Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Adarific Joy

With the laining of Parshas Shekolim and Birkas Hachodesh of Adar Bais this Shabbos, we know that Purim is fast approaching. In order to benefit from the special day, we have to get ourselves in shape and prepare for it. Parshas Shekolim was instituted by Chazal to assist in that endeavor. “B’echod b’Adar, on the first day of Adar,” we are told, “mashmi’in al hashekolim, we discuss the obligation to donate a half-shekel to the Mishkon.

The machatzis hashekel is a call for achdus; everyone participates and contributes the same amount. In fact, Chazal say that the mitzvah of shekolim served as a pre-emptive strike to the shekolim Haman offered Achashveirosh for the right to destroy our nation.

Parshas Shekolim is a bright sign that proclaims to us that Purim is approaching. “Get ready,” it declares. “Be one with your brothers. Reach into your pockets and show a willingness to do your part.”

The mitzvah itself has several different angles. Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chevron, discusses in the recently released second volume of his monumental sefer Mizmor LeDovid, different aspects of the counting of the Bnei Yisroel, which we read this Shabbos from Parshas Ki Sisa (30:12). Hashem commanded Moshe to take a half-shekel from each person and to count the coins, instead of the people, so that the counting would not cause a plague.

Rabbeinu Bechayeh (ibid.) explains that if each person were counted by themselves, they would be in jeopardy, because they would be judged as individuals. If they are counted as being part of a group, however, they are each judged as members of the klal and thus the zechuyos of the klal assist each person to be judged favorably, with the communal merits accruing to everyone.

Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover explains further that the reason there is no plague when Jews are counted in this manner is because there is achdus among them, and the Shechinah is thus able to rest among the Jewish people. When the Shechinah is among them, there can be no negef, no plague. The Jewish people are compared to a body comprised of many parts, each one vital. There are bones and sinews, tendons and organs, and the body functions only when they are all working in perfect tandem. As long as they are, the neshomah is present in the body. When different parts of the body break down and cease to work, the neshomah leaves the body and it dies.

Similarly, among the Bnei Yisroel, when there is achdus among them and they are unified, the Shechinah hovers over them and there is no negef. When there is peirud and the Jews separate from one another, the Shechinah departs, leaving room for a negef. Counting the Jewish people via the contribution of a half-shekel serves to unite them and avert all sorts of unpleasantness.

The Alter of Kelm would famously position himself in the middle of the bais medrash on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, refusing to stand at the bimah, even for an aliyah. He would say that the strongest source of merit in judgment on the Yom Hadin is the communal strength of a klal. Thus, he ensured that he was part of the klal and would not stand out in any way that would cause him to be viewed independently. He would quote the Isha Hashunamis. When asked by Elisha if there was any area in which she required a special favor that he could perform for her, she told him, “Besoch ami anochi yosheves - Amongst my people I dwell” (Melochim II, 4:13). She was one amongst many, and never alone, for there is no station loftier or more glorious than being a Jew amongst Jews.

When Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk became very ill, he was asked for his mother’s name so that Jewish communities could pray for his recovery. The great gaon replied with the words of the Isha Hashunamis. He said that rather than specific prayers, he would appreciate tefillos on behalf of all the cholei Yisroel, which would include him and help him as well. He explained that if the tefillos were offered just for him, the Bais Din Shel Maalah would examine the record of his deeds. “And who knows if I will be found worthy?” wondered Rav Meir Simcha. “As a Jew amongst Jews, however, everyone is worthy.”

The Alshich, quoting Rav Shlomo Alkabetz in Menos Halevi, says that each person gave a half-shekel for the census so that no one would feel separated from the others. Rather, everyone realized that without the others, he is not whole. Every Jew understands that his soul is intertwined with everyone else’s. Thus, everyone gives a half and, together, the entire group forms a whole being, which nourishes each one if its members.

This is why, say the Chofetz Chaim and  Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover, the silver half-shekel coins each person contributed for the counting were melted down to form the adonim upon which the Mishkon stood. The silver for the foundation was not taken from the silver that was contributed by the people, on their own, following Moshe Rabbeinu’s public appeal. Rather, it came from the coins that everyone gave equally to symbolize the importance of achdus in establishing the dwelling place of the Shechinah among us.

This use of the machatzis hashekel underscores its special properties. The purpose of the Mishkon was to show the Bnei Yisroel that even after the terrible cheit of the Eigel, Hashem forgave them and still loved them. Why? Because they are His people. The common denominator that unites every Yid is that, after all the actions and words, we are all the same. We are all members of the Bnei Yisroel. The yesod of the Mishkon had to come from donations that reflected this, an expression of our shared essence and destiny.

He’oshir lo yarbeh, vehadal lo yamit. Every person viewed himself as an equal member. This generated achdus, which could support the Mishkon, allowing the Shechinah to rest among us.

Last week, I tasted the sweet joy of being a Jew amongst Jews, part of a mass of individuals joining to celebrate and pay tribute to the age-old ideals of hachzokas Torah.

Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz of Los Angeles has redefined the art of giving. With extraordinary generosity, compassion and commitment, he has lifted so many mosdos and individuals out of sadness and sorrow.

There is an entire industry devoted to sharing photos and moments from great weddings, and an eager populace, anxious to celebrate with their leaders, pores over the pictures and the details. At the wedding last week of Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s daughter, the rabbonim and roshei yeshiva weren’t the mechutanim, but the celebrants.

Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon, the Lomza rosh yeshiva, would sometimes pause in the corner of the yeshiva’s bustling bais medrash, seemingly lost in thought. Talmidim noticed that their rosh yeshiva stopped in the exact same spot each time he was seemingly engaged in contemplation. One day, someone summoned the courage to ask him why he stood in that spot when he wanted to think.

Rav Yechiel Mordechai indicated a small plaque with the name of one of the yeshiva’s donors.

“This Jew gave us money at a difficult time and really helped us carry on in our mission,” he said. “I want to make sure I don’t forget the favor he did for us. When the bais medrash is humming with a kol Torah and I feel joyous, I go there and look at the plaque to make sure I am properly being makir tov.”

Last week, great roshei yeshiva expressed their hakoras hatov to a preeminent machzik Torah. In an age when hyperbole is thrown around like errant fastballs, the wedding was indeed historic, with a remarkable number of roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, askonim and anoshim tovim in attendance. Everyone there felt an equal part of the simcha, happy to be mesameiach a family that doesn’t view themselves as better or different because they have been showered with certain brachos. Rather, they use their gifts to help the unfortunate and assist in the construction of mishkanos where the Shechinah can rest, benefiting the entire klal in myriad ways. 

