Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sanctify the Moment

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The parsha this week begins with the words, “Vayakhel Moshe es kol adas bnei Yisroel.” Moshe descended the mountain the day after Yom Kippur and all of Klal Yisroel flocked to him to hear his message.

There is an immediate lesson here for us, which is relevant throughout the year. The Jewish year, just like Jewish life, is composed of peaks and valleys, moments of joy and times of pain. Every moment has its specific avodah, whether it is a day that is spent entirely in shul or one that is spent eating and drinking. Even on a more routine day, each moment in a Jew’s life is laden with opportunity and meaning. Unfortunately, certain times, such as those that call for more intense avodah may be perceived as more significant than less intense periods.

The reality is, that time that passes will never return, and every moment that arrives is unique.

Mimochoras Yom Kippur is the day following the most exalted twenty-four hours of the year. How can you top that? Any day that follows must be a downer, maybe even a day off, without its own specific recipe for growth.

Our parsha opens on that day, Mimochoras Yom Kippur, when Moshe Rabbeinu gathered the nation. As they stood listening to him, they were once again together, b’achdus, and they merited the Mishkon.

The people flocked to listen to Moshe. They had learned the lesson of the day and understood. Following his return from Har Sinai after the chet ha’Eigel, Moshe called out, “Mi laHashem eilay. Everyone who remains with Hashem come to me.” Only the bnei Levi answered the call. But following their repentance, all the people recognized that just as every moment has its obligation, so does every individual have a mission and they came to hear what it was.

After falling and failing in the mindlessness of the chet ha’Eigel, after having done teshuvah, the enthused, newly-cleansed nation gathered around Moshe, the fountain of direction.

We can now appreciate the power of Moshe Rabbeinu’s message to them.

The parshiyos of Vayakhel and Pekudei conclude the five parshiyos that discuss the construction of the Mishkon and its design. The building of the Mishkon began after Yom Kippur and continued until Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

The work required hundreds of workers and large amounts of material. To facilitate its construction, there was a fundraising campaign, in which everyone participated. When the Mishkon was completed, the festivity lasted twelve days.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky points out the incongruity between the effort exerted into building the Mishkon and the original intended duration of its existence. The Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim on Pesach and were to travel in the desert until reaching the Promised Land. Had the sin of the meraglim not taken place, they would have entered Eretz Yisroel in a matter of months and would not have wandered in the desert for thirty-nine extra years. Why, then, was so much effort and expense invested in constructing a temporary edifice? Why all the specifics, precise merasurements and exhaustive work?

In fact, they teach us a vital lesson.

Rav Moshe Mordechai Shulsinger of Bnei Brak maintained a written correspondence with many great men. He once commented that when gedolei Torah would respond to his letters during the bein hazemanim period, they would indicate in their letters that it was bein hazemanim. He noted that Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, however, had a term all his own. He referred to the intercession as “zeman habeinayim,” or “the in-between zeman.” This, said Rav Moshe Mordechai, was part of the secret of Rav Shach’s growth and leadership. Each moment, each day, had a role and mission. Nothing was temporary or without meaning. The days of relaxation from the frantic yeshiva pace were a zeman of their own.

The Mishkon, epicenter of holiness, repository of Hashem’s presence on this world, defied time. Although the Mishkon would be temporary, its effect would be eternal. While it was only meant to last for several months, it represented the ideal that every day could be spent in the presence of Hashem. No day, or even part of it, should be taken for granted or wasted. Every minute is precious and can generate greatness. We know nothing about which day or which moment in it is most important.

We value rest and relaxation. We know the value of bein hazemanim and a change of pace. Everyone needs to relax in their own way, but there is never off-time.

He told her to ensure that even though they would be on the run, moving from place to place, she should do what she could to give each day a sense of permanence and create a feeling of home. The rebbetzin would recount how, during the long journey across Europe to what felt like the end of the earth, she made sure to serve the future rosh yeshiva “breakfast” - whatever meager food there was - on a plate. She understood that by investing the day with a feeling of stability, her husband would follow by learning as if he was back in yeshiva in Telshe.

The rebbetzin said that she felt that her husband shteiged during the multi-year journey in a way that others had not because of her father’s wise directive.

Klal Yisroel, newly-cleansed from the chet ha’Eigel, desirous of a proper relationship with Hashem, appreciated the opportunity to construct a dirah batachtonim. And they knew that in a relationship, there are no off moments. For however long it would stand, they would ensure that the Mishkon would be a place where Hashem would, kevayachol, be comfortable.

They understood that building the Mishkon was an act of teshuvah for their sin and they immediately responded to the appeal. They engaged in a labor of love, determined to begin again with a cleansed slate. It did not matter that the Mishkon was to stand for only a short period of time, for they would take advantage of the opportunity to become closer to Hashem, and in that zechus they would enter Eretz Yisroel and build the permanent Bais Hamikdosh.

