Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Historic Lessons

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

A cursory glance at newspaper headlines is enough to fill the perceptive person with a sense of fear and helplessness. Despite the most advanced and sophisticated security systems and procedures, we’ve watched in amazement as an airplane simply vanished. Years from now, people will be studying the loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and opining what happened, how it transpired, and what lessons are to be learned from the tragedy.

In an era when handheld devices are equipped with sensors and our every movement is traceable, it is astounding that an airplane of that size, with over 239 people aboard, can disappear off the face of the earth without a trace for several weeks. The only rational reaction to such news is to raise one’s eyes heavenward to He who ultimately controls everything, who presses the buttons and creates the flight-paths for all of humanity. MeiHashem mitzadei gover. He prepares the paths each of us will travel each day with precision and exactitude.

In a world where society has advanced so far technologically and the general attitude is that any problem can be identified and solved in moments, the disappearance of the plane is a chilling reminder of the futility of the kochi v’otzem yodi perspective. Humility is a prerequisite of faith.

Historians will long analyze Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea and the failure of the Obama administration to prevent it. They will look at the president’s promise and the talk of Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry about resetting relations with Russia. Their policy of appeasement has led us to this point. Putin, judging America as weak and feckless, ignored and mocked Obama’s threats and ineffectual sanctions and retook a state he believed to be Russian. Actually, the correct term is not retook, but stole. Putin seized it in plain view of a world that stands by helplessly, like a witness to a sidewalk mugging with no inclination or ability to help.

Ukraine is a shattered country with many problems. Democracy has not been entirely kind to it and Communist leaders have reverted to old tactics, correctly gauging world apathy and taking advantage of it. Countries that have taken yeoman steps towards their self-determination now crouch in fear and trepidation over Putin’s next move.

Syria smolders and Iraq has fallen apart. Afghanistan is descending into turmoil, while Iran is arming itself with nuclear weapons. These historic transformations are all taking place in our time, as we read these words, whether or not we are paying attention. The believing Jew knows that all that transpires is for his sake. It is meant to inspire and awaken dormant souls. The posuk says in Tehillim, “Lifnei Hashem ki va, ki va lishpot ha’aretz,” describing Hashem’s slow and steady process of judging the world. Hashem comes increasingly closer, sending messages to His nation, through world events.

On Motzoei Shabbos, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman delivered a shiur to a small group of close talmidim. In conversation with them, the rosh yeshiva referred to current events, remarking that he receives a steady stream of visitors who come to share their problems. “Some of them are facing personal difficulty and some come with communal problems, but all of these tzaros are in the category of chevlei Moshiach. We’re already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It is an opportune time,” he continued, “for each individual to strengthen himself in a small area, because in Shomayim it will be considered a great undertaking.”

Rav Shteinman, who carries burdens of the generation on his shoulders, was sending a message to hold on tight, not to despair, and to see the string of suffering and pain as a reality. There is a meaning to the misery, he explained. The troubles piling up on his doorstep and in his humble room are the building blocks of redemption. He is telling us to believe.

Indeed, he has taken to singing a song each evening at the conclusion of his shiur. The words are Yigdal Elokim Chai, printed in siddurim before Shacharis. The words of the tefillah are an abridged version of the 13 Ikkorim, a synopsis of the foundations of our emunah. The rosh yeshiva, a man who has toiled in Torah for the better part of nine decades, bli ayin hara, is completely divested of the pleasures of this world, and who inhabits an exalted world of ameilus baTorah and achrayus for Klal Yisroel, is discerning what’s going on all around us, and his response is to express his emunah. It’s a time to grab on to the emunah and not let go.

On Purim, the day when secrets are revealed, Rav Moshe Shternbuch, Raavad of Yerushalayim and author of classic works, who is well-known to our readers by virtue of his weekly column in our newspaper, allowed some sod to slip out. He peeled back the curtain and offered a peek into a tradition handed down from his grandfather, the Vilna Gaon.

“Even though I am careful not to share the mysteries, I feel that this is something I am permitted to reveal, since Rav Eizek Chover, the talmid of Rav Chaim Volozhiner, already revealed it. This was something Rav Eizek had received directly from those who heard it from the mouth of the Vilna Gaon, who said, shortly before his passing, ‘When you hear that the Russians have invaded Crimea, you will know that the bells of geulah have begun to ring. When you hear that the Russians have reached Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey, as it is called today), you can already don Shabbos clothes and await Moshiach’s appearance.

“Last week, Rav Shternbuch continued, “the Russians invaded Crimea and the world slept… According to our tradition from the Gr”a, this is a sign of impending geulah… Perhaps what the Gaon meant by pa’amei geulah is like a pa’amon, a bell that signals the arrival of someone or something.

The bell has sounded. Now, we have to react.

