Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Strong and Uplifted

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha of Vayechi tells of the passing of Yaakov Avinu. The posuk states, “Vayikrivu yemei Yisroel lomus vayikra levno leYosef” (Bereishis 47:29). As Yaakov’s final moments of life approached, he called for his son, Yosef. He urged Yosef not to bury him in Mitzrayim, but in Eretz Yisroel: “Al na sikbereini beMitzrayim. Veshochavti im avosai…” He asks Yosef to swear that he will bury him amongst the avos, repeating the request by stating, “Veshochavti im avosai.”

The Torah generally refers to our forefather as Yaakov when denoting something that is in the present, while the name Yisroel connotes eternity. We must understand why in this instance the Torah refers to him as Yisroel while he was discussing matters relating to the present. Additionally, why did Yaakov feel it was necessary to repeat the request a second time? Why did he call only Yosef to his side to make these requests? Why didn’t he speak to the rest of his children and notify them of this plea?

Regarding this final question, Rashi explains that Yaakov made the request of Yosef because “hayah beyado la’asos,” he was the one who was able to carry it out. However, since the Torah refers to him as Yisroel, this meeting, the conversations, and the request are apparently matters of eternal value and not just temporal. Thus, these favors Yaakov asked of Yosef can be understood as matters of longstanding impact.

Perhaps we can understand the request being made of Yosef on a deeper level bearing in mind the exposition of the Baal Haturim, in Parshas Vayishlach when the posuk recounts that Yaakov said to Eisov, “Vayehi li shor vachamor” (Bereishis 32:6). He writes that Yaakov wasn’t only referring to his ownership of cows and donkeys, but more significantly, Yaakov was alluding to his two sons who had the ability to confront Eisov. Yosef who the posuk refers to as shor, is the alternate power to Eisov; Yissochor who is referred to as a chamor, has the power of Torah, because of his diligence in its study.

The Ramban at the beginning of the parsha (47:28) writes, “Yaakov’s descent to Mitzrayim is similar to our present exile in the hands of the chaya harviis, Romi harasha… The golus is extending for a long time, and unlike previous exiles, we do not know when it will end.”

From the words of the Ramban, we see that golus Mitzrayim contains lessons for us in golus Edom. Thus, even Yaakov’s discussions with Yosef pertaining to golus Mitzrayim have relevance to us in our day.

These pesukim tell of cosmic events. Yaakov was laying the groundwork for survival for his children, and their children, in golus. He was joining with Yosef to craft a code of endurance and triumph, igniting that lehavah, the flame that will ultimately consume Eisov.

Thus, we can understand the seemingly repetitious request, “Vayikra levno leYosef vayomer al na sikbereini beMitzrayim. Veshochavti im avosai…” Yaakov said, “Do not bury me in Mitzrayim. I wish to lay with my fathers.” Then he said, “Unesosani miMitzrayim ukevortani bekevurosom - Carry me from Mitzrayim and bury me in their burial place.”

We can explain that Yaakov was really making two distinct requests. Yisroel, the sheim hanetzach, the name that denotes eternity, was requesting, “Although I am now in Mitzrayim, the most tomei of all the lands, with wicked people and a wicked king, please do not bury me, Yisroel, here. Do not bury the netzach Yisroel, the traditions and beliefs that I received from my fathers, in this impure place. Remain separate from these profane people. Don’t permit yourself and your children to be influenced by them. Veshochavti im avosai. I wish to be like my fathers, Avrohom and Yitzchok, and be a link in a holy chain, with offspring who follow in my path.”

How will that be accomplished? Yaakov makes it clear: Not just by asking to be buried on holy soil, but by emphasizing, “Veshochavti im avosai. I want to rest with my fathers. I want to be connected to them and attached to their sacred mesorah.”

Yaakov tells Yosef, “You will able to do that if unesosani miMitzrayim.” While the simple translation of unesosani is to carry, the word also means to uplift and raise (like the meforshim explain on the posuk, “Naso es rosh Bnei Yisroel”).

Thus, Yaakov was telling Yosef, “In order to accomplish my wish to be an av, with sons and grandsons following in my path, you must raise me and what I stand for over the Mitzri culture. Raise me higher than Mitzrayim. You, Yosef, my son, have to remain elevated. Remain above your surroundings. Raise your children to live on a different plane. That’s how we will remain connected to the avos.”

When Yaakov said, “Unesosani miMitzrayim,” he was referring to the need to remain above the prevailing tumah of Mitzrayim and other goluyos of the future. Hence the use of the name Yisroel. Then, after he expressed his wish for the future, he made his request for the present: “Ukevartani bekevurosom.”

Yaakov pleaded with his son, “Al na sikbereini beMitzrayim, don’t bury me, my middah and my hard work, in Mitzrayim.”

Yaakov appealed to Yosef and not to the other brothers, because the matter he was attending to was not simply with respect to where to bury him, but how to stand up to Eisov and Edom throughout the ages. Yosef was the antithesis of Eisov. He was the one who had the ability to carry out Yaakov’s request of transmitting to future generations the secret to surviving and thriving in the hostile setting of golus.

Additionally, Yaakov perceived that Yosef, the kadosh, who perfected the middah of yesod through personal purity and strength, had mastered the ability to transcend the lures of Mitzrayim, the ervas ha’aretz, the capital of permissiveness and hedonism. That, combined with his inherent ability to battle the forces of Eisov, is why Yaakov requested this of Yosef and not his brothers.

