Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Best

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

For three weeks, we have been reminded daily of Jewish suffering throughout the ages. We have mourned the loss of the Botei Mikdosh and millions of Jews who have been tortured and killed throughout the centuries. For nine days, we acted as aveilim, full of sorrow and longing.

On Tisha B’Av, we dimmed the lights, shut out the world, and concentrated on sadness for twenty-four hours. We hummed along the sorrowful tune of Eicha, as we read the lamentations of Yirmiyohu, the way Jews have been doing for thousands of years. We read the Kinnos, dirges recounting so many Jewish tragedies.

And then it all ends. We make Havdolah, break the fast, and it’s back to doing laundry and being happy once again. Before we know it, the music is playing, the barbecues are grilling, and sitting on the floor recedes as a distant memory.

We don’t wallow in sadness. We don’t remain in a state of mourning. Our faith reminds us that Hashem is compassionate and all that happens to us is for a greater reason. The posuk (Vayikra 19:28) states, “Veseret lonefesh lo sitnu bivsorchem.” We are not to etch memorials into our skin for those who have passed.

There is a time period allotted for mourning, and when that is over, we must gather ourselves and realize that nothing occurs by happenstance. The Creator runs the world and everything that happens is for a purpose. Though often times the reasoning eludes us, we maintain our belief that all that transpires is for the good. Thus, when the mourning period is over, we return to living life.

That is how Jews went on living after the churban, the Inquisition, pogroms and the Holocaust, as well as following crushing personal losses. People who had lost all they had in the Holocaust were able to remarry, rebuild, and give birth to the bustling Jewish world we now know. As much as they had suffered, they were able to overcome depression and lead productive lives. They could have been forgiven had they been overwhelmed by grief, but that is not the Jewish way and it does not bode well for a healthy and fruitful life.

Hashem cares for us, even in the darkest of days and most trying circumstances, He is there holding the hands of the faithful.

This Shabbos, known as Shabbos Nachamu for the two words at the beginning of the haftorah, ushers in seven weeks of nechomah, when Hashem offers consolation. Many discuss the double incantation of the word nachamu, as prophesized by the novi Yeshayahu in his immortal statements that gladden the Jewish heart: “Nachamu nachamu ami yomar Elokeichem.”

Perhaps we can explain why the word nachamu is repeated by noting that nechomah, the Hebrew word for comfort, also means to reconsider, as seen in the posuk of Vayinochem Hashem (Bereishis 6:6), which describes Hashem reconsidering creating the world.

We enter the season of nechomah intent on attaining both definitions of nechomah, comfort, brought on through proper perspective and the ability to reconsider. We accomplish this dual, unifying mission through the prism of the parshas hashovua.

We achieve consolation, nechomah, by perfecting our perspective, nechomah. Hashem promises to assist us in achieving both definitions: nachamu, nachamu.

Once again, we approach Shabbos Nachamu in an all-too-familiar place. The nations of the world are aligned against us as we attempt to live decent, honorable, peaceful lives. As we are forced to fight against evil, they chant in their capitals for our deaths.

They hate us all. We can learn a lesson of ahavas Yisroel from observing the broad paintbrush they use to paint us all one color.

Many survivors would comment that Hitler ym”sh taught them how to look at a Jew. Just as that wicked one and many such as he hated every Jew, without differentiating between external differences, the ones who survived their hell learned to love each Jew. When you love a person, you make time and place for him, and that is how we should treat each other. Regardless of how they dress or daven, and even if they are not exactly the same as we are, we must love them and make time and room for them. Achdus is not just about lip service and Tisha B’Av videos and speeches. Real achdus needs to be our way of life.

Throughout our history, we have encountered animosity. Although there have been times when the hatred was delicately covered up, currently it is becoming more in vogue and acceptable to bash Jews and Israel. With the ascendancy of the American leftists, it has once again become acceptable for celebrities, icons and politicians to express their open hatred. While they couch their rhetoric in words of sympathy for the poor Palestinians, the truth emanates. They hate Jews. Once again, Jews in Europe cower and seek escape routes, a chilling reminder of seventy-five years ago.

Some anti-Semitism is depicted as anti-Zionism, though the folly is obvious. Jews fight for their safety and are condemned. Millions of Jews were driven to their deaths from those very countries in which they now don’t feel at home.

Anti-Semitism morphs to fit with the times. The age-old hatred for the Jewish nation adopts different slogans and chants, but at the heart of it all is the same old hatred for Yitzchok by Yishmoel, and Yaakov by Eisov and Lavan.

Whether it’s under the guise of blaming the Jews for poisoning the drinking water, spreading the plague, or drinking human blood, as in the days of old, or cloaked in humanitarian vestments as today, hate is hate. Today in Europe, a continent soaked with Jewish blood, it is once again in vogue to bash Jews and demonstrate against them.

