Thursday, March 30, 2023

Continuing the Chain

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Pesach is a Yom Tov of chinuch. The Gemara derives the concept of the Seder from the posuk of “vehigadeta levincha,” which instructs us to tell our children the story of our redemption from Mitzrayim on the night of Pesach. It is all about speaking to our children in a way they can accept and believe.

Thus, we proclaim in the Haggadah that the Torah speaks to all types of children, “Keneged arba’ah bonim dibra Torah.”

We begin the recitation of that section by discussing the wise son, who asks an intelligent question. “Mah ha’eidus vehachukim vehamishpotim asher tzivah Hashem Elokeinu es’chem.” He asks, “What are the mitzvos and laws that Hashem commanded you?”

You would think that Chazal would prescribe that when dealing with a wise son who asked a question such as that one, we should give him a detailed response. But instead, the Baal Haggadah instructs his father to respond to him, “Ein maftirim achar hapesach afikoman. It is forbidden to partake of any food following the consumption of the afikoman.”

We wonder why that is. How does knowing this halacha enlighten him? What is there in this halacha that is so all encompassing that it answers the son’s question?

It is apparent in the Gemara (Pesochim 119b) that the reason we do not eat anything after the afikoman is because we want to keep the taste of the korban pesach on our palate. In our day, as well, when we do not merit the korban, we don’t eat after the afikoman so that its flavor remains with us. (See also Rambam Hilchos Pesach 8:9)

The Baal Haggadah uses this response of afikoman as a message that when a son asks us about all various halachos, mitzvos, chukim and mishpotim, we should take care to explain them to him in a way that the sweet taste of Torah will remain with him. We should answer his questions in a way that will bring on an appetite for more knowledge and understanding so that he will grow in Torah.

This is the message of vehigadeta levincha. Speak to them in a way that will inspire them to yearn for more. Speak to your children and grandchildren, to your students, and to anyone you speak to in a way that engenders love and interest in the message of the Torah. Speak to them in a way that will have a lasting effect.

You hear people talking, and they say, “This one is a big rov,” or, “That one is a small rov.” How do you determine who is a big rov and who is a small one? The Brisker Rov told his children that a big rov is not someone who has a large shul, or a large yeshiva, or many followers. A large rov is one who has a large connection to Hashem in the depths of his heart. And one who has a small connection is nothing more than a small rov.

Similarly, a parent and a mechanech who speak to a child in a way that the child is motivated to learn more and better and to deepen his attachment to Hashem, Torah and mitzvos is a good parent/rebbi/morah and one who should be praised and emulated.

That is accomplished through love.

Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach addressed a gathering of teachers. He told them that all the pedagogical systems are not what establish success in a classroom. What a mechanech must seek to do is find the right words and act in a way that the student will love and trust him. The mechanech who accomplishes that is able to teach and influence his students not only in that they will want to learn, but that what they learn will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

I had many good rabbeim as I was growing up, but two of them had a really strong impact upon me, and that impact remains until this day, many decades later. They were Rav Mendel Balsam, who was my third grade rebbi, and Rav Hershel Mashinsky, who was my rebbi in the seventh grade. Their devotion to their students and the love and caring they displayed enabled them to reach the neshamos of their young charges and impact them in ways that were long-lasting.

An elementary school principal once approached Rav Shach and said that there was a certain melamed in his school who was proficient in the material he taught and gave a good class, but he had no love for his students and never displayed any feelings for them. The principal asked the elderly rosh yeshiva if he was justified in being bothered by the rebbi’s conduct. Rav Shach advised him to replace the rebbi.

Someone who teaches without empathy is unable to impact his students. The purpose of chinuch is not only to teach the material, but to have a lasting effect on their neshamos, conduct and behavior.

Rav Shach believed that not only a teacher of young children must act that way, but also someone who teaches much older students, as he did in Ponovezh, must relate to his talmidim as if they are his children, displaying the type of closeness, feeling and connection usually attributed to parents.

It happened at the wedding of a grandson of Rav Shalom Shwadron, who was a talmid of Rav Shach in the Ponovezh Yeshiva. The chosson asked Rav Shach to be his mesader kiddushin at the wedding in Yerushalayim. Though the trip from Bnei Brak to the wedding hall was arduous, Rav Shach readily agreed, as he would do anything for a talmid.

When Rav Shach arrived at the hall, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who was a brother-in-law of Rav Shwadron, ran to greet him. Rav Shach immediately said that had he known that the boy’s uncle, the great rosh yeshiva, was going to be there, he would not have accepted to be the mesader kiddushin and would not have come.

Rav Shlomo Zalman wouldn’t hear of it. He told Rav Shach that he would not be mesader kiddushin under any terms. Rav Shach remained adamant that the uncle should be the mesader kiddushin and it was out of place for him to accept the honor in place of the uncle. The debate went on for a while.

Finally, Rav Shlomo Zalman said to Rav Shach, “You are correct in what you are saying that I am the uncle, but you are the father, and therefore the honor goes to you.” With that, Rav Shach acquiesced, for in fact he viewed – and treated – each talmid as a son.

Treating a talmid as a son involves doing so with love and compassion, not as a detached, doctrinaire teacher, for every parent instinctively loves their children and seeks to teach and influence them in a way that will have a lasting impression.

The night of the Seder is no different. When we sit at the Seder and recount the story of our exodus from Mitzrayim, we must do so in a way that impacts our children and leaves a lasting impact. For by teaching us the obligation of recounting Yetzias Mitzrayim on Pesach from the posuk which states “vehigadeta levincha,” the Torah is telling us that the essence of Pesach is all about transmitting our mesorah to the next generation. Naturally, that must be done in a way that ensures that the son will himself continue the passing of the tradition on to his children.

To accomplish that, we must be tuned in to our children.

A rov was visiting Rav Shach when the elderly rosh yeshiva’s young grandson entered the room. Rav Shach made a show of selecting the right color lollipop for the youngster. Finally, he selected a red one and handed it to the boy, saying with a broad smile, “I am giving you the red one because I am sure that is the one you want.”

The rov turned to Rav Shach. “Rosh yeshiva,” he said, “with all due respect, aren’t you encouraging the child to become like Eisov, who saw everything superficially? Why is choosing a red candy over a green one and making the distinction important different than Eisov asking Yaakov to ‘pour me this red soup’?”

Rav Shach smiled. “You need to understand the mind of a child,” he said. “A child sees the world on a shallow level. He has not yet matured to the point where he can see deeper than the color of a candy. He inhabits an imaginary realm. To him, the color of candy is very important. The problem with Eisov was that he was already a grown person, yet he maintained a child-like, superficial view of the world.”

Rav Shach looked back at the contented child. “He is doing exactly what he should be doing. Remember, he is just a child.”

Our great leaders, inhabiting the peaks of spiritual grandeur, never lost sight of the obligation of “vehigadeta levincha,” reaching children in a way that they understand and appreciate that you care for them and their needs.

