid of criticism; we have to do the right thing. Everyone’s going to criticize us anyway for everything... What does Open Orthodoxy mean? It’s first of all feeling confident enough that you’re open to entertaining questions and challenges, you’re not afraid of them.”
Obviously, by offering feel-good platitudes, Rabbi Lopatin displays that he has no substantive defense for what he did. Yet, JTA reports that “The question of how Chovevei treats non-Orthodox Jews is far more important to Lopatin than how Chovevei is treated by the Orthodox. Though Lopatin wants Chovevei connected to the Orthodox world, including haredi Jews, he says it cannot come at the cost of compromise to the yeshiva’s ideology of ‘open Orthodoxy.’”
He will do nothing to compromise the fuzzy ideals of Open Orthodoxy, yet he has no problem compromising the precepts of the Torah, mesorah and halacha. He and his school have no problem associating themselves with staff, leaders, students and alumni who have staked out positions that are diametrically opposed to Orthodox thought and tradition.
Lopatin tells the New York Jewish Week, “I do think that in any school of higher learning, men and women should be learning from each other. So we are starting an evening seder on Monday nights where we are going to partner with maharats [women rabbis]. I do think it’s a loss for men and women to be segregated. If the maharat program is successful, and it does change the dynamic, then we’ll have to look to find more ways to be studying together.”
Rabbi Lopatin’s recent defense of Rabbi Zev Farber, an Open Orthodox rabbinic leader who denies Torah Min HaShomayim, and his statements to Tablet Magazine this past summer that he would love to have YCT join with non-Orthodox seminaries into one campus, are disappointing. Even though Rabbi Lopatin stated, “I want to make sure Chovevei Torah is an integral part of the Orthodox world,” his other comments and actions indicate quite the contrary.
In the Yated, we have showcased the history of YCT and Open Orthodoxy’s extensive and growing list of deviations from Torah Judaism, such as granting semichah to women, conducting services led by women in Open Orthodox shuls, accepting and promoting lifestyles that the Torah refers to as to’eivah, conducting interfaith programs banned by all poskim, retaining people who openly deny Torah Min HaShomayim as rabbinic leaders, and changing parts of davening to conform with a pluralistic liberal agenda.
In the past, we have written that YCT and those who adhere to its philosophy should not be considered Orthodox and should not be afforded its benefits. Every public step the group takes strengthens our position. Though the Young Israel movement blocks YCT graduates from assuming pulpits in its member synagogues and the RCA doesn’t grant them membership in its rabbinic organization, YCT and Open Orthodoxy are still perceived as Orthodox and treated as such.
The question remains: After so much deviation from Torah, halacha and mesorah, why does YCT and the Open Orthodox movement insist on referring to themselves as Orthodox? Their deviations are reminiscent of the Conservative movement at its founding, when its leaders proclaimed a progressive fidelity to halacha. Addressing this phenomenon - their desperate need to be considered Orthodox - we suggest two possible factors.
Firstly, YCT’s rabbis have, in general, been careful to obtain some type of halachic sanction for their actions or ensure that their actions are halachically sound. For example, Rabbi Farber relies on the halachic rulings of Rabbi Avi Weiss’ book, Women at Prayer, to justify feminist davening rituals, and Yeshivat Maharat, the YCT affiliate that gives women semichah, relies on Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber, who calls himself an Orthodox posek yet serves as the chancellor of the non-Orthodox Canadian Rabbinical School. Rabbi Farber, with his Yodin Yodin semichah from YCT, has likewise issued halachic rulings to somewhat sanction to’eivah activities and tamper with davening to serve feminist goals. Despite the fact that Open Orthodoxy’s “poskim” are radical, fringe rabbis, who do not have any halachic gravitas in the Orthodox world, Open Orthodoxy feels justified in its actions due to the blessings and heteirim of its rabbis.
Other objectionable actions of Open Orthodoxy, such as its interfaith programs and pulpit exchanges and rabbinic interactions with non-Orthodox clergy, are defended by them as non-halachic and therefore permissible.
What is so obviously missing in all they do is a sense of mesorah - that there are actions and attitudes that violate the spirit of Torah and are contrary to the way ehrliche Yidden have conducted themselves throughout the centuries. One of the very many examples is the concept of mechitzah, which is so basic to the way we daven and lead our lives and which is based on the structure of the Bais Hamikdosh, where men and women were separated.
The application of mechitzah as a halachic concept is based on mesorah, and although it does not appear in the Torah, it is as an absolute requirement for tefillah. There is a mesorah for how we daven, how we think, and how we act. The attitudinal aspects of Torah life are wholly based on mesorah, not on anyone’s whim or fancy. Mesorah doesn’t bend to conform to any zeitgeist or prevailing social theory.
