Wednesday, June 05, 2024

That’s What We’re Here For

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Back at the beginning of the world, when creation was still unsullied by man and his struggles, nothing was guaranteed.

The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) quotes Reish Lakish, who taught that when Hashem finished creating the world, He, so to speak, put everything on hold and conditioned the world’s existence. Hashem told His creations that if the Jewish people would accept the Torah when He would present it to them, everything would continue to exist, but if the Jews would have a negative response, the world would be over and everything would revert to nothingness.

The existence of the world depended on what would happen on the sixth day of Sivan. That day, when the Jews stood at Har Sinai in complete achdus, the Medrash states that Hashem said He would take advantage of their unity to deliver the Torah to them.

When Hashem presented His offer, they responded in unison, “Naaseh v’nishma.”

The Gemara (ibid.) quotes Rav Sima’i, who taught that when the Jewish people proclaimed naaseh v’nishma, six hundred thousand malochim came to each person and tied two crowns on their heads, one for naaseh and one for nishma.

Rabi Elozor taught (see Shabbos ibid.) that a Heavenly voice rang out and declared, “Who taught this secret of the Divine angels to My children?”

What was so special about naaseh v’nishma that those two words created such a Heavenly response?

Seforim such as those of Rav Chaim Vital and the Maharal teach that Hashem created us comprised of two differing entities, chomer and tzurah. Chomer refers to the physical aspects, and tzurah to the spiritual, the abstract, the goal, the direction to be taken through utilizing the chomer. There is a perpetual struggle between the body and the soul, the guf and the neshomah. All throughout our lives, every day, as we make decisions about how to live, the neshomah and the guf, the yeitzer hara and yeitzer tov, are debating. How we proceed is determined by which side wins.

When the Jews proclaimed naaseh v’nishma, they were saying, in effect, that they recognized this steady battle and were committing themselves to follow the word of Hashem and be people of tzurah, not chomer. They were saying that they would work to subjugate the physical to the spiritual.

When we sing on Shavuos, “Naaseh v’nishma omru k’echod,” we are celebrating that promise and renewing the vow.

Naaseh means that we will observe the mitzvos that Hashem will give us, and nishma means that we will study the Torah that teaches us those mitzvos. The greatness of their response was that they weren’t only accepting upon themselves to study Torah so that they would be able to properly obey the mitzvos. They were also stating that they would learn Torah with no ulterior motive other than to study Hashem’s words. It was this that Rav Yosef was referring to (Pesochim 68b) when he addressed the greatness of the Yom Tov of Shavuos and said, “Ih lav hai yoma kama Yosef ika beshuka.” In today’s vernacular, he said, “If not for this day, I would be just another Yosef out there in the street.”

There are many explanations of what Rav Yosef meant, but Rashi is succinct and clear. He writes that Rav Yosef was saying, “If not for this day upon which we were given the Torah, which I studied and which raised me, I would be just a regular person.”

Rav Yosef was referring to Klal Yisroel’s statement that they would study Torah lishmah, for its own sake and not for any other reason. Because he studied Torah purely for the sake of studying Torah, he was raised to a higher level.

The same way Torah raised Rav Yosef, it can raise us if we dedicate ourselves to it and follow the words of Chazal at the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai. Hashem says to us, “Im bechukosai teileichu, if you will follow the ways of My commandments, I will bless you.”

Rashi, however, based on Chazal, explains the word teileichu to mean that if you would work hard to study the Torah, you will earn Hashem’s blessings. Along with those blessings, you will also become a holy person. Torah raises the spiritual levels of those who study it, for when you are learning Torah, you are studying the words of Hashem and connecting to Him.

Chazal teach, “Yisroel v’oraisa v’Kudsha Brich Hu chad huKlal Yisroel and Torah and Hashem are one.” The more we learn, the higher we rise and the more connected we become to Hashem. We bring additional pleasure to Hashem as we also fulfill the purpose for which He created the world.

This is conditional on us being connected to the rest of Klal Yisroel, as we shall see.

The Shulchan Aruch (428:4) states that we always read Parshas Bamidbar on the Shabbos prior to Shavuos. The commentators explain that this is based on the Gemara in Megillah (32b) that this was instituted by Ezra. [See the Gemara.] Tosefos and the Levush explain that this is done to separate the curses of Parshas Bechukosai from the Yom Tov of Shavuos

Perhaps we can offer another reason for this practice and say that it is because in Parshas Bamidbar, the Jews were counted. The Torah states that if the Jewish people are counted numerically one by one, they will be punished with a plague.

The Torah prescribes that we are to be counted with the machatzis hashekel coin. Every person who is included in the count contributes a half-shekel coin to the Bais Hamikdosh, and the population number is arrived at by adding up the number of coins.

When the people see that everyone is equal and no single person is worth more than another, and they observe that each one on his own is only a half—they need another person to be considered one and whole—this brings unity, achdus. And when there is achdus amongst Klal Yisroel, the Shechinah can dwell in our midst. Where the Shechinah is, there can be no plague.

Therefore, we lain Parshas Bamidbar prior to Shavuos to remind us to be b’achdus as we approach the Yom Tov of Matan Torah.

Achdus on Shavuos is not only a good idea, but a prerequisite to Kabbolas HaTorah. Each year on the sixth day of SivanShavuos—we receive the Torah anew, just as we did on the sixth day of Sivan when we stood at Har Sinai.

This is derived from the posuk which states, referring to the Bnei Yisroel at Har Sinai, “Vayichan shom Yisroel neged hohor,” using the singular form of the words vayichan and Yisroel to teach us that they stood there as one person with one heart, in complete unity. This harmony was necessary for Hashem to deliver them the Torah. The Medrash states that when Hashem saw that the people were united, He said, “This is the time that I will give the Torah to My children.” Had they not been unified b’achdus, they would not have received the Torah.

The Korban Ha’eidah on the Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashanah 4) states that each year, on Shavuos, it is like the day we stood at Har Sinai to receive the Torah. Since we receive the Torah anew each year on the sixth of Sivan, we have to properly prepare ourselves for the annual Kabbolas HaTorah. One of the ways to do that is to be b’achdus.