The eis tzorah is palpable in England, where Jews were burned alive; in Paris, where the Talmud was lit up and destroyed; in Germany, home of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust; Poland, home of the crematoria; Austria, birthplace of Hitler; and Washington, where FDR turned a blind eye to pleas to save Jews and ordered ships full of refugees to return to the inferno from which they escaped.

We wonder how it will end. When will justice triumph? When will care and concern about the good and the kind be paramount?

We recognize that we suffer persecution and discrimination because we are Jews. The world’s hatred of the Jew is not derived from their concern about human rights violations or political decisions.

We are reminded day after day that sinah yordah l’olam, hatred for the Jewish people descended to the world as we gathered at Har Sinai to accept the Torah. Since that time, we have been cast apart from other nations, despised, reviled, stomped upon and murdered. Miraculously, we endure.

This Shabbos, we will go to shul and listen as the haftorah proclaims that Hashem calls out to us and says, “Nachamu nachamu Ami. Be comforted, be comforted, My nation.”

We hear those words and wonder if, as next week’s haftorah states, “Vatomer Tzion azovani Hashem vaHashem shecheichoni - Hashem has forgotten about me.”

How do we find answers to our questions? By learning this week’s parsha. We read the pesukim of Parshas Va’eschanon and see the answers spelled out for us repeatedly.

The pesukim of this week’s parsha form a retrospective reminding us of the very beginnings of our nation and our first footsteps as the Chosen People.

We feel along with Moshe Rabbeinu as he pleads for mercy. “Asher mi Keil - Who else is like You, Hashem?” he wonders (Devorim 3:24). Rashi explains that a king of flesh and blood is surrounded by advisors who question his merciful decisions, whereas Hashem can extend mercy without listening to others.

There is a spark of nechomah.

We read about the essence of life, “V’atem hadveikim baHashem Elokeichem chaim kulchem hayom,” and we feel a surge of hope. Life means connecting to Hashem, a little more intensity in tefillah, and more concentration when we sit by a Gemara (Devorim 4:3).

We continue by listening closely to Moshe Rabbeinu’s reminder: “Mi goy gadol asher lo Elokim krovim eilov - Who else has this gift and ability that Hashem listens every time we cry out to Him?” (Devorim 4:7).

Has Hashem performed such miracles for any other nation? Has He gone to war for them and inspired awe and terror like He has done for us? (Devorim 4:34).

We study the Aseres Hadibros, which form the building blocks of our lives as Torah Jews. We recognize that they set us apart from the rest of the world, and by following their precepts, we are placed on a higher, blessed plane.

We study the words of “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod,” which comprise the bedrock of our faith. We go to sleep to those words, wake up to them and recite them in Shacharis, Arvis and Krias Shema Al Hamitah. They form the last physical action by souls ascending to heaven and are the enduring final message of martyrs throughout the generations.

In posuk 6:18, we are taught how to live as ehrliche Yidden: “You should act honorably and be truthful; then Hashem will be good to you and will bring us into the land He swore to our forefathers and will drive away our enemies from confronting us.”

If we seek Hashem’s protection and aid in battle, we must affirm our commitment to honesty and to battling corruption - not just listening but acting. If we tolerate men of ill-will and sometimes even promote them, how can we expect Hashem to fight for us?

We read about how He will lead us into the Promised Land, where we will find homes filled with good. It is an attainable goal, assured to us by He who is “ne’eman leshaleim s’char.” If we follow the word of Hashem, as laid out in the pesukim of this week’s parsha, we know that we will merit salvation, prosperity and peace.

The founding of Israel and the Six Day War were undeniably turning points in our history, but people became enamored with the power of man and seemed to overlook the Hand of Hashem. We are sent regular reminders that if we forget the Divine role and Hand in our existence, we can expect to experience tragedy.

We merit nechomah when we recognize that we are kachomer beyad hayotzeir, dependent upon Hashem’s mercy for our very existence. The posuk in Koheles (9:11) states, “Lo lachachomim lechem – The wise man can’t make a living.” The Kotzker Rebbe explained that if a person thinks that he is smart and has acquired his possessions because of his wisdom, Hashem says to him, “If you are so smart and don’t require My assistance, let us see how you can do on your own.” And the person begins to stumble.

Parshas Va’eschanon and the Aseres Hadibros are always lained on Shabbos Nachamu. This is to remind us that our nechomah arrives when we follow the Aseres Hadibros and the Torah. It is only through fidelity to Torah and Hashem’s word that we merit living peacefully, in Eretz Yisroel and everywhere else.

May we prove ourselves worthy of Hashem’s protection in a turbulent, unfriendly world.

After studying this week’s pesukim and the promises they contain, how can we feel anything else but “Nachamu, nachamu Ami”? How can we not experience consolation?

