Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Not The Media’s Standard

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Humans everywhere seek love and appreciation. As people attempt to fill that need, oftentimes they seek to ingratiate themselves with those around them, compromising on values in a bid to gain popularity. We must remember the admonition of Chazal that it is better for a person to go through life considered a fool in the eyes of the world than to be considered a rosha by the Ribbono Shel Olam for even one moment. While it is important to make a good impression, it is much more important to live in harmony with Hashem’s will.

Sometimes, we so badly want something to happen that we blind ourselves to the reality that the goal is not in keeping with the will of Hashem and the Torah.

Bilam became so smitten by the Midianite king’s offer of fame and fortune that he sought to act against what he knew was the Divine will. In a failed bid to advance his own agenda, he perverted the gift of prophesy with which he was blessed. He sought to twist the Divine word so that he could follow Hashem’s literal command, even though he knew that he wasn’t acting according to the Divine will.

When he first asked permission to return with the ministers of Bolok, Hashem refused him. Bilam petitioned again, until Hashem permitted him to go if he would not curse the Jewish people. Bilam knew that the venture was against Hashem’s will, but he didn’t care, as long as he was following the literal words of Hashem.

The gold and silver promised by the high ministers of Bolok’s court were too enticing to resist.

Adulation and admiration are nice, but they do not determine the actions of a person whose life is dedicated to Torah values.

All too often, the term “kiddush Hashem is used as a plea to act in a way that impresses the world around us. In fact, an act can only bring about a kiddush Hashem if it follows the will of Hashem. Even though the conduct may earn accolades and praise, it could still be a chillul Hashem if it is not in keeping with halacha and the mesorah.

The talmidim in pre-war Novardok would enter a hardware store and ask for milk. They would visit the pharmacy and ask for nails. They engaged in this type of behavior to train themselves to accept mockery and scorn. They thus developed the thick skin necessary to withstand the judgment of others, a trait they used to advance the cause of Torah even when it was unpopular.

The Novardokers knew that it is natural for people to seek public recognition. As it continues to remain elusive, the quest can drive people away from the proper path. Desperate for public recognition, people compromise on honesty and halacha.

We often see decent, honest, upstanding and smart people who reach a position of power and become unapproachable and unrecognizable to those who knew them before their ascent. They abandon the ideals they had lived by in the past as they were climbing the ladder of success. They engage in debatable actions if they believe it will engender more honor and prestige for themselves. In the process, they destroy themselves and their reputations.

Power corrupts. But it doesn’t have to.

Bilam was granted to the Canaanite nations so that they could not excuse their behavior by claiming that they were shortchanged by not having a proper prophet to lead and guide them as the Israelites did. They took advantage of his craving for recognition and ambushed him with tempting offers that led him to stray from his appointed mission.

Bolok, king of Moav, was an intelligent observer of the world scene. He noted that a relatively small nation, without a country, had encountered large powerful nations along its nomadic path and defeated them in battle. He surmised that their victories were brought on by a higher power, since they definitely did not possess the manpower or experience to vanquish such powerful, established foes. He reasoned that to defeat them, it would not suffice to strengthen his army and devise better battle plans. Instead, he sought out Bilam the sorcerer to entice him to curse the obviously blessed nation.

His bid to twist the power of the upstarts failed miserably, as Bilam found himself unable to curse Hashem’s favorite sons. Instead of being defeated, the small nation gained strength from Bolok’s venture. For it is not enough to be a brilliant pundit. To succeed, man must see the Hand of Hashem in all that transpires and act accordingly.

Bilam was given ample opportunity to right his way and be a light unto the nations, but he failed. As he was riding to view the encampment of Am Yisroel, his donkey veered from the path, as the beast of burden saw an angel blocking its way. Bilam hit the donkey three times, whereupon it told him that a malach was in its way, and had it not stopped, Bilam would have been killed. When Bilam saw the angel, he apologized for hitting the donkey and said, “Chotosi, I have sinned, for I didn’t know you were standing in the way.”

The Seforno and Shela wonder why Bilam sinned. Was he expected to imagine that his donkey had seen an angel in its path? They answer that when a person sees that things aren’t going his way and difficulties arise, he must understand that he is being sent messages from Heaven to reconsider his actions and correct his behavior. Bilam sinned because he didn’t stop to make a cheshbon hanefesh when his plan was being blocked.

Rav Moshe Meir Weiss recounted that one wintry morning, the roads were icy and the car in which Rav Moshe Feinstein was riding to the Yeshiva of Staten Island slid off the road, causing Rav Moshe to bump his head. The driver took him to a doctor for an examination. Thankfully, there was no damage and Rav Moshe was able to continue to the yeshiva to partake in breakfast.