Children who are treated justly recognize what is expected of them and seek to ensure that the confidence in their abilities and loyalty is not misplaced. When they have to be disciplined, they are better able to accept the tochacha, knowing that it emanates from parents who love them and want the best for them, not merely from rigid elders who possess a need to dominate and control.

Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman would say that even when a child is falling spiritually, he must be related to with kindness. Somebody once approached him and remarked that doing so seems to be rewarding the child for making bad choices. Is the intention of the rosh yeshiva, the questioner wondered, that when a child begins acting in a bad way, his parents should stop disciplining him?

Nothing of the sort, Rav Aharon Leib responded. They should have always been kind to the child, and especially after they see the effects of being overly strict and restricting with their child, they should forgo their misdirected parenting theories.

The author of sefer Minchas Shmuel writes that his rebbi, Rav Chaim of Volozhin, said that in our day, in order for tochacha to be accepted, it has to be delivered calmly and softly. Someone who angers easily and speaks harshly is freed from the obligation of hochei’ach tochi’ach, rebuking those who act improperly. (See a similar quote in Sefer Keser Rosh, 143.)

One year, when the Chasam Sofer’s son, Shimon, was seven years old, he asked his father to explain the custom of children hiding their father’s afikoman. To Shimon’s great surprise, his father ignored his question and continued with the Seder as if the question had not been asked.

It is said that the Chasam Sofer’s face glowed with an otherworldly brightness at the Seder and his family members who sat around the table were unable to gaze at him. One year, a family member who had just joined the family and wasn’t familiar with the phenomenon looked up at her new father-in-law and immediately looked away. She said that she felt as if the sun itself was burning through her eyes. “He had the look of a malach,” she commented.

It is no wonder that the young boy didn’t press his father for an answer to his question, as would be expected. He moved on.

When the Seder ended at 4 a.m., the Chasam Sofer turned to his son. “You asked me a very good question,” he said. “At the Seder, we do many things to remind us of what took place in Mitzrayim. The Torah recounts that on the evening of the first Pesach, as the Jews were removing belongings from the homes of the Mitzriyim, their dogs should have barked at the thievery that was going on in front of their eyes. But Hakadosh Boruch Hu made a miracle and not one dog barked. The custom to steal the afikoman was instituted to remember that miracle that took place many years ago on this night, which Hashem orchestrated to allow the Jews to retrieve things from the Mitzri homes.”

The boy accepted the explanation, but asked his father a question. “I asked my question many hours ago, during yachatz. When did you think of the answer?”

“As you were asking the question,” the father answered.

“So then, dear father, why did you wait until the end of the Seder to tell me the answer?”

The Chasam Sofer responded, telling the boy who was to grow up to be the famed rov of Krakow that the night of Pesach is all about emunah. The explanation of emunah is to fulfill the wishes of Hashem, whether or not we understand the reason we were commanded to do it.

“Sometimes,” said the Chasam Sofer, “a person will say, ‘I don’t understand it, so I won’t do it.’ That is why I did not answer you. I wanted you to take the afikoman even though you did not understand why you were taking it. Now you have seen that it is possible to do an action that you do not understand, and you have experienced a facet of emunah that is fundamental to our existence as the Jewish people.”

The Chasam Sofer took advantage of the opportunity to use the question of his brilliant son - “Vehoya ki yisholcho vinchu,” as the posuk says - to teach him a lesson that remained with him long after the Seder ended.

We should follow his example.

Pesach is a Yom Tov that requires much preparation. By the time we get to sit down at the Seder and take it all in, we may feel fatigued. But in the world of Torah and mitzvos, there is no time for weariness. When we sit down as kings about to recite the Haggadah and partake in all the many mitzvos hayom, they should energize us as we ponder the feelings of someone who was just freed from a lifetime of servitude.

We need to view ourselves as if we have now been let out of Mitzrayim as free people and keep in mind that this night is all about our children, infusing them with joy, happiness, knowledge, and the beauty of our mesorah. Let us not lose sight of our obligations and enjoy the kiyum mitzvos halaylah together with our families and children, keeping our traditions alive and continuing the chain that began at Krias Yam Suf and continuing through the midbar, Eretz Yisroel, Bavel, Spain, Portugal, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Morocco, Germany, Lithuania, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Russia, England, France, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the United States, until our current homes.

May this be the final year of the exile. Next year in Yerushalayim.


Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The Door to Redemption

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

With the arrival of the month of Nissan, yeshivos are going into bein hazemanim, girls are being let out to help their mothers prepare for Pesach, and we are furiously making sure that we have everything we need for Yom Tov.

Our anticipation mounts for the Seder, when we will celebrate our freedom. We will sit like kings, imagining that we were in servitude and were miraculously freed.

We joyously look forward to the Seder’s drama, the family resplendent in their Yom Tov finery, gathered around the Yom Tov table, graced by the ke’arah, the Arba Kosos, and the matzos.

There is so much preparation that goes into that evening, from grating the chrein to washing the lettuce and so much else, but there is something more important.

The words we recite at the opening of Maggid, the central part of the Seder, do not pertain to Yetzias Mitzrayim, slavery or redemption. Rather, they address what makes us Jews and our very fiber as a nation. We cannot experience the Seder properly if we did not meet our obligations to others. We cannot celebrate our nationhood if we cut ourselves off from the needs of other members of our nation.

Therefore, as we set out on the grandest trip of the year, we invite anyone who can benefit from our assistance to join. Only after we are content that we have done what we can for our brothers and sisters can we enjoy the Seder: every man a king, every woman a queen, and every child a shining angel.

One of the most resonant proclamations made at the Seder is the one recited right at the beginning of Maggid, when we say, “Kol dichfin yeisei veyeichol kol ditzrich yeisei veyifsach.” The sweeping declaration made in homes everywhere invites all those who are hungry to join in the Pesach Seder.

You may ask that by the time we issue this invitation, we are already seated comfortably at our tables. Everyone has their seat and the door is firmly shut. Of what use is it to sit in the privacy of our homes and issue a public invitation that we know will go unheard by anyone outside of our immediate vicinity?

It may be that the statement is an oblique reference to the activities of the previous few weeks. The baal haSeder lets everyone know that even though he sits at the head of a splendid table, feeling every bit the king, he has not forgotten to share the blessings Hashem has given him. As he sets out to relive Geulas Mitzrayim, he affirms that he has participated in the call for ma’os chittim and kimcha depischa, and has done what he can so that those less fortunate than him can also sit comfortably with their families at their Sedorim.

He begins his Seder by reassuring his family that their rejoicing and celebration are complete because they have shared with others. They have been selfless and caring and thus can begin to tell the tale of redemption. The Seder is all about chinuch, and this is a prime lesson for the family.

