Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Seeing with Clarity

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
We are now in the period known as the Shivah Denechemta, the seven weeks of consolation, which follow the three weeks of mourning. These seven weeks, culminating with the Yomim Noraim, are a time of contemplation, as we review our past and draw conclusions for the future. Although the word nechomah means to console, the state of consolation is not simply achieved. To arrive there, the mourner contemplates the loss, reviews the past, and determines how to carry on in the future. That is accomplished by coming to terms with what transpired, appreciating what is not here, and realizing that a new perspective is needed to be able to continue leading a successful life.
While the Shivah Denechemta are commonly perceived as being designed to console for the loss of the botei mikdosh, these seven weeks of nechomah are also part of the teshuvah process we will now undergo.
The relaxed pace we have been enjoying the past few weeks represents an excellent time for introspection; considering the state of our lives and the choices we have made, which will lead us to nechomah as we make resolutions for the future. 
This week’s parsha (Devorim 11:26-28) states, “See, I am giving you today blessings and curses. You will be blessed if you listen to what I command you today. The curse will befall you if you do not follow the mitzvos of Hashem and veer from the path that I am commanding you today.”
The language of the posuk is intriguing, for it doesn’t say that Hashem will bless those who follow the Torah and curse those who ignore it. Rather, it says that you will be blessed if you follow and cursed if you don’t.
The Medrash Rabbah quotes Rabi Elozor, who says that after Hashem revealed the mitzvos asei and mitzvos lo sasei at Har Sinai, He no longer delivered reward and punishment on a one-by-one basis. Rather, one who sins is automatically punished and one who acts properly is automatically blessed. The nature of the world changed. It is now built into the briah that a sinner is confronted by evil, while the good person can expect good in his life.
Thus, we understand that Hashem is advising us and reminding us of how to gain a blessed life. If you engage in immoral pursuits that provide you with immediate gratification, know that the enjoyment is only temporary and that you’ve caused yourself to be subjected to curses and unfortunate happenings in the future. If you are thoughtful, honest and proper, and suppress your urges for improper pursuits, you may forgo a fleeting pleasure, but you will have gained for yourself much good and blessing.
Someone once asked the Steipler Gaon how it is that people can merit salvation and blessing without asking for it. For example, a person was driving on an icy road when it slid and was about to roll down the embankment. Catastrophe seemed imminent, but the car miraculously stopped at the cliff’s edge. The driver didn’t have the time or presence of mind to ask for rachamei Shomayim. The questioner wondered where the hashpa’ah of chessed that saved the driver’s life came from.
The Steipler explained that the person or the parent of someone who merits a miracle, rose above a particular nisayon. Overcoming a nisayon is a means of acquiring a miracle and placing it in reserve, so to speak, for when it will be needed.
A person rises above their nature by recognizing Hashem’s dominion over the world and acceding to His wishes. When the person does that, he creates a corresponding effect in Shomayim, and Hashem will block nature for that person to show that He controls the world.
Mitzvos create a life of blessings. By accepting Hashem’s rule, people earn nissim, which sit in their account until they are needed.
Parshas Re’eh is read every year at the onset of Elul, the month of introspection, when we seek to achieve blessings and good lives for ourselves and our loved ones. The parsha reminds us that the way we think and act affects us. Just as we can expect to become ill if we were to ingest poison or eat foods that are unhealthy, so too, engaging in acts that the Torah frowns upon brings scorn to man.
It is interesting that each one of the three pesukim quoted above adds the word hayom, today. There is clearly a lesson here for us. Perhaps the pesukim are cryptically telling us that we should feel as if we are being taught this lesson each day anew. We should view each day as if it is the day Hashem commanded us what to do and what not to do. We should understand the lesson that the observance of mitzvos enhances our lives and their negation causes grief and pain for those who ignore them.
Hayom, it is new. It is fresh. Every day, we need to think about it. We mustn’t grow apathetic or view these lessons as something way in the past. We mustn’t allow the lesson to grow tarnished and rusty. Every day, we need to be rejuvenated and act with vigor and joy as we realize that we have been granted life and the ability to sustain and improve our lives.
Refreshed from the summer, with regained vitality, buoyant with energy, we can be excited about every new day. Hayom, today, is the day we are going to be back on track. Today is the day we are going to get it right. Today is the day lethargy ends and spirit returns. Today is the day we will begin piling up brachos. Today is the day I will concentrate on choosing life.
The way to achieve this mindset is by disciplining our thought process to contemplate and consider our path, wondering where we are headed and whether there are changes we could make that would enable us to be on a better path and accomplish more.
Rav Elchonon Wasserman travelled to America in the 1930s to raise funds for the Baranovitcher Yeshiva that he headed. Someone suggested that he visit an old childhood friend of his who had come to America and found success in the garment industry.
The rosh yeshiva went to visit this old friend, who was overjoyed to welcome him. Rav Elchonon was dismayed to see that his old cheder comrade was living a life devoid of Torah and mitzvos, but he waited for the opportune time to express his grief. He dutifully followed around his old friend, as he proudly gave him a tour of the large factory and its various machines. Finally, they returned to the boss’s office. “Nu, Reb Choneh, how can I help you? What brings you here?”
Rav Elchonon showed the industrialist his frock. “My buttons have become faded and brittle,” he said. “I thought you could help me replace them.”
The owner jumped up and led Rav Elchonon to the tailoring room, where new buttons were affixed.
“But really, why did you come to America?” the owner asked.
“For buttons, I told you,” Rav Elchonon.
The owner was bursting with curiosity, but Rav Elchonon would say no more.
A few days later, the garment manufacturer showed up at Rav Elchonon’s lodgings, eager to speak with him. “My friend, please tell me why you came here. I must know. It can’t be that you crossed the ocean and came to America just to fix the buttons on your coat. There has to be a better reason. I can’t figure out what it is.”
Rav Elchonon looked at him for a while and then said, “Do you remember anything from cheder?”
“Sure,” the gentleman responded.
“Do you remember the Gemara in Chagigah that tells of the distance between heaven and earth?”
“A bit,” said the man.
“You are correct in assuming that I would not undertake a long, exhausting journey across the ocean merely for some buttons, just like I can’t accept that your neshomah traveled such a long distance not for Shabbos, kashrus, Torah or tikkun hamiddos, but just to make buttons!”
Rav Elchonon forced the man to think about the past and the present, and how much he had veered from the life he led in the old country. By discussing the buttons, he sought to encourage the old friend to contemplate his future and rearrange his priorities. He sought to enable him to achieve nechomah.
The middah of maximizing life, living with cheshbon hanefesh, and maintaining a drive to spiritual accomplishment should define every Torah person. Two icons who exemplified this attitude passed away last week. Shlomo (Steven) Hill and Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis understood the value of each moment, the potential of each soul, and the power of words.