The posuk continues: “Vayishova lo vayishtachu Yisroel al rosh hamittah - Yosef swore that he would do as his father asked. Yisroel bowed to him in appreciation towards the head of his bed.”

Once again, the posuk refers to Yaakov as Yisroel, because he wasn’t just bowing in appreciation of the fact that he would be buried near his father and grandfather in Eretz Yisroel. The eternal Yisroel of netzach was bowing to the eternal middah of Yosef. Yaakov was comfortable in the assurance that his avodah would continue.

Therefore the parsha continues with the narrative of the brachos that Yaakov gave to the sons of Yosef.

Yosef brought his two sons, the guarantors of the derech of the avos, the fusion of Bais Yaakov and Bais Yosef that can negate the koach of Eisov. Yaakov saw nitzchiyus. He saw these children of golus, born in impure Mitzrayim, but committed to derech Yisroel saba. He responded by giving them brachos, the blessings that have echoed ever since in every Jewish home.

After reporting on the entire conversation and incident, the Torah states that Yaakov said, “Vayevorech es Yosef vayomar haElokim asher hishalchu avosai lefonov Avrohom v’Yitzchok haElokim haroeh osi mei’odi ad hayom hazeh. Hamalach hagoel osi mikol ra yevoreich es haneorim veyikorei vohem shemi vesheim avosai Avrohom v’Yitzchok veyidgu larov bekerev ha’aretz” (48:15-16).

This brochah is the culmination of the parsha as we have understood it. When Yaakov saw Menashe and Efraim, the sons of Yosef, he perceived that his offspring would succeed in remaining loyal to his heritage in the exile. Thus, he said, “…haElokim asher hishalchu avosai lefonov Avrohom v’Yitzchok haElokim haroeh osi mei’odi ad hayom hazeh. That same derech that Avrohom, Yitzchok and I have walked on will continue throughout golus.

Hamalach hagoel osi mikol ra yevoreich es haneorim.” Yaakov appreciated that davka Efraim and Menashe carried a strength that others did not have. The malach who protected Yaakov as he went into exile from his father’s home protected his grandchildren in their golus. Yaakov prayed that they would have the tenacity and determination in golus Mitzrayim and golus Romi to remain loyal to the precepts of Avrohom and Yitzchok: “veyikorei vohem shemi vesheim avosai Avrohom v’Yitzchok.”

The posuk in Chagai (2:9) relates the prophecy that the second Bais Hamikdosh would be more glorious than the first: Gadol yihiyeh kevod habayis hazeh ha’acharon min harishon.” Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin asks that this prophecy is apparently refuted by the fact that many of the revealed nissim of the first Bais Hamikdosh, such as ruach hakodesh and the Heavenly fire, were absent in the second Bayis. How, then, can the novi say that the splendor of the second Bais Hamikdosh would exceed that of the first?

Rav Tzadok quotes the Sefer Heicholos, which explains that in the absence of those open miracles and being removed from the tangible presence of the Shechinah, more glory was present, because the people had to toil and work hard on their own to create the kedushah. The glory that arises from hard work and struggle is superior to that which is brought about as a gift from Heaven. People who work hard for their income appreciate what they have much more than those who live lives of dependency.

Yaakov perceived that a new era was beginning. He delighted in seeing that Efraim and Menashe, children of golus, were determined to live as their avos did. He determined that they would serve as the paradigm for generations to come, portraying that it is possible to rise to high and exalted levels even when trapped in a place one doesn’t want to be.

The mussar great, Rav Naftoli Amsterdam, once delivered a shmues in the Slabodka yeshiva on Taanis Esther. He surveyed the room filled with young people and began to weep. “I am so jealous of you,” he said. “You are all young bochurim, each with an active yeitzer hora. I am already an old man; my yeitzer hora has quieted down. I no longer have that same drive and push towards the pleasures of this world... I’m envious of you.”

Rav Naftoli lauded the opportunities of young people to bring about kavod Shomayim, possessed as they are with an energetic yeitzer hora. The glory those bochurim bring about is similar to that of the golus. It is the opportunity to rise with grandeur above all temptations, deterrents, difficulties and hindrances.

After learning that his beloved son, whom he had not seen in twenty-two years, was alive, Yaakov Avinu hurried down to Mitzrayim. On the way, he stopped in Be’er Sheva (46:1). The Medrash states that he stopped there in order to cut cedar trees for use in the construction of the Mishkon when his grandchildren would eventually be redeemed from golus Mitzrayim.

In the midst of the commotion and excitement, Yaakov Avinu remained focused on his mission of leading his progeny into golus. He maintained his equanimity, ensuring that his children would have the supplies they would need to exist in golus, and when they would be redeemed.

Perhaps there is a deeper significance here as well. Yaakov brought cedar trees, because, tall and proud, they are a symbol of steadfastness and strength. He was hinting to his children that if they would stand like arozim, unyielding and proud, they would survive the golus.

Golus is grueling, dangerous and long, but with the firmness of the erez, it is possible to emerge whole and pure. As we endure this period, it behooves us to remain resolute, resisting temptation to sin and sink. We must remain united in our drive and determination not to splinter and divide. Division has caused so many of our problems, historically and presently. The awful situation confronting the olam haTorah in Eretz Yisroel was brought on by divisions. It caused the olam haTorah to lose its voice in the current Knesset. Thankfully, that government has been brought down. Now, fresh splits have cast a pall on the possibility of repealing the destructive laws. Much pain and anguish has already been caused and the election season is barely underway.

Success, and sometimes our very existence, in golus is tenuous. We must count and appreciate our blessings while we have them.

