Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Parenting Prime

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parenting is a big industry. People are unsure how to raise their children and turn to seminars and books to find guidance. Put the word “parenting” in the title of your book and you are practically guaranteed a bestseller.

In next week’s parsha, we see Yaakov Avinu lovingly praise, exhort and admonish his sons. Successful parenting requires those responses in measured doses. In order for life skills to be properly conveyed, children must be disciplined and taught respect, responsibility, fidelity to Torah and moral principles. The question is how that is best accomplished.

In this week’s parsha, we learned of the reunification of Yaakov and Yosef after a multi-year separation that began when Yosef was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Although the brothers told Yaakov that Yosef was killed by wild animals, Yaakov hoped that somehow they would meet again. As he struggled to maintain his dignity and fidelity in a foreign land, Yosef’s ability to remember his father’s love provided him with the strength to persevere.

The posuk (Bereishis 46:29) describes their meeting. Yosef traveled to Goshen, “vayeira eilov, and he appeared to him, fell on his shoulder, and wept.” Rashi explains that when the posuk says “vayeira eilov,” it means “nireh el oviv,” that Yosef appeared to his father.

The Sifsei Chachomim elaborates that when hunger forced Yaakov and his family to travel to Mitzrayim, he went directly to Goshen, the land Yosef had selected for him to live until the hunger would pass. When Yaakov arrived there, Yosef went to visit him. Thus, it was Yosef who was going to show himself to his father.

The posuk still needs elucidation. What does the Torah want us to learn from stressing that Yosef went to show himself to his father?

Perhaps we can explain that although Yaakov was happy that his son had survived the years of separation, he might have feared that Yosef had assimilated into the Mitzri culture. There was also the chance that the great honor and power involved with being a ruler of the land had affected Yosef. Yaakov would have been correct in fearing that the angelic son he remembered and loved changed so much that he couldn’t be recognized.

Yosef respectfully traveled to Goshen to appear before Yaakov to show him that he was the same Yosef Hatzaddik his father remembered. “Beloved father, it is I, your son. The exile and years apart did not take a spiritual toll. Ani Yosef, I am the same Yosef you sent to find my brothers many years ago on the fateful day I disappeared.”

Yosef’s resolve not to disappoint his father motivated him to remain loyal to Yaakov’s teachings despite all that befell him. The knowledge that his father believed in him empowered him. He wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t betray his father’s faith in him.

Bearing this in mind creates difficulty understanding the pesukim (47:29-30) that relate that when Yaakov felt his strength ebbing and his life drawing to a close, he called Yosef to him and asked that he not be buried in Mitzrayim. Yaakov didn’t act the way you would think a loving father approaching death would when making a request from a loyal, powerful son. He didn’t tell him, “Don’t bury me in this country.” He didn’t say, “I want to be buried in Eretz Yisroel near my parents and grandparents.” He said to his most beloved son, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please give me your hand and do me a tremendous favor and don’t bury me in Mitzrayim. I [wish to] lay with my fathers. Take me from Mitzrayim and bury me [next to] where they are buried.”

Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz says that we learn from this the way a parent should deal with children. A father should not make unrealistic demands of his progeny. When parents require a favor from a child, they shouldn’t demand it, even though they have the right to. They should explain to the child what it is that they need done and why. Yaakov gently asked Yosef if he thought he would be able to honor his request, which he calmly explained.

The Torah commands children to honor their parents, and the obligation to do so is one of the underpinnings of Yiddishkeit. But no one, not even a child, should be taken advantage of. We should treat children the way we want to be treated, considerate of their needs and feelings.

At the end of their meeting, Yaakov bowed to his son, displaying respect for his royalty. Rashi quotes the Gemara (Megillah 15b) which states, “Taala be’idnei sagid leih - When a fox rules, bow to him” (Bereishis 47:31). He also comments that Yaakov was thankful that Yosef remained righteous, despite what had transpired.