Normally, he would ask Rav Weiss to bring him a Gemara, which he would use to study as he ate, but that day he said, “Please don’t bring the Gemara yet. I have to make a cheshbon as to why this happened to me.”

Rav Moshe thought for a couple of minutes. Once he was satisfied that he had made a proper cheshbon, he was ready to learn and asked that the Gemara be brought.

When Rav Moshe was in his eighties, he had a pacemaker installed to regulate his heart. The operation caused him much pain. During the recuperation period, he was silent and deep in thought. He explained that he was seeking to understand what sin he had committed to be punished with such pain. He said that he reviewed in his mind the eighty-plus years of his life until he thought of an incident that took place when he was a young child. His melamed would ask questions of his young charges, and Rav Moshe’s responses were better than those of the other children. When he gave his answers, the children were embarrassed of the responses they had given. “For that I was punished,” Rav Moshe said.

Even a tzaddik like Rav Moshe Feinstein, who could find no misdeeds in over eight decades of his life, was obligated to make a cheshbon hanefesh when something caused him pain. Certainly people like us must think through our actions and ensure that we are not only living by the word of Hashem, but also by His will.

The parsha ends by discussing the example of an incorruptible leader. Pinchos knew that his heroic act to stand up for the honor of Hashem would provoke negative feelings and lead people to label him a baal machlokes and killer. His life was in jeopardy as he acted selflessly, ignoring the masses. His only motivation was to act for the sake of Hashem’s honor.

Pinchos thus earned the eternal gratitude of the Jewish people and the everlasting blessings of Hashem. The posuk relates, “Lochein emor hineni nosein lo ess berisi shalom.” It wasn’t the pacifists who brought about shalom. It was Pinchos, with his single-minded zeal and passion, who achieved peace.

Pinchos was the type of person who earns everlasting respect and the exalted position of bris kehunas olam. That is the type of leader who saves a nation. Why? Tachas asher kinei l’Elokav vayechaper al bnei Yisroel.

We instinctively get pulled by the media and the court of public opinion. Nobody wants to be seen as a baal machlokes, as a divider, or one who doesn’t go with the flow. No one wants to be painted as an outcast who hews to an ancient code. We all want to be perceived as with-it, intelligent, loving and sweet. But that is not the Jewish barometer of right and wrong. As Bilam said, “Hein am levodod yishkon uvagoyim lo yis’chashov.” We are different. We don’t blend in. We don’t do things so that the media will write glowing reports about us. We follow halacha and the Torah, and we thus achieve enduring greatness and respect.

In an era of evolving truth, when even well-grounded diehards betray principle, we must remember the example of people such as Pinchos ben Elozor ben Aharon Hakohein.

We must engage in the study of Torah and mussar to ensure that we do not fall for the enticements that life offers. We must remain loyal to our mission, living lives of truth and being mekadeish Sheim Shomayim in all we do. By doing so, we will be zocheh to genuine kavod and enduring brocha.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

To The Max

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha, we learn about the parah adumah, identified as a chok, a mitzvah without a reason we can understand. Rashi explains that the Torah clearly states that the mitzvah is a chok so that the Jewish people will not seek explanations for the commandment when the nations of the world mock the mitzvah.

Don’t seek to explain it to them, for neither you nor they will ever understand the reason. Apparently, all through the ages, gentiles have been mocking Jewish service and mitzvos, and Jews have bothered answering them, mistakenly assuming that by doing so they would temper anti-Jewish feeling.

The Torah is the basis for laws of jurisprudence in civilized countries, yet we are constantly vilified by citizens of those very countries and characterized by old anti-Semitic stereotypes as dishonest shylocks. Wherever we have been, we have been mistreated and held to a double standard. Dialogue and debates never succeeded in winning over the hearts and minds of haters.

Yet, we persist in trying to prove the justice of our cause, hiring public relations experts and attempting to explain our way of life to those motivated by age-old bias. We need to have enough self-confidence to be able to ignore the senseless cries and know that there is not much to be gained in articulating who we are when dealing with irrational, ingrained, hatred.

In fact, the Torah quotes Moshe Rabbeinu as stating, “Behold, I have taught you chukim and mishpotim as Hashem commanded me, you shall observe and follow them, for they are your wisdom and knowledge in the eyes of the nations, when they will hear of these chukim, and they will say, ‘This is a wise nation’” (Devorim 4:5-6).

Our laws and mitzvos, whether understood or not, are the bedrock of our lives, culture and religion, and we have nothing to be embarrassed of when we are faithful to Torah. Take a look at current events and see where true justice lies.

Americans who have always believed in the country’s justice system were dumbfounded, disheartened and disappointed when they were briefed on a long delayed Investigator General’s report on the investigation of the FBI and Justice Department into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for classified information.

