Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The airplane I am on taxis along the Newark Liberty Airport runway. Rain washes the windows and I think to myself, “That’s the last rain I’ll be seeing for a while. Where I am headed, the sun shines strongly all day.”

I lift a newspaper, scan the headlines, and a line pops out at me: “…Hamas, which the US and Israel consider a terrorist group.”

I wonder: What does the rest of the world consider animals who kill men, women and children with no compunction? What do Germany and England consider them? Do they not read? Do they have no knowledge at all?

Yet, the nations and media of the West are upset that Israel defended itself against thousands of people determined to crash its border and kill Jews.

Have they no shame? Is their anti-Semitism so strong that it overweighs simple common sense?

Is everything permissible when the target is a Jew, or President Trump, with bonus points when with one statement you can condemn both?

Having seen enough, I put away the paper and settled in for the flight to Eretz Yisroel for the Yom Tov of Kabbolas HaTorah.

We finally arrive in Yerushalayim, put our stuff down, and immediately feel at home.

Erev Yom Tov, we walk through Meah Shearim and Geulah, watching multitudes of people of all ages prepare for Yom Tov. They dart from store to store, making sure that they will have all they need for the “two-day” Yom Tov of Shabbos and Sunday.

People select flowers from sidewalk vendors as though they are choosing an esrog, making sure that they are getting the nicest bunch of flowers available to adorn the Yom Tov. There is a happiness and seriousness involved in ensuring that Yom Tov will be observed as best as possible.

Every day in Yerushalayim is special, Shabbos even more so, with Yom Tov taking on its own special glow. Despite the intense heat, thousands made their way to the Kosel on Shavuos morning, rivers of people converging on the holy site from all over the city, the sounds of the tefillos rising on high at the place from where the Shechinah has never departed.

During the day of Yom Tov, you see families walking across town, just as you are, to spend time with family and friends, ignoring the heat and oppressive sun. I’d rather be in Yerushalayim drenched from sweat than back in New York soaked from incessant rain. Adorable children without a care in the world take over the streets, playing a variety of games and taking their riding toys for spins up and down the hills of the holy city.

Following Yom Tov, we try something different and head south towards the Gaza border with my friend, Meir Eiseman, to see for ourselves what is going on there. We visited small border towns as well, including the one-makolet-town of Yated. Not much was going on there. Maybe it was the 100-degree heat. More likely, nothing much happens there at any time. We found the border basically deserted, with a few hidden tanks here and there and some bored soldiers seemingly just hanging around. Nobody stopped us or asked any questions as we drove around.

Truck traffic is quite brisk at the Kerem Shalom crossing point into Gaza, with massive tractor trailer trucks bringing in all sorts of supplies, despite reports to the contrary. Cement trucks are busily emptying their loads at a reinforced underground wall under construction, designed to deter Hamas tunnels. We see the barbed wire fences and fields burnt and destroyed by Hamas Molotov kites and thank Hashem that the damage isn’t more severe.

We enter Sderot. The last time I was there was a few years ago, when it was under rocket bombardment. Then the citizens were fearful, waiting for the barrages to end. Today, the rockets seem to be a distant memory. We visit religious sites and then look for some food.

We find a “Mehadrin” bakery and ask them about local kosher eateries. They tell us about a chumus/techinah store around the corner. We had passed it and it didn’t seem too kosher, so we ask them about its kosher status. The proprietor responds, “Maybe they got a rabbi to give them a petek [certifying that the store is kosher], maybe they didn’t, but you should go there, the chumus is really excellent.”

A sad commentary on the way so many people view religion.

We drive some more and come across a food store with a big “Mehadrin” sign. We park and enter, but it’s already 4:00 and the owner wants to go home. “Ani holeich habayta,” he says with no feeling. We say shalom, buy some water, and are back on the road again.

We continue on to Yerushalayim via Kfar Etzion, stopping to take selfies at the new American embassy and to the nearby Tayelet, for gorgeous views of the city. Then it’s time for Mincha.

Wednesday, we stayed in Yerushalayim. We started our “tourist” day at the Kosel, davening for family and friends and simply basking in the experience of being there, watching all types of Jews interact with the Creator.

For many years, remembering the fierce protests that took place over archeological practices at the site, I couldn’t bring myself to visit Ihr Dovid. Some thirty years have passed since then and it was time to see what is there.

We learn Nach and are familiar with some of the places referred to there, but aino domeh shmiah l’re’iyah. When you see remains of buildings dating back to the periods before and after the Bais Hamikdosh, your heart beats differently.

The trek makes history come alive. Walking on the same stone road that was trod upon by the Tanno’im and hundreds of thousands of people going to be oleh regel tingles your essence.

You look at the stones and feel them, as if some kedusha can transfer from them. You see the existing walls of small stores that lined the way, selling supplies for the olei regel and perhaps small animals to use for korbanos. And it all becomes real. You imagine it all taking place and are overcome by the scene playing in your head.

You look around and see giant rocks that the Romans knocked off from the top of the Kosel as they were laying waste to everything holy. The rocks sit there, frozen in time.

We walk some more. As we come to the steps which lead to Shaar Chulda, through which most people would enter the Har Habayis, we see an area full of mikvaos, dating back to the time when people would purify themselves before climbing the steps to enter the Bais Hamikdosh. Some of those very steps are still there, allowing us to climb and imagine what was and what will be.

All this right in the shadow of the Kosel. So many of us have passed by much of this and not known what we are missing out on, as we just walk by and look down at the excavations. We see words inscribed on one of the stones of the Kosel down at its southern end. With some help, we make out a prophecy of the novi Yeshayahu scratched into the ancient stone by a pilgrim like us, no doubt, who couldn’t contain his exuberance at witnessing the hallowed remainder of the Bais Hamikosh.

The anonymous person wrote, “Ure’isem v’sos libchem, v’atzmoseichem kadeshe tifrachnah - You will see it and your heart will be overcome with joy and your bones will grow as grass,” apparently based on the posuk in Yeshayahu (66:14).

Interestingly, the Malbim explains the posuk to mean that until now, you believed that the hopes for the future would be realized, but now, as you see it for yourself, your hearts will be so full of joy that it will spread to your weary, withered bones, which will be restored to live like luscious grass.

We have not yet merited the geulah which we await, but being able to feel our history come alive and stand at the makom haMikdosh brings us all a measure of joy and vitality as we await the final and complete redemption, when that place will once again be filled with life and be a center of kedusha.

We return to the Kosel plaza to daven Mincha, infused with much kavonah, fueled by recharged emunah and bitachon in our past, future and present.

In the taxi on the way back, we hear an interview with one of the American astronauts, as he reflects on his experiences in outer space. He said that as he looked at the perfect order of the universe from on high, he realized that “all this could not have come about from two pieces of dust bumping into each other. Anyone who sees what I saw must conclude that there is a Creator.”

Not that we need his testimony, but it was yet another reminder on a day that served to reinforce so much of what we know.

I visit Rav Dovid Cohen, the rosh yeshiva of Chevron, with whom I have become close. We speak of messages necessary for today’s generation. He reinforces the need to learn source seforim on emunah and bitachon, as well as the Slabodka dictum of gadlus ha’odom, reminding people that everyone, not only the brilliant and gifted, can reach spiritual heights. Too many give up on themselves needlessly and enter a downward spiral. He was happy to hear that these are topics we regularly address in the paper.

Thursday, I visited some others and traveled to Rechovot to see the Torah and kiruv empire built and maintained by an unassuming tzaddik, Rav Tzvi Shvartz, under the flag of Lev L’Achim. Most tourists don’t venture there, though it is not far from Yerushalayim, Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak and other religious centers, but spending time with Rav Shvartz is always invigorating and refreshing. His energy, optimism and the many hundreds of baalei teshuvah families he has brought to Torah and mitzvos inspire all who visit. He is a fountain of dynamism, wisdom and stories, which he never tires of sharing.

