Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Do It With Love

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

When you walk into a room where people are sitting close to the floor with a prominent rip in their clothing, the atmosphere is heavy and sad. Not a word is exchanged. Then a menachem, a comforter, walks into the room. Initially, the people on the floor look up at their visitor with sad, knowing eyes. Then they slowly come alive, sharing stories of their departed loved one, exchanging reminiscences. “What do you remember?” they ask. “What can you share?” They then accept words of chizuk as expressed in the eternal phrase of nechomah: HaMakom yenacheim es’chem.

During these days of Av, we are all mourners. We remember the time when the Bais Hamikdosh stood in the center of Yerushalayim. We reflect on how different and blessed life was at that time. We think about all the tragedies that occurred to the Jews throughout the ages and become sad, because we know that Tisha B’Av is the repository of sadness and mourning for everything that has befallen us.

The tragedy and sadness have to be part of our essence. We have to mourn, not look for ways to free ourselves from displaying that as believing Jews, we realize our history and what has befallen our people in the churban and ever since. How can we laugh and party when the memory of the six million is with us in this period? How can we engage in happy and fun activities while remembering the Harugei Beitar, the millions of our brothers and sisters who were led into slavery?

How can we be so callous about Jewish suffering? Just this past Shabbos, innocent Jews were slaughtered at a Shabbos table in Eretz Yisroel. How can we not feel their pain? How can the reaction to such a tragedy be more apathy? In these days of Av, how can we not mourn what happened to this family and so many others like it?

The halachos of the Nine Days are not simply laws that we outwardly observe. Nor should we look for ways to wiggle out of them. They are meant to influence our thought and feelings during this time. An observant Jew is meant to be in a state of sadness these days, contemplating our losses, as a mourner would do. We are lacking if we don’t feel the losses in our hearts.

We all know that the second Bais Hamidkosh was destroyed because sinas chinom was prevalent amongst Jews at that time (Yoma 9b). However, the Gemara in Maseches Sanhedrin (104b) points to the chet hameraglim as the cause of the destruction. It was on the 9th day of Av that the Jews in the desert cried for naught. Their “bechiyah shel chinom echoes all these years, giving generation after generation many reasons to cry.

Too many of us no longer cry. That itself is a reason to cry.

The meraglim lacked the ability to see themselves for who they were. They were reduced to the size of insects in their own eyes, feeling small and insignificant, because they accepted the attitudes and views of others as fact.

The Jews heard their report of their mission to the land that Hashem promised them and broke down in tears. “Woe is to us,” they cried. “We are being led to a country that will destroy us.” They were insecure about their ability to merit Hashem’s blessing and protection. They feared that they wouldn’t be worthy of the promises that they would inherit the Land.

They didn’t perceive their own greatness.

The historical accounts of the churban Bais Hamikdosh appear in Maseches Gittin because the break between Klal Yisroel and Hakadosh Boruch Hu was a tragedy not unlike a get (divorce). The novi Yeshayahu cries out (50:1), “Ei zeh sefer krisus imchem asher shelachtiha - Which get has Hashem sent you.”

Hashem, however, never stopped loving His people. He never divorced Himself from them. There was no get. The people who were singled out and set apart with privileges unavailable to others believed that they had been cast aside. Because they lacked self-confidence, they were easily misled and taken in by apocalyptic predictions.

Years later, during the period of Bayis Sheini, although the Jewish people were religiously committed, the rot at the root of the chet hameraglim was still present. Because the people were cynical, negative and pessimistic, they didn’t feel Hashem’s love, nor did they appreciate His proximity. They didn’t see the Jewish people as being worthy of Divine love, so they hated each other. They wrote sifrei krisus to each other because they didn’t appreciate the greatness inherent in every individual Jew. Insecure, they were blind to their own worth and, like the Jews at the time of the chet hameraglim, because they felt undeserving, they didn’t appreciate what they were given.

On Tisha B’Av, mourning is how we repent for what they did. We sit on the floor, reciting Kinnos, recalling how good we had it, how much love there was, how close we were to Hashem, and the holiness and unity that were apparent in our lives. We bemoan the losses we suffered. We recognize through our tears how much Hashem loved us, and we proclaim that we know that He still loves us and that we are worthy of that love. By doing this, we repent for the sins of the meraglim and sinas chinom.

Many of our problems are rooted in the sin of low self-esteem, of not realizing who we are. People give up on becoming great even before starting the process. They are easily knocked off course and lose motivation to succeed and excel, because they don’t believe in themselves. This is one of the ways the yeitzer hora causes us to live a hopeless, sad and sometimes self-hating life.

We don’t talk about it much, and maybe we should, but that doesn’t mean there is not an epidemic of young people who hate themselves and cause themselves pain because they can’t cope. These people start out like the rest of us, but because of bad vibes they pick up, they end up on a downhill trajectory and often hit bottom.

To get up, they need love, they need care, they need self-value, and they need to know that they make a difference and their lives are important. It may be easier said than done, but it saves lives and makes us and them better people.

How do we combat it? By putting our arm around a young person’s shoulder and letting them know that they are loved. By talking to them and treating them with respect, we instill self-pride in them.

How do we combat it? By talking up to people, not down. By pumping people up, not taking them down. By not being judgmental and by bearing in mind that every person wants to feel good about themselves. You can help them have that feeling if you talk to them as if their lives have worth, no matter how they act and how they look.

By caring about people and their feelings, you are helping give people a lifeline and a reason to carry on.

Chazal famously teach us that a generation that doesn’t merit the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh is viewed as having had the Bais Hamikdosh destroyed in its time. The Sefas Emes explains that anyone who doesn’t believe that their actions can contribute to the building of the Bais Hamikdosh is accountable for its destruction. Those who don’t realize that they have the power to bring about the return of the Bais Hamikdosh have a part in its destruction.

To believe that we make no difference is part of the churban.

Our response to churban is to have faith in ourselves and know what we are, who we are, and what we can achieve.

This, says the Sefas Emes, is what’s meant by the brocha we recite in Birkas Hamazon referring to Hashem as the “bonei (presently building) berachamov Yerushalayim.” Rebuilding the Holy City is a steady, ongoing process. At any given moment, Hashem is rebuilding Yerushalayim. It is destructive to think that we can’t play a role in that process.

We lost the Bais Hamikdosh because of two related sins: bechiyah shel chinom, a futile cry, and sinas chinom, baseless hatred.