As a father, Yaakov endeavored to see the good in his child. He didn’t question whether it was proper for a father to bow to a son, but paid the customary honor to Yosef’s position.

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 doctrinaire elders who possess a need to dominate and control.

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 hocheiach tochiach, rebuking those who act improperly. (See a similar quote in sefer Keser Rosh, 143.)

Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman once spoke at a parenting conference in Eretz Yisroel. He related that it is said that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik only hit his son, Rav Yitzchok Zev, once during his childhood.

Rav Aharon Leib explained that smacking children does not accomplish much, but if the parents are suffused with yiras Shomayim, it is easier for them to influence their children. This is similar to the parable of the Dubno Maggid that an overflowing cup waters its surroundings and helps it grow. He added that children who are influenced in that way have greater respect for their parents. The more parents work on themselves to be better people, the more influence they will have upon their children and the more the children will respect them.

Your children will not improve because you become angry with them and hit or berate them when they do something wrong. They will be better when they feel love flowing from your heart and soul.

A different time, Rav Aharon Leib stated that the Dubno Maggid asked the Vilna Gaon how it is possible to influence others. The Gaon responded with a parable. If a person has a large glass surrounded by small glasses, as long as the large glass has not been filled, the smaller glasses won’t be filled by it. So too, he said, if a person wants to influence others, he must be full. If he is filled with Torah and middos tovos, he can influence others. However, if he himself is not full, then he is like the large glass, which cannot fill the other glasses as long as it itself is not full.

Rav Aharon Leib added that in our generation, too, if we want people to follow the path of Torah, we have to be able to reach out to them. If we work on ourselves to be filled with Torah and derech eretz, then we can be mashpia on others. This has been the way of Klal Yisroel throughout the generations. Ever since the time of Avrohom Avinu, Jews knew that to impact others, we need to fill ourselves with Torah, seichel, and derech eretz.

We recite in Eil Adon every Shabbos concerning the “meoros,” “melei’im ziv umefikim nogah, full of splendor, they radiate brightness.” Rav Yeruchom Levovitz explained, when they are full of splendor, then they are able to radiate brightness.

The greatest gedolim serve as the conscience of their generations. They see as their main responsibility as being the ones to motivate their students and followers to grow in Torah, avodah and middos tovos. They demand excellence and dedication to the goal, yet they are loving and realistic, helping their students climb the ladder to greatness one rung at a time. And they radiate brightness and holiness.

Last week, we lost Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, a man who epitomized being filled with the wisdom of Torah and gedolei Torah, coupled with seichel and derech eretz. He grew up in the shadow of greatness, living on the same block as the Brisker Rov and Rav Simcha Zelig Riger, the famed Brisker dayan. All his life, he was in the company of great men and close to such giants as the Chazon Ish. He used every available minute to grow in Torah, yiras Shomayim, and middos tovos. After a lifetime engaged in those pursuits, following the passing of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, Klal Yisroel turned their lonely eyes to him for leadership and guidance.

Rav Shteinman recounted that during his short stay at the Kletzk Yeshiva, he encountered Rav Shach. “At the time, he was around thirty years old,” remembered Rav Shteinman. “He would say chaburos at the side of the bais medrash and was always surrounded by many bochurim. His middos tovos and kindheartedness were apparent, and the bochurim would discuss that among themselves with great appreciation.”

No doubt that contributed to Rav Shach’s ability to reach and impact so many thousands of bnei Torah, talmidim and others throughout his life.

A prominent mashgiach was visiting Rav Shach when the elderly rosh yeshiva’s young grandson entered the room. Rav Shach offered the boy a candy, asking him which color he preferred. The boy considered the options carefully and happily chose the red one.

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. Eisov 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 felt too exalted to look down and see the struggles of a child.

When Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler moved to Eretz Yisroel to assume the position of mashgiach at Ponovezh Yeshiva, he sought to reprove through giving chizuk.

