Wednesday, February 28, 2024

My Father’s Tefillin

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In Parshas Ki Sisa, we learn one of the most tragic occurrences in our history, from which we suffer until today: the sin of the Eigel. Every time we learn the parsha, we wonder how the people could have gone so wrong. The same people who experienced all of Hashem’s miracles in Mitzrayim and at the Yam Suf were now ready to trade it all in for a little golden calf made from their wives’ jewelry. How can it be?

The nation that stood at Har Sinai and heard the voice of the Creator as they received and accepted the Torah so quickly wandered away from the truth and danced around a silly idol. How are we to understand their mistakes? What led them to err so quickly?

Each generation is faced with new nisyonos, which are different than those faced by previous generations. Each generation sees its nisyonos as much more difficult than those faced in earlier eras, as if they could have survived the challenges that people living at a different time had difficulty with. But in essence, the tests and difficulties we face are no more difficult than what our forefathers had to contend with, and considering that the generations become progressively weaker, it is possible that what confounds us would not have confounded previous generations.

Far be it from us to judge those who succumbed to the pressures that faced people one hundred years ago. The people then were poor. Many were starving, driven from their homes, refugees in a new land and unable to speak the language. Many came to America and surrendered. For many of them, there were no yeshivos for their children, and even where there were, the vast majority of the youngsters went to public school, where they were led away from the ways of their parents. Terrible poverty led many to work on Shabbos to be able to pay rent and buy food. There were many justifications for why the conduct inconsistent with the Torah was permitted, but the effect was that those who found ways around halacha and mesorah gradually became lost to our people. Millions withered away and were swallowed up by the pot of assimilation.

 Many of them meant well. They made cheshbonos that they could compromise and still be able to hold on to their children and prevent them from being swept away. Sadly, in most cases, it was false hope. Their intentions may have been good, but it didn’t work. In fact, the Chazon Ish prophesized the mass teshuvah movement of the past few decades. He said that he saw in Eretz Yisroel and in America how the second generation was rejecting the religious life of their parents.

“But the older generation sees their secular grandchildren and cries bitter tears to Hashem over what has become of them in the new country,” said the Chazon Ish. “There is no doubt that in the merit of those tears, their grandchildren will grow up and experience stirrings of teshuvah.”

Thankfully, his words have come to pass for many thousands, but for millions of others, their children are so far gone that they are almost impossible to reach.

We can’t attempt to understand the nisyonos faced by tired, hardworking immigrants who came to this land to escape starvation, pogroms and forced military conscription. The lasting lesson of that period is that people who thought they could compromise and still stay ahead of the game found out the hard way that they couldn’t. Those who embraced the zeitgeist were constricted and bound by it.

We learn from them that as we face the nisyonos of our time, we must explicitly follow the Torah and halacha without justifying various compromises. Those who compromised ended up with no Torah, no halacha, no Shabbos, no kashrus, nothing. It was only those diehards who refused to buckle to the realities of the era and held fast to the Torah they brought with them to the new country who remained conscripted to Hashem’s army, observing Shabbos and every other halacha, while being blessed with generations of offspring who haven’t forsaken their heritage.

Getting back to the Eigel, the Bais Halevi explains that the people at that time also had good intentions. He says that when the people saw that Moshe didn’t return, they feared that they had lost their intermediary who stood between them and Hashem, conveying the Creator’s wishes and commandments to the people. They were afraid that their connection to Hashem would be lost.

They figured that in his absence, they should fashion a place where the Shechinah could rest amongst them. They turned to Aharon Hakohein, whom they knew was familiar with the secrets of Torah and the briah, to create this place.

They approached this idea with the best intentions, but they made one fatal mistake. It is true that the Creator invested man with the ability for his actions to impact what happens in the higher worlds. But this is only when the action that is done is prescribed by the Torah. However, if a person performs an action that was not commanded in the Torah, but is something that he arrived at through his own intelligence and understanding, the action will not accomplish anything and certainly will not be able to bring the Shechinah to rest near him.

Only when a person fulfills the will of Hashem can his actions bring about the desired effects, but when acting on the thoughts and machinations of man, we cannot accomplish anything. Not only do we not accomplish anything when we do things based upon what people come up with, but by doing so we sin and cause destruction. This is the reason that the good intentions of the people at that time led to sin and devastation.

If you examine where the Jewish people went off throughout the ages, it was when they came up with new laws and compromises based upon their own understanding and not based on Torah. Every deviant group started out claiming that they were following the Torah. It was just that they “adapted” it to fit with their understating of what they felt was necessary for their period. They said that they were following the halacha, but it was undergoing a required “evolution.” That is how Conservative Judaism began. As ridiculous as it sounds, they claim to follow the “authentic and most appropriate continuation of halakhic discourse.” They have halachic decisors who study Talmud and Shulchan Aruch and claim to follow halacha. In fact, any relationship between halacha and what they claim to follow is illusory. Open Orthodoxy is heading down the same path.

Many of the Maskilim who caused much trouble for frum Jews in the 1800s were products of yeshivos who quickly veered from halacha

Any time a person, or group, deviates from normative Yiddishkeit the way it has been practiced for centuries and begins to make changes according to their understand or that of others, defection is sure to follow. Anytime somebody thinks that he has a better idea or a better understanding of halacha than the mesorah and traditional methods of study and understanding, he is in great danger of eventually turning away from Torah altogether.

Today, as we are faced with different nisyonos, we have to learn from those who sinned with the Eigel and those who throughout the ages made compromises and rationalizations that they felt were necessary in order to function and overcome challenges. They all failed and were lost. The only way to remain loyal to Hashem and his Torah is by not saying that it’s impossible to do that today without shaving off some of the halachic requirements. It doesn’t work that way, not now and never before or in the future.

When Moshe returned and saw Jews dancing around the Eigel, he was overcome. He broke the luchos that Hashem had given him and proclaimed, “Mi laShem eilay - All who are with Hashem should line up with me.” The posuk relates that the shevet of Levi rallied to Moshe’s side.

My grandfather, Rav Leizer Levin, learned in the Yeshiva of Radin for seven years and slept in the home of the Chofetz Chaim for a year and a half. He told me that it was his rebbi’s custom to refer to this posuk when welcoming new talmidim to the yeshiva. He would ask them if they were a kohein or a levi. My grandfather was asked the question upon his arrival and responded that he was a levi.