It’s humbling to think how little we know. Even while we bemoan our president’s inaction and the world’s apathy, we have to realize that the factors at play here are much bigger than us. We stumble about blindly, and our only hope for calm is to accept that there is a Plan and a Planner who has mapped out the way for us.

Rabi Akiva laughed as his colleagues wept when seeing a fox crawl out of the Holy of Holies. We have to accept that what appears to be calamitous - the unraveling of the world as we know it - might well be a harbinger of hope.

Rav Yaakov Neiman zt”l, rosh yeshivas Petach Tikva, would relate a parable in the name of the Alter of Kelm.

If someone is traveling to a wedding, even if it is a long flight and he is cramped in a middle seat on the back of a packed airplane without food, he is still happy, for he knows that at the wedding there will be plenty of food and drink, and he will have a good time with his friends. There will be joyous music and spirited dancing.

So too, said the Alter, a traveler with a vision for the future endures much during his journey through this world, content and serene with the knowledge that he is headed to a place where all will be good and pleasant.

This is the sense of calm that must fill the soul of a Jew, even in times of turbulence and unrest. We aren’t the pilots and we aren’t privy to the flight map, but we are good passengers and we trust in our Captain.

This past Shabbos chasidim commemorated the yahrzeit of the great rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk.

Once, when the rebbe and his sainted brother, Reb Zishe, were traveling together incognito, going in golus to atone for their sins, they were incarcerated on trumped up charges and thrown into a prison cell filled with petty thieves and other criminals.

Though they were in jail, the two brothers were determined to maintain their holy exalted levels and tried valiantly to daven and learn as usual.

However, to torment the prisoners the guards placed a bowl of rotten, foul smelling waste in the middle of the cell, making it impossible for the tzaddikim to perform their avodah, as it is halachacily forbidden to engage in holy actions in the presence of fetid material.

Reb Elimelech was heart-broken that they could not daven and learn. But his brother, Reb Zishe, comforted him.

“Meilech,” he said, “why do you want to learn and daven? Because you wish to serve your Maker and create for him a nachas ruach. But the same Ribbono shel Olam who you seek to serve through Torah and avodah forbids us from engaging in those actions in this place. Not davening and refraining from even thinking in learning is currently the form of avodah Hashem desires from us.”

Reb Elimelech was deeply affected by his brother’s words, and rose to his feet and began dancing. As the two tzaddikim broke out in a joyous rikkud around the basin of filth, the incredulous guards hurried over to see what the commotion was all about.

“If this bucket gives you such joy, then we will remove it right away,” they said, quickly removing the pail from the cell. As soon as the pail was removed, the brothers sat down and became engrossed in Torah thoughts, thrilled with the opportunity to learn and daven once again.

The tranquil, believing person accepts the will of Hashem and merits serving Him in serenity in every situation he encounters. We can’t always control our situation, where we are and who surrounds us. When we are confronted with unpleasant circumstances that are beyond our control, we should not lose ourselves or our faith, but endeavor to persevere until we are able return to an optimal status. With firmly grounded emunah and bitachon, we can endure any predicament life throws at us.

A Jew is not commanded to understand everything, but we are commanded to follow Hashem’s word.

When Rav Yechezkel Abramsky lived in London, he developed a close relationship with a local intellectual, a Jew who wasn’t observant. Rav Abramsky spoke with his friend about the importance of wearing tefillin each day. The fellow agreed to put on tefillin daily, with one condition. He insisted that Rav Abramsky teach him the inner meaning of the mitzvah and explain the logic behind it. The wise rov agreed, but suggested that the gentleman first put on tefillin daily for one month. They would then begin their study of the mitzvah.

This man reluctantly agreed, and the next day he started to put on tefillin. For a few days, he fulfilled the mitzvah, while telling the rov that he was anxious to begin learning the rationale for it in order to properly connect with its performance. Then, one morning, two weeks after he started wrapping the holy straps around his arm, this Jew hurried into the rov’s home. “Rebbe, ich farshtey shoin altz. It all makes sense,” he cried, tears coursing down his cheeks.

He never followed up on his original demand, because the actual mitzvah gave him the answers he sought. Even if his mind was no wiser, his soul was nourished. This is the experience of the Yid in golus. Even without hearing reasons, we have a sense of “ich farshtey altz,” as our neshamos are comfortable traveling along and waiting for that great day.

The Medrash at the beginning of this week’s parsha introduces the posuk in Tehillim (139:5) which states, “Achor vakedem tzartoni - You created me first and last and laid Your hands upon me.” Rav Yochanan explains that if a person merits it, he can inherit two worlds, this world and the World to Come. The achor and kedem refer to olam hazeh and Olam Haba. We are suspended between two worlds. Our mission is to walk the tightrope without slipping, holding on to our trust in the future.