The report is over 500 pages, in which then-FBI head James Comey is accused of being insubordinate. Other FBI officials are quoted making strong anti-Trump statements. A long list of mistakes and poor judgments are cited. In the end, the IG concludes that there is no proof of any bias in the handling of the investigation.

Comey arrived at a similar conclusion in his investigation as FBI director in the Clinton case. He laid out a thorough and provable criminal case, only to conclude that there were no grounds on which to press charges against Mrs. Clinton.

Trump supporters read the IG report and conclude that once again, the Deep State won. Just as Clinton was freed with no charges, Donald Trump has been hung out to twist in the swamp for the past two years.

As soon as Comey and his associates covered for Hillary, they set out to create the Trump charges in order to destroy the person who was democratically elected by the American people to lead the country.

Comey doctored the Hillary report to make sure that her actions were not labeled as criminal. He did this by substituting the word “careless” for “grossly negligent.”

To us, it makes no difference, but to lawyers, those words represent the difference between innocence and guilt. Hillary’s emails had a big C on them, marking them classified. She said she thought it was just a letter of the alphabet with no meaning, and the tough guy head of the FBI charged with investigating crimes and treating everyone equally in the face of the law believed her.

She was acquitted by Comey; the exoneration was written many weeks before she was interviewed. Her aides were given immunity without testifying. Comey then proceeded to put together the investigation into the supposed Russian collusion case.

FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who were involved in the exoneration of Clinton, were placed on the new investigation into candidate Trump. The same group that concluded that Hillary was innocent decided that Trump must be stopped.

The Justice Department held back from Congress the text messages that Peter Strzok sent, assuring his friend and co-agent Lisa Page that he would do everything he could to stop Trump from getting elected. He also wrote that he was acting in that way to take out an insurance policy in the unlikely event that Trump would be elected, but since he didn’t say straight out that he hates Trump, there is no bias.

All of the text messages from August 8, 2016 were released to Congress, except this one exchange: Page was worried: “Trump’s not ever going to be president, right?” Strzok reassured her, “No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

One of the FBI agents involved in the Clinton investigation wrote this the day after the election: “Trump’s supporters are all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy… that think he will magically grant them jobs for doing nothing. They probably didn’t watch the debates, aren’t fully educated on his policies, and are stupidly wrapped up in his unmerited enthusiasm.”

Agents mocked Trump supporters, but that doesn’t show bias. You don’t have to be a forensic scientist to know that when an FBI lawyer investigating the president writes, “Viva la resistance,” and when Page writes that Trump is a loathsome human, that they are anti-Trump and want to do him in.

Strzok said that the election results should show 100 million votes for Clinton versus zero for Trump. He said that he would stop him from becoming president, and that if somehow Trump won, he would be impeached.

Trump supporters see the report as a whitewash by the Deep State which President Trump was elected to sweep out, but the swamp creatures are proving much more entrenched than anyone thought.

Democrats stand by and cheer, and the people’s confidence in the justice system is at an all-time low. Many Republican beneficiaries of the system cheer on the corrupt swamp, some quietly and others more proudly, and hope it will prevail.

We need people who believe in truth, justice and consequences. We need people who care enough about truth and justice to join the battle against corruption and fiction. Perhaps it was always this way. Let’s hope it wasn’t.

Ten years ago, we first became acquainted with the justice system when we dug into the Rubashkin case and followed the indictments, court proceedings, conviction and jailing of a fine person. Others castigated us - some still do - for doubting the judicial system.

The time has come for us to rise and say, “We have had enough. We want real justice.”

A couple of months ago, James Comey published a book on leadership, morality and loyalty. He was treated like a conquering hero by the media, as they helped him hype the book and himself. Marketed as a paragon of virtue, he has shown himself to be a farce and a lie.

This goes beyond politics, beyond Republicans and Democrats. It goes to the heart of this country.

Meanwhile, special counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation into the president’s firing of Comey continues. Was the president obstructing justice when he fired Comey? The Deep State says he was. Though Comey was found to have acted stupidly, was insubordinate, and had poor judgment, the mainstream press and politicians believe that he should have been allowed to continue in his position as America’s top lawman.

In the end, what becomes obvious is that Hillary violated the Espionage Act and Comey protected her from an indictment so that the Democrats would not have their shoo-in for election replaced and the campaign upended. At that time, and all through the period covered by the report, everyone involved believed Clinton would win the election. None of them gave Trump any chance. In fact, the IG did not find even one email praising Trump, though there was one mocking Clinton. He did find that there appeared to be a “willingness to take official action to impact Trump’s prospects,” something he says is “antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”

Irrespective of whether the laws of the land are properly enforced, we are to abide by them and observe them faithfully as loyal citizens of this country, which provides for us a welcome home.