Rav Yecheskel Abramsky quoted the posuk which states, “Umacha Hashem dimah mei’al kol ponim.” He explained that Hakadosh Boruch Hu will wipe off the tears of every Jewish face. “If every Jew is precious enough to Hashem that He takes the time to wipe off the tears of every face,” he said, “then we also have to do our part to erase tears and pain.”

Our every act, word and tear has a purpose. They are not for naught, chinom. Realizing what a Jew represents is the greatest and most effective antidote to sinas chinom. Each of us carries so much power. We have to appreciate the mitzvos and ma’asim tovim of our friends and see their efforts with an ayin tovah.

In a Tisha B’Av shmuess, Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi succinctly commented, “One who looks at his friend with sinas chinom and mocks the efforts of his fellow Jew isn’t just a hater, but an idol-worshipper. Because he wants every person around him to act as he does, think as he does, and agree with him about everything, he worships no one but himself.”

On Tisha B’Av, we see that no one is chinom and nothing they do is chinom. We re-learn how to love. We recognize that just because we look differently and act differently doesn’t mean that we are inherently different. Because the other fellow wears green and we wear black doesn’t mean that we should hate him and throw stuff at him. Just because someone dresses differently doesn’t mean he is not worthy of love and care.

The Chofetz Chaim would travel from town to town selling his seforim. It happened that he found himself staying at a Vilna kosher inn. At mealtime, a large burly fellow walked in and sat himself down at the table. He called over the server and ordered her to bring him roast duck and a large glass of an adult beverage. When the food came, he grabbed it from the server and began to eat voraciously, without a brocha or any decency and manners.

The owner saw that the Chofetz Chaim was appalled by the man’s behavior and was debating whether to get up and speak to the man. He walked over to the sainted gaon and begged him not to go over to the glutton and not to say anything to him. He was worried that something would break out. The uncouth man was a veteran of Czar Nicolai’s army and was liable to curse and lay a hand on the Chofetz Chaim.

The innkeeper approached the Chofetz Chaim. “Please, rebbe,” he said, “leave him alone. There is no one to talk to. He is an illiterate bully. When he was seven, he was taken away with other Jewish children and, as cantonists, they were taken to Siberia. He grew up with local peasants, and when he was 18 years old, he was inducted into the Czar’s army, where he spent twenty-five years.

“Forty years of his life found him among uncivilized ruffians, far removed from any Jewish community. He never learned a word of Torah and never saw a Jewish face. Rebbe, please don’t start up with him. Your respect is worth more to me than getting into a tussle with him.”

“Have no fear,” Klal Yisroel’s rebbi responded. “I can speak to him and set him straight.”

With that, the Chofetz Chaim lovingly and with a smile approached the man. “Shalom Aleichem. Is it true that you were kidnapped as a young child, taken to Siberia, grew up among gentiles, and never merited to study even one word of Torah?

“It would seem to me that you suffered gehennom in this world, enduring various types of torture. No doubt they mocked your religion, tried to convert you, and forced you to eat pig and other non-kosher foods. Despite all you went through, they didn’t break you and you remained a Jew.

“I would be glad to have the sources of merit that you have and be a ben Olam Haba as you are. All the decades of mesirus nefesh for Yiddishkeit and kevod Shomayim rank you with the greatest of our people. In the World to Come, you will be seated among the giants of our people, the tzaddikim and gaonim.”

As the Chofetz Chaim spoke, tears began streaming down the face of the tough army veteran. He was shaken by the loving words of praise and support. His heart was touched as it never was before.

When the man found out who was speaking to him, he began to cry loudly and kissed the Chofetz Chaim.

The aged tzaddik completed his pitch: “A person such as you merited being considered a kadosh who was moser nefesh for Hashem. If you live the rest of your life as a ‘kosher Jew,’ you will be the happiest man alive.”

The former cantonist undertook to do teshuvah and became an observant Jew.

Parshas Devorim, like the rest of the last seder of the Torah, is Moshe Rabbeinu’s farewell message to his people. This week’s parsha introduces us to the seder that describes the stay of the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar and ends with prophetic words concerning their entry into Eretz Yisroel.

The Jewish people went on to settle the land, erected the Mishkon in Shilo, built the Botei Mikdosh in Yerushalayim, and experienced two churbanos before being tragically evicted from the land promised to them. They were sent into golus, where we remain until this day.

We will reach our desired state of shleimus when we will be gathered from exile and permanently brought to Eretz Yisroel with the geulah.

Rabbeinu Bachya (Devorim 1:1, 30:3) explains that the main role of Eretz Yisroel will also only be realized after the final redemption. Our people lived in the land for a temporary, relatively short period. After Moshiach returns us there, the purpose for which the world was created will be realized. Thus, the final pesukim of the Torah connect to the first ones in Bereishis. This is because the permanent return of  Klal Yisroel to Eretz Yisroel is similar to the creation of the world, because at that time it will begin realizing the purpose for which it was established.

Similarly, Chazal teach, “Sofo na’utz b’sechilaso,” the end is tied to and rooted in the beginning. The paths, peaks and valleys of our existence combine to lead to our destiny.

Seder Devorim begins with Moshe Rabbeinu rebuking his people, because to merit geulah and entry into Eretz Yisroel, they had to engage in teshuvah. As the Rambam says (Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5), “Ein Yisroel nigolin ela beseshuvah,” Klal Yisroel will only be redeemed if we engage in proper and complete teshuvah.

Since Moshe loved his nation and selflessly wanted them to be able to enter the land that Hashem promised their forefathers, he admonished them with love and respect so that they would accept his tochacha. He spoke to them in a way that preserved their self-esteem (Rashi, Devorim 1:1; see also Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 4:2), because he knew that for people to accept mussar, it is usually advantageous to maintain their dignity.

It’s not as if Moshe wasn’t aware of their obstinate and disrespectful nature. Rashi (ibid.) explains that Moshe gave them mussar only after the entire nation had gathered in one place. Moshe knew the nature of these people and wanted to prevent loathsome characters from being able to proclaim that had they been there, they would have spoken back to and challenged Moshe. Therefore, he gathered them all together, indicating, “If you have what to say, say it here to my face.”

Despite his keen understanding of their displeasing behavior, his speech was laced with love and respect. The role of parents, teachers and leaders when reproaching is to do so without destroying the person, while providing clarity about the correct path and conveying confidence for the future.

