Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Fresh from the lessons of Purim, having been mekabel the Torah mei’ahavah, we encounter Parshas Shemini, which offers us uplifting lessons to illuminate our path.

At the time of Krias Yam Suf, a fearful nation was told, “Hashem yilocheim lochem ve’atem tacharishun - Your duty at this time is to remain silent, as Hashem defeats the Mitzriyim” (Shemos 14:14).

Chazal state that this advice is eternally relevant, pertinent today as then. There are times when we must speak up and times when we should remain silent, times to do battle and times to be passive.

As the Jews stood at the Yam Suf with nowhere to go and the Mitzriyim quickly catching up to them, Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Moshe that it wasn’t a time to stand in lengthy prayer: “Lo eiss atah leha’arich b’tefillah.” While in a time of danger we normally cry out to Hashem for salvation, this time was different.

There is an “eis,” a time, for everything, as expressed by Shlomo Hamelech in Koheles: Eis livkos, ve’eis lischok… Eis le’ehov, ve’eis lisno, eis milchomah, ve’eis sholom.” How we are to act in each “eis” is determined by the Torah.

Many times, you hear people describe a person as a good man. For example, they say, “He does a lot of chesed, he is a good husband, and he is kovei’a ittim.” Homiletically, the phrase may have come about as a depiction of people who determine what type of eis it is and how to react to various ittim through the prism of Koheles and Torah. When we say that a person is “kovei’a ittim,” we are saying that the Torah is his foundation and solidifies his responses to the vagaries of life. His reactions are dictated by the Torah.

In Parshas Shemini, we learn that Aharon Hakohein felt unworthy when he was selected to perform the avodah in the Mishkon. The posuk states that he was commanded to approach the mizbei’ach: “Krav el hamizbei’ach.” Rashi quotes Chazal, who explain the strange language as teaching that Aharon was told, “Set aside your humility, because you were Divinely chosen for this task.”

Although Aharon preferred to remain in the background, when told that it was an eis for him to step into a leadership position, he was spurred to action.

His sons, Nodov and Avihu, however, sought to go where they didn’t belong. They reasoned that they were worthy of making decisions regarding the Mishkon. On their own, they decided that they were to bring an offering of flaming ketores. The posuk (Vayikra 10:1-2) states, “Vayakrivu lifnei Hashem eish zora asher lo tziva osam - They brought a strange fire that they were not commanded to do.” Because of that, a fire that emanated “milifnei Hashem” killed them.

The Torah refers to the fire they offered as “strange” and explains what was strange about it: asher lo tziva osam, it wasn’t commanded. It was their own idea, and thus it was strange and unwanted. They may have meant well, and they wanted to share in the great celebration and help out in the consecration of the Mishkon, but because it wasn’t based on Torah or mesorah, it was strange and unwanted. Thus, a fire went out milifnei Hashem and smote them.

People who act based upon their own thinking, ignoring or twisting halachah and mesorah to comply with what they think is necessary and makes sense are unwanted and are playing with fire.

This is not only directed at those who claim to be adapting Orthodoxy to fit with the times, but also those who believe that they possess the ability to divine on their own the proper course of action in any given situation.

Our history is full of exceedingly humble men who kept themselves out of the limelight until their leadership was demanded. The Chazon Ish learned quietly by himself, his brilliance known to few. But when he arrived in Eretz Yisroel and people began turning to him, he emerged like a triumphant general, leading the fledgling Torah world and presiding over the growth of an empire.

His brother-in-law, the Steipler Gaon, was viewed as a batlan until the baton was passed to him. He then roared like a lion and showed the way as the Am HaTorah was faced with unprecedented challenges. His colleague, Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, was viewed much the same until his senior years. He fully immersed himself in Torah learning until he reached a new chapter in his life, when he was called to lead. The gentle giant shocked all who knew him as he became the undisputed leader of the Torah world, guiding a nation with his knowledge of Torah and the lessons taught him by his rabbeim, primary amongst them the Brisker Rov.

Likewise, Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv was a masmid who learned in his own little corner until the day Rav Shach told him that it was time to serve the klal in his place.

Klal Yisroel, Rav Akiva Eiger once said, has a chush harei’ach, a sixth sense, about who their gedolim are. There is no preparatory school, no route one takes to get to the top. Rather, the people themselves know who should lead them.

Throughout the ages, our leaders were trained and formed in the crucible of Torah. Our people never looked to those who pushed themselves and forced themselves into positions of influence. Torah is the domain of the humble and the self-effacing.

Nodov and Avihu were well-intentioned, but their gaavah misled them and caused them to be lost to the Jewish people. So often, we see people embroiled in self-destructive behavior and machlokes, ruining themselves and others for no apparent reason. When we look deeper, we see that gaavah is at the root of the problem.

Humility doesn’t mean that it is not important to be confident in our abilities. Humility means that although we appreciate our attributes, we accept upon ourselves the kevias ittim of Torah. We recognize that we are under the jurisdiction of the laws and moral demands of the Torah. We don’t think that we are smarter or better than those who came before us. We don’t speak out of turn, and those of us who are not fully versed in halachah and hashkofah defer to those who are. We don’t make our own rules and set our own guidelines that are not in keeping with the way our people have been conducting themselves over the past millennia.

Because of his humility, Aharon Hakohein merited a life of closeness to Hashem, working in the Mishkon. He sought to distance himself from leadership, for he felt himself unworthy, but once he was commanded to rise, he fully embraced the position. As he served Hashem on the holiest levels, mentoring his people wasn’t beneath him. The oheiv es habrios umekarvan laTorah lived on the golden path, traveling the road of harmony.

Upon the demise of Nodov and Avihu, the Torah tells us, “Vayidom Aharon.” Their great father, the kohein gadol, who had just initiated his role in the Heichal Hashem, was silent. Aharon, a competent and experienced communicator, was undoubtedly able to express himself very well. After all, he was Moshe Rabbeinu’s spokesman. He was a man who pursued peace, settled disputes, and drew people closer to Torah. Why is it that when his two great sons were taken from him, he remained silent?

