Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Our Words Define Us

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

On Pesach, we celebrated the birth of our nation, the moments when we stood together to become amo Yisroel, His beloved People. Since that time, we have shared a destiny, as a family walking along a common path, bound to each other.
Pesach leads us into the Sefirah period with its focus on tikkun hamiddos. And this week’s parsha is the bridge between Pesach and Sefirah. The parsha discusses the affliction of tzora’as and the necessity to remove the afflicted person from among the community and place him in isolation for weekly periods.

Bodod yeisheiv.

The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 16:1) teaches that tzora’as is brought on by engagement in any one of seven anti-social characteristics: haughty eyes, a tongue that speaks falsehood, hands that spill innocent blood, a heart that plots bad thoughts, feet that run to do evil, a liar/one who testifies falsely, and, the worst of them all, someone who causes disputes to break out between people. This is accomplished through spreading slander and lies, motzie sheim ra and lashon hora. Thus, the Torah refers to the person with tzora’as as a “metzora,” for the word is formulated from the words motzie sheim ra.
Someone who speaks lashon hora is punished with tzora’as. The question is why. How does the punishment fit the crime?

In this world, there are four elementary forms, each one on a higher level than the one below it. They are domeim, tzomei’ach, chai and medaber, the inert, such as stone and dirt; that which grows, such as grass and trees; that which is alive, such as animals; and, above them all, man, who is granted the gift of speech.
The ability to speak allows us to effectively communicate with each other. With speech, we can learn, grow, develop, study Torah, engage in mitzvos, and be part of a cohesive social fabric. Thus, Targum Onkelos famously says that the words in Bereishis that state that man was alive, “Vayehi adam lenefesh chaya,” indicate that “vehavas b’adam ruach memalela,” man was given the power of speech. The ability to speak gave man his spirit and life.

Life is that ability to connect with others – the experience of joining others, interacting with them, and using words to convey emotion. The breath invested into each word is the stuff of life itself.
Man was bestowed with the gift of speech to enable him to live an exalted life, connected with Hashem and Klal Yisroel. One who uses that gift instead to sow dissention and separate people from each other is therefore isolated from everyone else and locked away.

Bodod. Alone. Because he rejected the gift of life and used his words to create division and hate, he is forced to become withdrawn from society, deprived of the essential joy of life and social interaction.
We received the Torah when we were united, k’ish echod beleiv echod, and all of Klal Yisroel became areivim zeh bozeh, interconnected. Yisroel v’Oraisa v’Kudsha Brich Hu chad hu. We are connected to each other, to the Torah, and to Hashem, as one.

Sefer Derech Mitzvosecha (Issur Sinas Yisroel, Mitzvas Ahavas Yisroel) discusses the arvus that connects all the Jewish people. He quotes the Arizal, who, simply put, says that all of Klal Yisroel is one body, with each person being a different limb of the single entity. We are all intertwined with each other. He quotes Rav Chaim Vital that the Arizal would recite vidui on behalf of sinners, because all of Israel is one body.
It is known that the Arizal would say before davening (the nusach is brought in certain siddurim), that he accepts upon himself the mitzva to love every Jew, because he felt that in order for his tefillah to be accepted, it had to be combined with all of Klal Yisroel’s tefillos, so that the prayers would rise as one together. If he disliked someone, it would be as if the body is incomplete. Missing a limb, it would be a baal mum and could not accomplish its goal.

Hatred causes dissention and disconnects people from each other.
One who recognizes that we are all linked with each other and each one of us is comprised of parts of other Jews is not encumbered by pettiness or jealousy. Those who are cognizant of that which connects us are conscious of the fact that our neshamos emanate from the same place, beneath the Kisei Hakavod. When they view another Jew, they feel the deep connection, unfettered by externals that distract the rest of us.

Man is made up of chomer and tzurah, the chomer being the physical and mundane, while the tzurah is the spiritual. The real person is the tzurah, literally his image, his depth and spirituality, which are wrapped in the outer chomer. A person who is caught up with his chomer is wrapped up with the superficial and is missing out on the greatness and essense of life.
A person of chomer, who lacks in tzurah, rejects unity, as he is shallow, with no appreciation for what lies at the root of everything. He becomes a baal lashon hora, a hate-monger, resents other people’s success and popularity. He cannot live comfortably with others, because other people’s possessions arouse envy in him. He is unable to be with them. Rejecting unity and suffering his own punishment, he is forced to sit alone.