The Chofetz Chaim, who was a kohein, said to the young bochur, “Let me tell you why you are a levi. It is because when Moshe Rabbeinu called out after the chet ha’Eigel, ‘Mi laShem eilay,’ your grandfather [and mine] responded positively and lined up with Moshe.

“I am telling you this so that when the call of ‘Mi laShem eilay’ rings out in our day, make sure to give the answer your zaide gave.”

The Chofetz Chaim’s message left an unforgettable impression upon him, and when he repeated it to me seventy years after it happened, it was with much emotion that he charged me with that same lesson.

Shevet Levi did not make cheshbonos. They didn’t try to figure out which side would win and if Moshe stood a chance of winning the showdown. Moshe Rabbeinu was Torah and they followed him implicitly. If Moshe calls upon us to stand with him, we respond to the call. The people of Hashem don’t make calculations or call for realism and practicality.

And the same goes for us in our day. If the halacha is one way, we don’t search for pragmatic avenues around it. We act as our grandparents did throughout the ages and follow the word of Hashem as expressed in the Torah.

V’al tis’chakam yoseir,” says the wisest of all men (Koheles 7:16). Don’t try to outsmart the world. Don’t think that you know better than everyone. Don’t try to reinvent halacha and mesorah and turn the mitzvah observance of our children and grandchildren into something our grandparents wouldn’t recognize.

Yechezkel Hanovi (chapter 37) describes Hashem’s prophecy to him regarding the atzamos yeveishos, the dry human bones that Yechezkel returned to life. Hashem told Yechezkel that the bones were symbolic of the Jewish people. Just as the bones were brought back to life and returned to their original lives, so too, the remnants of Am Yisroel should never give up hope. They will be returned to their original state in Eretz Yisroel.

The Gemara in Maseches Sanhedrin (92b) records a machlokes about whether that prophecy took place or if it is merely an analogy to depict the concept of Moshiach and techiyas hameisim.

Rabi Eliezer ben Rabi Yosi Haglili states, “The dead who Yechezkel brought back to life went up to Eretz Yisroel, married and gave birth to sons and daughters.” Rabi Yehuda ben Beseira rose and declared, “They really did come back to life. It was not simply an allegorical account. In fact, I am a descendent of a man who was brought back to life that day. I wear his tefillin. The tefillin given to me by my grandfather were handed down to him from his ancestor, who was brought back to life in the incident described by the novi Yechezkel. Ani m’bnei beneihem vehalalu tefillin shehiniach li avi abba meihem. These tefillin were left to me by my father’s father.”

This is the song of our generation of American Jewry.

Our ancestors docked at Ellis Island and settled in one of the then-burgeoning Jewish communities across the fruited plain. With their resolve, their drive, and lots of tefillah, they merited that we can point to our heads and hearts and say the words: “Halalu tefillin shehiniach li avi abba meihem.”

I wear the same tefillin my father does, and his father did, and his grandfather did, all the way back to Sinai. Through all the exiles, the halacha l’Moshe miSinai relating to tefillin - what they look like and who wears them - has remained constant.

They look exactly like the tefillin worn in Lithuania and Hungary, Syria and Morocco, the Warsaw Ghetto, and in Auschwitz under the threat of death. The tefillin we wear in America today are the same as those worn during the golden period of Spain, the Inquisition, and the periods of the Botei Mikdosh.

All throughout history, as others have mocked us and sought our destruction, those who answered the call of “Mi laShem eilay” remained loyal to the traditions passed on through the generations and guaranteed that authentic Yiddishkeit endures. Because our grandparents did not compromise and didn’t follow the pragmatic trends, we are here today, living proudly as Torah Jews.

In our day, too, there is a kolah delo posik, a silent call emanating from Sinai, the Har Habayis, and every bais medrash around the world. It proclaims, “Mi laShem eilay.”

We have to realize that today, the yeitzer hora comes every year in a new costume and with a new pitch. He no longer attempts to convince us that we have to desecrate Shabbos in order to earn a livelihood. His pitch evolves with the times, but our response must remain the same.

We don’t deviate from the mesorah that has been handed down to us through the ages. “Chodosh ossur min haTorah.” There is no compromising with new ideas and concepts that are anti-Torah. When we are confronted by modern-day temptations, we don’t compromise on the Torah’s principles. We don’t veer from the path trodden by those who came before us. We don’t defile our inner kedusha or provide the yeitzer hora with even a small victory. We do what Hashem wants us to do, and the way we know what He wants is by studying Torah and halacha.

The Jews in Shushan were punished and threatened with annihilation because they relied on their own judgment and rationalized that they were permitted to partake in the feast of Achashveirosh. As we lain this week’s parsha and prepare for Purim, let us remember the lesson learned from their failures so that we merit the final geulah very soon.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Double Joy

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Think about it. If this year wasn’t a leap year, we would be celebrating Purim this week. Instead, Purim is a month away. But even though we have to wait a month to celebrate Purim, we can still be happy. After all, Adar is a month of joy.

But being happy, for some, is easier said than done.

Who doesn’t want to be happy? Yet, in the world around us, the search for happiness leads people in many different directions, chasing all types of superficial stimulants to cheer themselves up. This usually lasts for fleeting moments before they are returned to their sorry, empty lives.

Some try music, while others go wild for sports. Some gorge themselves checking out every restaurant, while others satiate themselves with gallons of ice cream. Some people are forever traveling, as if getting on a plane can somehow transport them to blissful happiness they so desperately seek. Some turn to alcohol and worse. Yet, their goal eludes them and all they are left with is a lethal habit.

The concept is so simple, the pursuit is so universal, yet, for so many, it is so unattainable.

For Torah Jews, simcha is an obligation. When Chazal make a statement of fact, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha (Taanis 29a), they are saying that simcha, that elusive destination, is not a utopian dream attainable only by other people. Happiness is within the reach of every Jew, and therefore they can instruct us to increase our joy during the month of Adar.

Mishenichnas Adar, as the month of Adar enters, marbin besimcha, we increase our happiness.” What does it mean to increase happiness? To what extent are we to do so? Why the ambiguous language?

Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler writes that simcha cannot come from a quick-fix. It is a goal that is attained through contemplation and work. This is what he says: “Simcha has to be increased in levels... Therefore, we begin from Rosh Chodesh, since the avodah of simcha requires great preparation, and we continue with this avodah each succeeding day” (Michtov M’Eliyohu II, pg. 125).

The attainment of simcha requires working to shed the barriers that prevent a person from feeling joy. Simcha requires a focus on fixing our middos so that we are selfless and non-judgmental and aren’t consumed by jealousy.