I am blessed with the zechus of having helped rescue Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin from the awful place he was in. Since his release, he has dedicated his life to speaking about emunah and bitachon and the role they play in our lives. Wherever he goes, Jews surround him and gather to hear his inspirational words.

We speak often about various things. Once, Sholom Mordechai was talking about the day he received his final denial from the court. It was a statement from the justice system that his 27-year sentence would be served and no more appeals would be heard.

Sholom Mordechai received the answer to his final appeal in the mail and said, “Gam zu letovah.” Somebody who doesn’t understand Hebrew was there and asked him to translate. He exclaimed with a smile on his face, “It is the best it can be!”

It was a declaration that he would have to spend the next 18-19 years in jail, but to him, it was the best that it could be, because Hashem willed it so.

We often translate “Gam zu letovah” to mean that this is also good, but to a person of faith, facing a dismal future, is not also good, it is great. In fact, it is the best it can be.

And in his case, as with all that transpires to us, it was the best that can be, because the very next day, he was miraculously let free by President Donald Trump.

Gam zu letovah.” Whatever experiences life throws at us, we are armed with the Torah’s enduring message of where we are going and how to get there.

Ohr chodosh al tzion to’ir.” Soon, a new light will shine over Zion and we will understand all that we have gone through. At that time, it will be evident that everything that happened was the very best.

Nachamu, nachamu. Then and now. For the past and into the future. Forever and ever. It’s all the best that can be.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It was a Friday morning when Rav Mordechai Pogramansky boarded a train en route to a certain town for Shabbos. A man sat down next to him and they began talking. A mohel and shochet, he was also a talmid chochom and took advantage of the opportunity to engage Rav Mordechai in conversation. They became so engrossed in learning that they didn’t notice when the train stopped at the town where they had planned to spend Shabbos.

By the time the mohel looked out of the window and noticed that they were far past their intended stop, it was too late to do anything about it. There was no train going back to their intended destination before Shabbos. He turned to Rav Pogramansky and informed him of their predicament.

“Where will we stay?” asked the man. “Where will we obtain wine for Kiddush, challos for lechem mishnah, and food lekavod Shabbos?”

Rav Mottel consoled him. “A Jew is never lost,” said the tzaddik. “When a Jew ends up in a certain place, it is always with Hashgocha Protis, because Hashem wants him there.”

The next stop was coming up, and even though through the window it appeared as if the area was sparsely populated and they didn’t know anyone who lived there, when the train stopped, they disembarked. They began asking people if there were any Jews in the town. Nobody could identify any. The mohel was growing pessimistic and stopped asking, but Rav Mottel didn’t give up. He continued to ask people if there was a Jew in town. Finally, his persistence paid off and one of the people he asked was able to show him where to locate the town’s only Jewish family. They hurried there and knocked on the door.

When the homeowner opened the door, he began shedding tears of joy. To him, it was as if Avrohom Avinu and Eliyohu Hanovi had appeared at his door. The guests, however, let him know that they were normal human beings just like him, who had been sent to his door min haShomayim. Very happily, the man let them in and invited them to stay for Shabbos.

When he heard that one of them was a mohel, his joy was multiplied. He told them his story.

“A week ago, my wife gave birth to a baby boy. Today is the day he should be having a bris. I was davening the whole day, begging and crying that Hashem send me a mohel to perform the bris on my son. Behold, you have been sent by Heaven.”

Rav Mottel was the sandek as the mohel performed the bris. The two guests remained with the overjoyed couple for Shabbos.

When they left the home after Shabbos, Rav Mottel turned to the mohel and said, “Remember, a Jew is never lost.”

In the midst of the Nine Days, we can be forgiven for wondering why we are still in this state. We want to know how we ended up here and why. We think that we are lost in golus and pine for a return home.

We need to know that we didn’t end up here accidentally. The majority of our families were wiped out in the Holocaust, and we are here because a grandparent somehow survived where others didn’t. Everyone has their own story. There is no happenstance in Jewish life. Nobody just happened to be in the right place, or happened to escape a day early, or happened to have had a secret source of food and strength in a concentration camp. They survived because Hashem willed it so. We are here to fulfill their mission and demonstrate that their rescue had long-lasting positive implications.

The churban took place many years ago and reverberates until this very day. It is up to us to right our situation.

In this week’s parsha of Devorim, Moshe Rabbeinu recounts the struggles of life in the midbor, hinting to the many failings of the Jewish people, beginning with the sin of the meraglim.