I sit with my dear friend, Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin of Lev L’Achim and Chinuch Atzmai and his father-in-law, former Chief Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, the greatest living symbol of the Holocaust. With great pain, he speaks of the masses of Jews being lost to the spiritual holocaust of assimilation. He cites a study conducted by two Hebrew University professors, who proved that the Jewish population in the United States today would have been 35 million based on normal birth rates. Instead, only 3-1/2 million people in this country self-identify as Jews.

While the numbers of Jews remaining loyal to their faith are markedly better in Israel, once a secular Israeli leaves Israel for the golah, the chances of his children marrying within the faith are almost zero.

I listen to him and wonder why it is that we aren’t more active here in introducing lost brothers and sisters to their heritage, instead of watching millions of them slip away from Yiddishkeit forever. I’ve asked many people and have never received a satisfactory answer.

On Friday, I go the Machaneh Yehuda shuk, where I am enthralled by the sights, sounds and smells. Masses of people, religious and not, fill the outdoor market, buying fruits and vegetables, meat and chicken, fresh spices, olives, pickles, baklava, challah, cake and everything in-between for Shabbos. There is an energy and a verve as people go about their shopping, making sure to buy the best for Shabbos. Jews from around the world come to watch the organized chaos and be touched by all of it.

No matter how they look and dress, they are Jews thinking about and preparing for Shabbos. There is hope for the future. There is sanctity in the way they choose peaches, tomatoes and a watermelon for Shabbos. Witnessing it restores faith that all is not lost and there is a real chance to bring them back.

I am lost in my thoughts when a few boys brought to Israel by Birthright interrupt to ask a few questions and to take a selfie. They felt a connection. It may even last.

I spend Shabbos with my children in Kiryat Sanz, Yerushalayim, along with hundreds of others whose dedication to Torah and mitzvos knows no bounds, davening in shuls with standing room only and walking on streets packed with gleeful children. There is no better feeling in the world.

It all comes to an end when the taxi arrives and beeps its horn, beckoning us to load up the vehicle for our ride to the airport and flight home. The driver regales us with his tips on life and tells us how he brings his children to Rechov Sorotzkin on Chol Hamoed. He shows them how the children there behave and care for each other, and he hopes they absorb the message.

Before we know it, we are back in Newark, after a week of inspiration and invigoration, ready to adapt once again to life in the golus of America.

I go through the mail that has piled up in our absence. A small envelope attracts my attention. I open it. It holds a small pamphlet of Rav Moshe Shapiro’s philosophy on outreach. He speaks of how Jews always cared for one another and sought to help suffering brethren around the world, spiritually and physically.

He speaks of Israelis who have gone to live in America and says, “Every day a train leaves Los Angeles and heads for Auschwitz.”

It’s not only Israelis and not only from Los Angeles. It is painful to add that trains leave from every American city, carrying many thousands of Jews. In the days of a physical holocaust, people rose to do what they could to save as many as possible. Today, the drive to help lost Jews survive has lost its steam. Is it that we don’t care? Maybe we feel that they are so far gone that efforts to save them are futile. Who knows? The result is tragic.

Rav Shapiro promised that anyone who gets involved and seeks to reverse the trend “will be so high in Gan Eden that nobody will even be able to see him.”

Shavuos reminds us of the arvus that exists between Jews. That we are responsible for one another. It is one of the basics of the Torah, which was accepted k’ish echod b’lev echod, in binding unity.