Sometimes, we envision needy people as in a children’s storybook illustration, with tattered clothing and gaunt faces. In truth, all too often, the people who need help making Yom Tov might well have decent suits and respectable jobs. They are people like you, who work hard all week to make ends meet. Yet, they can’t get it done without some help. Prices have shot up, and for some mysterious reason, everything costs even more Yom Tov time.

We all know that the economic reality is such that it is a challenge to make ends meet even when both parents work. Daily living expenses are so high that families are increasingly crushed and unable to crawl out from under piles of unpaid bills. The costs of a mortgage, rent, cars, insurance, and tuition, not to mention food, clothing and everything else, are just too much for too many people.

Yom Tov should be a time everyone happily looks forward to, awaiting the brachos associated with the chag hageulah. Alas, too many people worry about how they will be able to afford their family’s needs. We, who are able to, must do what we can to help restore the faith and self-respect of people who suffer silently and daven for a yeshuah so that they can hold their heads above water.

Yidden are blessed with heightened instincts. One of them is to give generously and intelligently.

One year, on Erev Pesach in the town of Slonim, Reb Yosef Charif received a distressed-looking woman in his study. The wife of one of the town’s successful businessmen, Reb Nota Hirsch, was seriously distraught. She confided that her husband had suffered severe financial setbacks and lost all his money. She had waited for things to work out, but here they were, on Erev Pesach, with not a coin in the house. She had nothing to cook. They were going to starve this Yom Tov. She begged the rov for assistance.

The insightful rov was stunned by the revelation of what happened to this proud family. He had nothing to give her. He had already distributed all the ma’os chittim he had raised and had no money of his own to help the proud family out of their predicament.

He sat there deep in thought and then opened his eyes and spoke, assuring the broken woman that he could help her if she would follow his instructions. “Tell your husband that when he wishes me gut Yom Tov after davening tonight in shul, he should whisper in my ear. Something. Anything. But he should bend over and whisper it to me.”

The woman returned home and tearfully recounted the conversation to her husband. After davening on leil Pesach, a line of Slonimer Jews, enveloped by the joy and spirit of Yom Tov, surrounded the rov, wishing him a gut Yom Tov. Then the prominent Reb Nota Hirsch walked up to the rov, leaned over, and whispered into his ear. Reb Yosef jumped, as if bitten by a snake. “Oy!” he loudly lamented, shaking his head to and fro. “That’s terrible. It is chometz. Everything is chometz. You can’t use any of it. I’m sorry, Reb Nota, but that is the halacha.”

The crowd heard the rov’s words and everyone drew the same conclusion. Reb Nota had asked about some accident in his kitchen, and the rov had ruled that everything in the house was forbidden. The people in shul were quick to react. Reb Yankel assured Reb Nota that he had extra matzos and Reb Moshe offered wine. Reb Hershel had plenty of soup and boiled chicken, and Reb Boruch’s wife had made too much kugel. Reb Berel had extra tzimmis. This one had maror to spare, while that one had charoses.

That night, from all directions, the good people of Slonim descended on Reb Nota’s home bearing boxes, dishes and trays, eager to help a family deprived of Yom Tov necessities. People came throughout the evening, as word of the mishap spread. Thanks to the rov’s wisdom, Reb Nota and his family would not go hungry that Yom Tov.

This is not only a story about the rov’s wisdom. There is a deeper message. The rov was fully confident that his plan would work. He knew that the people of the town would swiftly and generously react and rush to the aid of the stricken family.

Now is a difficult time of year to ask people for money. Purim, when people opened their hearts and wallets to a stream of mosdos and individuals, is not far behind. Pesach is expensive as well.

In Parshas Ki Sisa, Moshe Rabbeinu was instructed to collect a half-shekel from every man for the bedek habayis of the Mishkon. The Medrash states that Moshe had difficulty comprehending the commandment, so Hashem showed him a coin of fire to explain what was needed. Many ask what lesson the Medrash is imparting.

Why did Moshe have to see the coin? Why was it shown in fire? What was so hard to understand about the mandate to solicit a half-shekel from everyone?

Rav Shlomo Heiman explains that the Jews had just generously donated their possessions towards the construction of the Mishkon. Moshe was hesitant to approach them again for a donation. “They just gave,” he protested. “How can I go back to them now and ask for more?”

Hashem showed him a coin of fire to signify that just as fire spreads and lights other materials without losing any of its power, so too, when a Jew donates money for a good cause, he never loses by doing so. “Go back and ask them for the money for the Mishkon,” Hashem said, “and let them know that they will only gain by giving.”

A candle can ignite other candles, yet the original flame will lack nothing. So too, the Ribbono Shel Olam was teaching that those who are able to can give and not worry about it affecting them negatively. They can give and then give again.

Like a flame that shares its fire without losing anything.

We must share our blessings, secure in the knowledge that we will never lose by doing so.

In Ha Lachma Anya, after we invite the poor to join the Seder, we express the hope that next year, we will celebrate as bnei chorin in Eretz Yisroel. What is the connection between these two ideas?

The posuk in Eicha (1:3) states, “Golsah Yehudah mei’oni - The Jewish people were exiled because of poverty.” The Medrash (Eicha 1:28), in one of its explanations, states that the Jews were exiled from Eretz Yisroel because they didn’t help the poor. Therefore, as we begin the Seder, celebrating our original redemption, we proclaim that we will feed the poor and hope that, in that merit, we will be redeemed from the present golus.

Is there a better way to expend the effort to make that a reality than by contributing to assist people in celebrating Yom Tov?

We lain Parshas Shekolim as we head into Purim and Pesach to drive home the message. We engage in kimcha depischa campaigns, providing food for those who need assistance feeding their families, because Pesach is the holiday of geulah. At this time of year, when geulah is in the air and the potential for redemption is stronger than ever, we put ourselves out by donating for the poor, accruing added zechuyos to be in Ara D’Yisroel next year.

Chazal say, “B’Nissan nigalu ub’Nissan asidin lehigo’eil” (Rosh Hashanah 11a). Nissan is the month of geulah.

This is the month in which Yitzchok was born and the Akeidah took place, almost ending his life. The merit of the Akeidah stands by us until this very day. As we say in the tefillos of Rosh Hashanah, Ve’akeidas Yitzchok hayom berachamim tizkor.”

That sanctification of our forefather transpired during the month of Nissan, presaging it as a period of redemption. During Nissan, Yaakov received from Yitzchok the brachos that sustain us until this day.

If we are makdish ourselves and work to make ourselves worthy, we can also earn redemption from that which binds us. A primary mode of preparing ourselves to be worthy of brachos is through tzedakah, and a prime means of attaining that ultimate geulah is through tzedakah. As the posuk famously says, “Tziyon bemishpot tipodeh veshoveha b’tzedokah.”

This week, we begin laining Seder Vayikra and learning all about the various korbanos. But doing so causes us to question how we can cleanse ourselves from our sins and rise to higher levels of kedusha and closeness to Hashem.