They toiled and labored in joy. They understood that even one moment of hashro’as haShechinah was worth everything.

As the Mishkon was completed, Moshe Rabbeinu blessed the Jewish people, stating, “Viyhi noam Hashem Elokeinu aleinu.” Rav Simcha Scheps explained that they were blessed upon the completion of the work and not when they began it, because Moshe knew that there would be an initial burst of enthusiasm for the project. He didn’t have to bless them at the outset. He feared that the initial euphoria would wear off and they wouldn’t be able to maintain the proper spiritual levels to merit the Shechinah remaining among them. It was at the end, with the task completed and the Mishkon erected, that he was able to look on with pride at the lesson his people had learned.

In the great mussar yeshivos, every talmid was infused with an awareness of the greatness inherent in man, referred to as gadlus ha’adam.

Rav Shlomo Freifeld would tell of the time he stayed at a Tel Aviv hotel and was eating breakfast. He noticed a distinguished looking woman enter the hotel dining room and begin looking around, as if for something in particular. After a while, she found it: a vase, holding a single flower. She proudly carried the flower to her table, where she sat down to wait for her husband, who came a few minutes later.

Her husband was the Ponovezher Rov.

Rav Freifeld would say, “When I saw that flower on the table, I understood how the Ponovezher Rov was able to accomplish so much every day of his life and just how much of a partner the rebbetzin was.”

Every day is a gift from Hashem and worthy of expending the effort to construct a Mishkon - a place for Hashem - in our hearts. Every day presents new opportunities to grow, learn and achieve greatness. Every day deserves cleanliness and preparation for Godliness.

The posuk states, “Vayavo’u kol ish asher nesa’o libo” (35:21). Every man “whose heart lifted him” came to work on the construction of the Mishkon.

The Ramban states that none of the people who were engaged in building the Mishkon had learned that trade, nor did they have any previous experience. They were the people who responded to the call of Hashem. Niso’om libom, their hearts lifted them. They were consumed with the desire to fulfill the wish of Hashem. They didn’t say that they weren’t trained for anything that the Mishkon required. They didn’t say that the work was too difficult. They didn’t say, “Leave it for someone else to do.” The Mishkon was built by men of greatness who ignored their shortcomings and pushed themselves to do what they didn’t know they could, to serve Hashem.

Perhaps, in light of our understanding, we can appreciate the lesson. Nothing is random. Our year doesn’t consist of “on-days” and “off-days,” and our nation doesn’t boast capable people and those who are absolved of work. Every day has its special light, shone into it by the Master of us all. Look for something positive in each day and you will find motivation.

They achieved greatness. They brought the Shechinah to this world. They received the brochah of Viyihi Noam and the Mishkon lasted much longer than anyone thought it would. In fact, the Mishkon was never destroyed. It lies in hiding, waiting for the day when we can appreciate our blessings, the potential that lies in each moment, and all join together and summon the inner strength we all possess to put aside differences and work together to reestablish a dirah laHashem batachtonim.

B’Nissan nigalu ubeNissan asidim lehigoel. Nissan is a month of redemption. Redemption of time, of people, and of our nation. If we would all appreciate the gift of time, our personal gifts and the gift of our nation, singular in the world, we would be redeemed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bridge the Divide