As we move on from the Yom Tov, let us work on restoring that brotherhood, on doing things that will have a permanent effect, bringing people together, making the world a better place, and bringing the geulah closer, so that very soon, we will all be walking along the road of our forefathers and up the steps to the Har Habayis, bimeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In the Torah, there are several references to mountains that are central to our history. We are introduced to Har Hamoriah, when Avrohom Avinu approached it to offer his son, Yitzchok, as a korban
On that mountain, malochim appeared to Avrohom and Yitzchok. On that mountain, Yaakov Avinu experienced kedusha and received tremendous brachos. On the mountain, the Bais Hamikdosh was built.
The mountain that hosted much holiness also had its share of tragedy. Though it beheld so much kedusha, during the period of churban its kedusha was defiled and tumah found a home there.
The Torah writes about Har Gerizim and Har Eivol, mountains near Sh’chem. On one, eternal brachos were delivered. On the other, eternal damnations rang out for those who don’t follow the Torah. One mountain was covered with greenery. The other was desolate and barren. They remain so until today. 
In Nach, we learn of the peak on which Eliyohu Hanovi faced off against the nevi’ei habaal.
Most central to who we are is Har Sinai. Though small as far as mountains are concerned, its summit towers over the landscape of Jewish history. On Shavuos, we are reminded of the mountain as we conjure up the image of millions camped around its perimeter, experiencing tangible awe. They had traveled for forty-five days, following Moshe Rabbeinu through a hot, dusty desert to get there. 
Journeying on a trek that began at creation, the nation headed towards its destiny. Bereishis - bishvil haTorah shenikra reishis.
There was thunder and lightning. The sound of a shofar boomed, growing increasingly louder. Smoke rose from the mountain, which sat under a heavy cloud. The Divine Voice resonated throughout the universe, shaking the earth’s foundations. The Bnei Yisroel were fearful. They watched as their leader ascended the mountain and disappeared inside the arofel, foggy clouds. 
As we study the story of Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai, we recognize that to reach supreme holiness, we often have to make our way through fog. We have to ensure that we persevere and do not become deterred when enveloped by darkness.
Wherever there is kedusha, there is tumah seeking to break through and destroy it. The more we build and the larger we grow, the more the forces of tumah seek to seep in and spread their poison.
Throughout the ages, inspired people yearned to raise and purify themselves, so that they would not be weighed down by fog, smoke and loud noises that surrounded them. They courageously pressed forward towards kedusha
Ever since Har Sinai, Jews have been confronted by darkness and fog. The urge is to shirk from the challenge and retreat. But just as Moshe did as he entered the arofel atop the mountain, people who are drawn towards kedusha and taharah understand that they must advance undeterred by the tishtush hamochin that affects others. 
The Brisker Rov was the mesader kiddushin at a wedding. Standing under the chupah, it was time for the chosson to place the ring on the kallah’s finger and pronounce her his wife. As the young man attempted to place the ring on her finger, he was so nervous that he was shaking and dropped the ring. 
His father bent down, picked up the ring from the floor, and returned it to the chosson. Once again, the chosson’s hand was shaking so much as he tried to place the ring on his kallah’s finger that it fell to the ground. His father picked it up and returned it to him.
The nervous chosson made a third attempt at placing the ring on the girl’s finger. The seemingly simple task escaped him once again and the ring dropped to the ground. This time, people began murmuring. Someone turned to the Rov and said, “This seems like a sign that they should not be getting married. Perhaps the whole thing should just be called off.” 
The Rov shook his head. “This is a sign,” he said, “that the couple was meant to marry now and not three minutes earlier.” 
Upon hearing that, the boy calmed down. His father handed him the ring, he placed it on the kallah’s finger, and he said, “Harei at mekudeshes li… kedas Moshe v’Yisroel.”
Many times, the future looks bleak and we see signs from heaven pointing this way and that. We must always remain focused on our goal and not permit anything to deter us. We don’t look at setbacks as signs of defeat. We see them as challenges that we must overcome.
The study of Torah is difficult, and many times, while learning, we feel as if we are in arofel, lost in a fog of misunderstanding. We can’t follow the back and forth of the Gemara or don’t get the kushya or teretz of Tosafos. We say that the sugya is too difficult for us to comprehend. We just want to close the Gemara and find something easier to do.
We must remember that this is the way of the Torah. It doesn’t come easy, but we immerse ourselves in it anyway, and after much work, we begin to understand it and appreciate its beauty and brilliance. 
Rav Shmuel Auerbach told a story he heard from a witness, ish mipi ish. One of the holy tzaddikim of Yerushalayim had a kemei’a that he would lend to people in need of a yeshuah. The Kabbalistic document was written by the Taz, author of the Turei Zohov on Shulchan Aruch. The kemei’a was especially powerful and many people who used it saw their issues resolved. 
The owner of the kemei’a was very curious as to what was written on the concealed piece of parchment that beheld such power. Though an amulet generally loses its powers when opened, he reasoned that he could copy the secret names of Hashem and malochim written on it onto a new parchment and preserve the ability to help people in dire straits.
Upon opening the antique sacred text, the man was astonished to see that it didn’t bear holy names or names of ministering angels. Instead, in the handwriting of the Taz was one line that read: “Dear Creator of the world, please bring salvation and blessings to the person wearing this amulet in the merit of my deep toil to understand the words of Tosafos in Chulin on daf 96.”
This is the power of Torah. This is the reward for diligence in understanding the words of a Tosafos.
The Torah gives life to those who struggle through the arofel to understand and grasp its holy words and messages. The strength it grants its adherents is eternal. But we must exercise patience, discipline and intelligence to attain a proper understanding of Torah. We must not quit and surrender.
In Nach (Shmuel I, perek 13) we read that shortly after Shaul was appointed king, the Pelishtim gathered to battle Am Yisroel. The Jews hid in caves and pits, while Shaul and his small army prepared for the battle. Shmuel Hanovi had told Shaul to wait for him to come and offer korbanos - an olah and a shelomim - prior to going to war.
The people grew testy and began leaving Shaul. Under increasing pressure, Shaul Hamelech decided to offer the korbanos himself and not wait for Shmuel. He brought the olah and then Shmuel came. The novi admonished the king for not waiting for him to bring the korbanos as Hashem had wished. Shmuel informed Shaul that because he did not follow the word of Hashem, his reign, which was destined to last forever, would soon end.
There is nothing as blinding and fearful as the fog of war, but because Shaul feared that he would fail if he would follow the command of the novi, he was punished and soon vanquished from his rule. 
Threatened by forces of nature, deserted by man, with everything seemingly stacked against us, if we remain loyal and do not succumb to the temptation of veering from the commands of Hashem, we will be blessed with success and eternal blessings.
The first Jews to receive the Torah had their own arofel, servitude in Mitzrayim, sinking to the lowest levels of tumah. Their faith sustained them as they followed Moshe out of the country through the Yam Suf. Within 49 days, they prepared themselves to receive the Torah at Har Sinai. They fought their way through the fog of Mitzrayim’s tumah and raised themselves to the highest levels man can attain.
On Shavuos, we read Megillas Rus, the tale of Na’ami and her daughter-in-law, Rus. Two courageous women survived tragedy and lifted themselves through their personal arofel to give birth to the progenitor of Dovid Hamelech and Moshiach. Rus Hamoaviah rose from the depravity of her native land and became a dedicated giyores. Nothing was able to deter her from remaining loyal to Torah and the Jewish people. She endured poverty and loneliness as she pursued her chosen path. She was rewarded with royal offspring and eternal blessings. We all await the arrival of her descendant, the ultimate redeemer.
Rus had many reasons to return to Moav and the wealth she had left behind when marrying into Elimelech’s family, yet she so eloquently cast her lot with the Jewish people. Her story encourages us to persevere in our times of hardship. Her story is yet another demonstration that those who follow the path of Hashem and cleave to Torah and mitzvos, determined to prevail, will flourish and thrive.
Rather than stepping away, she moved forward. Instead of succumbing to what seemed to be insurmountable deterrents, she showed us that fidelity to Torah is always preferable to any alternative. We must also never quit, no matter the difficulties we encounter in the observance or study of Torah.
When Hashem appeared to the Bnei Yisroel and offered them the Torah, they responded in unison, “Na’aseh venishma - We will do and we will hear whatever you tell us.” The response was so praiseworthy that the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (88a) relates that following their response, malochim placed two crowns on the head of each Jew, one for na’aseh and one for nishma. A bas kol rang out, proclaiming, “Who taught my children this secret?” 
Many question what was so extraordinary about na’aseh venishma that it engendered such a dramatic response. Perhaps we can explain that by responding in this way, they were declaring, “Na’aseh, we will act according to the dictates of the Torah and follow its commands. Venishma, and we will accomplish through dedicating ourselves to the study of Torah. No difficulty will stop us from working as hard as we can to understand the words of the Torah. We will not get lost or deterred in the arofel.
Na’aseh venishma. We have been reciting that pledge for thousands of years. Wherever we are, whatever language we speak, irrespective of geographical distance from major Jewish centers, of the ravages of the exile, of golus, churban and pogroms, we all proclaim together, “Na’aseh venishma.”
Those words are what set us apart and have kept us through the ages. We have been guarded by the Torah and our fidelity to it and what it demands of us. The other nations of the world throughout our history are all gone. We are here because of those two words that guide and define us. 
On the Yom Tov of Kabbolas HaTorah, we are regifted the Torah and proclaim, “Na’aseh venishma,” yet again. We focus on the positive, we remain mindful of our objective and mission, and we rededicate ourselves to fulfilling it, this day and every day.
My uncle, Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Telz, shared an incident at a Torah Umesorah convention. He recalled a sad period in Telz when something happened that provoked the ire of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch. Rav Elya Meir addressed the yeshiva. As he began, the bochurim were expecting a severe lecture about the depths to which some had sunk. Rav Elya Meir told them something else entirely. “We know how low a person can fall,” he said, “but now we shall focus on how high man can soar.”
With a classic mussar message of gadlus ha’odom, he delivered a shmuess about the potential to grow, helping the talmidim realize the heights they could reach.
Rav Levin concluded by telling the gathered mechanchim not to limit their focus on protecting their talmidim from the darkness. “We also have to inspire them to rise above it,” he clamored.
We are a great people. The fire of Torah has the ability to glow in our souls, incinerating the tumah that seeks to envelop us, and light our path through the darkness. We each have a spark waiting to be kindled, so that we will have the motivation and strength to walk through the arofel, as kedoshim, reaching for the Heavens.
Have a good Yom Tov.

והחי יתן אל לבו

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Who can remember a week such as the one that just passed? Who can ponder the loss of so many good people and not recognize that they cannot go on living their lives as they have been?

On Wednesday, Moshe Reich was in Tzefas preparing for Lag Ba’omer, joyfully hosting many people in his home on a centuries-old narrow cobblestone street, when his soul returned to its Maker. A prominent Klausenberger chosid and close friend of Arye Deri, he was well known for his engaging personality, askanus, and acts of tzedakah v’chesed. Shock spread throughout Israel and around the world.

On Thursday, Mendy Klein was in Cleveland, outside of the Hebrew Academy, a major focus of his life and philanthropy. He collapsed and was gone, a giant cut down in his prime. The shock was overwhelming as word spread across the Torah world. The reaction was similar everywhere: “Mendy Klein? What? I can’t believe it.” The energetic, life-giving supporter of Torah, yeshivos, schools, needy people, victims of abuse, and so much else had died. The man who ran away from attention and honor during his lifetime was praised and mourned following his tragic petirah.

Rav Shaul Shatzkes, who suffered a stroke a few months ago, never recovered and passed away on Thursday. He was a tremendous talmid chochom, baal kishron and marbitz Torah. He was a sheim dovor in Lakewood, where he lived and dedicated his life to Torah.

Rav Nochum Eisenstein, who served as a rov in Detroit and Lakewood, and had also been rosh kollel in the Boston Kollel, succumbed to an illness he had suffered from for years. A unique marbitz Torah, mechaber seforim and posek, he taught, led and inspired many people. Before his illness, he authored a weekly Torah column in the Yated. A relatively young person, he was also niftar on Thursday.

Rabbi Bernard Weinberger was a phenomenal darshan, talmid chochom, and author of multiple seforim. Blessed with an engaging personality, he was also an intellectual and a leader in the field of rabbonus, serving as the longtime rov of Young Israel of Williamsburg. In his eighties, he passed away last week as well.

Accomplished, successful, and well-known leaders, each one in their own way, they paved a Torah way through the turmoil of golus, leaving behind legacies of greatness for future generations. Their passing sends us a message regarding the fragility of life and a warning to maximize the time we have.