Rabi Elozor is quoted in the Gemara in Maseches Sukkah (49b) as stating that someone who engages in acts of tzedakah is doing something greater than all the korbanos - “gadol ha’oseh tzedakah mikol hakorbanos.”

We don’t have the Bais Hamikdosh. We don’t have the mekor of kedusha. It is so difficult to draw ourselves closer to Hashem and make ourselves worthy of geulah. tzedakah remains a way for us to achieve that goal. tzedakah presents an opportunity to tap into the power of geulah. Rich or poor, we can realize it if our hearts are opened wide enough.

The final door to redemption will be opened through generosity, charity, concern and dedication to helping others.

Perhaps this is the connection between the season of giving that precedes Pesach and the Yom Tov itself. Before the hashpa’ah of geulah descends from Heaven, we are granted an opportunity to actualize the geulah through increased tzedakah.

Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev was once told about a situation in which the local matzah bakery was employing local orphan girls, working them throughout the long day and into the night under slave-like conditions. To add insult to injury, the destitute girls were being paid the bare minimum for their hard work.

The rebbe got up in shul and called out, “Throughout the generations, we have been falsely accused of using the blood of gentile children in our matzos. We all know this to be a lie. But something even worse is happening here in our town. The blood in the matzos this year will be that of our own Yiddishe techter!”

Needless to say, the situation was quickly rectified.

We must all do what we can to alleviate the suffering of the good people among us who need some extra help at this time of year.

Chazal say that a metzora is choshuv kemeis. Although he is alive, he is considered dead. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz famously explains that life means being able to give and benefit others. Since the metzora sits in solitude, he is deprived of the most crucial part of the human experience. He cannot give and is therefore considered dead.

Nissan is the month when we were reborn. The signs of life begin with the ability and willingness to give. Let’s join together by extending our hands, helping to usher in an enjoyable Yom Tov for all by contributing to our local ma’os chitim campaign, helping people we know, and contributing to our annual Keren Hachesed campaign, thus bringing about our own personal geulah and the geulah sheleimah bekarov.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

A Constant Battle

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Just last week, we experienced Purim, a time of great joy and hope. This week is Parshas Hachodesh, signifying that chodesh Nissan – the month of redemption – begins next week. Last week, we celebrated our people’s delivery from the hands of Haman and almost certain destruction. This Shabbos, we proclaim, “Chazak!” before being reminded that our people are blessed with the ability of renewal. Regardless of how low we fall, and how bleak life seems, like the moon we can rebound from utter darkness to full glory.

The yeitzer hora seeks to depress us and cause us to be pessimistic about rejuvenation and re-growth. He distracts us from our goals and aims to cause us to slip and flounder. He convinces us that we cannot raise ourselves after we fall.

Adar and Nissan lead us to the geulah of Pesach and the geulah sheleimah with Moshiach, as they proclaim that there is no reason for despair and surrender to the evil designs of the yeitzer hora.

We know that all that happens in the world is for us to learn from. Take a look at what has changed worldwide since a weak president was chosen to replace a very strong one. This has nothing to do with politics, but with making a point and learning a lesson.

The world went from a four-year period of no new wars to tensions breaking out everywhere. Russia’s Putin, who had been sitting quietly and peacefully, declared war on neighboring Ukraine once he no longer feared America. Western European countries were admonished by the former president to play their part and contribute appropriately to their defense. Now they are free to sit back and watch America bear the major cost of fighting the war, financially and diplomatically.

China has become increasingly emboldened in its bid for world domination. It is increasingly threatening its neighbor, Taiwan, as it feels that with weak American leadership, it can realize its goal of swallowing the island nation, just as it did to Hong Kong. China is buying up large parcels of property in the US near military instillations, as well as farms and food producers, preparing for the day it dominates the US in every way it can.

China is spreading its tentacles across the world, strengthening relationships with countries the US has ignored or been spiteful to. Just last week, they scored a major coup, bringing Iran and Saudi Arabia together as they spat in the face of the US. Its adversary was brought into a peace deal with a longtime US ally, which sought revenge on the US president for his attempts to sideline it. Well, those chickens have now come home to roost.

Iran has been unleashed, spreading terror, suppressing its citizens, supplying Russia, and getting more involved in general worldwide troublemaking, because it knows that it will not pay a severe price, as its main adversary is weakened and incompetent.

This country was humming along economically, resurging from the Covid downturn, when the new administration entered and began engaging in actions guaranteed to cause inflation. Weak leadership and weak policy conspire together to bring weak results.

Why am I telling you all this? It is to show what happens when we let down our guard against the yeitzer hora, who always schemes to take advantage of man’s weakness. He begins by causing a small crack in our armor and then drives in a wedge, increasingly weakening our ability to stand up to him and his mission to cause us to slip, fall, and sin.

The way to beat him and not become encumbered by sin is by being strong when he initially seeks to goad us to do things we shouldn’t. It is a constant battle and we always have to be on guard, but it is much easier if we don’t succumb to him even when it relates to small things. He approaches people with a proposition to do a small aveirah and offers arguments, such as that it is only a minhag, it’s not really a halacha, everyone does it, and it is no big deal.

If his target is not able to overcome the temptation and his arguments win over the person, he senses that the person is weak and chips away, bit by bit, until he overtakes the person and entices him to sin repeatedly. He then convinces the baal aveirah that he has sunk too far and cannot repent and return to the proper path. He causes the person to give up on himself and become depressed, ensuring that he won’t attempt to climb back up to the pedestal upon which he had stood for many years until he began to show weakness.

The world turns tipsy to demonstrate to us what happens when we show weakness. As long as we demonstrate strength, the yeitzer hora is not able to drag us down. He’s not able to weaken us unless we allow him to.

This week marked the yahrtzeit of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. In his honor, we repeat this story.

One Shabbos, Rav Shlomo Zalman, then a very young boy, walked with his father, Rav Chaim Leib, from the Shaarei Chesed neighborhood of Yerushalayim, where they lived, to Meah Shearim to participate in a Kiddush. As the two were walking, something caught Rav Chaim Leib’s attention.

To his astonishment, he saw a man dressed in pajamas standing on his porch on Rechov King George smoking a cigarette.

Rav Chaim Leib turned to his son and said to him in Yiddish, “Close your eyes. Don’t look at that sheigetz.”

However, the sheigetz spoke Yiddish and overheard the conversation. He became very upset and called down to Rav Auerbach in Yiddish, “Are you calling me a sheigetz? How can you call me a sheigetz when I personally had a discussion with Hakadosh Boruch Hu?”

He continued: “You heard correctly. I asked Hashem a question and He answered me. I’m no sheigetz.”

He put down his cigarette and shared his story.

“I was born in Russia to Jewish parents. My father died when I was very young. I grew up with goyim, went to school with them, and was eventually drafted into the Russian army. One night, we were fiercely attacked. Everyone around me was killed. I looked out at the battlefield and was shaking with fear. I was the only survivor. I began to wonder why I was chosen to live.