It is commonly noted that we lain this parsha before Tisha B’Av because it contains Moshe’s admonition beginning with the word “Eicha,” which we lain in the same tune as Megillas Eicha on Tisha B’Av.

Perhaps we can suggest that another reason is to teach us how to give mussar and bring people home. It is not by demeaning them, yelling at them, or making them feel utterly useless. It is by crafting the corrective message with sensitivity and infusing it with love, demonstrating that it emanates from a loving and intelligent heart.

Man is created with a heart and a brain, impulses and emotions, competing character traits, and a complicated psychology and thinking process. In his youth, a person requires parents and teachers to set him on the proper path and teach him Torah, responsibility and manners. He needs to be shown and taught how to think and how to act. Man has successes and failures as he goes through life. Due to his very nature, he often requires course corrections by real friends, family and those who care about him.

Torah and mitzvos help us battle the ever-present yeitzer hora, but that is not always sufficient. Every generation has unique temptations. The further we get from Sinai, the harder it is to deal with them. Just like Noach in his day - Chazal say, “Noach hayah tzorich sa’ad letomcho” - we all need help to make it and can’t always do it on our own.

To the degree that people recognize this, they can be sources of support and constructive chastisement.

It is interesting that this month of Jewish tragedy is referred to as Av, which is the same as the word meaning father. Perhaps we can say that it is a reminder to us to reprimand, with fatherly love, those whose sins prevent us from realizing the redemption, treating others as a father would and lending them a shoulder to lean on and a hand to help them climb.

It is a reminder to act as Moshe did, as the Chofetz Chaim did, admonishing in a way that could be accepted so that the people would merit exiting their golus and entering the land of geulah.

The Torah teaches us to understand difficult moments by recognizing that “just as a father punishes his son, Hashem punishes Klal Yisroel” (Devorim 8:5).

We are to understand that when we are hurt by Hashem, it is an act of love, not anger. A parent disciplines because he wants to prod his child to growth and success. Even when the admonishment is painful, it is understood to be in context of parental love and hope.

So, during Chodesh Av, we read this week’s parsha, in which Moshe Rabbeinu, the av lenevi’im, the most effective rebbi we have ever had and the eternal Jewish father figure, demonstrates how a loving father offers rebuke.

In order to bring people to teshuvah, which will bring us to the ultimate geulah, we need to preach as Moshe preached, and rebuke and reprimand as he did.

An examination of the posuk beginning with the word “Eicha” reveals the state of the Jewish people at the time of Moshe Rabbeinu’s talk with them. Far from a great people simply lacking in refinement, they were actually rambunctious apikorsim, who would mock Moshe and incessantly quarrel among themselves (Rashi, Devorim 1:12).

Yet, Moshe saw greatness in them and worked to bring them to the level that would allow Hashem to end their golus and bring them to Eretz Yisroel. So too, in our day, if we are mochiach with love, treating all Jews as brothers and sisters, and care about them, we can also help bring the nation out of golus and into geulah.

So much Jewish blood has been shed. So much heartache has been felt throughout the centuries in exile. On Tisha B’Av, we sit on the floor and plaintively ask, “Lamah lanetzach tishkocheinu?” For how long will death endure? For how much longer will we linger in golus? We want to go home.

Help us follow in the paths of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Moshes of every generation. Help us love all Jews and bring them back. Help us show them the way so that we can all finally go home.

Enough with hate. Bring on the love.

On Tisha B’Av, we say in unison, “Hashiveinu, Hashem eilecha venoshuvah, chadeish yomeinu k’kedem. Hashem, bring us back to You…”

People all over say and intone these words with love and inspiration. Hashem, we know that Your arms are opened wide, waiting to receive us. We know that we are worthy of Your embrace.

Bring us back. Take us back. We’re ready.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Maybe, Maybe

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
It was back when the iron-horse railroad was coming to Russia and the transportation ministry planned to lay thousands of miles of track upon which trains would crisscross the giant country. When the plans were publicized, chassidim discovered that they called for a track directly over the kever of the Baal Hatanya. Alarmed, they sent a delegation to the minister of transportation and appealed to him.

They arrived for the meeting and pleaded their case. “Maybe you don’t appreciate what a rebbe means to us, so allow us to explain. He is more than a teacher and a guide. He represents life itself.”

The minister cut them off. “You don’t have to explain it to me. My brother and my father are religious. In fact, I was also religious until I was seventeen years old. I know what a rebbe is and what he means to you.”

The delegation was shocked and thought that they were about to catch a lucky break, but then the man continued talking.

“I was in yeshiva, when I decided that I wanted to join the Russian army. I became fixated with it. I didn’t want to give up religion; I just wanted to become a soldier. My father was worried that I would lose my connection to Yiddishkeit and begged me not to go, but nothing he said impressed me.

“My father was a Stoliner chossid. In a last-ditch effort, he asked me to go with him to the rebbe [Rav Shlomo Karliner, whose yahrtzeit was on Sunday]. I obliged. We entered the rebbe’s room. The rebbe appeared to be on fire, his face radiant and his eyes alight, totally connected to Hashem. The force of holiness was so strong that my father could not open his mouth to speak for the first few minutes. Finally, he gathered his courage and told the rebbe of my intentions to join the military, how I refused to listen, and his fears that I would become a goy.

“The rebbe’s face grew red, his countenance aflame, hot tears streaming down his face as he turned to me and begged, ‘Efsher doch, efsher doch. Maybe, maybe [you’ll change your mind].’

“I turned him down and went to the army, and as you see, I am so far gone, you didn’t dream that I knew what a rebbe is. I know the power of a rebbe, and every time I do an aveirah, those pleading words of the rebbe ring in my ears. ‘Efsher doch, efsher doch.’”

It’s the Three Weeks, the time we mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. We mourn that we are in golus. Our enemies gang up on us and we hear those words, “Efsher doch, efsher doch,” ringing in our ears. Maybe this will be the year we fix ourselves and make our way back.

Efsher doch, efsher doch. Maybe this will be the year we will be set free and get to go home. The sick will be healed, the abused comforted, and the homeless will be back at home in the land that is ours.

The posuk states, “Umikneh rav hayah livnei Gad velivnei Reuven” (Bamidbar 32:1). The children of shivtei Gad and Reuven did not want to join the rest of Klal Yisroel to continue on to Eretz Yisroel, the land they and their forefathers had been yearning to reach for hundreds of years. Why were they so connected to the land of Eiver HaYardein?