A young Israeli kollel fellow who was traveling on a bus found himself sitting next to an elderly Russian man. The man seemed very simple. The fellow didn’t think much of him and remained focused on his Gemara as the Russian man looked out the window.

Finally, the yungerman felt it improper not to acknowledge the man’s presence, even if it took him away from his learning for a moment. Since it was before Yom Kippur, he wished the man a good year. The old man nodded, shared a toothless smile, and returned the greeting.

The yungerman imagined that, unlearned as he was, the Russian probably fasted on Yom Kippur, so he ventured to wish him an easy fast as well.

His seatmate beamed. “Yes, it will be easy here. Of course it will.”

With a faraway look, he shared his story.

Ten li lehagid lecha et hasippur sheli,” he began, in heavily accented Hebrew.

The man told the yungerman that way back, decades ago, he was incarcerated in the Russian gulag. While there, he was forced to work long, hard hours, without a day off. However, he was determined that he would fast on Yom Kippur, no matter the difficulty. He searched desperately for an excuse to refrain from working on that day in order to be able to endure the difficult fast.

Finally, his friend suggested that he should fake a toothache and go to the infirmary. The authorities didn’t care much for the inmates, so they would immediately diagnose an infection and pull the tooth, the friend suggested. The pain would be intense, as they would perform the procedure without anesthetic, but it would at least earn him a day’s reprieve from work.

The Russian fellow completed his story: “I tried it and it worked. In fact, every year that I was in the work camp, I did the same thing. I would tell them that I had a toothache and they would pull out a tooth. I was there for six years, and six times I was able to fast on Yom Kippur. That’s why I say that here it is easy to fast.”

The man finished his story and smiled. Once again, the kollel fellow noticed his missing teeth, but this time, that toothless smile was more radiant and beautiful than any smile the yungerman had ever seen.

His was the smile of succeeding in golus.

When Moshiach comes, thousands of Jews like that Russian man will line up to greet him. Many will be bearing bruises, missing teeth, lost jobs, and the scars of daunting nisyonos and tragedies. They will stand there, the children of Efraim and Menashe, tall through it all.

Tears, scorn, obstacles. The lot of the Jew in golus. Yet eventually triumphant.

The Torah (49:1 and Rashi inter loc) relates that after he blessed his grandchildren, Yaakov gathered the family together and said that he would tell them what would happen at the End of Days. Yaakov was inspired to reveal the time of Acharis Hayomim, as he saw the unity, the shared mission, and the special kochos of his descendants. He saw that although they were born in the exile, Efraim and Menashe possessed the strengths of Yosef. He was comforted that his offspring would be able to withstand the golus and would merit redemption at the End of Days.

Alas, the very nature of golus is that there is a film of darkness and the end must remain hidden. We cannot fathom or understand the ways of Hashem, but through it all we maintain our emunah and bitachon that the end, the keitz that Yaakov visualized, is approaching.

Through smiles and tears, good years and bad, generous hosts and disdainful ones, we follow the example of Yaakov Avinu’s cedar trees, of Yosef’s strength, of the glory of Efraim and Menashe. We remain strong, honest, incorruptible, united, and committed to each other and our goals, knowing that if we continue to persevere, we will soon be in a better place.

May it happen speedily. Amein.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

We Really Care

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Vayigash is one of the most dramatic parshiyos in the Torah. Finally, after suffering much abuse at the hands of the Egyptian viceroy, Yehudah confronts the ruler following his announced intention to jail Binyomin.

Baalei mussar explain that Yehudah earned the eternal hold on the throne of malchus through his middah of achrayus, responsibility. When their provisions had run out and the brothers were forced to return to Mitzrayim, they could only go back with their younger brother, Binyomin. The Egyptian viceroy had warned them that without him, they would be treated as spies. They would not receive any food and would be jailed.

Yehudah convinced his father, Yaakov, to permit his beloved Binyomin to join the vital trip. He accomplished that by promising Yaakov, “Anochi a’arvenu miyodi tevakshenu,” that he would take personal responsibility for Binyomin’s safe return.

When Yosef took advantage of the vulnerability of the brothers and caused suspicions to be raised in Mitzrayim concerning Binyomin, Yehudah stepped forward.

The posuk states, “Vayigash eilov Yehudah.” Yehudah approached Yosef. The posuk quotes the respectful terms with which Yehudah spoke. He begged his highness, stating, “Bi adoni,” and referred to himself as his slave, “avdecha,” indicating respect for the ruler.

However, Rashi teaches that Yehudah spoke to Yosef “kashos.” Cloaked in diplomatic niceties, he made it clear that he would do whatever it took to earn the release of his younger brother.

In a classic showdown between two powerful men, one a leader in his country, the other a leader in his family, Yosef faced down Yehudah, matching his threats and pleas with wile and negotiation.

The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 93:2) adds a deeper meaning to the exchange, explaining it through a clever understanding of the posuk in Tehillim (48:5) which reads, Ki hinei hamelochim noadu ovru yachdov, heima rau kein tomohu nivhalu nechpozu.” The simple translation of the posuk is, “Behold, the kings assembled, they came together, they saw and were astounded.”

The Medrash interprets the posuk as follows: The kings, Yehudah and Yosef, came together and became angry at each other. The other brothers saw and were astounded. They hastily fled.

The Medrash adds that the other brothers said to each other, “Melochim medaynim eilu im eilu, the kings are battling with each other, onu mah ichpas lonu, what do we care?” Let them fight it out between themselves. It is of no concern to us.