Tzora’as forces the person consumed with exterior impressions to confront physical imperfections that are brought on by his spiritual inadequacies, as he ponders the essence of his existence.
The posuk in Bereishes (2:18) states, “Lo tov heyos ha’adam levado.” As Hashem was creating the world, He said that it is not good for man to be alone and He fashioned a partner for him. Loneliness is not healthy. Man must be involved with other people and not enveloped in himself without social contact. In fact, medical studies indicate that people who maintain friendships and engage with others live longer and are healthier.

The purveyor of lashon hora, hotza’as sheim ra and rechilus divides people, bringing on loneliness and ill feelings. His punishment fits the crime, as he is left in solitary confinement.
Rav Yisroel Hager of Vizhnitz regularly sits with a gabbai to go through the pile of simcha invitations that arrive at his home. The rebbe recently paused after reading an invitation to the wedding of a girl whose mother passed away not long before.

He asked the gabbai to mark the date and let him know when the wedding would take place. As the wedding day approached, the mechutonim went to the rebbe for the traditional brocha. When they left, the rebbe asked the gabbai to let him know when the wedding ended. He wanted to be informed of when the families would leave the hall, regardless of the time.

On the appointed day, in the wee hours of the morning, the gabbai gingerly knocked on the door and informed the rebbe that the mitzvah tantz had concluded and the families were on their way home.
Accompanied by the gabbai, the rebbe left his home and walked through the quiet streets, as he headed to the apartment of the kallah’s father. The rebbe knocked on the door, which was opened by the stunned chossid.

The rebbe asked if he might come in for a cup of tea. The rebbe sat down and began speaking to the man about the wedding. How had it worked out? Did all the guests come? Was the food good? How was the band? Did things go according to schedule?
The chossid found his voice, answering the rebbe’s questions and discussing each part of the wedding in great detail. The rebbe listened closely, asking more questions, before offering his fondest wishes and returning home.

As they left, the gabbai asked the rebbe why he had gone to visit the baal simcha and taken such intense interest in the wedding. The rebbe explained, “Loneliness is never easy, but at a time like that, it is especially profound. Here he is, a proud new mechutan, having just married off his daughter. The chasunah was no doubt filled with joy, but a big part of that joy is being able to come home after the event and talk about it, sharing the simcha, reminiscing about who came and who didn’t, and speaking about the things that worked out well and what was most meaningful. But this mechutan lost his wife and he has no one to discuss it with. He came home to an empty house. Alone. I can’t erase his loneliness, but this was an opportunity to be there at a moment when he really needed company.”

A person of tzurah, arvus and ruach memalela feels the soul of another.
Reb Moshe Prager described a small shul on Tel Aviv’s Rechov Allenby, not far from the roaring waves of the Mediterranean. Every evening, between Mincha and Maariv, a learned member would deliver a Gemara shiur to Holocaust survivors.

One evening, as the shiur began, a distinguished-looking visitor with glowing eyes entered the non-descript shul. The Ponovezher Rov slipped onto a worn bench and looked into the Gemara with the person next to him, as they followed the shiur.
After Maariv, the men gathered around the famed orator. He turned to them and simply said, “It was so enjoyable to sit with you. How nice it is to be with other Jews. It was so heartening to hear the song of the Gemara together with you.” And with that, he left, a broad smile on his face.

The Rov had heard that there was a group of survivors in Tel Aviv, and he traveled there to check on their needs and see if they required chizuk. As great as he was, he enjoyed their company and returned home thankful that he met them and that they were acclimating well to their new surroundings.
Great people perceive the joy in being around people. They value being part of a whole. They seek people whom they can help. For we are all one.

This week’s parsha equips us with the insight to give life to others.
There is no shortage of lonely people. They may even have spouses and large families. Some appear to have many friends. They are regular, nice, normal people of any age. But they are lonely. Talk to them.

There is no shortage of people who can use a little chizuk. Let them know you care about them.
The Alter of Slabodka is quoted as saying that respect and self-respect are integral to a person’s existence. “If a person loses all his kavod,” the Alter would say, “he can die or lose his sanity.”