Steven Hill rose to the apex of secular achievement through using the medium of word and expression. He was a born entertainer, who had the ability to connect with people, stimulate their minds and emotions, and call forth laughter or tears. When he began contemplating his existence and found his way to the truth, he forged a new path. He wasn’t a young man, but he persevered, clear and certain about his goal. He pursued the truth and didn’t let it go.
He reinvented himself, moving to quiet Monsey to raise a family in tranquility. He moved away from the whir of Hollywood to serve Hashem with a pure heart. Over the years, he funded many projects, but few knew of it.
His son once asked his famous father how he kept his charitable acts secret. Reb Shlomo pointed upwards and said the two words that were his motto: “He knows.” Nothing else mattered. Once he achieved the clarity that comes along with truth, the ratings, crowds and reviews no longer held the same allure.
Rebbetzin Jungreis used dynamism, charisma and energy to convey her message. She had seen the worst of man during the Second World War and experienced pain and destruction. Considering what she had witnessed and pondering her future fueled her determination to reach lost souls. She achieved her nechomah through indomitable will, a burning drive, passion and enthusiasm. From then until her passing, she taught and preached faith and optimism. She lived a life of Torah and earned a blessed life.
Across an ocean, the world shook. An Italian town that stood for centuries was destroyed in a flash in a horrific earthquake. We mourn the loss of life, the pain and destruction. The pictures that depict what transpired provide us with the inspiration to contemplate Hashem’s might. In a moment, the world of thousands came crashing down.
As Elul approaches and the fickleness of man and his journey comes into focus, we clear our minds, take a deep breath, and prepare for the intense days that await us. Nechomah.
Those who came before us discovered how temporal this world and its successes are. They devoted their lives to internalizing the Malchus Hashem, following his mitzvos and embodying his middos. They knew what was consequential and what was trivial. Their lives centered around creating blessings and miracles for themselves. We still live off the accounts of the avos, imahos and our parents and grandparents throughout the ages.
Like them, we can also be great. We can also contemplate why we made the journey from beneath the Kisei Hakavod and thus be blessed with life. We can achieve true nechomah. All we need to do is “Re’eh,” to see for ourselves our situation and potential and then start living.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Light Up the Summer

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The Husyatiner Rebbe was like an angel. A grandson of the Ruzhiner Rebbe, he was one of the first rebbes to settle in secular Tel Aviv, seeking to draw Jews back to their heritage and strengthen those who were wobbly after the Holocaust. His saintly countenance mesmerized those he sought, while his gentle smile softened them and allowed his words to pierce and enter their hardened hearts.
His final request before passing away was to be taken outside. The medical personnel attending to him thought that he was too weak and infirm to leave his house. The rebbe insisted and was finally led outside to the street.
Visibly relaxed and calm, he raised his eyes toward the heavens and appeared newly energized. Contemplating the vast blue sky, he whispered, “Malchuscha malchus kol olamim umemshaltecha bechol dor vador.” His face radiant, he repeated the posuk several times.
Then, after casting one final look at the sky, he returned to the house, where his holy neshomah left him. He had parted from this beautiful world.
The canopy of heavens spreads above us, a sea of glory and brilliance.
The summer’s pace affords us the chance to breathe deeply and appreciate our blessings and proclaim, “Malchuscha malchus kol olamim.”
This season is one of the happiest times in the year. Last Shabbos, we heard the comforting call of “Nachamu nachamu ami,” as we soaked in the consolation with the onset of the Shivah Denechemta.
The Maharsha states that the double language of the posuk, “Nachamu, nachamu,” is utilized for the same reason Chazal quote the Tannaim who witnessed the churban together with Rabi Akiva. After becoming upset at what they saw, Rabi Akiva comforted them. They said to him, “Akiva, nichamtanu, Akiva, nichamtanu. Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us.”
The double consolation is a reflection of Rabi Akiva empowering them to be able to see what is behind the surface. They had all seen foxes emerge from the site of the Bais Hamikdosh. They saw the present; Rabi Akiva saw the past and future. Remembering the prophecy, he saw in the sad presence a source of consolation for the future.
Rabi Akiva was drawn to Torah because he wasn’t encumbered by the present. He had the ability to see beyond what his eyes were witnessing. He saw a stone and dripping water, and he observed how drops of water were able to penetrate such a hard substance. He watched, contemplated, and then understood. If water can break through rock, he mused, then Torah can impact a person as well, despite age and background.
He saw the Torah of creation, the splendor of the world, and all its lessons, and he applied it to himself and to others.
Comforted after re-experiencing the churban, we follow the example of Rabi Akiva, viewing nature and applying lessons of strength and consolation to ourselves. Like the rebbe who had experienced the destruction of the Holocaust and the return of multitudes of Jews to their land; we go out to see the world and perceive “Malchuscha malchus kol olamim.”
In Parshas Eikev, Moshe Rabbeinu continues admonishing the Jewish people for their waywardness. He warns them not to fool themselves as to why Hashem has been kind to them and why they have experienced success. He reminds them that all Hashem desires in return is that they have yiras Shomayim.
Without obvious Divine intervention, we would have been wiped out a long time ago. Yet, we grow fat and comfortable, strong and haughty, and convince ourselves that our superior intellect and strength enable us to achieve success. It takes a downturn for us to be forced to admit our fallibilities.
When we read the pesukim of Parshas Eikev, we see Moshe pleading with the Jewish people. He reminds them of all they have been through, and of all the miracles Hashem performed in order to bring them to where they are. He begs them to remember who has fed, clothed and cared for them, even as they remained ungrateful. He reminds them how stubborn and spiteful they were, and how he repeatedly interceded on their behalf.
Read the pesukim of this week’s parsha (8:11 and on): “Be careful lest you shall forget Hashem… Lest you eat and become full and build nice, good, fancy homes and become settled… Lest you have much gold and silver and become haughty and forget Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Mitzrayim and led you through the midbar, where he quenched your thirst and fed you. Yet you say in your heart, ‘I did this all myself with my own strength.’ Remember, it is Hashem who gives you strength to wage war… If you will forget Hashem and go after strange gods and you will serve them and bow to them, I warn you that you will be destroyed…”
These pesukim are not just written to the people who have obviously gone astray. They are written to us as well, and should serve as a reminder that we should never let our gaavah get the better of us and fool us into thinking that we are self-sufficient, that we are smart and strong enough to take care of ourselves. We must always remember where we come from and where we are headed. We must be constantly aware that it is Hashem who provides us with the know-how and stamina we require to earn our livings and get ahead in this world, and to survive life’s many challenges and pitfalls.
Let us not fall prey to self-aggrandizement. Let us ensure that we don’t become blinded by our ego and evil inclination, and that we remain loyal to the One who sustains us.
For as the parsha ends (11:22), “If you will observe the mitzvos, love Hashem and follow in His path…then Hashem will let you inherit nations that are larger and stronger than yours… Wherever you will set your foot down will be blessed… No one will be able to stand in your way.”
The yeitzer hora causes us to concentrate on the wrong things in order to dull our thinking and lead us down the wrong path. Without cogent perspective, one can easily get sidetracked, with trivial concerns skewing his entire mission. When the trivial becomes important, the important becomes trivial.