Yishuv hadaas comes not from what we see, but from what we believe.

As we now find ourselves in the elevated season following Purim, it is a particularly auspicious time to repeat what Rav Yitzchok Hutner would say about Purim. He said on that day we have the ability to destroy the tumah caused by atzvus, the tipshus of marah shechorah, and the rifyon of chalishus hadaas. A loose translation of the rosh yeshiva’s pithy remark tells us that we received a gift of Purim, and with it we were given the ability to erase depression and melancholy from inside of us. We were given an injection of energy meant to raise us above despair.

The believer possesses a calm assurance which engenders the joy of faith. Those attributes enable us to successfully transverse the rocky path of life.

Aharon Hakohein famously reacted to the terrible pain of losing two beloved, exalted sons with silence. The Torah recounts, “Vayidom Aharon.” He didn’t try to understand or comprehend, but simply made himself like a domem, a stone.

Aharon’s reward for his unquestioning acceptance of Hashem’s will was that the Ribbono Shel Olam taught Klal Yisroel a new parsha, a halacha transmitted through Aharon alone (Vayikra Rabbah 12:2). The din that a kohein may not perform the avodah while intoxicated was said by Hashem directly to Aharon. The rare opening of “Vayomer Hashem el Aharon” (Vayikra 10:8-9) is testimony to the elevated level he reached with his sacred silence.

The Maharsha explains that the middah kineged middah was that since Aharon sanctified his koach hadibbur through not speaking, Hashem honored him with dibbur. The Sheim MiShmuel offers a deep insight into why this particular halacha was a reward for Aharon’s faith.

People who are intoxicated might be happier or more spiritually aware than usual, but they are not calm. A drunken person is not serene or in a state of menuchas hanefesh. Thus the Ribbono Shel Olam was telling Aharon, “You sanctified me by reacting to a crippling blow with total menuchah, serenity. Your reward is that you will merit being the vehicle for a new halacha, one that mandates that avodah, Divine service, can only be performed when one is completely calm and composed.”

There is no lesson more relevant than this. The Mishnah Berurah states that one who recites perek 23 of Tehillim at mealtimes will not lack for sustenance. As Shabbos fades away, during the hallowed final moments of the special day, we sing that same kappitel. What is its message?

Al mei menuchos yenahaleini. We are being led by a Shepherd. Even begei tzalmovess, in the valley of terror, we do not fear, ki Atah imodi, because we have faith in our Captain.

May the rest of the path to the geulah be short and, very swiftly, may we see the full realization of that which we’ve been promised for so long and merit sitting beveis Hashem l’orech yomim.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Purim Pride

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Purim came, Purim went, but what did it do to us? A day spent in prayer, study, and mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro brings joy to Jews of all ages. From the delivery and receipt of mishloach manos to the raising and contributing of matanos la’evyonim, Purim brings out the best in everyone. People spend hours on end writing checks, distributing much-needed funds to impoverished brothers, who are grateful for the donation. Music blares, feet fly high in the air, costumes elicit smiles, and the seudas Purim brings the sometimes hidden joy to the fore.

And then it comes to a halt. The food is gone, the bottles are empty, the music stops playing, and daily life returns. We go back to fighting our old battles, more motivated than ever to slay our dragons. Newly ambitious and charged to excel in what we do, we aim to be better people and better Yidden.

On Purim, we noted that there were many obvious differences between Haman and the Jews he despised. The Gemara (Megillah 13b) quotes Rava as saying that there was no one as expert as Haman in “lishna bisha,” which would appear to be the Aramaic term for lashon hara. Rava’s intention is not to intone that Haman was proficient in lashon hara. Rather, he is stating that Haman excelled in utilizing words of spite and derision to express his contempt for and to undermine the Jewish people. He was the ultimate demagogue.

The Chasam Sofer explains that the victory of Purim was rooted in the fact that Haman was a hate-monger. He employed scornful words to advance his evil cause. His opponents, Mordechai and Esther, were descendants of Binyomin, whose expertise could be found in his ability to remain silent. The stone of Binyomin on the Choshen was known as the “yoshpeh.” Chazal interpret the stone’s name as referring to Binyomin’s special attribute: “Yesh peh, v’eino medaber.” Literally, this means that he had a mouth, but chose to remain silent. Binyomin’s silence allowed him to advance.

After Shmuel Hanovi anointed Shaul as king, the progeny of Binyomin, he didn’t brag to anyone about his new position. Esther, as well, heeded the command of Mordechai and did not divulge her birthplace and nationality to Achashveirosh.

Each month of the year corresponds to one of the twelve shevotim. Adar corresponds to the last of the shevotim, Binyomin. His middah of silence conquered and vanquished Haman’s rhetoric of hate.

