Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Rav Meir Zlotowitz: An Appreciation

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Often times there are certain people who come into your life seemingly by accident, and then they stay there and make a profound impact on you. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz and I made contact by phone back when I was starting out, and eventually we clicked, becoming very close. Rabbi Zlotowitz played a special role in my life. His loss is personal.
We read in this week’s parsha, “Vayiru kol ha’am ki gova Aharon” (Bamidbar 20:29). Moshe, Aharon and Elazar climbed Hor Hohor together. Aharon’s soul departed, and Moshe and Elazar returned to the encampment. 
Rashi explains that when the people saw Moshe and Elazar descend from the mountain without Aharon, they asked where he was. When told that he had passed away, they refused to accept the news. “It cannot be,” they cried. How could it be that Aharon had died?
Moshe pleaded for Divine mercy and the malochim showed the people the image of the mittah,” Aharon’s coffin, and only then did the people see and believe.
Ra’u vhe’eminu.
Rav Shmuel Berenbaum wondered how both terms can be used. Re’iyah means to see, to be able to perceive. Emunah means to believe even when you cannot see at all.
How can both be true?
The Mirrer rosh yeshiva explained that the people couldn’t conceive of the possibility that Aharon Hakohein, who had faced down the Malach Hamoves and stopped a plague, could have been defeated by the angel.
When they saw the image of the mittah, however, they finally believed that the inconceivable was reality. Aharon had left them.
It took the re’iyah for them to believe.
Motzoei Shabbos, as the news of Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz’s passing spread, many of us experienced a similar feeling. How can it be? The man of such energy, chiyus and action embodied life itself.
He was always in a perpetual state of motion, thinking, doing, talking, writing, communicating, producing, and flying back and forth to Eretz Yisroel. How could it be that he was suddenly niftar?
And then the news sunk in.
He was gone. A legend had passed.
He tread where no one had gone. The need was there, but nobody picked up on it. He published one book, a sefer in English on Megillas Esther, and with that he created and filled the need. He spent the rest of his life sensing needs and filling them.
The first book was printed as hakoras hatov to a dear departed friend. Perhaps as a reward for the great mitzvah of expressing hakoras hatov, he was rewarded with being the shliach to spawn a Torah revolution.
Many years ago, I helped him with something. He never forgot. He would often remind me of the favor and express his appreciation long after the statute of limitations had expired. It was embarrassing how thankful he was about it, but that’s how he was. He was fiercely loyal, a great friend whom you could always depend on for good advice, insightful banter, and, most importantly, old-fashioned friendship.
I would have loved to publish a few books over the years, but I never asked him, because that friendship was more important to me than anything, and I didn’t want him to think that it was a means to an end.
He insisted that I call him Uncle Meir, and I happily complied. It didn’t feel corny or trite. It felt right. To me, he was like a favorite uncle, who encourages and advises and is always there to share a laugh. He was a dear friend, a cherished mentor, and a loyal, passionate advocate. I shall miss him.
He enriched the lives of English-speaking Jews everywhere. He spawned entire genres that had never previously existed.
When he finished a major project, there was the thought, “Okay, he's done with that. Now what is he going to do?” And just when you thought that there were no new vistas to conquer, he proved you wrong.
Just this past Shabbos, I was learning the parsha in the Chumash Mikraos Gedolos he had published. You could be forgiven for thinking, “Why would he publish yet another Mikraos Gedolos? There are so many out there.” But just as his siddur changed the way people daven and many wouldn’t think of davening from anything else, as the ArtScroll siddur is the siddur in most every shul around the world, and just as his Chumash is the Chumash of choice wherever you go, that Mikraos Gedolos opens new vistas, and learning from it is a unique pleasure.
What he did for the siddur and Chumash, he did for Mishnayos, Gemara, Medrash and so many seforim. He used his crystal sharp mind to produce clean, neat, beautiful seforim, with just the right fonts and a perfect layout so that the words can jump off the page and into your heart.
There is an ArtScroll Chumash for students and for scholars, and a groundbreaking peirush on Mishnayos in English and Hebrew. There are siddurim with translations and without, and if you like the translation under the words, there’s such a siddur for you too, as well as one for beginners and those who have been davening for decades. There is a Tehillim for study, and for reciting, and there is even one in large type which makes it easier to reach out to Hashem. The Gemara was a revolution of its own. Now a standard wherever you go, the blue Schottenstein edition is as at home in Rav Elyashiv’s house as in a Satmar Bais Medrash.
He published biographies of great people as nobody else previously had. He produced novels and stories for kids, books of chizuk and inspiration, halacha seforim everyone could relate to, and peirushim on Chumash. He popularized the study and knowledge of Jewish history and thought, allowing generations to learn about and appreciate Yiddishkeit. For a good book, you didn’t have to go to the library anymore and the biographies you read weren’t limited to those of presidents and secular leaders. Look at your bookshelves and see how many ArtScroll books are there. Look at the variety and thank Rabbi Zlotowitz for making all that possible. And it’s not only ArtScroll books you have to thank him for. Because of him, the world of frum publishing is wide open, and there are many other publishing houses following the path he paved.
Before the light bulb lit up in his head, our world was poorer and darker. Books came out sporadically, and even then, they appealed to a limited audience.
He will be remembered as many things, gauged by his incredible impact. Who can even estimate how much Torah, halacha, and holy information and inspiration he unleashed?
But to me, it was much simpler than that.
Two years ago, we were both in Yerushalayim for Shavuos. I went to visit him at the Plaza Hotel, where he always stayed. We were sitting outside and it was boiling hot. The temperature was up in the nineties. I removed my jacket.
Uncle Meir looked at me pointedly. “You should wear a jacket no matter how hot it is, even if no one is around. My children have never seen me without a jacket and tie.”
I appreciated the comment, even the inherent mussar, because it was about so much more than it seemed. It wasn’t fashion advice. It was life advice.
Know what you represent, know what you are, and know what you can do.
As much as he was Klal Yisroel’s rebbi in Torah, he was a teacher in what it means to live a life fulfilling a shlichus, a sense of mission. He portrayed the gift of being able to understand and follow the messages sent from Heaven. He was all about hearing the call to action and coming forward.
He was larger than life, yet when you sat with him, he was the classic regular guy, enjoyable, pleasant, funny and normal.
The mission and ordinary life were one to him. He wasn’t heavy, grim and so focused that he was unable to see anything past his goal. Quite the opposite. He had a tremendous ayin tova for people doing something for the klal and for anyone who felt charged with a shlichus.