Recognizing the value of life helps us overcome temptation, negate frivolity, and realize the important things in life. It reminds us to love our family and friends and let them know it. A person who knows the meter is running seeks to do good and spread goodness, making the world a better place. There is no time for pettiness; strife, hate and division have no place in the heart and mind of a person who knows that tomorrow he may be described in the past tense, rl.

We currently find ourselves in the Sefirah period, when we seek to improve ourselves as we ascend daily towards the goal of receiving the Creator’s Torah. Each day, we seek another form of improvement, another way to improve our character and become a better person.

An older man had a story to tell: “I came to Eretz Yisroel during the Second World War and brought several gold bars with me. I was looking for a place to invest my gold.

“One day, I found myself on a street, known today as Rechov Chazon Ish, at the corner of Rechov Harav Dessler, and I saw the Chazon Ish taking a walk there. Since I had heard that he gave brachos and advice to people, I approached him and asked him how to invest my gold.

“He lifted his cane and pointed towards an empty hill. He said to me, ‘Reb Yaakov Halpern is going to be selling lots there. Take your gold and use it all to buy as many lots as you can afford.’

“I didn’t really know much about him and didn’t know that he was a gadol hador. I was angry at his suggestion. When he said that to me, I thought to myself, ‘What? He’s telling me to throw my gold into the sea? Into an empty desert hill?

“Out of respect, I was quiet. I said, ‘Thank you,’ and left.

“Halperin sold those lots for pennies. I took my gold and made various investments and never saw much of a return. If only I had listened to that old man, I would have become a multi-millionaire.

Oy, if only I had grabbed those lots.”

The man told his story to Rav Nosson Einfeld, of Kollel Chazon Ish, who repeated the tale of woe to the well-known maggid, Rav Reuvein Karelenstein.

Shortly thereafter, the maggid addressed a crowd, and this is what he said:

The Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuvah (3:4), “Even though the obligation to blow a shofar on Rosh Hashanah is given in the Torah with no reason, there is a hint, namely the posuk which states, ‘Awake you who sleep from your slumber, and those who doze off from your sleep, search your ways, return with teshuvah and remember your Creator.’ This refers to people who forget the truth and get caught up with the frivolities of the time, stumbling through their lives with silliness and emptiness, which are of no help and bring no salvation.”

The man’s story portrays the words of the Rambam. All around us here in this world are properties being sold for pennies, and each one can earn us worlds of payoffs. With a simple nice word, we can earn “shai olamos,” 310 worlds. We can grab worlds at such low prices. Every mitzvah, every word of Torah, every charitable act, yields fortunes.

That is the call of the shofar. As the Rambam says, “People forget the truth and get caught up with the frivolities of the time.”

At a time like this, when we lost people who didn’t get sidetracked but made eternal investments in this world, we need to follow their example. Think of how many people they influenced, how many they helped, and how they changed this world and made it a much better place. And now think about yourself and what you are doing.

Their deaths should wake us from our slumber and shake us from our fantasies of immortality.

In this week’s parsha, the Torah commands (Vayikra 25:8-9), “Vesofarta lecha sheva shabbsos shonim… Teisha v’arbo’im shana… veha’avarta shofar teruah… And you shall count for yourself seven shmittos, which are forty-nine years, and the fiftieth year shall be Yovel and you shall blow the shofar in the seventh month.”

The Shela explains the connection of various pesukim in the previous and current parshiyos. He says that the seven-year cycle of Shmittah is akin to the seven days of creation. Then comes the fiftieth year and the shofar is blown to awaken and remind a person that his existence in this world is temporary.

He cites the posuk of Ki bayom hazeh yechaper” (Vayikra 16:30) and explains that in years past, the custom was that when there was a death in the community, the shofar was blown, as it is on Yom Kippur. Just as Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness, so does death cause forgiveness for those who repent. “Veshavtem ish el achuzaso,” and the spirit shall return to Hashem.

He concludes that a person must therefore always view himself as a temporary resident of this world, as the posuk (ibid. 25:23) states, “Ki geirim vesoshavim atem imodi.” We should live here as transitory residents so that we shall reside with Hashem in perpetuity. And this is the reason land is not sold in perpetuity, as the posuk says, “Veha’aretz lo simocher l’tzmisus” (ibid.).

“We shall not be like the puerile people who are enthralled with their wealth, property and homes. Rather, we should use what Hashem has given us for ruchniyus, and then “viyishavtem al ha’aretz lavetach.” As the Torah discusses in Parshas Bechukosai, “Im bechukosai teileichu, if you follow the commands of Hashem, you will be richly rewarded.”

The shock that followed the passing of Mendy Klein z”l should remain with us and not wear off. We should remember our thoughts when we heard the shocking news and perpetuate them through understanding the words of the Shela. Doing so will be a zechus for him and bring us brachos and nitzchiyus. For a giant in charity as he was, comes along infrequently. It takes not only great wealth, but also the understanding that we are but geirim here, with the task of doing what we can to enhance the lives of others and supporting causes of Torah. Mr. Klein excelled in that, and he did it all quietly and behind the scenes. Nobody knew but him, the recipient and Hashem. Now he is in the “olam shekulo tov,” with Hashem, lonetzach.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Beis Haleivi was married to a woman who hailed from a family of Slonimer chasssidim. Once, when he was living in the home of his in-laws as was common in the time, the rebbe, Rav Moshe of Kobrin came into the room in which Rav Yoseph Dov learned. He was studying the later chapters of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim.

The rebbe asked the young Litvishe gaon, “And what is with the first siman of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, do you observe that?” The man who would grow up to be the world-famed Beis Haleivi and forebear of the famed Brisker family, responded that he worked on that halacha, namely of “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid,” fifteen times a day.

This week I visited the Sadigerrer Rebbe together with Rav Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, he turned to us and said every generation has its nisyonos which weren’t prevalent in previous generations. In our day, he said, there is a plague in emunah and bitachon, frum people don’t know the basics of belief. “This is what leads to the terrible problem of “noshrim,” people going off the derech. We cannot ignore what is going on.

 “It is your obligation to appeal to people and educate them what emunah means, what bitachon means, what the mitzvos are all about and why we observe them,” he told us.

At a time like this when people seek zechuyos and sources of merit, let us resolve to follow in the ways of the niftorim. We should also find time to study and review Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim and seforim such as Chovos Halevavos and the many others which give meaning and value to our lives so that we can become better Jews and better people.

Emunah and bitachon makes our lives more wholesome and increases our happiness, self-worth, and ability to get with others, but more importantly, it brings us closer to Hashem and the geulah we all await.

Reach for the Light

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The mitzvah of counting the Omer is found in this week’s parsha. The posuk (Vayikra 23:15) states, “Usefartem lochem mimochoras haShabbos… And You shall count seven complete weeks from the day the Korban Omer is brought until after the seventh Shabbos, you shall count fifty days.”

Apparently, the days of Sefirah are about counting. Why is it that in our time, many people count the Omer every night, but think that the days of Sefirah are about aveilus for the passing of the talmidim of Rabi Akiva?

The mourning aspects of the Sefirah period have so taken over the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuos that we can sometimes forget that there is more to Sefirah than refraining from haircuts and listening to music. In fact, Sefirah represents a countdown to kabbolas haTorah, and, as such, is a time to prepare ourselves and make ourselves worthy of the Torah.

The period of Sefirah is blessed with awesome light that is not present the rest of the year (Maharal, Nesiv HaTorah 12). This ohr increases daily along with the levels of Torah, until it reaches a climax on Shavuos, when the Torah was given. In fact, as we count Sefirah, we say, “Hayom,” because yom, day, is an expression of light, and we make the brocha and thank Hashem for granting us the light of this specific day of the Omer, as every day, more light is revealed as we proceed along the path to Torah (Derech Mitzvosecha).

Concurrent with the light and increased levels of Torah found between Pesach and Atzeres is our obligation to raise ourselves from the level of se’orim, which comprises the Korban Omer, to the more refined chitim of the Shtei Halechem of Shavuos.