We live in an age when, all too often, perception trumps reality and people who are adept at creating perceptions win, while those who don’t get it, lose. Proper focus and clarity of vision are essential for every aspect of existence. Nations topple when their leaders lack vision, and political leaders can fall to the most inexperienced challengers when their vision becomes skewed.
Good Jews are able to maintain the proper perspective; no matter what storm is swirling about them. They remain calm and resourceful, for their faith remains unshaken. Meah Shearimniks say, “In Yerushalayim, we open the doors for Shefoch Chamoscha, and they remain open until the shamash slams them to wake the people for Selichos.”
More than a witticism, it’s a remark that conveys that there is no break in the period from Pesach through Rosh Hashonah. Each season brings its task, culminating in Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, when we reach our apex.
Summer is not a downtime. It is a season with a different format and pace to get us to the same place. In the soft rustle of leaves, the lapping of waves, and the gentle summer rain, we hear the message that our tasks are never-ending.
This parsha is called Eikev, which Rashi explains as a reference to the mitzvos that are easily trampled “with the heel.” There is significance to the heel for another reason as well. Chazal teach us that Adam Harishon’s heel shone with a powerful light, illuminating all of creation. The heel, says Rav Chaim Volozhiner, is the most physical, tough, unrefined part of the body. It can withstand pain and irritation. It isn’t sensitive. Adam Harishon was so holy that even his heel shone brilliantly and enlightened the world; the kedushah touched him there as well.
The goal of man in this world is to bring kedushah back to the “heels,” the eikev. Like a heel in the body, there are places and times that seem devoid of holiness, and it’s our mission and mandate to invest them with meaning.
The avodah of these weeks, with their relaxed pace and change of venue, is to “fill the heel with light.”
In this week’s parsha, we are told, “Hishomer lecha, pen tishkach es Hashem Elokecha” (8:11), exhorted not to forget about Hashem for even a moment.
Summer, with its new perspectives, settings and vistas, presents new ways to remember who created the world we know and what our role is in protecting it. On Shabbos Nachamu, we concluded the haftorah with a call to find Hashem. Tzaddikim have taught us that the first letters of the first words of the posuk of “Seu marom eineichem ure’u mi bara eileh - Raise your eyes to heaven and see who created all of these” (Yeshayah 40:26) are the letters of the word Shema. There is a kabbolas ol Malchus Shomayim of closing your eyes and there is a kabbolas ol Malchus Shomayim of opening your eyes.
This “Shema” is the avodah of vacation time. See the sky…and who made it. Behold rushing waterfalls and hear the song of “adir bamarom Hashem.”
On Rosh Chodesh Elul, we will begin reciting the words, “Shivti bevais Hashem kol yemei chayai lachazos beno’am Hashem ulevaker beheichalo” (Tehillim 27).
Dovid Hamelech’s request, to sit in the House of Hashem for his entire life and behold the splendor of His palace, is recited twice daily during Elul. Why does Dovid ask “levaker,” to visit, Hashem’s palace. Would Dovid have been content just to visit?
Home, wherever it is that you live, seems mundane and kind of boring. The place where you spend your vacations has charm and a special place in your heart. You go somewhere and you think it’s the greatest place. You wish you could move there and live there full-time. Your vacation site seems so idyllic, stress-free and blissful.
Throughout the year, that place comes alive in your memory, and just thinking of it and flipping through the pictures you took put you in a good mood. You were relaxed and in a positive frame of mind there; you really appreciated the experience. You weren’t working or stressed, so you had time to visit the sites and attractions and really enjoy.
Rav Elya Lopian says that this is what Dovid Hamelech asked for: “Let me experience that feeling in the house of Hashem. Give it the chein of vacation, the magic and charm of a retreat from ordinary life, even as I sit there every day.”
Let us see the world through pure eyes, taking in the beauty and splendor of what we witness, viewing each facet and feature, and adapting those lessons to improve our lives as ovdei Hashem.
The grandiosity and majesty of creation center around man. We are the epicenter of everything, for all was created for us. When we behold beauty, we appreciate what we are, what we represent, and the potential that lies in our actions.
As we travel to see different scenes and fresh horizons, we possess an ayin tovah. As we vacation, we are charmed by the sights and sounds around us, by the customs and habits in the place we happen to be visiting, because we are finally relaxed, in a positive frame of mind, and thus invigorated.
We ask that when we are in the presence of holiness, when we seek out Hashem and Torah in the bais medrash, we should be there in a state of “levaker beheichalo,” with the eagerness of a visitor, wide-eyed, positive and easily impressionable.
We drive five hours to some forsaken small town that once beheld a large Jewish population. Now, all that is left are signs with Jewish names: Goldstein’s Paint Shop, Levin’s Furniture Store, and Katz’s Deli. The Jews are found in the cemetery, their intermarried offspring in McDonalds. We find the local shul, despite being in disrepair, to be so charming, and should there be an old rabbi left there, we think he is so majestic. The streets are peaceful, the people endearing.
Yet, if we cared to adjust our attitude, we could see the same chein in our own homes, shuls and shops, and everything else in our everyday lives.
There is one final lesson to the name of the parsha. We live in ikvesa deMeshicha, the heel of the generations. It is an unfeeling generation, devoid of emotion and passion. Some people find it difficult to taste the flavor of Torah or sense the awesomeness of a Shabbos meal and the blessings of our way of life.
On vacation, we have the peace of mind and headspace to focus, contemplate and see the truth. We can fill the heel with light. Let’s do it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Achakeh Lo Bechol Yom Sheyavo

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
For three weeks, we pondered the churban. For three weeks, we concentrated on all the tragedies that have befallen our people since the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh and the forced exiles which followed, rendered us homeless. We refrained from music, clean clothing, shaving, haircutting, and beard trimming. Every time we looked in the mirror, we were reminded that we are still living out of shopping carts in a place far from home.
The yearning for a rebuilt Eretz Yisroel, with Yerushalayim at its heart, the Bais Hamikdosh in its center, giving meaning to our lives and raising us to the heights of holiness, happiness and fulfillment, pulsated within us for three weeks, coming to a head on Tisha B’Av, when we sat on the floor, reciting sad liturgical poems depicting the blood-letting, destruction, emptiness and hardship that have befallen our people.
As the homeless do, we sat on the floor pondering our fate, thinking about the important things in life as we ignored many creature comforts. We wondered what we can do to get ourselves back home. We prayed for better days and resolved to do away with sinas chinom and its causes.
When Tisha B’Av ends, we begin to live normally once again. We are reinforced with the faith that the redemption will soon come and the golus will end. In effect, mourning and appreciating our condition give rise to hopes of salvation. When we forget how far we are from where we should be, we begin admiring the exile, reveling in its physical attractions, sights and sounds. We become outwardly gleeful, but increasingly empty on the inside.