None of the attendees - not the roshei yeshiva carrying the burden of delivering shiurim and guiding hundreds of talmidim, not the klal activists worried about communal concerns, and not the administrators and executive directors weighted down by payrolls and overdue debts - looked pressured or stressed. None of them seemed to be there out of a sense of obligation. Rather, they made the trip to Los Angeles out of eagerness and joy to be able to share in the personal simcha of a man who has brought them so much pleasure.

Imagine a surgeon who has successfully brought an ailing patient back to life. Every time the patient sees him, he will smile. So too, the menahalim and mosdos-operators who filled the hall couldn’t stop smiling as they watched the benefactor who breathed new life into their institutions and programs at his simcha.

Responding not to lavish donor gifts or high-profile delegations, Reb Shlomo Yehuda has given the humble and under-equipped as well. He bailed out a major institution after reading an advertisement in the newspaper calling for help, and he was moved to respond. On his own, he develops new concepts in chesed and tzedakah. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last week presented a chance for people to pay back, even in a small way. And they did so, expressing their thanks and love.

It was also an opportunity for successful people to witness respect and gratitude on the part of those who carry responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the Jewish people. We live in an era when people selfishly crave for recognition and honor and wonder why it doesn’t come their way. Anyone at the wedding learned that the way to receive honor is to earn it by honoring and helping others.

We live in an era when we do not have a Mishkon or a Bais Hamikdosh to unite us. At functions that honor the ideal of nedivus lev, we are provided an opportunity to recognize and appreciate those who contribute for the communal benefit.

Reb Shlomo Yehuda and his family are givers who create, build and maintain vital institutions. They know that the biggest joy is attained by giving.

There is an age-old question about how to define wealth. Chazal say, “Eizehu oshir? Hasomeaiach bechelko.” The wealthy person is one who is satisfied with what he has. While at the wedding, I heard a new explanation. An oshir is defined by how much one can give away. Obviously, a person can’t give away what he doesn’t have. But on a deeper level, a person who gives demonstrates that he appreciates what Hashem has given him and realizes that it doesn’t diminish from his wealth if he shares his largesse with others. Because he appreciates what Hashem has blessed him with, he is not jealous of others and is able to give away from what he has to help others. If he isn’t satisfied with his gifts because he is envious of others, he is unable to give anything away and cravenly and selfishly holds on to what he has.

The kallah’s grandfather, Rav Yisroel Belsky, has given Klal Yisroel so much for so many years. Chazal teach that the ultimate “tov ayin” was Moshe Rabbeinu, who shared the Torah with Klal Yisroel. Rav Belsky has taught, guided and led for decades. The Rechnitz grandparents are well known in LA for their many magnanimous acts of chesed, using their home to help others; hosting parlor meetings for worthy causes and their work on behalf of Hatzolah and the Chevra Kadisha, and Reb Yaakov’s harbotzas Torah.

Reb Shlomo Yehuda merited a mechutan like him, a giver from a family of givers. Reb Yitzchok Kornfeld, a man with a smile, warmth, and a ready good word, is gabbai of Mesivta Reishis Chochma, one of Montreal’s central shuls. He is the one who approaches every newcomer and extends his hand in “shalom aleichem.” He’s the one who makes sure that there’s enough coffee and that the elderly mispallelim have rides home on a freezing winter day.

His father was surely rejoicing from the Olam Ha’emes. Reb Avrum Kornfled was a founding gabbai at that same shul, a sweet, sincere, old-world Jew. When there is a yahrtzeit or simcha, the minhag in that shul is to give tikkun, some Danishes or cake and a lechayim. Reb Avrum would circulate with the baked goods, making sure that those who davened a bit longer or were too shy to approach could also partake. He loved to give.

The simcha was a celebration of givers, who for one night got to take as well, feeling the love and appreciation of masses of people.

This week, we usher in Adar Bais, the month that embodies simcha and achdus. While we are all familiar with the generally accepted Purim-related reasons for the increase of joy during this month, the Sefas Emes offers an interesting illumination. He says that since the Jewish people annually donated their half-shekolim to the Mishkon during Adar, it became a month of joy because their acts of donating caused them to be besimcha.

We recreate that simcha by reading the parsha of shekolim as Adar commences. We strengthen our commitments to each other and experience the satisfaction felt by a baal tzedakah. The parshiyos of nedivus lev lead into a season of joy.

During these months of Adar, we also add to our feelings of elation by expressing appreciation to those who have given to others, communally and individually.

Following the reading of Megillas Esther, we recite the piyut of Asher Heini, which describes the wickedness of Haman and the reasons we celebrate his downfall. The first line of the piyut begins with an alef, and each subsequent line starts with the next letter of the Alef-Bais, concluding with the letter tof.

The verse that begins with the letter vov states, “Velo zochar rachamei Shaul…” Haman lacked the middah of hakoras hatov and conveniently forgot that the Jewish king Shaul had mercy on his grandfather over 400 hundred years prior.

Rav Dovid Soloveitchik shlit”a and Rav Michel Feinstein zt”l explain that we can learn from this the importance of possessing proper middos and appreciating benefits we have accrued from others. Though Haman was extremely wicked and desired to kill all the Jews in one day, his lack of appreciation of a favor that was done to his ancestor is recorded to his everlasting demerit.

As we approach Purim and the days of joy of giving and sharing, let us remember to appreciate those who have improved our world and made it a better place. Let us do what we can to emulate them and follow their example. Besides bringing joy to others, it will contribute to our own sense of simcha.

Let us seek to dissipate the tension that stains our community by squabbles and increased dissention. We have enough enemies; we shouldn’t be our own worst. Unity, camaraderie and generosity are vital in times like these to enable us to overcome our difficulties. Let us try to be uniters, not dividers; problem solvers, not creators; givers, not takers; joyful, not depressed; positive, not negative; and seek to enlarge the tent, instead of shrinking it.

Let us do it with dignity and grace, so that we may find favor in the eyes of Hashem and our fellow man.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Unity Prerequisite

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha of Vayakheil makes a point of stating that the mitzvos contained therein were transmitted by Moshe Rabbeinu to the entire assemblage of Klal Yisroel. The pesukim report that the nation gathered to hear about the Mishkon and Shabbos.

It is important to note that these two commandments relate to the dual approach of bringing Hashem into our midst.

The Mishkon, whose construction is discussed, was the Creator’s earthly home, a dirah betachtonim. There, the Jew would be able to encounter Hashem’s Presence and offer thanks or repentance, tefillos and korbanos. The Mishkon offered a location where Hashem’s Shechinah would rest among mortals, heightening man’s holiness and raising his level of being, while offering the ability to better serve Hashem.