Feeling simcha means living with the words of the Chovos Halevavos to become imbued with the bitachon necessary to be happy and to flourish in a cruel world. Shaar Habitachon is essentially a guide that helps us navigate the turbulence we encounter. Its study reinforces the understanding that our ability to manage the problems life brings is based on the degree of faith we have in Hashem.

When we recognize that everything that happens to us is from Hashem, for a reason we may not yet understand, we aren’t devastated when things don’t go our way.

The feeling that your life is incomplete without the attainment of something you don’t really need is akin to a child crying bitterly until he receives a lollipop. His life is really as complete now as it was prior to his receiving the candy. The lollipop provides a momentary lift only to be quickly forgotten. Transient objects that are craved to stimulate happiness never fail to disappoint; their effect is fleeting, quickly disappearing. All they can accomplish is to mask over some inner need; they cannot provide lasting fulfillment that engenders true simcha.

Happiness emerges from internal satisfaction that is brought about through strength and conviction. It is not superficial. It comes from a strong constitution coupled with the ability to withstand spiritual and emotional battles. One who is strong mentally and physically can make do without the band-aids, and to one who is weak, the band-aid is of little use.

It’s not cheesy to say that mental strength and real happiness are acquired through emunah and bitachon.

Once, when I was speaking to my rebbi, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik, the name of a common acquaintance came up. The rosh yeshiva asked how his talmid was doing.

I responded, “Ess geit em shver. He’s having a hard time.”

Without hesitating for even a moment, he looked at me and shot back, “Bei der Ribono Shel Olam, iz gornit shver.”

In his pithy, concise way, he was teaching a lesson. For someone facing a challenge, the problem seems so overwhelming and daunting, but we have to remember that the Ribbono Shel Olam has no limitations. However large the issue seems to the person who is experiencing it and to those who love and care about him, in essence, to the Creator, Who can heal all, it is not a big deal.

We get upset and we become forlorn because we become trapped by the moment and cannot look past it. Though we are limited in what we can perceive, we mustn’t forget that “Bei der Ribono Shel Olam, iz gornit shver.

The person who lives with bitachon experiences happiness and serenity that others cannot. He knows that the world was created by, and is run by, Hashem, Who has the ability to give him whatever he wants and needs. A person with real bitachon is not embittered when his own ambitions are not realized the way he wanted, and he doesn’t feel himself equal to others. Personal grievances don’t get him down. When he is frustrated, he can realize that all that happens is for the good. He absorbs the blow and moves on, with the knowledge that if he puts himself together and has faith about the future, Hashem will help him achieve what has been planned for him.

Understanding that the world is controlled by Hashem permits the baal bitachon to joyously accept what comes his way. It enables him to manage his fears and emotions in a productive manner and erase the pain of what otherwise would be perceived as failure.

The two months of Adar with which we are blessed this year help us get ourselves together, properly aligned for the coming month of geulah in Nissan.

Marbin besimcha. Step by step, we grow in our appreciation of the truths of life and thus develop the ability to be truly joyous.

The Shechinah doesn’t rest on a person who is unhappy and depressed. In order to make ourselves worthy of properly understanding Torah and interpersonal relationships, we walk on the path that leads to simcha. And as we improve ourselves and our avodas Hashem, we become better and happier people.

Rav Pinchos Menachem Alter of Ger recounted that as a child, he visited a bank. He saw a man handing over piles of cash to a teller and felt so bad for the man. “Oy, the poor man has to give so much money to the bank. He probably has nothing left for himself,” he thought in his childish head.

As he stood there, he saw another man receiving bundles of money from a manager. “Look at that rich man,” he thought to himself. “He is walking out of here with a fortune.”

The rebbe related that it was only later that it was explained to him that the person he saw handing over money to the teller was, in fact, the wealthy man. He had come to deposit his money in the bank for safekeeping. The second man, who walked out with a big wad of cash, was quite poor. He had no money of his own and had come to the bank to negotiate a loan. He had to put up his house as collateral and had no idea how he would ever pay the loan back.

When we trust and believe that there is enough money in His bank to provide for us all, we will recognize that, in fact, we do have what we need.

The Rambam, in his introduction to Sefer Hamada, writes that the reason Chazal instituted the reading of the Megillah on Purim is to notify the future generations that “emes hee,” the words of the posuk are true. The posuk (Devorim 4:7) states, “Ki mi goy gadol asher lo Elokim kerovim eilav kaHashem Elokeinu bechol koreinu Eilov - Because ours is the only nation that has a G-d Who is close to it and Who is with us whenever we cry out to Him.”

Why does the Rambam need to underscore that the posuk is a reality? It’s a posuk, after all. Of course it is real. How could we even contemplate otherwise?

Perhaps the proper understanding is that the story of Purim demonstrates that at each stage of the unfolding tale, there was a Divine agenda, prodding circumstances along towards a happy ending. Though as the story was unfolding there was plenty of reason for fear and sadness, when the story ended, everyone was able to see that at every step of the way, Hashem was with them, orchestrating their eventual victory.

Seemingly random incidents and facts, such as Vashti’s brazenness, the search for a new queen, Mordechai’s knowledge of foreign languages, and even the month during which Achashveirosh married Esther, were all details in a gradual, measured march towards salvation.

Bechol koreinu eilov. Regardless of what our situation is, we cry out “eilov,” to Hashem. Everything that transpires brings us closer eilov,” to Him. As the Jews of Shushan watched the goings-on, they felt as if the world was closing in on them and that they were doomed to destruction and defeat. In fact, the opposite was true.

They had sinned at the feast of Achashveirosh and were therefore marked for “kloyah,” annihilation (Megillah 12a), but because Hashem pitied them and heard their tefillos, bechol koreinu eilov,” when they repented and called out to Him, He responded with redemption.

Mordechai rallied the Jews and they cried out, fasted and did teshuvah, so Hashem had the tragedy bring about a return of the Jewish people “eilov,” to Him.

Ana Bechoach is a special acrostic tefillah composed by Rav Nechunya Ben Hakanah. It is recited every morning together with the korbanos and on Friday evening prior to Lecha Dodi. The tefillah asks Hashem to accept the prayers of Klal Yisroel and concludes by stating, “Shavoseinu kabel ushema tzaakoseinu yodei’a taalumos.” We ask Hashem to accept our shouted prayers, as He knows secrets.

The question is obvious: If we say that we are crying out to Hashem, why do we then add that He should hear us because He knows all the secrets?

