Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Do Something About It

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In Parshas Yisro, we learn of Kabbolas HaTorah. Following the makkos, Krias Yam Suf and the accompanying revelations of Hashem’s might, Klal Yisroel was prepared to become the Am Hashem and receive the Torah.

It is interesting to note that the parsha that depicts Matan Torah is named for a foreigner, Yisro. Another intriguing anomaly is that the Torah interrupts the account of the exodus from Mitzrayim and the apex of the journey at Midbar Sinai to tell the seemingly tangential story of Yisro’s arrival.

The portion of the parsha that discusses Matan Torah should have continued from the conclusion of Parshas Beshalach, having described the miraculous crossing of the Yam Suf, the deliverance of the life-sustaining monn and Hashem’s intervention saving the newly freed people when challenged in battle by Amaleik. Why is the story of the redemption depicting the journey to Midbar Sinai to receive the Torah interrupted by the story of Yisro’s arrival?

What lessons are implicit in the narrative of Yisro that justifies its insertion between the description of Krias Yam Suf and Matan Torah? Apparently, there are lessons involved in his tale that are necessary for a proper acceptance of the Torah at Har Sinai.

The parsha begins with the words “Vayishma Yisro - And Yisro heard.” Rashi quotes the Gemara in Maseches Zevochim, which asks what Yisro heard that prompted him to leave Midyon and join the freed slaves in the desert. The Gemara answers that he heard about Krias Yam Suf and Milchemes Amaleik.

We can understand that upon hearing about Krias Yam Suf, a thinking person can be motivated to go find out about a people for whom the laws of nature were abrogated. The open and evident display of Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s care for His people and the awe and power He displayed to bring about their independence could convince an observer that this group of freed slaves was a chosen nation.

However, the second stimulus for Yisro’s trip is more difficult to comprehend. Why would Amaleik’s vicious attack draw someone close to Klal Yisroel?

Yisro was a spiritually sophisticated person. From the vehement opposition expressed by the wicked people of Amaleik toward the nascent nation, he reasoned that there must be something truthful about the Jewish nation in order to arouse such strong antagonism. Truth is never universally lauded. In fact, it is often condemned and bitterly opposed. The fierce opposition alerted him to the fact that Judaism is worth an examination. A meaningful connection to the Creator comes with resistance from those who deny the truth.

The truth carries responsibilities and forces people who follow it to act a certain way. Amaleik, the classic scoffer, disdains truth and attacks it with a vengeance. Admiring and recognizing the existence of a Creator and the superiority of the way of life He prescribed means that the observer may have to reject an immoral, hedonistic lifestyle. Thus, the truth is commonly ignored and battled.

Yisro, who always sought to find the truth, understood that a nation with a purpose will, by its very nature, draw hatred. When he saw the vehemence with which this group of people was hated, he set out to discover for himself what truth they beheld that aroused such enmity.

Throughout the ages, Klal Yisroel has always felt the uniqueness of its role as Hashem’s people. Being the chosen ones has engendered much kinah and sinah. As Chazal say, the mountain upon which the Torah was given to man is called Har Sinai, because along with the Torah, sinah yordah le’olam, a supernatural hatred for the Jews descended upon the world.

Obviously, Yisro was not the only one who heard about Krias Yam Suf and Milchemes Amaleik. One would imagine that there were few people who hadn’t heard about these two earth-shattering events. Why did the miracles galvanize only Yisro?

The whole world heard about what happened. Krias Yam Suf was a viral event. People the world over were impressed and awed. The world might have been inspired, but it was for a mere moment, not long enough for the miracle to impact them. A fleeting impression was all they experienced, before quickly returning to their old habits. They reverted to the way they were before they were amazed by the power of Hashem. They refused to permit their momentary inspiration to have a lasting impact on their lives.

The only person who heard about Krias Yam Suf and Milchemes Amaleik and was affected long-term by the events was Yisro. He was the only one who permitted the experience to transform his life.

The pesukim recount: “Vayichad Yisro… And Yisro rejoiced over all the goodness that Hakadosh Boruch Hu did for the Jews and rescued them from Mitzrayim… And he said, ‘Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods…’ And he brought korbanos to Hashem…”

No one else came to the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar saying, “Atah yodati kee gadol Hashem.” Everyone else remained with their pagan beliefs. They couldn’t be bothered to explore anything that might require them to abandon an easy life.

This is why the Torah interrupts the chapter of the Bnei Yisroel’s excursion in the midbar to tell the tale of Yisro’s arrival. A prerequisite for Kabbolas HaTorah is to let the experience of Hashem’s majesty envelop the mind and the senses so that one draws closer to Torah and G-dliness.

My grandfather, Rav Eliezer Levin zt”l, would often refer to a concept he absorbed in Kelm of “kelbeneh hispaalus,” referring to cows that feed on the grass that grows on train tracks. When they hear the train approaching, they frighteningly run from the tracks, only to find their way back after the train passes.

Divine acts are intended to teach us the power of Hashem. Torah demands that hisorerus have a lasting impact, leading to improvement and growth.

That was the lesson of Yisro, and that is why his parsha was placed before Kabbolas HaTorah. That is why the parsha of Kabbolas HaTorah is named for Yisro, the convert.

Vayishma Yisro. We have to be open to hearing and examining what is going on and learn from what transpires to dedicate our lives to the truth and living honest and upstanding lives. We must study the lesson of Yisro and be affected by what transpires in our communities and around the world. We must not be apathetic, unaffected and untouched by what is going on.

The Torah further recounts that Yisro noticed that Moshe Rabbeinu was teaching halachos and judging the Jewish people from morning until night. Yisro advised Moshe that the system was improperand counterproductive. He urged Moshe to set up a well-functioning court system in which other people would adjudicate the simpler cases and the more difficult ones would be brought to him.

Yisro told Moshe that the present system was too difficult to sustain and would end up destroying him. Yisro advised him to choose competent dayonim whom he could teach the halachos so that they would be knowledgeable enough to educate the people.

Yisro urged Moshe to get Divine approval for the new system and thus be able to function optimally.

Yisro was a newcomer to the Bnei Yisroel’s camp. He wasn’t the first person to see what was happening to Moshe Rabbeinu. Everyone saw that Moshe was consumed all day long with dinei Torah. Anyone could have observed that it wasn’t sustainable. Anyone could have devised a more effective system to allow Moshe Rabbeinu to spend his time more productively. Anyone could have realized, as Yisro did, that Moshe would become exhausted from the grueling regimen and unceasing pressure.

Everyone saw it. Anyone could have realized where it would lead, but no one did anything about it. It took Yisro to internalize what he saw and to do something constructive to address it.

Yisro saw, Yisro cared, and Yisro spoke up. Hakadosh Boruch Hu and Moshe Rabbeinu accepted his proposal.

Yisro saved Moshe from becoming physically exhausted. The Torah honored him for this worthy deed by naming the parsha for him. This is why the lessons imparted by Yisro’s deeds are inserted into the narrative describing the supernatural events leading up to Matan Torah.

Yisro taught that everyone has the potential for greatness to the point of being worthy of inserting his deeds into the Torah and having a parsha in the Torah named for him. One must care enough to notice what is going on around him, draw the right conclusions, and try to remedy the situation.