The Shelah goes further and cites from the sefer Tolaas Yaakov that Shavuos is a Yom Hadin on what share we will have in the Torah.

Therefore, it stands to reason that just as the Jewish people prepared themselves for the original Kabbolas HaTorah, we have to do the same. Through the days of Sefirah from Pesach until Shavuos, we refrain from frivolity and concentrate on raising ourselves day by day through the 48 levels of proper conduct, purity, and holiness required to accept the Torah. As we mourn the death of the talmidim of Rabi Akiva, we work on improving the way we deal with each other. This includes speech and conduct, perfecting our middos and treating everybody the way we want people to treat us, with decency, respect, and love. In light of what we wrote, to be prepared for the din of Shavuos, we must put an extra emphasis on working towards the goal of achdus, which is necessary for Kabbolas HaTorah.

The Shelah writes that just as on the day Hashem created the world He revisits it and examines people and their actions to determine what the next year will be like, so too, on the day of Matan Torah, which is “moreh al chiddush ha’olam,” Hashem wants to examine what is happening in the world as He judges it regarding Torah.

I am perplexed by what the Shelah means when he writes that the day of Matan Torah, namely Shavuos, points to creation. Perhaps we can explain that his intention is to say that, in effect, the act of creation was completed on the sixth day of Sivan at Matan Torah, as we saw from Reish Lakish that the totality of the briah was dependent on whether the Jewish people would accept the Torah.

Thus, the day of Shavuos, when the world began in earnest, is truly a beginning of the world, worthy of a day of judgment, similar to the day of judgment on the first day of Tishrei, the day the world was created, which we refer to as Rosh Hashanah.

We can also say that on the day the Torah was given to the Jewish people, the world entered a new period, for Torah is what gives us life and sustains us. It is the reason Hashem created us and the reason He created the world. Therefore, it is fitting that on this day, He reviews the success of His world and whether it is reaching its purpose. He reviews whether His nation is realizing their purpose in Torah.

Hashem looks down at us and observes us to see if we are toiling in Torah and if we are spending our time immersed in our Torah learning to arrive at its truth, which He meant to be the essence of our life. He looks at our thoughts and actions. He views the way we conduct ourselves and deal with others as He determines what type of Torah year we will have. Will it be a year of serious learning, of understanding what we are learning and remembering it, or will it be a year during which we will have to work extremely hard to understand and retain anything we learn?

Hashem looks to see how we go about our study and observance of Torah. If He sees that we are studying in a lackadaisical and superficial manner, He may not be happy with us and will chas veshalom grant us a year during which it will take superhuman effort to fulfill our purpose in the world.

Additionally, prior to giving the Torah, Hashem told Moshe to tell the Jewish people to make themselves holy and to purify themselves (Shemos 19:10) in order to be able to receive the Torah.

We must do the same. During the period leading up to Shavuos and on Shavuos itself, we must work to sanctify ourselves and our actions and make ourselves holy. We have to raise ourselves from the nonsense we are busy with and rip ourselves away from things that do not lead to holiness or purity. We must examine the things we read and what we speak about, and work to improve ourselves, so that we are not busy with petty things or talking about other people, especially when being judgmental and mocking. We must be uplifted and positive, working to make ourselves and those around us better.

Our society is steeped in too much silliness and shallowness. There are so many causes and so many people suffering. It is so expensive to live these days and we should be trying to find ways to help people and lighten their load. The topic of last week’s Yated Chinuch Roundtable was sad and vital. People of goodwill need to sit down and figure out how regular, normal people in our world can make ends meet. It is nearly impossible today to survive on an average salary, and even on two average salaries.

There are so many poor people desperate for help, but no less desperate are families where both parents work. That itself is not optimal, but that’s a topic for a different time. There isn’t enough money to pay for a mortgage, own a car, have health insurance, and cover tuition. People are crashing and a solution must be found.

We need to work on achdus, which means caring about other people and their situations. It means the little things that we encounter every day. It means that we find a way to get along even with people who are different from us and think differently than we do.

Being a Torah Yid means learning and growing and caring, having high goals and reaching them. It means to be holier and better, nicer and more moral and honest, righteous and spiritual, and committed to excellence. It means to always seek to place tzurah over chomer, to do what the yeitzer tov, not the yeitzer hara, wants. It means saying naaseh v’nishma all day and every day.

We can all do it. That’s what we are here for, pre-Shavuos, on Shavuos, post-Shavuos, and all year round.

May we all be zoche to the wonderful blessings reserved for those who study and follow the Torah.

Have a good Yom Tov.

 

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

What We Can Do

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In the days of old, when the Jewish people were blessed with leaders who were able to discern and portray the Hand of Hashem in all that transpired, people weren’t as confounded as they are now by the goings-on at home and abroad. In the times of the nevi’im, quite often, the people would be forewarned before a calamity would strike so that they could accept upon themselves teshuvah and prevent the tragedy. And even if they did not do so before, once the catastrophe took place, they were explained that it was the Yad Hashem that had hit them and would engage in whatever was necessary to rectify their ways.

Even after our people lost prophecy and Hashem began engaging in the conduct of hester, people were faithful enough to recognize that nothing happened by itself and that everything that took place did so because of Hashem.

As time went on and people became increasingly more unlearned, they were unable to see Hashem’s Hand in the various manifestations of His din. They began ascribing natural explanations for what was happening, without thinking that what they were seeing were Divine messages directed at them.

As media expanded and everyone fell under the influence of news organizations and analysts, most people saw everything that was going on through the eyes of newscasters and reporters. The Divine Hand became an aforethought, if it was thought of at all.

We see the world falling apart, so to speak, and we worry. We see corruption everywhere. Immoral laws are increasingly guiding this nation. Israel was brutally attacked, but when they fight back, they are condemned by the entire world, with very few exceptions.

The party in control of the bulwark of democracy seeks regime change in Israel, as the prime minister refuses to acquiesce to their plans for a Palestinian state and an end to the war that seeks to destroy the devils whose life’s mission is the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel.

The country that murdered 6,000,000 Jews shamelessly announces that it would arrest Prime Minster Netanyahu on genocide charges. They have neither remorse nor shame.