Because that is what was demanded by the Torah during this “eis.”

It was an eis lishtok.

He had no mesorah of how to respond. Nobody had ever experienced a tragedy like this. He had no tradition of how a father reacts when losing children who were moreh halachah lifnei rabbon, being makriv an eish zora at the chanukas haMikdosh. They were great men, with righteous intentions, but Aharon remembered the lesson of “Ve’atem tacharishun.”

Sometimes, silence is the correct response.

In life, we are often tested. Sometimes, it is proper to speak up. Other times, the best reaction is to remain silent.

When there is no mesorah for how to respond, we remain silent and wait for those more qualified than us to speak and provide direction. We don’t rush headstrong into new storms. We don’t view ourselves in grandiose terms, as if we are able to chart the proper course.

Through perfecting the art of silence, we merit the gift of speech. Chazal tell us that the reward for Aharon’s silence was that in the following parsha, the rule that kohanim may not become intoxicated at the time of avodah was told by Hashem to Aharon alone. Because he remained silent, Aharon was given a special mitzvah to transmit. He was called upon to speak.

The depth of his reward is that there is no mandate to be quiet or to speak. The only mandate is to follow the ratzon Hashem. Our only task is to be a “kovei’a ittim.”

One who is humble enough to submit is humble enough to lead.

That is the message of this week’s parsha and the lessons of gedolei Yisroel, who, as different as they may have been in outlook and temperament, shared the dual characteristics of humility to follow and courage to lead.

Chazal teach that “seyog lachochmah shtikah,” the key to wisdom is to remain silent. Don’t speak when you are not called upon. Don’t engage in idle talk. Don’t be quick to judge and mock other people. Don’t speak about matters publicly without knowing the facts. Silence is the sign of intelligence, because, often, the most prudent way to respond is through silence.

There are many issues regarding which we have no clear guidance. There are so many things that transpire that we don’t understand. We must bend our ears to the Torah and hear what it says. In times of happiness and not, we have to think about how the Torah would want us to act. What would our parents and grandparents say? How would they react? What would our rabbeim say? They knew better, and they know better, because they know how to be kovei’a ittim al pi haTorah, and we have to learn from them to be quiet, tzonua and humble, and how to be mekabel din and tochachah.

Vayidom Aharon.” When his sons were killed on the day of the chanukas haMishkon, Aharon was silent. He didn’t wail and he didn’t scream. Rather, he accepted what happened, knowing that Hashem willed it so. And because he was quiet at that moment, he merited speaking to Hashem and to the Jewish people and performing the avodah. His silence paved the path for his family for generations to come and for Jewish leaders for all time.

Was he quiet or talkative? He was neither. He was an eved Hashem, devoted to following Hashem’s will, perceiving the change in ittim and reacting. He knew that nothing happens out of happenstance, and if tragedy occurs, it is because Hashem willed it so. Our duty is to accept what Hashem has done and wait until another day to properly comprehend what transpired.

The person who lives with bitachon is at peace. Current events don’t shake him. He is not easily rattled. No matter what happens, he is able to maintain his equilibrium. Vayidom Aharon. Because he was a man of faith and didn’t become rattled, he was able to see the big picture and recognized that a kiddush Hashem was created by the deaths of his sons. He thus returned to the avodahka’asher tzivah Hashem,” for as a humble, G-d-fearing person, he knew that his role was to submit to the ratzon Hashem.

Following the Holocaust, there were two courses of action for survivors. Their harrowing experiences left many forlorn and broken. They lost their will to live and felt that Hashem had forsaken them. And who can blame them? They couldn’t recover.

But there were people whose emunah was stronger, and although they had lived through those same experiences as the people who became depressed and lost, they put their lives back together, established new homes, and found what to celebrate about as they went on to live productive lives of “vayidom,” neither complaining nor becoming immobilized by their multiple tragedies.

Far be it from us to comprehend what they lived through or to judge the people who were subjected to sub-human abuse, but we can learn from their examples. Each one of those people, from the simple Jews to the venerated leaders, is a hero to our nation. Together, they helped rebuild and resurrect a decimated people following the war. Their bodies were ripped apart, their families were destroyed, they were penniless and lonely, but their souls remained whole and pure.

Whatever life does to us, we must remain whole and unbroken. Sometimes, the temptation is to fall apart and break down. If we can rise above our experiences in a state of “vayidom,” we can bounce back and resurrect ourselves, triumphing despite many setbacks. Of course it’s easier said than done. Oftentimes, we need the help and reassurance of good people to keep us on track, but survival and endurance beat the alternative.

For years, we have been writing about the plight of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, sentenced to 27 years of prison. We have been writing of the fallacies in the case brought against him. Many have doubted his version and gravitated to the government’s charges that he was found guilty of causing a $27 million loss to the bank with which the company he worked for had a line of credit.

Last week, we reported about the overwhelming evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, proving that his sentence is uncalled for. Notes from a 2008 meeting of government officials were presented, as were legal affidavits that show that what Sholom Mordechai has been saying is true.

Rubashkin lawyers offered testimony from people interested in purchasing the plant that the government caused them to withdraw their bids because of threats of forfeiture and demands that no member of the Rubashkin family be involved in management of the plant they built and ran.

Paula Roby, a lawyer for the bankruptcy trustee, testified falsely that there was no attempt by the government to prevent any members of the Rubashkin family from being employed by the plant under new owners.

In her written decision finding Sholom Mordechai guilty and declaring the amount of the loss, U.S. District Judge Linda Reade wrote that she accepted Roby’s testimony and determined that the prosecutors did not cause the value of the business to plummet. It was all Sholom Mordechai’s fault, and for that he has to sit in jail for 27 years.

The new evidence presented to the court conclusively proves that the government knowingly presented false and misleading testimony and withheld exculpatory evidence.

This man, whose business was taken from him, whose reputation was ruined, and who was left penniless and has been separated from his family and society for almost seven years thus far for a crime he did not commit has good reason to be depressed and bitter, yet his faith remains solid and he remains devoted to Hashem and His Torah. He is happy in the knowledge that he was chosen to suffer for his people and is performing his duty behind bars. He knows that he will be released when Hashem determines that his mission behind the barbed wire has been fulfilled, and he eagerly awaits that day.