Talmidim who visited him the first Chol Hamoed he was there were amazed by the reception they received. “What an honor that you came,” Rav Dessler said to his teenage visitors. “I have special wine that I only take out for important guests.”

He made them feel important, and they returned the favor, raising themselves to be worthy of his respect and doing their best not to disappoint him.

Once, talmidim behaved in a way that required rebuke. The owner of a nearby makolet complained to Rav Dessler that bochurim were not paying their bills, causing him not to have sufficient cash flow to keep his small grocery going. Rav Dessler delivered a shmuess, discussing the severity of selfishness and the importance of behaving with honesty and integrity. He didn’t mention anything about the bills at the makolet. He didn’t have to. He had let everyone know what was expected of them and they modified their behavior accordingly.

A teenage talmid had questions on emunah and his rebbi feared that he was becoming at-risk. On Purim, he brought the boy to Rav Shach, asking the rosh yeshiva if he could answer the boy’s questions. Rav Shach told the boy that there were many people coming and going, and it wasn’t a good time to engage in discussion. “Why don’t you come back over the Pesach bein hazemanim? Then we’ll have time and the ability to discuss your questions.”

When the boy returned to yeshiva after bein hazemanim, his rebbi asked him if he had gone to Rav Shach to pose his questions. “No, I didn’t,” he answered. “When we were there on Purim, through his conversation with me, he found out where I live. He came to my house twice. I couldn’t believe it. He said that we made up to meet, so he came to me because I hadn’t come to him.”

“Did he answer your questions?” the rebbi asked.

“He didn’t have to. I never asked them. The fact that he troubled himself to travel to me in Tel Aviv changed everything for me.”

This boy’s life was turned around when he saw that Rav Shach believed in him, cared about him, and was worried about the direction in which he was headed.

This is the lesson that Yaakov Avinu taught when he bowed to his son. He recognized the long journey that Yosef had taken through the moral depravity of Mitzrayim, emerging pure. Hu Yosef she’omeid betzidko.

Yaakov was inspiring us to view children with appreciation for dealing with their challenges and for their accomplishments.

It is difficult to be a young person. Youngsters have long, hard schedules, days that start early and end late. They are surrounded by multiple nisyonos, often with challenges that overwhelm adults, yet much is expected of them.

Most people have an innate desire to do well, grow, prosper and be successful in what they are doing today and in life in general. As we arm them with the tools they need to make it in these trying times, we have to let them know that we believe they have what it takes to make it.

Since the time of Adam and Chava, temptations have been ever-present. Subsequent to their failing, life has been rough. To succeed at anything, we have to work hard and endeavor to enable the yeitzer tov to overpower the yeitzer hora. We have to be seriously motivated in order to overcome life’s tribulations. As we grow and mature, we are expected to derive that strength on our own from studying Torah and mussar, and through our avodah and tefillah. But the younger people among us, who are the future of our nation, need the older ones to pave the way for them, lovingly demonstrating and teaching how it is done in order for them to be motivated.

Chinuch is all about transmitting our heritage to the next generation in a way they can understand and appreciate. We begin when they are in their youth by lovingly explaining the mitzvos and setting a fine example for them to follow.

When Yaakov became ill, Yosef brought his two sons who were born in golus Mitzrayim to their grandfather for a final brocha. Yaakov opened the conversation by telling Yosef that he knew he was upset with him for not burying his mother in the Meoras Hamachpeilah (See Rashi Bereishis 48, 7). He explained with great reverence for Yosef that he had done so “al pi hadibbur,” in accordance with Hashem’s will. He then upset Yosef by blessing the younger Efraim before Menashe. Not always does a parent accede to the wishes of the child. Not always does the child get his way.

Recognizing the accomplishment of successfully raising children in golus, Yaakov blessed Yosef that from that day onward, every time a father would bless his sons, he would say, “Yesimcha Elokim ke’Efraim vecheMenashe - May you grow as the two sons of Yosef, who persevered despite the many challenges, becoming as great as the shevotim who grew up in Yaakov’s home.”