One who speaks lashon hora seeks to deprive his victims of their self-worth and the respect others have for them. Someone who lacks respect for others and causes them to lose their own self-respect snuffs out their spirit.
Someone who is so wrapped up with himself that he snuffs out other people’s respect is a person who cannot live with others, Thus, “vehisgiro shivas yomim,” he is locked away by himself until he learns to respect others.

If being alone is being separated from life, then being together is being very much alive. We each carry supplies of oxygen, kind words and a genuine interest in others that can restore life to people and give them a reason to smile. With our gift of speech, we can build people.
Consideration of other people’s feelings on any level strengthens our connection not only to each other, but also to the depths of our neshamos and to Hashem.

We mourn for the students of Rabi Akiva who died during the Sefirah period. Lo nahagu kavod zeh lozeh. They didn’t treat each other respectfully and were afflicted by a plague.
Kavod - respect, validation and acknowledgment - is life itself.

May this parsha’s lessons - the significance of words, the value of being connected, the appreciation of others - fill us with the resolve to use our gift of ruach memalela correctly, elevating ourselves and our lives to new heights.

Let us stamp out hatred and division. Let us bring about peace and have respect for all.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Chosen

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Vehi she'omda la'avoseinu velonu.

I say these words every year at the Seder, as you do, and as all those who came before us did.

There are more than 3,300 years separating us from the most glorious night the world has ever known, the night illuminated as day, when a new nation was born.

Not long after we left Mitzrayim, Amaleik pounced and sought to destroy us. We withstood that attack and the many attacks that have followed it. Since that time, the parade has never stopped. Shelo echod bilvod. One after another, they’ve come with clubs and sticks, with dogs and guns, with trains and poison gasses wire, and often with wide smiles and sweet words.

They have never stopped trying.

From the hidden rooms in Spain and broken-down huts in Eastern Europe, –our grandfathers intoned the eternal words.

V'Hakadosh Boruch Hu matzileinu miyodom.

It is a story that takes a million shapes, told in any number of accents against so many various backdrops.

Here is one, I recently heard from a Holocaust survivor. Rabbi Nissen Mangel recalled being a child in the relatively unknown Melk work camp in Austria. The cursed Nazis would awake their captives at 4 a.m., and by 5 a.m. the poor Jews were back at their backbreaking work, digging in iron ore and coal mines. If an inmate slacked off in any way, he was punished with instant death.

The camp was surrounded by an electrified fence, and, Rabbi Mangel recalled, each day the inmates would return from work to see another dozen victims hanging from the fence, killed for minor infractions. A real infraction was punished by being hanged by the feet.

“We never knew what day it was,” said Rabbi Mangel. “We inhabited a dimension where getting through the day was the only real thought, not much more. One day, as we dragged ourselves back to camp, someone called out, 'Tonight is Pesach.’ There were 1,200 tired, hungry, exhausted people in the barracks, jammed together like sardines, but everyone jumped up on their cots to celebrate. Derech cheirus. Everyone offered the words they remembered from home, half-sentences and phrases, a jumble of Mah Nishtana and other familiar phrases. The voices rose and fell for several hours. Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim.

“All of a sudden, an SS man came into the barracks and beheld the unnatural sight of people in such depraved conditions singing and happy. He barked at us to go to sleep and then he left. As soon as he stepped out, everyone jumped up again for another half hour. Then he came back with his gun and warned that if we didn't go to sleep, he would start shooting.

“Jewish life was meaningless to them, and he said that it would be a badge of honor for him to kill us. Though we knew that he meant it, all the inmates sat up on their beds and continued celebrating Pesach.

“The third time the SS came was at 1:25. He was so overcome by our tenacity and spirit, that he left us alone. We celebrated all night until it was time to go to work.

“This was a barracks comprised of all types of Jews, religious and non-religious, from all sorts of backgrounds, yet everyone joined in the celebration. Not one person complained that we were putting our lives in jeopardy.”

Rabbi Mangel concluded the story: "There was more oppression there than in Egypt, yet there we were, celebrating the festival of freedom.”