Chazal (Yoma 9b) teach that the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of sinas chinom. Simply explained, the people looked down upon each other out of baseless hatred. Perhaps we can say that until the period during which the talmidim of Rabi Akiva died because of a lack of respect for each other, there was hope that the Jews would be able to repent for the sins that caused the churban Bais Hamikdosh. However, when the terrible plague struck the Jewish people and the 24,000 talmidim died, it became obvious that the people were overcome with sinas chinom and were lacking in ahavas Yisroel and achdus.

They realized that there would be no quick solution to their golus under the Romans unless they would quickly repent for their sins. The fact that the mageifah took place during the days of Sefirah, when there is increased ohr and daily introspection and perfection, indicated that not only were the people not worthy of the Bais Hamikdosh, but they were also unworthy of Torah.

The same components that are necessary for kabbolas haTorah are necessary for geulah, so this special period of Sefirah was chosen as a time to improve ourselves and prepare not only for Torah, but also for geulah. By mourning the loss of the talmidim, we are reminded of the punishment for not loving each other and dealing with each other respectfully. We see what happens when there is sinas chinom and a lack of respect for each other.

We are reminded that “ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha” is not only a nice undertaking and a good minhag, but a mitzvah mide’Oraisa incumbent upon us to observe in order to be connected to Hashem and worthy of Torah and geulah.

During the Sefirah period, we work each day to perfect another of the 48 kinyanim of Torah and engage in raising ourselves from the nefesh habehami levels of seorim, animal food, to the nefesh haruchni at the 49th level of kedusha. These attributes prepare us for kabbolas haTorah, when we stood united, k’ish echod beleiv echod, at Har Sinai. They also prepare us for the unity that geulah necessitates, when Hashem echod ushemo echod will be recognized across the world.

It is important for us to recognize that at the time of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, the Jewish people excelled in the study and observance of Torah, mitzvos and chesed (see Yoma, ibid.). It’s not as if they were locked in sin and indulging in depravity. The only area in which they were lacking was ahavas Yisroel. That alone was enough to cause the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh and bring on golus and all that it entails.

In our day, we note the explosion of Torah and frum communities. There is so much that we can point to with great pride. Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs are more plentiful and larger than ever. We have every conceivable type of chesed organization. There is unprecedented dikduk b’mitzvos. Yet the fact that we remain in golus indicates that we are lacking in ahavas Yisroel and achdus. If sinas chinom wasn’t prevalent among us, if there wouldn’t be machlokes and division, golus would have ended.

During these days of Sefirah, it is incumbent upon us to end the hatred, spite, cynicism and second-guessing of each other, of people who look different or see things differently than us. It is time we adopt the message of Sefirah and the passing of Rabi Akiva’s talmidim so that we can return again to where and what we were and what we are meant to be. 

The number of days in the Sefirah period is cited as connected to the 48 methods necessary to acquire Torah. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos teaches that in order to properly acquire Torah, we must excel in the 48 devorim through which Torah is acquired. Most of them involve matters that relate to the way we deal and interact with one another. One who has not perfected himself ethically and morally cannot properly excel in Torah. A person who is deficient in the way he deals with other people will also be lacking in Torah.

The Ramchal in Maamar Hachochmah discusses the idea that the Bnei Yisroel in Mitzrayim sank to the 49th level of depravity. After redeeming them from servitude, Hakadosh Boruch Hu provided for them the 49-day period between Pesach and Shavuos so that the freed slaves could raise themselves from the abyss of decadence and alter their behavior in a steady progression until they would be worthy of receiving the Torah on Shavuos.

This ability is evident every year during this time period, the Ramchal says. The Ohr Hachaim adds to this concept and writes (Vayikra 23:15) that the counting of the days of the Omer is akin to the count that an impure person performs to calculate the time remaining until he regains his purity. During this period, we must engage in introspection, much the same as the unclean person would do during their period of counting.

These days involve more than a ritual counting and mourning. They demand a spiritual ascendancy to cleanse ourselves from the moral and spiritual imperfections that afflict all of us. During this period, we are to study and apply the 48 kinyanim of Torah in order to be worthy of accepting the Torah on Shavuos.

The mourning we engage in is directly tied to the introspection that this period obligates.

We mourn the loss of Rabi Akiva’s 24,000 talmidim, we emulate their accomplishments, and we seek to fill the void created by their absence. Rav Elchonon Wasserman taught (Kovetz Maamarim Ve’igros) that a person who is pretentious and egotistical cannot be successful in a leadership position. An effective leader can communicate with people because he relates to them, feels their pain, and he does not consider himself on a higher level than the people he serves.

In order to reach people, you have to really care about them and want to influence them. You have to address them with respect. Nobody likes being talked down to. Most people respond to positive reinforcement and tune out negativity.

If you rid your soul of sinas chinom, then you will behave with mentchlichkeit and treat people properly. If you are practiced in ahavas Yisroel, people will respect you and listen to you. You will be able to help them improve their shemiras hamitzvos, Torah learning, understanding of life, and acceptance of what Hashem gives them.

Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, as rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Eitz Chaim in Yerushalayim, would test the students in the school’s younger grades. He once asked a young boy a question pertaining to the understanding of the Gemara. The boy gave a wrong answer.

Rav Isser Zalman said to him, “I’m sure this is what you meant to say,” and provided the correct answer. He sought to prevent the boy’s embarrassment, from messing up so egregiously in front of the rosh yeshiva.

The student, however, was adamant. “No, that is not what I meant,” and proceeded to repeat the mistaken answer. Patiently, the rosh yeshiva tried again, “Yes, you’re right, because this is what you wanted to say,” and rephrased the correct answer. The boy wouldn’t hear of it. “The rosh yeshiva doesn’t understand what I am saying,” he complained. He again offered the incorrect answer.

As some of the boys began giggling to themselves, Rav Isser Zalman rose from his seat and excused himself. “I have to tend to something for a couple minutes and will quickly return,” he said.

Suspecting that something was afoot, the rebbi opened the door a crack and peered down the hall. There in front of him was the senior gadol hador with his eyes closed, talking to himself. He was repeating, “The obligation to respect everyone includes children,” over and over again.

After a couple moments Rav Isser Zalman returned to the classroom. He sat down, with a huge smile on his face and began to painstakingly explain the Gemara, until even that one boy understood it perfectly and was able to provide the correct answer to the question that was posed to him.

The greatest teacher is not the one who knows the most, and the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one who motivates people to accomplish the greatest things. The greatest teacher is the one who understands his students and is able to reach them. The greatest teacher is the one who loves his students.

A good teacher gives a child the feeling that he has confidence in him and recognizes his potential for achieving greatness. The quality rebbi or morah lets the student know that they share their dreams, hopes and goals for the future, and will do everything they can to help the child attain them.

You can convince people to perform positive acts by appealing to their hopes or by playing to their fears. The one who excels makes sure to speak to people’s confidence and not to their doubts, with facts and not with fantasy. People respond much better and are more likely to rise to the challenge when they are treated with dignity.

For leaders and teachers, as well as parents and friends, communication is a lot more than words. What matters is not necessarily what we say, but how we say it. We can inspire and motivate when we communicate with love and care. By taking seriously the commandment of “ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha,” our children, students, friends and acquaintances will understand that they are admired and loved by people who have confidence in their abilities.

Others might be superior to us in intelligence, experience and diplomatic skills, but if we pay attention and exercise care when speaking to people, we can accomplish so much more. We must have passion in what we do. And we have to let it show. We can all help other people and remind them of their inherent greatness. We have to be optimistic about life and about our own abilities, and we have to convey that to others.

Everyone has the ability to affect the world. If we would maximize our G-d-given abilities to study Torah as well as we can; if we would utilize the strength that Hashem gave us to build instead of destroy, to be optimistic instead of pessimistic; if we would use the brachos that Hashem blessed us with to benefit others, we could change the world. We really can do it.

Sefirah is a time for us to dedicate ourselves to perfecting those abilities so that we can grow in the lilmod as well as the lelameid of Torah.