May we merit, with Hashem’s help, as Yaakov did, children and grandchildren who make us proud.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Remembering Rav Aharon Leib zt”l

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It is difficult to encapsulate the life of an adam gadol in a few words. He was exceedingly weak for the last few months of his life, yet Klal Yisroel davened that he be given strength and the tefillos were answered. Every time he recuperated from illness, legions of people rejoiced. Born 104 years ago in the city of Brisk, a century of Torah and gadlus came to end on Erev Chanukah.

Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman was a throwback to a bygone world. He derived no enjoyment from olam hazeh. His life was Torah. His being was Torah. He lived a simple life in a simple apartment. All he did all day was learn Torah, perform mitzvos and help people. What negius can a person like that have? It is no wonder that he had siyata diShmaya.

The gentle man who had lived his life far from the headlines was propelled into a leadership position after Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach felt that he was unable to continue carrying the burdens of Klal Yisroel.

Rav Aharon Leib sought no earthly pleasures for himself. He ate the most meager portions of food and sat on chairs without backs. He was a man who literally spent all his time learning Torah and providing guidance for his followers.

During his American trip, he undertook such strenuous travel for someone his age, and people were trying to figure out his agenda.

His agenda was to strengthen Torah. His agenda was to support people who are learning Torah. His agenda was to support people who lead a Torah lifestyle.

People were unused to such purity of intention. They looked at him like they were observing a malach.

Just by beholding him, they got chizuk. Just by hearing him speak, they were inspired. And those who had the privilege to speak to him for a few minutes walked away with even greater chizuk.

It was inspiring to be in the company a person and realizing that at his age, he left his home for a two-week trip to strange cities solely to be mechazeik fellow Jews. How uplifting it was to stand before a man who was an exalted eved Hashem.

When observed in the midst of the hubbub surrounding him, and considering the fact that he was oblivious to the spotlight, it was obvious that he was an exceedingly modest person. He taught us all that it really is possible to sit in your corner and learn Torah all day, and to live a life without luxuries and be content.

My grandfather, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l, was a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim zt”l. There is some dispute over what the Chofetz Chaim looked like and if he indeed bore any resemblance to the popular, widely distributed picture of him. I once asked my grandfather what his rebbi looked like - meaning, did he look like the picture? It was many years ago. I was very young, my language skills were poor, and my zaide didn’t understand that I was asking about that picture. It didn’t matter, because his answer taught a great lesson nonetheless.

I still remember his grandfatherly words as he gently held my hand, patted my cheek, and said, “Az men hut nit gevust hut ehr oisgezen vi ah poshuter Yid un men hut gornit gekent zen, uber az men hut gevust, hut men gekent zen alles. If you didn’t know who he was, he looked to you like a simple Jew, but if you knew who he was, then you were able to see that every action he did was special.”

Those words rang in my ears as I observed Rav Aharon Leib prior to the Shabbos he spent in Monsey. I was allowed into the small guest house where he was staying to ask him some shailos. I walked in behind him, and as he passed the small kitchen, I noticed that he stopped to look at the six small Israeli lachmaniyot (bread rolls) on the kitchen table. He turned to his attendant and asked what they were for. The answer was that they were for “lechem mishnah heint bei nacht.”

The aged rosh yeshiva, who had thousands buzzing about him wherever he turned in this country, turned to the attendant and asked, “Uber vos darft men azoi fil? Why do we need so many?” The attendant answered that they were there in case others would join them for the meal.

They moved into the next room, where another man approached the rosh yeshiva to ask about something that baffled him.

When Rav Aharon Leib was visiting the Skverer Rebbe, a bowl of fruit was set before him on the rebbe’s table, and as is customary, the rosh yeshiva was asked to make a brocha. He made a ha’eitz and, to the surprise of those observing him, ate only half of a grape. “What’s the reason for this?” they asked him.