Rabbi Mangel recounted that when he arrived in Auschwitz in 1944, there were no children. Everyone was forced to change into the infamous striped clothing given out by the Nazis. Everyone removed their clothes and threw them into a pile, then moved to the area where they put on their camp uniforms. But there was no uniform for little Nissen. The SS guard sent him back to where the pile of clothing was and told him to find the clothes he came in and put them on.

When he found his clothing, he noticed that those of his father were right next to his in the pile, so he searched the pockets. In one pocket was a can of sardines, worth their weight in gold in that awful place. In the other was a pair of tefillin. He put the treasures in his pockets and returned to where everyone was standing.

When they were led into their barracks, he gave his father what he found. Word spread that his father had tefillin, and hundreds of people took turns putting on the tefillin every night until his father was transferred to a different camp, never to be heard from again. 

Where do people get the strength to line up under the penalty of death after a grueling day’s work to put on tefillin?

Where do emaciated people barely hanging on to life get the strength to sit up on their beds and sing about freedom under the penalty of death?

One of the more fundamental differentiations between Yahadus and other religions is that the actions that formed our belief took place in front of hundreds of thousands of people and have been passed down from parent to child ever since. Yahadus is not based on one person’s fantasies or fanciful tales. Kabbolas HaTorah took place in front of the entire nation. Yetzias Mitzrayim was witnessed by every Jew. The miraculous deliverance from enslavement to freedom took place in front of every Jewish person and affected each one. It is not something someone invented or plagiarized.

It is fact.

It is obvious that the world did not come into being by itself, giving forth the animal kingdom and all the plants, which then figured out how to grow into different shapes and sizes, displaying myriad colors, giving forth fruit and offspring, and behaving differently, with varying appetites and needs. Any thinking person must conclude that there is no way the intricate world could have formed itself. There had to have been a Creator. Moshe Rabbeinu transcribed from the Creator the book in which He describes why the world was created and how we are to conduct ourselves in His world.

The Ramban writes in his peirush haTorah at the end of Parshas Bo that the belief in Hashgocha Protis, that everything that happens is from Hashem, is primary to being a Torah Jew. It is obvious that the Creator has not lost interest in our world. A cursory study of Jewish history indicates that Hashem has been guiding and watching over us since our formation. Looking back and contemplating our own personal lives indicates the same thing. It could not have been random.

Look at the recent history of the Jewish people and the many miracles we have experienced, and you will have to admit that there is a Hand above guiding us. Think about how we have survived since Har Sinai, which brought “sinah la’olam.” It is impossible for a small despised group such as ours to have endured thousands of years of concerted efforts by the strongest nations – and many religions – of the world to wipe us out.

All of this has been given over from parents to children throughout the centuries. Every Jewish child raised al pi derech haTorah grows up with the stories and facts that have been transmitted from one generation to the next since time immemorial.

That is our secret. That is our strength. People of truth cannot be broken. People of spirit cannot be deterred. Eternal people cannot be shaken by temporal powers. A nation focused on a time and place so much bigger than this little world can't be thrown off course by its allure.

The Torah provides us with four different responses for fathers to utilize to explain to their children matters pertaining to Yetzias Mitzrayim and ikkrei emunah. There is an answer for every type of child and a way to get through to them. Proper chinuch and child-rearing skills are vital to producing a wholesome generation of Torah Jews. Communication is key. Communication skills are important for us to properly perform our duties as parents and Jews. 

This is why the Seder is a major production, ensuring that it relates to every member of the family, from the most engaged scholars to the youngest children. Questions are asked and answered on every level, as families relive the redemption until it becomes personal. We feel as if we have been freed. We think about our lives and the things that enslave us and realize that Hashem redeems us as well if we call out to Him and show ourselves to be interested in His leadership.

The Vilna Gaon explains the reason we discuss at the Seder how Lovon treated Yaakov, stating, “Tzei ulemad mah bikeish Lovon ha’Arami la’asos leYaakov Avinu.” Go learn from what Lovon tried doing to Yaakov, the Haggadah tells us, and despite Lovon’s attempts, Yaakov became a strong and plentiful great nation.

We know that “maaseh avos siman labonim,” what happened to our forefathers is a hint of what will happen to the children. Thus, we say that just as Yaakov had to flee into exile, where he was forced to work hard for Lovon, who tried to rob everything from him, only to eventually flee with his wives, children and possessions, he was preparing the geulah for his grandchildren, who would have the same experience in Mitzrayim. 