The jacket was a sign of the esteem he felt towards that shlichus. He had the vision and heart of a marbitz Torah within the cloak of prestige and professionalism of a corporate giant. He ran ArtScroll with precision and efficiency, but its core product was the Torah itself. His eyes lit up when he spoke about the exceptional talmidei chachomim on his staff, the writers and the editors, his kollel, as he liked to call it.
He hated the word “visionary,” preferring the storyline that he had simply taken the opportunity when it arose and never looked back. It wasn’t a plan. He was a young yeshivaman, a talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein who had a printing business. He made wedding invitations and brought joy to ba’alei simcha.
If ever the famous story with the Netziv is applicable, it is to Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz. The Netziv festively celebrated the printing of his sefer and recalled how close he had come to being a shoemaker. He described what his life might have looked like being an honest, decent shoemaker providing quality footwear to grateful customers, feeling like a success. And then, he imagined going up to Shomayim after 120 years and the Heavenly Court challenging him, “Where is the Meromei Sodeh? Where is the Ha’amek Shaila? Where are the classic seforim that you could have produced?” And he would have had no clue what they were talking about.
Reb Meir was that upstanding, respected invitation printer who was, by all accounts, a good Jew. And then, one day, he found out that he was destined for so much more. And he never forgot that. He spent the rest of his life on his Meromei Sodeh.
His jacket was always on, ready and waiting for marching orders, a shliach ready to act.
I remember a story he once told me.
It was the day of the horrific, shocking sentence of Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. We had been expecting a much lighter sentence, or a complete reprieve, and then the awful news of the cruel verdict came down.
We were numb. We had a rally planned for that night in Boro Park and didn’t know how to handle it. Amazingly, an estimated ten thousand people attended, joining to share the tza’ar and to daven. I was asked to speak, but I was literally at a loss as to what to say.
Reb Meir called me when he heard about the verdict. We discussed it a bit. I told him about the rally and that I would have to speak. “Let me tell you a fascinating story. Say it at the rally.” He told me a tale he’d heard from Rav Yaakov Eliezer Schwartzman about a bochur learning in Kletzk who went to ask his rosh yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler, for a brocha that he be found unfit for Russian military service.
He was panicking, and he told the rosh yeshiva that he was traveling to another town, an hour away, where he thought he might find documents that could help him avoid the forced conscription.
Rav Aharon gave him the brocha.
The next day, the bochur went to take the train to the other town. He had no clue what was awaiting him there. All he had was hope. As the train started steaming up and moving a bit, he looked out the window and saw Rav Aharon running frantically from car to car and banging on the windows. He was calling out, “Bochur’l, bochur’l, vu bist du? Where are you?”
The bochur opened his window and yelled out, “Rebbe, rebbe, vos iz? What is it?”
Rav Aharon shouted to him over the sounds of the train, the station and the people, “I just received a telegram that papers are waiting for you in the shtetel to which you are headed. Bochur’l, ihr zolt nit zorgen. Don’t be worried! Your papers are waiting for you.”
The train station was an hour away from the yeshiva. Rav Aharon had run for an hour to reach the station and then an hour back to the yeshiva to spare the bochur the uncertainty about what awaited him.
The papers were there, but Rav Aharon wanted the young man to know right away, so as to remove the pain and anxiety a bit sooner. He ran for an hour each way so that he could tell the bochur, “Bochur’l, ihr zolt nit zorgen.”
Sholom Mordechai,” I told the crowd that night, “ihr zolt nit zorgen. The yeshuah will come.” (May we indeed see it b’chush real soon.) That was the punch line, a hopeful message and word of chizuk provided by Rabbi Zlotowitz to Sholom Mordechai and the distraught people who had gathered.
A person who is meshameish talmidei chachomim has that sense of how to react as he knows what is suitable and proper. Reb Meir was a quintessential meshameish chachomim. His relationship with his rabbeim defined him. He spoke with Rav Dovid Feinstein shlit”a every day, sometimes more than once, and he traveled with the rosh yeshiva on summer vacation.
People speak of his charisma and the force of his personality. What drew others to him and what made time spent with him so pleasant was his genuineness. He saw himself as a regular person with a big shlichus, it never went to his head. He worked hard at keeping relationships real. Invariably, he was among the first, along with his wonderful wife, to show up to our simchos, a regular guy with all the time in the world to share in someone else’s joy. He was a friend to my children as well, always with a kind word, a nice thought, and a reason to smile and be optimistic. They felt close to him and appreciated his company.
For a time, his son and mine were in the same class at Mesivta of Long Beach. He would call regularly to let me know that his son had told him that my son was doing well. For years, he would ask about that son. “How’s he doing? How’s your son who was in Chaim Chaikel’s class? I have a special interest in him,” he would say. He had a rare sense of refinement and friendship. 
He loved a good joke and made those less accomplished than him feel like equals.
He figured out the crucial distinction between taking yourself seriously and taking what you represent seriously.
Once, several years ago, he called me.
“Pinny, you ruined my third shirt this year. It’s enough,” he said.
He explained, “I don’t like the ink you’re using for the Yated. It’s cheap and it comes off on my fingers and shirt. Change it.”
Then he said, “If it happens again, you’re paying for my dry cleaning,” and he burst out laughing.
That was Reb Meir – the demand for excellence and perfection in presenting Torah, the respect for those vehicles that reflected its ideology and truth, and the very human joke that followed.
We learn in this week’s parsha that when Aharon Hakohein died, “Vayivku oso kol bais Yisroel – All of Yisroel, men, women and children, mourned his passing” (Bamidbar 20:29).
Reb Meir, you made us better people. You brought us together because you lived bigger. You elevated us by making Torah accessible and beautiful, and connected us to its pages. You were a national treasure uniting us in the shared joy of Torah.
Yes, you were Uncle Meir, a dear friend with whom we laughed and cried. You were a student of the human condition and so greatly contributed to our world. You were a giant.
And so we weep, all of us, scholars and students, the erudite and the unlearned, adults and teenagers, baalei teshuva and FFBs. You gave us life itself.
Your name, Meir, means to illuminate. Meir, you showed us how a regular guy can light up the world with the light of Torah, clarity in halacha and hashkofah, the light of your smile and personality and kindness. Meir, you were brilliant in so many ways and used that brilliance to light up tens of thousands of lives.
A light has been extinguished.
Yehi zichro boruch.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Overcoming Human Nature