No matter where we are, a Jew is always home, surrounded by opportunities to accomplish and prevail, though each place, season and moment has a specific avodah. We are never alone if we are ensconced in the “dalet amos shel halachah,” governed by the halachos and hashkafos of the Torah.

May the clarity of emunah and bitachon light up our paths, so that we merit living as ehrliche Yidden, servants of Hashem, and welcoming Moshiach tzidkeinu bekarov.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Rav Yitzchok Hutner would comment that we don’t make Havdolah at the conclusion of Purim because we want the day to remain with us. We struggle to hold on to the spiritual clarity, sense of purpose and mission that were so apparent at the mishteh yayin.

The growth is not a fleeting byproduct of the wine; rather, it is something that was buried within and was revealed by the wine. The joy we experienced wasn’t outside of us, but inside. All we did was strip away the complications and cheshbonos that are there the entire year. At the conclusion of Purim, we seek to draw that joy into our souls, so that we can create a cocoon for it and have reserves of simchah available at all times.

I am always on the lookout for new insights, ideas I have never heard before. Chiddush doesn’t have to be new to excite us. The Torah is endless, and every time we gain a new understanding, it is a chiddush and the neshomah gets charged from it.

I saw a fascinating idea in the Sefer Shela Hakadosh brought from sifrei kodesh. The Shela explains that Binyomin was the only one of the shevotim who did not bow to Eisov. When a person bows, he accepts some degree of the power possessed by the person or object he is bowing to. All of the shevotim, except for Binyomin, bowed to Eisov, and thus, to a certain degree, Eisov was able to harm them – and maintain a hold on them - with his powers of tumah.

Shmuel Hanovi anointed Shaul Hamelech king, because, as a descendant of Binyomin, he was confident that Shaul would be able to remove the effect of Amaleik, the descendant of Eisov, from Am Yisroel. However, Shaul sinned and failed in his mission.

Mordechai Hatzaddik took over where Shaul left off (see Medrash, Esther Rabbah 10:14). As a descendant of Binyomin, he was also untouched by Eisov and Amaleik and was able to stand up to Haman and remove Amaleik’s hold. With strength inherited from his forefather, Binyomin, who did not bow to Eisov and remained untainted by him, “lo yichra velo yishtachaveh,” Mordechai did not bow to the Amaleik of his day. Putting his life in jeopardy to reject the power of Amaleik, Mordechai was able to defeat him.

Binyomin and his offspring are blessed with an additional source of strength to withstand the forces of evil. The Medrash in Esther Rabbah (7:7) lists several similarities in pesukim pertaining to Yosef and those talking about Mordechai. This strength came from Rochel Imeinu, mother of Yosef and ancestor of Mordechai, says Rav Gamliel Rabinovich. She was moser nefesh to preserve the pride of her sister Leah and implanted this ability, a burning ga’avah d’kedushah, in her children.

Mordechai fused the pride and strength of Rochel with Binyomin’s purity and was thus equipped to withstand Haman’s threats. He rallied Am Yisroel around him and, b’achdus, together, they dislodged Amaleik’s grip over them. 

Hence the new light of Purim, laYehudim hoysah orah, for their light had been dimmed by Amaleik and their Torah wasn’t complete as long as the shadow of Amaleik hovered over them. Purim marks the day when all the Jews were freed from that heavy veil of darkness.

Purim stands as a beacon to Jews for all time to withstand temptation and threats of evil occupiers and the evil inclination. We are all strong enough to stand up to our enemies. Not only shevet Binyomin, but all of Klal Yisroel. Not only the ainiklach of Rochel, but all of us.

The neis of Purim bequeathed this power to all of us. Every Yid is gifted with this mix of pride, confidence and purity.

Our first encounter with Eisov’s grandson, Amaleik, comes in Shemos (17:8), where the posuk states, “Vayavo Amaleik vayilocheim im Yisroel b’Refidim.” Amaleik came and battled Klal Yisroel in Refidim. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 101a) explains that the posuk states that the battle took place in Refidim to tell us that Amaleik was able to fight Klal Yisroel because the nation became weak - rofu yedeihem - in their study and observance of Torah.

In order to beat back Amaleik and his descendants, we have to be dedicated to the Torah. Amaleik is the descendant of Eisov and inherited his abilities. Yitzchok promised Eisov that when Yaakov is weak, he shall rise over him. Cleaving to the Torah means seriously devoting ourselves to its study and also following its commandments.

If we want to be able to combat the koach hara, we have to embody the koach hatov. We are only tovim if we are ehrlich and straight and medakdekim bemitzvos. If we slack off in shemiras hamitzvos, even in only one mitzvah, then we will lack what we need to overcome the many temptations and difficulties Amaleik places in our paths to snag and destroy us.

We have to live like Yidden, leading virtuous lives.

Under the oppression and fierce opposition of the Communist regime, Rav Yosef Yitzchok of Lubavitch persisted in teaching Torah and spreading Yiddishkeit. He ignored threats and warnings, charging his spirited followers to do the same. He explained that this ability was a reflection of a middah demonstrated by Mordechai Hatzaddik in Megillas Esther. The posuk (5:9) states, “Ukere’os Haman es Mordechai besha’ar hamelech velo kom velo zah mimenu.” Haman left the king’s palace in good spirits, but when he saw Mordechai sitting in his path and neither rising nor bowing, Haman was overcome with anger.

If you examine the language of the posuk, you’ll notice that it doesn’t say that Haman was upset that Mordechai didn’t bow for him. It says “velo kom velo za.” The rebbe said that those words signify that not only did Mordechai not rise for the viceroy, but he didn’t even feel an inner tremor. Not only did Mordechai not react, Haman simply didn’t register with him. Mordechai was kulo tov and had no relationship at all with ra. It didn’t faze him in any way.

Good Jews have always striven to live with this middah, being certain and confident in their bitachon.