One of the oft-repeated canards of the apologist movement comprised of the Jews who wish to save us from ourselves is that the silent chareidi majority agrees with them but is afraid to express their true feelings, lest they be ostracized for disagreeing with the position of gedolim. Those who claim to really care about us paint a picture of a ruling class that terrorizes the rest of the community into submission and fear of retribution if they step out of line.

In their progressive circles, they claim, there is freedom of expression and tolerance for opposing views. Every person is entitled to his own opinion and there is respect - one of their buzzwords - even in disagreement. Broad-mindedness and intellectual honesty are their property, they say. We, they claim, cower in fear of expressing what is really in our hearts.

The yarmulka-wearing Yesh Atid MK who learned in American yeshivos and is determined to impede Torah study in the Holy Land justifies his actions by stating that thousands of anonymous chareidim send him emails and leave him messages with expressions of support for his agenda. He claims that the faceless mass of unhappy chareidim are scared to publicly support him, but manage to communicate messages of encouragement to their fearless champion. He says that they are begging him to save them from their leaders, and he is doing everything in his power to oblige them, because he cares so deeply about them and about the State of Israel.

Meet Yoni Chetboun. A bright, affable young man, a father of six, who joined the Bayit Yehudi party with dreams of bringing about positive change. Born to French parents and raised in Nahariya, he is a product of the military and deeply sincere, and he seemed to have what it takes to make a difference. He was appointed deputy speaker in this Knesset, a prominent position for a thirty-four-year-old fellow. The future seemed bright for the young politician.

Until last week. That’s when Chetboun did the unthinkable sin of voting according to his conscience. He broke with his party on the bill to draft yeshiva students. The punishment came quickly. Party leader Naftali Bennett removed him from the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and Chetboun was banned from introducing any private bill in the Knesset during the first six weeks of the summer session.

Banned for speaking his mind? Isn’t that what they say about us? Retribution for being gutsy? Lack of respect because he opposed the party bosses?

Chetboun was soundly disciplined for following the path he thinks is right - or, more accurately, for rejecting a path he thinks is wrong. And for that he was castigated, attacked, vilified and scorned by his open-minded, progressive coalition partners. It would seem that their agenda of hate is fueled by the very narrow-mindedness they love to accuse us of possessing.

For one day, for one person, the word Yehudi belonged in the name of the party. Ish Yehudi is expounded by Chazal to mean ish yechidi. Mordechai Hatzaddik stood alone, firm in his original beliefs.

Chetboun showed his independence, his yechidus, and is being treated as a pariah and shunned like a leper.

What was it that changed inside Yoni Chetboun? What stirred him to rethink his party’s position and get in touch with his own internal compass?

I don’t profess to know, but I imagine that the sentiment was something like this.

A tourist visiting Yerushalayim was staying at a prominent hotel and noticed a particular collector hanging around the lobby and soliciting hotel guests for donations. The American knew the persistent collector and doubted that the money he was hounding the guests for ended up in the coffers of the legitimate charity the man claimed to represent. The visitor decided to notify the hotel management about the solicitor. After all, it was against hotel policy to solicit guests in the lobby as they came and went. The manager appeared on the scene and instructed the collector to leave.

The man was later wondering if he was justified in having the collector evicted from the hotel. When he returned home, he asked his rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Svei zt”l, if what he did was proper. He had protected guests from a collector who wasn’t totally truthful, but for some reason his conscience nagged at him. He felt that perhaps he shouldn’t have gotten involved.

Rav Elya replied by quoting a Gemara in Maseches Shabbos that lists a series of lessons taught by Rebbi Yosi using the words “yehei chelki, meaning “may my portion be” with those who engage in various positive actions. One of the groups Rebbi Yosi expressed a wish to be among was the moshivei bais medrash, those who seat talmidim in the bais medrash, rather than the ma’amidei bais medrash, those who remind the talmidim when to go home from the bais medrash. Rashi explains that the function of the ma’amidei bais medrash was to remind the talmidim when mealtime approached.

The rosh yeshiva commented: “The ma’amidei bais medrash weren’t reminding the talmidim to go home to relax, but to eat, perhaps spend time with their families, and engage in other holy pursuits. What, then, was the misfortune of being a ma’amid, rather than a moshiv? Both groups were engaged in helping talmidim do mitzvos.”

Explained Rav Elya, “Veist doch ois, it would seem, az ess iz duh mitzvos vos men ken zei lozzen fahr andere, there are mitzvos that you can leave for someone else to do.”

The wise answer was that Rebbi Yosi taught that even though reminding talmidim when it is time to go home and eat is important, it doesn’t approach the merit of being the one to remind talmidim that it is time to learn.