Shabbos serves some of the same functions, raising our level of holiness and perfecting our lives, enabling us to attain the status for which we were created. Shabbos gifts us with a higher neshomah and more closely attuned kedushah. As we take a break from the six days of work, Shabbos allows us the opportunity to better welcome Hashem’s Presence into the Jewish home, giving every family the opportunity to appreciate the Divine Presence and creation each week anew.

We must understand why the mass assemblage, namely hakhel, was a prerequisite to the discussion by Moshe of these two mitzvos and why it was necessary for every Jew to be present.

The Ramban, in his introduction to Shemos, refers to the sefer as Sefer Hageulah. He explains that Klal Yisroel was not redeemed from Mitzrayim until they had constructed the Mishkon. The physical structure that would house the Shechinah was not simply an adjunct to their travels in the desert on the way to Eretz Yisroel, it was the climax of the redemption from Mitzrayim.

Although the Jewish people were no longer slaves dominated by a foreign nation, they were not free people until the Mishkon and its avodah were in place.

Thus, we can understand that being a member of the newly formed Jewish nation meant participating in the construction of the Mishkon and being present when the instructions regarding its construction were taught, as well as having an active role in its erection through contributions.

Shabbos observance is a fundamental component of Yahadus. One who observes the other commandments but disregards those relating to Shabbos is referred to as a mumar lechol haTorah. Shabbos affirms creation. One who neglects its observance is, in fact, denying that Hashem created the world. The world was created by Hashem for a purpose. Shemiras Shabbos affirms that fact, while chillul Shabbos contradicts it (Chullin 5a).

To welcome these two mitzvos, it was imperative for every Jew to join in complete unity. The malchus of Hakadosh Boruch Hu necessitates that His nation collectively acknowledge His domination. If there is a split among the people, His rule is, kevayachol, lacking.

Aharon Hakohein was oheiv shalom verodef shalom, a person who always sought to engender peace, because the objective of the kohein was to create unity between Hashem and His people. Aveiros cause a separation to be created between man and his Creator, while the Mishkon and its korbanos served to repair the breach. In order for the kohein to succeed in his mission, he had to create unity among individual Jews.

Hence, the two fundamental mitzvos discussed in this week’s parsha are interconnected. The 39 forbidden melachos of Shabbos are the actions through which the Mishkon was constructed. Melachah is defined by what was performed in constructing the Mishkon, for on Shabbos we celebrate our comprehension that the world was created by the Creator for higher purposes.

On Shabbos, we abstain from any of those actions to demonstrate that on the seventh day Hashem’s work was complete and no further action was necessary. We endeavor for the holiness of our Shabbos to resemble that of the completed Mishkon. All mundane activities have been completed so that we can bask in the glow of holiness.

There are other parallels as well. For example, the Gemara (Shabbos 114a) states that the obligation to wear special clothing on Shabbos is derived from the fact that kohanim dressed in bigdei kehunah when performing the avodah in the Mishkon.

These two mitzvos, bound as they are in their nature and in their significance, require unity. If there are Jews who haven’t participated in the Mishkon’s construction, it is incomplete. So too with Shabbos observance. Until all of Klal Yisroel observes two Shabbosos, the world cannot experience its tikkun and we remain incomplete.

Purim is a time that demands a unified Jewish people in order for the day to achieve its potential.

Prior to the deliverance of the Torah to Am Yisroel, the Torah states that it was necessary for the Jewish people to be united. Regarding the position of the Jews at the foot of Har Sinai as Moshe Rabbeinu alighted, the posuk states, “Vayichan shom Yisroel.” Chazal analyze the singular verb of vayichan to denote that they stood together, ke’ish echod belev echod, when they accepted the Torah.

Purim commemorates the period of time when the Jewish people freely accepted upon themselves the observance of Torah Shebaal Peh, the Oral Torah. As the Gemara (Shabbos 88a) states, “Hadar kibluha b’yemei Achashveirosh.”

Just as the acceptance of Torah Shebiksav, the Written Torah, necessitated unity among Am Yisroel, the voluntary receipt of Torah Shebaal Peh also required that there be no divisions amongst the people. That this was the case is evident from the posuk in Megillas Esther which states that the Jews of the time gathered together “lehikoheil velaamod al nafshom” (Esther 8:11). Their hakhel – coming together as one - led to salvation.

Many of the mitzvos that Chazal introduced to commemorate the miracles of Shushan serve to bring Jews together. We celebrate the day with many expressions of “ish lerei’eihu, as people extend themselves to draw closer to others and spread joy. The mitzvah of simchas Purim, as the Rambam tells us, is fulfilled in its most glorious fashion when one brightens the lives of those who are less fortunate.

In the merit of achdus, we accepted Torah Shebaal Peh in the time of Achashveirosh. On Purim, we seek to recreate the brotherhood and joy of that time.

What can we do to bring ourselves to the level of accepting others and achieving the unity of “Hadar kibluha b’yemei Achashveirosh”?

During my recent trip to Eretz Yisroel, I had the zechus of visiting the Chevroner rosh yeshiva, Rav Dovid Cohen. During our conversation, the rosh yeshiva removed a worn sefer Meshech Chochmah from his bulging bookshelves, where the bindings of each sefer tell of toil and exertion. He showed me the words he had underlined in the posuk of ‘Vehamayim lohem chomah” (Shemos 14:29).

The Meshech Chochmah discusses the teaching of Chazal that even though the generation of Dovid Hamelech was righteous, nevertheless, “since there were among them people who manipulated their neighbors for profit, they were defeated in battle. The people of the generation of Achav were ovdei avodah zarah but had no tale-bearers in their midst, thus they were victorious in war.

The Meshech Chochmah says that “even if a community is derelict in the areas of avodah zarah and immorality, the posuk states that Hashem is ‘shochein itom besoch tumosam, He rests with them, even in impurity.’ But if they are lacking in decency and middos and engage in lashon hara and petty strife, Hashem disengages His Presence from amongst them.”

The Meshech Chochmah states further that Hashem forgave the Jews for the sin of the Eigel after they showed remorse, for that involved avodah zarah. They were not forgiven for the sin of the meraglim, because that was brought about by lashon hara and kefiyas tovah, a deficiency in middos.

In order for us to be b’achdus and merit for the Shechinah to dwell among us once again, we have to improve our middos. People who are baalei middos tovos are able to get along with each other and Hashem rests His holy Presence among them. As long as we squabble and are unforgiving, we will be unable to merit Hashem’s direct connection.

The heart of Klal Yisroel is achdus. If we are connected to each other kelev echad, we can overcome aveiros and golus, but if there is no unity, we are fair game for any enemy.

The Ponovezher Rov, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, recounted a period of great antagonism in Radin. The local townspeople became involved in a disagreement between local shochtim and the town was torn apart. The Chofetz Chaim called a general gathering.