It is with this remark - “onu mah ichpas lonu” - that the brothers revealed what defines royalty and how Yehudah earned malchus.

Others say, “Mah ichpas lonu.” They witness injustice and say, “It is not our problem. We can’t do anything about it anyway.” A melech cares about everyone and everything that happens. “Levavo levav kol Yisroel,” the Rambam says (Hilchos Melochim, perek 3, halacha 6). A king feels what is in the heart of every person and is affected by that.

From this explanation, we understand a new dimension to Yehudah’s malchus. The middah of “ichpas lo” set him apart. If there was a problem in the family, it was his problem. If something had to be made right, he had to make it right. There was no they and others who would rise to the occasion. There was me and there was I. Ichpas lo. He cared. That is leadership. That is malchus. That is Yehudah. That is what we all need to aim for.

Decades ago, when Palestinians hijacked an airplane and held it in Entebbe, Jews around the world davened for the welfare of the hostages. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l went to the Yeshivas Mir bais medrash in Yerushalayim to deliver a shmuess about the situation, but the shmuess never took place. He said two sentences and then became so emotional that he could not continue.

“If the captives would be your brothers,” he said, “think about how much kavanah you would have when you recite Tehillim.” He began to weep profusely and then concluded, “And they takeh are your brothers.”

The Tehillim then began under a cloud of ichpas lonu.

The middah of malchus, of being able to influence others and effect change, is directly proportionate to the amount of ichpas lonu - the level of genuine concern - present.

The most effective leaders are those who are able to identify with the concerns of their subjects and followers, taking action out a sense of ichpas lonu, authentic concern.

Certain rabbonim were working on a project and sought the participation of a few people. When they were unable to convince them to join, they turned to their rebbi, Rav Mordechai Weinberg zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva of Montreal, and asked him to attempt to prevail upon them so that the project would succeed. He reached out to his talmidim and they acted as he requested.

A talmid who had been in the office when the calls were made looked on in amazement and asked the rosh yeshiva why the people had listened to him after others had failed to move them.

Rav Mottel met his talmid’s gaze. “It’s because they know that I really care,” he answered.

Ichpas lonu is a force that can move people and mountains. If people know that you care about them and are responsible, they react differently to your suggestions.

Chazal say, “Man malki? Rabbonon.” Today, that there is no established royalty among us, rabbonim are royalty, Chazal state. Perhaps that is so because they care. Those who care are melochim.

Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel zt”l, the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, had a unique custom. He so loved Torah that when someone came to him and told him a chiddush, he would reward him with a generous financial gift. This custom of his often made the difference between hunger and a full stomach among families of Yerushalayim’s talmidei chachomim.

On Erev Shabbos, there was always a stream of budding scholars who would start their Shabbos preparations at the rosh yeshiva’s home, hoping to earn the money they needed to purchase Shabbos staples. In fact, many decades later, Chacham Ovadia Yosef zt”l testified that the Mirrer rosh yeshiva’s ahavas haTorah and encouragement gave him the wherewithal to celebrate Shabbos each week during his younger years.

When the Brisker Rov, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik zt”l, arrived in Eretz Yisroel, many of his former talmidim and acquaintances went to visit him to pay their respects. Several long weeks after his arrival, one of his most beloved talmidim, Rav Aryeh Leib Pomeranchik, visited him for the first time. The author of Toras Zeraim and Emek Brachah, Rav Aryeh Leib lived in Petach Tikva and could not afford the bus ride to Yerushalayim. He was thus prevented from visiting his rebbi. However, when he heard about the practice of Rav Leizer Yudel to give out money for chiddushei Torah, he borrowed funds for transportation. He figured that he would repay the loan with the money he would receive upon sharing a shtickel Torah with Rav Leizer Yudel.

With the money in hand, he bought a round-trip bus ticket to Yerushalayim and went to visit the Brisker Rov. When the reunion between rebbi and talmid concluded, Rav Aryeh Leib continued on to the home of the Mirrer rosh yeshiva. The Brisker Rov sent his son, Rav Berel, to accompany his talmid.

The meeting between Rav Leizer Yudel and Rav Aryeh Leib didn’t go as planned. The rosh yeshiva listened to the shtickel of the young gaon, but he did not agree with its premise and thus did not give him the reward money.

Rav Berel returned to his father and told him what happened. The Rov didn’t hesitate. He rose to his feet and put on his coat and hat. He then walked from Geulah to the Bais Yisroel neighborhood, finally arriving at the home of the Mirrer rosh yeshiva.

Rav Leizer Yudel was shocked to see the Brisker Rov standing at his doorstep. “Rebbe, vos iz? What brings you here?”

Rosh yeshiva, I came for one reason,” said the rov. “I want to understand why you said that the yungerman’s shtickel Torah isn’t good. I think it is an outstanding p’shat! I think he deserves the reward you pay for a good vort.”

Rav Leizer Yudel would recount the story and comment that what amazed him most was the Brisker Rov’s sense of achrayus and concern for his talmid. He considered the decision not to reward him for his shtickel Torah a mistake and saw it as his problem to rectify.

The Brisker Rov’s malchus stemmed not just from his readiness to battle on behalf of his talmid, but from the fact that the Mirrer rosh yeshiva understood that the Brisker Rov had no tolerance for sheker, falseness, or a krumme vort. When the Brisker Rov said, “The shtickel Torah is good,” all his emes, authenticity and legitimacy were standing behind that claim.