The rebbe of Peshischa interprets the words “mikneh rav” homiletically as a reference to the “kinyan” bond of these shevotim with their “rav,” their mentor and rebbi who had led them over the past few decades. They worried that in Eretz Yisroel, despite the opportunities for growth, they would be lacking the identity that comes with having a rebbi and would forget who they are and where they came from. They felt that since Moshe was buried in Eiver HaYardein, staying there would maintain their connection to who they are meant to be. Rightly or wrongly, they preferred being rooted outside the Promised Land to feeling rootless within the sacred embrace of Eretz Yisroel.

While some may not agree with the premise of the thought, it goes to the heart of the challenges we have faced throughout the long golus. People have found it difficult to remember who we are and where we come from, where we are headed and what our mission is. Sometimes, the stresses and distractions of everyday living threaten to overtake and engulf us and we forget.

Megillas Esther (2:5-6) introduces us to Mordechai by stating, “Ish yehudi haya b’Shushan habirah ushemo Mordechai ben Yair ben Shimi ben Kish ish Yemini. Asher hugla m’Yerushalayim. There was a Jewish man by the name of Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shimi, son of Kish, from the tribe of Binyomin (see Megillah 12b and Rashi), who had gone into exile from Yerushalayim.”

Who was he? A Jew, who followed in the ways of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, with the traditions of shevet Binyomin. He never forgot who he was. And he never forgot where he came from. He was an exile, a survivor of the churban, who longed to return home, no matter how comfortable his golus experience was.

Rav Michel Twerski told of a distinguished chassidic rebbetzin, a child of great tzaddikim, who was confused towards the end of her life. Once, when a hospital aide asked her for her name, the rebbetzin was experiencing a difficult moment. She replied, “I don’t know who I am anymore.” Then, she sat up straight and, with all her dignity, she continued, “But I do know whose I am.”

We go to Eretz Yisroel and traverse the Holy Land, tear kriah at the sites of the churban, stand at the Kosel and imagine what was and what will be, and daven at the kever of the avos, imahos and Rochel Imeinu. We feel their presence and beseech Hashem to help us in their merit. We walk on the derech ha’avos, where our forefathers trekked to Yerushalayim to be oleh regel and go to Shilo, the site of the Mishkon before the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh. And wherever we go, a chill runs down our spine. We feel connected to who we are and where we come from.

At great expense, people travel to the alter heim in the countries of Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Belarus, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia, Germany and elsewhere. They visit the old botei medrash, shuls, yeshivos and cemeteries to remember where they come from and what their mission is.

The struggle in golus is remembering who we are and hearing the call of “efsher doch,” reminding us that maybe we can find the way back to where we belong.

In the early nineteenth century, the government eased restrictions on Pressburg’s Jews, allowing them rights of residence. Many rejoiced, but the Chasam Sofer became worried. “Why is our Father making us more comfortable in an alien land? Why isn’t He making us welcome at home, in His house?” he asked.

Every year, as we bentch Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, the cheerful blessing generates bittersweet emotion. A new month usually brings smiles and hopes for a fresh start. But this Shabbos, as we recognize that a new month is about to dawn, the fact that it is Av, with its undertones of melancholy, causes our hearts to sink.

The period of national sadness begins on the 17th day of Tammuz, increases with the start of Chodesh Av, and peaks on Tisha B’Av.

Throughout our history, the first week of Av has seen wrenching, catastrophic events for the Jewish people. That legacy of sorrow and disaster continues. It’s a sadness shrouded in this rootlessness, a sense that things are not as they should be and we are not where we should be.

As we enter Chodesh Av, we wonder what we can do to reverse that cycle and when it will end.

Our search for a ray of hope begins with the awareness that the root of all our sadness and misery is the churban Bais Hamikdosh. We reflect on the Gemara in Maseches Yoma (9b) that teaches that the first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because we did not properly observe the halachos of avodah zora, gilui arayos and shefichas domim.

The Gemara says that at the time of the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdosh, the Jews were proficient in Torah and gemillus chassodim. What brought about that churban was sinas chinom.

We’ve heard it so many times, but apparently we need to continue hearing that since sinas chinom caused the churban, the final redemption cannot occur until we have all repented for that sin, cleansing ourselves of the senseless hatred that seems to accompany the Jewish people wherever we are.

The parshiyos that we lain this Shabbos, Mattos and Masei, are always read during the period of the Three Weeks. They deal with the connection of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel. We are connected to that land not only as a nation, but also as individuals.

Chodesh Av is about connection. It is about a relationship that was severed, to ultimately be renewed. We are working towards returning to our cheilek in Eretz Yisroel.

The parshiyos contain the seeds of our geulah; lessons for us to improve our behavior in golus in order to merit our share in Eretz Yisroel.

Parshas Mattos begins with the laws of nedorim and shavuos, different types of vows and promises a person makes, and the obligation “not to defile your words and to do whatever you said you would” (30:3).

In our society, words are cheap. They are thrown around aimlessly and carelessly, sometimes in a bid to impress and sometimes just to pass time. In the Twitter generation, everything is superficial, most of all words. They are conduits used to express thoughts and feelings that contain facile meaning and no depth. Little thought goes into what is said, or written, and therefore words carry no weight.

But we know that words are so much more than that. Words are life itself.

There was a time when people valued written and spoken words, when they perceived the inherent value of every utterance.

They were people of depth who appreciated the meaning of words. Their words carried weight, and were honored.

We are quickly losing that. In our society, words should have meaning. Meaning also has to have meaning. We should not be focusing on external values, such as financial worth, supposed status and impressions.  We must not be superficial. The world is too dangerous a place for us to act without information and without thought. Too often, we express opinions and act based on feelings and not facts, emotions and not intellect. To do so is folly and can have drastic consequences.

Words affect us and other people. To end the golus and help rebuild the Bais Hamikdosh, we should think before we speak and ensure that our speech is neither hurtful nor insulting.

Once, in midst of a telephone conversation with Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, the line was suddenly disconnected, another reality for those unfortunate souls in our federal correctional system. They wait on line for a chance to place a phone call, and then their connection to the outside world goes dead.

I felt bad for him and went back to what I was doing. For him, it was a bigger deal. The next day, we reconnected. He said that when the line went dead, he was very sad. “I was waiting to talk to you, and when I finally got through, you were gone and I was alone again.”