In the eighth month of a treacherous war, rockets continue to rain down on Israel and people are still unable to return to their homes, jobs and schools. The holy cities of Meron and Tzefas continue to be Hezbollah targets, as are towns and villages in the north and south of the country.

We look from far and wonder what we can do. What can we do to help those who fear for their safety? What can we do for those who have no income? What can we do for the thousands of yungeleit whose meager stipends were cut further by a leftist elite bent on their submission? What can we do to make the world a better place and bring about positive change?

The answers won’t be found in the news, or on news sites, or on chats or X, nor in the columns of the wise men and women of the world.

The answers are in this week’s parsha. Bechukosai is a short parsha. In it, Hakadosh Boruch Hu lays out for us how to live happy, successful and blessed lives.

The posuk states quite simply, “Im bechukosai teileichu v’es mitzvosai tishmeru va’asisem osam.” If you will follow the chukim and mitzvos of the Torah, you will be blessed.

Are you afraid of global warming? Do you think the world is running out of water? The Torah promises that if you follow its mitzvos, “venosati gishmeichem b’itom,” you will have as much rain and water as you need.

Are you afraid of the rising price of food? It is no exaggeration to say that every time we go to the supermarket, the prices are higher. There are certain foods that we have to cut out. As you walk down the meat aisle, you remember when you were learning in Brisk, or Mir, or seminary, and you met Israelis who only ate meat on Shabbos because they couldn’t afford to have it more than once a week. And now you wonder how far you are from having to cut down on things you had considered to be necessities until now. You fear that the day will come when your children will hunger just like the children of yungeleit in Eretz Yisroel.

Fear not, for in this week’s parsha, the Torah promises that if you follow its mitzvos, you will always have enough: “vehisig lochem…va’achaltem lachmichem lesova.”

You wonder what you can do to bring peace to Israel. You wonder what you can do to help alleviate the fear that millions there are faced with daily. Also in this week’s parsha, the Torah promises that if you follow the chukim and mitzvos, “vishavtem lovetach b’artzechem…venosati shalom ba’aretz ushechavtem v’ein macharid…v’cherev lo saavor b’artzechem,” you will live safely in your land, there will be peace in the land, and you will sleep with no fear.

Everything that is happening today is clearly prescribed in this week’s parsha. The history of the Jewish people is all in Parshas Bechukosai. When we were good, life was good. And when the people sinned and strayed, then what the pesukim say will happen (26:14-44) happens.

Most everyone is familiar with the words of Rashi on the opening posuk of the parsha. His words are so often repeated in shmuessen and drashos that they have become marching orders to generations of bnei Torah of all ages. But it’s always good to review them.

The posuk states, “Im bechukosai teileichu v’es mitzvosai tishmeru va’asisem osam.” The Toras Kohanim states on the words “Im bechukosai teileichu” that “Melameid sheHakadosh Boruch Hu misaveh sheyihiyu Yisroel ameilim baTorah…” From here we see that Hashem desires that the Jewish people be “ameil” in Torah.

How does the Toras Kohanim derive this lesson from the words “Im bechukosai teileichu,” which appear to indicate that Hashem wants us to follow His chukim? The posuk says nothing about studying Torah.

Apparently, this question was troubling Rashi, leading him to quote a different message from the Toras Kohanim: I would think that the words “Im bechukosai teileichu” refer to their literal meaning, namely observing the commandments known as chukim. But if that is the case, why does the Torah then repeat itself and say “v’es mitzvosai tishmeru,” referring once again to mitzvah observance?

Therefore, he writes those immortal words that “Im bechukosai teileichu” doesn’t only mean that we will be blessed if we follow the chukim. Rather, they contain another message: “shetihiyu ameilim baTorah,” that you shall toil in Torah. Those who toil in Torah will be blessed.

When we study Torah, we are connecting with Hashem. We study His word and it affects us, our neshamos, and the way we conduct ourselves. We become better people, more attached to our purpose in life, strengthening our very being.

Shetihiyu ameilim baTorah is the hymn of our yeshivos and kollelim, islands of intense limud haTorah to produce exalted people.

The person who sits at his shtender struggling to grasp a Tosafos, lost in a world inhabited by him and Hashem, is who we aim to emulate.

I saw a picture today of Rav Eliyahu Levin, one of the leading talmidei chachomim of Lakewood, holding a large Gemara, or maybe it was a Shulchan Aruch, open on his lap. His face portrayed the image of human bliss, as he had sort of a smile. But if you looked at his eyes, you saw that they were focused somewhere far away, as he was lost in concentration.

You might ask: What’s so special about that? And why am I writing about this picture?

Boruch Hashem, bli ayin hora, you can enter the botei medrash of Bais Medrash Govoah any day and find thousands of people like that. And not only in Lakewood. In many cities across the United States, as well as Montreal and Toronto to the north and Mexico City to the south, and in England and France and Switzerland and all across Eretz Yisroel, you’ll find the same scene.

The reason the picture is special is because he was sitting at a gate in an airport. He wasn’t thinking about his plane, or his trip, or his destination. He was in a sugya, connected with Hashem and disconnected from anything to do with teva and this world. A pure display of being omeil baTorah.

When people push themselves beyond their comfort level and find the strength for another blatt of Gemara, another few minutes in the bais medrash, or one more Tosafos, they enter that exalted realm.

Each one of us can have that gift. With a little spirit and determination, we can go where Rav Eliyahu Levin went and where tens of thousands of others go. We can delve into the sugya. We can care about the finer points in the machlokes between Rashi, the Rashba and the Rambam, and experience the thrill of understanding how the Brisker Rov brings them all together. When we do that, we earn brachos for ourselves and for the world.

Shetihiyu ameilim baTorah.

When mortals like us brush up against the heavens and earn the brachos of Heaven.

Studying Torah helps us confront the temptations society offers and withstand the ever-present pressures and enticements.

Sunday was Lag Ba’omer, the festive day that seems to mark the Sefirah midpoint. Sefirah is a serious time, and not only because 24,000 talmidim of Rabi Akiva died during this period. Sefirah is serious because during this time, we are to be preparing ourselves to accept the Torah once again as our forefathers did so many years ago. They left Mitzrayim unlearned, with few mitzvos and on a low level of kedusha. Every day of Sefirah, they raised themselves a bit more until they were ready for Har Sinai, where they were brought into Hashem’s embrace and received the Torah.