The Chiddushei Horim (cited in Sefas Emes, Devorim 5656) explains why much of the admonition is delivered through veiled hints. The sins that Moshe referred to were committed by the generation that had left Mitzrayim. They had all died as punishment for the chet hameraglim. The people who Moshe was speaking to were their children, the next generation, who played no role in those sorry acts. However, the sins committed created a black hole, as it were, that existed in the following generation and exists until our day. Moshiach can only come when that sin is thoroughly rectified. It is for this reason that Chazal say that a generation in which the Bais Hamikdosh hasn’t been rebuilt is equivalent to the one in which it was destroyed. It is because we have not fully repented for those sins and have not stopped committing them that we are still “lost” in the exile.

We all know that the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of the baseless hatred that was prevalent at the time. As the Gemara (Yoma 9b) states, “What was the main sin that brought about the destruction of the Bayis Sheini? Mikdosh Sheini shehoyu oskin baTorah uvemitzvos ugemillus chassodim, despite the fact that the people of that time busied themselves with Torah and mitzvos and charitable acts, it was destroyed because there was sinas chinom among them…”

The Yerushalmi presses the point further and proclaims, “We know that the people from the time of the churban Bayis Sheini would delve into Torah and were punctilious in their observance of mitzvos and the laws of maaseros, and they possessed every proper middah, but they loved money and hated each other for no reason,” and that is why the churban was brought on.

Our task in golus is to repent for that sin and rectify it. Instead, petty squabbles are permitted to intensify and cause hatred and division. People look askance at others who dress differently than they and view others as inferior. Disputes fester and grow, involving more people who deride each other.

When the Torah (Shemos 3:2) describes the famed burning bush, the posuk states that Moshe viewed the bush and behold, “hasneh bo’eir ba’eish, vehasneh ainenu ukol, the bush burned on fire and the bush was not consumed.”

The Kli Yokor questions that since the fire was burning and not the bush, instead of saying that the bush burned on fire, hasneh bo’eir ba’eish, the posuk should have said that the fire burned within the bush. 

He answers that this hints to the idea that hatred – sneh is similar to sinah – that people have for each other causes aish, fire, to burn within the Jewish people and is the leading cause of why we are still in exile after all these years.

We have discussed previously that the shikchas haTorah that was caused by the churban contributes to the disputes that we have in golus, and thus it is incumbent upon us to overcome sinas chinom, so that we may merit a return of the Torah and kedusha lost when the Bais Hamikdosh went up in flames.

It is amazing that for over two thousand years, we have had the curse of sinas chinom hanging over our heads and we have not been able to overcome it. Petty fights, jealousies, and battles that seem senseless in hindsight and to people who aren’t participating have roiled our people for centuries and continue until this very day.

We must rise above the petty issues. We must find the grace, nobility and strength to beat back this scourge and defeat it. We could if we would join together. We really can.

A king asked a Jew who lived in the city of Ostropol what made Jews different than every other nation in the world. Afraid that he would provide an unsatisfactory answer, the man suggested to the king that he pose the question to the rabbi of his town. Together, they went to Rav Shimshon, the rov of Ostropol, and the king asked him his question.

The rov suggested that for the king to see the difference, he should hold a celebratory dinner simultaneously in two ballrooms. To one, he should invite his ministers and leading assistants, as well as ministers from other countries. In the second ballroom, he should serve kosher food and only invite Jews. There should be plenty of good food, the rov told the king, but with one proviso: the flatware with which the people would eat the food should be six feet long.

The king followed the rov’s suggestion and had craftsmen prepare six-foot-long forks, spoons and knives for the festive affair. Invitations went out and the day of the dinner arrived. Sumptuous fare was prepared, and the people entered the designated rooms dripping with anticipation for the king’s feast. Fish, soup and an entire menu were served to each of the attendees.

The king waited outside with the rov. Finally, Rav Shimshon told the king that it was time to go inside. They first entered the gentile ballroom. All the food was untouched. The people were perplexed and frustrated. They could not figure out a way to eat with the strange implements. Since eating by hand was verboten at royal occasions, they engaged in conversation and ignored the food.

They left that room and entered the room in which the Jews were seated. Everyone was eating and having a good time. Each person was feeding the person who sat opposite him, and that way everyone was able to enjoy the royal menu.

Rav Shimshon turned to the king and said to him, “Dear wise king, now you see the difference between the Jews and the gentiles. It is the nature of the gentiles to only think of themselves. Therefore, they could not arrive at a solution. Jews, by nature, and at the core of their being, think about each other. Here, you see that.”

Our essence is one of kindness and compassion. Meet a good old-fashioned Jew and you will find those attributes prominently displayed. Go anywhere in the Jewish world and you will find charitable people who support Torah and chesed in their communities. Ask any good Jew to help another, and even if he has never met the person in need, he will open his wallet. It’s in our DNA, ever since the days of Avrohom Avinu.