Once we remember that we are in golus, the consolation can begin. Last week, we read Parshas Devorim and heard the plaintive wail of Eichah. We lain Parshas Va’eschanan and identify with Moshe Rabbeinu’s desperate desire to behold the Land, to touch its soil and to fulfill its special mitzvos. And then the pleasant chords of Nachamu tug at our souls, as we echo Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer with much eagerness.
We want it so badly, and we wonder how to get there.
Moshe Rabbeinu davened 515 (the gematria of the word va’eschanan) separate tefillos that he merit entry into Eretz Yisroel. We wonder: If Moshe’s requests were denied, how can we possibly have a chance?
By examining Hashem’s response to Moshe, we can gain an understanding of our abilities to achieve a positive result.
The posuk (Devorim 3:26) states that Hakadosh Boruch Hu instructed Moshe to stop davening, saying, “Rav loch, al tosef daber eilai od badovor hazeh.” The Vilna Gaon (Chumash HaGra, ibid.) explains that Hashem commanded Moshe to stop praying for entry, because he was not to enter the Land.
The Gaon opens a window into the power of tefillah; explaining that tefillah was empowered by Hashem into teva, the nature of the world, to be listened to by Him. Tefillos that are heard have the natural ability to bring about change and erase decrees. Because Hashem did not want to change nature, he asked Moshe to stop davening.
How comforting it is to know that our tefillos have the ability to effect change and correct the course of our lives.
Thus, not only is the haftorah comforting, but Parshas Va’eschanan is as well. It is a parsha of nechomah. The first word, “Va’eschanan,” is translated as an expression of tefillah, but Rashi indicates that since the word “chinom” is at its root, it has an underlying explanation as the ability to make requests of Hashem even though we may not be worthy of receiving what we are asking for. We all have the ability to daven, as Moshe did, and be answered, even if we are not worthy.
You just gotta believe.
We know that the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of sinas chinom, commonly translated as baseless hatred. Let us examine the Gemara that discusses why the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed to gain an understanding of sinas chinom, so that we can rectify the sin that causes our exile to continue.
The Gemara in Maseches Yoma (9b) states: “The first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because the Jewish people engaged in the sins of avodah zora, giluy arayos, and shefichas domim. However, during the period of the second Bais Hamikdosh, when the Jewish people busied themselves with Torah, mitzvos and gemillus chassodim, the churban was caused by sinas chinom. From here you see that sinas chinom is equivalent to the three cardinal sins that caused the first churban.”
The Netziv (Hemek Dovor, Devorim 4:14) cites the Yerushalmi (4b), which adds some explanation for the churban of the Bayis Sheini: “We know that at the time of the Bayis Sheini, they delved into Torah study and were very scrupulous in their mitzvah observance and maser…but they loved money and hated each other for no apparent reason.” Therefore, the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed.
The Netziv explains that the Yerushalmi is indicating that at the root of sinas chinom lies a love of money. In other words, the hatred described as sinas chinom is brought on by jealousy of those who have more money.
This jealousy is essentially a lack of emunah. It belies a fundamental distrust in the notion that Hashem gives everything and apportions the lot of every being. He alone decides who gets more and who gets less.
If we would yearn for Hashem’s Presence, there would be no room in our hearts for divisive feelings and hate, because we would recognize that to feel that way is to contradict belief in the Creator’s dominion. One who appreciates Hashem’s master plan rejoices in his lot. He recognizes that all that he has is from Him. Those who cause him pain are Heavenly messengers. The challenges he is confronted with are presented by Hashem. Knowing that helps him get through difficult situations and overcome impulses of hatred and anger.
The Vilna Gaon establishes this in Even Sheleimah (3:1-3), where he writes that “bitachon and being satisfied with what we have are at the root of all middos tovos. These attributes are the marked opposites of wants and desires,” which consume man. The main attribute that a man can strive for is bitachon… All sins arise from wanton desire, as they say that all ten of the Aseres Hadibros and the entire Torah are summed up in the dibbur of ‘Lo Sachmod.’ The middah of histapkus, being satisfied with what you have, is the opposite, and is at the root of the whole Torah, representing the complete belief of not worrying today about tomorrow.
“A person who has proper bitachon but transgresses the most severe sins is better than someone who is lacking in bitachon, for the latter will come to jealousy and hatred, and even if he delves into Torah and performs good acts, he only does so to create a nice reputation.”
This explains the Bavli and Yerushalmi in Yoma. The Jews at the time of the second Bais Hamikdosh were engrossed in learning Torah and performing mitzvos. They were even engaged in performing charitable acts. But their core was rotten. They were driven by selfish desire for more money and more possessions. They didn’t do good deeds because they cared what Hashem would say about them, but because they wanted people to praise them.
They hated each other, because each one saw in the other person blessings he didn’t have. The other guy had a bigger house, bigger wagon, and more money. Their bitachon was lacking. They didn’t believe that what they had was apportioned by Hashem, and thus their root was crooked and corrupt.
Yeshayahu Hanovi (Yeshayahu 1:1) expressed the words of Hashem: “What do I need your korbanos for, says Hashem… I don’t want them.” Hashem desires the sacrifices of those who believe in Him and follow His word because of that belief. He is not interested in the offerings of hateful unbelievers. (See also Devorim 23:19, which states, “Lo sovi esnan zonah umechir kelev bais Hashem so’avas Hashem gam shneihem.”) Therefore, the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed and waits for us to rectify what lies at the root of that negative trait, in order for it to return.
A mother who dishes out supper to her children is offended when they squabble over who received a larger or smaller portion. She loves them all and provides for them everything they require. When they suggest otherwise, it is an indication that they don’t appreciate her love and all she does for them. The Master of the World gives us all what we need. Believers have no reason to hate. The Bais Hamikdosh, the place of the Shechinah in this world, was destroyed because the hatred among the Jewish people indicated that the nation negated the significance of the Divine home amongst them.
The person with bitachon can rise above pettiness and extend kindness to everyone. He can judge others favorably and really love every Jew. He is not challenged when others succeed financially and he doesn’t. He is not overcome with grief when insulted or hurt. Competition doesn’t eat away at his soul. He isn’t driven by an insatiable need for attention, honor or control. People of faith know that Hashem provides for them, as He does for everyone else, and their obligation is to satisfy Him and find favor in His eyes. They know that all that exists and all that transpires is because the One who created the world willed it so.
This lies at the root of the segulah of Rav Chaim Volozhiner to concentrate on “Ein od milvado” in times of danger. Acknowledging that what will happen is from Hashem is to throw yourself upon Him. Bitachon is the segulah for a yeshuah, because it emboldens us to daven with conviction and confidence. We turn to Hashem in tefillah for what we need and are satisfied with the response.
The fact that tefillos help is included in the world’s very nature.
Thus, Va’eschanan and Nachamu are bound together. There is nothing more comforting than a worn Tehillim or an old siddur. We turn to that old sefer with crumpled pages over and over again, for it reminds us of who we are and where we turn, not only in times of need.