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
We just completed the observance of Purim. We are still in the exalted state that defines chodesh Adar and we are confronted by the tragedy of Parshas Ki Sisa.
The parsha contains apexes of glory and splendor, depths of catastrophe, and a cataclysmic blow, followed by the greatest message of forgiveness in the Torah. The tragic error and the climb back to teshuvah resound through the ages.
The Jews had reached the height of their experience when Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Har Sinai and received the Luchos and the Torah. When he failed to return at the time the people had calculated, the nation that had reached exalted levels descended to worshiping a calf that they had formed from their jewelry. 
By doing so, they changed the trajectory of history which continues until our day. Moshe descended from his greatness, returned to the people, and shattered the Luchos as he witnessed the depravity to which they had sunk. The Leviim rallied to his side and waged war against the scoffers.
Hashem wanted to destroy the Jewish nation, but He relented after Moshe’s pleas. Moshe was allowed to re-ascend the mountain and re-transcribe Luchos. Hashem revealed the 13 Middos to Moshe and promised to allow the nation to enter The Promised Land.
It is apparent that those who gave birth to the Eigel weakened Moshe. The Eirev Rav, who had joined the Jewish people as they exited Mitzrayim, succeeded in persuading Aharon to tentatively sign on to their plan. Moshe was told, “Lech reid.” He was instructed to go down and return to his people.
Chazal say (Brachos 32a) that in commanding, “Lech reid,” Hashem was saying, “Go down from your greatness, for I have only made you great because of Yisroel, and now that Yisroel has sinned, you must return to a lower level.”
The Peirush HaGra on Chumash (Shemos 32:7), quoting the Tikkunei Zohar, says, “Ispashuta d’Moshe bechol dor vador. In every generation, there is a nitzutz, a part of the neshomah, of Moshe Rabbeinu present in one great man.” Through him, the light of Torah is transmitted to all the talmidei chachomim of the generation. All the chiddushei Torah that is nischadeish in the world is through the “hashpo’as ohr,” or influence, of Moshe Rabbeinu.
Several times a week, we say, “Vezos haTorah asher som Moshe lifnei bnei Yisroel… beyad Moshe.” We point our finger and try to see the holy letters on the parchment, proclaiming that the Torah was given through Moshe.
Tov ayin hu yevorach - One who has a bountiful eye will be blessed(Mishlei 22:9). Chazal teach that this refers to Moshe, who was the ultimate ayin tovah: He gave us the Torah and the ability to plumb its depths.
When the pagan Eigel was crafted, the gift of Torah was jeopardized. Moshe became weakened to such a degree that the Luchos were broken, causing a diminution of Torah knowledge and leading to the exiles we have endured since.
The Vilna Gaon writes (Even Sheleimah 13:8) that in our time, the Eirev Rav is composed of five groups of people: baalei machlokes and lashon hora, baalei ta’avah, hypocrites, people who seek honor to make a name for themselves, and people who crave money. He continues: “The worst are those who cause machlokes, and they are Amaleikim. Moshiach will not arrive until the world is rid of them.”
In other words, our eternal enemy lives on not only through the wicked gentiles of the world who seek our demise, but through those among us who foment division. Sadly, we are plagued by endless machlokes. Maybe if we would begin to view those who cause and feed off of machlokes as the Amaleikim the Vilna Gaon says they are, we would really despise them and not permit their influence to divide brother from brother.
Purim is a day when we all get along and all divisions disappear. The joy of the day enables us to look aside from that which divides us and concentrate on the positive. On Purim, there is no negativity or cynicism. There is so much love and brotherhood in the air. Why can’t that Purim spirit linger and last? Who doesn’t wish for Purim to be more than a one-day holiday? We can keep the Purim spirit alive in our hearts and remain joyful, forgiving and positive. How much better off we would all be.
We each need to do what we can to spread love, peace and harmony in our community. We need to put aside petty differences. We need to work together, support good people and do good things instead of enabling hypocrites and greedy people. There are many good people in our world. Let’s get behind them and enable them to drain the swamp.
The Eirev Rav weakened Moshe’s abilities by sowing dissent and confusion, leading to the diminution of his abilities.
We wonder how the people who stood at Har Sinai and proclaimed, “Na’aseh venishma,” fell so ingloriously. How was it possible for this noble people to fall so far, so fast? What caused them to be led astray? How could they think that they can elevate an inanimate object to the lofty position of G-d’s emissary?
Rashi (32:1) explains that Moshe told the people that he would return in forty days and they erred in their calculation. Rashi quotes the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (89a) which explains that the Soton “confused the natural order,” creating a mirage of Moshe’s body being carried in heaven as if in a casket.
If so, can we really blame the people for believing that Moshe would not be returning? How were they to know that what their eyes were seeing wasn’t real? 
Their mistake was that they should have trusted Moshe’s promise and sought to figure out how it could remain viable and consistent with what they saw. They should have probed for the truth behind the mirage. They should have contemplated the possibility that their calculations were erroneous instead of being misled to conclude that Moshe would never return. They should have restrained the impulse to invent an immediate substitute.
Had they sought an ayin tovah and looked to find the good in everyone and justify the words of Torah and its students, they could have come to the realization that they were being lied to. People who are optimistic and believers are not led astray by sweet words and fake news.