“A Jew who fights is compared to a wealthy man with a pocket-full of gold coins, but there is a hole in his pocket,” the gadol’s voice trembled. “With every step he takes, money pours out of his pocket. Eventually, the small hole will cost him his entire fortune!”

Continued the Chofetz Chaim: “Radiner Yidden, I beg you. Don’t lose what you have…”

Rav Michel Stern, the famed Yerushalayimer expert in niglah and nistar, contends that our main concern should not be regarding Iran and its ability to obtain a nuclear weapon. He says that our lack of achdus is more dangerous than what is going on in Iran. Peirud, division, is the most lethal threat we face.

By working on perfecting our middos, we can come to appreciate the good in others and the benefits we derive from each other. If we develop proper middos and attitudes, we are able to unite and create the achdus necessary to work together. Doing so enables us to combat those who seek our demise and expend effort to help and support each other, rather than battle one another.

The way we act towards others impacts our souls and dictates the type of people we are. If we are cognizant and appreciative of others, we become better people and can work to achieve achdus and prepare the world for Hashem to once again rest His Shechinah among us.

The Ponovezher Rov explained with an allegory why we say shalom aleichem at Kiddush Levanah.

Two countries that were divided by a river declared war on each other. They lined up soldiers on each side of the river, ready to face off. As night fell, one of the generals sent soldiers across the river to size up the opposition.

Under the cover of darkness, the soldiers swam across. Working quietly and surreptitiously, they were determined to find the best point to stage their attack. All of a sudden, in the still of night, they heard the most awful sound from behind them: the click of three guns. Fearing for their lives, they grabbed their guns and swung around to face their opponents and shoot them before they themselves were shot.

At that very moment, the sky cleared and the moon lit up the night. The soldiers were amazed and shocked. They saw that the men they were about to shoot were actually their own countrymen, from a different brigade, also sent to spy out the enemy fortifications.

Instantly, they said to each other, “Oy, shalom aleichem! Shalom aleichem! Shalom aleichem! Oy, my brother! We aren’t enemies. We are brothers.”

When we stand under the light of the new moon monthly and recite Kiddush Levanah, we remind ourselves and each other that we are on the same team and we are battling the same enemies. We say, “Shalom aleichem, let us not fight each other. Shalom aleichem, let’s join together to fight the battles of the day so that we can emerge victorious. Shalom aleichem, let’s get closer to each other so that we can merit the return of Hashem’s dirah batachtonim and have the Shechinah among us once again.”

Purim is a day of light. As the posuk at the end of the Megillah states, “LaYehudim hoysah orah.” Let us prepare for that holy day by building bridges of love, respect, care and shalom.

Parshas Vayakheil is a timely reminder, calling upon us to join together at this auspicious time and seek to create more achdus in our world so that we merit the blessings of the Mishkon and Shabbos, Torah Shebiksav and Torah Shebaal Peh.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Secret of Simcha

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz


What did Chazal have in mind when they said, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha”?

Is it simply a piece of good advice? If so, why is the statement recorded in sifrei halacha?

It seems to be more than mere advice. It appears to be an obligation to increase our simcha in the current month.

What does that entail? Does it mean listening to more music or playing it louder?

Does simcha mean joy? Does it translate into happiness? How are we to arrive at it?

Can someone command us to be happy and expect us to be able to change our disposition as a rule of law?

I had the zechus to spend the past Shabbos in Yerushalayim. The trip was bittersweet, but a visit to Eretz Yisroel is cathartic under any circumstances.

Though there are many problems in that land, it remains ours. Every neshomah has a connection to the city where the remnant of the Bais Hamikdosh stands, towards which we daven three times daily. Being able to walk in the land we were driven out of centuries ago is not something to be taken for granted.

My wife’s grandmother, Mrs. Miriam Mendlowitz a”h, who lived in Yerushalayim for the past fifty years, passed away last Wednesday morning at the age of 104.

As a frame of reference of how long she lived, she still remembered what it was like returning home to a desolate shtetel after the First World War. She was a sister-in-law of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the man who revolutionized Yiddishkeit in America and whose efforts led to the growth of Torah on these shores. He passed away in 1948, shortly after founding Torah Umesorah.

Mrs. Mendlowitz was blessed with arichus yomim, no doubt in the merit of her dikduk bemitzvos and maasim tovim, but her calm, pleasant demeanor certainly added to her longevity. She accepted everyone and everything that came her way with grace and dignity and appreciated the many blessings Hashem granted her. She had simchas hachaim that emanated from her deep emunah and bitachon, and thus merited the blessings reserved for those who are besimcha tomid.

It may sound fanciful, but the last thing she did upon this earth was move from her bed into a chair, where she began to sing with a grandchild the popular tune of “Mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha.” When she was done, she closed her eyes and passed away.

A 104-year-old person, feeling their strength ebbing and knowing that they are breathing their final breaths in this world, can celebrate the simcha of Adar if they appreciate the fulfillment granted to those who master the secret of true happiness. Simcha, joy, is achieved by being content and satisfied with what Hashem has granted us. A person who grasps that every day, every breath, every child, and every dollar is a Divine gift, can be perpetually content and positive.  

A person who is living the life Hashem intended for them can sing “Mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha” not only at festive occasions, but also while lying on a deathbed.

One time, when Rav Chaim Volozhiner was parting from his great rebbi, the Vilna Gaon, he requested a brochah. The Gaon responded cryptically, blessing him that his life should consist of “temidim kesidrom.”

Knowing that his rebbi chose each syllable carefully and that each word he uttered was laden with significance, Rav Chaim understood that there was a hidden message in the two-word blessing he merited receiving.

After much contemplation, he realized the meaning of his rebbi’s brochah. The words with which the Rama begins his monumental glosses on the Shulchan Aruch are in the halachos of how a Jew conducts himself upon waking up in the morning.

The Rama quotes the posuk in Tehillim (16:8) in which Dovid Hamelech states how the Presence of Hashem was always before him: “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid, hu klal gadol baTorah uvemaalos hatzaddikim.”

The Rama writes that these words are the mantra by which a Jew should live every day of his life, from when he arises in the morning until he reclines in the evening.

The Rama concludes his incisive, enlightening commentary of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, each line illuminating like a torch of fire, with the halachos of Megillah. The Shulchan Aruch discusses the halachos of the 14th day of Adar Rishon, referred to as Purim Kotton. The Rama closes the discussion of whether there is an obligation of eating a festive meal on that day by quoting the posuk in Mishlei (15:15) which states, “Vetov lev mishteh somid.” The complete posuk reads, “Kol yemei oni ro’im, vetov lev mishteh somid - All the days of a poor man are bad, but he of a cheerful heart will always have a feast.”