Rav Aharon Leib answered that a grape is a beryah, and eating a whole grape presents a problem regarding a brocha acharona. So he only ate half of the grape.

The conversations were simple and straightforward, not meant to impress anyone. They were beautiful in their simplicity. He was really wondering why they needed so many lachmaniyot. He had a bowlful of mouth-watering fruit set in front of him and all he ate was half a grape.

“Az men hut nit gevust hut ehr oisgezen vi ah poshuter Yid un men hut gornit gekent zen, uber az men hut gevust, hut men gekent zen alles.”

And I thought to myself: Why did he come? And suddenly, I understood. He came to show us that it is possible to lead a life of pashtus, of prishus, of kedusha, and of shalom. He demonstrates the power of these values to command the respect and allegiance of tens of thousands of Jews.

The person for whom thousands had lined the streets to welcome him here was wondering why he needed six lachmaniyot. A person who had no desire to eat more than half a grape had so much to teach us without even saying a word.

He traveled to America and other countries for the same reason the Chofetz Chaim wrote that were he able to do so, he would fly any distance in order to save Jewish children. He came because people visited him in his humble apartment in a nondescript building in Bnei Brak with an important message. As they walked in, he was seated on a stool at his old table, poring over piles of seforim in a room that hadn’t been painted since he moved there decades prior. His visitors told him that he could be mechazeik the Jews of America.

He came here because he took the words of the Chofetz Chaim literally. He came because he believed the petitioners who felt that we can all benefit from being in the daled amos of an adam gadol who has as little benefit from this world as is humanly possible.

And he came because he cared about us. If the Ribono Shel Olam kept him alive for 91 years and gave him the required strength, he told someone, he felt that he had an obligation to reach out and strengthen the Ribono Shel Olam’s children. He came because just as he constantly prodded others to accomplish more, he pushed himself to do more.

The following incident shines a light on the nobility of the leader Klal Yisroel has lost.

The Rechovot branch of Lev L’Achim under the leadership of Rav Zvi Schwartz had grown to encompass a plethora of programs. The central location, where shiurim and learning take place at all hours of the day and night, was so crowded that people had to reserve seats in the bais medrash.

The Rechovot municipality, in recognition of Rav Schwartz’s devotion to the people of the city, granted him a plot of land for a community center for L’ev L’Achim. Construction of the building’s frame cost close to $500,000, at least half of which was donated by local baalei teshuvah in gratitude to Rav Schwartz.

However, the Shinui party, in a joint effort with the Reform movement, filed a suit in the Supreme Court challenging Rechovot’s right to allocate the land. The court, despite having no jurisdiction in municipal matters, overturned the decision and halted construction.

Furious at the Supreme Court’s interference, the lawyer for the Rechovot municipality came up with a plan to counteract it. The plan was for Rav Schwartz to sue the city for breaking its commitment to him and causing him a financial loss. The city would “lose” the case and then have to reimburse him. Lacking the funds to meet its obligations, the municipality would resort to a legalism whereby land is used to pay a debt when the municipality lacks the funds. Thus, the municipality would turn over to Rav Schwartz the land originally intended for the Lev L’Achim center and construction could go forward.

The brilliance of the plan pleased the city officials, who were intent on allowing Lev L’Achim to resume construction. But the plan had a hitch. Rav Schwartz doesn’t just blindly follow the law. He answers to a higher authority. Much to the consternation of the Rechovot City Board, Rav Aharon Leib ruled against their plan of action for fear that it would result in a chillul Hashem. He said that the Left would showcase the shpiel as an example of religious subterfuge.

“Even if it will delay construction, we had best pursue a different route,” Rav Aharon Leib told him.

Such was his dedication to the truth and his concern for the repercussions of any action. Rav Schwartz desperately needed a building, but it would have to wait until it could be built properly without any hint of scandal, sheker, or chillul Hashem.