We have to live big and proud, free of pettiness and dishonesty. Purim is a day when we absorb that timeless pride, relearning how to grab on to the faith of Mordechai. And as we do on Yom Hakippurim, the day that is similar to Purim, on this day we are able to rid ourselves of sins, immorality, deceit and thievery. With proper faith and the emunah that is the bedrock of the day, we understand that it is not necessary to be devious or under-handed to obtain the sustenance we need.

When Purim is over, we lain Parshas Tzav and learn the halachos of the korban todah. Gratitude to Hashem for His gifts to us help us appreciate that what we have comes from Him. If we are grateful and appreciative, we recognize that our parnassah is from Hashem. If we want to be showered with His blessing, we would do better to study Chovos Halevavos Shaar Habitachon than to act unscrupulously. As we offer our thanks to Hashem with the korban todah, that message is reinforced.

The generations before us, including the ones that came to America with no physical possessions, were wealthy in the aphorisms and truisms that sustained them and their families in a spiritually inhospitable climate. “A Yid doesn’t bow. Ah Yid bookt zich nisht,” was a favorite. That is at the very core of our DNA.

It is all the more understandable in light of the Shela Hakadosh’s words.

We don’t bow, because we want to retain our purity. Our ideology is not for sale. Those who didn’t bow to the secular ideology in which they found themselves, didn’t become overwhelmed and overtaken by it. Those who stood proudly in the face of temptations and pressures to compromise on shemiras hamitzvos were saved from the vestiges of Amaleik that ripped so many millions of Jews from their moorings.

Those who were loyal to the Torah and never deviated from the proper course had orah vesimchah vesason viykor here in America and wherever else Hashgochah led them. Kein tihiyeh lonu.

Our zaides and bubbes bequeathed to us many other minhagim, practices and values. Some have a mekor in Shulchan Aruch, others don’t. Either way, we cherish them, for it is these small nuances that give Yiddishkeit its depth, defining the Jewish soul. When we refer to gutte Yidden, we are describing those who embody the subconscious goodness and tzikus accumulated over centuries of being on the side of “tov.”

We have often asked questions about issues that arise in the running of a newspaper. Sometimes, the answers are black and white. Oftentimes, however, they aren’t clear at all. The answers lie in the hearts of men who have toiled in learning for decades and have the refinement and sensitivity to know what is right and proper.

My friend, Rav Eli Hoberman, reminded me of a conversation that took place many years ago when an ambitious frum activist sent the Yated a picture of himself with Rav Aharon Schechter, clearly hoping that publically sharing the photo would send a message that the rosh yeshiva endorsed him and values his work. Unsure if the rosh yeshiva would appreciate the inference and being unable to reach him at that time for some reason or another, I reached out to Rabbi Hoberman, who is on the staff of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, to find out. He asked the rosh yeshiva, whose answer had little to do with the ideology of the subject of the photograph. It was an answer laden with Yiddishe hartz.

“If publishing the picture can assist the Yid with his parnossah, then what’s the question?” said Rav Schechter.

Indeed, what’s the question?

This memory led me to another such treasure in my memory bank. A talmid chochom was niftar, and his talmidim desperately wanted us to feature his petirah on our cover, with an appreciation and coverage befitting a leading rosh yeshiva. Unsure if the situation called for it, I contacted my rebbi, Rav Elya Svei, to ask how to proceed. He responded with just one question. He didn’t ask how many talmidim the niftar had or how many seforim he wrote. He didn’t ask anything about him, in fact.

“Is there an almonah who will feel good that you put him on the cover?” Rav Elya asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Then there’s your answer,” he said.

It’s certainly true about our gedolim that the white fire that comes along with words of Torah softens and refines their hearts. The chiddush of Purim is that every one of us has those instincts, the intuitive knowledge of what’s truly right.

Rav Shlomo Freifeld once explained how a simple, American-born woman merited sons who are respected bnei Torah. The woman had never attended a Bais Yaakov, and her husband was unlearned as well. But she had a unique minhag. When she met wealthy people, she solicited them for the yeshiva her sons attended. She never tired of her practice.

One day, the woman, a secretary, went on strike, refusing to do the work her boss needed from her because she had asked him for money for the yeshiva and he turned her down. She wouldn’t budge until he helped the yeshiva.

“Such stubbornness and persistence are Yiddishkeit itself, and that’s how one merits choshuve children,” Rav Freifeld reflected.

After arriving in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky would speak longingly about the beautiful minhagim of the simple Jews in Lita. “A Yid from my former hometown of Slutsk came to visit me this week,” Rav Abramsky told his talmidim, “and he was dressed in his bigdei Shabbos.”

Rav Abramsky looked around at his talmidim, a group of accomplished and diligent talmidei chachomim, and spoke about the values of the Jews in a bygone world.

“I recalled the minhag of the Jews of Slutsk: Whenever they would come to speak with the rov, even about a mundane matter at a mundane time, they would wear Shabbos clothing in honor of the Torah.”

It is not only the great rabbis, but also the simple Jews from the old country, the Jews from this country, who have been wizened by years of experience and vision to be able to look at the world differently than today’s gadget generation does. Their taavos do not involve blending into the culture and feeding off it. Their ambitions always leave room for Hashem and Torah. They act differently, dress differently, and listen to different types of music.

It is not enough not to bow. We need to pledge allegiance to the nuances of mesorah and to the teachings, habits and customs of those older and wiser than us. We need to adopt their ahavas Yisroel, their simple, unconditional love of other Jews, and their ability to absorb blows and stand up to pressure without cringing.

Mordechai Hatzaddik was a hero for his day and for all time. It is interesting that although he brought about the salvation of the Jews, rallying them to his side and causing them to willingly accept the entire Torah, unbowed by the threats of Haman and Achashveirosh, we have no idea of his physical stature. We may imagine him as a tall, strong, muscular person, but he may have been short and thin.

The strength required to persist in golus, throwing off the shackles of Amaleik, is not dependent on how much you can bench press. It is derived from “kvetching the benkel,” imbibing the timeless words of the Torah, and the wisdom and stamina that accompany it.