The travails of Yaakov have followed us through the generations, and just as he was saved and went on to achieve great success, so too, the Jewish people, though driven into exile and tormented, ultimately survived to rise once again.

A Jew in any situation remembers that and is comforted as he awaits his freedom. Wherever he may be, every year he recites at the Seder the same words his parents, grandparents and all of the Jewish people have been reciting for as long as there has been a Seder. In the barracks of Auschwitz, in the Soviet gulag, in the frozen tundra of Siberia, during the Spanish Inquisition and during the Roman occupation, these same words were said. The first Jews to enter Eretz Yisroel, and those driven out, the Ga’onim and Rishonim in Babylonia, France and Germany, the Rambam, the Ramban, the Rosh, the fathers of our people, the Acharonim across western and eastern Europe, as well as those in Egypt, Morocco and Syria, no matter what was going on, celebrated Pesach the same way, reciting, “Arami oveid ovi.”

Hence the potency of that passage: Vehi she’omda la’avoseinu. In every generation, we face attempts at our destruction, from which Hashem saves us. Vehi she’omda la’avoseinu. These words are as relevant today as they were when they were recited throughout the millennia around the world.

Our mesorah is what ensures that we remain faithful to the same values as our forefathers. We follow the same customs, repeat the same stories to the next generation, and maintain the chain that stretches back to Sinai and beyond. People who deviate from the mesorah, lie about our traditions, falsify them, and fictionalize our history to conform with their wishes and agendas cause people to deviate from that which makes us great.

The Torah defines and guides us, but mesorah strengthens us and helps make us what we are. When we think we are smarter than those who came before us, when we falsify that which has held us through the golus, we place ourselves and future generations in jeopardy. 

A Jew going through difficult times in Auschwitz, or Otisville, or anywhere else is strengthened and joyful when the Seder arrives, bringing back so many personal memories and the collective memory of Jews throughout the ages. Every word takes on mystical significance. Every matzah is a special treat. Not only are the daled kosos treasured, but the maror is, too. The words of the Haggadah jump off the page and kindle the soul, just as they have been doing for thousands of years. They remind us who we are, what we are all about, and who watches over us, orchestrating life.

There's another resounding message in the story we retell.

If He, the Source of all life, felt it important to change the order of creation, turning water to blood and repeating similar feats again and again, in order to pluck one nation out from amidst another, to lift us up as we sunk deeper into the quicksand of impurity, then it means that we are a people worthy of being chosen.

The message of the Seder isn't just who He is, but who we are.

Each evening, following the recitation of Krias Shema during Maariv, we say, “Emes ve'emunah,” stating that we firmly and truthfully acknowledge that ki Hu Hashem Elokeinu,” Hashem is our G-d.

Rav Moshe Shapiro would point out that following those words, we add “va'anachnu Yisroel amo.” We acknowledge that we are His chosen people. He leads and protects us, and we are worthy of His love.

We see it again and again.

Opening the daily mail is not a glorious process. The pile includes some bills, perhaps a simcha invitation, a few letters from mosdos, the usual.

One day, a small box was in the pile, and it was quite heavy. I opened it and shook out a letter, along with some jewelry, sent by a woman in a faraway small town.

A bracelet, a necklace, a ring and a pocket watch came along with the letter, which contained a precise accounting of exactly what each piece weighed and its worth. The handwritten letter humbly asked that we sell the items and use the money for the Klal Yisroel Fund to help another Jew.

The collection of ornaments sat on my desk, and I couldn’t bring myself to move them.

Each item no doubt had a story: The gift of a devoted husband or loving parents? A token of friendship or appreciation? Yet a woman parted with them and all they represented in order to help a good Jew who is imprisoned.

I thought of the passion of the people at the time the Eigel who gave up their jewelry to fashion the infamous golden calf, the source of many of our problems until this day.

A Jewish woman living in a small town demonstrated that our people have sinned, but we have come a long way and remain devoted to each other and good causes. She showed that wherever we find ourselves and whatever our position in life is, we know that we live for a higher purpose and have a higher calling. We rise above pettiness and selfishness, for we are chosen.