When Shlomo Hamelech was given the ability to choose any gift, he did not seek power, might or influence. He asked to be granted a lev shomeia, a heart that would perceive and discern the needs of others. He wanted the ability to really hear.
In order to battle the Eirev Rav of our day and curb machlokes, which weakens the Moshe Rabbeinus of our time, and to enable the coming of Moshiach, we have to be more intelligent about the way we address people. It is way too easy to preach and lecture others, admonishing them for what we think they are doing wrong.
To be an effective leader and communicator, you have to listen to people and understand how they think and why they act the way they do. We have to perceive the current mindset in order to bring about change. If we want to reach people in 2017, we can’t speak in a vocabulary of the 1950s and seek to address issues that were important in the 1960s.
If you don’t know what is going on, and you don’t know the news, and you don’t know what people are thinking, how do you think you can be relevant?
We must have a lev shomeia if we want to influence people to lead better lives and to give up their petty battles and other behaviors that are in line with the conduct of the Eirev Rav and Amaleik.
In our day, the way to reach individual lost, confused and erring people is not by bashing them, but by empowering them to tap into their latent abilities. Let people know that you have faith in them to be better and they will become better. Speak positively.
Of course, when dealing with reshoim who lead others astray, the form of rebuke differs.
The Torah is eternal, but the language in which we communicate with people changes. People are not interested in hearing the same old speeches they have been hearing for years. They want the messages relayed to them in a way that relates to them. They want images they can relate to, delivered by people who can show that they relate to them and their situations. We can demonstrate the beauty of Torah and inspire people to study and support Torah, with positivity. If you want people to follow your message, don’t talk down to them.
Let’s be plugged in to the hearts and minds of the masses and work intelligently to help them to improve and to grow.
A story is told about a fellow who comes to shul and sits in his seat until Shemonah Esrei. After davening, the rov bangs on his shtender and points out that it is improper to sit while reciting Vayevorech Dovid.
The man rises to complain out loud, “For the past six months, zitz ich un parnossah, I ‘sit’ with no source of income, and no one says a word. One day, zitz ich beim davenen, I sit during davening, and I hear all about it.”
The way to create change is by building people through warmth, concern and a lev shomeia. Let them know you care about them.
This week, Rabbi Yisroel Besser’s fascinating new book on Rav Yeshayele of Kerestir sees publication. He was one of the most beloved and revered tzaddikim in prewar Hungary. Jews from all across the country were drawn to his tiny town, eager to receive the rebbe’s brocha and advice.
In the book it is told that one year before tekias shofar on Rosh Hashanah, Rav Yeshayele closeted himself in his room to prepare for the exalted moments. A chossid peered in, certain that he would see the rebbe engaged in Kabbalistic ritual, saying Tehillim or toiling in Torah.
The chossid watched as the rebbe patiently sliced pieces of cake and prepared platters. The rebbe noticed the curious chossid and explained that since the minhag of chassidim is not to eat before tekios, the rebbe understood that the mispallelim would be famished by the end of davening. He wanted to make sure that none of them would have to wait for a bite following davening.
The rebbe used the moments before tekios as Shlomo Hamelech taught. Rav Yeshayele connected with the hearts of his people and prepared food for them. Only after doing that was he ready to go to tekias shofar and plead on their behalf, for he was loving and caring of fellow Jews.
A yeshiva bochur was found being mechallel Shabbos a few times in his yeshiva dormitory. The heads of the yeshiva went to Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l for pro-forma permission to expel the boy.
Rav Shach was in his twilight years, extremely weak and feeble, and rarely saw people. Because of the severity of this situation, however, the roshei yeshiva were permitted to visit Rav Shach to discuss the matter. He listened as they spoke and then was engrossed in thought for several minutes. Finally, with a weak voice, he said to them, “What is the financial situation in the boy’s home? Do his parents have shalom bayis?”
The roshei yeshiva were bewildered by the questions. “How should we know what goes on in his home?” they asked.
Rav Shach strengthened himself, grasped the table, and pulled himself up in his chair. Tears were flowing down his cheeks and his voice was stronger than it was before. He turned to the people who had come to his home convinced that he would rubberstamp their decision.
Rodfim, leave my home!” he said. “I don’t want to talk to you. You don’t know what is going on with the boy. You don’t know what is going on in his home. The only thing you know is that you want to put him out in the street. Leave.”
We have to look at people with kindness. We can’t jump to conclusions based upon what we see. We need to care about people. We need to love them. We need to try to understand them and their actions.
Amaleik is hateful, spiteful and quick to judge. People like us have to recognize our responsibilities to each other and look to help those who can be helped, rectifying that which can be rectified, and interpreting things we see with emunah and bitachon. We must ensure that we don’t fall for the enticements of the Soton, but rather remain loyal to Torah and the truth.
We can erase the vestiges of the Eirev Rav from our midst and benefit from the unblocked light of Moshe.
The Torah was given with an ayin tovah. With an ayin tovah, we can spread the ways, lessons and messages of the Torah and create the greatest change of all, allowing the arrival of Moshiach.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Face of Purim