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It was, in a sense, the first gathering of the Bnei Yisroel, the twelve pillars of our nation surrounding the bedside of their father. Yaakov Avinu looked at each of his sons in turn, focusing on their gifts and challenges, studying their destiny, before bestowing the brachos and tefillos that would accompany them and their progeny for eternity.

Looking at Levi, Yaakov foresaw a road with some bumps, but one that climbed to the loftiest of callings, the right to serve in Hashem’s earthly home, standing guard over the Bais Hamikdosh and its sacred keilim.

But he also saw something else, the dark and turbulent events of this week’s parsha, the uprising of Korach and his people against the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Bekehalam al teichad kevodi. I want no part in it,” Yaakov Avinu pleaded. Therefore, Rashi tells us, Korach’s lineage is traced back to Levi, but not to Yaakov Avinu.

It’s puzzling. If Yaakov foresaw the incident, why did he not ask that there be no machlokes altogether? Why not daven that Hashem’s trusted messenger be untarnished by this rebellion? Why didn’t he daven that Klal Yisroel should not rise up against Moshe?

When his grandfather, Avrohom Avinu, sensed that Sedom was on the verge of destruction, he began to daven, as improbable as the chances were of there being many tzaddikim in Sedom in whose merit the city could be saved. Yet, his concern for all mankind led him to daven in a valiant attempt to prevent the judgment from being carried out. Why didn’t Yaakov attempt to use tefillah to try to prevent the ugly story from happening?

Perhaps the explanation is that at the root of the machlokes was jealousy. Korach was jealous of Moshe and Aharon, and he was upset that he wasn’t recognized for his greatness and given the position of leadership that he felt he deserved. Yaakov wanted it to be clear that this middah ra’ah was not traced back to him.

Jealousy is part of the teva with which Hashem created the world.

Back at the very onset of creation, the great luminaries, the sun and the moon, fell prey to jealousy. “Who will rule? Who will be bigger?” they questioned.

The upper waters and the lower waters got locked in an epic and enduring battle, each pining for Divine closeness at the expense of the other.

Jealousy is built into creation. It is part of human nature.

Kayin encountered Hevel and revealed the most basic human emotion.

Man ventured forth into the world, interacting with other humans, engaging in commerce and conversation, and there were always undertones of jealousy, competition and rivalry.