Because He knows all the secrets and how the travails will end in salvation, we ask that He hear our tefillos and quickly bring about the reprieve He has planned, with less pain and aggravation.

Along with thousands of others, Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach and his family found refuge in Vilna during the period leading up to the Second World War. While in Vilna, he had developed a relationship with Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky.

During his stay there, his 14-year-old daughter, Miriam Raizel, passed away from a lung condition from which she had been suffering. Rav Shach was devastated.

At the time, Rav Chaim Ozer was old, virtually bedridden, and weakened from the illness that would claim his life. He was unable to be menachem avel the Shach family as they sat shivah. A short while later, Rav Shach went to visit Rav Chaim Ozer, who had himself experienced the loss of his only daughter. The aged gaon looked at the young rosh yeshiva he had come to know, appreciate and love. Though Rav Shach didn’t mention his daughter’s passing, Rav Chaim Ozer saw the pain in his eyes.

After an extended silence, the rabbon shel kol bnei hagolah said a few words that Rav Shach would carry with him for the rest of his life. He said to Rav Shach, “Lulei Sorascha sha’ashuoy oz ovadeti be’onyi. Without Torah, I wouldn’t have been able to go on.”

Those words were to become Rav Shach’s mantra.

Many years later, some rabbonim went to visit Rav Shach on the day of his daughter’s yahrtzeit. He spoke about his daughter and repeated what Rav Chaim Ozer had told him. And then he explained what he thought Rav Chaim Ozer meant.

He related that it is analogous to two prisoners who were jailed under horrendous conditions. They were both understandably miserable, yet one managed to smile from time to time and make conversation with others. The other one was bitterly morose. He looked miserable and acted even worse.

The difference was that one knew that he was nearing the completion of his sentence and would soon be free. While he was suffering terribly, knowing that he would soon be free gave him the strength to smile. The second prisoner had a life sentence with no hope of ever getting out alive. He was emotionally destroyed and could never bring himself to smile or interact socially ever again.

Rav Shach explained that without Torah, when tragedy strikes, a person loses his equilibrium and ability to go on. He becomes overcome with pain and sadness and finds it impossible to function. One who learns Torah is blessed by the “pikudei Hashem,” which are “mesamchei lev.” But it is more than that. Someone who learns Torah, someone who is mesha’ashei’a in Torah, knows that Hashem maintains Hashgocha Protis on everything in this world. When he is hit by tragedy, he doesn’t lose himself, for he knows that what happened to him was brought about by a loving Creator for a higher purpose.

The world is spinning out of control. Every day brings with it more ominous news. People have many tzaros. They wonder why they suffer from illness, children not turning out the way they dreamt, parnossah challenges, tuition bills, shidduchim difficulties, and so much more. They wonder why they are being challenged. Why me? Why is this all happening? What is the purpose? How will it all end?

Lulei Sorascha sha’ashuoy oz ovadeti be’onyi

Emes hee.

We must remember that it is true. Bechol koreinu eilov. We can be comforted by the knowledge that we will live to see the purpose in all the sadness that we experienced. We will experience the joy of seeing the circle closing and the pieces of the puzzle fitting together, bringing relief and simcha.

May it occur speedily for all who need yeshuos and refuos. May we all have much nachas from our children, financial prosperity, and stability. Let’s keep on davening for the Jews in Eretz Yisroel, for ourselves, for our friends and neighbors, and for all of Klal Yisroel.

May we all be zoche to much happiness and the geulah sheleimah.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Bring the Light

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 

Our world, once again, is in a precarious situation. Actually, it has been this way since Covid spread throughout the world, felling many of our most cherished people. Many still have not recuperated from what it did to them physically and mentally. Yet, so much has happened since then, so you may be forgiven for forgetting the lockdowns, shutdowns, government overreach, collapsing economy and everything else the raging virus brought on.

Think about what has happened just since this past Sukkos, starting with the awful slaughter in Israel that brought on a war that has been raging ever since. So many people needlessly died that day and in the ensuing months, thousands of people’s lives were changed forever, and thousands have become orphans. So many have been wounded, hurt, and traumatized, and over one hundred are still being held hostage by depraved savages.

Israel is becoming more isolated every day. Anti-Semitism has reached levels unseen since the Holocaust, and Israel’s great friend is led by a president virtually nobody has any confidence in. He is increasingly pressuring and threatening Israel to end the war before achieving the goal of defeating Hamas, an enemy of Jews and the West.

Israel’s economy is sputtering and many of our brethren are refugees, ripped out of their towns and cities with no homes or jobs. Yeshivos and kollelim are suffering and those who depend on them for support are facing increasing difficulty in feeding their families.

Topping it all off is the threat of a war at the country’s north, with an enemy much better armed than the one Israel is battling at the country’s south.

In this country, many are hurting from the fruits of a weak administration. High interest rates and high inflation are no longer theoretical fears, but facts of life that impact families on many levels. The border crisis and rising crime threaten cities throughout the country. Rising Jew-hatred is not just relegated to kids scratching swastikas into trees. It presents real danger and peril. The country is changing, and if leftist Democrats remain in power, we can expect it to get worse.

We are and remain a good and resourceful people. Dealing with adversity is built into our DNA. Coping with rough times is what we have been doing more often than not. In times of pain and suffering, we rally together and help each other get through the crisis. It is refreshing to note the many successful campaigns for good causes and for the less fortunate.

When someone’s flame flickers, others come with fuel to help keep it going, providing light for him and making the world a brighter place.

The sparks of hope in the families of the two hostages miraculously rescued this week were kept alive by some religious people whose hearts pulse with compassion and love. They became close to the worried and anxious relatives of the captives, providing them with physical and spiritual sparks of light and warmth.

This week’s parsha speaks about the construction of the Mishkon, the dwelling place of the Shechinah in this world. Introducing the description of the Divine home, the posuk (Shemos 25:2) states, “Veyikchu li terumah – And they should take donations for Me” to build the Mishkon.

It was the people’s donations that allowed the Mishkon to be put together. Though each person gave but a symbolic amount, it was their demonstration that they appreciated what Hashem had given them when they left Mitzrayim. This portrayed that there was holiness in their soul. Kedusha seeks to expand and strengthen.

When Jews give of themselves and their possessions, they can build a place where kedusha can reside. The more donations, the more people who are part of it, the more kedusha there is. And then the individual neshamos of those people who contributed, gather together to form a location of holiness in their world.