We must always conduct ourselves in a fashion that promotes kiddush Hashem and never cause a chillul Hashem.

In this week’s parsha (Bamidbar 20:7-13), we confront the sorrowful occurrence of mei meriva, where Moshe and Aharon were commanded by Hashem to speak to the rock and ask it to give forth water. Instead of speaking to it, Moshe hit it with his staff. Hashem told Moshe and Aharon that because they weren’t mekadeish Him in the eyes of the Bnei Yisroel, they shall not merit bringing the Jews into the Promised Land.

A careful examination of the posuk and Rashi’s explanation, says Rav Elazar Menachem Shach, shows that Moshe and Aharon were faulted not for causing a chillul Hashem, but for not bringing about as great a kiddush Hashem as was possible. The fact that an inert stone was able to give forth water for the nation and their animals in the desert was in itself a miracle (see Ramban, ibid.). They were faulted because speaking to the stone would have brought about a greater kiddush Hashem.

Rashi explains that the Jews would have been able to make a kal vachomer. They could have realized that if a stone that neither speaks nor hears, and has no need to earn a living, follows the word of Hashem, certainly we should.

Thus, the punishment of Moshe and Aharon was brought about because they didn’t cause as great a kiddush Hashem as was possible.

Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover, famed disciple of the Vilna Gaon, writes in Ohr Torah (27, 29, 81, 145) that because Moshe hit the stone, it became difficult to study and understand Torah. Forgetfulness in Torah study set in and Moshe Rabbeinu died early, causing the wells of Torah to dry up. From then on, there was machlokes in understanding Torah and arriving at the halacha.

He says that if Moshe had spoken to the rock, the Torah would have been revealed in totality. It would not be as difficult to understand, there would have been no golus, the Bais Hamikdosh would not have been destroyed, and Hashem would not lead us through hester ponim.

We note that all this came about because Moshe and Aharon failed to use the opportunity to be fully mekadeish Hashem.

In our lives, as well, we must use every opportunity to be mekadeish Hashem as much as possible. Sometimes, people defend their actions and say that they acted properly and did not cause a chillul Hashem. That doesn’t suffice. We must dedicate ourselves to kiddush Hashem to the max in ways that leave no doubt about our commitment to the Torah’s chukim and mishpotim, to each other, to the public welfare, to the laws of the land, and to what is right and just.

Zos chukas haTorah. That is our mandate.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Eye on Jealousy