“I crawled into a foxhole and began to talk to Hashem. I said, ‘I don’t know if You exist. I was orphaned as a young child. I grew up with goyim. I was never in a shul. I don’t know anything. But if You are really out there, please show me a sign. I will stick my hand out of the bunker, and if a bomb or bullet comes and shoots off one of my fingers, I will know that You exist. I will begin going to shul, studying your Torah, and living the life of a proper Jew.’

“And that is what happened. I stuck up my hand, a bullet whizzed by, and it blew off my finger.”

He held up his hand and said, “Take a look. You’ll see that I am missing a finger.”

“Do you hear what I’m telling you? How do you call me a sheigetz? I am a Jew Hashem has spoken to.”

After asking him mechilah, Rav Chaim Leib asked the pajama-clad man the obvious question: “So tell me, how is it that you are smoking on your porch on Shabbos in Yerushalayim ihr hakodesh? What happened to you that you ended up like this?”

“I’ll tell you,” the man answered. “For months, while I was in the army, I looked for a shul, but I was unable to find one. Then the army discharged me and I went to live with my mother. I felt bad for her and stayed with her. There was no shul in her town. And so it was, until eventually I forgot about fulfilling my vow.”

Rav Shlomo Zalman would repeat the story and say that he remembered it his whole life. He would add that in life, there are

times of great inspiration, and when they come, we must immediately act upon them. “That man must have had a great neshomah for such a story to happen to him. Had he immediately run to daven and learn, he would have become a great man,” Rav Shlomo Zalman said.

Instead, the man procrastinated and kept finding excuses not to do teshuvah. Every day, he pushed it off to the next, until the inspiration to improve was totally gone and forgotten.

That is the power of the yeitzer hora to take a person who has reached a great height and seeks to place himself on the path of Torah and turn him around, keeping him locked in a sinful path his entire life. First, he caused the man to procrastinate, much the same as he does to us. For example, if we resolve to undertake a certain good practice, he will say to us, “You don’t have to start today. You can start tomorrow.” Once we give in to him and push off doing the mitzvah until the next day, he has won. Then he takes it one day at a time, each day giving you another reason why it would be better to begin the practice tomorrow, until eventually we drop the idea altogether.

Or, we go to bed late one night and the alarm rings to wake us to go daven. The yeitzer hora senses an opportunity and quickly recommends to us that we shut off the alarm. Then he whispers that we’d be better off remaining in bed a little longer. If we permit him to get the better of us one day, he will return the next day with another excuse to turn off the alarm and roll over. He’ll tell us things like, “It’s almost the end of the zeman anyway. Nothing will happen if you sleep an extra half hour.” And before you know what happened to you, you become a habitual late riser. Each day, it becomes progressively more difficult to get up on time.

Every day, we say three times in Shemoneh Esrei, “Selach lonu Avinu ki chotonu,” asking Hashem to forgive us for our sins. We say to Him, “Hashiveinu Avinu leSorasecha, return us to your Torah, vehachazireinu biseshuvah sheleimah lefonecha, and return us to You through complete repentance.” And then what happens? Most of the time, regrettably, nothing happens.

We finish Shemoneh Esrei and it is all forgotten. Then we say Tachanun and twice a day we beg our heavenly Father to forgive us for our sins. Before we have a chance to do further teshuvah, the yeitzer hora rushes in and puts all types of ideas in our head about where we have to go and what we have to do. It is then all forgotten until the next time we daven and the cycle repeats itself.

We read the story about the man standing in the center of the Holy City smoking on Shabbos and we pity him. We wonder how it could be that he veered so far from his kabbolah. How does he live with himself never walking into a shul, not observing any mitzvos?

Not to cast aspersions on anybody, and his story is an extreme case, but it wouldn’t hurt if we would look in the mirror sometimes. We should think about that man and make sure that we aren’t acting like him. We must make sure that we are demonstrating power through strength to the yeitzer hora and to ourselves.

Let us pay better attention to davening. Let us make kabbalos and keep them. Let us make pledges and pay them. Let us not fall behind or slacken off in our observance of mitzvos.

And when an organization such as Shuvu, which brings thousands of neshamos aboard the Torah train and needs our help to continue their holy work, is holding a dinner this coming Sunday, we should show up and write a check even if we don’t know the people who are being honored. We should go there to show support for the cause, to show that we care about Torah and about Yiddishe kinder.

At a time when hundreds of thousands of our Jewish brethren are demonstrating every Shabbos in Israel and in cities around the world against the right of religious people to have laws enacted in their favor, it wouldn’t be an avlah if we would go to the Shuvu dinner to demonstrate that Torah and its causes are important to us. And the same goes for the dinner for Yeshivas Mir the next Sunday.

Let us begin chodesh Nissan with a hischadshus, so that we will be able to witness the fulfillment of the Chazal, “B’Nissan nigalu, b’Nissan asidin lehigo’el,” that in Nissan we will be redeemed. Let it be this year. Amein.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Keep It Going

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha of Ki Sisa contains peaks of glory and splendor, depths of catastrophe, and a cataclysmic blow, followed by the greatest message of forgiveness in the Torah.

The calamitous sin and subsequent climb back to teshuvah resound through the ages.

The parsha recounts how the Bnei Yisroel were counted and learned of the ketores and its powers. Hashem told Moshe that he had selected Betzalel to construct the Mishkon, its keilim, and the bigdei kehunah. The gift of Shabbos was granted to us and Moshe was given the luchos.

But then the people sinned and fashioned the Eigel, changing the trajectory of history until today. Moshe descended from Har Sinai with the luchos Hashem had written and transferred to him. Upon witnessing the depravity to which his people had sunk, he threw the luchos to the ground and smashed them. He summoned the Levi’im to join him in waging war against the sinners.

Hashem wanted to destroy the Jews, but He relented after Moshe’s pleas and quick action. Moshe was permitted to ascend the mountain once again and transcribe the luchos for deliverance to the chastised Jewish people. Hashem revealed the 13 Middos to Moshe and promised to allow the nation to enter the Promised Land.

It is apparent that as those who caused the Eigel accomplished their goal of weakening proper Torah leadership. The instigators of the Eigel, which they said would lead the Jews in place of Moshe, were the Eirev Rav, who had joined the Jewish people as they exited Mitzrayim. When they succeeded in persuading Aharon to hesitantly participate in their plan, Hashem told Moshe, “Lech reid,” the literal meaning of which is to go down and return to his people.

Chazal (Brachos 32a) saw a deeper meaning in the words “Lech reid.” They explained that Hashem was telling Moshe, “Go down from your greatness, for I have only made you great because of Yisroel, and now that Yisroel has sinned, of what use are you?”

Very strong words.