But there is more to the middah of malchus as expressed by Yehudah and his actions, and by talmidei chachomim, rabbonim and gutte Yidden who follow in his path.

A wise Yerushalmi Yid once shared an apocryphal story with me. With the gentle humor and wit unique to residents of the Holy City, he told about a dog that once entered a small shul. The animal noticed that on top of the aron hakodesh, there was an image of two crouching lions hovering over the Luchos.

The dog was incensed. He asked the people in shul why the lion merits such honor. The shul Yidden responded to the dog that the lion is the king of the animals and thus his image is placed in a special place.

The dog wasn’t satisfied. “Why is the lion king? I am king!” it said.

The men in the shul explained to him: “A lion sits patiently. If you throw an old piece of meat or a dried-out bone in its direction, it won’t react. You can’t buy its love by tossing a moldy cut in its direction. The lion decides what it will eat and what is worth lunging for.

“But you, the dog, come bounding over no matter what is being offered. Rotten or decayed, you accept it. If someone throws a stone, you go and chase it. If it is a rock, you run for it. You will chase after a Frisbee as if it were a steak. That’s why you’re never going to be on a paroches.

Gur aryeh Yehudah. Yehudah is compared to a lion, king of the animals. Certainly, this has to do with the readiness of a lion to roar, to spring into action, and to react. Ichpas lo. But there is something else as well. A lion is discriminating. It is selective. It is careful about what it accepts. It doesn’t lunge after everything that is thrown its way. It doesn’t sell itself for cheap kavod, for a stick or an old piece of meat. The lion is disciplined. It is malchusdik, because it can’t be bought. It isn’t corrupted or easily won over.

The lesson shared by the witty Yerushalmi is relevant on so many levels. It is election time in Eretz Yisroel, once again, and we will look on as various parties and politicians dance to the tunes composed by others. The drive for power is blinding enough to reduce intelligent people to the point where they accept and do anything as they lose their ability to discern.

Parties led by gedolei Torah retain their status as lions, waiting patiently for the right proposal and suitable offer. Talmidei chachomim have a finely honed sense of judgment that allows them to differentiate.

In photography, there is a rule that the quality of the picture depends on the amount of light the camera captures. If you have an inferior camera but take pictures in the sunlight, they will reproduce bright and sharp. If you have a good flash shining light on your subject, the picture you capture will please you.

In the yehi ratzon recited by some before lighting neiros Chanukah, we ask Hashem to open our eyes so that “be’orcha nireh ohr, we will be able to see the light.” In life, there are things that we see as light, though, in truth, they are darkness. We can interpret something good as being bad, because the light we see with is faulty. Thus, we ask Hashem, “Be’orcha nireh ohr, shine Your light upon us so that we may see things and judge them with the proper clarity and depth.”

Rav Yosef Liss wrote that the Brisker Rov told him that in our day, the concept of mutar and assur, what is permitted and what is forbidden, has been thrown to the wayside. When people act, the only thing they study is whether the move will be worthwhile or not. “Few people think about whether it is mutar or assur. What they think about is whether it is kedai or not kedai.”

We can understand the curse of Chazal that in the period leading up to Moshiach the pnei hador will be k’pnei hakelev as referring to a time when the leaders and people exhibit the middah of the kelev, accepting whatever is thrown their way. They don’t think about whether it is permitted or forbidden to act in that way. Their only consideration is whether it pays off for them in the short run. They will sell themselves for a bone. Alas, we live in that period.

In his diary, Rabbi Shlomo Lorentz zt”l shares some of the calculations made by gedolei Yisroel as they arrived at a decision affecting Klal Yisroel. He relates that Maran Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach zt”l did not hesitate to alter a prior course of action. If he felt the decision was arrived at in error, or that the circumstances had changed, he would let everyone know that he had changed his mind.

One time, when he changed his mind and said that he had previously erred, Rabbi Lorentz pointed out to Rav Shach that admitting this publicly would cause him great embarrassment. People wouldn’t understand all the calculations and would say that Rav Shach is indecisive.

Rav Shach responded, “In regard to my own honor, don’t worry, because my own kavod has no real value. Besides, the appetite for kavod will never cause me to act untruthfully. It is more important to be honest and truthful than anything else. Nothing will deter me from being led by the truth. The only calculation we should make when deciding a matter such as this is the truth. You are worried that my influence will be diminished if I admit that I made a mistake. So be it. The worst thing is to remain with a mistake.”

True strength, royalty and responsibility are contingent upon us remembering that we work for the Ribbono Shel Olam, not for any politician, pundit or poll. Our guide is the truth, not popularity or imagined respect.

Like a lion, the good person is disciplined to only accept that which is truly emes. That attitude results in malchus, uprightness and concern.

The Gemara in Maseches Nedorim (24a) states (inter alia) that a dog says, “Ana demis’hanina minoch velo mishanis minoi - I benefit from you, but you won’t benefit from me.” A relationship with a dog is always one way: the dog takes and the man gives. On the other hand, a king says, “Ana demanina loch v’at lo mehanis li.” Everyone benefits from a king, but he doesn’t take anything from anyone.

A melech is a nosein, a beneficent giver. A kelev is a mekabel, a selfish taker.

A dog doesn’t care about anyone but itself. Lo ichpas lo. Thus, in the time of ikvesa deMeshicha, when many people are apathetic, selfish and caught up with themselves and their concerns, they are compared to dogs. They don’t have time or room in their hearts for other people.

With this, we can understand why the Chofetz Chaim writes (Ahavas Chesed, 14) that if people would do chessed with each other, the final geulah would come. We can bring about the geulah through helping others and feeling their pain.