We do the same as we count towards Shavuos and receiving the Torah, working on our middos and steadily reaching upward. Each day of the count, we seek to improve ourselves so that when Shavuos comes, we will be able to receive the Torah anew.

There is an unprecedented explosion of Torah study in our day. Increasing numbers of Jews of all walks of life study Gemara daily, whether as part of Daf Yomi, Dirshu, Oraysa or some other program. It is no longer rare to travel on a plane and see people with a Gemara on their tray table.

All across the country and around the world, there are more people dedicating themselves to full-time Torah study in kollel. We are palpably nearing the day when “umalah ha’aretz dei’ah es Hashem,” the world will be full of people who appreciate Hashem and recognize His Hand in everything that happens.

The current war in Gaza is a prime example. The nations of the world and those who follow the news as it is presented have one way of understanding the goings-on. We, maaminim bnei maaminim, see the Yad Hashem in every bomb, missile and mission. When hundreds of terrorists crashed through the world’s strongest, most well-protected border and there was no army waiting to defend thousands of civilians from their wrath, we knew that such a thing doesn’t happen by itself, but is foretold in this week’s parsha.

And then, when Iran sent 300 of its most powerful missiles, expecting tremendous casualties, and not one person was killed and there was only minimal damage, we knew that it was only the Yad Hashem that held them back, as foretold in this week’s parsha.

When the nations of the world gang up against us and tens of thousands march in hate; when ancient anti-Semitism is woken from its nap and others wonder why it is happening, giving speeches and trying to write laws against it, we know that this is the curse of golus that appears in this week’s parsha.

We are not economists. We don’t have the recipe to cure inflation and bring down interest rates so business can prosper and people can have affordable housing. We are not farmers. We can’t procure fertilizer, grow more crops, and get chickens to produce more eggs. Nor can we get to the bottom of why meat is so expensive and get into the business of raising steers so we can lower the prices somehow. We are neither generals nor foreign policy experts who can end the war in Gaza and Ukraine and keep China from taking over Taiwan. And even if we could, nobody would listen to us.

What we can do is study more Torah, with deeper concentration. We can work on the way we observe the mitzvos and do a better job of it. We can daven better, slower, and more carefully, taking the time to say every word and giving what we are saying some thought. We can be more careful with what we read, what we watch, what we bring into our homes, and where we go.

When we learn Parshas Bechukosai this week, we should do so slowly and carefully, studying every Rashi and Ramban and the classic Meshech Chochmah about golus, until we understand what they are saying and spend some time thinking about adapting their messages to our lives.

By doing that and taking the message of Sefirah seriously as well, we will not only be improving our lives so that we can attain fulfillment and inner happiness, but we will be earning for ourselves and the world, and all those we care about, the special brachos contained in this week’s parsha.

We will then merit the eternal brachos, as Hakadosh Boruch Hu will finally end this golus and bring us all to where we belong bekarov.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Facing the Test

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 

Parshas Behar opens with the mitzvah of Shmittah. The discussion of the topic begins by stating that Hashem told these halachos to Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai. Rashi immediately asks: Mah inyan Shmittah eitzel Har Sinai? Why does the Torah single out this instance of the halachos of Shmittah to tell us that they were given to Moshe at Sinai, when we know that all the 613 mitzvos were delivered there by Hashem to Moshe?

Many answers are offered to address that age-old question and we will offer one as well.

Shmittah is portrayed as one of the most trying mitzvos to fulfill. In a pre-industrial time, every person had a plot of land upon which they grew crops and/or fed and cared for their livestock, and from which they fed and nourished themselves and sold produce for income. Yet, the Torah commands us to set aside the field and let it lie fallow for a full year. Imagine letting go of your source of income and sustenance for a year, without knowing where your next meal will come from and how you will manage.

It is as if someone told us to leave our place of employment for a year and join a kollel. Imagine someone who owns a business with many employees and lots of computers in a large office building. Tell him to shut the lights, lock the door, go home, and come back in one year… and everything will be just fine.

I had never looked at it that way until the last Shmittah year, when I went to visit Mr. Patichi on his farm outside of Beit Shemesh. It was the first time he was observing Shmittah, and he had toured the United States telling his story. He came to my shul as well and invited me to visit him when I’d be in Israel. I took him up on his offer.

We arrived at his home, which is located on his farm, on a hot summer day. It was breathtakingly quiet. All we could hear were some chickens clucking. We saw some other farm animals lazing around in the sun, seeking shade. Tractors were sitting motionless, with air oozing out of their tires. Nobody came and nobody went as we viewed his “We proudly keep Shmittah” sign and the dusty expanse.

Farmer Patichi proudly started up a tractor, and with a broad smile, he loaded us up on it and we set out on a tour of his farm. I saw genuine pride, because he was very proud of his farm and even prouder that he wasn’t growing anything that year. With a broad smile, he showed us acres and acres of brown dirt. He told us what he grew here and what he grew there and who he sold it to. He told us about his European customers and his hopes that they would still be interested in buying from him when Shmittah would end and he would begin growing crops again.

He showed us where his property ended and the next farm began. It wasn’t hard to tell. His fields were dusty brown as far as we could see, and right alongside them were luscious green fields, glistening in the sun.

He was so proud as he pointed out the difference and spoke of his neighbor, who did not have the zechus to observe the mitzvah.

Baruch Hashem,” he said, “after all the years that my family has been farming here, I finally have the zechut to be shomer Shmittah.

I realized the magnitude of the sacrifice that is involved in Shmittah. A person shuts down his business, his source of livelihood and food, for a full year. He does it for one reason: Because Hashem said so.

Shmittah reminds the farmer and everyone else that everything they have is from Hashem. They may have bought this land several decades ago, and generations of the family may have slaved over it from morning until night, but every seven years they are reminded that the land doesn’t belong to them. They don’t produce fruits and vegetables and spices because of their hard work. Rather, the lands are Hashem’s, and they produce such fine products because Hashem willed it so. They are also reminded that whether they will have customers to sell their produce to, bringing them an income, is also dependent on Hashem.