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Purim is different.

When all the Yomim Tovim will cease to be celebrated and only be remembered as part of golus, Purim will live on; a day of joy in a time of ultimate joy.

Estranged Jews appreciate the awe of Rosh Hashanah and listen to the cry of the shofar, but they have a hard time with Purim. They wonder how this can be a holiday. And what is the deal with the alcohol, the clowning around, and the lack of decorum?

The closer we are to the source of joy, the more joyous we are. If we go to a wedding and don’t know the celebrating families, we aren’t too happy there. The better we know the baalei simcha, the more joyous we are and the more we participate. When someone dances with abandon and obvious joy at a wedding, you can safely assume that he has a close connection to the celebrating families.

The more we are able to appreciate the source of the happiness of Purim, the happier we are, and the longer we are able experience that joy. People privileged to live Torah lives, connected with the meaning and flavor of life, experience Purim joy with the onset of Adar.

What is it about Purim that generates so much joy and elation? Even today, when so many hearts are numb and emotion comes hard, we can still sense the simcha. There is a mitzvah to be happy on Yomim Tovim. On Purim, it is so much easier for all to feel it.

Because Purim is personal.

Like a beacon of light on a dark, stormy night, Purim shines into our world. Everyone struggles. We have days when events threaten to engulf us. We encounter people and situations that we find intolerable. We can feel lost and abandoned. We wonder why there is so much hate in our world and why people seem intent on destroying others. It bothers us and brings on a certain sense of despondency. We pine for proper leadership to fill vacuums and right wrongs. We need so much money to survive; there are so many struggles to make ends meet. Every penny we earn is swallowed up. So many are sick or suffering in other ways, and eagerly awaiting a yeshuah.

How is it that when Purim comes, our worries are set aside and we celebrate as if we are mechutonim?

The Baal Shem Tov once traveled through a tiny, forlorn town consisting of a few farmhouses and fields. The locals were suffering from a severe drought. The lack of rainwater threatened the crops and their livelihoods were in jeopardy. If the drought would continue, they would all starve.

When the Baal Shem Tov went into the shul, he saw the entire town - men, women and children – gathered there, listening respectfully to the words of a visiting maggid. The preacher was castigating the people for their misdeeds, telling them that their offensive behavior was causing Heaven to withhold the blessing of rain.

When the maggid finished, the Baal Shem Tov rose to speak. “What do you want from these people?” he asked the maggid. “They work long, hard hours, toiling under the blazing sun all day. When they have a few minutes of peace, they hurry to the shul to daven and learn a bit. What do you want from them? What type of message are you giving them?”

Turning to the crowd of farmers and their families, the Baal Shem Tov said, “Tayere Yidden, this is what you must know. We have a Creator with unlimited abilities, and He can do whatever He wants. He loves us and wants to shower us with blessings. So come, Yidden. Let us dance.”

The Baal Shem Tov led the simple townspeople in joyous dance. The circle of Jews began singing their thanks and praise to the Master of the Universe.

When they were done and left the shul to return home, they were greeted by a driving rain that turned the roads and fields into mud.

It rained and rained, drenching the happy townspeople as they danced their way home.

The Baal Shem Tov gave them reason to dance. The Creator loves us and wants the best for us. He can do anything.

This knowledge is like a bolt of lightning that lights up the night.

Throughout the year, we are confronted by various types of people and the vast spectrum of human behavior, from righteous and noble to incorrigibly evil and the many shades in between.

We live in a world where up is down and down is up. We have to resist being bowled over and led astray. No matter what comes over us and the world, we must maintain our equilibrium and faith.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner told of two men who were lost overnight in a forest. To survive in the thick blanket of darkness and terror, one man figured out how to see in the darkness, while the other sharpened his hearing to be able to discern when danger was approaching.

Which of the two, asked Rav Hutner, learned a more valuable skill?

He said that it is the second man, the one who developed the ability to perceive sounds and identify them, who possessed the more crucial expertise, because in the morning, when the sun comes up and the world is bathed in light, that skill will still be helpful to them in their lost state.

When Moshiach comes, the ability to see in darkness will no longer be necessary, as the world will be filled with light. But the ability to hear the knock of Hashgocha and understand that every sound is an announcement of Hashem’s Presence will always be useful. Purim won’t ever go away, as it is the Yom Tov that teaches us to listen and hear the deeper message.

When good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people, the Megillah reminds us that appearances are deceptive. The Megillah reminds us all that everything that happens is part of a Divine plan, which we can’t expect to understand until the entire story has unfolded.

That message resonates wherever Jews find themselves. As we masquerade about exchanging mishloach manos with friends and distributing Purim gelt, we tap into the holiness and message of the holy day.

It is a message that never loses its timeliness.

Every year, we gain a new appreciation of what took place during those critical times and its relevance to us today. We also gain a new perspective.

We have been so close to the brink, but have always been allowed to climb back up. How can we not rejoice?

One year on Purim, surrounded by multitudes of chassidim hanging on to his every word, the Chiddushei Horim began speaking. This is what he said: “When we start reading the Megillah, we might wonder why we are being told stories about some Persian king. Why do we care that he feasted for three years after being crowned? We continue reading and are told stories about a queen who refused to attend a feast and her punishment. Then we read about the procedure of finding a new queen. And we wonder: Why do we need to know this?”

The rebbe was quiet, deep in thought. He sat up and answered his questions. “In the time of Moshiach,” he said, “many strange things will happen. Nobody will understand what is happening. And then, suddenly, they will realize that it was all tied to the geulah.”

To say that strange occurrences are taking place in our day is an understatement. We are confounded by the daily happenings, so many of which seem to make no sense. Soon the day will arrive when everything will become clear. For now, we have Purim.

Our friend whom we all pray for, Reb Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka, is always happy. He is really happy. Although he is locked into a depressing place, without any outside stimulants to lift his spirits, he doesn’t see darkness and despair. The message of Purim animates him and causes him to smile all year. He is one with Hashem, and he knows that his freedom is dependent upon the Merciful One. He spends his time learning Torah and being mechazeik people. He is a Purim Yid.

