Bridge the Divide
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 whawt 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.