During the first six years of the cycle, everything runs according to the natural way - planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding, harvesting, processing, selling, pocketing a profit (hopefully), and then starting the cycle all over again.

But in the seventh year, the laws of nature and finance are put on hold, as the farmer spends his time pondering his existence, recognizing that all is from Hashem.

From where do the farmers derive the strength of faith that is required to make that commitment? Would we be able to simply walk away from our jobs for a year and leave ourselves with no income?

In last week’s parsha of Emor, the posuk (22:32) discusses the severity of causing a chillul Hashem. Rashi cites the Toras Kohanim that when “a person is going to his death to be mekadeish sheim Shomayim, he should go willing to die rather than to transgress on the mitzvos of Hashem, because anyone who goes to his death in such an instance with the hope that a miracle will take place and his life will be spared does not receive the miracle and will be put to death. But if he goes to his death willingly and believing that he will die al kiddush Hashem, then he can merit a miracle.”

The Maharal, in his sefer Gur Aryeh, explains this concept. He writes, “When a person gives himself over to death without hoping that a miracle will be performed for him and his life will be spared, he is called a kadosh, just like Yitzchok Avinu at the Akeidah, who was tied to the mizbeiach and became a kadosh with that. So too, this person becomes a kadosh because he gave himself over to be killed to sanctify Hashem.

“Hashem performs miracles for kedoshim, and since this person is now a kadosh, Hashem will miraculously save his life.

“When a person doesn’t consider whether he should value his life over kiddush sheim Shomayim, then he is a kadosh, a supremely holy person, and because he is a kadosh, he is separated from this world and the way the world runs… Therefore, a miracle – which is beyond the natural tendencies of the world – is performed for him.”

In other words, if a person overcomes his nature and his natural way of thinking and separates himself from teva and olam hazeh, Hakadosh Boruch Hu will no longer deal with him with the hanhogah of olam hazeh and teva. He will relate to him lemaalah miderech hateva, in a manner higher than teva, and therefore he’ll be saved.

Perhaps we can say that this is the reason the posuk tells us that the laws of Shmittah were delivered on Har Sinai where Moshe received the entire Torah.

Torah raises the level of those who study and observe it. Through Torah, we can become kedoshim, holy people, for it connects us with Hashem and gives us the foundation and fortitude to rise above teva and olam hazeh. It gives us the strength and determination to overcome the yeitzer hora’s temptations and human failings.

With Torah, a person can reach high levels of kedusha, enabling him to resist not only human desires, but also the natural way of thinking.

To observe the laws of Shmittah, a person has to be able to separate himself from the natural way of thinking. He has to be able to say to himself that although he doesn’t know where his food and income will come from, he is separating himself from his farm, from his work, and from his business. He has to be able to say that following Hashem’s commandments is more important than anything else in this world. Only a person who studies Torah and observes mitzvos can overcome normal human thinking and reactions. Only a person whose life has been sanctified by Torah can maintain the levels of emunah and bitachon to pass the Shmittah test.

It is not only the Shmittah farmer who faces this test. It affects all of us daily.

Every day, from the minute we wake up and the yeitzer hora tells us to stay in bed longer, come late to davening, talk during davening, or daven without kavonah without saying every word, we are faced with this test.

If we are in kollel, he tells us to take it easy, not to horeveh so hard, and not to push ourselves to really understand the sugya. He tells us that we don’t have to try to write down our he’aros, and it’s okay of we come late and leave early and spend some time in the coffee room debating whether the Democrats will dump Biden.

If we work, he tells us that we don’t have to be so straight. He says that we don’t have to tell people the truth about our product and what we do. He tells us to skim a little here and there. “It’s fine. Everyone does it.”

When we drive, he tells us that the rules of the road are for other people, not for us. Courtesy is old and passé. It’s fine if we take up two spaces in a crowded parking lot because we are too lazy to park correctly.

A person who follows his yeitzer hora is not only lacking in emunah and bitachon. He or she places their own wants and desires over kiddush Hashem. Such a person is not a kadosh.

If we want Hakadosh Boruch Hu to go beyond teva for us so that we will be well, have nachas, and possess enough money to cover our ever-mounting expenses, then we have to learn the lesson of Shmittah and remember that everything we have is from Hashem. If we follow His mitzvos and strive to elevate ourselves beyond the base level of humanity, carefully considering each action in terms of whether it will bring us more kedusha or the opposite, and whether it will cause a kiddush Hashem or a chillul Hashem, we will transcend our natural inclinations. In doing so, Hashem will deal with us on an elevated level, beyond the natural order, and will bless us with goodness.

We face this test every day several times a day. Torah enables us to pass it.

We live in a historically precarious time, with so many threats pointed at us from outside and within. The hatred the goyim have for us has shot up to extremely dangerous levels. The world is united against Israel. And make no mistake about it: When they say Israel and when they say Zionists, they mean the Jews, all of the Jews, including us.

We have seen great miracles in the ongoing war in Gaza and the side-war with Iran. Just this week, the world experienced something that nobody could have foretold and another prime enemy of the Jewish people is gone. Nobody knows where this will lead, but two things are definite: the world is a better place without him and he is dead because Hashem willed it so as He prepares the world for the coming of Moshiach.

Hashem is doing His. We have to do ours.

We are now in the days of Sefirah, each day representing another of the 48 steps with which Torah is acquired. Each day, we need to be considering those 48 steps, improving ourselves, and climbing higher and higher, until we reach the pinnacle, as our forefathers did so many years ago when they prepared themselves to be worthy of accepting the Torah at Har Sinai.

Let us put all other considerations aside as we study the seforim we need to lift ourselves so that we can be worthy recipients and students of Torah, earning all the brachos of Hashem as recorded in the Torah and meriting the ultimate supernatural geulah of Moshiach tzidkeinu, b’meheirah b’yomeinu. Amein.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Holy Count

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week, in Parshas Emor, we encounter the mitzvah of counting seven weeks between when the Korban Omer is brought on the second day of Pesach through the night prior to the Yom Tov we call Shavuos.