Every one of us has the ability to improve the world. Each of us can reach out and help others. We can all bring meaning and warmth to the lives of our neighbors, friends and fellow Jews. If only we cared, if only we tried. If only we took Yisro’s example to heart. There are so many people in this world hungering to grow and become better people and Jews, but they need our help. We should be there for them. We should always seek to be giving without taking, striving to help prepare the world for Moshiach, helping improve people’s lives.

Yisro taught us that we can all make a difference.

When Amaleik perceives that he can’t destroy us, he slanders us and tells the world that we don’t know how to treat animals or people. He says that we are mean, vicious and heartless. The media promotes the canards.

It wasn’t that long ago that pogroms were perpetrated against the Jewish population by illiterate peasants egged on by the Church and government authorities.

Today, thankfully, they don’t come after us with sticks, knives and guns. Blood libels are a thing of the past. Today, instead of knives and spears, the warmongers’ implements of battle are words put forth by compliant media outlets.

Examples abound. Just last week, Vice President Mike Pence, in a historic step, visited the Kosel during a most friendly trip to Israel. Amaleik wasn’t happy. Headlines bewailed the fact that female reporters and photographers were placed behind the mechitzah at the Kosel. “It was an act against women,” they said. “The Orthodox hate women and treat them as second-class beings. They don’t permit them to do their jobs.” They threw the ultimate put-down at us, writing that the Orthodox are misogynists. So are Trump and Pence, of course.

The leftist Jewish media, never missing a chance to attack President Trump and his administration, as well as the religious community, took full advantage of the opportunity.

“How dare they!” they wailed.

“This was a new low for women,” The Forward cried, adding, “Rather than taking a stand against Pence’s misogyny, Israel was quick to accommodate it with their own. In the space of an hour at the Kotel, Pence’s visit became the occasion for sending women back even further than usual by preventing professional women from working side by side with their male counterparts.

“When both radical religious Judaism and radical religious Christianity intersect on the oppression of women, we are all in trouble.

“Pence’s visit became yet another example of the spread of radical misogyny in political leadership. This should be alarming not only to those who want to hear women’s ideas or who believe women deserve to live freely in the world. It should also be of grave concern to anyone who cares about values such as moderation, freedom, equality, or peace in the Middle East.

“And it was a huge betrayal of these values when Israeli President Rivlin gave Pence the highest praise by calling him a ‘mentsch.’ In so doing, he betrayed women most of all.”

The Torah relates how Yisro went to Moshe “to the desert.” Obviously, if he went to Moshe, he went to the desert, for that was where Moshe and the Jews were to be found. Rashi explains that the Torah is actually saying this in praise of Yisro.

Yisro was sitting “bichvodo shel olam.” He enjoyed prestige and fame as a leading light among the cognoscenti of that age. Yet, he was prepared to venture out into the barren desert in order to seek out the truth of the Torah.

Journalists and self-styled intellectuals whose self-respect is dependent on viewing themselves as progressive, socially-engaged, examples of enlightened Jews unshackled by ancient traditions cannot perceive the derocheha darchei noam inherent in Torah and mitzvos. They make a career out of painting ehrliche Yidden as backward, insensitive and unsophisticated people who are incapable of their own refined sensibilities. If we learn, we are parasites. If we work, we cheat. If we own a business, we take advantage of our employees. Somehow no matter what we do, we are depicted as being dishonest, careless and heartless.

We must have the courage to stand up to people who seek to undermine us. We have to follow Yisro’s example and not be afraid to withstand the ridicule of the cynical scoffers, as we endeavor to live of life of truth.

The posuk (19:5-6) states, “Im shomoa tishmeu bekoli - If you will follow My word and heed the Torah, you will be treasured to Me from all the nations of the world. Ve’atem tihiyu li mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh - And you will be unto Me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”

No matter what we encounter, we must follow the precepts of the Torah. We must honor the interests of the poor and the downtrodden, be honest in all our dealings, seek to be mekadeish Sheim Shomayim in all we do, remain loyal to each other and to the laws of the Torah and the land.

We must know and remember that America is a gift from Hashem. Never in our history has there been as charitable and welcome a host as this country. We came here as poor refugees, streaming in to escape pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust. Barely surviving, we limped in. With the help and backing of this magnificent country, we have become a thriving community. We must always remember to be thankful for the opportunities and freedoms offered us.

Based on Kabbalistic sources, the Vilna Gaon describes how the neshomah of Klal Yisroel, the Torah itself, left the collective body of our nation at the time of the churban Bais Hamikdosh. The structure of the body remained, and through years of golus, it has been slowly rotting, its bones decaying. The longer we are in golus, the more we lose. During the period leading up to the geulah, the Torah slowly returns to us and we get our breath back. When Moshiach comes, the neshomah of Am Yisroel will once again be invested in us and we will flourish as before.

We, keepers of the sacred covenant, look forward to returning the Torah to its home, when the neshomah of our people will return to its guf and the weary body of Am Yisroel will be resurrected.

As we deal with the twin destinies of Am Yisroel, greatness engendering enmity, exile begetting deliverance, and the ongoing battles of Amaleik, we await the collective and personal Krias Yam Suf, may it take place speedily in our day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Jewish History

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Beshalach is an ode to a nation being formed through trial and tribulation. The Jews faithfully followed Hashem’s direction out of Mitzrayim and into the desert, “lechteich acharai bamidbar,” marching from the depths of slavery to the heights of Kabbolas HaTorah.

Yet, there are some issues that require explanation. Following the makkos and the exit of the Jews from Mitzrayim, Paroh and his nation chased after their former slaves, catching up with them on the banks of the Red Sea.

Had Paroh and his people not learned their lesson? Had they not experienced enough bitterness and pain at the hands of the G-d of the Jewish people? Had they not recognized that they are no match for the G-d of the Jews, having lost every showdown with His nation? Why did they chase after the Jews? What made them think that they would be able to subjugate them once again?

Paroh’s chase after the Jews is explained by the posuk (Shemos 14:4) in which Hashem had told Moshe that He would harden Paroh’s heart and cause him to chase after the Jews in order to bring about a kiddush Hashem. But what about the Mitzriyim? Why were they engaging in yet another doomed attempt to vanquish the Jews? Anyone with minimal intelligence could have concluded that the Jews would triumph, as they had repeatedly in the past. Why engage in a suicidal mission?

While perhaps we can understand that the Mitzriyim were charmed by Paroh into engaging in this suicidal mission, how do we explain the behavior of the Jews? As Paroh and his people came closer to them, they let out a hue and a cry. They assaulted Moshe (Shemos 14:11-12), saying, “Are there not enough graves in Mitzrayim that you brought us here to die in the desert? We already told you in Mitzrayim that we would prefer working for Mitzrayim rather than dying in the desert.”

These were the very same people who just a few days prior had been delivered from the clutches of Mitzrayim. They had partaken in the Korban Pesach, they heard Hashem’s promises about their future in the Promised Land, and they answered their children’s questions, as prescribed by the posuk. These were the same people being led by the protective Anan Hashem during the day and the Amud Aish at night.

Why were they fearful? How could they have sunk so quickly to express no confidence in Hashem’s ability to save them from Paroh?

We commonly understand avodah zorah as the inane worship of an inanimate statue or human being. Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l (Ikvisa D’Meshicha) explains that avodah zorah is actually embracing any concept or attitude that causes one to believe in a power or force other than Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Any belief that distracts a person from Hashem’s complete mastery over creation is avodah zorah.

The Mitzriyim who followed Paroh to encircle the Jews and capture them and the Jews who complained that they were about to die in the desert had something in common, as Chazal teach us. “Hallalu ovdei avodah zorah, vehallalu ovdei avodah zorah.” Both were worshippers of avodah zorah.