Vehi she’omda. We know that we are singled out for hatred and attack, and we know that Hashem ultimately protects us. The knowledge that we are chosen for protection holds us together and reminds us to be strong and carry ourselves differently, as we are the nation of “rachmonim, baishonim and gomlei chassodim” (Yevamos 78, et al).

Vehi she’omda. Hashem sees us and the condition we are in, and plucks us from difficult situations, even when we don’t appear worthy, for He appreciates our inherent goodness.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner asked the Vilna Gaon to whom Moshiach would come. With the steady decrease in quality of avodah and the dimming of neshamos with each passing year, he wondered if Moshiach could come to a pathetic generation.

The Gaon replied that the question was already asked and answered by the Medrash. Rav Chaim’s brilliant brother, Rav Zalmele, was part of the conversation. The master of Chazal quickly reviewed all the Medrashim in his vast memory and told the Gaon that he could not find that Medrash. The Gaon responded that it is found in Tanna Devei Eliyohu. Rav Zalmele deliberated for a while and told the Gaon that he was not able to find it.

The Gaon responded that it is on the very first page of Tanna Devei Eliyohu. It is there that many attributes of Hakadosh Boruch Hu are described. Listed among them is that Hashem is referred to as a “somei'ach bechelko, happy with His lot.”

"What type of praise is that?” the Gaon asked. “He owns everything and is Master of the Universe. What does it mean that He is content with His lot?”

“When it says that Hakadosh Boruch Hu rejoices with His ‘cheilek,’” explained the Gaon, “it means that he is satisfied with His nation, and derives the very same pleasure and delight from the avodah of simple people as He did from their ancestors, men of great learning and saintliness.”

Said the Gaon, “He will bring Moshiach to a generation that serves Him on their level, facing their challenges, doing their best, rejoicing in their hard work just as He did with the avos hakdoshim, the Dor Deiah, the avodas kohanim, and the Gaonim and Rishonim.”

Hopefully, that is us and our generation. We endeavor to be a nation of people who find ways to tap into the middos bequeathed to us by our holy ancestors and show who we are, in our own humble way.

Hashem’s cheilek.

We are the same nation that went out of Mitzrayim. The world has changed so many times in so many ways, yet we are still here. “Shebechol dor vador omdim aleinu is still fact. “Ki lo merubchem choshak Hashem bachem, ki atem hame’at,” Hashem’s statement that He chose us not because we are the largest but because we are incredibly small, is still true.

May we eat the Korban Pesach, as families spanning centuries join together in celebration, singing shirah al geulaseinu ve'al pedus nafsheinu.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Be Real!