The Peirush HaGra on Chumash (Shemos 32:7), quoting the Tikkunei Zohar, says, “Ispashuta d’Moshe bechol dor vador. In every generation, there is a nitzutz, a part of the neshomah, of Moshe Rabbeinu present in one great man.” Through him, the light of Torah is transmitted to all the talmidei chachomim of the generation. All the chiddushei Torah that are nischadeish in the world are due to the “hashpo’as ohr,” or influence, of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Several times a week, we say, “Vezos haTorah asher som Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisroel…beyad Moshe.” As we point at the Sefer Torah and strain to see the holy letters on its parchment, we proclaim that this is the same Torah that Moshe transmitted to our forefathers.

The chet ha’Eigel put that gift in danger, jeopardizing our ability to receive and understand the Torah.

At the time of the Eigel, when Moshe became weakened to such a degree that he dropped the luchos, a tremendous diminution of Torah knowledge was caused. It also brought about all the exiles our people have since endured.

The Vilna Gaon writes (Even Sheleimah 13:8) that in our time, the Eirev Rav is basically composed of five groups of people: baalei machlokes and lashon hora, baalei ta’avah, hypocrites, people who seek honor to make a name for themselves, and people who crave money. He continues: “The worst are those who cause machlokes, and they are Amaleikim. Moshiach will not arrive until the world is rid of them.”

Our actions have consequences. What we permit other people to do has consequences. We all know that machlokes plagues our people, but we need to declare that we have had enough of it and rise up against those who cause machlokes. We need to work to spread peace and harmony in our community. We need to put aside petty differences. We need to work together and support good people doing good things instead of playing along with hypocrites and greedy people. There are many good people out there. Let’s get behind them. Let’s give good people a chance.

Everything we have and want depends on that.

There are ramifications when we do a mitzvah. It strengthens us and strengthens the world. It adds kedusha to our lives and also allows us to tap into the ohr of the nitzutz of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Perhaps most relevant to us is the power of people to create change. The Eirev Rav weakened Moshe’s abilities by sowing dissent and confusion, taking away the koach that had fueled Klal Yisroel’s leader.

Leadership starts from the ground up.

When Shlomo Hamelech was given the ability to choose any gift, the wise king didn’t select power, might or influence. He asked for a lev shomeia, a heart that would perceive and discern the needs of others.

A wonderful gift, to be sure, but what does it have to do with his mission to lead?

Baalei mussar explain that Shlomo Hamelech understood that the surest way to lead is to listen to the people and to develop an authentic and genuine interest in what ails them and what they care about. A leader who can accomplish that will earn the affinity of the people and they will follow him.

We must learn the lesson in our world as well.

In order to battle the Eirev Rav of our day, in order to curb machlokes which weakens the Moshe Rabbeinus of the dor, in order to vanquish the various fakes and fakers – the Eigels of the day – so that we can get closer to the coming of Moshiach, we have to be more intelligent about the way we address people. It is way too easy to preach and lecture others, admonishing them for what we think they are doing wrong, but that may not be what works anymore.

To be an effective leader and communicator, we have to listen to the people and understand how they think and why they act the way they do. We have to live in the moment and perceive the current mindset in order to bring about change. We have to have a lev shomeia if we want to influence people to lead better lives and to give up their petty battles and other behaviors that are in line with the conduct of the Eirev Rav.

To be able to reach people, you need to also be an effective communicator, and that requires knowing what is going on in the big world out there. If you don’t know what is going on, if you don’t know the news and you don’t know what people are thinking, then you cannot speak to them in a way that is relevant to them.

The Torah is the same, and the lesson is the same, but the mode of expression evolves. People’s minds work differently than they did fifty years ago. There are different temptations and different sets of values. Children today aren’t brought up the way we were.

When I was a child, my parents didn’t have much and most of the people we knew were barely scraping by. There were a couple of wealthy people in town. Life was much simpler and most of the things everyone takes for granted today did not exist then.

Today, few people live like we did back then, and it is folly to expect people to go back to living that way. It is a losing battle. Today, people are much more affluent, and even simple people live on a much higher level than we did.

To give an example, in my family, we were just reminiscing that for mishloach manos, my mother would bake cupcakes and put them on a plain paper plate with a small bottle of Kedem wine and a small red box of raisins. It would be covered with a plastic bag and sealed with a twister. For the fancier ones, my parents would add a can of sardines. Go try that today. But we were happy delivering them around town and getting back similar packages. 

Life has changed appreciably since then. The children are different and what appeals to them is different. It is our duty to find the demands, approach, language and words that work today, so that they can learn, grow and succeed in Torah and Yiddishkeit.

If we teach them at a young age that Hashem created the world and directs everything that happens, and that they have a neshomah that is a cheilek Eloka mimaal, and it obligates them to be better but also enables them to do so, as well as the other basics, then everything will fall into place as they grow and advance. But if they don’t have a good foundation, then it will be doubly difficult to straighten them out later in life as things get more serious and complicated.

When you want to improve people and set them straight, you need to build them up. You have to let them know that you believe in them and their ability to be better and do better. We need to let them know that we think higher of them and their abilities. Positive messages accomplish a lot more than negative ones.

All the biographies that have been coming out lately are filled with stories of how gedolim, rabbeim and regular people considered other people’s thoughts and feelings when dealing with them. It’s almost as if they are painted as doting old grandfathers, but that is what is in vogue today and what people want to hear and read. 

A story is told about a fellow who comes to shul and sits in his seat from the beginning of brachos until Shemoneh Esrei. After davening, the rov bangs on his shtender and points out that it is improper to sit while reciting Vayevorech Dovid.

The man rises from his seat and proclaims loudly, “Ah halbe yohr, for half a year, zitz ich ohn parnossah, I ‘sit’ here with no source of income, and no one says a word. One day zitz ich beim davenen, one day I sit during davening, and it becomes a big commotion. All of a sudden, everyone notices me.”

The way to create change is to build up the people through warmth, concern and a lev shomeia, not by talking down to them or castigating them.

It was the people who gave Moshe Rabbeinu the koach and the people who removed his koach when they rebelled with the sin of the Eigel.

Listen to the people and you will lead.

Rav Yeshayale of Kerestir was one of the most beloved and revered tzaddikim in prewar Hungary. Jews from across the country were drawn to his tiny town, eager for the rebbe’s brocha and advice.

Once, before tekias shofar on Rosh Hashanah, Rav Shayele closeted himself in his room to prepare for the exalted moments. A chossid peeked in, certain that he would see the rebbe engaged in Kabbalistic ritual, saying Tehillim or reciting words of the Zohar.

The chossid saw the rebbe patiently slicing pieces of cake and preparing platters. The rebbe noticed the curious chossid and explained. Since the minhag of chassidim is not to eat before tekios, the rebbe understood that the mispallelim would no doubt be famished by the end of davening. He wanted to make sure that no one would have to wait following davening and that they would be able to enjoy Kiddush and a bite of food immediately.

The rebbe used the moments before tekios as Shlomo Hamelech taught. Rav Shayele connected with the hearts of his people and prepared food for them. Only after doing that was he ready to go to tekias shofar and plead on their behalf, for he was a true leader.