While it seems silly to fashion a god out of stone and worship it as if it has powers, worshiping a false deity has many seeming advantages, for it frees people from obligations. To have recognized the power of Hashem would have obligated the Mitzriyim to follow His principles. Acknowledging that Hashem is indeed the Creator of the world and Omnipresent means that His Torah is the blueprint for the world and for man.

The Egyptian legends and myths were much easier to accept than a truth that came with a code of proper conduct.

The Jews were at the 49th level of tumah and under the influence of the Mitzriyim. As obvious as it may be to us in hindsight, as objective observers, it was very difficult for the Jews to shake lose the preposterous suppositions that they had become accustomed to. Prior to Krias Yam Suf, they still found it difficult to accept upon themselves the Divine code of conduct and fashioned imprudent postulations to explain their predicaments.

At the splitting of the sea, the Jewish people rose to a very high level, recognizing Hashem’s strength and singing shirah. Chazal say that at that time, “a maidservant witnessed greater visions at the sea than the prophet Yechezkel ben Buzi ever saw.” It would appear that when they attained those heights, they overcame their weaknesses and would remain in awe of Hashem’s mastery of the world.

Yet, the same people lifted from the depths of impurity, who witnessed the open revelation of Hashem’s Presence and cried out, “Zeh Keili ve’anveihu,” seemed to fall ever so quickly.

Their plunge was as dramatic as their rise. Three days after the climax, they were again complaining (Shemos 15:22), crying out, “Mah nishteh? What will we drink?” as if Hashem had brought them there for them to die of thirst (Shemos 15:24).

Hashem’s answer is revealing. The posuk (ibid. 26) states that they were told, “If you listen to Hashem and do what is proper in His eyes, and follow His mitzvos and chukim, I will not place upon you the illnesses I placed upon Mitzrayim, for I am Hashem, your healer.”

Their complaint about the lack of water emanated from a lack of belief. Hashem’s response was to remind them of their obligations as people of belief. If they would totally forsake their mythical beliefs, Hashem would be their protector. Although they knew the truth of Hashem, they began to slip back into the clutches of avodah zorah because of its convenience.

Avodah zorah is akin to drug addiction. Although it is obvious that the drugs do not help the person’s situation, instead creating fictitious realities that cause the addict to be drawn into a downward spiral, the freedom from obligation and reality is a very enticing a panacea, making it difficult to overcome.

With that incident behind them, they began moving, only to once again fall from their lofty plateau and complain that Moshe and Aharon were leading them to a painful death of starvation. They claimed that their life in Mitzrayim was idyllic, with prime beef and luscious bread.

What happened? Where had the tangible emunah disappeared to?

Once again, they were experiencing the ebb and flow of addicts. It was proving difficult for them to accept upon themselves the discipline that comes from recognizing Hashem. Their emunah and bitachon suffered, because they lacked the courage and fortitude to completely accept the restraint and regulation that accompany the acceptance of the fact that Hashem is the Creator.

The nisyonos faced by the Dor Dei’ah are just as daunting to our generation today. We don’t worship little idols and other vacuous trivialities, but we are tempted by other avodah zorahs. People worship money and fame, power and influence. They delude themselves with fictitious beliefs so that they can engage in physical pleasures. Anything that negates the fact that Hashem controls the world is a form of idol worship and avodah zorah. Every Jew recoils in horror at the thought of avodah zorah, yet we tread dangerously close when we attribute actions to forces other than Hashem.

Society has adopted the theory put forward by Charles Darwin that the world created itself and animals evolved from shapeless matter into living, breathing beings. Everything you see in our beautiful world, they say, arrived there by itself. The millions of atoms required to form one being somehow managed to arrange themselves in that way to become trees, flowers, birds and all of humanity. The very idea is preposterous.

To think that a human, or any part of him, could have come into existence by itself defies logic. Flowers created their multiple shapes, sizes and colors all by themselves? How can it be? Who can really believe that? The truth is that no one can, but people do anyway, for doing so frees them from being subservient to a Divine code of conduct.

Dr. Henry Marsh, a British neurosurgeon, is one of the pioneers of a procedure called “awake craniotomy,” allowing the removal of certain brain tumors while a patient is awake.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, a Norwegian author, was allowed to witness one such operation. His account was translated for The New York Times.

He writes that one of the operating doctors “looked up from a microscope that was suspended over the brain and turned to me… ‘Do you want to have a look?’ he asked.

“I nodded.

“The doctor stepped aside, and I bent down over the microscope.

“Oh G-d.

“A landscape opened up before me. I felt as if I were standing on top of a mountain, gazing out over a plain covered by long, meandering rivers. On the horizon, more mountains rose up. Between them, there were valleys, and one of the valleys was covered by an enormous white glacier. Everything is gleaming and glittered. It was as if I had been transported to another world, another part of the universe. One river was purple, the others were dark red, and the landscape they coursed through was full of strange, unfamiliar colors. But it was the glacier that held my gaze the longest. It lay like a plateau above the valley, sharply white, like mountain snow on a sunny day. I had never seen anything quite as beautiful, and when I straightened up and moved aside to make room for the doctor, for a moment my eyes were glazed with tears.”

Yet, scientists, intellectuals, common people and lawmakers have the audacity to say that the brain created itself. There is nothing as beautiful as this organ, rarely seen by human eyes. The brain is merely one organ of millions, and its beauty and intricacy are mind-boggling. Imagine if you factor in the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon, the beauty and grandeur of every component of the world, the intricacy of a leaf and a blade of grass, and insects and the cosmos.

How can anyone who knows anything about anything in this world mock creationists?

It is hedonistic urges that drive people to Darwinism.

The Chazon Ish taught that a necessary component of greatness is to always be objective. It might seem obvious, but to be free of negius means to be firmly committed to the ramifications of emunah. Great people are entrenched in their faith and aren’t dissuaded by temptations of money or power, since they know that everything comes from Hashem. If they are deserving of something, they do not have to obtain it through subterfuge.

When they investigate an issue, when they are consulted for advice and direction, their judgment can be relied upon.

A group of assimilated students once approached the Alter of Novardok, wishing to discuss finer points of religious ideology. He agreed to have the conversation, but said he would talk to them only after they had spent a month studying in his yeshiva.

He explained his decision with the following parable: A simple person was walking along the street on a Shabbos afternoon when he saw a golden coin. He needed the money badly and began to find ways, according to halachah, to permit moving the coin on Shabbos. His reasoning was quite creative, and he was satisfied with his conclusions and kicked the coin step by step as he walked down the street towards his home.

The town banker was taking his Shabbos afternoon stroll and noticed the gentleman kicking a coin as he walked. He bent down to examine the coin. When he straightened up, there was a frown on his face. “I hate to break it to you, mister,” he said. “That coin is copper, not gold. It’s worth pachos mishoveh prutah.”

Suddenly, all the heteirim vanished and the man sulked away, shuffling his tired feet home. His excitement was dashed and he was done with his creative halachic reasoning.

The Alter of Novardok turned to the group. “That’s the truth for everything that captures us. If it holds value, then our reasoning is impacted and we are unable to think clearly. Only when we get rid of our misconceptions can we appreciate our errors and honestly examine the issues.