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 
The age-old question is asked every time the parsha of Korach is studied. Korach was wise, talented and capable, with leadership abilities and illustrious yichus. What caused him to revolt against Moshe and Aharon in a battle he would definitely lose and earn for himself nothing but eternal damnation? Many answers are given.
Chazal, quoted by Rashi on the words “rav lochem” (16:7), provide an understanding of Korach’s thinking. They explain his motivation: “Eino hitaso,” his eyes led him astray. He foresaw great progeny coming from him and deduced that he could take on Moshe and emerge victorious.
Perhaps we can focus on the language of Chazal of “eino hitaso, his eyes led him astray” indicating that it was Korach’s eyes that led him to fail so miserably. Although he was a smart and capable person, he was unable to focus on his own lofty role and special Divine shlichus. Instead, he insisted on looking at his cousin, Moshe Rabbeinu, and at his special role. Had Korach remained focused on his own job and his own position, he could have succeeded in fulfilling his calling. Consumed by looking at Moshe, he became overcome with jealousy, believing that Moshe had usurped what should have been his. His constant eyeing of Moshe gnawed at his ego and destroyed him.
An envious person cannot handle when someone else has something that he wants and is referred to in the language of Torah as a “tzar ayin.” One who is able to accept that other people have what he doesn’t is referred to as a “tov ayin,” a person with a good eye. This is because Chazal, in their expert understanding of the human psyche, perceived that the destructive traits of envy and jealousy begin taking root in people with their eyes. Looking at what other people have or don’t have begins the process that leads to bitterness and self-destruction.
Eino hitaso might well be referring to this destructive habit. His eyes did him in.
This would also explain the connection of Parshas Korach to Parshas Shelach, which ends with the mitzvah of tzitzis. The posuk there states, “Velo sosuru acharei levavchem v’acharei eineichem” (15:39). Rashi explains, “Ha’ayin ro’ah vehalev chomed vehaguf oseh es ha’aveiros.” At the root of sin is the wandering eye.
Korach didn’t follow that admonition.
A talmid asked Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach questions pertaining to the halachos of mezuzah. He explained to his rebbi that he had purchased an apartment and had some questions pertaining to hanging mezuzos. Rav Shlomo Zalman asked him several questions about the apartment’s layout, the apartment’s location, and when he was moving there.
Not long after the young couple settled in to the new dirah, they had a surprise visitor: Rav Shlomo Zalman himself. The family was very happy that the famous rosh yeshiva and posek had come to visit them in their new apartment. Rav Shlomo Zalman asked to see all the rooms, including the storage area and the porch, commenting favorably about each feature of the new home. After wishing them well, Rav Shlomo Zalman left. While the family was humbled by the experience, they were curious as to what they had done to merit the visit. Rav Shlomo Zalman was quite busy and wasn’t in the habit of visiting his talmidim in their homes.
After a few days passed, the talmid asked Rav Shlomo Zalman why he had come to visit his new home. The rosh yeshiva explained: “I know that the pressure of buying an apartment weighs heavily on yungeleit, and until a family has an apartment of their own, they are stressed. You purchased a beautiful new apartment in a desirable location, and I knew that there would inevitably be others who would have a hard time with it, wishing that they, too, could find as good a place to live as you have. I was worried that, perhaps, chas veshalom, someone might have tzoras ayin towards you, so I came to look, simply to rejoice in your good mazel and to invest the apartment with an ayin tovah.”
The inability to positively view the success of others stems from a deep problem. A person who lives with the reality that every person’s situation, success and status are controlled and monitored by Hakadosh Boruch Hu does not become overwhelmed by feelings of jealousy. A believer knows that there is no place for being envious of what other people have, because everything that everyone achieves and attains is Divinely ordained. I have what Hashem feels is right for me and my neighbor has what is right for him. A person who is embittered by his neighbor’s larger house and his associate’s promotion to a higher position does not really believe that Hashem runs the world.
We read in the parsha that Moshe told Korach (16:11), “Lochein atoh vechol adoscha hano’adim al Hashem ve’Aharon mah hu...” Moshe accused Korach of assembling to wage battle against Hashem. From a cursory reading of the parsha, it appears that Korach’s dispute was with Moshe. How was Moshe able to accuse him of fighting Hashem? Korach seemed to have issues with his contemporaries, not with Hashem.
According to our explanation, we understand very well why his battle against Moshe was essentially a revolt against the Ribono Shel Olam. Korach was consumed by jealously of the leadership positions of Moshe and Aharon. Since Hashem decides who should be the leader of the generation with whom He wishes to speak and who should be the kohein in the Mishkon, there is no room for complaint against Moshe and Aharon.
By complaining about Moshe’s leadership and Aharon being the kohein gadol, Korach exposed himself as an apikores who didn’t believe that Hashem runs the world. He was denying Hashgochah Protis. Therefore, Moshe admonished him for battling Hashem, for that is in essence what he was doing.
Interestingly, Rashi, on the posuk of “rav lochem,” which we previously cited to quote the Chazal of “eino hitaso,” says in a second exposition, “Dovor gadol notaltem be’atzmichem lachlok al Hakadosh Boruch Hu - You took upon yourselves a great task, arguing against Hashem.”
Perhaps the two thoughts are connected. Because eino hitaso and jealousy were at the root of Korach’s conflict with Moshe, he was battling not only Moshe, but Hashem.
• • • • •
Rav Yisroel Salanter’s Mussar Movement changed the way Jews treat each other and interact with the world. There is a tradition that the revolution was sparked by Rav Yisroel’s reaction to a pitiful incident.
The legend goes that there was a man named Yankel, who was a simple shoemaker in a small town. He was illiterate and unable to study much. He could barely daven or recite Tehillim.