Purim is but one day, because it shouldn’t take us a lifetime to derive these lessons. In one day, we can grasp them and hold them dear, arming ourselves with what we need to empower our nation to survive, thrive and prepare the world for Moshiach.

The posuk towards the end of the Megillah states, “Verabbim mei’amei ha’aretz misyahadim ki nofal pachad haYehudim aleihem” (Esther 8:17). In the wake of the Purim miracle, many from the other nations converted to Judaism. Rabbonim would quip and say that if Purim can make a goy into a Yid, then it is certainly able to make a Yid into a Yid.

Let us hope that Purim made us a better Yid so that we may be ah gantz yohr freilach.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Purim: The Day Hastarah Goes into Hiding

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

There is a special thrill in finding something precious. Within each of us is a child’s dream of digging in the backyard to find a hidden treasure. When we were young, we would dig and dig, finding nothing but dirt, but we never gave up the search for a hidden treasure until we grew older and stopped playing and dreaming in the dirt altogether.

There is a unique joy in discovering light in a place of darkness and value in a space considered worthless. Not only people who prospect for gold, but also real estate investors and stock pickers search all day for assets with hidden value. When they find one, they celebrate the great payday in the making.

One of our tasks in this world is finding some of the sparks of holiness that were hidden at the time of creation during the original act of tzimtzum, when Hashem confined His presence and power to conform with a finite physical world of boundaries and limits. If the divine presence had not been hidden to a large degree, there would be no bechirah, no choices of good and bad, no possibility of error or struggle, and no reward and punishment.

Hashem is there for those seeking to find Him, never far away and never totally hidden. Chazal teach that the essence of the Divine name Shakai is that “Dai Elokuso lechol beryah uberyah.” Sifrei Kabbolah explain those words to mean that there is enough Elokus in the world for everyone to find Him.

A story is told about one of the early chassidishe rebbes who heard his grandson crying. He asked the child what prompted his tears. The young boy explained that he was playing hide-and-seek with his friends and was hiding under a pile of clothing in a closet. His friends looked for him for a few minutes, and when he wasn’t quickly found, they got restless and ran off to play some other game, leaving him behind and forgotten.

As the rebbe listened to the child’s tale, he began to cry. “The way you feel,” said the rebbe, “is how the Ribbono Shel Olam feels. He hides and people spend a few minutes trying to find Him, then tire and give up.”

The rebbe explained that the novi Yeshaya refers to Hashem as a Keil Mistater, stating, “Ochen Atah Keil mistater” (Yeshaya 45:15). Commentators observe that the novi doesn’t call Hashem a Keil seiser, a hidden G-d, but a Keil mistater, a hiding G-d. The difference is that someone who is hidden does not want to be found. Someone who is hiding – as the young rebbeshe ainikel was - wants to be found. Hakadosh Boruch Hu is hiding. He wants us to look for - and find - him.

This task is central throughout the year. However, on the holiday of Purim, a day dedicated to revealing depths and removing masks and veneers of this world, we are obligated to see beyond the superficial and find the hiding truth.

This is alluded to by the Gemara’s statement (Chulin 139b), “Esther min haTorah minayin.” A hint to the tale of Esther is found in the Torah in the posuk which states, “Ve’anochi hastir astir es ponai,” where Hashem says that His face will be hidden. The essence of Purim is to realize that Hashem is ever-present, though in hiding.

The Gemara (Yoma 69b) further sheds light on this reality: “The Anshei Knesses Hagedolah received their name from restoring Hashem to His former glory. Moshe Rabbeinu had referred to Hashem as ‘Hakeil, Hagadol, Hagibor, Vehanora, the Great, Awesome and Strong G-d.’

“Yirmiyohu Hanovi saw gentiles violating the Bais Hamikdosh and wondered, ‘Ayeh nora’osav? Where is Hashem’s awesome power?’ Left without an answer, he omitted the word norah when speaking of Hashem. DanielDaniel viewed Hashem’s chosen nation subjugated to gentiles and asked, ‘Ayeh gevurosav? Where is Hashem’s strength?’ He left out the word gibor.

“Then the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah came along. They saw things differently. ‘To the contrary,’ they said, ‘we see His gevurah everywhere, for He controls His will, allowing wicked people to succeed in order to carry out His ultimate plan of rewarding the righteous. Klal Yisroel’s survival, one nation amongst so many others, is testimony to His awesomeness.” They restored the original nusach.

Yirmiyohu and Daniel didn’t see the attributes of Hashem and thought that they had been concealed and that Hashem was now running the world differently. However, the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah saw things differently.

Mordechai was a member of that august group, and when he experienced the miracles that are described in Megillas Esther and celebrated on Purim, he saw that even though Hashem is hidden, He is not concealed. He is in hiding. From His matzav of hester, He controls the world with gevurah and noraah. Thus, he prevailed upon the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah to return those attributes when proclaiming the glory of Hashem.

All throughout the period that the tale of Achashveirosh and Haman transpired, Hashem was coordinating the moves, setting up the world for the great miracle that would save the Jewish people from destruction and show His gevurah and nora to all.

Yirmiyohu had seen the evident splendor and then the churban and destruction of everything he held dear. Daniel was taken prisoner by Nevuchadnetzar and experienced the subjugation. Although he was miraculously saved, he never made it back to Eretz Yisroel and passed away in golus (see Maharsha in Yoma, ibid.).

Mordechai experienced the gezeirah and the hatzolah, all behelem ubehester, demonstrating for him that in our days of darkness and churban, Hashem is here, but He is operating behester, as mighty and as awesome as ever.

The words of the Gemara and the insight of the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah resonate through the ages, empowering us to continue despite Hashem being in hiding. On Purim every year, we are reminded of Hashem’s powers even as we are in golus and under the domination of others. The gevurah is not always apparent, but it is always there.

Purim is the day when we see that gevurah does not have to be out in the open for it to be present. We see that we cannot judge the world by the way current events are recorded in the media. There is always something much more potent transpiring beneath the surface.