“As much as I would like to help you in your thinking, it would be a waste of time for me to speak with you while you are still held captive by the allure of your culture and philosophy. After you have spent some time in yeshiva and your minds are cleared, I will be happy to talk.”

It is only at the very end of the parsha that a change seems to overcome Am Yisroel, and for many parshiyos they do not rebel against Hashem.

As Amaleik descended upon the Jewish people, something changed. Moshe, Aharon, Yehoshua and Chur led the charge against Amaleik. When Moshe raised his hands, the Jews advanced in their battle. The Mishnah teaches that when the Jews put their faith in the One Above and davened for victory, they won.

The parsha ends as Hashem instructs to write down the story of Amaleik’s attack and to know that Hashem will erase the memory of Amaleik. However, that realization will wait until Moshiach’s arrival, for until then, we will face attacks from Amaleik in every generation.

Amaleik sensed a lack of emunah and pounced. They saw a void and sought to expose it and take advantage of it. The nation of asher korcha baderech worked assiduously to tamp down the fires of faith.

When the members of Klal Yisroel asserted themselves, they emerged stronger than ever. They believed with a new certainty and focus not just that Hashem runs the world, but also that everything else is just a distraction from that reality.

The encounter with Amaleik served to tighten their embrace with Hashem and bring them closer to Har Sinai. Similarly, in every generation, when Amaleik attacks us, he causes us to reaffirm our beliefs and turn to Hashem. This is why Hashem promises that our arch-enemy will be ever-present until the redemption. We need him in order to remain loyal to Hashem.

As we adapt to our host country in the exile, people grow comfortable with surroundings and begin assimilating and adopting the prevalent avodah zorahs. When that happens, the nations get fed up with us, anti-Semitism reappears, and Jews are reminded who we are and where we come from.

Check our history and you will see that it is true. The Jews are forced from their homes to a new exile. There is much pain and anguish. Jews are mercilessly killed and robbed of their possessions. Beaten and barely holding on, they establish roots in a new country. Slowly, they spread out of their ghettos and gradually become accepted and comfortable in the new host country. Good times are had by all, but then, just as it seems as if Moshiach has come and brought us home, the cycle begins again. The goyim get fed up with us, the noose tightens, and, before we know it, Amaleik has us on the run again.

This time it is different, for we have been told that America will be the final stop in this exile. When we leave here, it will be to go with Moshiach to Eretz Yisroel. We must ensure that our faith remains firm, that our objectivity holds us in place, and that we don’t veer off the path.

Amaleik is ever-present, bombarding us daily with challenges, moral, legal and ethical. He seeks to temp us with various avodah zorahs. In the spirit of “asher korcha,” he seeks to cool us from extreme devotion and dikduk b’mitzvos with different guises and nomenclatures. Sometimes, they sound intelligent and sophisticated, while at other times, they are directed at man’s baser temptations.

When something comes along that can lead to chillul Hashem, we should know to stay far away and not get involved with it. When people begin doubting halachah or mesorah; when people throw up roadblocks to shemiras hamitzvos; when they mock our values and talmidei chachomim, seeking to adapt Torah to other cultures and religions; when they say that we must be more open-minded or accepting, we should recognize the voice of Amaleik.

To survive, we must remain faithful to our mesorah, unyielding in our devotion to Torah, untempted by anything that introduces foreign beliefs, and support the hands of the Moshe Rabbeinus of our generation with emunah, bitachon, tefillah and humility. By doing so, we will merit the final geulah, bemeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Words to Touch and Inspire

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As we study Parshas Bo, we note that the pesukim and narratives of this parsha comprise many of the words and stories intrinsic to our faith, which combine to mold the drama and excitement of the Seder night.

On that night, every father is charged with imparting not only the stories, but also the eternal messages and lessons that emanate from our experiences in Golus Mitzrayim, and our deliverance from there, which formed us into the am hanivchor.

The Ramban famously teaches that Parshas Bo is the guidebook of emunas Yisroel, which is the foundation of our belief throughout the ages. Interestingly, besides for Yetzias Mitzrayim being the bedrock of our faith, within the account of Yetzias Mitzrayim we find important chinuch lessons and timeless truths about how to maximize the potential of every Jewish child.

It is in regard to the mitzvah of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim that the Torah charges each father to be a mechaneich, invested with a sacred task of inspiring his children. The Rambam (Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 7:2) writes that it is incumbent upon fathers to teach children about Yetzias Mitzrayim, and a father should teach his children according to each child’s level.

Several pesukim in the parsha discuss how to teach our children about the importance of Yetzias Mitzrayim and its connection to the mitzvos we observe on Pesach.

The Torah discusses diverse questions that various types of children may pose. A different response is suggested for each type of child. Rashi quotes the Mechilta and the Yerushalmi in Pesachim that state, “Dibrah Torah keneged arbaah bonim.”

The Baal Haggadah says, “Keneged arbaah bonim dibrah Torah,” the Torah speaks about four different types of sons who question our Pesach observances. There is the wise, the wicked, the ignorant and the one who is so simple that he cannot even express his questions.

It is interesting to note that the Haggadah introduces this concept by stating, “Boruch haMakom boruch hu, boruch shenosan Torah le’amo Yisroel.” Hashem is to be praised for giving us the Torah - “keneged arbaah bonim dibrah Torah.” We praise Hashem for giving us the Torah, which speaks - and is relevant - to different types of children and people.

The Torah provides an answer for each child. While every father wants to be blessed with smart, all-knowing, well-behaved children, when his offspring don’t necessarily turn out that way, the Torah provides the language with which to reach every type of child. As frustrated as he must feel, a father of such a child doesn’t have the option of ignoring or speaking roughly to him.

Every person is born with the potential for greatness. Should he unfortunately be detoured from his mission, we never abandon him. The Torah requires us to reach out to him and respond to his queries in a language that he can understand.

Every talmid has the potential to become a gadol b’Yisroel if he is properly nurtured and allowed to develop. There are many stories of boys who were considered average in their youth and developed into famed gedolim. Sometimes it was a rebbi who took an interest in them and reached deep into their untapped greatness. Other times, a student’s stubborn dedication to learning allowed the intelligence to develop. In other cases, it was caused by the tefillos of a budding talmid chochom desperately pleading, “Choneinu mei’itcha deah binah vehaskeil.”

This is the depth of the posuk in Mishlei that states, “Chanoch lanaar al pi darko.” The premise of that advice is that every child has a derech. There is a distinct path to the heart of every child. There are no people who cannot be reached when the language and approach meant for them are utilized.

In this week’s parsha, we are reminded that the Torah speaks to every person. We have to heed that message and seek to speak to every Jew in a way that he can understand and accept.

Communication seems to be a lost art, but if we want people to appreciate our way of life, if we want to have a better chance of our children following in our ways, and if we want to have a positive impact on those around us and on the world in general, we have to improve our communication skills. We have to learn how to think clearly and articulate our thoughts cogently, verbally and in writing.

If we want to influence the debate, we have to understand the questions that are being posed and respond to them in a way that the questioner can understand. How many times do we attend a speech, only to hear the same stories repeated? People tire of them and are turned off.

Too often, we act as if we are in an echo chamber, repeatedly mouthing the same platitudes and wondering why our points are not getting across. Often, this happens because we do not take the time and expend the effort to understand the mentality of the people we are seeking to influence. Thus, our arguments fail, either because we are not properly addressing their concerns or because our logic is communicated in a language and with methods that people do not relate to. Effective communication means understanding not only the topic, but also the thought process and the value system of the people we are addressing. We don’t take the time to prepare what we want to say and how to say it so that it will resonate with the audience.