Sholom Mordechai calls me regularly, and if there are people around when he calls, I put the phone on speaker and tell them to listen. We carry on our conversation as if he’s living next door. He laughs at a good joke harder than you ever heard anyone laugh. Then he asks for a vort on the parsha and we discuss it.

People who hear his vibrant voice, guttural laugh, and longing for a word of Torah are overcome with emotion. How can it be? How can that be him? Is it really him? Amazing. Unbelievable.

In that place of sadness and forced depression, he laughs as if he is the freest man alive. And the truth is that he is. He is freer than people enslaved to their habits, urges, appetites and things they think are life’s necessities. Torah, emunah and tefillah empower him. They energize him. Nobody has it as bad as him, locked up as he is with the worst of society. Yet he smiles. He laughs. He wants to hear a vort on the parsha.

He is a Purim Yid. He knows that it was divinely ordained for him to be there, so he is happy to be following Hashem’s plan. And when Hashem decides that it is time to come out, he will be “on the outside,” as they say in prison vernacular.

We all have stuff going on in our lives that we wish wasn’t there. There are many problems awaiting solutions. Life isn’t always perfect. We can get down. We can find it impossible to laugh and hard to learn Torah. There is an urge to withdraw from other people. Whatever it is that’s bothering us, chances are that he is worse off.

There are other Purim Yidden, great people tested time and again, who are “freilach ah gantz yohr.” With indomitable strength, they maintain their belief and live wholesome lives. We need to learn from them.

Esther is repeatedly tested throughout the period in which the story takes place. Each time, it appears that there is no way she can outmaneuver the evil facing her. She is galvanized by her hopes rather than her fears. She relies upon the sage counsel of her uncle, the Rosh Sanhedrin. With Mordechai’s support, fear can’t paralyze her.

Faced with situations from which we think there is no way we can extricate ourselves without getting hurt, we should remember Queen Esther and gain strength from the knowledge that by doing the right thing, she saved her people from certain destruction. By following Mordechai’s instructions, she became immortalized in the consciousness of the Jewish people as a righteous and strong woman who put the fate of her people ahead of her personal safety and happiness.

The Jews of Shushan taught a message that is passed down through the ages. They felt doomed. The lot was drawn and their fate was sealed. They rose to the challenge. Thanks to the leadership of Mordechai and Esther, Hashem heard their tefillos and accepted their teshuvah. A day marked for sadness and death was transformed into a day of celebration and deliverance for all time.

The Rosh Hashanah l’shonim, the first day of Tishrei, is preceded by a month of teshuvah. The first day of Nissan is Rosh Hashanah l’regolim, marking the beginning of the annual cycle of Yomim Tovim. The Sefas Emes suggests that just like the teshuvah in Elul prepares us for Rosh Hashanah, the month prior to the Rosh Hashanah l’regolim, Adar, is a teshuvah period.

But there is a marked difference between the two periods of repentance. During Elul, the teshuvah is brought on by fear of the impending judgment. During Adar, it begins as teshuvah m’ahavah, repentance brought on by love, joy and anticipation.

On Purim, we are reminded not to be sad or downcast. We all have our problems. Everyone has a pekel. On Purim, we are reminded that just as our ancestors were delivered from despair, so can we be spared of our burdens.

The sun will shine again. Good will triumph over evil.

It’s Purim. Dance, smile and be happy. Look at the positive. Be optimistic.

Purim is not an escape from reality. Purim is reality. Purim is a reminder of the reality that empowers the Jewish people with the clarity and awareness to continue on.

If we allow Purim into our daily avodah, we can become changed people.

Permit the spirit of Purim to overtake you.

We remember Amaleik and their sin, and with that, we remember how great we are. Rav Chaim Brim repeated what he heard from Reb Shea Bergman, an elderly Yerushalmi baal korei who had lained for Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld. The baal korei recalled that every year, Rav Yosef Chaim was called to the Torah for the maftir of Parshas Zachor, and each year he drenched the bimah with tears.

Rav Yosef Chaim thought about what was - the many rounds between Amaleik and Klal Yisroel - and also saw the final battle, after which we alone will remain standing. The tears of Purim are special. There are rivers of teshuvah merging with rivers of ahava, simcha and kirvas Hashem all together.

Before tekias shofar, the Jews of Salant would marvel at the change in the features of their rov, Reb Zundel. As he grasped the shofar, his face would radiate such holiness that it became difficult to look at him.

They asked him about it and he sighed. “My rebbi, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, looked this way every morning as he lifted his tefillin from their bag. I only experience it once a year,” he lamented.