Perhaps Yoni Chetboun made that calculation. Perhaps he considered that he should leave the mitzvah of chasing people out of the bais medrash for others. Maybe he decided that it would be more meritorious to help usher people into the bais medrash, rather than force them to leave.

Last week tens of thousands flooded the streets of Lower Manhattan to daven on behalf of Eretz Yisroel’s lomdei Torah. They were peaceful and respectful. There were no speeches, no signs, and nothing any haters could mockingly point to. But that didn’t stop them. The same gang who is always ready to pounce on our community responded to the rally in force. One pounced and sent out a Twitter breaking news alert, stating that “50 Thousand Haredim March So Only Other Jews Die in War.”

The same group who refers to us as hate-filled displayed once again what drives them in their campaign against yeshiva bochurim. Some things are expected and others are outrageous and beyond the pale. People can disagree, but to call 50,000 frum, peaceful people murderers because they gathered to daven is abhorrent.

The fellow who wrote that brilliant headline summed up his argument against the vilified chareidim like this: “That, essentially, is the main argument being advanced by the deans of Haredi yeshivos: We have no trust in the Torah we’ve taught our students. We know better. This is why the only means we have of keeping them in line are extreme social pressure and intimidation. You take those away and Joe will spring the trap and become a normal man, availing himself freely of the gifts of a modern society. We can’t afford that.

“The post-Holocaust Haredi world is all about fear. Fear of new things. Fear of books. Fear of voices. And above all, fear that the education a young man receives during his 20 years in a Haredi yeshiva is worthless, because as soon as he encounters the outside world, those 20 years would vanish, melt away like cholov Yisroel butter on a skillet.”

There you have it. It is obvious that a war is being waged on the chareidi community in Israel. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. A government that takes milk and bread out of the mouths of its poorest infants to further any goal cannot be considered to be working for their benefit.

A government and parliament that says it will jail yeshiva bochurim who refuse to be drafted is all about political expediency. If Shas would have received three more seats in the Knesset, its members would be prominent ministers, chareidim would be praised, yeshivos would be funded, and Bibi would be the savior. But because Mr. Netanyahu needed the Religious-Zionist Bayit Yehudi party of Yoni Chetboun to form his coalition, and because that group sealed an unbreakable bond with the ultra-anti-religious party of Yair Lapid, all of a sudden, Bibi’s natural partners became muktzah machmas mius. All of Israel’s problems were caused by the hated chareidim who, apparently, want everyone to die for them to live. Because of the way the coalition was formed, yeshiva bochurim must go to jail, poor children must starve, goyim must be recorded as Yidden, irreligious tallis-and-tefillin-clad women must be given a spot to pray at Judaism’s most holy site, and brother must be turned against brother.

A government that was conceived in sin, brought about through creating a coalition between left-wing and right-wing brothers with one common interest, cutting the chareidi community down to size, cannot be excused as being interested in the pursuit of some higher goal. Torah has been the lifeblood of our people since the beginning, and those who refuse to recognize what it is that creates our identity and sets us apart as a nation are fooling themselves and denying history and fact.

There is no way that anyone who knows anything about Yair Lapid and his agenda can view what is transpiring in Eretz Yisroel any differently. The man’s stated goal is the marginalization of religion in the Jewish state, and he has set out to punish chareidim in every way governmentally possible. Besides seeking to destroy the chareidim, he also has his sights set on other aspects of Jewish life in that country, from the rabbinate, to Shabbos, to kashrus, to geirus, and everything in-between. It is ridiculous to accept that anyone who proudly works with him, praises him, stands alongside him, and agitates for him can be anything but an enemy of religion, no matter how much they smile or in which words and language they couch their rhetoric.

Every gadol, every rov, every rosh yeshiva, every frum politician, every frum person in Israel, and anybody in this country who is aware of anything that is going on knows full well what the Yesh Atid party is all about. Yet, our enemies have the nerve to call us murderers and lecture us about ahavat Yisrael and other good things.

How dare they!

Those who stoke fires, create diversions, and fuel division in the pursuit of any goal expose themselves as guilty of hypocrisy and a refusal to examine the real facts the way they are. Throughout the ages, we have been victimized by blood libels. It is shameful that religious people are now utilizing the methods of Eisov and tactics of Haman to further their agendas.

The people who give those speeches, write those articles, and post and publish them are using their words to further their battle against the much despised lomdei Torah.

While Yoni Chetboun was suffering for standing by an age-old principle, happiness flowed through the community where people are supposedly scared to be honest.

I would have loved to invite the Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi leadership and their fawning pundits to the house of any rosh yeshiva, rov or rebbe on Purim. The scene is similar. They would have seen a Purim seudah where a leader sits at the head of the table. All around are talmidim, chassidim, children and friends. Everywhere, lechaims are being poured, and with the “nichnas yayin,” words come forth freely, emotions unchecked. In every home, Purim brings forth the feelings and ideas that are dormant throughout the year. Purim is a day when people say what they mean and express their true feelings unencumbered.