On Lag Ba’omer, hundreds of thousands travel to the kever of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron to daven. It is the largest annual gathering of Jews. Arriving at the site is usually accompanied by great difficulty. Yet, Jews of all types happily make the pilgrimage to the kever of Rabi Shimon to show that they appreciate his message. With achdus, brotherhood and love, people gather around the kever and daven. They sing songs of praise and dance with all their strength.

They show that they have taken to heart the obligations of Sefirah and aveilus, and are preparing themselves for Torah and geulah, k’ish echod b’lev echod. They stand together firing up their neshamos as they reach for light and holiness.

Many of those who don’t make the trek, build a neighborhood fire, which they dance around as they sing songs dedicated to Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai and Rabi Akiva. The festivities inject a spiritual energy into the day.

Lag Ba’omer brings a welcome interruption to the Sefirah mourning. We take haircuts, shave, trim our beards, and allow music to cheer our souls once again.

Why is it that the customs of mourning in commemoration of the passing of the talmidim of Rabi Akiva have become the focal point of the Sefirah period? Why is it that Lag Ba’omer has become so widely celebrated, though it is not a Yom Tov?

Rabi Akiva was the greatest of his generation. It is said that he was the shoresh of Torah Shebaal Peh. The line of transmission of the Torah from Har Sinai to future generations ran through him and his students. When his students died, the Jewish world mourned. They worried about how the mesorah that ran through Rabi Akiva would continue. They worried about who would teach Torah to future generations. A grieving people on the run from Roman persecution, they cried and wondered if they could ever be consoled for the loss of so many great men crucial to the spiritual survival of the nation.

There must have been an overwhelming urge to say, “It’s all over.” The less faithful and more pessimistic probably weren’t too far from giving up. Rabi Akiva recharged the people and helped them recover from the devastating loss and proceeded to transmit the Torah to a new group of five students.

On this day, which marked a cessation of the deaths of Rabi Akiva’s talmidim, we commemorate the renewal. We celebrate the determination. We foresee the future bright with hopefulness and optimism. On this day, the talmidim stopped dying and Rabi Akiva’s talmid, Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai, revealed the secrets of Toras Hasod, which infused all future generations with added dimensions of kedusha and understanding.

As the centuries pass, and as the Romans of every period seek our destruction and annihilation, we look to Rabi Akiva and Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai for inspiration. We note how they faced down the enemy and persevered, ensuring that our nation and Torah are alive and flourishing to this day. In the wake of a tragedy that would have felled lesser people, Rabi Akiva strengthened himself and set about ensuring that the chain would remain unbroken.

As the golus continues, we must not weaken in our devotion to Torah. Noting how many giants our people have lost, we hear voices stating that we can never recoup the losses. We are doomed to mediocrity, they proclaim.

Lag Ba’omer rejects that hopelessness. It declares that we are never to give up hope or allow the chain of greatness to break. The fires of Lag Ba’omer burn vibrantly, announcing that the future will be bright, the mesorah will continue, and our people will be great.

The longer our exile is prolonged, the more we turn to days like Lag Ba’omer for inspiration and encouragement, and the more popular their observance becomes.

But it is not enough to just light a fire. It is not enough to sing and dance. We have to be prepared to work as hard as Rabi Akiva did. We have to be prepared for the deprivation suffered by Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son, Rabi Elazar. We have to be ameilim baTorah if we want to merit the blessings of rebirth and redemption. We have to perfect ourselves and achieve the 48 devorim that Torah accrual requires. We have to really love and care about each other. We have to stop being spiteful and hateful. We have to treat everyone the way we want to be treated.

We each have the ability to light up the world with Torah and maasim tovim, with intelligence and splendor. Let us pray that the fires spark within our souls a flame of holiness, and dedication to proper middos, as well as the mesorah and Torah. That way, we will merit the realization of the prophecies discussed in the works of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai with the arrival of Moshiach tzidkeinu, bimeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.

Lives of Kedoshim

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

During World War I, Eastern European Jewry was displaced. When the war ended, many found themselves in different towns than the ones they had previous lived and been raised in. Separated from their shtetlach, rabbonim and shuls, many were cut off from their spiritual nourishment and were weakened in their Torah observance.