On Purim, look at the faces around you. At least on this day of the year, we see the truth. Look at the faces and you’ll see inner joy. You will see the happiness of belief. The joy of clarity. All year round, people have various looks on their faces, but the look you see on Purim is the truest face of all.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Celebrate Together

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Rav Yaakov Edelstein, who passed away last week was a leading rov, founding talmid of Ponovezh Yeshiva, and close disciple of the Chazon Ish. When meeting him it seemed as if his high Litvishe yarmulka was a resplendent crown, a remnant of the bygone royalty of Lita.
A great tzaddik and gaon, he cherished all Jews, the simple and downtrodden as much as the successful and content. Multitudes beat a path to his door, some to speak in learning, others to immerse themselves in the concealed parts of Torah he mastered. Many came seeking words of blessing and encouragement.
Listen to a story of responsibility, sensitivity and achdus.
Rav Yaakov Edelstein once recounted: “While I was learning in Ponovezh, a group of bochurim who were not really up to par came to the yeshiva. When I went to visit the Chazon Ish along with my friend, Rav Jacobowitz, the Chazon Ish asked us to speak to the older bochurim in the yeshiva and convince them to learn with the weaker bochurim. I said to the Chazon Ish, ‘What should I say if a bochur tells me that he wants to use his time to learn iyun and he does not want to waste it learning with such a bochur?’
“The Chazon Ish answered me, ‘Ask him if he puts on tefillin. When he says yes, ask him why he doesn’t feel that it’s a waste of time and that he could be learning iyun during that time.’ The Chazon Ish equated putting on tefillin, which is a Biblical mitzvah, to learning with a weaker bochur.”
Imagine what our world would look like if we all felt and acted like that. Think about the revolution we could bring about, how many young people wouldn’t feel lost, and how pleasant everything would be.
Rosh Chodesh Adar ushers in the special season of simcha. Chazal say, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha, when Adar comes, we increase our joy.” A Jew must always be joyous, yet there is something about Adar that prompts us to be happier than usual.
During Adar, we clear our minds of mundane thoughts that usually impact our moods and focus on the coming days of redemption, Purim in Adar and Pesach in Nissan.
On Purim, we celebrate the geulah that came about when the Jews became united. On Purim, in merit of the diverse nation coming together in prayer and fasting, they were able to negate the decree that had been enacted to annihilate them.
Every year, during the month of Adar and on Purim, we engage in actions that recreate the bond of salvation. We send each other gifts, mishloach manos, we drink with good friends, and we help those who are unable to make ends meet. Such actions echo the mutual love extant back then, bringing us together and enabling us to merit redemption.
There is no greater joy.
During the month of Adar, we learn the parshiyos that detail the particulars of the construction of the Mishkon.
When we join together as one in the month of Adar, it is reminiscent of the avodah of the Mishkon, where Jews came together in unity and love.
The Vilna Gaon (Shir Hashirim 1:17) describes the power and potency of the Mishkon. Every Jew had a flame in his heart, but their passions were dormant until there was a collective place where the Jews and their little fires could gather and unite. As they connected with each other, their collective fires fueled a brilliant flame that would light up the world.
The Shechinah resides inside the heart of every good Jew who has purified himself and raised himself to the proper level of holiness. The Mishkon is the gathering place for the people who have brought themselves to that level.
When Hashem commanded Moshe to solicit donations from the Jewish people for the Mishkon, He told him to take a “terumah” from every person who will contribute from his heart, “asher yidvenu libo.” This hints that the people were not only contributing gold and silver, but also giving some of their spirit that lies in the heart towards the construction of the Mishkon, to enable all the hearts to join together in the special place.
In a very different way, this is what happens on Purim as Jews sit around the table at the seudah, each one with their little secrets, unspoken dreams, hopes, ambitions, and ideas that live only inside them. And then, as happened in the Mishkon, they all burst forward and come alive.
Life happens on Purim, the Torah was received again by the Jewish people because of the great ahavah that existed between them.
This past Shabbos, we read the parsha of shekolim, because their collection is another indication that the Mishkon was meant to achieve a sense of shared purpose that defines the Jew.
Achdus is a current buzzword, often misused as a catchphrase to paint those of us who have standards and traditions, as haters. People who call out the falsifiers of the Torah are condemned for lacking achdus.
Achdus doesn’t mean an absence of rules. It doesn’t mean that anything goes. It means that everyone who beholds holiness has a unique role to play in the mosaic of Yiddishkeit. Achdus doesn’t mean that we let everyone get away with everything because to go after them would cause pirud. Essentially, the opposite is true. If someone engages in actions that cause others to mock us or that cause people to deviate from halacha, we are obligated to speak up. Doing so removes pirud caused by sin and chillul Hashem, and brings about real achdus.
Achdus means that we set aside our differences with other good Jews and we daven together, speak to each other, bury the hatchets, and celebrate together. It is then that our little sparks come together and create giant flames of kedusha. It can’t happen any other way.