Perhaps we can say that Yaakov didn’t feel it proper to ask that Hashem change the teva ha’adam, as per the general rule that we are not mispallel to change teva (see Pachad Yitzchok, Rosh Hashanah, Ma’amarim 10 and 33). Additionally, Yaakov was the av who declared, “Katonti mikol hachassodim umikol ha’emes.” The Medrash Hagadol Toldos relates that Rabi Yanai said that a person should not stand in a dangerous place and say that a miracle will occur for him. Firstly, perhaps he won’t merit the miracle, and even if he does, it will diminish his zechuyos. Rabi Chonon adds that this is derived from Yaakov Avinu, who said, “Katonti mikol hachassodim umikol ha’emes.” w

Yaakov felt that it would be fruitless for him to daven to change the teva ha’odam. He felt that he could only daven that he shouldn’t be included in the rebellion that would ensue years later on account of jealousy, praying that the machlokes shouldn’t be traced back to him.

Human nature is not always what we want it to be. Ki yeitzer lev ha’adam ra mine’urav. It requires much work for man to break his inclinations and middos ra’os and make a mentch of himself.

It is the goal of the human experience to try to cultivate the G-dly and subjugate the animalistic tendencies that combine to make us what we are. Those whose lives follow Torah can subdue their base human inclinations, such as the trait of jealousy and the propensity for machlokes. Torah has the ability to cure man of pettiness and help him rise above societal ills.

Yaakov was an ish tom yosheiv ohalim. He was purified and cleansed by Torah and its mussar. Having devoted his energy and strength to rising above human frailties, he felt that the machlokes had no connection to him. He wanted to demonstrate that although teva dictates that human interactions lead people to be consumed by jealousy, the condition is not terminal, as one who is a yosheiv ohalim and works on himself to be subservient to the precepts of Torah until he becomes an ish tom, can win these battles and actually change his teva.

When Yaakov Avinu beheld Levi, he saw the unfortunate results of jealousy and rivalry, but he also saw something else: the lofty destiny of the shevet and the koach they possess to rise above it all. The fruition of this vision is found later in this week’s parsha.

The pesukim in perek 18 following the tragedy of Korach relate that Hakadosh Boruch Hu tells Aharon what to do to ensure that there won’t be another catastrophe such as the one that took place with Korach and his eidah. Hashem tells Aharon that he, the kohanim and shevet Levi, should be “shomer mishmeres” and then there will be no more “ketzef” on the Bnei Yisroel. The posuk explains that Hashem has separated the kohanim and Leviim from the Bnei Yisroel. They will not engage in everyday commerce with the rest of the Jews. They will perform their work in the Temple of Hashem. They will do the avodah in the Ohel Moed and will receive no nachalah, portion, in Eretz Yisroel. Hashem will be their cheilek and nachalah.

To understand the correlation, we examine the famous words of the Rambam at the end of Hilchos Shmittah V’Yovel (13:12-13). He explains that Levi did not receive any nachalah, because he was chosen to serve Hashem in the Mishkan to teach His righteous ways and laws to the rest of the people. Therefore, says the Rambam, they were separated - “huvdolu midarkei ha’olam.”

In other words, in order to ensure that there would never be another ketzef such as that which took place in the time of Korach, shevet Levi was separated and removed midarkei ha’olam, from the ways of the world. They didn’t engage in regular business and interactions, as others do, because to do so would once again cause them to become jealous and argumentative. To prevent them from reverting to the teva of man which leads to jealousy and rivalry, allowing human failings to manifest themselves and cause “ketzef,” they could no longer engage in the type of human interaction which exposes mortal weaknesses.

From that point forward, Levi would not be subject to these pressures, but would instead be dedicated fully to Hashem’s work. For the only way a person can overcome issues which lead to machlokes and bitterness is by dedicating himself to the avodah of Hashem, and rising above mundane everyday commerce. It is only by dedication to the precepts and teachings of the Torah in all we do that we are able to rise above the subliminal earthiness which seeks man’s downfall.

Thus, the Rambam states in the following halacha that this mode of life is not only reserved for kohanim and Leviim, but can be followed by anyone who sees the light and wishes to earn for himself a life of blessing and peace, walking a straight path and cleansing himself of human trivialities and foibles.

Korach was blinded and hindered by his negios. His desire for personal advancement grew out of his jealousy of Moshe and Aharon. He couldn’t rise above the teva. It seems strange to us, but he was able to convince all the great men of Klal Yisroel to join him in his rebellion. For it wasn’t only Korach who was consumed by jealousy, but others as well. They all wanted the “big job.” Their vision was hampered as well, and they were unable to perceive Moshe’s greatness. Jealousy so clouded their vision and dulled their senses that they were rendered unable to appreciate the significance of what happened to the meraglim, who had doubted Moshe. They weren’t able to rise above the teva of anoshim and thus brought ketzef upon themselves and others.

As we study the parsha, we have the benefit of hindsight, the clarity of Rashi’s lens, and the Rambam’s lucid perspective. We delve into the explanations of the tale and think about how such smart and righteous people could sin so terribly and err so badly. We learn the pesukim, the Rashis and the Rambam, and we resolve to become better bnei Torah, baalei mussar and anshei tom in order to rise above the middos ra’os that can bring down lesser men.

It is possible for a human being to rise to such heights at which he soars above agendas and pettiness, and his sole concern is for the will of the Ribbono Shel Olam and the good of His children. May we all merit to aspire to, and reach, that level.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Now is a difficult time for a people that strives to hold on to a value system and remain focused on what is real and true.

Decency is under constant assault. Refinement and humility are seen as signs of weakness.