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
It is that time of the year again.
Piles grow taller, and then decisions are made: What are we keeping and what
 are we tossing? What stays and what goes?
Old papers and books, pens and picture frames, things that once shone with freshness and promise, trinkets, memorabilia and so many other items from good times past find their way to the trash heap as faded relics. What once meant so much is no longer important.
At the root of this painful mass cleaning is the search for chometz, which is likened by Chazal to the perpetual struggle of the oveid Hashem in the battle with the yeitzer hora. It would seem natural that the “purge” that is currently taking place in Jewish homes around the world would lead us to a place of similar reckonings, namely a moment to contemplate the piles that fill our hearts: Which ideas go and which stay? Which attitudes once seemed promising, but have been exposed as false? What is worth keeping? What needs fixing and what has to go?
It is often challenging to part with an old book or gift, and it is so much harder to discard an idea.
Now is a most appropriate time.
Rav Shlomo Elyashiv, author of Leshem Shevo V'achlama (writing in Sefer Hadeiah, drush 5, anaf 2, se’if 11), says that the first ten days of Nissan are comparable to the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. Shabbos Hagadol corresponds to Yom Kippur, while the four days preceding Pesach, when the korban was taken and inspected, reflect the holiness of the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, which the Vilna Gaon revealed as being especially auspicious.
These days are ones of reflection. We hold up things to the light to see their real worth. We hold up our possessions and examine them to determine whether they are worth keeping. When we look inward, we take stock and decide which middos to keep and which have to be broken.
A housewife in the midst of cleaning for Pesach will lift a food item and check its expiration date to see if it is still useable. She will study a scratched disc and decide if it can still give forth music. She’ll determine whether that book is missing too many pages to justify occupying room on the shelf.
In our personal search, how do we decide what has value?
The prime criteria for that which stays should be the truth, for truth has a kiyum, as the posuk says, “Sefas emes tikon la’ad (Mishlei 12:19). As the people who possess the truth and are guided by it, veering from the truth ought to be sacrilegious; the truest form of chometz.
The Torah is Toras Emes. It is all about the ultimate truth. The truth is – as the Torah says - that Hashem created the world. It is folly to think that the world and everything in it came into being by itself. It is a lie created and adopted by people in order to be able to ignore the Creator’s wish that human life that conforms to the reasons for which the world was created as set forth in Torah.
Our very lives are testimony to our belief in Hashem. What we do every day and on Shabbos attests that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.
All through the ages, people who were not beholden to the truth battled us in every way imaginable to man. Still, the truth endures. Our enemies were often quite strong, and more times than not, they felt that they had defeated us for all time, yet we persevered. They fell and we were able to rise from the ashes as many times as our homes, businesses and bodies were burnt.
Sefas emes tikon la’ad. Our lips have never stopped moving, because we have always fought for the truth, believed in the truth, and lived for its demands.
Nissan is the month of hischadshus, rebirth, and more reflective than many other exemplars, it expresses one of the primary strengths of our people. Rashi (Bereishis 1:1) discusses that the Torah should have begun from the parsha (Shemos 12:1) of “Hachodesh hazeh lochem rosh chodoshim,” which discusses the matters of Rosh Chodesh, the new moon, and the month of Nissan.
Not only does that parsha contain the first mitzvah given to us as a people, which is significant in itself, but there is added significance in that it pertains to the monthly rebirth of the moon, for that represents our identity and strength.
There are times when people feel we are in a descending phase, necessitating that we adopt tools of fiction to guarantee our survival and to forge ahead. People begin rationalizing their actions in the belief that they will lead to a positive state. They justify those actions as congruous with the methods of those who surround us.
People who are irresponsible neglect to reflect on the outcomes of their actions. They ignore their responsibility to the greater good. The truth no longer motivates them. Rather, they are driven by the momentary good feelings brought on by what they have done.
People think that through glad handing and clever communication, they can promote themselves and their agendas, with the public no wiser.
However, if truth ceases to be your guide, then you end up being dishonest not only with others, but with yourself as well. You forget who you are and the purpose of life. Everything becomes superficial and false, and eventually, the alternative universe you have created craters under the weight of deception and faithlessness.  
As we begin Sefer Vayikra and the study of korbanos, the first lesson pertains to the importance of honesty. The parsha begins (Vayikra 1:2), “Adam ki yakriv mikem korban laShem - When a person brings an offering to Hashem,” and enumerates the many laws pertaining to korbanos.
Rashi (ibid.) cites the Medrash which explains that the Torah referred to a person who brings a korban as an “adam,” and did not use the more common term of “ish,” to teach that just as Adam Harishon did not bring a korban from something that didn’t belong to him, because everything was his at that point in time, so too we must ensure that what we bring to Hashem is rightfully ours.
It goes to the heart of who we are that the first lesson we are taught about korbanos is to be faithfully honest. Even when engaging in an act as holy as offering a sacrifice to Hashem, people may be so ingrained with acting not-exactly-truthfully that they will use perfidious proceeds to procure the korban.