If one person is walking alone on a dark road and lights a match to see a sign, the match remains lit for a few seconds and then withers away. But if two people are walking together and each lights a match, the flame is brighter than when a single match is struck, though it is still quite weak and ineffective. The more people there are walking together and the more matches they strike together, the more light there is.

Every Jew has a spark of kedusha, but by itself, and when it is cold and dark, the spark can’t accomplish much. When Jews join together, each with their spark, a torch of kedusha erupts and the Shechinah has a place to dwell.

This is how the Vilna Gaon (Shir Hashirim 1:17) describes the power and potency of the Mishkon. Every Jew was walking around with kedusha in his heart, but until they had a place where they could unite, a physical location where they could connect, their individual passions lay dormant. The Mishkon gave the fires a place to unite and light up the world.

The Shechinah resides inside the heart of every good Jew. The Mishkon is the place where all those Jews gather, as the Shechinah that dwells inside of them comes alive and expands, kevayachol. This is why Hashem commanded to take a “terumah” from every “ish asher yidvenu libo,” allowing every person to contribute from his heart towards the construction of the Mishkon, enabling all the hearts to join together in this special place.

In the Mishkon, every feature reflected Divine mysteries and each element was filled with cosmic significance. Just as the calendar ushers in the month of Adar, we begin reading the parshiyos that detail the particulars of the construction of this special place.

The month of Adar has taught us that as a united nation, we can achieve salvation. When everyone comes together and gives of themselves, the resultant power can overcome any crisis, tragedy or enemy.

Today, in our time, it is inspiring to see how our people come together to help each other, davening for salvation and peace, visiting the sick, and helping care for the hospital-bound, boosting morale and helping yeshivos and organizations and people who do good.

With simple things, we can cheer people, lift their spirits, and inspire them.

Last week, on Rosh Chodesh Adar, I sent a clip of Benny Friedman singing the classic Mishenichnas Adar to a friend, without giving it much thought other than thinking that it was a nice thing to do. He responded with this message: “I was having a rough time because I was alone, and when you are alone, among other things, you miss out on the energy created by the people around you. Your gesture reminded me that I am never really alone. Thank you for the pick-me-up.”

Letting a person know that he isn’t alone with his little match, but that you are there with him, brightens his life. Try it and you will feel greatly rewarded as you light someone else’s fire.

But there is more we can do.

Last week, The Jerusalem Post published a survey that it conducted to test Israeli reaction to October 7th and the war.

While we have been writing about a return to religion by many Israelis and interviewing some of those who have turned to Hashem in these trying times, the phenomenon had not yet been scientifically proven and many were choosing to ignore what was going on.

But the survey found that, in fact, the people of Israel have become closer to Hashem and to Yiddishkeit over the past four months since the attack.

The paper reports, “According to a comprehensive survey conducted by Lazar Research for The Jerusalem Post … aimed to gauge the religious sentiments among Israelis in these turbulent times … 33% of Israelis have reported a strengthened faith in G-d since the October 7 massacre by Hamas and the subsequent war.”

Interestingly, “The younger the respondents, the more they reported an increase in faith: from 48% among those aged 18-29 to 18% among those 60+.”

Israel has been through a lot politically over the past few years. Religious Jews were singled out for derision and blamed for everything that was going wrong during the leftist administrations of Lapid and Bennett. Religious funding cratered as the community’s popularity sank. Thankfully, the leftists were sent packing and Netanyahu returned to power together with the religious parties.

The left didn’t let up in their bashing of the coalition, leading massive demonstrations weekly against them, giving the media, local and international, an avenue with which to bash the religious community.

But despite all the hate and invective directed at religion, the tiny embers flickering in thousands of lost souls have begun igniting small flames. It is sad that it took such an awful tragedy to trigger the sparks, and it would be a great tragedy if we allow them to flame out.

It is our responsibility at this historic juncture to provide the fuel necessary to keep those little flames flickering and turn them into larger fires. We have to introduce these people who are seeking to draw closer to Judaism and the Ribono Shel Olam to the information they need to enable them to become educated in what Torah is all about. We can’t sit by and let the flames diminish in size.

There are organizations we are all familiar with, such as Lev L’Achim and Shuvu, which do their heroic work far from the limelight, bringing Torah and Yahadus to the people of Israel. They don’t preach. They learn Torah with people you would never imagine would have any interest, and the Torah itself warms their hearts, lights their souls, and awakens within them the ancient yearning for the fire of Har Sinai.

If the children of those who are reaching for kedusha aren’t in yeshiva, then it’s doubtful that the inspiration will have a lasting effect. Shuvu is commencing a campaign to be able to accommodate many more children in their school system. Anyone who has visited their schools, seen the angelic faces of the students, and thinks about where they would be without Shuvu can be overcome.

We make that happen. It is only through our support that the young lights are lit and set on a path of Torah and mitzvos. Then they go home and light their parents’ neshamos, bringing families to lives of Torah.

There is a unique opportunity now to share the gift of our way of life with so many of our brethren, who are standing alone in the dark, with a book of paper matches, trying desperately to get something going.

We have what it takes to bring the light to them and bring them to the light.

We all seek the return of the Mishkon, the place where all of us can gather and have our neshamos set on fire eternally. The more neshamos we get lit, the more Jews are on fire, the faster the Bais Hamikdosh will descend from on High to its appointed place in the center of the world, in the heart of Yerushalayim, the place to where we direct all of our prayers.

L’Yerushalayim ircha berachamim toshuv, bemeheirah beyomeinu, amein.

 

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Listen

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Life has become complicated of late. The world says that there is a communication explosion, but in reality, it is anything but. In the days before this explosion, people would communicate through the written and spoken word. They would visit friends and sit and talk together for hours.

People who lived far from each other would write letters - nice, long letters - filled with what was going on in their lives, with touches of philosophy and questions about how the other person was doing. People would call their friends and keep in touch every once in a while.

No more. People don’t talk or write letters anymore. They text or WhatsApp a few words here and there. If someone has a simcha - let’s say their son got engaged - they don’t call their friends to share the news with them. Instead, they WhatsApp them, and then the friends WhatsApp back a smiley face, and that’s the end of the conversation.

Due to the communication explosion, with information coming at us from so many digital sources, people don’t have time or patience to listen to anyone. And without listening, we don’t know much. We have become accustomed to skimming. We skim articles, we skim texts, and when we listen, we are also skimming. We hear one word out of three, because while the other person is talking, we are busy skimming on our phone to catch up on the latest.