I asked how he gets over those feelings and remains in good spirits. He matter-of-factly responded, “When we got disconnected, I was sad, so I ran to my Gemara and began learning. Torah lifts me up. Learning Torah makes me happy.”

The power of words.

A man isolated from family and friends, deprived of a connection to his loved ones, Reb Sholom Mordechai is sad because of a conversation cut short. When cut off from those treasured words of love, he finds comfort in the holy words of the Torah and comes alive once again.

Words have the power to break and the power to repair. Words heal and words sicken. Words bring people together and words separate people. The words we use have lasting repercussions.

The Stoliner Rebbe’s efsher doch and the potency of his holy words live on.

And sometimes, when a tzaddik speaks, the inherent sincerity can melt a soul too. A young man, a child of Gerrer chassidim, survived the horrors of World War II with his body intact but his faith shattered. He was done with religion.

He became friendly with a girl he met and became engaged to her. He bumped into the man who had been his mashgiach when he was in yeshiva, the prominent Gerrer chossid, Rav God’l Eisner.

The former chossid informed the mashgiach that he was engaged and that the young woman wasn’t Jewish.

Rav God’l smiled and said to the survivor, “Mazel Tov. Wonderful.” He shook hands with the former student and then quietly, quickly added, “Ubber fort, ess past nist fahr ah Gerrer chossid. What you are planning to do is unbecoming for a Gerrer chossid.”

The words struck the young man’s heart with the force of a hammer’s blow. The words triggered introspection and with time he remembered who he was and where he came from.

As we complete the laining of the parshiyos this week, we exclaim together, “Chazak chazak venischazeik.” We cry out a resounding message to each other and to ourselves. We repeat a word that is laden with power: Chazak. Be strong.

With that, we complete another sefer in our march towards the Torah’s conclusion. We internalize the chapter of the Bnei Yisroel’s passage through the midbar and try to learn the lessons that this seder has presented, so that we may be strong and strengthened. We say chazak.

Study the words of the Torah and you will be strong. Share the words of the Torah and you will be strengthened. Say it together again and again. Appreciate the power of words and use them properly.

Make the ikkar the ikkar and the tofel the tofel. Remember what our priorities are. In every decision, as you contemplate your various considerations, remind yourself of your identity.

Efsher doch, efsher doch. May this be the year.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Let Us Make a Kiddush Hashem

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The Sefas Emes (Pinchos 5640 & 5663) writes that the reason Klal Yisroel was counted in Parshas Pinchos is because the parsha describes the changes that took place as Moshe Rabbeinu passed the leadership of the nation to Yehoshua, which, in effect, ended the period of the generation that had left Mitzrayim and the ascendency of the generation that was to inherit Eretz Yisroel.

The passing of Moshe Rabbeinu and the installation of Yehoshua was a turning point in our history. The hanhogah of Torah Shebiksav under the leadership of Moshe was ending to be replaced with the hanhogah of Torah Shebaal Peh under the leadership of Yehoshua. Moshe received the Torah from Hashem Himself, while Yehoshua received it from Moshe.
With this, we can understand the Gemara (Bava Basra 75a) that relates that the elders of that generation were upset when the mantle of leadership was given to Yehoshua. They said, “Pnei Moshe kifnei hachamah, Moshe’s face was like the sun, pnei Yehoshua kifnei levanah, but Yehoshua’s is like the moon. Oy le’oso bushah, oy lah le’oso klimah. What a shame. What a disgrace.”

Just as the light of the moon is a reflection of the sun’s light, Torah Shebaal Peh is the source light of Torah Shebiksav, because Torah Shebaal Peh is all derived from Torah Shebiksav. The elders of the dor hamidbar were upset with the change and diminution. “Oy,” they expressed their longing for the original light and the essence of Torah, not its reflection, as great and as powerful as it is.

Yehoshua was not as great as Moshe, but he dedicated his life to his rebbi and his teachings. The posuk in Shemos (33:11) testifies, “Yehoshua bin Nun naar lo yomish mitoch ha’ohel.” Though he may not have been the greatest scholar at the time, Yehoshua was constantly learning from - and serving - the rebbi of Klal Yisroel. It was because of this levanah-esque quality that he was appointed to lead following the passing of Moshe. 
Hashem called Yehoshua (Bamidbar 27:18), “ish asher ruach bo,” a man with spirit. Rashi explains that not only was he a person with “spirit,” but he also had the strength to withstand the “ruach,” the whims of others.

Yehoshua’s leadership emanated from his ability to ignore the naysayers and those who were diverging from the proper path. Because he had a strong inner spirit and was dedicated to the teachings of his rebbi, acting responsibly and forthrightly, he and Pinchos were elevated to high positions.
All of Am Yisroel saw Zimri commit his act, and not knowing how to react, they stood at the entrance of the Ohel Moed and cried (Bamidbar 25:6-7). However, when Pinchos witnessed the crime, he alone remembered the halacha and, with Moshe’s permission and mesirus nefesh, he arose from the crowd and did what had to be done. Thus ended the plague that had consumed 24,000 Jews. 

Pinchos earned eternal kehunah, leadership and life because he remembered what Moshe had taught and was prepared to sacrifice his life to fulfill his rebbi’s teaching and be mekadeish Sheim Shomayim.

Since the passing of Moshe, we have been experiencing a steadily diminishing essential light and need to acclimate ourselves to an increasingly dark reality. The light of the moon is not as illuminating as the light of the sun, but it does shine and light up the darkness of night, as do the leaders in golus who cleave to the rabbeim of the previous generation and the mesorah they transmitted to us.
Although we lost the sun of Torah Shebiksav and Moshe, we were still blessed with the sun of the Shechinah and kedusha as long as the Mishkon and Botei Mikdosh were with us. On Shivah Assar B’Tammuz, we commemorated the beginning of the process that led to the loss of the Shechinah’s earthly home, where our people experienced extraordinary miracles and brought korbanos to cleanse and purify themselves. With the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we lost the center of kedusha in our world. From that time onward, we have relied on less substantial replacements.

Since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we have been forced to find our way back to Hakadosh Boruch Hu without the benefit of the mizbei’ach and a korban. Klal Yisroel has since adapted to a world of hester, where Hashem’s presence is hidden from us.
With this in mind, we can appreciate the significance of the Torah’s declaration that as a reward for his single-minded act that succeeded in removing Hashem’s wrath, Pinchos earned the blessings of shalom and kehunah.