The first and final comments of the Rama in Orach Chaim both quote pesukim with the word somid: “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid” and “Vetov lev mishteh somid.” Rav Chaim Volozhiner understood that the Gaon’s intention with his two-word message was that he should live a life guided by these two “temidim,” the constant awareness of Hashem’s Presence and the mandate to be besimcha.

Joy allows a person to lead a productive life. In fact, simcha is the fuel that allows a person to maximize his potential and to take advantage of opportunities that come his way and build upon them. A happy person is dynamic. The meforshim explain the previously-mentioned posuk of “Vetov lev mishteh somid.”

The posuk states that the days of a poor man are bad, but the bearer of a cheerful heart always feasts. Shouldn’t the contrast be between the poor and the rich? The poor person is hungry and sad, while the rich man can always feast; that would appear to be a perfect contradiction. The opposite of a sad and poor man is a satiated rich man.

The posuk is teaching us that wealth is not what brings happiness and poverty doesn’t necessarily cause depression. There are plenty of rich, famous, people who have done everything they ever dreamed of doing, yet they are depressed. And there are poor people who are happy. A person’s joy is dependent upon his attitude. A poor person has a rough life, to be sure, but if he is of cheerful disposition, he is able to seize the good moments and bright spots and use them to define his situation. He is able to appreciate the good that he has and look at the bright side of every situation. A person who lives with emunah and bitachon, and practices “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid,” knowing that nothing happens by chance and happenstance, can smile in the most trying of circumstances.

Rav Shaul Yedidya Elozor Taub of Modzitz lost everything in the Holocaust, arriving in New York mourning his family and chassidus. He settled in Williamsburg and, in short order, had a crowd that looked to him for encouragement, chizuk and, of course, beautiful niggunim. Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz would send many of his talmidim from Torah Vodaas to the rebbe’s tishen, which were known to be particularly joyous and rousing.

Someone asked the rebbe how he was able to maintain his attitude of simcha after sustaining devastating losses in the war.

“I have a valise in my room,” he responded, “and in it I keep all the sad thoughts and memories. Every day, I open it for half an hour and look inside, remembering and mourning. And then? Then I close it tight and go live my life for the rest of the day.”

Great people know that an optimistic, upbeat attitude is necessary to build and accomplish and live a full life. Those charged with rebuilding in the face of churban were especially aware that a “tov lev” can achieve extraordinary things. All of us in our lives experience ups and downs, good days and days that don’t go as we would like. To the degree that we maintain the midah of “tov lev,” we rise above it and are able to triumph and succeed. If we permit the situation to overtake us, we are doomed to being sad, cynical and unproductive.

A group of talmidei chachomim from an Israeli development town went to speak to Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach about the need for a yeshiva in their part of the country. They wanted to open an institution but found the challenges daunting. They encountered hostile bureaucracy, lack of funding, and other problems. Upon hearing their presentation, Rav Shach stood up and exclaimed with great enthusiasm, “We are living in extraordinary times. Even though there is opposition to Torah study, there is incredible siyata diShmaya rolling around in the streets for those willing to go out and do… I advise you to grab some of it and build Torah.”

Seeing and seizing opportunities, rather than the impediments, is what enables people to accomplish and live long and happy lives.

By focusing on the simple blessings and appreciating what we have, we can be like the poor man the posuk in Mishlei describes and can live in perpetual joy. What we need more than anything is to appreciate and count our blessings.

A badchan entered shul one day and announced, “I get a mazel tov. My son put on tefillin today.”

People turned to the gray-bearded jester. “You still have such a young son? Mazel tov.”

“No,” replied the badchan. “My son isn’t thirteen. In fact, he’s twenty-seven years old and is married with three children. But he put on tefillin today and I am grateful that he does. It’s a zechus to have raised an ehrliche son and I appreciate it.”

Rav Avidgor Miller once passed his daughter while walking on Ocean Parkway and exclaimed, “Boruch Hashem that you are married!”

“But I’ve been married for over twenty years,” she wondered.

“Yes,” replied the mussar master, “and I thank Hashem for each day anew. I never take it for granted.”

That attitude typifies the expression of joy that suffused the countenance of the great mashpia, Rabbi Miller.

The Gemara in Maseches Sukkah as well as in Eiruvin, when reckoning the proper dimensions of a sukkah, terms an expanded handbreadth a “tefach sochek.” Meforshim explain that this term, meaning “a smiling tefach,” denotes expansion. Just as a joyous person can accomplish on a large scale, so too, when discussing the concept of an expanded tefach, we refer to it as smiling.

As we are about to celebrate Purim Kotton, it is a most appropriate time to focus on our brachos. Adar is the time to develop the middah of tov lev, seeing the bright spots and making them last. We are to seize the happy moments and stretch them out, thus fulfilling the mandate of Chazal.

Everyone has sources of anguish and distress. In every life, there is some darkness. But it should be kept in a valise. The joyous moments, occasions and tidings should be spread out in front of us, allowing us to be mishteh somid, constantly joyous.

In Yerushalayim, you encounter people who are poorer than poor. They are encumbered by debt and don’t know where their next shekel will come from. The government is determined to increase their pain, as if they aren’t already suffering enough. They live in small apartments, getting by with the bare minimum, yet they are happier than the wealthiest people you know.

You see them and they smile, exposing their missing teeth, lost to decay brought on by their inability to afford dental care, yet their faces beam with other-worldly joy. They don’t have many physical possessions, but they know the secret that Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid leads to mishteh somid. Although their cupboard is bare and a typical daily meal consists of bread, leben, cucumbers and tomatoes, they possess an inner joy that increases during the month of Adar.

May we merit attaining that simcha and long, productive lives.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014


by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We pulled up to the quaint, centuries-old hotel. The lobby was unremarkable. It had some sofas and plush chairs, along with potted plants and tasteful rugs. A receptionist stood behind a long polished desk, checking our reservations and sliding the room-keys across its surface.

It was a pretty typical hotel scene, taking place in Manchester, Vermont. The picture behind the receptionist was remarkable. I stared at it repeatedly. From the frame, the image of an old-time Jewish man stared out at me. With a flowing beard and peyos, and a funny hat covering his head, he stood in the lobby of this very hotel, working the desk.

The picture was incongruous. What was a man like that doing here?

His eyes really captured me. They seemed to be looking off into the distance, imagining, envisioning and praying. There was a look of loneliness and inner sadness in them, but also a faint glimmer of hope. Perhaps there would yet be a future.

“Who is that?” I asked the clerk. She did not know.

The picture was a charming bit of history, the front desk and its personnel as they appeared a hundred years earlier.

I had gone to Vermont for a chance to catch my breath, but that night ended in sleepless reflection.