A yeshiva bochur was found being mechallel Shabbos a few times in his yeshiva dormitory. The heads of the yeshiva went to Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach for pro-forma permission to expel the boy.

Rav Shach was in his twilight years, extremely weak and feeble, and rarely saw people. Because of the severity of this situation, the roshei yeshiva were permitted to enter his room to discuss the matter with him. He listened to them and was engrossed in thought for several minutes. Finally, with a weak voice, he said to them, “What is the financial situation in the boy’s home? Do his parents have shalom bayis?”

The rabbonim were bewildered by the questions. “How should we know what goes on in his home?” they asked.

Rav Shach strengthened himself, grasped the table, and pulled himself up in his chair. Tears were flowing down his cheeks and his voice was stronger than it was before. He turned to the people who had come to his home convinced that he would rubber stamp their decision. “Rodfim, leave my home! I don’t want to talk to you. You don’t know what is going on with the boy. You don’t know what is going on in his home. The only thing you know is that you want to put him out in the street. Leave.”

Like all parshiyos and lessons in the Torah, these lessons are eternally relevant.

We have a fractured generation. People are dispirited, families are broken, and tzaros abound. In order to connect to other people and be helpful to them, we have to understand what lies in their hearts and what keeps them awake at night. What worries them? What bothers them? What are they thinking about? What are their wants and desires? Do they have ambition? Do they want to excel at anything? If not, why not? Are they making ends meet? Do they have a decent place to live? Can they afford their rent or mortgage? Are they happy with the way their children are turning out? How is their health? What is the path to affecting their thoughts and behavior?

And children are more troubled than ever before. Too many kids aren’t happy at the time of their life when they should be the happiest, growing, learning, and making friends without having too many outside pressures. Instead, too many youngsters are upset with themselves, with their folks, with their school, their teachers, and who knows what else. They need help. They need direction. They need reinforcement.

They need people like us to take an interest in them and a liking to them. They need people to hear them and reach them on their level. The Torah has all the answers to whatever their questions are, no matter the topic, but we need loving, caring, thinking people who can deliver those answers in a way the youngsters can understand and accept so that they can get on with leading happy and productive lives.

We need to wipe out the vestiges of the Eirev Rav from our midst and benefit from the unblocked light of Moshe.

Let us resolve to remove the vestiges of the Eigel by loving all good people and respecting all who deserve to be respected; treasuring our friends, elders and rabbeim; bringing people together; staying away from things fake and false, and doing what we can to prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach.

In other words, keep the spirit of Purim going all year long!

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Happy is the Jewish Way

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Purim was approaching and the people were apprehensive. And who could blame them? It was 1941 and they were in the Warsaw Ghetto. There were few reasons to smile. Everyone locked in the ghetto was worried about what the next day would bring, as the threat of death at the hands of the evil Nazi butchers hung over them. Hunger and disease seemed destined to be the two species of mishloach manos that year.

The Piacezna Rebbe, who was in the ghetto, gathered a few broken souls around him. He quoted to them the Tikkunei Zohar, which states that Purim is as holy as Yom Kippur, as evidenced by the name of the holiest day of the year, Yom Hakippurim, which can be read as Yom K’Purim, meaning that the holiest day is like Purim. Many interpretations are offered in explanation of the comparison.

The rebbe addressed the suffering souls. When the sun begins its descent on Erev Yom Kippur, he told them, no Jews would say that they won’t fast this year because they aren’t in the mood. As Yom Kippur begins, no one says that it is too hard to do teshuvah now and they need to wait until they are more tuned in to the feelings of the day. Yom Kippur arrives and you get yourself into it, ready or not. You follow the tzivuy Hashem.

Purim is no different, said the rebbe. Purim arrives with the obligation to be joyous. Even when surrounded by evil murderers, illness and suffering, Jews are obligated to be joyous on this day.

“You,” the rebbe told the poor souls in the Warsaw Ghetto, “must also be happy today.”

Boruch Hashem, our situation is nothing close to that of the poor people in the Warsaw Ghetto, but our world is a scary place and it appears to be getting scarier by the day. Wherever you look, there is tragedy and trouble brewing. Just this week, two brothers on their way to learn Torah were killed in Eretz Yisroel, for no other reason than the fact that they were Jews. They left home to go to yeshiva shel matah but ended up going to yeshiva shel maalah. Their killing followed the murder of two young brothers, who left home dressed in their Shabbos clothes to travel to a family simcha and ended up going to the olam shekulo tov. Terror in Eretz Yisroel continues unabated and there doesn’t appear to be anything the army or police can do about it.

Also in Israel, a legitimate Jewish government was established and it seeks to right many wrongs. It seeks to complete the revolution begun when Menachem Begin rose to power and remove leftist elites from their hold on the judiciary. For this, the left, which was just trounced in an election brought on by their disastrous coalition, is engaging in an international campaign to vilify the current prime minister and his government. With venomous propaganda and duplicitous charges, the gang that just lost a democratic election is seeking to stymie the work of a duly elected government by charging that they are anti-democratic. Not only that, but they plant stories in the international media and lobby Israel’s allies to besmirch the country and harm its economic and political strength.

The United States is led by an increasingly inept president and administration, causing severe economic and moral damage to the country, and the country is governed by misguided woke ideologies that can only cause further harm. Crime is out of control in cities and towns, and police appear powerless to stop it. Despite fears of an impending recession, prices keep rising and housing prices have reached crisis levels even as mortgage rates climb.

In Europe, Russia continues to battle Ukraine, causing hundreds of billions of dollars of losses, severe loss of life and millions of refugees, as the specter of a nuclear attack hangs in the balance. Nobody has an end game or is working to end the war and bring peace to the area before the war spins further out of control.

Iran is becoming increasingly strident, working to empower Russia and become more of an international player, as it beefs up its nuclear efforts and plans terror acts against Israel and Jews.

That’s on a political level. But there are so many local problems and so many people suffering from so many different tzaros from which they see no solution. We wish we could help everyone, but we can’t. We wish we had solutions for all the problems, but we don’t. But even so, we can care and offer chizuk.

There is no better time to do so than Purim time.

When we study the Megillah and think about Esther Hamalka and what was going on in her mind, we can all relate to her and derive encouragement from her sad tale.

After suffering as an orphan, her life was restored by Mordechai. Then it all crashed in again when the egomaniacal king, who had his first wife killed, selected Esther to be his wife. The fairy tale wedding was a cause for sadness and trepidation, as Esther and Mordechai feared where it would lead. The dangerous situation she found herself in was compounded by the added challenge of the king’s wicked Jew-hating advisor, who sought to kill all the Jews in the vast area the king ruled over. Seemingly, there was no way to win. She feared for her life, as did all of the Jews in Achashveirosh’s dominion.