This is because the role of removing Hashem’s anger from Am Yisroel is the specific mission of the kohanim. By offering korbanos in the Bais Hamikdosh, they created harmony in the cosmos and shleimus in the world. Sin creates a division between the Jewish people and Hashem, while teshuvah and korbanos remove the division and bring the Creator and His nation back together.
The silence of the Bnei Yisroel in the face of Zimri’s deed spawned a plague. Twenty-four thousand died because no one protested Zimri’s act. Finally, Pinchos, acting in accordance with a halacha v’ein morin kein, jeopardized his life and future to stop the plague. By removing its cause, he reconnected the Bnei Yisroel with their Creator. The reward and result of his action was to be granted kehunah, because he had demonstrated that he was worthy of the sacred calling of those who repair the relationship between Hashem and His people.

Perhaps this is why this parsha is read each year at the onset of the Three Weeks. Although we no longer have the Bais Hamikdosh and we lack the avodah of the kohanim, we can learn from the example set by Pinchos.
Everyone is able to learn from the lone individual who stepped forth from the crowd and acted to remove the Divine wrath that has kept us in golus since the churban.

We have no shemesh, and sometimes it appears like we have no levanah. People despair because we are lacking illumination. But instead of complaining, we should learn from Yehoshua and keep our spirits awake, sensitive and attuned to opportunities to achieve great things, helping others beruchniyus and begashmiyus.

There are many opportunities to create a kiddush Hashem in a world full of the opposite. We can help build Torah and support lomdei Torah, who bring light to the world. We can help the poor and the abused, and work to achieve justice, as the posuk states, “Tzion bemishpot tipodeh.” At a time of negative publicity, we can work to conduct ourselves in a way that will cause others to remark how wonderful the ways of those who study and observe Torah are. 
Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandl, the famed Nitra rosh yeshiva and Holocaust hero, lost his wife and five children to the Nazis. After the war, he moved to America, remarried, and had five children. The bris of his fifth child born in America was understandably very emotional for him. As he spoke at that occasion, he quoted from the last piyut that is recited on Shabbos Parshas Poroh: “Vechol asher yeish bema’aloh yeish bematohbonim mul bonimkedoshim mul kedoshimmakdishim mul makdishimukedushah lekadosh meshalshim.”

What do those words mean?
Rav Weissmandl cried out with great emotion, “I had five children who were mekadeish Hashem. They are now in ma’alah. They died as kedoshim, who were mekadeish Hashem. I pray that just as those bonim died as kedoshim, mekadshei Hashem, the fifth child, for whom I have now merited to perform a bris, along with his siblings who are with us lematah, will be mul those who are lemaaloh.” 

He pleaded to merit children who are kedoshim, mekadshei Hashem with their lives, as the previous five were mekadeish Hashem with their deaths.

Following the recital of the aforementioned paragraph on Shabbos Parshas Poroh, the congregation and chazzan call out, “Nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom. We will sanctify the name of Hashem in our world the same way those who are now in Heaven sanctify it.”
Rav Weissmandl told his listeners, “Let us all cry out together, ‘Nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom.’ Let us all resolve to be mekadshei Hashem, to live lives of kiddush Hashem.”

That baby, who was named Menachem Meir, grew up to be the rov of the Nitra kehillah in Monsey, a well-known and admired rov who is mekadeish Hashem in all he does. I heard the story from him.
Not only Holocaust survivors, whose every mitzvah following that awful period was a kiddush Hashem, and not only their children have the ability and obligation to be mekadeish sheim Shomayim, but so do all of us.

One of the most enduring speeches of modern Jewish history was delivered by one of the clearest thinkers of the past century. Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s mission in life was to be a melamed, to set young bochurim on the path of understanding, appreciating and growing in Torah learning, as they made their journey through the yeshiva system. His clarity of mind and insightful analysis still light the way for new generations of lomdei Torah.
On Sunday afternoon, 11 Tammuz, July 6, 1941, Rav Elchonon was led to his death together with other gedolei Torah and ehrliche Yidden at Kovno’s infamous Ninth Fort. Rav Elchonon addressed those with him whom the Lithuanian Nazis had arrested, sharing poignant words that echo through time.

“It appears,” he said,that in Shomayim they consider us tzaddikim, because our bodies have been chosen to atone for Klal Yisroel. Therefore, we must immediately do teshuvah. We don’t have much time. The Ninth Fort is nearby. We will be better korbanos if we do a proper teshuvah, and that way we will be able to save the lives of our American brothers and sisters.
“Let us not have any machsheves pigul, foreign thoughts that could render an offering unfit. We will soon fulfill the greatest mitzvah of all. Yerushalayim was destroyed through fire, and in fire she will be rebuilt. The fire that consumes our bodies will one day rebuild the Jewish people.”

Rav Elchonon - described by an eyewitness as bearing the countenance of a “malach Elokim” - and the rest of the Jews were led to the Ninth Fort, where they were slaughtered in a hail of bullets. Their mesirus nefesh, their kiddush sheim Shomayim, and their becoming korbanos saved multitudes of other Jews from death. Like Pinchos of old, Rav Elchonon and the victims of the Kovno ghetto seized the moment to remove Hashem’s anger.
We are all familiar with the moving Chazal of how Yaakov Avinu elected to bury his wife Rochel alone on the side of the road, rather than in Chevron, alongside the other avos and imahos. His reasoning was that when her broken and devastated children would be exiled by Nevuzaradun, they would pass their mother’s kever. Passing her resting place, they would perhaps be uplifted. They would daven and cry out before her tomb, knowing that she would intercede on their behalf. Indeed, she would, as the posuk states, “Rochel mevakoh al boneha.”

Yaakov Avinu buried Rochel there, instead of alongside of him and her sister Leah, as well as with the other three couples in the Me’oras Hamachpeilah, so that she would be in position to help her children many years later. This message gave strength to those exiles, as a call to each of them to demonstrate self-sacrifice for the good of Klal Yisroel.
Rochel’s descendant, Esther Hamalkoh, sacrificed for her people. She forfeited her own olam hazeh, marrying a rasha to save her people. She was even prepared to die on their behalf, as she uttered, “Ka’asher ovadeti ovodeti.” As she entered the room of the hateful king, she whispered, “It’s not about me.”