We may understand that in the period of ikvesa deMeshicha, pnei hador k’pnei hakelev. There will be a klipah of selfishness in the world that will be mekatreig on us. To remove that klipa and klalah from upon us, we have to be like the lion, conducting ourselves with dignity, forthrightness and selflessness. We have to be like Yehudah. We must be ichpas lonu-niks. If we would show that we care, we could create new worlds for ourselves and improve the one in which we live, as the posuk (Tehillim 89) says, “Olam chessed yiboneh.”

Opportunities for ichpas lonu abound. There is no shortage of situations where we can show that we care and not get swept away with the tide. We can fight for an ideal, for justice, and against those who seek to usurp what is not theirs.

When we are tempted with petty honors, with a chance to be popular, or to forsake our principles, and when people seek to quiet us by throwing us a bone, we must remember why the kelev is not the melech of the animals, and resist temptation. We must always bear in mind that we are bnei melochim.

Ichpas lonu. When we see people acting improperly or people who have been wronged, and when we can make a difference in someone’s life or for a cause, we have to rise like a lion.

Ichpas lonu. If we help someone find a job, or get a child into a school, or find someone a shidduch, or listen to someone’s problems, or lend someone money, or provide a shoulder for someone to cry on, we are fulfilling our mandate.

Ichpas lonu means stepping out of our dalet amos comfort zone and really caring. It means being kind and compassionate.

Ichpas lonu means knowing that through our kindness, empathy and sense of responsibility, we will not only help save our brothers, but will build a new world and usher in a new era, bemeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chanukah Mission

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As we observe the Yom Tov of Chanukah, it is interesting to note that there is a mitzvah of zeh Keili ve’anveihu to perform a mitzvah in its most perfect form.

We find in hilchos Chanukah that the hiddurim in the mitzvah of lighting involve the type of oil and wicks used to light the menorah and providing a menorah for every member of the family. After the fire burns for a half hour, it may be extinguished. The Mishnah Berurah [672, 6] writes that there is no hiddur mitzvah in having it burn longer. I have long wondered why. We would think that the longer the candles remain lit, the more of a hiddur mitzvah it would be.

Perhaps we can explain as follows. We light the menorah to commemorate the heroic act of the Chashmonaim. The greatness of what they did and what we celebrate is the fact that they had the courage to stand apart with faith in Hashem as they battled the Yevonim and those who fell under their influence.

What came after was a result of siyata diShmaya, Divine intervention. Although by laws of nature there was no way they could have succeeded in their mission, their dedication was rewarded by Hashem and they overcame the overwhelming odds stacked against them.

With siyata diShmaya, after the war, they found a small container of holy oil, which miraculously proved to be enough to light for eight days, until they were able to procure more. Their heroic act was the initial kindling of the menorah. The fact that it remained lit until more oil was obtained was a miracle independent of them. Because they performed their mission without weighing their chances of success, Hashem caused them to succeed.

Thus, the mitzvah is to light the menorah - kovsah ein zokuk lah - and there is no hiddur in the lights burning longer, because we are saluting the action of the Chashmonaim, which was their devotion to their mission of kehunah and kedushah, and destroying the tumah, even though victory was not apparent. They kindled the menorah even though they didn’t know how long it would remain lit. The mitzvah, therefore, is to acknowledge their heroism by lighting the menorah. For the menorah to remain lit longer than the initial thirty minutes does not add to the performance of the mitzvah.

Klal Yisroel didn’t feel itself strong enough to throw off the yoke of Greek tyranny until Matisyahu showed that it could be done. Forces of evil are permitted to remain in power, because the people they dominate do not appreciate their own power and do not join together to bring down the wickedness. Evil is toppled when one good man decides that he can bear it no longer and begins to rally people around him.

The miraculous military victory over Yovon is a dramatic example of how the laws of nature are suspended when dedicated people join together to increase Torah and kedushah in the world. That reversal of the natural order in their day was made possible by the great acts of courage and heroism carried out by one courageous individual, Matisyahu, and his small group.

Though according its natural makeup, the flask contained enough oil to burn for one day, it fueled the flame for as long as was necessary until more oil could be made. So too, although in physical terms those who were virtuous were outmatched by those who were evil, they won anyway.

Very often, we hear tales of wonder about how people succeeded in building Torah where no one thought it was possible. How many times have we heard of the rov who came to a town and was told that hair would grow on hand-palms before a yeshiva would take root? The naysayers are long forgotten as Torah takes root and blossoms.

People move to far-flung cities and towns and everyone thinks they are crazy, yet they succeed. People are moser nefesh to do a mitzvah and, in the long run, they gain from it. People who work lesheim Shomayim, with selfless dedication, are not limited by logic or the laws of nature. They go where everyone says you can’t and they succeed because they know that our task is to light the fire; the rest is up to Hashem.

On Chanukah, we pay tribute to the ideals of mesirus nefesh of the Chashmonaim. They took a brave, determined stand against the evil tyranny that brutalized them and sought their destruction as a people. The Chashmonaim were unpopular, as much of Klal Yisorel succumbed to the temptations presented by the Yevonim.

In fact, the Bach (Orach Chaim 670) writes that the Yevonim were able to enact gezeiros, because there was a hisrashlus b’avodah, a general weakening in the commitment to religious obligations.

The Chofetz Chaim foretold of a similar atmosphere towards hachzokas haTorah in ikvesa deMeshicha, the period leading up to the arrival of Moshiach.