Reb Yid, where are you now? What happened to your children, your einiklach? Did you perhaps give up and return home to Europe, realizing that America was no place for one who dreamt of a spiritual future? Did you push on and succeed, maybe even meriting descendants who are shomrei Torah umitzvos? Or did the story end on a painful note, with your first generation slipping away and their children drifting even further, another family lost to its people?

The mental image of that picture haunted me since I saw it back in August, and recently it appeared in my mind again. Last week, the New York Times ran the kind of article you wonder how many people are interested in, but I was fascinated by it.

The story was about a salvage drive for an old mural. In 1910, Ben Zion Black left Lithuania and arrived in Burlington, Vermont. Almost as soon as he arrived, the local Chai Adam shul hired him to paint a two-story mural in the style of Eastern European shuls back home. The images contained in the mural celebrate rich Jewish life. In the spirit of the shuls in scores of Litvishe hamlets, it rose behind the aron kodesh to touch the ceiling.

Back in the day, Reb Ben Zion was paid $200 to display his artistic talents. The shul was located in an area laid out like a Litvishe shtetel from which many of the area residents had emigrated. It was known as “Little Yerushalayim,” complete with shuls and all sorts of kosher shops.

Eventually, the shul building was sold. The mural was photographed and hidden behind a false wall by the locals who hoped to somehow preserve it. The story of the mural caught the attention of Samuel Gruber, who studies the art of Eastern European shuls. He says that he “had seen pieces of surviving murals in Europe and examples of decorated synagogues on Chelsea, Mass and Toronto,” but nothing like this one. “I really didn’t expect to see this in Burlington.”

Historians and curators are now raising funds for the mural’s restoration and maintenance, hoping to hold on to its fascinating bit of history.

The article concludes with a quote from Mr. Gruber: “We’re not talking about a great art masterpiece. What really makes it special is that it is a survivor.”

The recently-departed and beloved Rav Yankel Galinsky zt”l would describe the time he met a high-ranking secular Israeli politician. The fellow complained to the maggid that religious politicians were holding up a proposal for the construction of a new prison. “We have all the money allocated for it. All we need is the final approval and the chareidim are getting in the way.”

Rav Galinsky shared a tale about a dangerous highway, filled with bumps and curves. The town council met to discuss the fact that there were numerous accidents on the hazardous road. Someone suggested that they build a hospital at the roadside to treat the injured. The council embraced the brilliant proposal and got to work raising money to erect a hospital.

“Really,” smiled the wizened maggid, “they should have used that money to fix the road and take care of the problem. The religious politicians probably feel that the money you have set aside for a prison can be better spent to ‘fix the road’ and educate young people in a way that will ensure that they don’t end up going to jail in the first place.”

So now the good people of Burlington are seeking to raise several hundred thousand dollars to preserve a survivor. They are expending much energy, time and resources to build a hospital rather than fixing the road and establishing a proper Jewish educational system.

The mural is indeed a “survivor,” but the images it depicts and represents will have no meaning to those who marvel at it, if nothing is done to ensure that the Jewish people who have survived centuries of abuse and exile educate their young about the glories of their tradition.

There is no question that those raising children in the America of 2014 are so much more fortunate that the Jew whose countenance graces the hotel lobby and his fellow New England immigrants, who faced the daunting task a century ago. We have the luxury of wonderful mosdos and a rich frum landscape with shuls and schools that cater to us, and vibrant kehillos and neighborhoods that provide us with the best opportunities to lead complete Torah lives.

But make no mistake. It took work, focus and vision to succeed then, and it is no less true today. Authentic Yiddishkeit means making choices. Sometimes, they are very difficult ones. The Jews who arrived here at the turn of the last century worried about their children and their future, but tragically, they were unable to translate their fears into enough positive action. The concept that the religious educational system of the old country couldn’t be adapted here was so ingrained that nobody even attempted it, until a dreamer named Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz appeared on the scene. They had their Talmud Torah Hebrew Schools, and by and large that was it. Many awoke early to learn and daven before setting off to work, seven days a week. There was no other choice.

The Brisker rosh yeshiva, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik, commented that many of the Americans he meets tell of a grandfather or grandmother who was moser nefesh for chinuch, who refused to accept the grim prognosis for American Jewry and battled for Shabbos, kashrus and chinuch.

“When I was young,” said the Brisker rosh yeshiva, “I thought that all American Yidden were tzaddikim. When I got older, I realized that it’s mostly those Americans I meet, the ones who are frum bnei Torah who go to yeshivos, who have these stories. The vast majority of grandparents who weren’t as strong, lost their children.”

Far be it for us to judge those who succumbed to the pressures and winds of the goldeneh medinah that was America. Surely they meant well. They made cheshbonos that their offspring would be different than the populace and would be able to fight the tide. Sadly, in most cases, it was false hope. Their intentions and hopes may have been pure. In fact, the Chazon Ish prophesized the mass teshuvah movement of the past few decades. He said that he saw, both in Eretz Yisroel and abroad, the second generation rejecting the religious life of their parents. “But the older generation sees their secular grandchildren and cries bitter tears to Hashem over what has become of them in the new country,” said the Chazon Ish. “There is no doubt that in the merit of those tears, their grandchildren will grow up and experience stirrings of teshuvah.”

We can’t even attempt to understand the nisyonos faced by tired, hardworking immigrants who came to this land to escape starvation, pogroms and forced military conscription. What we can do is to look into the Torah, our eternal guide, and glean direction relevant to our times.

People who thought they could compromise and still stay ahead of the game found out the hard way that they couldn’t. Those who embraced the zeitgeist were constricted and bound by it.

In next week’s parsha, we will learn how the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf. Moshe Rabbeinu proclaimed, “Mi laShem eilay - All who are on the side of Hashem should appear with me.” The posuk relates that the shevet of Levi rallied to Moshe’s side.

The words of the Chofetz Chaim, which I merited hearing from his talmid, my grandfather, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l, have become legend. My grandfather was a Levi, and he told me that his rebbi, the Chofetz Chaim, himself a kohein, explained to him the reason he was a Levi.

“It is because when Moshe Rabbeinu called out, ‘Mi laShem eilay,’ your grandfather [and mine] responded positively. Remember that when the call of ‘Mi laShem eilay’ rings out in our day, make sure to give the right answer,” the Chofetz Chaim urged him. This was one of the messages the Chofetz Chaim would often repeat, and each time it would leave an indelible impression upon his talmidim.

Shevet Levi did not take a poll to see which side would win, Moshe or the others. They didn’t take a head count in an attempt to determine which side would emerge victorious from the battle and where they should line up. Moshe needed them and they rose to the occasion. Hashem caused Moshe and the Leviim to win and beat back the idolaters, and thus the plague that threatened the Jewish people was squelched.