The language the posuk uses (in Devorim 16: 9) is: “Shivah shavuos tispor loch - You should count for yourself seven weeks.” Rav Chaim Vital asks why the posuk uses the term “loch,” which means for you. Chazal teach that whenever the word “loch” is used in this manner, it means that you should perform this act for your own enjoyment and benefit. A case in point would be when Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Avrohom Avinu to leave his father’s home and town: “Lech lecha… Leave where you are and go to the land I will show you…” Rashi quotes the teaching of Chazal that Hashem was telling him to go for his own enjoyment and benefit. So, why does the posuk say to count “lecha”? What personal benefit does a person derive from counting? 

He answers that the period of Sefiras Ha’omer is a time of din. When we count, we remember to do teshuvah and to be mispallel that Hashem should sweeten the din.

The Shelah says it a little differently. He writes that Sefiras Ha’omer is a great mitzvah, and through the counting, a person brings upon himself a high level of kedusha. Therefore, it is incumbent upon a person who is counting to invigorate his heart through teshuvah and to make himself holy - “kadosh vetahor.”

What is so special about these days that we are now in? From where do we derive that these days have the ability to purify us and raise us to higher levels?

The Sefer Hachinuch writes that underlying the mitzvah of Sefirah is the fact that the world was created for Torah, and a primary reason that Hashem freed the Jews from Mitzrayim was so that He could give them the Torah. The ability to advance towards Har Sinai and receive the Torah was a more important factor in leaving Mitzrayim than was being freed from slavery.

Therefore, says the Chinuch, the mitzvah to count from Pesach to Shavuos was given to us to demonstrate the intense yearning to reach the appointed time. He says that this is similar to a slave who is forced to work under the blazing hot sun and counts down until the time the sun will disappear beyond the horizon and the shade will take over.

Just as a prisoner counts the days until his sentence is up and he will experience his freedom, so too, lehavdil, we count until the day we receive the Torah, for that is a portrayal of the depth of our longing for that day’s arrival.

It is well known that one reason we count for 49 days is also connected to our receipt of the Torah, because Chazal taught that there are 48 levels that a person must achieve in order to be able to properly receive and study the Torah. Each day of Sefirah, we work on attaining the next level, so that when the anticipated day of Matan Torah arrives, we will be able to accept the Torah.

Thus, we understand why these days are considered holy and special. It is because throughout the days of Sefirah, each member of Klal Yisroel is working to improve himself so that he can be a vessel worthy of Torah.

The Ramban (23:23-24) writes that the mitzvah of Sefirah and Shavuos are combined in the posuk, much like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, because just as Yom Kippur is the pinnacle of the process that began on Rosh Hashanah, so too, Shavuos is the peak of the days of Sefirah. Each day, we climb another step on the ladder that brings us to the summit of Kabbolas HaTorah.

Therefore, says the Maharal, the period of Sefirah is blessed with awesome light that is not present the rest of the year (Nesiv HaTorah 12). This spiritual light grows in intensity along with our counting, until it reaches a climax on Shavuos, when the Torah was given. He adds that when we make the count each evening, we say, “Hayom,” because “yom,” day, is an expression of light. We thank Hashem for granting us the spiritual 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, considered animal feed, which comprises the Korban Omer, to the more refined chitim wheat of the Shtei Halechem of Shavuos.

Chazal (Yoma 9b) teach that the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of sinas chinom; the people didn’t appreciate each other and couldn’t get along.

Perhaps we can say that until the period that followed the churban, 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 Bais Hamikdosh to be destroyed, and just as the first Bais Hamikdosh was rebuilt after a short period of exile, so too will this one be rebuilt in a short matter of time.

When the terrible plague struck and the 24,000 talmidim of the holy Tanna perished, it became obvious to all that sins of sinas chinom were deeply embedded and the lack of ahavas Yisroel and achdus would not be easily rectified.

Perhaps they perceived that the mageifah taking place during the days of Sefirah, when there is increased ohr and daily introspection and teshuvah, indicated to them that not only were the people not worthy of having the Bais Hamikdosh, but they were also unworthy of Torah.

Had they climbed the daily steps of Sefirah and achieved the 48 kinyonim, they would have perfected their middos and would have been worthy of the return of the Bais Hamikdosh. Then, the 24,000 talmidim would not have died.

This is why the Sefirah period was declared as a time of mourning the loss of the talmidim, because as we engage in acts of bereavement, 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 “v’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 to be 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 to realize 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. 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 end and we would merit the geulah.

During these days of Sefirah, we should work to end the hatred, spite, cynicism and divisions amongst us. We need to take to heart the lessons 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 Ramchal in Maamar Hachochmah discusses the idea that the Bnei Yisroel in Mitzrayim sank to the 49th level of depravity. After redeeming them from there, 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.

The ability to raise ourselves like our forefathers did upon leaving Mitzrayim until the level that they merited receiving the Torah presents itself every year during this time, the Ramchal says. If we would dedicate ourselves to the daily tasks, we would achieve what was achieved back then.

The Ohr Hachaim adds to this idea and writes (Vayikra 23:15) that the counting of the days of the Omer is similar to the count that impure people perform to calculate the time remaining until they regain their purity. During this period, we must engage in introspection, much the same as impure people are meant to 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 us. During this period, we are to study and apply the 48 kinyonim of Torah to be worthy of accepting the Torah on Shavuos.

If we would utilize the strength that Hashem gave us to love and care instead of being apathetic and self-important, we could change the world.

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

On Lag Ba’omer, hundreds of thousands gather with achdus, brotherhood and love around flames dedicated to Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai. They sing songs of praise and dance with much vigor and bounce as they think of the holy Tanna and his rebbi, Rabi Akiva.

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

Rabi Akiva was the greatest of his generation. It is said that he was the root 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 original students died, the Jewish world mourned. They worried about how the mesorah that ran through Rabi Akiva would be able to continue. Fresh from mourning the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, they now mourned the loss of so many Torah giants. Every day, there were hundreds of funerals for the people whom everyone had counted on to be the future leaders and teachers of Klal Yisroel. A grieving people on the run from Roman persecution, they feared for the future.