The avodah of Chanukah and of these dark times is the same: to support and enable courageous stars to emerge from within our people and free us of our shackles, enabling us to rise.

The Chofetz Chaim regularly delivered a shmuess to his talmidim in his Radiner yeshiva. The shmuessen were actually more of a rumination. He would contemplate, think and reflect. The shmuess was a conversation more than a lecture.

In discussing the battle between Yaakov Avinu and the sar of Eisov, the Chofetz Chaim wondered why the force of evil worked with such energy and drive to block the path of Yaakov. He asked why the paths to kedushah of the first two avos were not impeded in this manner.

The Chofetz Chaim seemed to look into the future as he spoke. “Each of the avos represented a distinct path in avodah. Avrohom’s was chesed, Yitzchok’s was gevurah and Yaakov’s was Torah. The Zohar reveals that a time will come, just prior to the alos hashachar of Moshiach, when people will ignore talmidei chachomim and forgo traditional support for Torah,” he said. “The lack of encouragement will cause talmidei chachomim to weaken in their resolve. This is hinted to by the injury the malach caused Yaakov in his kaf yerech. The thigh supports the body, and the angel thought that by injuring that limb, Yaakov would be unable to battle him.

“The malach struck Yaakov Avinu, but he fought on. Although he was hurt, he summoned the strength to overcome his heavenly opponent.”

The Chofetz Chaim said that before Moshiach’s arrival, chizuk and encouragement for Torah would decline. However, he said, the fight would go on, and there would be a few resolute individuals who would fight lonely battles.

He foretold that while they might be few, they would be proud and effective.

Every individual has the ability to grasp an ideal and stand tall in its defense. We all have a singular mission in life, and if we are true to our core, we can summon the strength to realize it. We must never lose sight of what our ultimate goal is, despite all the noise and static seeking to steal our attention. Challenges confront us, but we possess the ability to surmount them.

It is as true today as it was thousands of years ago, when the Chashmonaim confronted the masses to fight with dignity and pride in defense of our mesorah.

On Chanukah, we celebrate the Chashmonaim and their mesirus nefesh for kedushah. They rose to throw off the forces of darkness from the nation that was having its light source blocked. They were the me’atim, the tzaddikim, the tehorim, the people who performed Hashem’s service in the Bais Hamikdosh and in the bais medrash.

Rather than turning to the strong people and others who were trained in physical labor and accomplishment, they themselves led the battle against the forces of darkness.

Too often, we look for others to do our work. We look in the wrong places for saviors and salvation, not knowing that the solution is within us. If we improve ourselves and make ourselves worthy, we can overcome whatever stands in our way. And if it isn’t us who can accomplish the goal, we can assist those who can. It is very difficult to work in a vacuum. Those intrepid souls who do so need all the help and support they can get.

While the first part of the Chofetz Chaim’s prophecy has been realized, it is comforting to know that the second part is coming to fruition as well. Yes, we are bombarded by many who seek to undermine us. We are beset by various problems that beg for solutions. There is an air of negativity and begrudging acceptance of the situation, as many are apathetic.

This past Shabbos, I attended the Torah Umesorah convention which catered to askonim, executives, lay leaders and yeshiva administrators. They are people who enable roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, mechanchim and mechanchos to inspire and lead. They represent the kaf yerech support system for those to whom we entrust our children.

After spending a Shabbos with those people, I see that there really is room for optimism and hope. There are people all across the country who fight on and refuse to be dissuaded from bringing Torah and kedushah to all corners. They, and those like them, are heroes in our time. They are the ones the Chofetz Chaim referred to as he spoke to the bochurim in Radin in a different time and a different world.

Such people are referred to as “tamchin d’Oraysa.” A tomeich Torah differs from a nadvan, who donates to Torah and good causes. The tomeich doesn’t just donate. He stands behind the talmid chochom and supports him, motivating him and enabling him to continue; comfortable and strong.

The quintessential tamchin d’Oraysa shows humility and veneration for Torah scholars. As wealthy, influential and powerful as they may be, they acknowledge the leadership of genuine Torah greats.

Reb Moshe Reichmann zt”l generously supported a local kollel. Once, a close friend asked the Canadian philanthropist to prevail upon the rosh kollel to accept a certain yungerman. Mr. Reichmann looked at him in shock. “Me? What do I know about running a kollel? I am a developer. He makes talmidei chachomim. I have no right to offer an opinion.”

He exemplified the tamchin d’Oraysa who are the yerech, holding up the guf of a nation with distinction.

Being a tomeich Torah doesn’t necessarily involve donating money. A very wealthy European Jew, who was a generous philanthropist, experienced a bad turn in business and lost his fortune. He shared his frustration and pain with the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l. The Rebbe comforted him. “It’s a difficult nisayon,” he said, “but now you have been given a new role, a new shlichus. Now you will show people how you can assist mosdos without money. You will help raise money, you will come up with good ideas, and you will utilize your connections and business experience. By doing so, you will demonstrate that anyone can be a tomeich Torah.”

A heartbroken almanah once shared her tale of woe with Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt”l. Her husband had been a wealthy industrialist and a patron of yeshivos. His business went into a downward spiral and, before he knew what had happened, he was left with an empty bank account. He died shortly thereafter from a broken heart.

The woman told the rov that she went to visit her son, who was learning in a prominent yeshiva, and was appalled by the squalor in which the bochurim were living. After listening to her problems, Rav Chaim Ozer said to her, “It’s your fault.”