On Purim, we perceive this fact as it relates not only to Hashem and His people and the entire world, but to every one of us personally.

On Purim, the hastarah goes into hiding.

Sometimes, we feel as if we are lacking in gevurah. We feel weak and beaten. We become depressed and unhappy, because we think that we aren’t as strong as we have to be. Purim tells us that Hashem cares for us and provides us with the amount of strength we need to fulfill our missions in this world. If we feel as if our physical strength is declining as we age, we should recognize that we have been given other strengths. We have become more astute and more intelligent and have imbibed more Torah. Perhaps we cannot run as fast, but maybe we don’t have to be running anymore, as there are other ways to get the job done.

Our strengths may not be as obvious, but they are there, waiting to be tapped into and utilized to realize our goals. They are in hiding.

That is why Chazal say, “Eizehu gibor? Hakoveish es yitzro.” The really strong person is the one who defeats his yeitzer hora. Our mission is to beat back the yeitzer hora and not let him overtake us. No matter our situation, we always possess the strength to overcome him. We may feel weak and defeated, but, in truth, the strength we require is always there, albeit sometimes in hiding. It is our task to discover our latent inner strength and utilize it to defeat our arch foe.

Who is strong? One who recognizes the strength he beholds and uses it for its intended purpose.

On Purim, the essence, which is hiding beneath the surface, is revealed and the sod of every Yid flows as free as the yayin that allows it to rise to the top. We recognize our strength and that causes us to be joyful.

On Purim, we hear the dreams that are kept silent a whole year. On Purim, we hear the songs that are kept buried deep in our hearts all year. On Purim, the dreams come alive, the music is pumped up, and the songs are sung with vigor, zip and zing.

On Purim, you look at our people, and at the people around you, and you see how strong we are. You see the gevurah and you become filled with pride. You see the realization of the posuk in Megillas Esther (8:16) which states, “LaYehudim hoysah orah vesimcha vesasson viykor - The Jews had light, joy and splendor.”

The Gemara states that when the posuk says, “LaYehudim hoysah orah,” it refers to the light of Torah. On Purim, when the plan came together, the Jews of the time perceived, as Mordechai did, that even in a time of hester, the Hand of Hashem is evident, even though it is hiding. Unlike those who had come before them, the Jews of golus Shushan understood the hanhogah others had missed.

Perhaps this is also the explanation of the statement of Chazal that “Hadar kibluha b’yemei Achashveirosh, the Jews accepted upon themselves the observance of Torah all over again.” Now that they realized that the power and glory of Hashem are ever-present and they can always bring themselves to the level of perceiving that truth and power in all situations, they agreed wholeheartedly to follow the Torah. They knew that they’re never alone, no matter how lonely they appear to be. They are never in the dark, no matter how little light there is. There is always more light beneath the surface, in hiding, b’hester.

On Purim, we stand back and marvel at Hashem’s power. Though unseen, He is always guiding us, providing for us, breathing life into us at each moment.

On Purim, the hastarah goes into hiding.

Rav Chaim Kreiswirth zt”l was escaping from the Nazis when he met a beaten Jew lying on the ground, his life slowly leaving him. The dying man saw the young rabbi and asked him to bend down to hear his whispers. He didn’t have strength to speak and knew that his end was approaching.

“Please, do me a favor,” the man whispered. “You look like someone I can trust.”

He told Rav Chaim who he was and other identifying information, along with a series of numbers, which represented his substantial bank account. “If you survive,” he asked, “please find my son, Shloime, and give him these numbers. Tell him about the account.”

After enduring much suffering, Rav Chaim survived. He was rosh yeshiva in Skokie, Illinois, and then rov of Antwerp, Belgium. Wherever he went, Rav Chaim never forgot the dying Jew and his wish. He never gave up trying to find Shloime. Years went by and he didn’t find him.

One day, a poor Yerushalmi came to him seeking help. Like so many others, he went to the rov and out came his tale of woe. The compassionate rov listened to his story and asked the man about his background.

The Yerushalayimer visitor said that he was a Polish survivor and had arrived in Eretz Yisroel alone, having lost his family in the war. Rav Kreiswirth asked more questions about his hometown, shtiebel and relatives. The poor man just wanted a donation. He wondered why the rov was asking him so many questions.

It was because the rov never gave up his quest to find Shloime.

Finally, he decided that the man asking for a handout was none other than Shloime, the son of the dying man with the bank account.

Rav Kreiswirth asked the man to wait for a moment and went to retrieve the paper with the bank name and account number from his safe.

“Here,” he said, handing it to the middle-aged pauper. “This is from your father.”

Rav Kreiswirth subsequently had local lawyers help the man deal with the bank and prove his identity in order to claim the funds.

He returned to Yerushalayim a wealthy man. His father’s inheritance had finally reached him.

Rav Gamliel Rabinovitch retold this story and added some lessons we can learn from the tale.

One is the trustworthiness of Rav Chaim. Even though he could very well have rationalized withdrawing the money and distributing it to the various charities he raised money for, he never considered using the money even for tzedakah. It wasn’t his.

Another lesson is yeshuas Hashem keheref ayin, how Hashem helps in the blink of an eye. This collector from Yerushalayim was destitute his whole life and then suddenly became wealthy.

The third lesson is that so many people don’t even know how rich they are. The poor Yerushalmi struggled and saved and sighed. He avoided creditors and cut corners wherever he could. He traveled out of the country seeking handouts to be able to feed his family. All because he had no idea that he was really wealthy.

In fact, that is true for so many of us. In many ways, we are all like the pauper who has no idea how much money he has. We don’t know how strong we are. We don’t know how smart we are. We don’t know how capable we are.

And then Purim comes along, revealing the secret codes and showing us that we are lacking nothing. Nichnas yayin yotza sod. Wine elicits the secrets that are hiding. Our hidden strengths and abilities are revealed.

On Purim, the hastarah goes into hiding.

On Purim, we see what is inside. We see our truth and we dance.

On Purim, we see the riches and the sod of every Jew.