One day, he received a message that there was a letter on fancy stationary waiting for him at the post office, postmarked from the big city. He rushed over and asked the postal clerk to help him read the letter. As the clerk read on, the initial frown on Yankel’s face morphed into an ever-increasing smile. The letter informed him that his wealthy, childless uncle had passed away and left his fortune to Yankel the shoemaker.
Yankel hurried home to inform his wife about their newfound wealth. He was overjoyed by how their life had just taken an unexpected turn. His wife rejoiced in the good news, but advised him to proceed with caution. “Yankel,” she said, “don’t just take the money and spend it on luxuries, because, eventually, it will run out and you will be back to fixing shoes. Go to the big city to claim your inheritance and then we will speak to the local g’vir and seek his advice on a business to invest in.”
Wisely, Yankel listened to her suggestion and brought the money to a reputable local financier to invest for him. Within a short period of time, he was earning enough to be able to bid his shoe repair shop a final goodbye. He lived on his investment income and grew wealthier by the day. With nothing to do, he began to frequent the bais medrash, where he would pay young scholars to learn with him. First they taught him how to read, then to daven, and then to read Chumash. Eventually, he was learning Gemara. He felt good about himself as he steadily progressed.
The years passed. His sons were enrolled in various yeshivos, where they were good students. His upward trajectory, which included advancing in learning and doing very well financially, earned him growing respect in the small town.
One day, a shadchan proposed the rov’s daughter as a suitable match for Yankel’s son. The two sides agreed, and the town rejoiced with the news of the match between this prominent individual and their revered rov.
The entire town celebrated, with one exception. Way back when, next to Yankel’s shoe repair shop, was a blacksmith. The two had been friendly, sitting on their stoops when business was slow, whiling away the hours in conversation.
The blacksmith was never able to accept the fact that his neighbor, the shoemaker, had risen to prominence, while he had remained a simple laborer, working long hours and struggling for every penny. He would look on bitterly as Yankel would deliver a shiur or speak in learning with scholars.
Finally, it was the day of the wedding and the townspeople gathered to celebrate the momentous occasion. The chupah was a grand spectacle, as befitting the rov’s daughter. Yankel stood tall and proud, his face glowing with a surreal light. The glass was broken, shouts of mazel tov filled the air, and the music began to play.
Yankel closed his eyes tightly, as well-wishers gathered around him, and he thought about Hashem’s benevolence toward him. Here he was, a talmid chochom, a g’vir, and, to top it all off, a mechutan with the rov.
Yankel opened his eyes and prepared to joyously greet his guests. There was a crush of people around him, and at their head was his old friend, the blacksmith.
“Yankel,” he shouted above the music, loud enough for everyone to hear.
He reached under his coat and held up a pair of torn shoes for all to see. “Hey, Yankel, how much would you charge me to fix these shoes here?”
People looked on in horror. Yankel stood there, deflated, the joy seeming to rush out of him. The bitter, vicious ploy had worked. The blacksmith had come at the most glorious moment of Yankel’s life and reminded him that he was really nothing more than a very lucky shoemaker.
The blacksmith’s cruel tactic was the talk of the evening. The next day, Yankel passed away of a broken heart.
The story spread like wildfire and was retold in horror across Lithuania. When Rav Yisroel Salanter heard of the cruel and callous action of the blacksmith, he decided that a revolution teaching the importance of tikkun hamiddos was necessary. He took the task upon himself and the rest is history.
Rav Nota Zenwirth, one of Yerushalayim’s tzaddikim, would retell the story and offer his own insight. He would say, “Do you know why Rav Yisroel was shaken so badly by the story? No, it was not because of the bad middos of the blacksmith. It was because of the bad middos of Yankel, the baal simcha.”
He would explain: “Here was this accomplished man - learned, wealthy, blessed with nachas from his children - and yet the opinion of someone else, the nastiness of a small person, had the ability to affect him so badly that it literally killed him. He should have been able to simply ignore what the poor, sad person had done. ‘Why can’t you look at what you have and ignore him?’ That he wasn’t able to do so, and that no one expected him to, is what convinced Rav Yisroel of the necessity of the Mussar Movement.”
• • • • •
The Torah relates that after the ketores offerings of Korach va’adaso were refused, Elozor Hakohein hammered out the pans in which they were prepared and used them to cover the mizbei’ach so that the Bnei Yisroel would remember “velo yihiyeh keKorach vecha’adaso, not to be like Korach and his group” (Bamidbar 17:5).
Most of us aren’t vicious hate-mongers and we view ourselves neither as acting “like Korach” nor as remotely afflicted with his bad middos. We wonder why it was necessary to have a constant reminder not to be like Korach.
When we read the story that gave birth to the Mussar Movement, how many of us understood that the impetus for the revolution in personal conduct and ethics was that Yankel should not have paid attention to what the blacksmith said? That should be an indication that we should be dedicating more of our time to studying seforim that deal with moral behavior. No, we are not as evil as Korach was, but if we permit our eyes to mislead us, we possess in our consciences the seeds of personal failure.
Let us all count our blessings, appreciate what we have, and know that Hashem has a unique plan for each of us. We each have everything we need to thrive and flourish as avdei Hashem. Our situation is different than anyone else’s and we gain nothing by gazing disapprovingly at what other people have. We also need to possess the strength of character to ignore the comments of vacuous people.
Everyone has different maalos and chesronos, different kochos and different nisyonos. How we deal with them is what our lives are all about.
May we all merit the brachos of “tov ayin hu yevorach (Mishlei 22:9).