A maggid arrived in the Radin Yeshiva as the Chofetz Chaim was addressing the bochurim, requesting that those blessed with oratory and communication skills use them to convince people to do teshuvah and return to the Yiddishkeit of their forbears.
When the sage finished speaking, the guest approached him. “Rebbe,” he said, “I came here from the big city. While there, I learned that there was a slackening in the observance of the halachos of Shabbos and taharah. I walked up to the bimah to deliver words of protest and inspiration for improvement. Even before I was finished speaking, people began getting up and berating me. I hurriedly finished my drosha and was very embarrassingly chased from the shul.
“Why are you setting up your talmidim for such failure? Perhaps, at a time like this, it is preferable to remain silent, for the people aren’t interested in hearing our message.”
The Chofetz Chaim asked the traveling darshan, “Please portray for me how you addressed the people in that shul.”
The maggid was surprised by the question. “How did I address them? What’s the question? I screamed the way a person screams when his house is going up in flames. Is there any other way to speak when people are trampling on all that is holy and dear?”
Softly, the Chofetz Chaim responded to the man, “Tell me, when you put on tefillin in the morning, did you also scream and yell? Explain to me, please, the difference between the observance of the mitzvah of tefillin and the mitzvah of tochacha. Just as there is no need to scream loudly when performing the mitzvah of ‘Ukeshartom le’os al yodecha’ (Devorim 6:8), there is no need to scream when performing the mitzvah of ‘Hochei’ach tochiach es amisecha’ (Vayikra 19:17).”
This week’s parsha of Kedoshim was given by Moshe “behakheil,” to the entirety of Klal Yisroel, the Toras Kohanim says, because “rov gufei Torah teluyim bah,” most of the rules of the Torah are dependent on it. Rishonim and Acharonim propose various explanations of the importance of Parshas Kedoshim. 
Perhaps we can explain that not only are the commandments and teachings of this week’s parsha relevant to daily life and to each person, but also are the deeper lessons and understandings derived from the nuances and study of the exact text of the commandment relevant to much of our daily social interaction. 
Take the commandment of tochacha, to reprove a person who sins. We might think that we admonish that person with spite and anger for their bad deed. We might believe that we should publicly shame the sinner without concern for his feelings.
The Torah follows the commandment of “hochei’ach tochiach es amisecha” with “velo sisa olov cheit – and you should not carry a sin for this.” We are being told how to conduct ourselves. Ostensibly, it means that since “kol Yisroel areivim zeh lozeh,” we are responsible for each other and we are obligated to set others straight. It also means that when we find a need to rebuke someone, we should do so in a way in which we do not sin by causing the person embarrassment. Also, discussing the transgression with him prevents you from transgressing the sin that precedes the mitzvah of tochacha in the posuk, namely, “lo sisna es achicha b’levovecha,” secretly disliking a fellow Jew.
All of this is included in the commandment that follows: “ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha,” to love every Jew as you love yourself.
These mitzvos, and the others like them that are included in Parshas Kedoshim, are taught “behakheil,” because they are far reaching and represent what our core is.
This is the meaning, as well, of Hillel Hazokein’s statement to the man who wanted to know the entire Torah while standing on one leg. Hillel said that it’s all about “ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha,” because that is the foundation of Judaism.
We learn in Pirkei Avos (6:6) that there are 48 methods with which a person acquires Torah. All of them pertain to proper middos, conduct and achdus, representative of the commandments listed in Parshas Kedoshim. Thus, without observing “ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha,” a person cannot acquire Torah. 
We are currently in the period of Sefiras Ha’omer. The Alter of Kelm would say that each day, we attempt to secure for ourselves another one of the 48 methods through which Torah is acquired.
We refer to the act of daily counting during the seven weeks from the offering of the korban ha’omer until the day of kabbolas haTorah as “Sefiras Ha’omer,” the counting of the omer. Why? The counting, seemingly, has nothing to do with the omer. Rather, it is a countdown from the days when we were released from slavery in Mitzryaim to the day the Torah was given.
Hashem freed us from Mitzrayim so that He could give us the Torah at Har Sinai on Shavuos. With anticipation, we count towards the great day. What does it have to do with the omer?
It is commonly taught that se’orim, barley, of which the korban omer is comprised, is a “maachal beheimah,” a low form of grain that is grown for animal consumption. We count from the low level that we were on upon our exit from Mitzrayim and seek to improve daily until we reach the summit of Har Sinai and are worthy of accepting the Torah on Shavuos. 
In fact, the Rambam (Hilchos Temidim Umusofim 7:22) codifies the mitzvah of counting together with the halachos of the korban ha’omer, indicating that the count is connected to the omer offering. We begin at the low level of omer and count as we raise ourselves daily through the 48 devorim shehaTorah nikneis bohem to kabbolas haTorah.
The 48 methods are the ikkar of Torah. Without them, we remain with the se’orim, like animals. We gathered behakheil to learn the mitzvos pertaining to how we must deal with each other, because it is only through observing them and treating other people the way we want to be treated that we become bnei and bnos Torah.
If we don’t judge people properly, if we peddle gossip, if we are petty and jealous and vengeful, if we are dishonest or we are disrespectful of our parents and elders, then we can’t grow properly in Torah.
Just as those who aren’t punctilious in Shabbos observance cannot be considered shomrei Torah, those who are immoral, corrupt, depraved and shameless cannot be considered adherents to Torah.
We live in a world of dishonesty and depravity, where the unprincipled and obscene are heralded, praised and lauded. We need to be reminded constantly that their way is not ours. We aim to be holy and chaste, while the culture seeks lewdness and licentious pleasures.
We are told, “Kedoshim tihiyu. Be a holy and good people,” and we must live our lives by that credo. Why don’t we do all that is popular and attractive? Why isn’t proper conduct determined by the way prominent people of the surrounding culture act? Because we are commanded to be kedoshim. We live lives of holiness. We seek growth and advancement, not stagnation and decline. Our path leads to happiness and fulfillment, theirs to emptiness of substance.
Kedoshim was said behakheil because it refers to everyone - men, women and children - not just to the upper crust.
Every day we are tested anew, and every day we must prove that we really are different. Let the media mock us as insular when we cleave to a high moral rule, but let us not act in ways that allow them to mock us as dishonest and unpatriotic.
Proclaim for all that we are keepers of a sacred trust. Our way of life traces itself back to the midbar, where Moshe Rabbeinu repeated to us the words of Hashem, “Kedoshim tihiyu.”
Besides rebuilding the Ponovezher Yeshiva in Bnei Brak following the Second World War, the Ponovezher Rov also founded a children’s home for orphans who had survived the war and had nowhere to go.
He once arrived to join in the celebration of the bar mitzvah of the only child who survived the Kovno Ghetto. The simcha took place during the week of Parshas Shemini, which discusses the deaths of Nodov and Avihu, sons of Aharon Hakohein. 
The Ponovezher Rov began speaking about the parsha, as he addressed the boy from Kovno. The pesukim discuss that Moshe Rabbeinu became angry at the two surviving sons, Elozor and Issomor. The posuk says, “Vayiktzof al Elozor ve’al Issomar bonov hanosarim leimor – And he became angry at Elozor and at Issomor, the remaining sons, saying.” Rashi explains the word leimor, saying, to mean that Moshe asked them to respond to what he had said.
What, asked the Rov, did Moshe want them to respond to? 
The Rov cited the Chazal that Elozor and Issomor also should have been burned to death along with their brothers, but Hashem had mercy on Aharon and refrained from causing him the pain of losing his four sons.
The Rov remarked, “Moshe turned to the surviving brothers and said to them, ‘Why did Hashem keep you alive if not for you to be mekadeish Sheim Hashem? Answer me, therefore, where is your kiddush Hashem?”
He turned to the bar mitzvah boy and said, “From all the Jewish children in the Kovno Ghetto, you were the only one to survive. Do you know what Hashem says to you? ‘I kept you alive to be mekadeish Hashem.’ Hashem says, ‘Leimor, tell me, where is your kiddush Hashem?’
“And He doesn’t only say that to you,” the Rov continued. “Every Jewish child is a survivor. Hashem kept you alive to be mekadeish Hashem. Leimor, He calls out to you, ‘Answer Me. Answer and be mekadeish Hashem.’”
Many years have passed since that speech, and many years have passed since the Holocaust, but those of us who are alive, those of us who lived through it and those who were born to those who did, are all survivors. We are all here for a higher purpose. We are all kedoshim.
We all need to be living holy lives of kiddush Hashem. Leimor, let us all proclaim it loud and clear for all to hear and see. We are kedoshim. Our lives are kadosh. We seek to increase kedusha.
We aspire to be mekadshei Hashem wherever we are and in whatever we do.