Moshe Rabbeinu was not a gifted orator; in fact, he was quite the opposite. His koach was b’peh, but not because he wowed people with his oratory skills. He convinced his audience with the content of his words, not by the way he expressed them. He influenced people with the strength of his arguments.

The Drashos Haran says that the Ribbono Shel Olam caused Moshe Rabbeinu to stutter so that it would be evident that his successful transmission of the Torah to Klal Yisroel was due to the effectiveness and potency of his message and not his speaking style.

The Chofetz Chaim taught through speaking and writing in simple, plain language. Anyone who heard Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach’s urgent flow of words, and his passion and intensity compensating for a lack of elocution, saw that his effectiveness had less to do with the medium than the message. He cared, so his words were accepted in the spirit in which they were said.

There is no match for genuine concern. A good educator succeeds when he views each student with an appreciation that there is a language and path that can reach his soul and tailors the message accordingly.

Just this week, Yeshiva Darchei Torah honored Rav Yaakov Bender for his forty years of chinuch leadership in that world famous institution. Rav Bender epitomizes the ability to reach and inspire each child. He demonstrates that children taught with love and care can grow and flourish. This recognition was richly deserved and serves to inspire others to aspire to attain that level of success in imparting Torah and its lessons to the next generation.

Just as there are arbaah bonim, four sons, there are also four expressions, arba leshonos, of geulah. Perhaps this is a hint that in order to bring about the ultimate geulah, we have to use the proper language for every type of child. If we only speak in one lashon, we will not succeed in reaching everyone and we will not succeed in bringing about the geulah. The geulah is dependent upon everyone’s devotion to the mitzvos of the Torah.

Golus Mitzrayim was preordained to last 400 years. When that time period concluded, the geulah arrived, despite the state of the Jewish people at that time. The golus in which we now find ourselves, Golus Edom, has no known expiration date.

The redemption depends on us, our dedication to Torah, our emunah and bitachon, and, mostly, our teshuvah. It is only when Klal Yisroel does teshuvah that Hashem will bring us Moshiach and the geulah.

With the right words, we can change the world, providing strength, humility, wisdom, joy, resilience, pride and, ultimately, the redemption.

The yeitzer hora is a crafty enemy. Because he understands our motivations, he is able to outsmart us. For us to perceive the plainly evident truth is an epic struggle, for he shades and colors the way we understand what is happening around us and goads us to react in ways that harm us.

He uses words and ideas that paint negative actions as positive ones and causes us to view positive accomplishments with negativity and cynicism. He tells us that not all who wander are lost and endeavors to remove our focus from the goal.

The skewered reality, representing the value system of the alma deshikra in which we live, has been on display since the 2016 election season.

Unhappy with the way that election turned out, the media has been gearing up ever since for the next election. There is almost no reporting on how President Trump has positively affected the economy. The stock market sets new records almost daily, last week the Dow hit 25,000 and this week it passed the 26,000 mark. Don’t expect to see any headlines about it.  

The reformed tax system has just gone into effect and is already putting more money into the pockets of workers. Instead of focusing on the historic swing in the economy, the media reports on liberal states where Trump’s reform will have little impact on homeowners.

The country is rebuilding its army and defense abilities, which had been weakened under the last president. American prestige is rising and consumer confidence is moving up. The GDP is up, unemployment is down. Black unemployment is at the lowest level in many years. But you’d never know any of that if you depend on the mainstream media for your news and information. All you’d know is that the president colluded with Russia to get elected, is a racist, bigoted nut.

There is a constant drumbeat that the president is mentally deranged, because it works. There is probably nobody left in the country who believes that Trump is playing with a full deck. The difference is that some overlook that flaw in favor of the many aspects of Trump’s agenda that are proving to be greatly beneficial to the country.

The media pounds propaganda into people’s psyches until the public accepts it. Mainstream politicians are so scared of saying something that one group or another will find offensive that they fear saying the truth. There is rarely any intellectual honesty displayed. Everything has to fit into a convenient politically-correct box.

But that doesn’t work for us as a people. If we want to reach people with questions and prevent them from going OTD, we have to be open and honest. We have to learn how to address our own issues using real solutions and honest ideas, not noise or sound-bites. What we need is practical direction, not grandstanding for the glory of the moment or fanciful thinking that has no application to reality.

It is far easier to deliver big speeches and to propose sweeping changes than to sit far from the limelight and develop a workable solution. Clearly thought-out approaches will have a lasting salutary effect on the community long after the speech has been forgotten.

Fighting battles of yesteryear will cause us to lose today’s battles. Seeking to be mechaneich children with the wrong methods causes them to be turned off.

A mechaneich traveled from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak to consult with the Chazon Ish on chinuch matters. Before he had a chance to begin speaking, the Chazon Ish turned to him and said, “I see on your face that you are not happy. You need to know that it is impossible to reach children without simcha. It is impossible.”

We have to reach the proper level of happiness, and learn the correct words, proper language and various leshonos with which to reach different people. Fathers will then reach their sons - veheishiv lev avos al bonim velev bonim al avosam.

We will raise a generation of satisfied, good people, and together - parents and children, teachers and students - we will greet Moshiach, bimeheirah biyomeinu.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Charge Your Spirit

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Velo shomu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah” (Shemos 6:9). The Jews in Mitzrayim refused to listen to the comforting words of Moshe.

Try to imagine the scene. Moshe Rabbeinu was tending to his flock in the wilderness, when he beheld the extraordinary sight of a bush aflame. He paused to consider what was transpiring, as he wondered how it could be that the fire was burning but the bush wasn’t being consumed.

Like his ancestor Avrohom Avinu, who studied the world and concluded that it could not have come into being by itself, as the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 39:1) relates, Moshe perceived that the Creator was announcing His Presence through the bush. He recognized that what he was seeing was a defining moment in his life.

While Moshe was standing at the bush, the Ribbono Shel Olam addressed him, stating that he was selected for a lofty mission, with a mandate to save His people.

Exultant, following his long conversation with Hashem and bearing the knowledge that the painful enslavement would soon end, Moshe went to share the good news with his brethren, who had been suffering for as long as any of them could remember. He stood before them and spoke words that they had been waiting to hear: “Higia zeman geulaschem - The time of your redemption has arrived.”

Tragically, almost unbelievably, the enslaved heirs of the avos to whom Hashem had previously appeared didn’t listen.

Velo shomu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah.

A family consisting of seventy people came to a foreign country due to a hunger in their native land of Eretz Yisroel. They were led at the time by their grandfather, Yaakov, and his twelve sons. Things took a turn for the worse, and as the family grew, they became the subject of increasing hatred. Eventually, they were subjugated as slaves to the king and his people.

The slaves knew who they were, where they had come from, and how they had arrived in that country. They were well aware of the promises Hashem made to their forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov.

They were certainly encouraged by the fact that Hashem had promised their forebears that while their grandchildren would be tormented by a foreign power, they would then be released. They knew who Moshe Rabbeinu was. They knew his yichus. They knew that he grew up in Paroh’s palace.

Incarcerated people are generally desperate for any glimmer of hope. They trade rumors and stories that give them support and help them think that their freedom is around the corner. As we study this week’s parsha, we wonder why it was that when Moshe appeared and told them that the long-awaited redemption was at hand, and he expressed the four leshonos of geulah, the posuk states that the Jews didn’t listen to him.