We live in an era when hubris is praised and cherished. People seek to cultivate tough-guy images to earn respect. The one who can best embarrass weaker people gains in popularity.

Character assassination and defamation have become an industry. Cynicism and negativity are in vogue, forcing good people to cower and refrain from involving themselves in public life. 

In an election campaign, candidates invariably endeavor to churn out stories that arouse viewer emotions and distract them from real issues of substance. Candidates and their handlers attempt to push the real issues to the back of the public psyche, as anger, scorn and pessimism run amok. Accomplishments don’t always count. Nor does character. All is fair in political war. People engage in actions that are beneath them in order to usurp power. That’s just how it is.

Observers are sullied, making them smaller people.

Witness the current circus in Washington, as one party seeks to overcome its loss by targeting the president for destruction with baseless allegations combined with hearings and investigations into a contrived scandal that never happened. The media drills the narratives day after day, seeking to convince the populace of sarcastic lies and conspiracies to accomplish through deceit and propaganda what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box.

The Torah remains the island of eternal and everlasting wisdom and truth. In its refreshing waters, we find life, a new connection with who we are and what we are meant to be doing. The parshas hashovua provides us with the perspective of what makes a leader.

The Chazon Ish would say that Klal Yisroel has a “chush harei’ach” for gedolim, an ability to sense who is a gadol baTorah and then to follow him. Our nation gravitates to quiet, righteous talmidei chachomim who seek anonymity and want nothing more than to be able to study and teach Torah, yet they welcome people who seek them out for answers to their questions as well as advice and brachos.

In this week’s parsha, we are introduced to the meraglim, the sad tale of great men who went astray, taking many of the Jewish people with them, causing an extended stay in the desert as well as our golus. Anoshim, the Torah calls them, and Rashi says that this means that they were great people. Leaders, visionaries, people of stature and respect. How did they all fall so rapidly? What caused them to go wrong in their mission?

The answer is found in the words of Chazal: “Lomo nismecha parshas meraglim leparshas Miriam?” The answer is that although Miriam had sinned and been reprimanded, these wicked people witnessed the incident and took no lesson from it.

Let us examine the sin of Miriam. At the end of last week’s parsha, we learn that Miriam spoke against her brother, Moshe Rabbeinu, and impugned his motives for something he had done that she didn’t agree with.

The Torah testifies in his defense, “Veha’ish Moshe onov me’od mikol ho’odom asher al p’nei ho’adamah - Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3).

To respond to the aspersions on Moshe’s character, the Torah doesn’t say that Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest leader who ever lived. It doesn’t say that he was the teacher of all of Klal Yisroel for eternity. It doesn’t discuss the dinei Torah he ruled on and the halachos he taught. It doesn’t say that he was an Ish Elokim, who was chosen to deliver Hashem’s Torah. It doesn’t say that he performed open miracles and that he was a baal mofeis.

Hakadosh Boruch Hu didn’t recount Moshe’s extraordinary birth and history. In order to refute what Miriam said about him, the Torah simply states that Moshe was the ultimate onov.

Apparently, the middah of anovah encompasses all else. The attribute of humility includes all others. Thus, the statement that Moshe was the consummate onov was the most effective answer to her lashon hora.

An onov recognizes his place in the world and his responsibility in life. An onov knows mah chovaso ba’olamo. He knows and recognizes what is incumbent upon him in every situation. He seeks not his own glory.

His decisions and actions are pure. It is never about him, but about what he can do for others.

Thus, the answer to Miriam was: “How can you doubt his motivations? He is an onov.”

When Hillel was asked to encapsulate the entire Torah in a single sentence, he chose the following answer. “De’alach senei, lechavroch lo sa’avid - What you would not want done to you, don’t do to others” (Shabbos 31).

Although that mandate, lofty as it may be, addresses the many laws that have no connection with interpersonal relationships, a person who lives according to the Shulchan Aruch knows that life is about giving, not about taking, pleasure and relaxation. A person who isn’t addicted to self-satisfaction is able to notice others and their needs.

Ehrliche Yidden have space in their heart and mind for other people, to listen and care and feel, because they don’t ask what man wants. They know what Hashem wants from them and they know that He desires that they act kindly with His children. Their hearts are large enough to encompass others. It’s not all about them.

The onov doesn’t see himself as being above other people. The greater the person is, the smarter he is and the more he knows and accomplishes, the more reason for him to be humble. The more he learns, the more he sees there is to know. The smarter he is, the more he realizes that there is so much he doesn’t understand. The closer he is to Hashem, the more he comprehends that all that he has - his life, his money, his wife, his children, his intelligence and everything else - is a gift from Hashem.

Hashem detests haughty people (Mishlei 16:5). The humble person doesn’t permit personal interests to interfere in his actions. He pursues the truth. Hubris is antithetical to growth in Torah. One who is consumed with himself will encounter difficulties during his studying. His attempts to resolve his questions will be tainted by his need to justify his original interpretation.

People hamstrung by ga’avah are unable to properly fulfill their obligations as good Jews and realize their missions in life.

Torah leaders don’t demand honor and respect. They are focused on Torah and mitzvos. We recognize their greatness and force honor upon them.

The greater the person, the humbler he is. The more gadlus he has, the bigger an onov he is.