The Mishkon, which was the epicenter of unity in the universe, came with severe restrictions. While everyone could contribute to its construction, there were many halachos regulating who could approach the Mishkon and who couldn’t, who could perform the avodah there and who couldn’t. Achdus comes with rules. It is not a free-for-all.
The pesukim at the beginning of Sefer Bamidbor (1:50) charge shevet Levi with assembling and dismantling the Mishkon and its keilim when the Bnei Yisroel traveled. Any outsider who attempted to do the coveted work specified for shevet Levi would be killed. There were also precise rules for each one of the keilim.
While detailing the laws of the Mishkon, the posuk says, “Vehayah haMishkon echadAnd the Mishkon will be one.” The Ibn Ezra explains that the oneness of the structure reflects the oneness of Hashem’s creation. It reflects harmony and unity.
The Bnei Yisroel became one, coming together at Har Sinai and then at the Mishkon. The Shechinah in each person joined together at this special place, bringing back the Sinai experience, forming a home for the Shechinah in this world and a place where the voice of the Shechinah could converse with Moshe.
With the words of the Vilna Gaon as our guide, we can understand the oft-repeated lesson that achdus will lead to geulah. It’s not merely in the merit of unity. It is the synergistic effect of unity, when we camp around a place and allow the song within each of us to emerge, fusing with the melodies of others, that will lay the opening for the geulah.
Haman was well aware of the power Jews possess when they are together. As an Amalekite, he knew their secret. Seeing them divided, he thought that he would be able to overcome them, as he referred to them as a people who are mefuzar umeforad.”
He didn’t succeed, because Esther advised Mordechai, “Leich kenos es kol haYehudim. Go and gather all the Jews. If they will be unified, we will be able to overcome this.” And we did.
We live in an era in which words are cheap. Hurling irresponsible accusations has become quite simple. The new president is closer to the Jewish people and Israel than any president ever was, yet his enemies have targeted him as an anti-Semite and the media has adopted that wild accusation as fact, as ridiculous as it is. Leftists who hate Israel, along with media stalwarts who never met a Jewish cause they like, promote this fiction, as they sell fear over rising anti-Semitism, they claim is caused by the president.
Over the ages, we have experienced real anti-Semitism. We have been tortured and killed by every method available to man. We have been kept out of cities, states and countries. We have been locked out of universities, trades and professions. We have been locked into ghettos. We should be smart enough not to fall prey to the fake stuff. We should be thankful to the president for his friendship to our people and to Israel. We should find ways to let him know that we appreciate the new relationship, a most welcome change from the previous administration and the indignities suffered at the hand of the Democrat Party. We should definitely not use him as an attention magnet and punching bag.
Megillas Esther is a guide in dealing with anti-Semitism and anti-Semites. “Leich kenos.” Seriously, why can’t we all just get along? Why do we act foolishly in public? Why do we squabble over nonsense? Why are we divided by trivial matters, for example it is no longer sufficient to wear a black yarmulke, now questions are asked whether it is made of velvet or terylene?
Why can’t we put the pettiness aside and become the great people we can be?
Imagine if we could gather together, in achdus, and harness the force of leich kenos,” “terumah,” and “asher yidvenu libo.”
We could turn over the world.
After undergoing throat surgery one year ago, Rav Yaakov Edelstein could only communicate by writing. A few months ago, a speech therapist suggested that the rov could relearn how to speak, and he asked Rav Edelstein to write down two words with which they should begin.
The rov thought for a long moment. He was rebuilding his vocabulary. Which two words would be most useful?
Then he wrote down his decision.
Todah and amein.
Two words. One to acknowledge his family and talmidim, as well as the doctors, nurses and visitors who were so kind to him. The other word would connect him with Heaven and bind him to the Master of the World.
Essentially, those were the tools of the Mishkon and the tools that saved the Jewish people in Shushan.
The Machnovka Rebbe of Bnei Brak maintained the customs of his Chernobyler forbearers, except one. He sat in the front of his bais medrash facing the people, in contrast to Chassidic tradition, where the rebbe faces mizrach.
He explained that he had spent decades in virtual seclusion in Siberia. He said that while there, “There was nothing I craved as much as a connection with another Yid. I was literally starving for that. Now that Hakadosh Boruch Hu, in His great kindness, has allowed me to sit here, in Eretz Yisroel, in a chassidishe shtiebel, surrounded by Yidden, I cannot turn my face away from them.”
We learn in the parsha (26:20) that atop the Aron, which sat in the Mishkon, there were two small keruvim, cherubs, which faced each other, “peneihem ish el ochiv.” They faced each other, because although they were in the holiest place on earth, they signified that no matter how important we are, we should never lose sight of others.
The posuk says in Mishlei (6:19), “Vehu b’echod umi yeshivenu.” The Vilna Gaon explains the cryptic words to mean that when Klal Yisroel is together b’achdus, the Shechinah rests among us.
The beauty of Adar is that we get to see each other in a good light. We unite to celebrate our great deliverance on Purim. We read Parshas Terumah as Adar arrives to remind us that to merit the return of the Mishkon and the Shechinah, we have to face each other with happiness, love and heart.
Let’s do it.