We wonder how it could be that the suppressed people did not take heed and comfort from Moshe’s message.

The posuk says that the reason they didn’t listen to Moshe’s prophecy was “mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah.” Rashi explains that the posuk is saying that the enslaved people were like a distressed person who suffers from shortness of breath. In other words, they didn’t listen to Moshe because of their terrible situation and hard work.

The Ramban says that their failure to accept Moshe’s words was not because they didn’t believe in Hashem and Moshe, but because they were in terrible pain - kotzer ruach - and feared that Paroh would kill them. Umei’avodah kashah refers to the fact that their supervisors tormented them and didn’t let them pay attention to what was being said. They weren’t given the luxury of a moment’s peace to be able to listen.

Clear and direct as these explanations are, we still wonder what the people thought about as they dragged their exhausted bodies to their tents each night. Peace of mind or not, didn’t something sink in? Didn’t they wonder about Moshe and what he foretold? When they lay their emaciated bodies down to sleep, didn’t they think that perhaps there was something to Moshe’s prophecy? Why didn’t they give what he said a chance? Maybe, just maybe, there was something to what he had said.

Moshe Rabbeinu addressed the Bnei Yisroel with a Divine message of redemption. The four expressions of geulah refer to a physical and spiritual redemption from the tumah of Mitzrayim. Moshe quoted Hashem saying that he would rescue the Jews and adopt them as his nation. He would take them from the golus of avdus and raise them to the highest levels of kedusha. They couldn’t accept Moshe’s nevuah.

Man is blessed with three levels, nefesh, ruach and neshomah. The lowest level is nefesh, which refers to man’s physical attributes. Ruach relates to matters of speech. Neshomah is the highest spiritual level of man.

Perhaps we can thus understand the posuk that explains why the Bnei Yisroel were not heartened by Moshe’s prophesy. Their avodah kashah, hard physical labor, caused an inability to listen, as the physicality of nefesh overpowered the spirituality of neshomah, and caused a weakness in the attribute of ruach.

Their avodah kashah prevented them from studying Torah and being involved in the spiritual aspects of life. With their spiritual side impoverished, their spiritual ruach was impacted.

Their spirit was dead. With no spirit, there is no room for life.

When the spirit dies, the body becomes numb. With no spirit, there is neither stirring nor hope.

A person who has become enveloped in apathy, depression and despair cannot be reached before having his spirit restored.

In order to hear words of tanchumim, and to be able to understand what the novi is telling you and to anticipate freedom, a person has to have ruach.

As Rashi says, one who is short of breath cannot accept words of comfort. That shortness is brought about by a deficiency in Torah and avodah (tefillah).

This is the explanation of the statement of Chazal that says, “Ein lecha ben chorin ela mi she’oseik baTorah.” The free man is the one who is engrossed in Torah study. One who spends his time learning Torah becomes receptive to freedom, growth and happiness. One who studies Torah is blessed in all his bechinos. To the degree that a person subjugates his nefesh to his neshomah, he is able to gain happiness, pleasure and ruach rechovah.

The Mishnah teaches, “Kol halomeid Torah lishmah zocheh ledevorim harbeh - One who learns Torah merits many blessings” (Avos 6). One of the rewards of a lomeid lishmah is “kol ha’olam kulo kedai hu lo.” The literal understanding of the Mishnah is that the entire world was worth being created just for him.

Darshonim expound on that reward. What type of reward is it for him that the whole world was created for him? To answer that question, they explain the Mishnah to mean that the entire world is “kedai,” worthwhile, to such a person. He enjoys every experience. He lives every moment to its fullest and derives maximum satisfaction from each encounter, because Torah uplifts and expands a person to the point where every moment of life is worth celebrating and taking seriously.

Like every posuk in the Torah, this posuk is recorded for posterity to instruct and guide us. The words and their lessons remain relevant for eternity. The tale of the people too washed up to hear the words they had been awaiting for more than two hundred years is relevant to us in our day.

Jews live in a state of constant anticipation, always awaiting good news. We all carry a sense of expectancy, viewing the events around us through eyes that look beyond them, our ears listening for the footsteps of the redeemer, whose arrival will signal that our troubles are over.

The sun shines brightly, though at times its rays are concealed by clouds. We have to possess the ability to see beyond the clouds to the light and warmth of the sun.

Few things are more disturbing than encountering bitter people. Surrounded by opportunity and blessing, they insist on concentrating on the negatives. Such myopic people remain locked in by the inability to see beyond the sadness that envelopes them. They are unable to dream of a better day or of working to achieve lasting accomplishments. They can’t acknowledge greatness in others, nor do they possess the self-confidence to achieve anything themselves.

There is so much goodness in our world. There is much to be happy about and proud of, yet too many are consumed by pessimism, concentrating on the bad news and failing to see the entire picture.

Why the negativity? Why the constant harping on what is wrong without appreciating the good?

The process of learning Torah and avodas hamussar is meant to train us to see the tov. We are to acquire an ayin tovah that allows us to discern the good in what we have and to appreciate the goodness that abounds. In order to be good Jews, we have to be happy with the present and positive about the future. If we aren’t, it is an indication of how much we are lacking in the study of Torah and mussar. We have to know that everything that transpires is brought about by Hashem, for a higher purpose that we can’t always explain.

Torah and mussar keep a person who studies them active, optimistic, energetic and positive. They shape an individual into a mentch, a person who respects others and is worthy of respect himself.

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (6:9) explains that the reason the Jews in Mitzrayim were not able to listen to Moshe was because they were not bnei Torah. Torah broadens a person’s heart, he says. Had they been bnei Torah, they would have been receptive to Moshe’s message. We, who have been granted the gift of Torah, have no excuse for not being open to hearing the words of the Moshe Rabbeinus of our generation and those who seek to improve our lots and help us prepare ourselves for the geulah.

Kotzer ruach is brought about by not learning Torah. Elevating ruach to its highest form by learning Torah doesn’t only add to the power of speech, but enhances every aspect of life. As Dovid Hamelech says, “Toras Hashem temimah meshivas nofesh.” Torah restores the sunken nefesh of the person, as well as his energy and joy.

All through the ages, we have been victimized by angry, desperate people. Yet, we have endured. How have we battled back? What is the secret that enables us to remain strong and confident and successful despite having so many enemies and Kalashnikovs aimed at us?

Through learning Torah, we lift our spirits. Our neshomah becomes strengthened and overrules the nefesh. As our enemies try to snuff out our ruach, we respond with more chiyus, more energy, and more toil.

When Hashem asked Moshe to tell Paroh the message of deliverance of the Jewish people, Moshe demurred. “The Jewish people didn’t listen to me. How will Paroh?” he asked (Shemos 6:12). Rashi states that this is one of the ten instances in the Torah where a kal vachomer is used.

The question is obvious. The posuk explains that the Bnei Yisroel didn’t listen to Moshe because of kotzer ruach and avodah kashah. However, Paroh, who was safely ensconced in his comfortable palace, didn’t have those limitations, so why was Moshe convinced that Paroh wouldn’t listen to his arguments?

If we understand kotzer ruach as referring to a lack of Torah and the madreigah of ruach, then the argument is quite understandable. The Bnei Yisroel, heirs to a golden tradition, were weakened in their study of Torah and thus unreceptive to messages of freedom and spirit. Paroh, who never benefitted from this tradition and never studied Torah, would surely be unable to be sympathetic to a tender humanitarian message of opportunity.