We see a nation of silent gibborim led by Hakeil, Hagadol, Hagibor, Vehanora.

May we all merit experiencing the orah, simcha, sasson and yekor of Purim.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Irrigating the Desert

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha, the posuk states, “All the work necessary for the Mishkon was completed, as the Jewish people did everything Hashem commanded through Moshe. They then brought the Mishkon to Moshe, the tent and all its vessels...” (Shemos 39:32-33).

Rashi (ibid.) quotes the Medrash Tanchuma, which explains that the people brought the Mishkon and all its keilim to Moshe because when they had finished constructing everything, they were not able to set up the Mishkon. The keroshim were simply too heavy to be lifted into place.

How was this accomplished? Hashem told Moshe that he should lift the heavy wooden beams. Moshe demurred, saying that it was physically impossible to stand them up. Hashem told Moshe, “You get to work with your hands. Act as if you are lifting them and they will lift themselves.”

The Medrash, in essence, is answering an enduring question. Often, we see a completed enterprise, a difficult plan that is realized, and we marvel: How could one person, or even a few people, manage to erect such a massive organization or building? From where did they get the strength to erect that edifice? Who was bright enough to devise that plan?

Chazal reveal the answers to these questions. When man accepts responsibility, rolls up his sleeves, and is prepared to do the work that is necessary, Hashem enables the impossible to happen.

Hashem completes man’s efforts. We start, and when our good intentions reach On High, He brings them to fruition.

Learning this Rashi led me to contemplate the wonderful work of so many heroic individuals and organizations that have impacted our world more than anyone thought possible. Since I had the distinct privilege of chairing the Shuvu dinner this past Motzoei Shabbos, their example is fresh in my mind and is illustrative of this principle. 

It is hard to believe that 25 years have passed since the founding of Shuvu. Those who are old enough have seen it evolve from dream to reality, from hardscrabble caravans pursued by the government into a country-wide school system.

Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l dreamed it and others lined up behind him with mesirus nefesh to make it a reality.

Shuvu got off the ground in those early days because people seized the keilim and began building. They focused on the importance of the mission and Hashem brought the results. Foremost among those early builders was a wonderful trio: Sheldon Beren, Max Knopf, and Zev Wolfson.

They believed in the dream, wrote checks, and enabled Rav Pam’s nevuah to be realized. For example, Mr. Wolfson challenged Reb Avrohom Biderman, and as an outgrowth of that challenge, Shuvu’s high school network was greatly expanded and graduates from the elementary school system had a place to go to continue on the path to becoming fine Jews. Elementary school without high school does not bode well for continuity. Mr. Knopf wasn’t deterred when a municipality sought to destroy his building. He pressed on. A school principal laid down in front of a bulldozer to ensure that the school wasn’t destroyed. Thanks to that determination, thousands have gone through the doors of that school and onto Torah lives.

The visionaries blazed the trail. Their families continue their heroic work and many others have followed, rolling up their sleeves and ensuring that the dream lives on and goals are realized. With such perseverance and commitment, the Ribbono Shel Olam brings blessing.

A community rov went to the Chazon Ish zt”l looking for encouragement. He wanted to build a mikvah and was about to embark on a campaign giving speeches around town about the importance of having a local mikvah. He wanted the Chazon Ish’s brochah for his speeches to go over well.

The Chazon Ish told him instead that a thousand drashos about the importance of mikvah don’t accomplish as much as a beautiful, spacious mikvah.

“Get to work,” he told him.

The Chazon Ish instructed the rov to start building and promised to help, sending a representative to America to raise funds. They began construction, but the project dragged on.

Neighborhood residents went to the Chazon Ish, asking if they could begin using the facility before the construction was completed.

He answered in the negative and explained his reasoning. “This mikvah isn’t only for you and the other frum families in the area,” he said. “This mikvah is being built for the future as well and for families who are not yet religious. We need to make sure that the building will be done right, so that it will be attractive to them.”

The founders of Shuvu built for the future and the future is now. Tens of thousands of people are living Torah lives today because of Shuvu.

Those of us who were around then have fond memories of those heady early days, when Reb Avrohom Biderman traveled to the gedolei Eretz Yisroel, who laid the groundwork for the new organization. Reb Avrohom wondered where the emphasis should be, on quantity or quality.

By that time, some 700,000 Russian Jews had arrived in Israel. Should Shuvu go after all of them or concentrate on the ones most likely to succeed?

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l responded that both massive outreach and a superb school system were necessary.

Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l sat with Reb Avrohom for a very long time and walked him through the minefields he would be facing, holding his hand, guiding and directing him. Rav Shach perceived that this dream was real and gave freely of his time to help make sure it would succeed.

There was much mesirus nefesh on the part of the staff and administration and much siyata diShmaya over the past 25 years. There is no seed more effective and no foundation firmer than selflessness.

If one is fortunate to visit Eretz Yisroel, visit a Shuvu school. Like a breathtaking view fills your soul with wonder, this experience will leave you enriched and uplifted.

One particular visit that sticks in my mind was one from almost eight years ago, when I was in the presence of the Shechinah. It happened in Acco, a mixed Arab-Jewish city way up in the north of Eretz Yisroel.

The school in Acco was a direct outgrowth of a challenge issued by the revered founder of the organization. Towards the end of his life, a weakened Rav Pam told a parlor meeting audience how a group of parents from Acco had heard about Shuvu and wanted a school for their children. Shuvu was having a hard enough time keeping up with its existing schools, and the administration wondered how they could undertake the opening and maintenance of yet another one.

The elderly rosh yeshiva banged on the shtender and said, “One-hundred-and-fifty parents want a Torah school for their children! How can we say no? There is no cheshbon in the world that can allow us to say no to these parents.”

Watching him was like seeing a novi of old. You watched him and listened to him and closed your eyes and thought, “Now I know how the novi Yeshayahu sounded.”

Rav Pam was extremely frail. That night, he was quiet, gentle and soft, but he displayed the force and determination that have helped us persevere in golus. With all the strength left in his ailing body, Rav Pam emphatically declared, “There will be a Shuvu school in Acco and the Shechinah will be in that school.”