Somehow, in the midbar so many years ago, sinas chinom also crept into our DNA. It is not enough to be baalei chesed. It is not sufficient to be charitable, to be medakdeik bemitzvos, and to learn Torah day and night. We have to also stop the sinas chinom. We have to bring people together. We have to stop the machlokos that rage in our world. We can all agree that it is enough already.

Enough with the fights, enough with squabbles, enough with jealousy and hatred.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Be Woke

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

There is a new word, used mostly by young Leftists and often chanted at their anti-Trump rallies. “Stay woke!” they shout. They mean: “Stay focused on the goal of ousting Donald Trump and don’t be sidetracked by things the president says or does to cause you to shift focus. Wake up and ‘stay woke’ in the fight for social justice,” the revolutionaries proclaim.

Though at first the mantra may sound silly, it grows on you and slowly takes hold.

As we go through the Three Weeks and are about to begin the Nine Days, “stay woke” is an appropriate message for us golus creatures. It is not sufficient to merely go through the motions of refraining from music and haircuts. We must develop a focus during this period and keep to it.

Why are we in golus in the first place? Why are we in exile from our homeland? Why have we been sent from place to place? Why do the nations of the world despise us? Why is there a double standard? Why is there so much sadness and loneliness?

These days are meant to help us understand why, and right the wrongs that caused us to end up here. If we remain focused on the goal of achieving redemption, wholeness and happiness, then we can achieve it. If we aren’t “woke” and we become sidetracked by silliness and speed bumps along the way, we will be unable to escape the misery of homelessness.

We have to remain focused on going home. Before engaging in an action, we should ponder whether it will get us closer to home or push us further away. If the action will help bring about the geulah, then we should expend the effort. If it won’t, then why bother? Why do something that will have no positive outcome?

When people get us upset or do silly things, the urge is to smack them down and tell them off. But will that achieve anything? Will it bring us closer to Hashem? If it will cause peirud instead of achdus, we should drop it. If acting in kind will create animosity, we should realize that ignoring the perceived slight or infraction would be a better course of action.

If there is a machlokes, why become involved and cause further friction? Save your energy for causes that bring people together and cause Hashem to view us in a positive light. Negative energy and petty grievances weigh a person down. Focusing on acts that contribute to bringing about geulah frees a person to rise.

This week’s parshiyos of Mattos and Masei are always read during the period in which we especially mourn the churban. They speak of the travels of the Bnei Yisroel in the desert. The nation crossed the Yam Suf and began traveling to the Promised Land. Then they stopped and set up camp. They decamped and traveled to another location. They stayed there for a while and were then uprooted and on the move again.

So has it been since churban Bayis Sheini, when we were sent into exile. Millions were massacred. A people was beaten, sold into slavery, and set afloat, refugees in search of a place to regroup. The scene was repeated every few decades. We were exiled from one country, found residence in another, flourished, and were then sent packing again.

Despite what transpired, wherever they were, and how bad their condition was, the faithful never lost sight of their goal. Auto-da-fes, pogroms, the Inquisition, holocausts, public executions, murder and pillage were experienced by the Jewish people. Their suffering was enough to exterminate them many times over, but the Jews hobbled on to a better place, resuscitated themselves and thrived. This was possible because they were “woke,” focused on their goal of meriting the geulah.

It was a Sisyphusthian existence, but they never floundered and never gave up.

Speaking of moving from place to place, these weeks, wherever you happen to find yourself in the Jewish world, you see vehicles loaded with families heading off to the country. You peer inside and see duffel bags labeled for camp and the children who will accompany them. You see parents looking forward to clean air and a slower pace of life.

But while the intensity of life hopefully dials down, allowing people to relax and release some of their stress, our mandate remains the same. We can’t lose focus. Summer heat, mountain air, dusty bungalows, hot grills, tantalizing barbecues, and poolside shmoozing should not distract us from our goal.

In bungalow colonies, toddlers play as their mothers sit close by, chatting and taking in the serene surroundings. The men take it easy as well, learning, davening, playing ball, and enjoying the leisurely pace of country life. Children run off to day camp, leaving in the morning and sometimes not returning until dusk, tired, messy, and out of breath, but sporting smiles that convey the joys of summer for a youngster.

It’s a special time for all, and even those of us not privileged to relocate or alter our schedules should allow the slower pace of the season to positively impact us.

One of the most productive and exhilarating seasons in the pre-war olam hayeshivos were these summer months, when bnei yeshiva - separated from each other most of the year by very long distances, at a time when there were no telephones, cars or buses - gathered in dacha locations.

The black and white pictures of the era show leafy trees and sun-dotted paths, smiling bochurim gathered around leading roshei yeshiva, their plainly evident simchas haTorah adding to the pictures a color all their own. The photographs capture their sheer joy at being together, united in a setting conducive to pilpul chaveirim and chilutz atzamos.