We cry out in Selichos, “Veruach kodshecha al tikach mimeni - Hashem, please don’t remove Your holy spirit from me.” We can explain that the prayer is also a request that our ruach, spirit, remain holy and blessed, infused with Torah.

We seek to merit the brachos of the novi Yeshayahu (59:21), who prophesied, “Ruchi asher alecha udvorai asher samti beficha lo yomushu mipicha umipi zaracha umipi zera zaracha mei’atah ve’ad olam - May that spirit of Hashem that rests upon the lomeid Torah never fade from our mouths, from those of our children, and their children.”

We are currently in the teshuvah and growth period known as Shovavim, given its name by the acronym of the parshiyos we lain during this period, from Shemos through Mishpotim. As we read these parshiyos about Klal Yisroel’s descent into Mitzrayim and redemption, we are enabled to escape our personal prisons and enslavement.

Repentance is brought about through acts of charity, fasting and affliction. Ameilus baTorah, intense Torah study, also has the power to cleanse and purify. Shovavim is as good a time as any to add fervor and zeal to our learning.

We have to breathe in deeply and fight for each breath, because we are living in an era when ruach is in short supply. We exist in a state of mikotzer ruach.

We have to work harder to lift our nefesh, ruach and neshomah to higher and broader levels so that we can breathe easier, safer and longer, meriting the geulas hanefesh and geulas haguf bekarov through Torah.

We are in the final moments before the arrival of Moshiach. The chevlei Moshiach are difficult and painful. We await the day when they give birth to the end of the siege of this exile.

Reb Aron Pernikoff spent most of his time at the Montreal Community Kollel. Though he didn’t enjoy an easy life, he exuded a certain tranquil joy, a loftiness and chashivus.

Reb Aron would quote the posuk in Tehillim that tells of the tragic descent of the Bnei Yisroel into golus after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh.Al naharos Bavel, shom yoshavnu gam bochinu bezochreinu es Tzion - We sat and wept by the rivers of Bavel when we recalled Yerushalayim. Al aravim besocha talinu kinoroseinu - We hung our harps in the willow trees which grew at the river.”

He would ask, “Where did the exiled Jews have harps from?” When people go into exile, barely escaping with their lives, they take with them only bare necessities. “How did they have harps with them?” he would wonder.

He would answer, “A Yid knows that no matter where he is going, no matter how bleak the landscape ahead is, there will always be reason to sing. They took their musical instruments along in anticipation of those opportunities.”

There are always things happening in our world that give cause for shirah. Let us be on the lookout for them and appreciate them when they come to pass.

We are still exulting in the release of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. Those who have followed Sholom Mordechai’s story in these pages over the last decade know that he used his years behind bars as an opportunity to sing in the darkness of golus. In his writings and with those he conversed during that trying period, he joyously and repeatedly pledged allegiance to the ideals of eitz chaim hee lamachazikim bah, demonstrating that his daunting nisayon hadn’t dimmed his ahavas Hashem or his hope for a brighter future.

When we learn this week’s parsha and read the posuk of “Velo shomu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah,” let us ensure that we aren’t guilty of “velo shomu el Moshe.” Moshe’s word is the Torah. It is enduring and binding, and listening to it means keeping our ears tilted to hear the sounds of imminent geulah and open to the besoros tovos that are all around us.

Let us not grow so despondent about our situation that we can’t hear and see the good that is prevalent. Let us see the good in all that Hashem does. Let us celebrate the goodness experienced by others and ourselves. Let us look for the good and appreciate it, instead of being cynical and negative.

Doing so will cause us to be happier, more productive, and ready for the geulah, may it be bekarov.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Keep Achdus Alive

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Iran is back in the news again, as its citizens muster up the courage to protest against the crushing regime. The Iranian threat has dominated headlines for several years now, with its radical, irrational leaders pursuing a nuclear weapon with the ability to exterminate Israel. Jews and freedom-lovers the world over fear that Iran is on the precipice of realizing its ambition, and have serious concerns about the safety of the citizens of Eretz Yisroel.

Iran supports terror groups across the Middle East and is at Israel’s border in Lebanon and Syria. Their plans keep military planners up at night. Iran and its allies represent a serious threat to Eretz Yisroel. But Rav Michel Stern, a prominent Yerushalmi boki in niglah and nistar, says that Iran is not our biggest problem. He says that the lack of achdus is much more dangerous than what is going on in Iran.

Peirud, division, represents a more lethal threat than Iran.

Achdus is something we often discuss, and last week we saw how beautiful our world is when there is unity. Virtually all of Klal Yisroel was troubled by Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin’s excessive sentence. Jews everywhere davened for him, thought about him, cared about him, and followed his saga. And when he was suddenly freed during the last minutes of Chanukah, Jews with love in their hearts and achdus in their souls broke into spontaneous celebration. With few sorry exceptions, we showed that we can come together and that we are more united than we know.

We were awash in good feelings as we realized that despite all we have been through and despite our differences, we felt as one. The euphoria that washed over us provided hope that going forward we can maintain the state of togetherness and accomplish much together.

This week, we begin the study of Sefer Shemos, also referred to as the Sefer Hageulah. It charts the course of our nation from the bitterness of bondage through the thrill of redemption. Sefer Shemos traces our progress from the lowest depths to the greatest heights, from the harrowing dangers of drowning in the Red Sea to the climax of creation at Har Sinai.

The way we act towards others impacts our souls and proclaims what kind of people we are. If we are cognizant and appreciative of others, it helps us. We become better people and can work to achieve achdus and accomplish much more with our lives.

By Hashem’s design, human beings are unable to see success if they work only for themselves. It is only as a community and as a member of a group that we can endure. From the time we are born until the very end, we can only survive if we are connected to other people. As infants, we need everything to be done for us. Even as we grow and become more independent, most everything that we require for our daily existence is provided by others.

Arrogant, unappreciative people refuse to recognize that as great as they are, without the contributions and help of other people, they would be hungry, unloved, homeless, illiterate and without much to live for. Everything that we know and everything that we have is thanks to someone who took the trouble to teach us and equip us with the essentials of life and good health.

It is impossible for a person to be totally independent and live a meaningful life. Those who cause peirud engage in anti-social behavior that is detrimental not only to the broader community, but also to themselves.

In order to maintain our humility and mentchlichkeit, the Torah gives us many mitzvos to ingrain in our psyches awareness of this world’s abundant blessings and the goodness with which Hashem showers us.

No matter where we are and what we are trying to accomplish, it is crucial that we remain focused on the goal - not the immediate victory, but the ultimate one. Through unity, we can achieve more and be more effective.

The posuk in Devorim (7:7) tells us that Hashem didn’t choose us because of our great numbers, because, in fact, we are the smallest among the nations. We are not the largest in numbers, but we are the most in the sense that when we are b’achdus, all our deeds combine and add up, while the other nations, though much greater in number, can not combine all their deeds because they are not b’achdus.

We have to figure out how to work together as a united group with common goals, not as separate individuals who walk on the same path.

Even before the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu, his mother and sister, referred to by the Torah (Shemos 1:15) as Shifra and Puah, made a career out of caring about others and extending kindness toward other human beings. The Torah states that in reward of their kindness, “Vayaas lohem botim,” they were blessed with institutions of Kehunah, Leviyah and Malchus.