The Majesty of Man is in His Speech

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Shortly after the passing of Holocaust survivor Rav Avraham Steiner at the age of 96 in Bnei Brak, Rav Moshe Greineman related the following story that he heard at the shivah
Rabbi Steiner served in a German labor camp during the Second World War. In that awful place, every evening, when the ragtag group of laborers would return to the camp from their tortuous work, the SS commander would call out the name of one of the Jews. As the man would approach, the evil German would shoot him once in the head and another innocent Jewish life would be snuffed out by a Nazi. This would happen every day. 
One evening, the murderer looked at the list of inmates and called out the name Wolfgang Cohen. Not wanting to die, Mr. Cohen pointed to Avrohom Steiner and called out to him, “Wolfgang Cohen, why don’t you go up? Your name was called!”
In the seconds that Rabbi Steiner was thinking about what to do, the posuk of “Shomer piv uleshono shomer mitzaros nafsho” (Mishlei 21:23) came to mind. He decided that he would not reveal to the Nazi that Cohen was looking to save his own life and forcing him to go instead of him. He would answer the call of the Nazi and the rest would be up to Hashem.
He recited Shema Yisroel and headed for the spot where the Nazi would kill the Jews every night. Suddenly, the Nazi called out, “Cohen, halt. Every night I kill one Jew and spare the rest. Tonight, I’m doing it differently. Tonight, I am sparing the person whose name I called out and killing the rest of the group.”
And thus, Rav Steiner lived, while Cohen and the rest died. He was “shomer piv.” He was able to control himself from tattling on Cohen, and he lived a long and fruitful life in Bnei Brak, reaching the age of 96, the numerical equivalent of the word “piv.”
His ability to control his speech granted him life - a very long life. 
From where did he derive the strength to be shomer piv to such a degree?
We are currently in the last stages of the final golus. While earlier exiles were caused by the sins of avodah zorah, giluy arayos and shefichas domim, the current golus is caused by lashon hora and sinas chinom
To merit redemption from this golus, we have to uproot those sins from our midst.
What causes these sins? Why are they so rampant in our world? Why can’t we rid ourselves of them?
Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover writes (Ohr Torah 27) that the sins of lashon hora and sinas chinom are caused by bittul Torah. The remedy for them is, as the posuk says, “Marpeh lashon eitz chaim - The study of Torah heals the sins of the mouth” (Mishlei 15:4).
Individuals speak ill of others, dislike others, and despise their very existence for no reason. Today, hate is so prevalent. You don’t need a reason to hate someone. If someone davens differently than you, you hate him. If his kids go to a school you don’t like, you hate him. If he drives the wrong car, you hate him. If his beard is too long or too short, or he doesn’t have one at all, you hate him.
Hate. Hate. Hate. It’s all over. It’s rampant. 
Why? Where does it come from? 
The simple explanation is that the urge - nay, the need - to speak lashon hora is brought on by our need for respect. In order to earn the respect of others, people mock other people and tell tales about them. By lowering the respect people have for others, we imagine that they will have more respect for us. It is a silly theory, but it is common practice.
People seem to be saying, “Don’t judge me and find me lacking. Love me and look at the many deficiencies of the other fellow.” Jealousy, middos raos, and the need to be popular come into play as people speak lashon hora.
Sadly, they think that they will be happier, more satisfied and respected if they cause people to look down upon others. They don’t realize that it is not a zero-sum game in which they gain when the other person loses. 
In fact, each person has a different mission in life and is given different abilities and blessings that are required to accomplish their mission. Happiness and satisfaction are brought on by working towards our individual missions and thereby improving ourselves and the world. Negating the accomplishments, possessions and attributes of other people is of no help in realizing our own missions or in acquiring happiness and earning respect.
Believing that what you have is from Hashem helps you appreciate what you’ve been blessed with. There is then no need to ridicule or be jealous of others.
When my dear friend, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, was transferred to a New York area federal prison after his egregious 27-year sentence was handed down, he received a lot of mail. His case had been highlighted, as we know, and the obvious injustice of the sentence caused many people to reach out to him.
While he would receive dozens of letters daily, the majority of the inmates, who got minimal mail, were angry at the newcomer. They were furious that he got so much mail, while they got barely anything. They even told him that they weren’t getting mail because he was. Then, one day, he explained it to them.
He said to the inmates, “The reason you aren’t getting mail is because nobody took an envelope and wrote your address upon it. These letters aren’t addressed to you, and even were I to distribute these envelopes to all of you, when you opened them, you wouldn’t be able to understand what the people are writing. Many are written in Hebrew and Yiddish, and besides, reading that my mother loves me would have no emotional value to you.  
“Each person has their own mail. Fretting about the amount I receive will not help you at all.”
It is not only his mail that we shouldn’t be jealous of. The same goes for every possession a person has. He has it because Hashem put his address on it. He has it because Hashem decided he should have it to be able to fulfill his mission in life. Being jealous of another person’s possessions makes as much sense as being jealous of the amount of mail received by a poor, helpless, incarcerated person.
Emunah and bitachon are strengthened by the study of Torah and mussar. Thus, we can say that bittul Torah leads to lashon hora. As helpful as the programs and lessons about lashon hora and sinas chinom are, if we don’t get to the root of the problem, if we don’t increase our Torah study, if we don’t strengthen our belief in Hashgocha protis, the problem will persist.
Rav Tzadok Hakohein (Pri Tzaddik, Rosh Chodesh Nissan) says that Moshe Rabbeinu told Hashem that appealing to Paroh would be of no use. “Aich yishmo’eini Pharoh,” Paroh will not listen, he explained, because “vaani aral sefosoyim.” 
Although Hashem, who is “som peh ladam,” assured Moshe Rabbeinu that He would repair his speech defect and Paroh would accept what he says, Moshe explained his reticence in approaching Paroh, because he was “aral sefosoyim,” referring to the klipah of tumah in the hearts of the Jewish people, which caused their disconnect from Torah and an inability to listen to Moshe.
This is what he meant when he said, “Hein Bnei Yisroel lo shome’u eilay veaich yishmo’eini Pharoh va’ani aral sefosoyim.” Orlah refers to the yeitzer hora. Moshe complained that the yeitzer hora was blocking the Jewish people from hearing his voice. 
When Hashem told Moshe, “Hachodesh hazeh lochem,” He gave the Jewish people the strength to inject kedusha into the month of Nissan. With the added kedusha of the month, the Jews were able to overcome the areilus. Armed with increased kedusha, they were able to return to study Torah. The combination of added kedusha and Torah did away with the “aral sefosoyim,” which was caused by the general spiritual weakness of the Bnei Yisroel
With the areilus of Moshe’s speech no longer present, the go’el was able to speak to Paroh. Geulah was now on the horizon.
Even though everything Moshe said was as commanded by Hashem, without the added kedusha and Torah, people were unable to comprehend him.
We read in this week’s parsha,Uvayom hashemini yimol besar orlaso (Vayikra 12:3). The orlah of the bosor is removed by others on the eighth day of a boy’s life. However, the orlah of the heart and soul are much more difficult to remove, plus we have to do that ourselves. No one can do it for us.
It is through added kedusha that our mouths are cleansed of their sins of lashon hora and sinas chinom, and are able to speak lovingly of our fellow man and Hashem. We are able to use the gift of speech positively and sing the praises of Hashem for granting us the ability to speak and love.
Imagine a young musician blessed with a rare ability to make the keys of the piano dance. He plays beautifully, but since he is incredibly poor, he learns a trade and becomes a plumber. Even if he succeeds and becomes the most successful plumber in town, part of him is dead. There is unexpressed song inside him, and as he works on pipes and drains, he dreams of music. All day long, as he goes about his business, he thinks about music. He plays piano in his head while he repairs leaks with his blessed fingers. Perhaps nobody notices this about him, but that is because they don’t really know him.
As Klal Yisroel slaved in Mitzrayim, they were a nation with a song trapped inside of them. They were unable to express themselves. The avdus and tumah locked their ideas and attitudes inside of them. Areilus jumbled their abilities.
When they were redeemed and removed from avdus and tumah, their gifts of speech burst forth, along with wellsprings of kedusha and depth.
Parshas Tazria teaches us the majesty of man.
Man, unique among all creations, is blessed with speech. But he must keep it pure, for impure speech results in the immediate and obvious punishment of tzoraas. 
The punishment for this aveirah is unique in that it causes deformities on the sinner’s body, home and clothing, for the person who speaks improperly betrays his soul and demonstrates a lack of belief that everything that transpires in this world is directed by the Creator.
A person who has proper emunah and bitachon is unfazed when another person seems to be more successful than he is, for he knows that everyone receives what Hashem determines he should get. Thus, there is no room for jealousy, hatred or speaking ill of others.
Therefore, someone who engages in such behavior is struck by a punishment that directly demonstrates that Hashem watches over and monitors every person. When a person sins in these matters, he is separated from the community and given time to ponder what caused the nega of tzoraas. He realizes that it came from Hashem, who provides for all of mankind, and recognizes that his sin was caused by a lack of faith in that regard. When he repents and accepts that Hashem cares for all, his nega is healed and he can return to properly serving Hashem and utilizing the gift of speech.
The majesty and supremacy of man are arrived at by responsibly using each word and understanding its potential to build worlds.
Each one of us is a scion of majesty and greatness. Every word we utter must be precious to us. Everything we say should be measured and clearly thought through before being spoken. Our dikduk b’mitzvos needs to be matched by meticulousness in the words used to express an idea and to explain deep Torah thoughts and concepts.
With emunah and bitachon guiding our lives, we live the way a Jew should live, remembering what should be important to us and that the material is immaterial when it comes to living a Torah life. We need to concern ourselves with Hashem’s wishes, cognizant of the fact that we are in golus, never succumbing to the areilus that overtakes those who lose sight of the fact that we have to be working towards the geulah.
Parshas Tazria reminds us not to allow the tumah of our surroundings to influence us, but to live lives of kedusha and taharah, dedicated to dikduk b’lashon, kiyum hamitzvos and limud haTorah.
Why, people ask, does this publication report news? Because we don’t want our neshamos sullied by flipping through the pages of newspapers and magazines. Media sinks to the gutter as they report all sensational and irrelevant details, dragging down all who read and discuss what passes nowadays for news.
We don’t want to be reading lashon hora. We don’t want to be reading tumah. We want to maintain lives of kedusha, keeping ourselves on a level at which shomrei Torah umitzvos belong. To think and act properly, we have to maintain a distance from material that sullies our neshamos
In Golus Mitzrayim, the culture was so depraved that its influence caused the Bnei Yisroel to sink to the lowest levels of tumah. In the golus in which we currently find ourselves, the culture and media have been steadily sinking to lower levels. By following their lead and discussing the matters they purvey to us, we can become tomei.
To be deserving of redemption, we must increase our devotion to Torah, so that the areilus that hardens souls and causes engagement in lashon hora and sinas chinom will fade, and soon we will be able to hear Eliyohu Hanovi telling us, “Higi’a zeman geulaschem.”