A prominent rov was speaking to Rav Aharon Leib, when the coordinator of a large gemach entered the small room. The rov, wishing to encourage the askan, introduced him to Rav Aharon Leib. “The rosh yeshiva should know that this man is a tzaddik. He lends a lot of money to many talmidei chachomim.”

Rav Aharon Leib reacted immediately. “I hope you don’t have any money from him on loan,” he said, “because, in that case, the compliment you just gave him is a form of ribbis devorim.”

The rov marveled at Rav Aharon Leib’s response, repeating it again and again. “I am an active dayan,” he said, “experienced in financial dinei Torah, but I wasn’t sharp enough to sense that my comment could be a violation of halacha. Yet, the aged tzaddik, who is attuned to perfect din, felt it right away.”

When people followed the instructions of someone like Rav Aharon Leib, they were not merely agreeing with his ideas. They were expressing something much deeper. They were acknowledging that his instincts, thought processes, and reactions were rooted in Torah. They knew that his mind was attuned to the Torah’s will, and therefore his vision was refined enough to see beyond what the average person saw.

Being blessed with leaders of this stature is the reason our nation is still here after so many challenge-filled centuries of exile.

I once traveled to Eretz Yisroel for the Yom Tov of Shavuos and went to the Kosel Friday morning, Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the day after I arrived. Still jet-lagged but eager to daven at the Kosel, from where the Shechinah has never departed since the time of the Botei Mikdosh, I awoke early and headed there for Shacharis kevosikin.

Thousands of people were present at the Kosel that morning. Hundreds had come to daven, but many more had arrived to fulfill the wishes of Rav Aharon Leib and Rav Ovadiah Yosef.

An antagonistic, provocative group of women had just received a long-awaited favorable ruling from a district court. The court ruled that for women to form a minyan and pray with tallis and tefillin at the Kosel is a legitimate expression of their customs and is neither a provocation nor a departure from the “minhag hamakom.”

The women hold their prayer meetings at the Kosel every Rosh Chodesh. Until the ruling, the meetings were illegal and police arrested participants, leading them away amidst minimal fanfare. That Rosh Chodesh Sivan was the first time the provocations went on with the imprimatur of the state. That time, the women would be protected, while the offended traditionalists expressing their consternation over the defilement of Judaism’s holiest site would be the targets of police wrath.

Rav Aharon Leib and Rav Yosef urged high school and seminary girls to be at the Kosel by 6:30 a.m., when the Women of the Wall, as they call themselves, were scheduled to hold their mock-service. The high school and seminary girls were to peacefully demonstrate by their dignified presence that the overwhelming majority of people who frequent the Kosel and respect its minhagim are opposed to the attention-seeking feminists.

Present that morning at the Kosel were not only teenage girls, but women and men of all ages. As the appointed time arrived, boys at the Kosel began singing to drown out any superfluous sounds sure to be raised. Their gambit didn’t last long, as the media and police began arriving in droves, seemingly anxious to provoke a spectacle they could use to mock the traditionalists. By and large, they failed.

The sights and sounds that morning left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they demonstrated the growth and power of the frum community - the number of people who treasure kedushas haMikdosh enough to arise before dawn to daven at that location and the number of young people prepared to forgo sleep to follow the call of gedolim. It was a beautiful sight to see so many people davening at the Kosel. At the same time, the presence of those poor, misguided souls was a depiction of the kulturkampf in that country.

Such was the concern and foresight of Rav Aharon Leib to all matters confronting Klal Yisroel, and such was the reverence of Am Yisroel for him. His every word was followed.

Rav Aharon Leib would recount that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik asked children riddles to sharpen their minds. He would tell them of a blind man who would raise one finger to signal that he wanted to eat. When he wanted to drink, he would raise two fingers. The great Rav Chaim would then ask the children what the blind man did when he wanted to eat and drink. The children – and most adults – wouldn’t realize that he said the man was blind. He didn’t say that he was dumb and unable to speak, so when he wanted to eat and drink, he would simply say so.