A prerequisite for being a Jew is having the ability to listen. To be a ben Torah, you have to be able to listen, to read and to learn, for if you don’t have a teacher and all you can do is skim your way through the parsha, Gemara, Shulchan Aruch and seforim, you can’t be a shomer Torah umitzvos.

In this week’s parsha, we learn of the Jewish slave who wishes to remain indentured to his master and doesn’t want to return home to his wife and family. The Torah says that the slave must have his ear punctured (Shemos 21:6). Chazal explain that this is a punishment for not listening to the word of Hashem.

Hashem commanded that the Jewish people not steal, and this fellow went out and stole. He was not able to repay what he took, so he was sold as a slave, with the proceeds going to the victim of his crime. By refusing to return to a life of freedom, he is again defying the word of Hashem, who said that the Jewish people should be His servants and not slaves to other humans.

Later on in the parsha, we encounter the two words that depict the acceptance of the Torah by the Bnei Yisroel: “Naaseh venishma.” It is noteworthy that although they are connected to Matan Torah, which was described in last week’s parsha, Yisro, they appear this week in Parshas Mishpotim.

The posuk (24:3) states, “And all the people answered in one voice and said, ‘We will do - naaseh - everything that Hashem has spoken.” The posuk (24:7) says that Moshe read the Sefer Habris to the Jewish people gathered at the foot of Har Sinai. In response, the Jews called out, “Naaseh venishma.”

Chazal in Maseches Shabbos (88) relate that when Hashem heard the Bnei Yisroel say, “Naaseh venishma,” He asked, “Who revealed to the Bnei Yisroel the special secret that is used by angels?”

What is so special about those words that they are described as a phrase more suited to celestial spheres than to our own? Seemingly, the explanation is that they embody the total subservience of malochim, who follow Hashem’s every command. Man’s recitation of the phrase was an implicit agreement to follow Hashem’s commandments.

However, the people who proclaimed “Naaseh venishma” had been redeemed from Mitzrayim and seen great revelations. Awed by Hashem’s power and splendor, of course they would follow Him. They didn’t have to rely on anyone’s testimony regarding Hashem’s mastery of the world. They had seen it with their own eyes, they had heard it with their own ears, and they had felt it in their hearts and souls. Of course they would accept Hashem’s word on everything. What, then, is so remarkable about their unconditional acceptance of Hashem’s rule?

It would appear that the greatness of the term of acceptance inherent in the words “Naaseh venishma” is deeper than acknowledging the obligation to follow the rules of the Creator they had heard about ever since their youth and now had seen in action.

Perhaps, through the story of Yisro, related in last week’s parsha, we can gain greater insight into these concepts. Yisro, a leader in Midyon, undertook a life-altering journey that brought him to his destiny. The posuk states that what set him on his path was his ability to listen. The parsha of Matan Torah opens with the words “Vayishma Yisro - And Yisro heard.”

Upon hearing what Hashem did for the Chosen People, Yisro picked himself up and left his native land and everything else behind. The man who had achieved power, fame and stature in Mitzrayim and Midyon was so impacted by the accounts of the Bnei Yisroel’s miraculous journey that he picked up his family and went to join a group of freed slaves alone in a desert.

We can understand that the reason the parsha of Kabbolas HaTorah is named for Yisro and begins with the story of his “shmiah” is because it is integral to understanding what Kabbolas HaTorah necessitates. The same “vayishma” that lay at the root of Yisro’s conviction depicted the greatness of the Bnei Yisroel when they said “venishma.”

Just as Yisro’s “vayishma” led him to forfeit the prestige and importance he had earned over a lifetime to move to a desert encampment because he felt that the truth dwelled there, the Bnei Yisroel, when they said “venishma,” were committing themselves to listen carefully to Hashem’s commandments and to follow them, just as Yisro had done. The whole world had heard about the wonders Hashem performed for the Jews in Mitzrayim, as well as during and following their exodus. But Yisro was the only person who acted upon what he had heard and therefore the parsha of Kabbolas HaTorah was named for him. 

By stating in unison, “Naaseh venishma,” they were using language normally used by malochim, who were created to serve the Creator and have no choice in the matter. Through their own choice, bechirah, the Bnei Yisroel agreed to follow the word of Hashem.

Like Yisro, they wouldn’t only listen to Hashem and follow His laws, but, when necessary, they would give up everything they had spent a lifetime acquiring in order to follow the devar Hashem. The Torah would be their roadmap through life and they would follow it scrupulously.

Perhaps the words “Naaseh venishma” appear in Parshas Mishpotim to hint at another truth. The test of whether a person is sufficiently devoted to the word of Hashem and has fidelity to Torah is the way he acts with respect to the laws taught in Parshas Mishpotim.

The way a person conducts himself in business dealings with other people demonstrates his level of religiosity. A person who cheats, steals and lies in the course of his financial dealings shows that he is not really a believer and thinks that he must bend the law in order to earn the money Hashem sends him.

Someone who is dishonest and defrauds people is in essence denying the laws of the Torah, which define how we must conduct ourselves. He also demonstrates that he doesn’t believe in the essence of s’char v’onesh, as he thinks that he will get away with his crookedness and ignores the punishments the Torah prescribes for those who harm others.

He also rejects the basics of emunah: that Hakadosh Boruch Hu is zon umefarneis lakol and that Hashem prescribes how much each person will earn in any given year. A person who has faith in Hashem is honest in his financial dealings, for he knows that what he will earn in any given year is predetermined. The amount of money Hashem decided for him is what he will have, no matter how he swindles or what income he appears to forgo by being honest. We do not prosper by cheating and do not lose by being honest.

The epic declaration of “Naaseh venishma” is the Jewish mission statement, our promise to work without making cheshbonos and petty calculations. Our job is to follow Hashem’s laws. We listen to rabbonim who teach us the halachos and act accordingly.

Baalei mussar point out that a young man on the cusp of his journey to spiritual growth is referred to in Hebrew as a “bochur,” which literally means a chosen one. They explain that the significance of the title with which a young man is crowned is the fact that in order to triumph over the many spiritual trials this world presents, a person needs to decide early on who he is and which path he will follow through life.

Once a person is on the path that strengthens his core, it is easier for him to stand tall in the face of temptation. Once he has chosen who he is and where he would like to be headed, he can gauge right from wrong and declare that he will not engage in improper actions. His firm identity protects him from activities that would rob him of his future. One who is bocheir, choosing the right path, is a bochur, a chosen one.