As was his way, Rabi Akiva recharged the people and helped them recover from the devastating losses. He set out to transmit the Torah to a group of five new students, through whom the chain leading back to Sinai and forward to us was established.

On Lag Ba’omer, we not only celebrate the day when the plague ended and commemorate the renewal that Rabi Akiva led through Rabi Shimon and four others. We celebrate that on this day as well, Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai revealed the secrets of Toras Hasod, which infused the future generations with added dimensions of kedusha and understanding of Torah and Hashem’s creation.

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 persevered in the face of tragedy and destruction, ensuring that our nation and Torah live and flourish until today.

As we celebrate their determination, we are able to foresee a bright future.

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 recover from 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.

In our day, once again, we experience the Jewish eternal struggle. Those who were considered friends and allies turn on us. They spread blood libels about us, accusing us of the wanton murder of women and children. They incite massive hatred of Jews in this country and around the world. They protect an evil terror group and its leaders, even after they perpetrated genocide against the Jewish people.

As the Jewish state has their leaders and remnants of their army surrounded, the leader of the world’s most powerful democracy not only withholds necessary weapons from the Jews to prevent them from concluding the war and eliminating the terror group that threatens Israel and the Western world, but the great bulwark of liberty keeps to itself information that would lead Israel to the terror chief and the over 100 hostages kidnapped from Israel.

The president spent half a century portraying himself as a Zionist to earn the support of Jews. In fact, however, he worked to undermine Israel, trying to bring down Israel’s current democratically elected leader and conducting hand-to-hand combat with previous leaders, such as Menachem Begin, as he threatened the lone democracy in the Middle East and one of America’s greatest allies.

People in Eretz Yisroel and chutz la’aretz worry about the anti-Semitism that has been unleashed. They fear to walk the streets in their cities and wonder where this will all lead if permitted to continue to fester, grow and take root. They wonder what can be done to stem the threatening tide that is washing over the world.

The Sefirah period is meant to bring out the best in us, allowing us to rise and benefit from the light and holiness of these days. May we merit to use these days to become worthy of Torah and geulah, so that we will have greatness, peace and Moshiach very soon.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Staying Holy

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We recently celebrated Pesach, which is referred to as Zeman Cheiruseinu, the days upon which we commemorate our freedom. We were exalted and relaxed as we sat at the Seder engaging in the mitzvos of the evening, primarily that of discussing our exodus from slavery and bondage and our creation as a free independent nation. We sang the tunes we memorized back in our childhood with the same joy and geshmak with which we have been singing them ever since: Mah Nishtanah, Avodim Hayinu, Vehi She’amdah, Dayeinu, Mekimi Mei’ofor Dol, Chasal Siddur Pesach, and so many more.

Wherever we were the night of the Seder, we were on top of the world, just as the Jews who came before us were every year, back until the first Seder in the desert.

But then the Seder was over, Yom Tov ended, and before we knew what happened, we were thrust back into an inhospitable, disturbing world.

Besides the usual pressures and challenges, a new one has cropped up: anti-Jewish demonstrations in major American cities. Vile masses of students and agitators gather at the most respected universities and call for genocide of Jews.

For those who don’t understand, that means mass murder of Jews. Us.

They chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which means that Israel and its inhabitants will be destroyed and replaced with the so-called Palestinians, Rachmana litzlon.

Many of us live in our little bubbles of self-contained communities and don’t venture to the big cities, certainly not to where the universities are, so we are walled off from what is going on and lulled into a false sense of complacency. We don’t appreciate that the Ivy League universities, which are currently hotbeds of Jew-hatred and calls for doing away with us, are the temples of the country’s culture, education, intelligence and future. What happens at the top universities impacts the country. The current demonstrations are driving the media, as they elicit reams of fictitious coverage of stories about Israel’s anti-humanitarian war, killing innocents at will, only because that is what Jews do.

The anti-Jewish crusade is spreading across Western capitals around the world, with feeble pushback here and abroad. Constitutional privileges, such as freedom of speech and others, are thrown about to obscure the reason that those in leadership positions do not speak up against the crazy, irrational, Marxist, revolutionary fascism being broadcast from the chaotic grounds of elitist bedrock.

In less than four years, the country’s switch has been flipped and leftist zealots have taken over, steering the country down a terrible path. Those misguided souls who advocated in 2020 for the Democrats are witness now to what that party stands for and where it aims to take the country. There is no more self-deluding as to what the upcoming election is about and that there will be terrible consequences should the wrong party win. But that is said as an aside and is not our focus today.

Many wonder what is at the root of the recent campaigns. The Gaza war was caused by a wanton murderous attack by Arab terrorists against thousands of innocent civilians. Is a country not allowed to defend itself and vanquish its attackers? In the scope of wars, though every loss of life is tragic, this one is not major. Millions of Africans are killed in ongoing wars, Syria’s despot has killed untold numbers of his subjects, Russia bombs entire Ukrainian cities to oblivion, and the students and their teachers aren’t concerned about any of those wars and genocides. All they are concerned with is going after Jews.

Why is that?

The Netziv wrote a treatise on this topic and published it with his sefer on Shir Hashirim. Named “She’er Yisroel,” it is a classic and bears study, at least once a year, when we study and read Shir Hashirim.

He opens with our question: “Many ask about the hatred that dwells in the hearts of anti-Semites. Everyone tries unsuccessfully to find the proper response to this question, each according to his thoughts and ideas about Judasim and the way Jews should conduct themselves vis-à-vis those amongst whom they live.

“We will offer an explanation based upon Torah and faith, and we will say that the hatred towards the Jewish people is known to all Jews from the ‘Vehi She’amdah’ that we proclaim at the Seder.

He says that we begin the Seder with the passage of “Arami oveid avi” and the relationship between Lovon and Yaakov to teach us that since the time of [Avrohom and Yitzchok and] Yaakov, in every generation, the Jew-haters want to destroy us and Hashem spares us from them. In some generations, the desire for our demise is stronger than others, but it is always present. Even when it appears that we are loved, we have to know that the hatred is there, but it is suppressed until Hashem decides that we have veered from the path of Torah and need to be brought back to the proper Torah way. When we regain proper faith, Hashem watches over us and prevents any harm from befalling us, just as he watched over Yaakov when Lovon wanted to destroy him.