That was the aura in which Rav Aharon Leib was raised. From childhood on, he was always seeking to grow and become more proficient in Torah through properly learning and concentrating.

Some yungeleit went to speak to Rav Aharon Leib. A member of their kollel was niftar, lo aleinu, and they wanted to be mekabel something in his memory. They had various ideas, but wanted the rosh yeshiva to suggest an appropriate kabbolah.

Rav Aharon Leib listened to their proposals. Then he spoke. “Those are all very nice ideas, but I think you should try something else. You live in a relatively new neighborhood, where people continuously move in and new buildings are constantly rising. I think that everyone in the kehillah should sign a letter being mekabel that no matter what, they will avoid neighborly disputes.

“Your upstairs neighbor might be doing construction and it will be very noisy for a few months. Your neighbor down the hall might close in his porch and obstruct your view. Instead of fighting, step back and contemplate the brocha that led to that construction. Think of a growing family that needs more room, or more space for an overworked mother, bringing menuchas hanefesh to another family. That kabbolah will be an eternal source of merit to your friend’s neshomah.”

Always thinking about other people, that was Rav Aharon Leib. His lessons should guide us for many years to come.

Rav Aharon Leib was once asked to give a mussar talk to a gathering of Bais Yaakov teachers.

“Me?” he reacted with surprise. “I should speak to them? I should give them mussar? These are women who are up late at night preparing their classes, then tending to their children early in the morning. When they finally dress and give their children breakfast and get them off to school, they hurry off to teach. Six hours later, after a long morning of teaching, answering, speaking and inspiring Yiddishe techter to Torah and yiras Shomayim, they rush home, where ‘di pitzkalech varten, the children eagerly wait for them. If they want to rest, the children don’t permit them to. Yes, they deserve chizuk, but I certainly can’t give them mussar.”

Such was his tremendous humility.

During the 2006 war, when a yeshiva in Haifa was unsure of whether to relocate as the city came under attack, they turned to Rav Aharon Leib for guidance. He responded by writing them a letter assuring them that anyone who stays in the yeshiva and learns will not be harmed, even as rockets continued falling in Haifa.

What an inspiring example of leadership in a time of crisis. He had the courage to give advice and the certainty that future events would confirm the wisdom of that guidance.

During the Gaza War, Lev L’Achim waged its own battle. Schools in the line of fire in the country’s southern region were closed, as the rocket-fire was fierce. Several intrepid Ashdod yungeleit traveled to Ashkelon and set up shop in a basement bomb shelter. They dispensed warmth, pizza and Torah. Local teenagers were so bored that they came and were intrigued. When the war ended and normal life resumed, the kids were still interested, so the yungeleit continued coming, creating a small afternoon bais medrash in Ashkelon.

Slowly, they had some real talmidim, and finally they finished a masechta with the secular teenagers. On Chanukah, the talmidim, accompanied by their Lev L’Achim rabbeim, went to celebrate the siyum at the home of Rav Aharon Leib. The aged gadol was very moved by the sight of the teenagers in his home, proclaiming, “Hadran aloch,” to the first masechta they had learned.

As the siyum ended, one of the boys asked Rav Aharon Leib for a brocha. He asked that the resistance of his parents to his Torah study weaken. “In fact,” he told the rosh yeshiva, “if they knew where I was now, they would be furious. I told them that I was going to play soccer.”

Rav Aharon Leib said to the boy, “You have answered a question of mine. Why, in Al Hanissim, do we thank Hashem for the milchamos? War is a necessary evil, as people get killed and hurt, and lives are destroyed. Why do we thank Hashem for the war, when, in fact, we should just be thanking Him for the nissim and niflaos?

“But now, I have a new understanding. It is for milchamos such as yours - the wars waged by those determined teenagers - that we thank Hashem!”