Today, we need to seize these examples, finding ways to stand tall. We cannot be content when our brothers and sisters are suffering. We have to feel their pain and do something to alleviate it. We cannot be affected by the general apathy and negativity. We have to learn from the example of Pinchos, as studied in this week’s parsha.
As we experience the three weeks of churban, the words of Rav Weismmandl should resonate in our minds, prompting us to do what is right, even when it is uncomfortable. Remembering the tragedies that befell our people during these weeks reminds us of what we must do. Reading this week’s parsha empowers us, as it lays out our obligation, directing us with regard to what we must do if we want to remove Hashem’s wrath and achieve redemption.

Nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom
Let us do what we can to bring the day closer when the weeks of mourning will become days of celebration with the arrival of Moshiach.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Who We Are

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The novi Yirmiyohu mourns, “Vayeitzei mibas Tzion kol hadarah… Her adversaries have become her master, her enemies are at ease, for Hashem has aggrieved her for her transgressions. 
Al eileh ani bochiya eini eini yorda moyim.

“Hashem is righteous. It is I who has disobeyed His words. Hear this all the nations and see my pain, as my youth has gone into captivity.” 
This week’s parsha is comprised of beautiful words uttered by Bilam the prophet. He had intended to attack and curse, yet from his mouth emanated poetic words of praise. When he beheld the splendor of Klal Yisroel, he found himself unable to curse them.
But this year, the words of Eicha seem more appropriate, as the week of Parshas Balak brings a torrent of criticism and mockery our way. Our community finds itself struck dumb, unable and unwelcome to offer answers and defense.

The “innocent until proven guilty” bedrock of democracy seems to have been swept away, as an entire town and way of life are being impugned. Suddenly, being a bigot and a racist, and attacking Jews, have become virtues. Old stereotypes are awakened and brought to the fore after lying dormant under the surface. 

We live in an era of fake news. We are apathetic when Donald Trump is the target, but when we are affected, we are pained and anxious, being bashed by people close and distant.

Tammuz and Av, the months of Jewish tragedy, have barely begun, and the whip is out. We are thrashed and trashed, and our boat rocks from side to side as storm winds blow. 
Certain siddurim include with the tefillah of Mussaf of Rosh Chodesh a special name of Hashem as revealed by the Arizal in pesukim corresponding to each of the twelve months. The sheim of the month of Tammuz is found in the words of Haman. In his angry rant against Mordechai, the wicked one stated, “Vechol zeh einenu shoveh li - This is all insufficient for me.” The final letters of the words in that statement are hey, vov, hey and yud, spelling out, in reverse, the name of Hashem.

Kabbalists explain that the name of Hashem that indicates the hanhogah of mercy is reversed this month because Rosh Chodesh Tammuz begins a season of din. Now is a time for us to bear down, daven, and seek zechuyos.
During Shacharis we ask Hashem, “Useneinu hayom uvechol yom ,” to grant us every day that we be viewed with kindness - chein, chesed and rachamim - by Hashem, as well as by all those who see us.

The request seems to be redundant. If we find favor in the eyes of G-d, then certainly people would also view us favorably, and even if they don’t, of what concern is it to us?
In the newly published siddur Shaarei Yecheskel, Rav Yecheskel Levenstein explains that from this tefillah we see that man is obligated to act in a way that ensures that his conduct elicits praise from man.

This is akin to Rebbi’s lesson that “the proper path for man is that which is honorable for himself and brings him honor from others” (Avos 2:1).
We are meant to be an honest, hardworking people. We are meant to be a G-d-fearing people, whose G-d abhors falseness of all types. We are prideful and self-sufficient, philanthropic, caring and sharing. 

That is who we are and what we are all about.
And yet, when the opportunity arises, the haters pounce to tar and feather the entire Torah community with a broad brush.

The tzaddikim, talmidei chachomim, people who study Torah lishmah, and those who leave the house at 5 a.m. and return at 10 p.m. to put bread on the table, pay tuition, cover their mortgage and shell out taxes are ignored as if they don’t exist. 
A city whose clock revolves around sidrei hayeshiva, the few square miles where more Torah is learned that anywhere else outside of Eretz Yisroel, the town of incredible tzedakah and myriad gemachim, from where so many wonderful seforim come forth, is darkened.

Kol amuh neenochim.” We are all pained. We are all suffering. We are all condemned. 
The Netziv writes in Bereishis (Harchev Dovor 47:28) that the main reason most of our existence has been spent in exile is, as explained by Hashem’s revelation to Avrohom (Bereishis 17:6), that his children are meant to be a light unto the nations. That is only possible if they are scattered among them.

Thus, he writes (Haamek Dovor, Bereishis 17:6) that Hashem’s brocha to Avrohom of “Vehifreisi oscha” is not referring to having plentiful offspring, because he had already been blessed with this. Rather, it refers to the fact that his grandchildren will spread around the world so that they will be able to increase knowledge and understanding everywhere. Our mandate is to illuminate the world for its inhabitants.

The Rambam writes (Hilchos Deios 1:7), “How does a person instill in himself the deios, proper thoughts and actions, which are incumbent upon us to follow? By acting upon these ideas repeatedly until they become implanted within him and they become like second nature and are performed without difficulty… This is called the derech Hashem, the path of Hashem, which was taught by Avrohom to his children, as the posuk says, ‘Lemaan asher yetzaveh es bonov v’es beiso acharov, veshomru derech Hashem la’asos tzedek umishpot. Avrohom commanded his children and those who follow them throughout the ages to be righteous and just.’”
The Rambam completes the thought: “And those who go in this path bring goodness and blessings to themselves, as the posuk states, ‘Lemaan hovi Hashem al Avrohom asher diber olov.’”

Despite the halacha of Eisov sonei leYaakov, we are to bring daas and chochmah to the amim. And what path are we meant to follow? That of tzedek and mishpot.
Doing so brings us what we need and deserve.

We all feel a familiar pride when our children point out that a cashier has given us extra change. We have had the opportunity to point out an error that would have benefitted our account to a bank teller and seen the look of amazement and gratitude wash over their faces.

That is who we are, and that is our role.
In times of challenge and constant questioning, the best response is to stand taller and prouder and more committed than ever to being an upright people.

In a time of weak leadership and failed spokesmen, we need to speak with actions and lead by example. We need to remain loyal to the teachings of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, Moshe and Aharon, Dovid and Shlomo, to never, ever, forget who we are and what we represent.