So many of the stories retold in the olam haTorah took place in the dachas in places such as Kremenchuk, a town none of us can find on a map but anyone who has been through the yeshiva system has heard of repeatedly.

There was another small hamlet called Druskenik, where many would go for dacha during the summer. Even though the local householders waited all year for the summer months, when they could generate some much-needed income by renting out space, the rov of the town would make it his mission to ensure that poor bochurim who had no money for room and board were also welcomed. He arranged for a few homes to be set aside for this purpose, with free space for bnei yeshiva.

Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, virtual king of Lithuanian Jewry and champion of the bnei Torah, would go there. He carried the burdens of a nation and its individuals, and had no respite from the endless lines and requests that came to his door. He was always available for everyone who needed him, writing classic teshuvos in response to the most intricate halachic questions from around the world, helping the poor and forlorn, and providing guidance to rabbonim, roshei yeshiva and yeshiva bochurim.

His much anticipated short summer break allowed him to sit in the forest with talmidei chachomim and yeshiva students discussing the havayos Abaye v’Rava in the pleasant air, with fewer of the pressing issues occupying his time. Many pictures exist of rabbonim and roshei yeshiva with the great giant, seated comfortably in a forest clearing.

In our day, as well, roshei yeshiva and rabbonim escape the city rigors and benefit from the break. Their talmidim fan out across the small towns and campsites that dot the Catskills and other country locales.

Summer is a gift. Vacation and a relaxed pace are gifts. As with any gift, without proper awareness of how to utilize it, the gift is worthless. We must be ever vigilant for ourselves and our children, especially during this care-free period.

In this week’s parsha, in the middle of relating the names of the various places where Klal Yisroel camped, reassembling the Mishkon and then dismantling it again, the posuk tells us, “Az yoshir Bnei Yisroel es hashirah hazos.” They sang a song.

They understood that each leg of the journey was part of a larger plan. They knew that each stop along the way was part of a process of preparing them for their arrival in Eretz Hakodesh. Midroshim and meforshim interpret the names of various places as referring to different experiences and lessons throughout the travels and travails of the Jewish people.

During the season of travels and summer homes, we must remain focused on the goals these three weeks remind us of. We must be safe spiritually and physically. Having a good time should not be at the expense of others. We should be cognizant not to cause a chillul Hashem, but to be mekadeish Hashem wherever we go.

As we venture out of our daled amos, we must ascertain that we remain within the daled amos shel halacha.

The Rambam famously writes in Hilchos Taanis that the purpose of fast days is to focus on teshuvah, examining our actions and improving our ways. Perhaps we can say as well that the purpose of the Three Weeks and the Nine Days is not only to conduct ourselves as mourners, as we lament the many tragedies that took place during this time period, but to also ponder our actions and examine what we can do to repent for the sins that caused the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh and have stalled its return. We seek ways to increase achdus, brotherhood and togetherness among our people. We improve the way we deal with others, the way we treat them and speak to them, so that we may merit the return of the Bais Hamikdosh speedily in our days.

The pesukim in Tehillim (137) speak of the period following the churban: “We sat at the waters of Bavel and cried as we remembered Tzion. Al naharos Bovel shom yoshavnu gam bochinu bezochreinu es Tzion. How can we sing the holy tunes in a strange land. Eich noshir es shir Hashem al admas neichor.

“Just as it is impossible to forget my right hand, I can never forget Yerushalayim. My tongue should stick to my palate if I don’t remember Yerushalayim, if I don’t place Yerushalayim at my celebrations. Im eshkocheich Yerushalayim tishkach yemini. Tidbak leshoni lechiki im lo ezkereichi im lo a’aleh es Yerushalayim al rosh simchosi.”

We know those words. We sing them and we live them. We never forget Yerushalayim. We never forget where we came from and where we are headed. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we must stay focused on ensuring that our actions are bringing us closer to Yerushalayim.

At a wedding, we place ash on a chosson’s head and smash a glass to remind us of the loss of Yerushalayim. At the same time, we are rebuilding another of the many churvos of the holy city and bringing the geulah that much closer.

When we were evicted from one land, picking up our belongings and heading to the next, as painful as it was, we never gave up, for we were focused and knew that as sad as it was, we were one stop closer to our final trip to Yerushalayim.

When we were so tragically thrown out of Europe in the past century, some refugees went to Israel and many others to America, the last stop on the way to the geulah.

We really are on our way to Eretz Yisroel, making many stops along the way, as our forefathers did in the desert. They experienced much pain, many losses, copious tears, colossal sins, and extraordinary teshuvah. Ultimately, they made it to Eretz Yisroel. May we, as well, merit going there speedily, in our days.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

A Mageifah

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As we enter the mournful period known as “The Three Weeks,” we are reminded of another of the consequences of golus. Jews on the fringe are fighting for a sense of validity as their numbers dwindle. The media are willing accomplices.