Hashem’s answer to Miriam was meant to impart this message. An onov has a cheshbon and it’s never about him. He doesn’t live for himself. He lives for others, to accomplish for the greater good and to serve Hashem. Don’t doubt the purity of his motives, for he is humble.

The meraglim may have been great men, but they were consumed by gaavah. They were blinded in their judgment, because instead of considering the greater good, their decisions were based upon personal considerations. Fearing that they would be replaced when the people would enter the Promised Land, they looked at everything differently.

Therefore, wherever they went in Eretz Yisroel, Yehoshua and Kaleiv, true anovim, saw opportunity, while the others saw danger. Where the anovim saw blessing, the meraglim saw curses. Where the anovim saw the Yad Hashem, the meraglim couldn’t see past perceived impenetrable walls and invincible giants.

Had they learned the lesson of Miriam, they would have developed humility and seen things clearly, appreciating the value of the gift they were being given.

The meraglim suffered from the same deficiency as Korach, about whom we read in next week’s parsha. He complained that Moshe took the top jobs for himself and his family and passed on him. Korach was seemingly qualified. He was a known tzaddik and baal ruach hakodesh. It wasn’t without reason that many leaders of the Bnei Yisroel in the desert joined his cause.

But Korach suffered from a fatal flaw. He wanted a leadership position and fought for it. Someone who seeks the position does so because of conceit, as he is handicapped by his negiah, or interest, in kavod. He doesn’t seek to benefit the community, but rather to satisfy his own urges. Such a person is not worthy of leadership (see Mesillas Yeshorim, chapter 11, and the Steipler in Kraina D’igarta).

The meraglim were led astray because they didn’t learn the need to be humble from Miriam’s incident. Every one of us in our daily lives needs to remember that lesson. We have to inculcate humility and adopt its middah as our calling card. When confronted by others, when presented with a challenge, we have to remove our own self-interest from the equation and determine how to proceed based on the lessons of this week’s parsha and the previous one.

The greatest teachers of Torah are the most cognizant of the needs of those around them, because living in concert with Torah means being disciplined, above self-satisfaction, and thus more capable and attuned to others.

During my recent visit to Eretz Yisroel, I met Rabbi and Mrs. Yehoshua Tzivyon at the home of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Mrs. Tzivyon’s father. They presented me with a fascinating book she wrote about her mother, Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, at her father’s urging.

Mrs. Tzivyon writes that on Friday nights in Yerushalayim, her grandfather, Rav Aryeh Levine, would visit Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, who was his rebbi when he learned in Slutzk. They would speak in learning and reminisce about life back in Lita.

One week, there was a frantic knock at the door of Rav Aryeh’s home very late at night. It was Rebbetzin Meltzer. “Please,” she implored Rav Aryeh, “you must come back and reassure my husband. He’s inconsolable. He is so upset. From the conversation tonight, he deduced that you suffered from hunger when you were in yeshiva. He is distressed that he taught you Torah yet didn’t see your hunger. I beg you, Rav Aryeh, to join me and calm him down.”

Rav Aryeh returned to his rebbi to assure him that all was well. Only then was Rav Isser Zalman able to go to sleep.

Our great leaders minimize their own needs while maximizing those of other people. Humility creates the ability to see clearly. The great gaon and rosh yeshiva was inconsolable about something that may have happened decades prior to a young man under his watch.

There was a talented young person who worked for a short while for an organization under the direction of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach. Although he was not fired, the person sensed correctly that his work wasn’t appreciated and he quit. A few weeks later, he was summoned to a meeting with the rosh yeshiva. He arrived at the appointed time with much trepidation. He expected a strong shmuess from the leader of the yeshiva world, a lecture about where he had gone wrong.

He walked into the room and Rav Shach beamed at him and asked him to sit. Rav Shach immediately put him at ease. “Yungerman, I asked you to come because I wanted to know what kind of work you’re doing now.”

The young man told Rav Shach about his new job.

“How much do you get paid? How many children do you have? How much do you need to make ends meet each month?”

Rav Shach fired questions at his guest until he was satisfied. He then smiled broadly. “Good. I wanted to make sure that you have a proper parnossah.”

We are enjoined to remember the story of Miriam. When we analyze it, we note a side lesson as well, not just how to speak properly, but also how valuable and cherished every person is.

Miriam was punished for speaking lashon hora. She was afflicted with tzora’as and forced into seclusion. Yet, the Torah reports that the nation didn’t continue on their sojourn through the desert until Miriam was healed. Why the need to keep everyone waiting and why the need to record it for all time? It was to show that even though Miriam sinned, Hashem still loved her.

Often, people who err and slip lose their self-worth, feeling as though their indiscretion will somehow doom them. They become broken, sure that Hashem will turn on them because they did an aveirah. Sometimes, one small aveirah sets a person on a downward spiral, ending with a painful crash at the bottom of a deep pit.

The Torah reports that Am Yisroel waited in the desert for Miriam for several days in order to dispel that notion. We love the person who has fallen, and we stand by, ready to pick them up. The Torah is admonishing us not to give up on ourselves and not to give up on others, even though they have sinned. Miriam Haneviah spoke ill of her brother, transgressing the laws of lashon hora, and was punished for doing so, but she didn’t lose favor in the eyes of Hashem. She was welcomed back into Hashem’s embrace and into the embrace of Am Yisroel.