Bilam refers to himself as a “shesum ayin,” which literally means a person of good vision. Rashi explains that he was blind in one eye; the other eye compensated for the blindness and had very good vision.
Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa would say that man was endowed with two eyes so that he could reflect two parallel truths. With one eye, he views himself as a great being with much potential, as indicated by the statement, “Bishvili nivra ha’olam.” With the other, we are to view ourselves with great humility, as indicated by the posuk which states, “Ve’anochi afar va’eifer.”

Bilam’s failing was rooted in the fact that he had just one eye. He saw his own greatness, but he never contemplated that he was but a mortal, here on a mission, whose every breath is a gift from Heaven.
We are a people of two eyes and dual visions. We must never lose sight of our essence - afar va’eifer - and why we are here.

Bilam’s eye is always upon us. Ma’asei avos siman labonim. What happened once will happen again. Just as Bilam only gained respect for our people as he examined them, so may it be in our day.
Let us act in ways that allow people to see our kindness and respectfulness. Let us speak softly and properly with all. Let us extend common courtesy when driving, shopping and interacting with people in general.

Perhaps it’s time to consider hanging an American flag outside our homes on national holidays, demonstrating our patriotism and thanks to the country that has been more welcoming and kinder to us than any in our long history.
Rav Shlomo Freifeld was once being driven by a talmid in an old car. As the rosh yeshiva entered the car, the young man sought to cover a gaping hole in the seat, from which stuffing had poured out. He reached for the American flag he kept handy to cover and fill the hole.

Reb Shlomo lifted the flag and gently folded it. “Here,” he said. “This represents the country you live in. It is not meant to be used that way. Treat it with respect.”
Every year on July 4th, Rav Avrohom Pam would hang an American flag in front of his home. The story is told that one year, after he had become weak and unwell, a granddaughter arranged to have a date pick her up at the home of her grandparents. Since the date was set for July 4th, she asked her grandmother if she could convince Rav Pam not to hang the flag that year, since it was an “old-fashioned” thing to do and would cause her embarrassment.

Rebbetzin Pam assured her that since Rav Pam was not feeling well, he wouldn’t be hanging the flag that year and there was no reason for concern.
The boy came to the house and rang the bell. Rav Pam answered the door and welcomed the boy. Then he asked him for a favor. “Before going inside, would you mind helping me with something?” The boy was happy to oblige the rosh yeshiva.

Rav Pam brought the American flag, and the bochur proceeded to help him fly it like every year. Thanking the boy, Rav Pam remarked, “I have to show my hakoras hatov, even if I am not feeling well.”
That is who we are.

Hakadosh Boruch Hu set the path for us in golus. The avos expounded upon it. Chazal delineated how to deal with Rome and everyone else. Rishonim and Acharonim wrote extensively about it. Latter day gedolim who lived through pogroms, the worst anti-Semitism and the Holocaust paved the path for us through shmuessen and personal example.
We scramble. We try to catch our collective breaths and find the right words, yet we come up empty.

Perhaps now is not a time to speak. Maybe now is a time for quiet reflection. A time of vayidom Aharon.
It is a time to study and contemplate, resolve to review the laws and halachos, ponder our situation in golus, and endeavor to work to make ourselves better people and the world a better place. 

It is not a time for clever sound bites, but a time for returning to the basics and demonstrating through all of our actions and interactions what we really are and what we can really be. 
Bilam was engaged by Balak to curse the Jewish people, but he found himself unable to. He was only able to bless. Upon seeing Bilam’s ability to bless, Balak should have asked him to bless his nation Moav that they be able to overcome their enemies. Why did he continue to insist that Bilam curse the Jews?
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:19) states that students of Avrohom Avinu are recognized by their “ayin tovah,” while those who follow Bilam are recognized by their “ayin ra’ah.”
The mindset of Bilam - and generations of talmidim of Bilam, defined by the middah of ayin ra’ah - has always been to destroy. They don’t know another way. Blessing is anathema to them. They can’t build up their side. They can only destroy the other.
A follower of the Radomsker Rebbe had a financial dispute with a chossid of another rebbe. They tried to work it out, to no avail. The Radomsker chossid turned to his rebbe for help. He told the rebbe that he was very frightened. He said that the other litigant threatened that if he does not accede to his demands, his rebbe would curse him. The Radomsker chossid was in a panic.
The Radomsker Rebbe looked at him and said, “I don’t know how to curse, but I am a kohein and I can do something much more effective. I know how to bless!”

His response is essentially our legacy as talmidim of Avrohom.
There will always be those who see only the negative, who have just “one eye.” At times like these, they come out like earthworms after a heavy rain, shouting and condemning. We must use our eyes to see good, to focus on what we are doing right and build upon it as we rectify that which is lacking.
As Bilam rode to carry out Balak’s request to curse the Jews, his donkey, which was created at the beginning of time for this very purpose, sought to talk him out of it. Unfazed by the wonder of a donkey speaking, Bilam argued with the donkey, even as the animal increasingly mocked him with each exchange.
Rashi (Bamidbar 22:33) cites the Medrash (Tanchuma 9) which states that following the incident, the donkey died to spare Bilam the embarrassment of people pointing at the animal and saying, “That’s the donkey that rebuked its master.”
The mussar master Rav Avrohom Grodzensky pointed out that a good animal lost its life to protect the dignity of someone who was on his way to hurt Klal Yisroel. This serves to remind us that despite Bilam’s failings, he was a person, nivra b’tzelem, crafted in G-d’s image and thus deserving of respect.
All around us are human beings shenivre’u b’tzelem.
Everyone is worthy of respect.
Rav Avrohom Genechovsky, the Tchebiner rosh yeshiva, was known for his gaonus, tzidkus and exceptional respect for all people. One Motzoei Shabbos, a talmid went to the rosh yeshiva’s home for Havdalah. He saw seated there at the table a secular couple, the woman with her hair uncovered.
The talmid wondered how his rebbi would recite the brachos in front of her. Moments later, Rav Avrohom filled the becher and lifted it.
Then he intoned: “Before we sanctify the new week and part from Shabbos, let us turn to Yerushalayim, the holiest place.”
And with that, he turned his back on his company and began reciting Havdalah.
It is possible. We can stay focused on our lofty role and still respect those around us. We can live bigger and higher and be an ohr lagoyim.
There’s never been a better time to start, to get back to our mission and role.
Let’s do it.