Former prisoner of Zion and Jewish hero Natan Sharansky retired from his position atop the Israeli Jewish Agency, which claims that its mission is to “do all we can to ensure that every Jewish person feels an unbreakable bond to one another and to Israel no matter where they are in the world, so that they can continue to play their critical role in our ongoing Jewish story.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it sounds good and attracts many millions of government and philanthropic dollars spent on spreading the Zionist message to world Jewry and do-good projects in Israel. None of it trickles down to our community. After all, the agency sees part of its mission to be encouraging religious pluralism “for the strength of Israeli democracy and for the richness of [Israelis’] own Jewish identities.”

While Conservative and Reform are losing 75% of their members to assimilation and apathy, this vaunted group makes believe that fighting to bring them to Israel will enhance the Jewish lives of Israelis. While leaders of those groups readily admit that there is little to no Jewish continuity in their perversion of the Jewish religion, somehow bringing them to Israel will help Israelis.

Rabbi Clifford Librach, a retired Reform rabbi, recently wrote in Tablet that “there is no serious common ideology” or “guiding principles” that bind a ‘movement’ called ‘Reform Judaism.’ It is, in Arnold Jacob Wolf’s famous truculent prose, ‘a pension plan in search of an ideology.’” Who are we to argue?

He continues: “Reform Jews (since the 1930s, before which a serious if suicidal universalism – ethnically viscous and ideologically disciplined – prevailed) have surrendered ideology to a quest for affiliation, to service our now-collapsing dues-based business model. I find it fascinating that so many non-Jews (even believing and affirming Christians) find comfort and casual social affirmation in our ‘religious services.’ That is because there is nothing there that delineates. There is nothing there that demarcates. There is nothing there that discriminates. There is nothing there to reject, because… well… there is nothing there.”

He’s not done.

“After 40 years in the vineyard, I am convinced that…our flocks are non-observant. They know little of Jewish history, less of Jewish religious behavior, almost none have any comfort with Hebrew, and they are not ‘keeping a Jewish home’ – which is to say they do not light Shabbat candles or welcome Shabbat or Yom Tov with a family meal…”

There really is no shemiras hamitzvos at all, neither among Conservatives nor among Reform. There is nothing besides a rapidly eroding bloodline that makes them Jews. And once their religion has been reduced to nothing, there is nothing left.

Regrettably, that is where they are now. Temples are closing for lack of interest and children are forsaking the non-observance of their parents, seeing no need to play this game of charade. The number of Jews around the world is shrinking, as fewer people are Jewish, and many who are don’t identify as Jews. The Left sees Israel as an enemy. Most Jews know more about - and are attracted to - leftist ideology than Judaism, and thus Jews are joining with the most well-known anti-Semites to bash and condemn Israel.

With this as a background, I was upset to read in the New York Times Mr. Sharansky’s laments as he left the job.

The Times reports, “As chairman of the agency’s executive, Sharansky seemed to have negotiated an important milestone last year, granting Judaism’s Reform and Conservative movements a say in management of the Western Wall in Jerusalem and giving non-Orthodox men and women a more dignified place to worship together there.

“But when ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to bolt the government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abandoned the deal.

“Sharansky remains angry, but also seems to make excuses for the prime minister, a longtime friend and ally… ‘As the one who is supposed to be the leader of the Jewish people, I think it was a huge mistake,’” he says.

The article states that Sharansky believes that “Israelis know that world Jewry is its most reliable ally against delegitimization,” and American Jews have learned that without a connection to Israel, “their grandchildren would not be Jewish.”

What Sharansky is admitting, without saying so of course, is that what keeps the offspring of Conservative and Reform Jews Jewish is not their religious affiliation, not their association with like-minded co-religionists and clergy, but rather some type of association with Israel. But apparently, despite his conclusion, he is so in the tank of the Conservative-Reform swamp that, as per the Times report, he says that “‘pluralism,’ the development of more liberal strains of Judaism beyond Orthodox, was a necessary strategy for surviving as Jews. Currently, secular Israelis, who face no threat of assimilation, see pluralism as a shortcut to the loss of Jewish identity.’”

In other words, in order for Judaism to survive in the United States, it was necessary for people to leave fidelity to Torah, halacha and mesorah and join movements that have no real ideology and which have proven to be little more than an exit door from Judaism.

How in the world can that be “a necessary strategy for surviving as Jews?” Yet, he has the temerity to say that these bankrupt ideologies must be imported to Israel so that Jews there do not lose their Jewish identity. This from the same person who says that the only thing that keeps the children of Conservative and Reform Jewish is “a connection to Israel.”

The arguments not only make no sense, but they contradict each other. And to think that the American federations send $100 million annually to the Jewish Agency. For what?