Perhaps when we fulfill the“zechirah” of ma’aseh Miriam, we focus on this as well: Every Yid is worth waiting for. Every yochid is valuable to the klal.

We all make mistakes and we all sin, but let no one permit that fact to interfere with their obligations in avodas Hashem. An onov does not look down at another person, for he sees himself as no better than the one who sinned. We must react with anovah to what we perceive as transgressions of others. We must look to find the good in others. We must work on our middos so that we adopt the middah of anovah.

When dealing with and judging others, we should embody the teachings of Moshe as the onov mikol odom. Epitomizing anovah will also fulfill the dictum of the novi Michah (6:8): “He has said to you, what is Hashem’s definition of good, and what does Hashem demand from you, but only to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk with humility with your G-d.”

In a world conflated with fake news, even stories grounded in fact are fake, because truth isn’t found in an atmosphere of falsehood. We seek the truth, and along with it comes growth in Torah, kindness, humility, and every good middah.

Humility and acting justly, with honesty and loving-kindness, are outgrowths of walking with Hashem, as should be the desire and ambition of every frum person. If we would tread this path, there would be so much love, achdus and shalom in the world. There would be an abundance of kindness, justice and goodness, and Moshiach will be sent to end the golus.

May it come to pass speedily in our time. Amen.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
 One year on Motzoei Shavuos, two young talmidei chachomim asked the Satmar Rov, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, for a brocha. He blessed them that the hashpa’os of Shavuos, and birkas mo’adecha, should remain with them and add meaning and light to the upcoming months.
“You have a special task,” the rebbe said. “You have to work hard in Torah, you have to hureveh, and you must develop new insights, being mechadeish chiddushim. While a wedding is a joyous affair, filled with excitement and anticipation, the focus is really on the future generations that will emerge from the new couple. Shavuos was essentially the wedding, but now is the time to focus on what the union of Yisroel, Hakadosh Boruch Hu and the Torah is able to produce. Your task now is to write chiddushim.
The message is valid for each of us in our own way. We have each just celebrated and reaffirmed our connection and commitment to the Torah.
Through our celebration, we proclaimed that after 3,329 years, we are holding on. Moshe tells us (Devorim 4:10) not to forget the great events at Har Sinai, the wonders our eyes beheld. He says that every father should transmit to his children the awesomeness of the experience.
We remember the wonders at Har Sinai. We remember that Hashem gave us the Luchos and the Torah. As we recall the awesomeness of the wonders that transpired, we marvel that thousands of years later, we remain as committed, loyal and faithful as ever.
Our children study the same halachos discussed over the millennia. Every day we wear the very same tefillin worn by all Jews, according to the instructions passed down by Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai.
There is no other commitment ever made by flesh and blood that has endured that way.
On Shavuos, we commemorated and renewed the bond. Now, we struggle to assimilate our emotions - the spiritual high we experienced on Shavuos as the first vague brushstrokes of a new day painted the dark sky, the majesty of a daf of Gemara, the intensity of Akdamus, and the meaning of certain lines we are able to grasp as they fly by in the traditional tune - into ordinary life.
But now, the wedding is over. The guests and the band have gone home. Now it’s time to go home together and create a viable and fruitful relationship. We davened, learned, sang and danced, but now it’s back to real life. We have to build and live according to the Torah. Now is the time.
In this week’s parsha (Bamidbar 10:31), Moshe asks Yisro not to leave the Jewish people behind and return home. He says to him, “Al ta’azov osanu.” The Seforno explains that Moshe told him that if he were to leave, the nations of the world would assume that he didn’t agree with a Torah life. They would surmise that Yisro, who was famed for seeking the truth, was back on the hunt, unsatisfied with what he had found.
There is an inherent chillul Hashem in seeing the glory and then turning your back on it.
That call rings out to us as well in these days following Shavuos. After having reconnected with the light of Har Sinai, there is a call to each one of us: “Al na ta’azov.” The Torah calls out to us, “Don’t leave me. You’ve been with me. We celebrated together. You studied my words and became familiar with me. Don’t go back to the way you were before Shavuos. Show that it affected you. Show that you appreciate the Torah and its way of life. Stay with me.”
There are those who hear that call every day.
After a family simcha, as relatives stood around chatting, Chacham Ovadia Yosef urged his wife that it was time to return home. “Please. They’re waiting for me,” he said. “I can’t stay here any longer.”
One of his sons asked who was coming to speak with the rav at that late hour. Who was waiting for him at his home?
“The Rambam is on my desk,” he explained. “The Rashba is right next to it. I’ve been away for too long already. They are waiting for me.”
Rav Elazar Menachem Mann Shach had a piece of paper on his desk for months. Periodically, he would look at it and shake his head. One of his attendants finally asked what the precious paper was. The rosh yeshiva explained: “A bochur came over to me after shiur one day with a question pertaining to Maseches Bava Kamma. He posed a good question and it deserves a good answer, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to delve into it and find a solution. I keep the paper with me to remind me that I am a ba’al chov. Ich bin em shuldik ah terutz. I owe that boy something. I owe him an explanation. This is more important than anything.”