The savior of the Jewish people was placed in a bassinet and saved through acts of kindness by Basya, the daughter of Paroh. The Torah (Shemos 2:10) recounts that she called him Moshe, stating, “Ki min hamayim meshisihu - Because I plucked him from the water.”

The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem 18) teaches that of the many names of Moshe, he is eternally known by the one Basya gave him, since it reflects her act of kindness. The Torah is all about pleasantness – derocheha darchei noam - and all its paths are peaceful. It is a Toras Chesed and, therefore, everyone, including Hashem, refers to Moshe by the name given to him by the daughter of Paroh, who performed an act of chesed in saving the infant from death among the reeds.

The Torah reports concerning Moshe (Shemos 2:11), “Vayigdal hayeled - And the youth grew bigger.” What was the catalyst of his growth? The posuk continues: “He went out to his brothers and saw their suffering.” The young man who was growing up as a prince left the king’s palace to walk among the slaves and experience the cold, privation and oppression, so that it would be palpable and remain with him even after he returned to the privileged confines of the citadel of wealth.

When he saw a Jew being assaulted by a Mitzri, he reacted quickly and forcefully, refusing to accept it. When he saw a Jew raise his hand against a fellow Jew and then heard the Jew’s response to his rebuke, he cried out, “achein noda hadovor.” He was proclaiming that geulah results when Jews join together. It is a product of everyone being connected b’achdus. If there is division, peirud, he was telling them, we will remain in golus.

Moshe escaped to Midyon, where his first act was also one of chesed. He was at a well, and when he saw that shepherd girls were chased from watering their flock at the well, he performed that duty for them. His act of kindness to strange girls and their sheep led to him finding a mate for himself and beginning a family of his own.

The parshiyos and their lessons are timeless. Into each golus and subsequent geulah, the teachings accompanied us, instructing and providing insight into the minds of our oppressors. The storyline is always the same. Chesed, kindness, plays an integral part.

It behooves us to study the force that carried the Jews through Mitzrayim and the middah that accompanied them as they left, so that we can incorporate it into our lives and merit building a new world in the spirit of olam chesed yiboneh.

If we stand tall, remind ourselves who we are and what we stand for, and grab hold of our neighbor’s hands and work together, then we can succeed in building a brighter future.

We need to live lives of sensitivity, realizing that our Torah is Toras Moshe, a legacy of the kind, compassionate shepherd who was also our rebbi, and teach and learn it in a way that builds people, leaving them feeling good.

We need to bear in mind that the Torah is a Toras Chesed. Greatness means being aware of the needs of others - not only the klal, but every individual in the klal.

This is the sensitivity demonstrated by great people, which we must emulate and incorporate into our everyday lives. By living with such focus and compassion, we will trigger Heavenly mercy and bring about the geulah for which we are all waiting.

The posuk states (Shemos 8:1), “Vayokom melech chodosh al Mitzrayim asher lo yoda es Yosef - And a new Paroh arose over Mitzrayim who did not know Yosef.” Rashi quotes a machlokes between Rav and Shmuel. One explains that the posuk is saying that there was a new king. The old Paroh died and the new one did not know Yosef. The other opinion maintains that the Paroh of Shemos was the same Paroh with whom we became familiar in Sefer Bereishis. He knew who Yosef was - after all, he had saved his kingdom - but acted as if he did not know him.

According to the second explanation, he is referred to as a melech chodosh because he pretended to have forgotten Yosef. He worked with the talented, reliable, efficient young man who stepped out of the obscurity of prison to save the country. He listened as Yosef spoke to him and followed his advice. And then, he abruptly erased the many accomplishments of the Jew who had made Mitzrayim into a world superpower and established a system that filled Paroh’s coffers.

He did that because he had an agenda. There were many Jews and Paroh began perceiving them as a threat. They had to be contained, stopped and subjugated, and his advisers suggested enslaving them. But he had a problem: What about the debt of gratitude he owed Yosef?

He arrived at a solution. He craftily rewrote history and convinced himself, and his people, that the Jew had contributed nothing to the rehabilitation of Mitzrayim. His marketing people launched a campaign to change the public perception of Yosef and his people.

They likely started small, with a comment here and some innuendo there. But that was followed by: “Yosef? Who’s Yosef? I don’t know any Yosef.”

One of the great heroes of the civil rights movement was a Jewish fellow from Chicago who taught America how to organize individuals and entire communities against an enemy. Not only was he the consummate community organizer, but he actually invented the concept and term.

His premise was that the way to triumph over the one who stands in your way is to first isolate him. Then you demonize him and lob your arguments against him, and after he has been sufficiently weakened, you move in for victory.

What he invented was the art of discrediting, which is used to perfection by politicians all the time. That tool is also used against us and our community, as we are regularly tarred with a wide, filthy brush. We have to work to ensure that the allegations don’t stick. We must act in ways that ensure that the libels will not be believed. We should always be above reproach.

Certainly, anyone breaking the law should be punished for their crime. Anyone engaging in anti-social behavior should be ostracized. Anyone causing a chillul Hashem should be vilified.

Nobody should be permitted to bully another into submission. No one should take advantage of other people. Abuse must never be tolerated. We should not be silent as we watch travesties take place. Everyone should be treated with compassion, honesty and decency.

Each week, as the melava malka candles flicker, we gaze at them and think about the sublime joy of Shabbos and wonder how we’ll face another week, six more days of zei’as apecha, until we can experience Shabbos again.

The transition, from Shabbos to Motzoei Shabbos, is sort of like the one the Bnei Yisroel faced as they left Eretz Yisroel, traveling to Mitzrayim to avert hunger. They left behind light and holiness, and descended into darkness and tumah.

We partake of melava malka to ease that transition. We sing “Al tira avdi Yaakov. We say, “Do not fear. You are equipped with the strength and ability to rise above it all and remain true to yourselves, to each other, and to the Torah if you remain loyal to the teachings and lessons handed down from avdi Yaakov.”

Hakol kol Yaakov.” With the calm voice of Yaakov, with the restrained middos of Yaakov, with the temimus of Yaakov, and with the dedication to Torah that Yaakov personified, we can overcome.

We hail from different backgrounds and different countries. We are spread out across the world, speak different languages and have different life experiences. We have different views on many things, but deep down we are brothers and sisters, more interested in getting along than in squabbling.

One on one, we are able to get along, irrespective of dress or differing minhagim. We should not permit labels to divide us into different groups. There is more that unites us than divides us, and we should always do what we can to keep Jews together as a united cohesive group.

We should press on, always going upward, reaching new heights every day. Each day represents an opportunity to grow in Torah, emunah and bitachon.

Where others see darkness, we should bring light. Where others battle loneliness, we should bring brotherhood.

When we are b’achdus, we demonstrate that we are worthy of being redeemed from golus. When we are mefuzar umeforad (Megillas Esther 3:8), Amaleik can scheme to destroy us, but when we are united ke’ish echad beleiv echod (Rashi, Shemos 19:2), we can surmount all obstacles and reach the greatest heights available to man.

In a time of tragedy, we cry together. In times of joy, we celebrate together. No man is an island, no man is a rock. We mourn and we dance as one, spontaneously and without prodding. We help each other financially and spiritually. We don’t live only for ourselves. We live for others. We are positive, not negative; loving, not cynical; looking to praise each other, not condemn.

We tasted what it feels like to be geulim. We resolve to remain united, strengthen the achdus, increase the love, and feel part of a greater, larger group, so that we merit the geulah ha’amitis vehashleimah bekarov.