This has been the pattern of our exile until today. The Jews settled as refugees from a foreign land and prospered and integrated into the new host country. Things were looking up. Here we are welcome, respected and treasured. Here it will be good, they thought. And then the people turned on them, vilified them, and kept their distance, eventually dominating them, killing their children and tormenting them in every way they knew.

The Jews packed up their stuff and went on the road again, looking for a place that would allow them to live there. After beginning their sojourn in the new country as refugees, they slowly acclimated, began to feel at home in the new land, and then assimilated into the new culture, attending its schools and universities, marrying into its religion and feeling as if they really belong in this place this time. They thought that here it is different. Here they appreciate us, love us, care about us, and accept us as one of them.

Alas, after being there for years and generations, they find out that it is a charade, as the nation turns on them, shunts them aside, and begins accusing them of every crime. It is said that their money was illegally obtained, their patriotism is questioned, and they are accused of being a bunch of parasites who take advantage of the system. The charges are similar in each place, as are the results. The only difference is how long it takes.

We give it a name to make ourselves feel better, as if it is some type of malady that the country and world can be cured of. Anti-Semitism. We forget that what is happening today is a manifestation of the historic pattern set into place by the Creator to keep Am Yisroel separated from the outside culture and moral degeneration, and to keep them connected to Torah and Hakadosh Boruch Hu. 

The latent hatred is always there, but as long as the Jewish people keep to themselves and recognize that Hashem watches over them with Hashgocha Protis, as they follow the mitzvos of the Torah according to the Shulchan Aruch, caring for each other and using their blessings for communal benefit, Hashem keeps the hatred hidden and the superficial love is apparent. When the people get so comfortable that they think that they need no protector and can veer away from Hashem and His commandments, the hatred rises to the surface and what we call anti-Semitism is manifest.

Following the First World War, the nations of the world, led by United States President Woodrow Wilson, formed the League of Nations with the stated guarantee that a world war would never again take place. From the ashes of the Second World War, the United Nations was formed so that a monstrous demagogue like Hitler would never again rise to power.

Unity, it was thought, would be a barrier that no dictator could overcome. The organizers didn’t factor in apathy and indifference. They didn’t factor in corruption and bigotry. Though it was founded in the shadow of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism was the least of their concerns. Instead, today, the United Nations lies about everything, especially Israel.

The media also regularly lies about Israel, twisting its coverage as it attempts to convince the world that the Jewish people are evil.

141 countries under the banner of the U.N. have recognized Palestine as an independent country. The latest to sign on was the tiny island country of Barbados, which has no Jews and knows nothing about Jews, Israel or history, yet its vote counts as much as a large, successful nation, thanks to the United Nations.

Iran, which has a stated public goal of destroying Israel, is afforded the same respect as a decent, rational country with a proper system of laws and ethics. It is even permitted to chair the UN Human Rights Council, the epitomic portrayal of the hypocrisy of the UN and a majority of its member nations.

As the Jews have become the victims of international hatred, the International Criminal Court now joins in this charade and threatens Israel’s leader and anyone who supports him.

This is all part of the historical pattern, and nothing we can say to the nations and their leaders will change a thing. No amount of arguing, debating, or posturing, and no number of op-eds, will alter the current trajectory. It is only Avinu Shebashomayim who can bring about change, and that is dependent on our mitzvos, maasim tovim and tefillos.

The entire world witnessed on Simchas Torah that when Hashem removes His protection from Israel, the most sophisticated intelligence system and the world’s mightiest army are powerless in the face of Israel’s lowly enemies. When Hashem wants to remind Am Yisroel who their Protector is, who fights their battles for them, and Who it is who keeps their enemies at bay, inexplicable things happen, and the strongest, mightiest, and brightest are shown to be helpless.

All were able to see that the reason such a tragedy did not occur previously in Israel’s history was because Hashem prevented it from happening. Just before Pesach, we saw evil Iran unleash an unprecedented number of powerful missiles on Israel. Miraculously, only one Bedouin girl was hurt. Hashem saved us.

Some years back, Israel instituted Holocaust Remembrance Day on the 28th day of Nissan, which fell this past Monday. Every year, they speak of the 6,000,000 kedoshim who perished in the Holocaust and offer a message of support to the Jewish people, proclaiming that now that there is a Jewish state, the Jewish people are much better off, as they are not alone and are protected by the state and its army. That proclamation grates on me every year, as I’m sure it does on believing Jews everywhere. But this year, it was especially painful in light of what happened when Hashem removed His protective dome the last day of Sukkos. Since then, Israel has been bogged down in a war that has unleashed much hatred and diplomatic regress. Yet, while this year’s commemoration was muted out of security concerns, the ability to rely on the state and its army to prevent another Holocaust was front and center.

Now may not be the proper time to castigate other Jews, but it is a most appropriate time to remind our people Who protects us and what is incumbent upon us to do to earn that protection.

This week, we lain Parshas Kedoshim, which instructs us to conduct ourselves in the manner of kedoshim, holy people. This is accomplished by observing the mitzvos discussed in the parsha, as well as the other parshiyos of the Torah.

The world today is defined not only by hate and hypocrisy, but also by dishonesty and depravity. Immoral people and lifestyles are vaunted and praised, and welcomed by the avant-garde culture.

But despite all the temptation and the many lures, we are to be kedoshim, living lives of uncompromised kedusha. We avoid any media that doesn’t increase our holiness and abstain from activities that dull our kedusha and sense of right and wrong. The Torah is our guide in life, not glitzy presentations, charismatics, and the “in crowd,” who could lead us away from a just and holy life. Torah combined with emunah and bitachon and deveikus in mitzvos and maasim tovim leads us to a successful, fulfilled and satisfying life, instead of sadness and vacuousness wrapped in a veneer of superficial joy.

It also earns us the protection we need in whatever we do and wherever we go.

May we merit the protection of the Shomer Yisroel and may the ongoing tensions and conflicts lead to the geulah sheleimah very soon.