You’ll say that Sharansky is out. A new guy has been selected to replace him and maybe he will take a serious look at Jewish identity and continuity and see what to do about it.

In a stab in the back of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Isaac Herzog, a failed opposition leader who formerly ran against Netanyahu and the ruling Likud party and lost, was chosen to lead the agency, which dishes out tens of millions of dollars in its misguided mission.

Initially, perhaps there was room for hope. In an interview after his selection, the new chairman said that on a visit to America, he “encountered something that I called an actual mageifah. I saw my friends’ children married or coupled with non-Jewish partners… And we are talking about millions. And then I said there must be a campaign, a solution.”

Herzog said it the way it is. There is a real mageifah of millions of Jews marrying out of the faith and being lost forever to the Jewish people. He was slammed for his statement of truth.

Merely two days later, he walked back his statement and claimed that those who vilified him “distorted the meaning and intention of what I said. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, no matter which stream he belongs to, if he wears a skullcap or not.”

Apparently, it is a given that Jews who belong to streams other than Orthodoxy not only don’t wear yarmulkas, but also intermarry, and that practice is accepted and should not be spoken about negatively in proper company.

In fact, he said that when he termed intermarriage a mageifah, he “didn’t mean it in any negative terms.”

It is these groups that have the nerve to seek acceptance in Israel as legitimate practitioners of Judaism. Their ideology has nothing in common with halacha and Torah. Their religion is a farce, their practice non-existent. Their numbers are crumbling and their membership is dwindling, yet Israel should recognize them as legitimate Jews who can convert gentiles to Judaism and establish temples that wean people from worship and religious practice?

It makes no sense. It shows how far we have fallen. We have lost tens of millions of Jews to their fiction and we are losing more every day.

The golus has led to shikchas haTorah and shikchas Yahadus. What are we doing about it? What are we doing to strengthen the observance of Torah in our communities and those that surround us? We can blame the tinokos shenishbu, but that doesn’t mean that we are blameless for not trying to show them the light and beauty they were robbed of. People we know can make mistakes and its upon us to rectify them.

During these weeks when we mourn the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh and all the tragedies that befell the Jewish people, let us pray for the rebuilding of the Botei Mikdosh and for proper leadership to guide and direct us towards achieving that goal.

The Shela (Pinchos 6-7) cites the Targum Yonason (Bamidbar 25:12) who says that Pinchos became an angel destined to inform the Jewish people when the redemption has arrived. He cites the pesukim in Malachi of “Brisi hoysah ito hachaim vehashalom” (2:5) and “Toras emes hoysah befihu v’avlah lo nimtza bisfosov, b’shalom u’vemishor halach iti, verabim heishiv mei’avon, ki sifsei kohein yishmeru daas veSorah yevakshu mipihu, ki malach Hashem Tzevakos hu” (2:6-7), and explains that they refer to Pinchos.

The Shela says that “rabim heishiv mei’avon, he returned many from sin,” refers to the act he undertook to stop the ongoing licentious behavior with the daughters of Moav.

The emes in “Toras emes hoysah befihu, the Torah of truth was in his mouth,” refers to strengthening Yiddishkeit, says the Shela, for Pinchos did not only strengthen his own observance, but chastised the masses and influenced them to repent.

He cites the posuk in Yirmiyohu (5:1) which states, “Shotetu bechutzos Yerushalayim ureu na udeu… im timtzeu ish, im yeish oseh mishpot mevakeish emunah v’eslach lah. Search in the streets of Yerushalayim, and if you can find a person acting honestly, seeking emunah, Hashem will forgive you for your sins.”

The Shela asks that there were many nevi’im and righteous people at the time. How can the novi proclaim that there were no good men?

He says that there was no ish emunah at the time who would leave the confines of his home and enter the public arenas to engage in activities that would cause people to stop sinning. That is what brought about the churban that we mourn until this day (see also Shabbos 119b).

Rashi (Bamidbar 25:11) states that the reason the posuk traces the lineage of Pinchos to Aharon is because the shevotim mocked him and said that he killed the nosi of a shevet and his grandfather fattened calves for avodah zorah. Therefore, the posuk states that he was a grandson of Aharon, insinuating that the act he performed was akin to those performed by Aharon, who was a man of peace and virtue, and who brought man closer to Hashem.

Just as Aharon performed chesed and worked to bring shalom to the Jewish people, so did Pinchos, who the posuk says was repaid for his brave act with the eternal bris of shalom.

To earn redemption, we need people like Pinchos to reach out to other Jews and educate them and help them give up doing aveiros.

We need not be embarrassed to properly right someone who has acted improperly.

Lovingly setting people straight will make the world a better place, strengthen Yiddishkeit, and help bring about the geulah.