One would imagine that such an exercise would spawn all sorts of negative speech, giving expression to all the frustration and fear latent in the chareidi heart. Yet, what we heard, saw and experienced in our own communities was the very opposite. We saw a burning desire for more. More Torah, more yiras Shomayim, a purer heart, and a deeper connection with the Ribbono Shel Olam.

Standing at Oorah’s mesibas Purim in Lakewood, a young bochur came over to me. “Do you know where the next gedolim are going to come from?” he asked me. Not waiting for my response, he answered his own question. “It’s going to be from the bochurim you see dancing here with you. We are the future.”

He’s right.

“But listen,” he continued. “It’s hard for us. We need to be motivated. We look to people like you to keep us motivated. You always write about how hard gedolim work and how important they are to our people. That’s all true and it is important to drive that point home. But people have to also appreciate bochurim and know how hard we work and know that our success is integral for Klal Yisroel’s future.”

He finished with an appeal: “We need chizuk. We need people to be mechazeik us.”

The next generation needs to know that we have faith in them. And we do. Speaking to a bochur like that on a night like Purim makes us proud and demonstrates what is great about our people.

Roshei yeshivos and rebbes confidently refill cups, knowing that the words they are inviting will make them proud and that the overwhelming aspiration of the day will be al taster ponecha mimeni. The only question asked will be, “Mah ashiv loch, vehakol sheloch.

Might it be that the secular camp and their Orthodox enablers are the inciters? Might it be that those who so vehemently decry the chareidi leadership are guilty of far worse?

It is interesting that last week, they were exposed. The Israeli Supreme Court bought into the provocation and nullified the results of the Beit Shemesh elections earlier this winter. They ruled that since there was fraud involved in the election in which Mayor Moshe Abutbul was reelected, it could be assumed that the mayor was voted in fraudulently and illegally. Therefore, the city would have to hold new elections. At great cost to the government and taxpayers, and ignoring the tremendous waste of time, energy and limited resources, new elections were held. The secularists were ecstatic at this Supreme Court-sanctioned opportunity to expose the chareidim. They would embarrass them and show the whole country, once and for all, just how underhanded the chareidim and their operatives really are.

But a funny thing happened. Despite mountains of vitriolic words heaped against them, the chareidim won again. With the eyes of the country and its lawmen upon the city, Abutbul triumphed for a second time. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman received word of the victory and expressed satisfaction, saying, “May this kiddush Hashem be mesakein for the chillul Hashem incurred by the draft law.”

Rav Shteinman perceived the win as a kiddush Hashem because of the message it sent: Chareidim are good, honest citizens, and your government-approved witch-hunt and attempt to undermine them has failed.

It’s Adar. The mandate to rejoice continues after Purim, as we are in the period between one geulah and the other, a season of Divine favor and grace.

May our simcha increase as we witness the steady triumph of ovdei Hashem and the sweet, sincere, holy community who reveres their words and ideals.

Let us do what we can to motivate those, both young and old, whose dedication makes the difference in our growth. Let us daven for those dear to us who are in need of refuos and yeshuos.

Let us make sure that we are on the correct path, doing what is really important, finding fulfillment through positive actions and growth, and adhering to the code of Binyomin in the way of Mordechai and Esther, the heroes of the Purim story.

Let us have nachas from our families, and from ourselves, a whole year round.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Purim is Personal

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It was at that last Purim hour, during the moments when day slowly recedes to night and the sky begins to darken. Inside the crowded room, a rebbi and talmidim surrounded a table, as songs, Torah and quips joined into a burst of sound, the holy noise of Purim rising heavenward.

At one end of the long table, its surface covered with a wine-stained cloth and festively-arranged bottles, a talmid raised a question. He quoted the well-known Gemara, referred to extensively in halachic discussion of the obligations of the Purim seudah, which recounts how Rabbah rose and slaughtered Rav Zeira (Megillah 7b).

Rav Zeira had accepted Rabbah’s invitation to join him for the seudas Purim. Rabbah fulfilled the dictum of Chazal to drink, and he became inebriated to the point that he actually slaughtered his guest. When he realized what transpired, he begged for Divine mercy and Rav Zeira was revived.

Rishonim and Acharonim utilize p’shat, remez, drush and sod to explain the Gemara. But the talmid had a basic question. Once Rav Zeira’s soul had left him, what was Rabbah thinking when he rose to daven? Can a person request techiyas hameisim? Can one ask that the order of creation be reversed?