As a person brings a korban and stands lifnei Hashem, he is overcome by thoughts and hopes that he will remain on an exalted level. At that moment of teshuvah and vidui, he is enveloped by holiness and truth.
Always elusive, truth has never been harder to find than today.
Our world is all about perceptions, buzzwords, impressions, cajoling, patronizing, manipulating and creating narratives that are appealing. The truth is a secondary consideration, if even that.
Let's take an easy example, from the outside world, the sphere of politics. It is much less painful than examining our own world.
Democrats created a fiction that Vladimir Putin and the Russians colluded with Donald Trump to beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Trump had no business or connections in Russia. He never met or spoke to Putin. Consider: Trump was given no chance of ever getting elected, so why would Russia risk angering an administration to buttress a neophyte who could not win? Besides, they marched all over Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Why would they want to trade in Hillary for an unknown, campaigning on American First policies?
But the Democrats and their sympathetic media created the story, repeated it enough times so that people take it seriously, and the FBI, NSA and Congress engage in contortions as they investigate the connection and leaks planted to embarrass Trump and his people.
For weeks, Jewish groups were claiming that Trump’s election unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism. The argument was fictitious, because nothing Trump did or said would indicate that he is anti-Semitic, and in fact, until now, he has been the friendliest president towards Jews and religious Jews. But as threatening calls were pouring in to Jewish community centers, though nothing ever materialized, the narrative that anti-Semitism is at an all-time high was created.
It was useful for fundraising and for preaching, and it worked well, until it crashed last week with the sad arrest of a Jewish boy in Israel.
Our people have suffered from real anti-Semitism. We’ve been banned from industries and professions, burned, pillaged and chased from place to place. Pesach was a time of fear across the exile, as pogroms would ensue over the lie that Jews kill Christian children for holiday rituals at the Pesach Seder. We know what real anti-Semitism is and should appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in this country. We should not take advantage of those freedoms by engaging in the types of behavior that cause people to attempt to block us from moving into their neighborhoods and think ill of all Jews.
Before we rush to announce blood libels and hate campaigns, we should look inward and question if we are really experiencing anti-Semitism. Is that what our grandparents faced back in Europe? Really? I think we know the answer, and that answer might embarrass us.
It is an appropriate and timely reminder. Bein hazemanim and the precious Chol Hamoed days afford us a chance to circulate beyond our regular neighborhoods. Before we shout anti-Semitism, we should question our own conduct and ensure that when others see Jews, they see a nation of princes. They should see people of distinction, manners, class and concern for others, people who are mekadshei sheim Hashem.
Most of all, we need to stop lying to ourselves, about this and about everything.
Kotzker chassidim would tell the story of a talmid of the Kotzker Rebbe who married a very wealthy girl. The young man spent his first Shabbos after sheva brachos at the home of his in-laws, and watched as his father-in-law, at the head of the table, presided over the lavish seudah. As the fish arrived in a large, elaborate platter, the head of the family sat up straight, with his mouth watering in anticipation.
When the platter was delivered to him, he grasped it with both hands, closed his eyes and intoned, “Lechavod Shabbos kodesh. All that I eat is for the honor of Shabbos.
He then helped himself and passed the plate to the new son-in-law, who lifted it high and said, with the same solemnity, "Hineni ochel rak l'hano'as bitni. All that I eat is for the sake of my stomach’s enjoyment."
The father-in-law was incensed. “Nu, Shabbos!” he roared.
The son-in-law shrugged. “Emes,” he retorted.
We need to stop fooling ourselves, buying into ideas parroted by others and going along just because. Look inward. Be real. Speak to other people. Get out of your bubble. Ensure that you are not fooling yourself.
Emes, not vacuousness and faux righteousness, should be your guide.
We need to examine our questions, our value system, to ensure that we are not just making ourselves feel good, but that our actions really are truly good.
A young man came in to Chacham Ovadiah Yosef with a halachic query. His wife was experiencing a difficult pregnancy and he wanted to know if she should fast on Yom Kippur.
Rav Ovadia answered his question, then called the young man back. “You know, a pregnant woman with your wife’s condition is often in bed and unable to do very much around the house,” Chacham Ovadia said, as he proceeded to suggest different ways that the husband could be helpful and encouraging to his wife during that period.
The man repeated the encounter and said, “I understood that Maran was telling me to be honest with myself, to be really frum, to care not just about the black and white halacha but the halacha of living like a ben Torah. He answered the questions I didn't ask and told me what I really needed to hear.”
Our mouths can cause cosmic change. Taking a simple animal and saying, Harei zu olah,” we can transform it into a Divine gift. Through saying, Lesheim matzas mitzvah,” we can elevate a lump of dough into the holiest bread we have.
Let us make sure that our words mean something. Let us see the crumbs of chometz in platitudes and sound bites and get rid of them. Let us search our hearts by the light of candles and make sure that they are truly pure.
Doing so represents real Pesach cleaning and is far from easy, but it can be transformative and allow us to celebrate Yom Tov newly pure, not just in our homes, but in our hearts as well.
B’Nissan nigalu ub’Nissan asidin lehigo’el. We can make it happen. Let’s get real.