Each of us has that responsibility and ability. Once we are bocheir in our path and affirm who we are, we can possess the strength and even temerity to do the right thing for ourselves and for others.

On a deeper level, we can perhaps understand why the parsha begins with the laws of owning an eved Ivri, a Jewish slave.

We are all familiar with the Chazal that one who purchases an eved Ivri obligates himself to care for him with great sensitivity. If there is only one pillow available, the eved is the one who places his head on the pillow to go to sleep. If there is only one blanket, the master gives it to the eved.

The Ponovezher Rov pointed out that the halacha is always “chayecha kodmin.” A person is obligated to care for himself before caring for someone else. If so, why is the halacha regarding an eved different? Why when there is only one pillow available does the halacha obligate the master to give it to the eved?

The Ponovezher Rov, who helped so many people revive themselves after the Holocaust and gave of his own ruchniyus and gashmiyus to help reestablish Torah, answered that the reason a master gives his single pillow to the eved is because a Yid cannot sleep well if he knows that alongside him is a tired person without a pillow.

How can a Torah person sleep knowing that in the same house there is a person who doesn’t have a blanket? If there is one pillow, the master gives it to the eved so that he will be able to sleep with the knowledge that he has enabled someone to rest comfortably.

That is the way a “Naaseh venishma” person conducts himself, ke’ish echod beleiv echod, forfeiting his own property and comfort for the benefit of others.

Nishma means that we hear. We hear another person’s cries and we respond. We hear another’s person’s pain and do what we can to help. And even if the person is screaming or calling out to us, we feel their heart and hear that they are lacking. And we respond.

The master hears that his fellow Jew has no pillow and blanket and he hears him crying to himself over his misery. And he responds. He gives him his own pillow and blanket because he stood at Har Sinai and said, “Naaseh venishma.”

In a time of war, we hear our brethren who have no homes to go to and no job to go to. We hear the cries of new almanos and yesomim, of bereaved parents. We see the pictures and hear the pain of those who have lost limbs. And as Torah Jews who stood at Har Sinai and proclaimed, “Naaseh venishma,” when we hear, we have to respond. We have to feel and we have to do. We can’t not hear, we can’t not do, we can’t be apathetic, and we certainly can’t run around having a good time while forgetting about those who are suffering.

“Naaseh venishma.” We hear and we do.

And we listen.

The Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak attended the chupah of two of his chassidim. When it was over, he told the kallah’s father to call his gabbai when he got home after the wedding, regardless of how late it was.

At 4:00, the exultant father returned home and, following the rebbe’s instructions, called the gabbai. The gabbai handed the phone to the rebbe, who proceeded to ask the man questions. “How was the wedding? Was the hall nice? Were they nice to you? Was the food good? How was the dancing? Who came?” The rebbe asked these and other similar questions. They had a long conversation, discussing these things for at least an hour. Their friendly conversation ended as the first rays of the sun began peeking over the horizon.

When the rebbe hung up, the gabbai asked him what had brought him to have this conversation and to take such intense interest in the wedding. The rebbe explained, “Loneliness is never easy, but at a time like that, it is especially profound. Here he is, a proud new mechutan, having just married off his youngest daughter. The wedding was surely joyous, but normally, when the wedding ends and the parents return home, they sit and discuss the night, reminiscing about who came and who didn’t, and speaking about the things that worked out well and what was most meaningful.

“But this man is a widower. He came home to an empty house. His wife passed away and now his youngest daughter, who had kept him company, has left the house. Now he is all alone and has nobody to talk to. I can’t fill the vacuum in his life, but I can listen to him and take interest in what is meaningful to him.”

Being able to listen to others and lift their spirits by carrying on a simple conversation is what “Naaseh venishma” people do. Listening to people when you have other things to do is part of being a Torah Jew.

We learn the Torah and hear what Hashem is telling us. We learn Gemara and we listen to what the Amorain are telling us. We learn Mishnah Berurah and hear the Chofetz Chaim as he takes us by the hand and walks us through what we should be doing. We listen intently to shiurim, as our rabbeim talk to us about what they learned from listening to their rabbeim. And by doing so, we become better Yidden and we keep the chain stretching back to Har Sinai going.

“Naaseh venishma” transformed the people who uttered those immortal words at Har Sinai from freed slaves into angels. They promised to always listen and always take action, not to ignore, not to be apathetic, but to listen to Hashem and listen to others and to respond accordingly. 

Doing so raises us and our lives, bringing us joy, satisfaction and fulfillment, making us better people and making the world a better place and ready for Moshiach.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Living with Depth

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Yisro recounts the great day when Hashem gave the Torah to Am Yisroel, setting us apart and giving us the guide by which we live.

We studied the parshiyos leading up to this defining moment. We studied the Jews’ servitude in Mitzrayim, Divine makkos, deliverance from slavery, traversing the Yam Suf, war with Amaleik, and, finally, arriving at Har Sinai to receive the Torah.

After all they had been through, they had finally arrived at the level of belief that was necessary to receive and observe the Torah. All of creation was a preparation for this moment, and here they were camped at the Har Hashem.

It was at this time that Yisro, the gentile father-in-law of Moshe, came to visit. Having heard about the exodus from Mitzrayim, Krias Yam Suf and Amaleik’s war, he decided that he had to join the Jewish people. In the lead-up to the discussion of Matan Torah, the Torah discusses Yisro’s visit and the parsha is named for him.

Now, we need to realize that Yisro wasn’t the only person who had heard about what happened. The whole world heard about it. Krias Yam Suf was a viral event. Everybody heard about it, because wherever they were, their water split and they were consumed to find out why and how that occurred. It was the viral, trending news of the day. That’s all people were talking about.

But then it became yesterday’s news and people forgot about it and moved on to the next thing. In our day, news stays hot for about fifteen minutes. Back in those days, things stuck around for longer because the vehicles of communication were limited. Also, they didn’t have torrents of earth-changing news like we do in the modern era, as the world barrels towards Moshiach and has lots to accomplish in order for him to be able to come.

So why was Yisro the only person to come check it out? Why weren’t there Yam Suf cruise ships loaded with people from around the world coming to see for themselves where the miraculous occurrence took place? What was so special about Yisro? It is unlikely that he was the only one who was inspired.

Apparently, people the world over were impressed and awed. Many were probably inspired, but it wore off long before the miracles could impact them in any way. Before it could have any effect on them, they were on to the next thing.