Open Orthodoxy has gone down the road of Judaism without mesorah. So long as there is no technical halachic violation (according to left-wing fringe “poskim” or an unaccepted daas yochid from years past), YCT’s rabbis give the go-ahead.
In Lopatin’s mind, apparently, holding strong against deviation of a Divine script is a sign of weakness. He writes, “Think about it: Why should the huge Hareidi community fear a few women - on the women’s side of the Kotel wearing a tallit and singing and dancing once a month for an hour? Do they really think that all women will start wearing tallitot and tefillin and will start coming to the Kotel all the time and daven all the time? Do they see a revolution on the part of Hareidi women about to take off?”
The reason our sensibilities are offended when a radical fringe group engages in non-traditional behavior is not because we feel threatened that their example is about to overwhelm Orthodox practice. We take offense to defiling the holiest place in the world and using the Kosel as a backdrop for a ridiculous show. The posuk says, “Sheker soneisi vo’asaeivah - I hate and despise lies and deceitful, fictitious conduct.” Distortion of our religion is something that rankles us and shakes us to our core.
They claim to be following the ways of Avrohom and Sarah, who passionately and confidently opened their tent to all, as opposed to “preservationist” chareidim who fear the non-Orthodox and their influences. Their claim that they mingle with the so-called other branches of Judaism in order to be mekareiv them, is spurious. Is that a reason to invite their clergy to address YCT students? Is it even permitted according to halacha?
Lopatin mocks chareidim, writing that there “is not true pluralism in the Hareidi world; the families don’t necessarily want to learn about Kant or feminism from their [non-religious] guests, but they do want to connect with them, and it is an encouraging first step towards the openness of Abraham and Sarah’s tent.”
If Kant’s apikorsus is of no value and meaning to us, we are lacking in the eyes of the Open Orthodox. If we don’t invite Conservative and Reform clergy to preach in our shuls and yeshivos, we are lacking in self-confidence. Lopatin advocates having Conservative, Reform and Renewal rabbis as mentors, as if we have what to learn from them. Obviously, he and the YCT crowd are unfamiliar with the halachos that forbid learning from apikorsim.
He lectures us, writing, “It is the responsibility of those in the outreach community and the pluralistic Orthodox community, who are comfortable counting Conservative, Reform or Renewal rabbis as mentors and teachers, to find a way to show other Orthodox Jews that pluralism is only going to strengthen an already strong Orthodoxy, not destroy it.”
This is a recurring theme for him. He writes, “There is no need to apologize for the Hareidi or Centrist or even Modern Orthodox community. We just need to speak from a loving and caring place. I am a pluralist: We need to learn from all Jews, and connect and relate to all Jews - Reform, Conservative, Renewal; I believe it is critical for Judaism that we engage with the greater society as well…” 
At the same time, with twisted logic, he dreams of impacting “our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Lakewood, Brooklyn and Monsey...”
They aren’t content with their small group. They seek to expand it and to transform our communities as well. We must ensure that that doesn’t happen.
For the past 13 years, we have been hearing about the radical reforms of YCT and its affiliates, yet our machaneh has been complacent. With few notable exceptions, we haven’t done much to address the growing deviant group in a concrete way. We have failed to treat this dangerous Open Orthodox movement the way we should - as non-Orthodox.
It is high time for our community to formally declare - and really mean it - that Open Orthodoxy is not Orthodoxy and that anyone involved with Open Orthodox institutions risks being ousted from leadership positions in the Orthodox community.
No longer can we look the other way and allow the deviationists to hijack the Orthodox mantle for further distortion and compromise of Judaism in the name of Orthodoxy. The privilege of calling oneself Orthodox must be reserved for those who seek, rather than undermine and reject, Torah norms, both in halacha and hashkafah. Reformers under any guise shouldn’t be granted that.
Some people ask: Why should we care?
Firstly, kol Yisroel areivim zeh bozeh. We have an obligation to offer tochachah and seek to return these people to where they belong, bevais Hashem.
Secondly, while we stand idly by, they are drawing adherents and gaining control of shuls, schools and organizations.
Today, we might say that they have little influence on what goes on in the frum world, but if things continue on the current trajectory, pretty soon it will be difficult to relegate them to a dark left corner. We have to take a strong stand and we have to take it now. That is the way we have responded to deviant movements throughout our history in order to preserve Torah Judaism. Unfortunately, that is the way we need to respond today.