Torah Jews aren’t supposed to check to see which way the wind is blowing before taking action. They are not supposed to be manipulated by public opinion. They are not supposed to be impressed by self-promoting press releases, court documents, and New York Times op-eds. They are not supposed to straddle the fence in the face of a campaign to separate the Jewish people from the Torah transmitted to us by our parents and grandparents.

V’al tis’chakam yoseir,” says the wisest of all men (Koheles 7:16). Don’t try to outsmart the world. Don’t think that you know better than everyone. Don’t try to reinvent halacha and mesorah and turn the mitzvah observance of our children and grandchildren into something our grandparents wouldn’t recognize.

Yechezkel Hanovi (chapter 37) describes Hashem’s prophecy to him regarding the atzamos yeveishos, dry human bones that Yechezkel returned to life. Hashem told Yechezkel that the bones were symbolic of the Jewish people. Just as the bones were brought back to life and returned to their original lives, so too the remnants of Am Yisroel should never give up hope. They will be returned to their original state in Eretz Yisroel.

The Gemara in Maseches Sanhedrin (92b) records a machlokes about whether that prophecy actually took place or if it is merely an allegory.

Rebi Eliezer ben Rebi Yosi Haglili says that “The dead people Yechezkel brought back to life went up to Eretz Yisroel, married and gave birth to sons and daughters.” Rabi Yehuda ben Beseira rose up on his feet and declared, “Indeed, they really did come back to life, it was not simply an allegorical account. In fact, I am a descendent of a man who was brought back to life. I wear his tefillin. The tefillin given to me by my grandfather were handed down to him from his ancestor who was brought back to life in the prophecy described by the novi Yecheskel. Ani m’bnei b’neihem v’halalu tefillin shehiniach li avi abba meihem.”

These tefillin were left to me by my father’s father! This is the song of our generation of American Jewry. Our ancestors docked at Ellis Island and settled in one of the then-burgeoning Jewish communities of Omaha, Nebraska, or Memphis, Tennessee. Perhaps it was freezing Winnipeg, Canada. Either way, with their resolve and drive, and no small amount of tearful prayer, they merited that we can point to our heads and hearts and say the words: “Halalu tefillin shehiniach li avi abba meihem.”

I wear the same tefillin my father does, and his father did, and his grandfather did, all the way back to Sinai. Through all the exiles, the halacha leMoshe miSinai relating to tefillin - what they look like and who wears them - has remained constant.

They look exactly like the tefillin worn in Burlington, Vermont, Chelsea, Massachusetts, and the Warsaw ghetto, and those smuggled into Auschwitz under the threat of death. The tefillin we wear in America today are the same as those worn during the golden period of Spain, the Inquisition, and the periods of the Botei Mikdosh.

All throughout history, as others have mocked us and sought our destruction, those who answered the call of “Mi laShem eilay” remained loyal to the traditions passed on through the generations.

In our day, too, there is a kolah delo posik, a silent call emanating from Sinai, the Har Habayis and from every bais medrash around the world. It proclaims, “Mi laShem eilay.”

We must answer, “Hineini. You can count on me. I will make myself worthy of this mission.” We wrap tefillin upon ourselves, we hunch over our siddur, and we remind ourselves that we are up to the sacred task.

We have to stay focused on the goal and realize that today the yeitzer hara comes in a new guise. He no longer attempts to convince us that we have to desecrate Shabbos in order to earn a livelihood. He has become much more sophisticated and uses lofty spiritual rhetoric to engage us. He speaks of tikkun olam, of harmony and achdus, of making Yiddishkeit “user-friendly” and approachable. But underneath the call for peace and goodwill, the modern-day scoffers of Torah are remarkably sensitive, thin-skinned and insecure.

Rabbi Avi Weiss continues to menace the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and attack standards of geirus and general halacha currently in force in Eretz Yisroel. Last week, he published a scathing attack on the Rabbanut in the New York Times, exposing the masses to his portrayal of the chief rabbis’ evil, harsh and strong-armed tactics to keep halachic standards.

Reacting to the Rabbanut’s initial refusal to accept his testimony about the Jewish status of two people who wanted to be married in Eretz Yisroel, Weiss wrote in his Times opinion piece, “I therefore went public by challenging the Chief Rabbinate in the press in the hope that community awareness and involvement would lead to a solution. I was ready to bring the matter before the Israeli Supreme Court.

“The Chief Rabbinate, in contrast, has been turning inward, taking religiously extreme positions, consolidating and extending its power. In 2008, in one sweeping move, it limited the right to participate in American conversions to a short list of handpicked rabbis and rabbinical courts. It did so by enlisting the full cooperation of a major American rabbinical association that ceded its autonomy and capitulated rather than stand up for all of its members in the field.

“This was a major step backward. One of the most vibrant aspects of Orthodoxy in America has been its decentralization and proliferation of many voices. It would be particularly distressing for Orthodoxy in America to reverse course and adopt the stifling hierarchical model of the Israeli Rabbinate.

“In a democratic Jewish state, options must be available. For example, an Orthodox group in Israel, Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah, has proposed that communities elect their own religious leadership and receive state funding. In matters like marriage and conversion, communal standards would be taken into consideration instead of dictates imposed from above.”

What is the 2008 Rabbanut consolidation of power to which Weiss refers? In 2008, in order to curb the performance of subpar geirus procedures, the Rabbanut and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) introduced the Geirus Policies and Standards (GPS) program, in which only certain botei din jointly approved by the Rabbanut and the RCA would be granted seamless Rabbanut acceptance of their geirim. Weiss fought this program, arguing that it stripped individual rabbis of their autonomy.

Avi Weiss has been on a campaign to undermine the Rabbanut and replace it with an American-style rabbinate, lacking central authority and allowing an “anything goes” system to take over. That way, rabbis could set their own standards. Weiss and his Open Orthodox colleagues would be rabbinic authorities equal to all other rabbonim, carrying out all types of faux procedures, prayers, innovations and conversions.

In fact, Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah, of which Weiss is a principal controller, has called for the ability to have non-Orthodox Rabbanut members and the abolishment of the rabbinical status quo: “If a neighborhood democratically voted in a non-Orthodox rabbi, then they too will be an intrinsic part of the decision-making of the local and national, religious leadership.”

We thus have Avi Weiss publicly disparaging rabbonim in the pages of the New York Times and elsewhere calling for the dissolution of the Chief Rabbinate as we know it, with his Israeli group calling for the ability to have Reform and Conservative Rabbanut rabbis who set their own standards.

Furthermore, Weiss has previously and repeatedly called for the acceptance of non-halachic conversions and weddings in Eretz Yisroel: “For this reason, Israel as a state should give equal opportunities to Conservative and Reform communities. Their rabbis should be able to conduct weddings and conversions.”