This phenomenon affects us until today. People hear about something that happened and it sends shivers up their spines. They discuss it and muse about it and are all shaken up. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they would never be the same. But then they get back to doing whatever it is that they do, and just as soon as it happened, it is forgotten. You know it’s true. It happens every day. There is such a deluge of news and information and people’s attention spans are so short that they go from one thing to the next, without giving anything much thought.

People can go through entire days, weeks and months without giving anything much thought. Such conduct is anathema to a Torah life. A Torah Jew thinks about everything that happens and learns from it. He hears of a tragedy and he takes it to heart. He learns mussar from it, as he is reminded of the fragility of life. He says Tehillim for the victim and sees if and how he can help. He sends food for the family and helps with the financial load.

And if the worst happens and someone is niftar, he feels the pain and reacts like a Torah Yid, performing a slew of mitzvos, from levoyas hameis, to nichum aveilim, to tzedakah, to learning and doing maasim tovim as a zechus for the niftar.

He is affected by what happened and, in its wake, seeks to improve himself and the world.

When he does a mitzvah, it is not by rote, but with forethought and kavonah. He makes sure that he is performing the mitzvah as directed by the Shulchan Aruch, concentrating on what he is doing and not cutting corners.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach would tell the story that happened at the vort of a son of Rav Boruch Frenkel-Teumim, known for his sefer, Boruch Taam.

His son was engaged to a girl from a wealthy family. At the vort, the families sat down to speak. The Boruch Taam was unhappy, and the girl’s mother was upset to see him that way and thought that maybe he wasn’t satisfied with the shidduch. She asked him what was wrong.

He told her that he was distressed because he had just heard that the water carrier was sick and unable to be at the vort.

She asked him why he would be so upset over the illness of the lowly water carrier that he wasn’t able to enjoy his simcha.

Rav Frenkel-Teumim left the room where they had been speaking and announced that he was breaking the engagement. He explained that he doesn’t want his son to marry into a family that doesn’t feel the suffering of another person.

That is how Torah Jews relate to other people. They don’t just hear of another’s sadness and go on to the next thing. They take it seriously and think about the other person and what they are going through.

Rav Moshe Shapiro told a story that he heard from his father-in-law, who heard it from the Chofetz Chaim.

As Shabbos was coming to a close in the town of Kalush, a simple Jew was reciting Tehillim with tears streaming down his face. Another simple person was watching and wondering what was causing the man so much pain and what he could do to help. He went over to the man, excused himself for intruding, and asked him to share what was causing him so much anguish.

The man was overcome emotionally and shared his burden. He had an older single daughter who was getting on in years. She was a fine girl, but he had no money to pay for a wedding and couldn’t afford to give a dowry, so he was pouring his heart out to Hashem for help.

The man who had taken an interest in the distraught Yid broke out in a smile, as he told the man that he had a son, a fine boy, who was looking for a shidduch. He suggested that his son meet the other man’s daughter, and if things would work out, they would marry each other.

Indeed, they married and gave birth to five Torah giants, among them the authors of the Ketzos Hachoshen and Kuntrus Hasefeikos.

The Chofetz Chaim would point out that the story illustrates the power of tefillah - how Hashem heard and responded to the man’s tefillos. It also shows the power of a Yid’s chesed. Through his care for another Jew, the man was able to help him out of his tzorah. It is no wonder that their union produced outstandingly great people who benefit Klal Yisroel until this very day.

The man could have just felt bad for the poor person with the Tehillim and passed him by, davened Maariv, and gone home and made Havdolah, totally forgetting about what he had seen. But that is not the way a Torah Jew behaves. He stops, looks and is affected. He thinks about what he can do to alleviate another’s suffering.

The only person who heard about Krias Yam Suf and Milchemes Amaleik and was affected long-term by the events was Yisro. He was the only one who thought about what happened and allowed the experience to transform his life. He didn’t just go on to the next thing.

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

No one else came to the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar saying, “Atah yodati kee gadol Hashem.” Everyone else remained with their pagan beliefs. They couldn’t be bothered to think about what happened and certainly not to the degree that it could change their life. They were blissful in their simplicity as they passed the ketchup and quickly went on to the next thing before the news could affect them.

This is why the Torah interrupts the chapter of the Bnei Yisroel’s travels in the midbar to tell the tale of Yisro’s arrival. A prerequisite for Kabbolas HaTorah is to be thoughtful and serious about life. Think about what is going on and take it to heart so that it affects you as you learn from what happened to improve yourself.

Moshe Rabbeinu was chosen to lead the Jewish people out of Mitzrayim and towards Kabbolas HaTorah and Eretz Yisroel because he stopped at the burning bush to ponder what was happening as he pursued kedusha even as he was shepherding Yisro’s flock of sheep.

Living a life of depth and meaning is necessary in order to accept and grow in Torah.

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

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

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

If there is a war in Eretz Yisroel and millions of Jews can’t sleep at night in their own beds, we should think about them and daven for them and help them however we can. If there is a war and good people are getting killed, leaving behind weeping parents, spouses, and children, we need to feel their pain. We need to let them know that we feel their tzaar and seek ways to let them know that they are not alone. The economy of Eretz Yisroel has tanked and millions of people are suffering. We need to feel their pain and see if and how we can help the suffering people in some way.

There are plenty of people closer to home who are suffering and in pain. As Torah Jews, it is incumbent upon us to know that people are in pain and to seek out ways to help them. We can’t ignore what is going on. We can’t apathetically just leave it for “the askonim” to get involved. It is a precondition of being bnei and bnos Torah that we feel their pain and care enough to do something about it.

Not every problem is cured with money. Often times, just the fact that another person notices and cares is enough to bring some light to a dark situation.

Every one of us has the ability to improve the world. Each of us can reach out and help others. We can all bring meaning and warmth to the lives of our neighbors, friends and fellow Jews. If only we cared. If only we tried.

We can’t permit ourselves to be swallowed up by social media, clicking and clicking like mind-numbed robots, immune to feeling and thought as our fingers scroll from one page to the next, without taking notice or bettering ourselves and anyone else. We need to rid ourselves of devices that dull our senses and sink our souls.

We need to read publications that improve and educate us, and not be busy with silly, nonsensical hock. We need to think more and think deeper. We need to concentrate on what we are doing. We need to learn more Torah on a higher level and perform mitzvos with greater focus and joy.

This Shabbos, as Parshas Yisro is lained, let us stand at attention and imagine ourselves at Har Sinai, being transformed into bigger and better people, cognizant of our holy neshamos and what is expected of us.