There was an old, broken man who lived in the Bais Yisroel neighborhood of Yerushalayim. Life was rough, but he had an illustrious neighbor, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim. Every so often, the man would go to the rosh yeshiva’s home and share his woes, unburdening himself.
Once, Rav Nosson Tzvi asked him, “Tell me, I hear so many problems and I feel for you, but do you ever experience the kindness of Heaven? Do you ever feel rachamei Shomayim?”
“Yes,” the fellow conceded, “I have things in my life that bring me pleasure.”
The rosh yeshiva looked at him. “I’d like you to try something. Here’s a notebook. I want you to write down whatever goes right. Whenever you feel Hashem’s love, make a notation. Write the things that make you happy. Then, when things are tough and you feel down, take this notebook and open it. Tell me how it goes.”
Within a few weeks, the neighbor returned with the happy news that the notebook had changed his life. His focus had shifted.
He recognized that “nisecha shebechol yom imanu” is not merely something you utter without much thought while saying Birkas Hamazon, but an immutable fact. With that perception, he, like true baalei bitachon, gained a new outlook on life that brought him much happiness.
Emunah and bitachon bring nechomah. They lead to proper tefillah, satisfaction and love.
Renowned Holocaust survivor Reb Yossel Friedenson would often tell of the time he and a friend were working alongside each other in a concentration camp. The friend heard a thin, pale girl shout out from the women’s camp on other side of the fence that she desperately needed a sweater. The friend told Reb Yossel what he had heard. He suggested that perhaps they could get their hands on a sweater and sneak it across the fence to Mrs. Freidenson to give to the girl.
A few days later, they came across a sweater as they were sorting clothing confiscated from inmates and victims of the gas chambers. They concealed it for the freezing young woman. Reb Yossel, who was permitted to meet with his wife, slipped her the sweater.
The next day, a message came back. That emaciated inmate wasn’t asking for a sweater. She was screaming across the fence for a siddur! Skin and bones, shivering and worn out, she didn’t need a sweater for warmth. She needed a siddur to warm her soul and body.
She knew the sod of tefillah. She knew that to survive in that unnatural, awful place, she had to turn to tefillah, the natural key to salvation.
Tefillah provides the ultimate nechomah.
Yeshayahu Hanovi proclaims, “Nachamu, nachamu ami, take comfort My nation, yomar Elokeichem, your G-d says. You are My people. You are My nation. Recognize that and you will be comforted, for I shall comfort you.”
As we finish reciting the Kinnos, after a morning spent lonely on the floor, reading the sad words written throughout the ages, we unite in song. We proclaim the words, “Eli Tziyon v’oreha. Zion wails as a woman about to give birth.” We state that we have learned our lesson. We recognize where we have gone wrong. With hearts united, we say together: No more hate, no more jealousy, no more lack of bitachon. From our pain, we will give birth to a renewed people finally redeemed. From our pain, the Bais Hamikdosh will rise in the heart of Zion.
Let us rid our hearts of hatred, pettiness, jealousy and machlokes. Let us appreciate what we have and stop looking at what other people have. Let us abandon our love of money and drive for increasing affluence. Let us increase our love, satisfaction and faith. Let us do all we can to eradicate sinas chinom in all its guises from among us.
Achakeh lo bechol yom sheyavo.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

With a Heart Full of Love

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Parshas Devorim, which we read this week, like the entire final seder of the Torah, represents Moshe Rabbeinu’s farewell message to his people. The parsha introduces us to the seder that describes the sojourn of the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar and ends with prophetic words concerning their entry into Eretz Yisroel.
The Jewish people went on to settle the land, erected the Mishkon in Shilo, built the Botei Mikdosh, experienced two churbanos, and were then tragically evicted from the land promised to them. They were sent into golus, where we remain until this day. We will reach our desired state of shleimus when we are gathered from exile and permanently brought to Eretz Yisroel with the geulah.
Rabbeinu Bechaya (Devorim 1:1, 30:3) explains that the main role of Eretz Yisroel will also only be realized after the final redemption. Our people lived in the land for a temporary, relatively short period. After Moshiach returns us to the Promised Land, the purpose for which the world was created will be realized. Thus, the final pesukim of the Torah connect to its beginning in Bereishis, for the permanent return to Eretz Yisroel is akin to the creation of the world, which will then begin realizing the purpose for which it was established.
Similarly, Chazal teach, “Sofo na’utz b’sechilaso,” the end is tied to and rooted in the beginning. The paths, peaks and valleys of our existence combine to lead to our destiny.
Seder Devorim begins with Moshe Rabbeinu rebuking his people, for in order to merit geulah and entry into Eretz Yisroel, they had to engage in teshuvah. As the Rambam says (Hilchos Teshuva 7:5), “Ein Yisroel nigolin elah beseshuvah,” Klal Yisroel will only be redeemed if we engage in proper and complete teshuvah.
Since Moshe loved his nation and selflessly wanted them to be able to enter the land that Hashem promised to their forefathers, he admonished them with love and respect so that they would accept his tochachah. He spoke to them in a way that preserved their self-esteem (Rashi, Devorim 1:1; see also Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 4:2), because he knew that for people to accept mussar, it is usually advantageous to maintain their dignity.
It’s not as if Moshe wasn’t aware of their obstinate and disrespectful nature. Rashi (ibid.) explains that he spoke these words of mussar only after the entire nation had gathered in one place. Moshe knew the nature of these people and wanted to prevent loathsome characters from being able to proclaim that had they been there, they would have spoken back to and challenged Moshe. Therefore, he gathered them all together, indicating, “If you have what to say, say it here to my face.”
Despite his keen understanding of their displeasing behavior, his speech was laced with love and respect. The role of parents, teachers and leaders when reproaching is to do so without destroying the person, while providing clarity about the correct path, and conveying confidence for the future.
It is commonly noted that we read this parsha before Tisha B’Av because it contains Moshe’s admonition beginning with the word “Eicha,” which we lain in the same tune as Megillas Eicha on Tisha B’Av.
Perhaps we can suggest that another reason is to teach us how to give mussar and bring people home. It is not by demeaning them, yelling at them, or making them feel utterly useless. It is by carefully crafting the corrective message and infusing it with love, demonstrating that it emanates from a loving and intelligent heart.
Man is created with a heart and a brain, impulses and emotions, competing character traits, and a complicated psychology and thinking process. In his youth, he requires parents and teachers to set him on the proper path, and teach him Torah, responsibility and manners. He needs to be shown and taught how to think and how to act. Man has successes and failures as he goes through life. Due to his very nature, he often requires course corrections by those who care about him.
Torah and mitzvos help him battle the ever-present yeitzer hora, but that is not always sufficient. Every generation has unique temptations. The further we get from Sinai, the harder it is to deal with them. Just like Noach in his day - Chazal say, “Noach hayah tzorich sa’ad letomcho” - we all need help to make it and can’t do it on our own.
To the degree that others recognize this, they can be sources of support and constructive chastisement.