Shuvu made sure that his words would be realized, and I was zoche to witness the miracle of 500 children in a school that no one thought would ever really open or stay opened. I experienced the Shechinah.

I saw the Shechinah on the faces of elementary school children as they stood up to tell their personal stories.

“My family never kept Pesach before, but I was able to convince my father to try. When the bread in the house was gone, he went out looking for matzoh,” said one child.

Sweet little children described how they cleaned their homes for Pesach and saw to it that the holiday would be observed. Children from irreligious homes spoke of netilas yodayim and kashrus. They proudly told of how they’d persuaded their parents to become observant. They were so committed, that their age proved no barrier and they were able to turn around entire families.

Precious children sat attentively as in any elementary yeshiva school we know, the Shechinah radiating from their little faces, just like Rav Pam said it would.

To observe those children learning Torah is to see the Rashi in our parsha come alive. Man does the work, then Heaven steps in, and the light of the Shechinah shines through.

Through no fault of their own, the parents and grandparents of these children were locked behind an iron curtain and shorn of their glorious heritage. Hitler took the bodies and Stalin robbed their souls.

But they can be brought back. The years of cruelty and subjugation can be undone. The Soviet children can be given the same opportunities as ours, if they are only given a chance.

Shuvu gives them that chance.

Those children are not just numbers. They are living, breathing, adorable, cute, intelligent, young people, living Jewishly thanks to the mesirus nefesh of teachers, administrators and donors.

When a 17-year-old boy stands up to speak at a melava malka, you almost expect a Russian-accented speech betraying his roots. But when he looks and sounds just like any other yeshiva bochur that age, you realize that Shuvu is not just a dream. You appreciate that it can be done. Russian kids, who know nothing, can be mechunach and developed into bnei and bnos Torah.

One woman got up and said, “We came from Russia to Ashkelon and were looking for a school for our daughter. We saw an ad for Shuvu on television and heard ads on the radio. It sounded like a good school, so we went to check it out and were very impressed with the scholastic level. We didn’t know much about Yahadut.

“Look at me now. Our daughter would come home from school and teach us. She taught us about brachot, about netilat  yadayim, about kashrut. She taught us about meat and dairy. She taught us all kinds of things we had never even heard of before. And then she taught us about Shabbat.

Shabbat was the hardest. I was so scared of it. I work a whole week and it was my free day, my day off, when I could do what I want. I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do on that day. But my husband was intrigued by the idea and dragged me along. Today, we are shomrei Shabbat, and we keep kashrut, and, lately, also taharat hamishpacha. All thanks to Shuvu.”

The basic message was the same as each parent spoke. But instead of sounding repetitive and trite, the speeches had a cumulative effect on us. As each one delivered a short impromptu message, their words began sinking deeper and deeper into the hearts of those in attendance. By the time they were done, we were left speechless and overwhelmed.

What has been accomplished is astounding, but it obligates us to do so much more.

When you walk the streets of Eretz Yisroel, it breaks your heart to see the masses of kids out there waiting for Shuvu to reach them. There are so many people who will never know the brochah of a Torah way of life simply because there isn’t enough money to open additional schools and spread the Shechinah further. With pennies, their souls can be saved for eternity.

If we don’t reach these kids, others will. If we don’t intercede and stretch out our hands to them, others will. If we don’t get them off the streets and bring them to Torah, nobody else will. The work of Stalin and Khrushchev and the other Communist reshoim will be completed right under our noses.

The Torah recounts that the brothers threw Yosef into an empty pit. Rashi famously tells us that although the pit was empty of water, “mayim ein bo, aval nechoshim ve’akrabim yeish bo,” it was filled with poisonous snakes and scorpions.

The Vilna Gaon explains that this is the rule in life. In the absence of mayim, positive forces, nechoshim ve’akrabim, negative forces, take over.

Moshiach, we know, is approaching rapidly. The signs are everywhere. Let us work to rid the world of nechoshim ve’akrabim, negative forces. There is much we can do on our own, but a most productive way to bring about the necessary changes is to join with others who seek to fill the world with an ocean of mayim, a sea of emunah and yedias Hashem. The opportunities are everywhere.

The world is like a desert, bare and parched, but a little bit of water can cure a long drought. Help bring water to the Russians in Shuvu, Sefardim in Lev L’Achim, and all the others from around the world who thirst for water. Let us think about what we can do in this country as well.

Millions of Jews are dying of thirst. We have the water. Why aren’t we giving it to them? Why has wholesale kiruv basically become an Israeli enterprise? Why aren’t we supporting organizations such as Oorah to do what they do on a national scale? Why aren’t we enabling Torah Umesorah to establish and maintain more schools in the heartland, educating thousands of parched youngsters to conquer their thirst? Why are we satisfied with oases of water here and there? Why don’t we want to make our own country “yarok kegan Hashem,” irrigated and blooming, bringing the Shechinah from sea to shining sea?

We live in a time when people no longer accept what has been forced upon them their entire lives. Conventional wisdom is thrown out the window every day with more gusto. Donald Trump does nothing by the book and is thus the flavor of the day. Just because no one ever did it before, just because the experts say it can’t be done, doesn’t mean it can’t.

Instead of debating his merits, why don’t we take a lesson from what he is doing and accomplishing?

Even though everyone else has given up, why don’t we say that it’s time to press on? Nothing is impossible.

If we dedicate ourselves to preparing the world for Moshiach, spreading Torah and kedushah, creating places where the Shechinah can be comfortable, we will earn Divine assistance and realize our dreams.

If we take that Rashi seriously and recognize that what is incumbent upon us is hishtadlus, we could earn eternal gratitude and reward, much like all the greats throughout the ages who went where no one had gone before and did what had not been done, ignoring the naysayers and placing their faith in the One Above.

It’s Adar, the month that proclaims not to give up and to always declare, “This is my time, this is my thing, this is the time to get involved, to extend myself, to show that I care.”

Do it. Start the job and Hashem will be there to finish it.