Last week, as we studied Parshas Lech Lecha, we learned about the chessed of Avrohom Avinu, his tolerance and acceptance of all people, and his wide-open tent. Many of the modern-day maskilim claim to be following in the footsteps of our first forefather, embracing people who are different than them, liberal and open-minded to the extreme. Any such comparison is a false manipulation of Avrohom Avinu’s middah.
The Avrohom Avinu who we revere, study and seek to emulate was not just some nice, gentle soul who espoused love and peace. The av of chessed was the same person who took a hammer to his father’s idols and alienated himself from his family and friends in his pursuit of truth.
The posuk at the end of Parshas Noach states simply, “Haran died in the lifetime of Terach, his father, in the land of his birth, in Ur Kasdim” (Bereishis 1:27-28). The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 38) relates that Nimrod threw Avrohom Avinu into a furnace and taunted him to pray to his G-d to save him. Haran watched the spectacle, unsure of whom to support. Unable to choose a side, he arrived at a compromise. He said that he would take a wait-and-see-position. “Im Avrohom menatzeiach, ani mishelo, im Nimrod menatzeiach, ani mishelo.” He would support the victor, quickly joining forces with whoever would triumph.
The Medrash relates that when Avrohom emerged from the furnace unscathed, Haran joined his team. Nimrod promptly threw him into the fire and he was burned to death.
The Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel (Bereishis 11:28) states that Haran was killed not by the heat of the furnace, but by a bolt of fire that came down from heaven.
Apparently, Haran incurred Hashem’s wrath because he refused to take a position on ikrei emunah. The mindset of “Im Avrohom menatzeiach, ani mishelo, im Nimrod menatzeiach, ani mishelo” was offensive. Haran lacked principles and ironclad beliefs. He embraced the right and the left, wanting to be adored by all. He wanted to be everywhere and he ended up nowhere.
The mesorah community is attached enough to the past to firmly believe in the future. We are a nation living with a three-dimensional vision: Hashem melech, Hashem moloch, and Hashem yimloch l’olam vo’ed. So while we toil for tomorrow, giving the best of our time, money and resources to chinuch in the fervent hope that our children will follow the path that stretches back to Sinai, it is with confidence and an assurance that lo yomush haTorah mipicha umipi zaracha.
Just last week, the largest funeral in Israel’s history was held for Rav Ovadiah Yosef, the nosi of Shas and towering figure of the Sefardic community in Eretz Yisroel and across the world. Chareidim, dati-leumi and chilonim, who had gathered across the country to beseech Heaven for the life of the beloved chacham, streamed to Yerushalyim from all corners of the country to bid him farewell. They connected with him, they loved him, and they felt his love for them.
YCT claims that they are selling an innovation, a rabbinate that engages the people and “teaches talmidim how to navigate the world with mentschlichkeit and a commitment to tradition and halacha,” in the words of Rabbi Lopatin.
Chacham Ovadiah, like other gedolim, roshei yeshiva and rabbonim, embodied a commitment to halacha. Brilliantly fluent in the responsa of the last thousand years, he was largely responsible for bringing a generation of Sefardic Jewry back to living halachic lives in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch. A tremendous masmid, fidelity to Torah was the hallmark of his life. Yet, the centerpiece of his leadership was his willingness to go out and speak to people, delivering shiurim and words of chizuk to Jews anywhere.
During Elul, he would travel across the country giving chizuk to wayward Jews, sharing stories and mesholim, speaking on the level necessary to inspire his listeners. In a hesped for his wife, it was recalled how she would stay up until after midnight on those Elul nights, knowing that her husband wouldn’t eat supper until his work was done. She would wait up for him to return home so that she could have the honor of serving him that late-night meal.
During the month leading up to the deadline for school registration, he would go from home to home, persuading parents to register their children in religious schools. Sometimes he was successful, sometimes not, but never for lack of trying, never for lack of hard work and concern for every Jew.
The secular Israeli media have experienced great difficulty understanding how the Sefardi chareidi rabbi merited the largest funeral in the state’s history. They are trying to explain why Ilan came from Kiryat Malachi, Erez came from Dimona, and Dudu traveled from Eilat, not to get close to the aron or even hear hespeidim, but simply to show their respect and enduring love for the chacham they viewed as their Maran.
After failing in their attempts to deny the size of the levaya, the secular media began positing that the display of support was because Rav Ovadiah was the one who gave halachic backing for the concept of trading land for peace, thus earning his place as a hero in the peace’nik camp. Others said that the settler crowds turned out because Rav Ovadiah condemned the Gush Katif expulsion and cursed Arik Sharon for his role in it.