It is interesting that this month of Jewish tragedy is referred to as Chodesh Av, which is the same as the word meaning father. Perhaps we can say that it is a reminder to us to reprimand those whose sins prevent us from realizing the redemption, with fatherly love; treating others as a father would and lending them a shoulder to lean on to contemplate their situation, and a hand to help them climb and rise.
It is a reminder to act as Moshe did, admonishing in a way that could be accepted so that the people would merit exiting their golus and entering the land of geulah.
Another understanding of the name can be gleaned from a story about the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, who lost a child and was distraught. The rebbe was overcome at the Friday funeral, but although he was clearly devastated, when Shabbos began, his face glowed with its usual radiance and joy.
Chassidim asked the rebbe how he was able to find the strength to rise above the pain. He offered a parable of a person walking along a street and suddenly felt a pat on his back. Startled, he turned around, only to see that what he felt was actually a loving pat from his father. 
“I felt the blow,” said the rebbe, “but then I saw who it was from: my beloved Father.”
The Torah teaches us to understand difficult moments by recognizing that “just as a father punishes his son, Hashem punishes Klal Yisroel” (Devorim 8:5).
We are to understand that when we are hurt, it is an act of love, not anger. A parent disciplines because he wants to prod his child to growth and success. Even when the admonishment is painful, it is understood to be in context of parental love and hope.
So, during Chodesh Av, we read this week’s parsha, in which Moshe Rabbeinu, the av lenevi’im, the most effective rebbi we have ever had and the eternal Jewish father figure, demonstrates how a loving father offers rebuke.
In order to bring people to teshuvah, which will bring us to the ultimate geulah, we need to preach as Moshe preached, and rebuke and reprimand as he did.
An examination of the posuk beginning with the word “Eicha,” reveals the state of the Jewish people at the time of Moshe Rabbeinu’s talk with them. Far from a great people simply lacking in refinement, they were actually rambunctious apikorsim, who would mock Moshe and incessantly quarrel among themselves (Rashi, Devorim 1:12).
Yet, Moshe saw greatness in them and worked to bring them to the level that would allow Hashem to end their golus and bring them to Eretz Yisroel. So too, in our day, if we are mochiach with love, treating all Jews as brothers and sisters, and care about them, we can also help bring the nation out of golus and into geulah.
Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen was a young bochur when he first met Rav Moshe Feinstein. A resident of the Lower East Side, he entered the MTJ bais medrash for the first time to daven Minchah and approached Rav Moshe. The rosh yeshiva was engrossed in a sugya, so the bochur waited patiently for him to raise his head from the seforim in front of him.
Finally, Rav Moshe noticed the young boy standing there and extended his hand to him. He said, “Shalom Aleichem,” and asked him his name. After some small talk, Rav Moshe rose from his seat and led the bochur by hand to the back of the bais medrash. “Come,” he said, “let me show you where the siddurim are. It’s your first time here, so you probably don’t know.”
After showing him where the siddurim were kept, the elderly gaon began taking the boy down a set of stairs.
“Where are we going?” Simcha Bunim asked.
“I want to show you where the bais hakisei is,” said Rav Moshe.
The bochur was overcome by the effusive love that the gaon hador showed him, a lesson he shall never forget.
The love of a leader, a rebbi, a rosh yeshiva, for a young bochur he didn’t even know, like a father for his child.
The boy went home to write in his diary how impressed he was and that he would make it his business to return to see Rav Moshe again. Within a few days, he was back. He went on to establish a special relationship with Rav Moshe.
Several years later, he was learning at the Mir Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel and felt that it was time to return home. His rebbi, Rav Nochum Partzovitz, suggested that he would benefit from remaining in the yeshiva for one more zeman. When Simcha Bunim demurred, Rav Nochum proposed that he address the question to Rav Moshe Feinstein.
A few days later, Rav Moshe handed a tape with a recorded message to Rav Simcha Bunim’s father. Rav Moshe advised him to stay in the Mir for another zeman. “If Moshiach comes,” Rav Moshe said, “we will meet in Yerushalayim. If chas veshalom not, I guarantee you that I will be here when you return to New York.” Then he recorded on the cassette tape a 15-minute ma’amar of chizuk for the young bochur.
Simcha Bunim took the tape to Rav Nochum and they listened to it together. As they heard Rav Moshe speak, tears streamed down Rav Nochum’s face. He was overwhelmed and overcome as he listened; he couldn’t stop crying. When it was over, he explained how touched he was by the love of the elderly gadol hador for a young bochur thousands of miles away.
The love of Moshe, the love of a leader for his flock, the love of a rebbi for a talmid, ensuring that he would do the right thing and feel good about it.
A paradox appears in the words of Chazal: “Yehi beischa posuach l’revacha - May your home be open wide before the masses.” Yet, we’re also taught, “Yehi beischa beis va’ad lachachomim - May your home be a gathering place for talmidei chachomim.”
Which is the correct way to run a Jewish home?
Rav Meir Chodosh answered that the home should be open to all who need entry, but the mandate of the host is to ensure that all who enter depart his dwelling a little wiser than when they entered.
Unconditional love and acceptance, with a mission to educate. And it is possible to do both.
Such was the legacy of the mussar giant, Rav Meir Chodosh. His home in the Chevroner Yeshiva, breeding ground for generations of talmidei chachomim, was marked by the carton of cookies that sat in the kitchen next to the steaming urn. The treats were set up for the bochurim of the yeshiva, who were encouraged to enter and partake of coffee, tea and cookies 24/7.
The ideals of the Chevroner mashgiach lived on and were embodied by his son, Rav Moshe Mordechai Chodosh, who passed away last week after a short illness.
Through example and message, his parents raised him to appreciate that the highest calling is helping others. As one of the yeshiva’s most respected and accomplished bochurim, he was the first to offer shalom aleichem to a newcomer. He was always ready with a smile and kind word to lift sagging spirits.
He exuded sweetness and warmth, personifying the human touch. He was relatable and pleasant. His shiurim were outstanding in their crystalline clarity and sparkling simplicity. The yeshivos he headed were not only for metzuyanim, nor for struggling teenagers, nor for those in between. They were for all of them. Bochurim. Bnei Torah. He welcomed them all and loved them all.
I came to know him when I was learning in Brisk and living in the Ezras Torah neighborhood, where his nascent yeshiva was located. Decades later, after his yeshiva greatly expanded and he established and led many others, as a renowned rosh yeshiva with legions of talmidim, he had the same ever-present, warm smile and welcoming countenance.
When he became ill and was told that he would be placed in isolation so that the advanced treatment would work, he first returned to his yeshiva to deliver a final, parting shiur. The sight was so amazing and awesome that we chronicled it in the Yated with a front page report. The image of that final shiur will live on for a long time.
He stood in front of the bais medrash like the lion of Torah he was, resplendent in his glory, epitomizing the greatness of Slabodka, personifying its message of gadlus ha’adam, displaying the love of a great soul at its apex, enveloped in Torah, surrounded by beloved students.