But a Jew is never alone, and through their emunah and bitachon, they brought about geulah. Instead of despairing, they repented for the sins that caused them to be in peril. They davened and they fasted. Hashem helped them and the wicked Haman was neutralized, to use a current euphemism. The Jews were saved and they slaughtered their enemies, causing a celebration we commemorate until this day.

Wherever Jews found themselves in the centuries since and despite the situation they found themselves in, they celebrated the deliverance of the Jews of that day and were invigorated that just as Hashem brought salvation for Esther and the Jews of her day, so will He deliver us from our personal and communal tribulations.

Like a beacon of light on a dark, stormy night, Purim shines into our world. Everyone has struggles. We have days when the rushing waves of tzaros threaten to engulf us. We encounter people and situations we find intolerable. People feel lost and abandoned. So many people are sick and in need of a refuah. Others can’t make ends meet no matter how hard they try. They find themselves adrift in a downward spiral.

Do you remember ever seeing a small airplane buzzing overhead with a banner trailing behind it? You craned your neck and strained your eyes to read its message. Purim is like that plane, flying a banner that all can read. The banner proclaims, “Revach vehatzolah ya’amod laYehudim.” Help can come. Help will come. Don’t despair.

Purim teaches us that all that happens to us in this world is part of Hashem’s plan. It will all turn out for the good if we are patient and follow Hashem’s word. We sing various tunes to the eternal words of “Venahafoch hu,” reminding us that Hashem can quickly bring about a stunning reversal of any situation. At no time should we give up hope of recovery, no matter how bad the prognosis. There is never a situation bad enough that it forces us to throw up our hands and quit.

During one of my visits to my rebbi, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik, he asked me about one of his talmidim. He said, “Vos hertz zich bei Yankel?” I responded, “Es geit em shver. Things are rough for him.” To which he responded, “Bei der Aibishter iz gornit shver. Nothing is difficult for Hashem.” In other words, he should maintain his faith, and daven to Hashem, and he will be helped.

We live in a world where up is down and down is up. We have to resist being blown about and led astray. No matter what comes over us and the world, we must maintain our equilibrium and faith.

When good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people, the Megillah reminds us that appearances are deceptive. The “wheel of fortune” is manipulated by Hashem for His own purposes. The Megillah reminds us that all that happens in this world is part of a Divine plan, which we can’t expect to understand until the entire story has unfolded.

Esther was ripped from her home and snatched away. Everyone pitied her and her situation as she led a double life. The second most powerful man in the country made demands, and Mordechai, the righteous leader of the Jewish people, flouted them. To all, it appeared that Mordechai’s actions were to blame. The vise was getting tighter and a day of death was set. The end seemed near. The people were on the brink of despair. It was only when the story neared its end, tragedy was avoided, the good triumphed, and evil was vanquished that it was understood that all had been orchestrated by Hashem to lead to a miraculous finish and then a refurbishing of the Bais Hamikdosh.

The lesson was learned for all time that even as a wicked force appears to be gaining, it is only in order for Hashgocha to set up that power for a more drastic defeat. Evil may be on the ascent, but it is merely a passing phenomenon and is destined to fail. Goodness and virtue may appear frail and unimposing, but those who follow Hashem’s path will ultimately triumph.

In every generation, there are vicious people who plot our destruction, but we are still here, thriving and prospering, and we will do so with Hashem’s help until the coming of Moshiach.

That message resonates for all time, wherever Jews find themselves. As we masquerade about exchanging mishloach manos with friends and distributing Purim gelt to the less fortunate, we tap into the kedusha and message of the holy day.

Mordechai’s admonition to Esther as she feared to act upon his advice and confront the evil, “Umi yodeia im le’eis kazos higaat lamalchus – And who knows if the reason you were chosen as queen was to take this step to help save your people,” should ring in the ears of every Jew who is about to make a fateful decision.

We never know the cause behind the dire situation we find ourselves in, but it surely has been brought upon us by Hashem to bring out the good in us and to help strengthen ourselves and others.

Mordechai’s words are an eternal charge inspiring us not to be daunted by difficulties, but to know that what happened and whatever happens is from Hashem, who ultimately cares for us and for the good.

There is a multi-million-dollar industry in this country that revolves around motivation. People pay to hear speeches or purchase books that they hope will motivate and encourage them. Most people sense that they possess more potential than they utilize and are desperate to be inspired and empowered. They don’t realize that the Torah is the ultimate inspiration, and those who study it and the words and stories of Torah, Nevi’im and Kesuvim will be much stronger for it. When in a time of tzarah, studying Mishlei, Iyov, Pirkei Avos and various seforim on Chumash and mussar will strengthen and buttress you as you imbibe their timeless wisdom and absorb the kedusha they impart.

Studying Megillas Esther will empower you to view life through the lens of a Torah Jew. You will be motivated and inspired. When we see and experience events that are painful and frightening, we are reminded through Purim that miracles happen via the course of natural events. We don’t have to await supernatural occurrences to spare us and to save us from that which frightens us. Rather, we see that through the natural course of human events, Hashem can save us.

Esther was afraid that she was doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Mordechai was prompting her to appeal to Achashveirosh eleven months ahead of the date Haman had chosen to annihilate the Jewish people. She preferred to have stalled, in the hope that between Nissan and the next Adar there would be a more opportune time for her to appeal on behalf of her brethren. Why did it have to be now?

Esther is repeatedly tested throughout the period in which the story takes place. Each time, it appears that there is no way she can outmaneuver the danger facing her. She emerges as the heroine of the story because she is galvanized by her hopes rather than her fears. She relies upon the sage counsel of her uncle, the Rosh Sanhedrin. With Mordechai’s support, she refuses to allow fear to paralyze her, maintains her faith, and acts as the Torah wants her to, not as her emotions and intelligence would direct her to.

Faced with situations from which we think there is no way we can extricate ourselves without getting hurt, we should remember Queen Esther and gain strength from the knowledge that by doing the right thing, she saved her people from certain destruction. By following Mordechai’s instructions, she became immortalized in the consciousness of the Jewish people as a righteous and strong woman who put the fate of her people ahead of her personal safety and happiness.

The Jews of Shushan, too, taught us a message that carries down through the ages. They felt doomed. The lot was drawn and their fate was sealed. But Mordechai and Esther taught them the power of teshuvah and tefillah. They rose to the challenge. Thanks to the leadership of Mordechai and Esther, Hashem heard their tefillos and accepted their teshuvah. A day marked for sadness and death was transformed into a day of celebration and deliverance.

On Purim, we are reminded not to be depressed or downcast. Despondency is not the Jewish way. On Purim, we are reminded that just as our ancestors were delivered from despair, so too we can be spared of our burdens. The world is being prepared for Moshiach. All the wars, recessions, inflation, earthquakes, pain, tragedy, and terror are steps along the way to the geulah.

It’s Purim. Learn Torah. Dance, smile and be happy. Look at the positive. Be optimistic. LaYehudim hoysah orah v’simcha vesasson vikor kein tihiyeh lonu. Amein.