Anything they said didn’t come close to explaining why and how somewhere between eight hundred thousand and a million people, on a moment’s notice, dropped what they were doing and headed for Porat Yosef.
The real answer is one they can’t articulate, because they themselves don’t understand it. It has to do with the Jewish soul, with a feel for authenticity, for mesorah, for Torah itself. It is what sets our leaders apart. It is what made Chacham Ovadiah not just a halachic or political leader, but a beloved father figure.
His rabbinic record, like that of so many rabbonim, provides an example for the YCT crowd to study. The enduring image of the chacham is of him sitting in his study, learning and writing, learning and writing, and learning and writing - a picture of genuine chavivus haTorah. Yet, despite his many outreach efforts and his binding love of Jews, he remained fiercely loyal to the precepts of the Shulchan Aruch and minhogim of Yahadus Seforad.
Not only him, but every one of our leaders whom YCT mocks.
Rav Aharon Kotler, the firebrand torchbearer of uncompromising Torah, founded Chinuch Atzmai to save a generation of Israelis and inspired Israeli bnei Torah under the P’eylim banner to fan out across the country and sign up children for Torah schools. He would say that the time of rishum, enrollment, is the yom hadin for thousands of children. He never rested from his mission of reaching out to all types of Jews and bringing them into the tent of Torah.
That legacy was continued by Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach, another Torah giant who brooked no compromise when it came to fidelity to Torah and mesorah. Under his leadership, the P’eylim were reconstituted under the Lev L’Achim banner. He selected Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin to head the organization and provided direction and inspiration to its yungeleit and bochurim, who dedicate time to bring Torah to tens of thousands of Jews. Their dedication and tirelessness caused a revolution of teshuvah. Today, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman is their primary rabbinic guide.
The banner of Lev L’Achim was initially carried in this country by many leading roshei yeshiva, primary among them Rav Elya Svei, a talmid of Rav Aharon in so many ways, including his uncompromising, fierce dedication to halacha.
The torch of Lev L’Achim is proudly carried today by virtually every Israeli rosh yeshiva and proudly and prominently supported by bnei Torah around the world.
Yet, none of what Lev L’Achim has been able to accomplish comes at the expense of violating even an iota of halacha.
The YCT people condemn us for being selfishly insular and say we don’t care about the people they refer to as serious, Jewishly-engaged Jews who seek meaningful and inspiring lives. They claim that they engage with the non-Orthodox in order to share Orthodoxy with them. They ignore the contributions of “insular” organizations such as Lev L’Achim, Shuvu, Arachim, Ohr Somayach, Aish Hatorah, Oorah, Gateways, Acheinu, Chabad and the numerous frum people engaged in kiruv activities around the globe. They ignore the contributions of the day school movement, founded and led by old-fashioned insularists. They make no mention of the kollelim spreading Torah and kedushah, bringing people tachas kanfei haShechinah without compromising any of our ideals.
Rashi in Parshas Noach (7:7) states that Noach was “miktanei emunah,” meaning that he lacked in his belief. “Ma’amin v’eino ma’amin sheyavo haMabul.” He wasn’t entirely sure if the Flood that Hashem promised to bring to destroy the sinners of the world would materialize. He didn’t enter the teivah until the floodwaters forced him in.
Noach, we know, dedicated 120 years of his life to building the teivah. How can it be said that he didn’t really believe it would come?
In a hesped on the Steipler Gaon, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik explained that Noach believed in Hashem’s word and didn’t doubt it. However, Noach made cheshbonos and reasoned that ultimately Hashem would have mercy on his creations and not bring the flood. Therefore he didn’t enter the teivah when he was told to. For this reason, he is called a “kotton b’emunah,” because we are required to follow the word of Hashem and not make cheshbonos.
We are to follow halacha and the precepts of Chazal and the rabbinic leaders of each generation. If the halacha is to engage in a certain action, then that is the way we should conduct ourselves. One who calculates why he should act differently to achieve a greater good or rationalizes that the will of Hashem is different in this instance is “miktanei emunah.”
As we learn the parshiyos of Bereishis and study the lives of the avos, let us heed the admonitions of Chazal and follow in their ways of Torah, avodah and gemillus chassodim without tempering them with deviant philosophies. Likewise, when we hear of neighbors, friends and others in trouble, let us seek to practice the chessed of Avrohom without cheshbonos. Let us daven for them and help them in every way possible.
Let us all ensure that we remain loyal to Torah, halacha and mesorah in the spirit of Avrohom Avinu and his progeny throughout the generations until this very day.