Seemingly oblivious to his physical condition, that image of the rosh yeshiva, smiling as he carefully dissected and laid out a sugya, transmitting the mesorah and beauty of Torah to the next generation, helping develop the minds and thinking of beloved talmidim for one last time, was similar to Moshe Rabbeinu’s parting from his flock on his last day.
The image of that soft smile, brilliant mind, faithful soul, and hadras ponim radiating yiras Shomayim and Torah will embolden his many talmidim and others as they face challenges and seek motivation throughout their lives.
When the shiur ended, the talmidim rose and lined up for a final encounter, to sear the image and message on their growing, maturing neshamos in a beautiful, heart-breaking, reflection of this week’s parsha. “Eileh hadevorim asher dibber Moshe.”
His passing was itself a shiur, and those who hear the song of history can’t help but appreciate that this also was his mesorah.
When Rav Simcha Wasserman sought to establish a yeshiva in memory of his sainted father, Rav Elchonon, he looked for the perfect rosh yeshiva to head the institution and teach talmidim.  Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach suggested that Rav Moshe Mordechai Chodosh was the man for the job.
Rav Chodosh led the yeshiva to great heights, never forgetting whose yeshiva it was. He marked the yahrtzeit of Rav Elchonon and made Rav Elchonon’s Torah a centerpiece of his shiurim. Like Rav Elchonon, who viewed himself as a rebbi to young bochurim, Rav Moshe focused on his shiurim.
And now there is another feature of Rav Elchonon’s greatness that he emulated.
Rav Elchonon gave up his life al kiddush Hashem in spectacular fashion, urging his fellow kedoshim to “Prepare to die with pure thoughts, so that we may ascend to heaven as perfect korbanos. Let us walk with our heads held high. Let no one think a thought that would disqualify his offering. We are about to fulfill the greatest mitzvah, the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem.”
His tragic end was the modern-day equivalent of the death of the great Tanna, Rabi Akiva.
As Rabi Akiva prepared for his end at the hands of the evil Romans, his talmidim wondered, “Rabbeinu, ad kan? Is this what’s demanded of man, to approach such brutal sadism with a smile?”
The Piaseczna Rebbe explained that the talmidim weren’t asking a hashkafic question because their faith was tested. They weren’t pondering the secrets of the universe. What they were really asking Rabi Akiva was how they could tap into his faith. They were asking their rebbi to convey to them what inspired him so that they, as well, would feel it. They were asking for a parting shiur.
Rabi Akiva left this world before the eyes of eager talmidim delivering one final lesson. Rav Elchonon entered the pantheon of great men who gave their lives al kiddush Hashem delivering a shiur with his passing.
Rav Moshe Chodosh learned the lesson taught by the sainted Baranovitcher rosh yeshiva and delivered a shiur in kiddush Hashem before his passing.
Misas tzaddikim is as difficult as the churban of the Bais Hamikdosh. We cry for all of them, for rabbeim and their talmidim, for fathers and mothers and children, for rabbonim and their kehillos, for communities and their leaders, for the shopkeepers and scribes and beggars.
So much Jewish blood has been shed. So much heartache has been felt throughout the centuries in exile. On Tisha B’Av, we sit on the floor and plaintively ask, “Lamah lanetzach tishkacheinu?” For how long will death endure? For how much longer will we linger in golus?
When will You say that enough is enough, ad kan?
Help us follow in the paths of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Moshes of every generation. Help us love all Jews and bring them back. Help us show them the way so that we can all finally go home.
Hashiveinu Hashem eilecha venoshuvah, chadeish yomeinu k’kedem.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

It’s All About Words

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Parshas Mattos, one of the three parshiyos that are always read during the Three Weeks, bears lessons for us to improve our behavior in golus and merit our share in Eretz Yisroel, which the Torah apportions in this week’s parsha.
The parsha begins with the laws of nedorim and shavuos, different types of vows and promises a person makes, and the obligation “not to defile your words and do whatever you said you would” (Mattos 30:3).
In our society, words are cheap. They are thrown around aimlessly and carelessly, sometimes in a bid to impress and sometimes just to pass time. In the Twitter generation, everything is superficial, including words. They are conduits used to express thoughts and feelings that contain facile meaning and no depth. Little thought goes into what is said and thus words carry no weight.
This country just experienced two political conventions. People known for oratorical skills read speeches prepared for them and loaded on to a teleprompter. The words expressed opinions that often betrayed what that person has actually done and plans to do. But it didn’t make a difference, because they sounded good and expressed what the audience wanted to hear at that moment. It is not even clear that the crowd cared whether what was being said reflected the truth. As long as it sounded good and had applause lines and some red meat, they were happy.
Millions sat in their homes, watching and listening to those speeches. As long as their party was the one speechifying, they clapped and chanted, giving little thought to the content and impact of those words, should they ever be acted upon or taken seriously. Everything was superficial and thoughtless, words tugging at the emotions and ignoring the intellect.
The headlines the next day focused on the buzzwords and catchphrases, lauding the combination of words that sounded best or worst, depending on the candidate that particular media organ wished to promote.
A failed president offered soaring rhetoric, as if he has presided over eight golden years in the White House. His remarks were eloquent, so the people clapped without giving much thought to the veracity of his words.
A stream of insiders stood at the podium vouching for Hillary Clinton’s integrity and leadership. They couched lies in elegant phraseology and the people clapped.
But we know that words are so much more than that. Words are life itself.
The Ribono Shel Olam created His world with asarah ma’amaros, ten utterances. The Baal Shem Tov explains the posuk in Tehillim of “Le’olam Hashem devorcha nitzov bashomayim” (Tehillim 119) to mean that words used to create are still enduring. The heavens are still sustained by the words that fashioned them, and the water’s existence is a result of that continuing ma’amar. Words are life.
An object is called a dovor in Lashon Kodesh because it is sustained by His word.
There was a time when people valued each word, when they perceived the inherent value of every utterance. Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach said that his uncle, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, once described his bar mitzvah celebration to him.
After davening on the day he turned thirteen, Rav Isser Zalman’s father, Rav Boruch Peretz, and three friends celebrated by partaking of cake and schnapps. The men sat around a table, extended their best wishes to the bar mitzvah bochur, enjoyed a lechayim, and went on their way.
Rav Boruch Peretz explained why he asked those three people to join him. He said that at the bris of little Isser Zalman thirteen years earlier, these three friends had all wished mazel tov to him and added the words, “Im yirtzeh Hashem, we will frei tzach at his bar mitzvah.” They expressed the common prayer to merit rejoicing at his bar mitzvah. He had replied “amein.”
Rav Boruch Peretz felt that those words might have the status of a neder. Therefore, when the time to celebrate the bar mitzvah arrived, he invited them to the celebration.
Rav Shach would say that back home in Lita, ah vort iz geven ah vort. People of depth appreciated the depth and meaning of each word. Words carried weight, and for thirteen years, Rav Isser Zalman’s father walked around carrying that weight so that the words would be honored.