With all that occupied his day, explaining a sugya to a talmid was his primary occupation, for the transmission of Torah is supreme. Uppermost in his mind was finding a teretz for a bochur’s question.
Rebbetzin Esther Finkel, wife of Rav Beinish Finkel, was a niece of the Chazon Ish. She would often retell something that she heard from the Chazon Ish’s mother.
At the age of eight years old, young Avrohom Yeshaya remarked to his mother, “Mammeh, do you know why I learn? I learn because I know how good it is.”
That perception of “ein tov ela Torah drove him to continue learning and leading a life of Torah lishmah, mastering it all. For the remainder of his life, his joy and cheishek came from ameilus baTorah.
An encounter comes with obligations.
Reb Moshe Reichmann once had a small dispute with another respected ba’al tzedakah that was resolved at a din Torah. Someone badmouthed the other person to Mr. Reichmann, who waved away the claim. “Don’t say that,” he responded. “He is a good person who means well. The only reason he acts this way and I don’t is because I was zoche to learn in yeshivos and know the Chazon Ish and he never did.”
Becoming acquainted with holiness affects us, changes us, and makes us into better people.
Torah is not merely theoretical. It is not enough to study it, sing about it, and talk about it. Torah has to touch our souls and affect the way we act, talk, conduct ourselves, and deal with other people.
Torah Jews don’t get personal when they have disagreements. They seek to resolve differences according to the ways of the Torah. They speak kindly and act with kindness. They help each other, assisting even people they don’t know. They are respectful and dignified. They cause kiddush Hashem, not chillul Hashem.
Moshe Reichmann was recognized throughout the Jewish world and the world of finance as an impeccably honest gentleman. He derived his standing and the way he comported himself from viewing himself as a yeshiva bochur, as a student of great men, influenced from basking in the glow of the Chazon Ish.
A Bobover chossid explained to his grandchildren how he survived Auschwitz. He told them that as a child, he had been at seudah shlishis tishen of the Kedushas Tzion many times. “I understood that an experience like that was a zechus, and it was up to me to use it to the fullest. I bottled up the energy of the tish, memorizing the Torah, the niggunim, and the look on the rebbe’s face. Years later, when I was surrounded by death and despair, I would close my eyes and draw on that reservoir of purity and joy. That was how I survived.”
We have all seen greatness in our lives. There have been experiences that have greatly impressed us. Torah lessons that have impacted us. Rabbeim who made a mark on our souls. They should not be fading memories of fleeting moments. They should be etched into our consciences and influence us every day of our lives.
I, for one, merited receiving guidance and instruction in years past from such giants as Rav Elazar Menachem Mann Shach and Rav Elya Svei zichronam livrocha. I constantly consult with my memories of our conversations to help me proceed. Of course, it is not sufficient to be guided by memories of those no longer with us, but it is upon the foundation they established within me and so many others that we build, and the reminiscences of the discussions with them that provide us with the strength and conviction to carry on.
I spent the past week in Yerushalayim and had the special zechus to daven with and speak to residents of Yerushalayim Shel Maalah. So many scenes impacted me, so many people whose faces are etched with the lines of emunah and bitachon. Poor and destitute people who know the truth about life, smiling as they perform mitzvos. Giants sitting among common folk, each concentrating on impressing the One who counts and not looking over their shoulders or considering where they sit and who they daven with. All Jews are special and they know it. There is holiness in every soul. Everyone has a spark of ruach hakodesh, some more than others (see Gr”a, Mishlei 16:4).
I hope that lesson stays with me.
To be in the presence of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, revered by all the world over for his incredible hasmodah and yediah of kol haTorah kulah, combined with tzidkus, is very hard to describe. We ask and we follow, for we know that the Torah flows through him.
I traveled to Naharia to receive the blessing of Rav Dovid Abuchatzeira. Just to hear the words he speaks and his tone provides chizuk.
Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, is a personal guide, mentor and rebbi. A gaon in Torah and mussar, to sit with him nourishes the soul.
As we spend time with our rabbeim and manhigim, we are reminded of greatness and the heights man can reach. Their dedication to Torah, basking in it and dedicating their lives to it raises them and imbues them with the ability to provide light, guidance and leadership. 
The cycle of the Jewish year is a series of peaks and valleys. Shavuos allows us to reach the mountain of old, to hear the kol gadol, the voice that has never stopped calling, to feel the thunder in our souls.
We live in scary times. It often appears as if madness has taken over the Western world. Terror grips foreign capitals, fake news is treated as gospel, and the media is consumed with fostering a Russian connection with the president, who hasn’t been able to gain traction and pass the bills necessary to push his agenda forward and get the economy back on course. There is misdirection everywhere as critical thought has gone AWOL.
The Torah provides us with light and understanding. By devoting ourselves to learning Torah, we are able to find a path through the darkness, an oasis of sanity and truth. Learning Torah lishmah spares us from falling prey to ever-present temptations. It makes us into better people and allows us to lead a fruitful, satisfying life, enhancing those around us and the world.
Shavuos has passed us by. Let its memory not fade. The inspiration should stimulate us as we go about our daily activities and allow us to live lives unscathed by the depravity and futility of so much that surrounds us.