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Scouting for Greatness

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha, we encounter the tragic episode of the meraglim sent to scout Eretz Yisroel. The posuk relates that the perpetrators were all great men. The mission ended in disaster, with ten of the twelve spies erring terribly, causing much pain and suffering for the Jewish people.
For all time, these individuals are remembered with derision. We wonder how ten great men, chosen by Moshe Rabbeinu to conduct a review of the land Hashem had promised to the Avos, could have gone so wrong. What lies at the root of their sin, and how were they able to convince the nation that their trek to the Promised Land was doomed?
How was it that the people who experienced Yetzias Mitzrayim and Kriyas Yam Suf lost their faith? The same people who recently experienced the tragedy of the Eigel and begged forgiveness, who complained about the monn and were plagued by the slov in last week’s parsha, still doubted the ability of Hashem to fulfill His promises. How are we to understand that?
The first Rashi in the parsha holds a key to comprehending this. Quoting from the Medrash Tanchuma, Rashi explains that the parsha of the meraglim follows the parsha of Miriam because Miriam was punished for the gossip she spoke about her brother Moshe, and although these wicked people witnessed this, they failed to learn anything from it.
The common explanation of this is that witnessing the painful consequences of Miriam’s lashon hora should have deterred the meraglim from speaking lashon hora on the Land of Israel. How, many commentators ask, can one extrapolate from Miriam’s episode that speaking ill of a country is as sinful as speaking ill of a person?
Perhaps we can understand this by examining the root of lashon hora, commonly explained to mean gossip. The roots of this sin are more destructive than simple chitchat.
At the end of Parshas Beha’aloscha (12:1-2), the posuk states that Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe concerning his wife. “And they said, ‘Did Hashem only speak to Moshe? He also spoke to us!’” The posuk does not recount what they said about Moshe’s wife, but it says that they minimized their brother’s greatness. They compared themselves to Moshe, as if to say, “What’s the big deal? Who does he think he is? Hashem also talks to us. He doesn’t only speak to him.”
The essence of lashon hora is minimizing the accomplishments of other people. People will admire someone for having reached some level of accomplishment. The baal lashon hora throws a damper on it by bringing up a tale whose message is that the person is not really great. He also has failings. If we wanted to, we could succeed just as he did.
The meraglim should have learned from Miriam what happens to someone who disparages and minimizes greatness. They failed to learn that negativity and cynicism are not compatible with greatness. They should have seen that such behavior is frowned upon by Hashem. For even if the details are true, nevertheless, since it diminishes the subject’s esteem in another’s eyes, he has spoken lashon hora.
At the root of lashon hora lies a desire to destroy the respect one person holds for another.
Thus began the chain of events that is at the root of the churban Bais Hamikdosh and the reason we have not yet merited redemption.
Aharon and Miriam were tzaddikim on a high level of avodah and it is not for us to criticize them or their speech and actions. The Torah relates what took place not for us to pass judgment on them, but so that we can learn from the episode to avoid the temptations to diminish anyone or anything.
The downfall of the meraglim, selected by Moshe for this shlichus, was their failure to learn not to approach matters with a negative view. They spoke against the Land of Israel, which Hashem had praised. They said that it was an “eretz ocheles yoshveha,” a land that eats its citizens. Then they said that the people who live there are strong and would make life difficult for the Jews. 
They minimized the greatness of the land and the promises of Hashem. They drove a wedge between Moshe and Am Yisroel. They caused the nation to have doubts about the greatness of Hashem. Therefore, for eternity, these individuals are referred to as resho’im.
Such acts are similar to the conduct of Amaleik, a nation held up as a paradigm of evil because, as the posuk relates, “asher korcha baderech,” they caused the Jews to lose their enthusiasm on the way to Eretz Yisroel. After Matan Torah, when all the nations of the world saw the splendor of Hashem and feared Him, Amaleik attacked us. Amaleik tried to dilute the fear of Hashem that had begun to spread across the world.
Amaleik’s crime emanated from the same root as the crime of lashon hora, and thus they both cause churban.
Reinforcing the concept that lashon hora and Amaleik are rooted in the same shoresh of evil is the Gemara in Maseches Megillah (13b), which quotes Rava as saying that there was no one who knew [how to speak] lashon hora as Haman did. This arch villain minimized to Achashveirosh every positive attribute the Jews possessed. As is well-known, Haman was a progeny of Amaleik and well-versed in that evil nation’s ways.
Haman said that the Jewish people are “mefuzar umeforad bein ha’amim.” He sought to depict the Jews as lacking unity.
Another indication of this idea is evident in the peirush of Rabbeinu Bachya on Chumash. In Parshas Shemos (2:14), the Torah relates the first episode involving Moshe, Doson and Avirom. Moshe saw the two of them fighting and said to them, “Rasha lomo sakeh reiyecha.” They responded, “Mi somcha l’ish… Who made you for an ish, minister and ruler above us? Will you kill me the way you killed the Mitzri?”