Weiss and his faux-Orthodox group are strongly lobbying for a churban of yuchsin and Torah standards. By enlisting the help of lawyers, politicians, secular and general media, and non-Orthodox Jewish groups more than happy to assist in this attempt to destroy the Orthodox rabbinate, along with his threats to take the Rabbanut to the Israeli Supreme Court, Weiss has bullied and terrorized the Rabbanut and tried to menacingly foist his vision of halacha upon it and Israeli society as a whole.

As we have been reporting for years, Avi Weiss began a snowball series of pirtzos of Torah. He has ordained women rabbis, watered down geirus standards, and had a female cantor for Kabbolas Shabbos davening at his shul. He introduced women’s Krias HaTorah, haftorah and megillos. He has brought heretics and gentiles to speak at his synagogue, with these guests singing and dancing in the sanctuary and his yeshiva’s beis medrash. He has headed a movement that supports non-traditional marriage and defends rabbis who deny Torah MiSinai. This is the story of a person who has defied all boundaries and knows no limits.

The latest breaches perpetrated in the name of Orthodoxy were decisions by schools to allow female students to wear tefillin. Despite the accepted ban on this practice, as found in the Shulchan Aruch (Rama on 38:3, Gr”a, Aruch Hashulchan and others), schools are now permitting it and are being cheered on with great fanfare.

The pattern set by Weiss and Chovevei Torah - ignoring past custom and tradition - is evident in this latest travesty. Portraying themselves as the heroes and the chareidim as villains, Open Orthodoxy pushes the envelope yet further, gaining for themselves much positive press and liberal accolades. Fiercely hanging on to the Orthodox appellation, they search for the next area of halacha and mesorah to be challenged.

Yet, the Orthodox community, by and large, remains silent in the face of yet another step away from Orthodoxy by the group that seeks to battle it from within and without.

For years, the Orthodox establishment largely ignored the outrages of Avi Weiss. Fear of making him into a martyr, or causing more attention to be drawn to him and his antics, kept many quiet, wishing he would just go away and fail to draw much of a following. Invariably, each new step away from halacha and mesorah by Weiss and his group was met mostly by a quiet yawn or a rare hand slap.

By now, it should be evident that this approach has failed. Weiss continued to press on with his agenda and widen the goal posts, winning battle after battle. Now, he has maligned the Israeli chief rabbis in the general media, seeking to dilute their authority and the rule of halacha. He threatens to take the rabbinate to court in order to impose non-halachic geirus in Eretz Yisroel and allow secular rabbis to play a role there. This year, he will be graduating a second class of “Maharat women rabbis,” as more and more of his students come out for non-traditional marriage.

Is there a breaking point? What will be the next halacha to be trampled upon?

We must take a stand. Silence has backfired. Let’s not fear to take a strong, public stand and finally stop the hemorrhaging in the name of Orthodoxy. If we don’t, we may wake up to find that yuchsin, geirus, halacha and mesorah have been set back so far that we will have to be defending every one of our hallowed traditions and halachos.

We must look at the pictures or letters of our zaides and bubbes, the ones who made the decision, somewhere back in time, to stand firm. We must look back to those who responded to the call of “mi laHashem eilay.” Make no mistake: Every one of us has such ancestry. We must contemplate their legacy and then answer the haunting question asked by Moshe Yess in his classic song: Who will be the zaidies of our children? Who will be their zaidy if not me?

The battles are just beginning and we don’t have the luxury of staying impartial. We need to hammer home the truths of Torah hashkofah to ourselves and our children, not tolerating these deviations. Our organized groups must speak up, despite the fact that it may render them unpopular among those who claim to seek achdus and progress.

Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl related that during the British Mandate period in pre-state Eretz Yisroel, the Jews of the old yishuv suffered a series of attacks from Arabs. Jewish Agency officials, charged with political representation of the community, hit upon a plan. If the Jewish community would surrender their claim to the Kosel, they claimed, the Arabs would be placated and desist. The Jewish Agency bureaucrats explained that, in reality, nothing would change, and the Jews could continue to daven at the Kosel as before. It was only a signature on a piece of paper, a symbolic transfer meant to attain peace.

The officials had trouble convincing the people, however, so they went straight to the top. The frum community was split between two leaders, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld and Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook. Though these two rabbonim differed in many matters of hashkafah, they responded to the Jewish Agency proposal with the exact same words: “The Kosel doesn’t belong to me,” they said. “It belongs to Hakadosh Boruch Hu.”

Like the proverbial shtetel of simpletons who cut the parchment of the Sefer Torah that was sticking out of the new, attractive, velvet mantel, we are witnessing the Torah being cut to fit an ideal. We see how institutions and communities are buying into this hostile takeover of the Torah, reinterpreting it to fit some so-called value system. They will sue, they will persuade, and they will be choneif our enemies. They will do whatever it takes to succeed. And if we don’t stand tall and make our voices heard, they will continue on their march.

Rav Elyokim Schlesinger of London had a close relationship with his rebbi, the Brisker Rov. When Rav Schlesinger left Eretz Yisroel to assume a position as rosh yeshiva in Europe, he wanted to part from his rebbi. The Rov was in Switzerland resting and his talmid went to spend Shabbos with him. On Motzoei Shabbos, they sat together and spoke divrei preidah. It was an emotional leave-taking, and both Rav Schlesinger and the Rov sensed that it was the end of an era. They might never see each other again.

They spoke for some time and the Brisker Rov said, “Let us eat melava malka. We have some more time.” As they partook of their final meal, the Rov recited the zemiros with great kavanah as he did each week. Rav Schlesinger tried to hold back his tears of longing for more time with his great rebbi.

The moment of farewell came and the Rov walked his student to the door, quoting the posuk in Yeshayah (4:3) which states, “Vehayah hanishar b’Zion vehanosar b’Yerushalayim kadosh yomar lo - It will come to pass that he who is left in Zion and he who remains in Yerushalayim shall be called holy.”

The Brisker Rov pointed out that those who remain loyal through the pangs of golus, will be referred to as holy ones. The Rov offered a final directive to his beloved talmid: ‘Men darf nor bleiben ah nishar un ah nosar. We have to endeavor to remain remnants…”

We must do all in our ability to sustain and transmit our traditions in the face of that which confronts us. Our lives should be murals and pictures telling powerful stories of survival.

Maybe the eyes of the man in the picture are looking at us, urging us not to accept those who say we must change and adapt for survival. Those eyes are telling us not to fall for cynical, manipulative speeches and op-eds. If we are to survive we must remember who we are.

If we stand proud and firm, the Shomer She’airis Yisroel will surely help guide us back to Zion and Yerushalayim, and the nation of remnants, survivors and holy people will rise once again.