The rebbi smiled, enjoying the question, and the talmidei chachomim present offered various interpretations. Then the rebbi spoke just one sentence. “It was Purim,” he said, “and in the season of Purim, it isn’t a kasha. One perceives, on the deepest level, that there is no teva and neis. It’s all one. Ein od milvado.”

On Purim we can ask for anything, because after reading the Megillah, it becomes clear once again that there is but one Hand, and nothing else, that bestows and controls life.

The men around the table sang another song, because at that moment, it was so obvious, almost tangible, that it’s all Him. How can one not rejoice?

Purim is different than any other yom tov. Even when all the moadim will be but happy memories, Purim will have its place on the calendar, a joyous festival in the era of ultimate joy. What it is about Purim that generates so much eternal joy and elation?

Even in the choshech and hester of today, when hearts are numb and emotion comes hard, we can still sense it. There is a mitzvah to be happy on every yom tov, yet despite our best efforts, we don’t always manage to attain the level of happiness that we do on Purim. On Purim, we all feel it.

Why? Because Purim is personal.

Like a beacon of light on a dark, stormy night, it shines into our world. Every one of us is struggling. We have days when the rushing waves of tzaros threaten to engulf us. We encounter people and situations we find intolerable. We all sometimes feel lost and abandoned. We suffer from a lack of proper leadership, agonizing under new laws and directions the country faces. So many people we know are sick and in need of a refuah, or suffering in other ways and eagerly awaiting a yeshuah.

Purim is an unfurled banner that reads, “Revach vehatzolah ya’amod laYehudim.” Help can come. Help will come. Don’t despair. Purim teaches us all that transpires 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.

The Baal Shem Tov once traveled through a tiny, forlorn town consisting of a few farmhouses and fields. The locals were suffering from a severe drought. The lack of rainwater threatened the crops and their livelihood was in jeopardy.

The Baal Shem Tov went into their shul and saw how the entire town - men, women and children - was present, listening respectfully to the words of a visiting maggid. The preacher castigated the people for their misdeeds, telling them that their offensive behavior was causing Heaven to withhold blessing.

When the maggid finished, the Baal Shem Tov rose to speak. “What do you want from these Jews?” he asked the maggid. “They work long, hard hours, toiling under a blazing sun all day. When they have a few minutes of peace, they hurry to the shul to daven and learn a bit. What type of message are you giving them?”

Tayere Yidden,” the Baal Shem Tov said, turning to the crowd of farmers, “this is what you must know. We have a powerful Borei, a Creator with limitless abilities, and He can do anything and everything. He loves us and wants to shower us with His blessings. So Yidden, come, let us dance.”

The Baal Shem Tov led the simple townspeople in a joyous rikkud. A circle of Jews began singing their thanks and praise to the Master of the Universe.

They exited the shul and encountered a drenching downpour. The rain turned the fields into mud. The happy townspeople danced their way home.

This is the lesson of Purim. Even as we are bound by the rules of teva, a neis is still possible. Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah have the power to be maavir any gezeirah. When Esther went into Achashveirosh, she didn’t ask what her chances of success were. When Mordechai commanded her to appeal the case of the Jewish people to the king, they didn’t consider what their chances of victory were. They davened, fasted and did what was right. Armed with emunah and tefillah, their efforts in teva succeeded.

Throughout the year, we are confronted by various types of people and the vast spectrum of human behavior, from righteous and noble to incorrigibly evil and the many shades in between.

We live in a world where up is down and down is up. We have to resist being blown about and led astray, but 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 all that happens is part of a Divine plan, which we can’t expect to understand until the entire story has unfolded.

An evil force may appear to be advancing, but it is only in order for Hashgochah to set up that power for a more drastic descent to 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 evil 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 kedushah and message of the holy day.

That message never loses its timeliness.

Those blessed with discerning ears hear the enduring relevance in the holy Megillah. One year, an expert baal kriah, Reb Avrohom Moshe Kirshenbaum, was brought to lain the Megillah for the Brisker Rov. After the kriah, the rov was in a particularly joyous mood and he commented, “Ess iz nisht kein shaylah tzu a besser’n tzu a shvacher’n, ess iz an andere mashma’us ingantzen.”

A well-read Megillas Esther tells the story better. The quality of the kriah gives new significance to the message. Like a symphony, the discriminating listener appreciates it on a different level. To great men, Megillas Esther is an experience.

Every year, we gain new appreciation of what took place during those critical times and its relevance to us today. We also gain a new perspective. Was Haman consumed by hatred or was it jealousy that drove him mad? Was he a megalomaniac or was he just a common anti-Semite? Perhaps he was all of the above.

The lesson for us is that we should avoid all these forms of evil. Humility may have saved Haman, as would have his high status as a trusted confidant of King Achashveirosh had he been satisfied with that prestige. Had he been less greedy for power, he might not have suffered a devastating downfall and would not have ended up on the gallows.