A salesman paid a call to a manufacturer in the city of Nordan in Germany and was astonished when he saw a picture of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch hanging on the office wall of the firm’s Gentile owner. He asked what the story was behind that picture. The man explained.
“My father had a court case many years ago with a Jew from this town. The judge found that the Jew had to swear to affirm the veracity of his words. The custom back then was that the oath had to be taken in the presence of known clergyman, so that the claimant wouldn’t lie. The local rabbi was Rabbi Hirsch, who was the rabbi in nearby Emden. He was brought in to administer the oath.
“Rabbi Hirsch came to town on Friday and stayed over the weekend. He lectured in the synagogue on the Sabbath. My father snuck in to hear what he would say. The rabbi spoke about the seriousness with which a Jew may take an oath and that it is better not to swear at all.
“My father was so taken by the speech that after the Sabbath he went to see the rabbi and told him how impressed he was with his words and would forgo the need to have his opponent swear in court, even if that would mean that he would lose his case against him.
“The Jewish man who was supposed to swear in Rabbi Hirsch’s presence in court to validate his claim also went to visit the rabbi after the Sabbath. He told him that the speech made a serious impression on him and that he would rather lose the case than swear.
“And that is why the rabbi’s picture hangs in my office.”
Words are taken seriously.
When Rav Leib Chasman was a bochur in Kelm, the local esrog merchant showed him a magnificent esrog. The next day, the esrog-soicher tracked down the bochur and told him that he had found an even nicer esrog than the one he had showed him the day before.
The merchant was shocked when the customer said he would buy the first one.
He explained that the day before, he had decided to purchase the first esrog, “so while there is a hiddur mitzvah to buy the nicer esrog, I decided to fulfill the hiddur mitzvah of ‘vedover emes bilvavo.’”
He treasured not only spoken words, but those unspoken as well.
We’ve lost that. In our society, words should have meaning. Meaning also has to have meaning. We must not be superficial. The world is too dangerous a place for us to act without information and without thought. Too often, we express opinions and act based on feelings and not facts, emotions and not intellect. To do so is folly and can have drastic consequences.
Words affect us and other people. We have to be careful not to use insulting words or derogatory innuendo; a seemingly innocuous comment, can be extremely hurtful and cause people to lose sleep and self-worth. To end the golus and help return the Bais Hamikdosh, we should think before we speak and ensure that our speech is neither hurtful nor insulting.
An elderly Belzer chossid, Reb Yisroel Klein, survived the Nazi labor and concentration camps. He told Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz the zechus that he believed saved him.
One day, he saw a person who was so hungry that he was hallucinating and losing his grip on reality. His stomach was bloated and his eyes were rolling in his head. The man had obviously not eaten in days. He was standing at a garbage pail, using his last strength to desperately search for crumbs of food.
Reb Yisroel saw the sad scene and approached the man, who seemed as if he was at death’s door. He said to him, “Reb Yid, tell me how I can help you.”
The man was shocked to encounter some humanism in a place of murder, death and destruction. With limited remaining strength, he softly responded, “Epes essen. Something to eat.”
Mr. Klein had also not eaten for a few days and was in no position to help the starving man by giving him food.
“My dear brother,” he said to the man, “I have nothing, not even a crumb. We are both in the same boat. But there is one thing I can give you, and that is love. I love you, for you are a Jew, just like me.”
With that, he grabbed onto the man’s limp body with both hands and kissed him. They both were overcome with emotion and the tears began to fall. In a choked voice, Reb Yisroel said to the man over and over again, “Ich hub dir leeb. Ich hub dir leeb. I love you. I love you.”
And so they stood, wrapped together, one Jew bringing another back to life with a few simple words.
As they parted, Mr. Klein told his new friend, “Know this: Even here, in this miserable place, the Ribono Shel Olam loves us and hasn’t forgotten us. Let us keep in touch and strengthen each other as long as we are here.”
Reb Yisroel saved a life with four words: Ich hub dir leeb. He had no food, no water, and no clean clothing to share. The only thing he had were words. With but a few words, he nourished and sustained his fellow inmate, enabling him to hold on to life. And in that merit, he also lived.
Last week, in the middle of a telephone conversation with Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, the line was suddenly disconnected. Another fact of life for those unfortunate souls in our federal correctional system. They wait on line for a chance to place a phone call, and then their connection to the outside world goes dead.
I felt bad for him and then went back to what I was doing. For him, it was a bigger deal. The next day, we reconnected. He said that when the line went dead, he was very sad. “I was waiting to talk to you, and when I finally got through, you were gone and I was alone again.”
I asked how he gets over those feelings and remains in good spirits. He matter-of-factly responded, “When we got disconnected, I was sad, so I ran to my Gemara and began learning. Torah lifts me up. Learning Torah makes me happy.”
The power of words.
A man isolated from family and friends, deprived of a connection to his loved ones, Reb Sholom Mordechai is sad because of a conversation cut short. When cut off from those treasured words of love, he finds comfort in the holy words Torah and comes alive once again.
The bnei Gad and bnei Reuvein appeared before Moshe Rabbeinu and told him that they wanted to establish their homes and nachalah on the other side of the Yardein and not in the Promised Land. For hundreds of years, Jews had been waiting to return to the land promised to their forefathers. For forty years, these very same people wandered in the desert on their way to this land. When the time to enter the land arrived, these shevotim said that it wasn’t for them.
Moshe rebuked them for their words, which had the ability to cause members of other shevotim to fear entering Eretz Yisroel, afraid of the wars that must be fought and the land itself (Mattos 32:6-7).
They phrased their request improperly.
Later (Rashi 32:16 ), Moshe pointed out another error that they made as they spoke of their plans. They promised to “build pens for their cattle and villages for the children” to grow up in. Their words indicated skewed priorities by not mentioning their children first.
Perhaps, had they appreciated the power of words, they would have escaped the wrath of Moshe Rabbeinu.
Eight hundred years later, when Sancheirev sent the Jews into exile, Reuvein and Gad were the first to go, eleven years ahead of their brethren who lived in Eretz Yisroel (Rashi, Melochim II, 17:1), because their forefathers didn’t take the time to properly gauge their words (see Rashi in Mishlei 20:21 on the posuk of “nachalah mevoheles barishonah, ve’acharisa lo sevorach”).
Words have the power to break and the power to repair. Words heal and words sicken. Words bring people together and words separate people. The words we use have lasting repercussions.
As we complete the laining of the parshiyos this week, we exclaim together, “Chazak chazak venischazeik.” We cry out a resounding message to each other and to ourselves. We repeat one word that is laden with power: Chazak. Be strong.
This Shabbos, we complete another sefer in our march towards the Torah’s conclusion. We internalize the chapter of the Bnei Yisroel’s sojourn through the midbar and try to learn the lessons that this seder has presented so that we may be strong and strengthened. We say chazak. Study the words of the Torah and you will be strong. Share the words of the Torah and you will be strengthened. Say it together again and again. Appreciate the power of words and use them properly.