The woman reacted with astonishment to the charge. Rav Chaim Ozer explained: “You and your husband were generous and caring friends of yeshivos, and then, unfortunately, you were no longer able to give money. You thought that you were absolved of your obligation to support Torah, but that isn’t true.”

He continued: “You can still do so much. Here,” he said, handing her a sum of money, “take this and buy straw. I’m sure that with your determination, you will be able to get sacks donated. We can fill them with the straw and the bochurim will have new beds to sleep on. Go with hatzlachah. You can still do so much.”

The almanah left, not just with money, but with a new mission in life.

There are many missions for the taking. There are causes waiting for champions.

The miracle of Chanukah that we celebrate is primarily that of the tiny flask that burned longer than was thought to be realistically possible. The menorah’s lights signify that the power of light overcame the power of darkness. The oil lasting longer than one day signifies that if you expend the effort and work bemesirus nefesh, physical rules will not apply.

We see wrongs in our world and are told that there is nothing we can do about it. We try to right the wrongs and are mocked. Yet, in fact, if you look around, there are so many people who overcame the odds, building Torah where no one thought it was possible, restoring lives others had given up on, and fighting abuse that people thought was part of life. We see teachers touching souls and impacting them forever. We see righteous men and women not taking no for an answer, standing up to an apathetic society, and awakening people’s consciences. We see people rallying to fight for those who have been wronged.

We see people working with selfless dedication and are amazed that it seems as if logic and the laws of nature don’t apply to them. They tread where no one has dared step before, and they succeed where lesser people vowed success was absolutely impossible. Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt”l, who founded Torah Umesorah, stood up to the passive negativity that was pervasive in his time and dedicated himself to doing what he could so that tens of thousands of children would say, “Shema Yisroel.” He sent his talmidim across the country, infusing them and others with the passion to change people’s mindsets. The spark they created grew into a fire that spread from New York to California and every major city in between, fueled by intrepid souls who forsook fame and fortune to save a nation in a death spiral.

Wherever Torah Umesorah reached, the community blossomed. Many tens of thousands of Jewish children were lost, robbed of a Jewish education, but the day school movement made it possible to change that narrative. Assisted by dedicated baalei batim who worked with mesirus nefesh, the mindset was transformed and a revolution ensued.

These are the heroes of our people. They have taken a desolate land and caused a desert of assimilation to bloom with Torah. It is these heroes who have heard the call of the Chashmonaim. They have been the shluchim for the rebirth of our people decades after we were nearly wiped out. They have succeeded in greater fashion than anyone thought possible, blessed with siyata diShmaya reserved for those who work bemesirus nefesh lesheim Shomayim. 

This week, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman selected my dear friend, Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin, to run on the Yahadus HaTorah list for the Knesset. Twenty-five years ago, when Lev L’Achim was founded, Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach zt”l tapped the energetic yungerman to lead it. Since then, he has worked ceaselessly and tirelessly, crisscrossing Israel to bring the blessings of Torah to tens of thousands of thirsting people.

With the direction of the gedolim, assistance of an army of volunteers, and support of bnei Torah around the world, he demonstrated the ability of one person to affect tens of thousands.

Monday night, Rav Shteinman said, “He is what the generation needs,” proving again how much one person can accomplish and that if we would dedicate ourselves to our missions, we can transform the world.

Many others worked alone, mocked and derided as failing dreamers, yet they placed their faith in Hashem and lived to see much success. People such as the Ponovezher Rov are the stuff of legend and many stories are told about them. But even in our day, there are people who defied the odds and went on to undertake trailblazing endeavors on behalf of our people. We can all have that impact if we discover our mission and set out to right wrongs and make the world a better place. We have to light the spark lesheim Shomayim. Hashem does the rest.

A delegation once traveled to St. Petersburg to meet with the Russian minister of education in an attempt to convince him to revoke a decree that would have terribly impacted yeshivos. Upon arrival in the Russian capital city, the participants met with the local rov, Rav Yitzchok Blazer, to discuss tactics they would employ to underscore the importance of Torah to the minister. Someone suggested translating the words of the tefillah of Ahavah Rabbah for the minister to demonstrate the depth of love for Torah. Rav Blazer replied, “If we would translate those words for ourselves, we wouldn’t need to do so for them.”

We daven three times every day, but we don’t necessarily take the words to heart. We learn the story and halachos of Chanukah, but we have to recognize their relevance to us and our daily lives. The inspiration is there for those who seek it.

If each of us would internalize the lesson of the Chashmonaim, we could free ourselves from much oppression.

It is because of such people that we can reach and learn and daven. It is because of the mesirus nefesh of people who went forth into an eretz lo zorua that Torah and Yiddishkeit are stronger than ever. It is because of their dedication that we can publicly light the menorah with pride, without fear of our neighbors.

As we light the menorah, we should learn the lesson of the Chashmonaim, and of the gedolim, roshei yeshiva, admorim, rabbonim, mechanchim and mechanchos who have led us on a path of greatness, and be motivated to do what we can to complete their missions and ours.

Rav Yitzchok Blazer would relate from his rebbi, Rav Yisroel Salanter, that on Chanukah it is forbidden to be sad. If someone would tell Rav Yisroel something depressing, he would respond, “Shhh. On Chanukah it is forbidden to say hespeidim and be despondent.”

How can a person be unhappy on the Yom Tov that commemorates Hashem helping those who actively place their faith in Him? The menorah reminds us of the successes of those who refused to be depressed or suppressed throughout the ages. Let’s remember that.

Ah freilichen Chanukah