Moshe Rabbeinu responded by saying, “Now the matter is known.” Rashi cites the Medrash, which explains that with their statement, Moshe understood why the Jews deserved to be enslaved.
Rabbeinu Bachya quotes the Medrash and says that the reason the Jews were still enslaved was because they had baalei lashon hora amongst them.
Why was their sin considered lashon hora? They did not tell anyone other than Moshe himself that they had seen him kill the Mitzri.
Perhaps we can explain that Moshe Rabbeinu’s comment was in response to their statement questioning Moshe’s standing: “Mi somcha l’ish…” It was their attempt to minimize him and his greatness to which Moshe was referring when he said that the reason the Jews were still in Mitzrayim was because of lashon hora. Negativity and calling into question the greatness of leaders or other people are causes of golus and impede geulah.
The meraglim set out to map the land that Hashem had promised to their forefathers generations before. Twelve leading men of the Bnei Yisroel were given a mission to appraise the Promised Land. They could have approached every sight with the perspective that they were meriting to finally be in the land of destiny, where Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov had lived. It was the country their forefathers had fought and prayed for, the eternal home of the Jewish people.
But they didn’t look at Eretz Yisroel as being gavoah mikol ha’aratzos. They didn’t view Chevron and Yerushalayim as being different than other cities and towns in countries around the world.
They traversed the Holy Land as if it were Greenland. They looked at the fruits for which Eretz Yisroel is praised as if they were the products of a simple agrarian state. They didn’t hear Hashem’s promises reverberating as they traveled throughout the land. Instead, they found fault in everything they saw.
They spoke poorly of the land because they viewed it as just another country. Their sin was two-fold: They denied the greatness of the land and they denied the Divine promise. They were thus resho’im
A rosha seeks to tear down great people and bring them to his level. An ish builds people and raises them. A rosha sees people trying to build something and mocks their efforts; he can only discourage. An ish offers encouragement to strengthen others for the challenges that inevitably lie ahead.
A rosha is a naysayer. An ish says, “Let’s do what’s proper and we will succeed.” 
A rosha says, “Don’t bother trying.” An ish says, “Let’s make our hishtadlus. Hashem will do the rest.”
The lesson of the meraglim calls out to us in our day as well. When you see people struggling to grow, encourage them. When you see people working on a project for the communal good, strengthen them. When called upon to assist noble individuals, worthy projects, yeshivos and communal endeavors, respond as Calev did and say, “Yachol nuchal lah.”
When you assess a situation or a person, do so through the periscope of Torah. When dealing with other people, recognize that they were created b’tzelem Elokim and possess a nefesh and neshomah. When you see a student failing, imagine how great he can become and treat him that way. He will grow and succeed. 
Treat people the way you want to be treated. Concentrate on the positive and not the negative.
Chazal derive from the posuk (Vayikra 19:15), “B’tzedek tishpot amisecha – to judge your fellow justly,” that we are to judge every person favorably. The teaching is difficult, for if we are commanded to judge truthfully, how can we always judge a person favorably, there are times when people are wrong. 
The Chidushei Horim answers that the main obligation of the posuk is to be just and refined; a person who is, will inevitably judge others favorably. 
Rav Gershon Kitover, the Baal Shem Tov’s brother in law, was going to live in Eretz Yisroel. On the way, he stopped off in Turkey. While there, people suggested that he visit a local tzadik. As he approached the home of the tzadik, Rav Gershon noticed that the neighborhood was populated with people of a low spiritual level. Upon meeting the tzadik, he asked how he was able to live among such people.
The tzadik answered quite simply that he didn’t know how someone could think that he is at such a pure level that he can take his mind off working on himself and look at others and find fault with them. 
Thus we understand the posuk, “B’tzedek tishpot amisecha,” when you are convinced that you are just, you can judge others. 
Rav Elchonon Wasserman taught that an indication of a person’s greatness and appropriateness for a public position is the degree of his selfishness. The greater a person is, the less selfish he is, and inversely, the smaller a person is, the more selfish he is. 
He explained that this is why Moshe Rabbeinu, who the Torah describes as the greatest man of all time, was also the humblest of all men.
When choosing a public servant, it is necessary to find a person whose primary goal will be to enhance the community and not to further his own personal situation.
The meraglim, though great men, succumbed to selfish desires. They reasoned that if the Bnei Yisroel would enter the Holy Land, they would lose their current positions, (Mesilas Yeshorim,  Chapter 11). Therefore, perhaps subconsciously, they interpreted everything they witnessed in a twisted manner.
As bnei and bnos Torah, we must be able to analyze a situation without any personal biases. A person who arrives at an issue with prejudice cannot be expected to think clearly and will offer bad advice. Let us be unselfish and selfless in all we do. Let us have faith, emunah and bitachon in our daily lives, so that we feel fulfilled and content, not viewing others jealously and with negativity.
Let the promises of the Torah and nevi’im ring in our ears as we go about our daily tasks, so that we may all be blessed to be brought to Eretz Yisroel with the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu bekarov.