Had he not been so mad for power, he could have continued climbing until he reached the pinnacle. He would have remained there, at the height of power, instead of dangling from the end of a rope.

As we read the story, we think of people we know who engage in self-destructive behavior and thank Hashem that we are not like them. We internalize the tale and take its message to heart. We feel grateful for the clarity that enables us to be happy with our lot.

Everyone has times when they fail. To err is human. The test is how we recover from those situations and continue on after experiencing a setback.

Do we become withdrawn and despondent or do we maintain our faith in Hashem and in ourselves and force ourselves to carry on with dignity and grace?

When things don’t go our way, do we forsake hope or do we have bitachon that the next day will bring better news and happier developments?

Sometimes, it takes years for the yeshuah to arrive, but salvation comes only to those who maintain their faith and optimism. Those who give up lose.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner once faced his talmidim after the sun had set on Purim, in the happy exhaustion of teshuvah mitoch simcha, and cried out, “Purim hut nisht kein Havdolah, we don’t recite Havdolah as we do after other festivals, because there is no ‘after Purim.’ Purim is meant to stay with us.”

Many times, we wish we had the guts to do what is right, but we are worried about the repercussions and concerned about what people will say and write about us. Then we read the Megillah and study what Mordechai Hatzaddik did and realize that his actions, though unpopular, in fact led to the rescue of the Jewish people.

This is not to be understood as giving blanket permission for headstrong, irresponsible behavior, but rather to convey the truth that when one acts according to halachah, he need not fear negative consequences.

Mordechai’s words, “Umi yodeia im le’eis kazos higaat lamalchus,” should ring in the ears of every Jew who is about to make a fateful decision. As one weighs the risks of taking the seemingly more ambitious or the nobler route, Mordechai’s profound words encourage him to do what is proper and resist the temptation to act expediently instead of doing what is right.

Mordechai’s words are an eternal charge inspiring us not to be daunted by the obstacles, but to pour our energies into productive projects that benefit themselves and/or our people.

There is a multi-million dollar industry in this country that revolves around motivation. People pay top dollar to hear speeches or purchase books they hope will motivate and encourage them. Most people sense they possess more potential than they utilize and are desperate to be inspired and empowered.

Megillas Esther is a motivator, with the ability to empower every Jew. Other nissim were lemaalah min hateva, while Purim was within teva. That inspires us, because when we see 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 should believe that through the natural course of human events, Hashem can save us. 

Umi yodeia…

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?

The temptation is always great to postpone doing what we know we must do. Mordechai’s message to us is not to wait and not to postpone and not to delay doing what must be done.

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 evil 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.

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 had given up all hope. They felt doomed. The lot was drawn and their fate was sealed. But Mordechai and Esther taught them the power of prayer and fasting. 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.

Rav Yaakov Galinsky once commented that in Novardok, Purim was a more uplifting day than Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, he said, was all about the past - teshuvah, charotah and azivas hacheit. Purim, on the other hand, was all about a bright future and how glorious things might yet be.

We all have our problems. Everyone has a pekel. On Purim, we are reminded that just as our ancestors were delivered from despair, so too we can be spared of our burdens.

The sun will shine again. Good will triumph over evil.

It’s Purim. Dance, smile and be happy. Look at the positive. Be optimistic.

Rav Shlomo Bloch wrote a diary of life in the Talmud Torah of Kelm. He describes Purim in the town whose name is synonymous, until this very day, with single-minded avodah. In Kelm, the talmidim took the mandate to drink alcohol on Purim very seriously, he writes, and the entire community seemed to be “a tefach higher” than usual, suspended above the ground in joy and spiritual uplift. But the moment the sky darkened over Kelm, and night fell the talmidim returned to their regular, focused selves and order ruled once again.

To a student of psychology, it might seem extraordinary. To one who appreciates the profound strength of Kelmer talmidim, it’s simple. Purim for them was not an escape from reality. For them, and for us as well, it is an injection of reality which empowers the Jewish people with the clarity and awareness to continue on. And it never ends, for there is no Havdolah.

We seize the gift of Purim and incorporate it into our daily avodah, newly charged.

Permit the spirit of Purim to overtake you. There is a splendid future for each of us. About Haman it says, “Vayeitzei bayom hahu sameiach vetov lev.” On that day, he was glad. The joy of reshoim is temporal and fleeting. We are people of tomorrow. The commandment to wage war on Amaleik is given for “machor,” tomorrow. We live with an awareness of and anticipation for a bright, brilliant tomorrow.

Ah freilichen Purim and ah freilichen tomid, inspired by the message of Purim. Velo yeivoshu lanetzach kol hachosim bo.