He cared for Klal Yisroel and loved Jews and Torah so much that he was joyous at such an occasion and learned a vital lesson from it.

Many of the nisyonos that we face in our daily lives challenge us in the way we treat fellow Jews. Do we look down at other people or do we put ourselves in their shoes and respond compassionately? People who have power over others should consider how truly great individuals would respond to the nisyonos that they are facing. To carry forth our example, what would Rav Aharon Leib say if he were running a school and a person with a slightly different background applied for admittance?

The answer to that question is not a mystery. Several menahelim posed the question to him during one of his visits to America. He responded that had Avrohom Avinu come to register in their schools, he would not have been accepted. Despite the promise he radiated, they would have rejected him based on his father’s ineligibility to be a parent in their school.

The director of a cheder in Beit Shemesh approached Rav Aharon Leib with a question. A current parent in the cheder remarried and wanted to enroll the children of his new wife in the school. The school rejected the new applicants because the hanhallah feared that they didn’t completely meet the mosad’s criteria. When the father refused to back down from his insistence that the children be accepted, Rav Aharon Leib was approached by the school’s principal for guidance in dealing with this stubborn individual, who refused to accept the school’s decision.  

Rav Aharon Leib was incredulous. He responded that it is gaavah to insist that you are better than the other person. To reject a child from a cheder for specious reasons is not a sign of greatness, but a sign of gaavah.

What a powerful message and what an important lesson.

Speaking at a kinnus to mark the completion of shivah for Rav Elazar Abuchatzeira who was killed by an intruder, Rav Aharon Leib remarked that a Jew who is desensitized to bein adam lachaveiro is capable of even bloodshed, Rachama litzlan. The rosh yeshiva traveled to Be’er Sheva to share this message. The second five dibros are bound with the first five, he said. Bein adam lachaveiro is as fundamental as bein adam laMakom.

“We are in the last generations before Moshiach's arrival,” said Rav Aharon Leib, “and we need to be extra careful with the honor of our friends. It's forbidden to humiliate another person. We have to be careful to protect the kavod of each otherto pay attention to this issue of bein adam lachaveiro so that such incidents shouldn't reoccur.”

May we be zoche to go in his ways, to try to emulate him, to abhor evil and machlokes, and to avoid kavod and ta’avos olam hazeh, as he did. May we merit to learn more, to be marbeh kevod Shomayim, and to do good without ulterior motives.

May the memory of Rav Aharon Leib remain with us. May his humble gaze inspire us. May his soft words punctuate our actions. And may his plea for greatness in Torah and emunah inspire us as we prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu, bimeheirah biyomeinu.


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It was with a certain sense of foreboding that I left my house for the airport last Tuesday night.

President Trump had announced that he was going to fulfill his campaign promise and recognize Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel on Wednesday. The Arab world was screaming bloody murder and Western Europe was cheering them on.

It does happen to be ludicrous that a Jewish country can’t do what every other country in the world does and decide where its capital is.

The seat of government is there, the parliament is there, the city has been the capital of the Jewish nation forever, yet the free world and the not-so-free world refuse to recognize an obvious fact. They are concerned about “peace” and the rights of a fictitious nomadic people relatively new to the area. They also don’t have any particular love for the Jewish people.

Along comes a straight-shooting president and calls a spade and a spade, a capital a capital, and the world threatens him and Israel.

Arabs and Palestinians promise a new intifada and the end of the peace process.

The intifada begins Wednesday, they announce. Little me lands in Israel on Wednesday. I wouldn’t think of cancelling the trip, but I was more apprehensive about it than usual.

I have faith in the Shomer Yisroel and know that everything that transpires in the world is caused by Him and no other, so I am in good hands and off I go.

The plane was packed with all types of Jews heading to the land of their forefathers, as if there is no world, no self-righteous indignant heads of state, and no bloodthirsty Arabs aiming for them.

Others can debate the finer points of Trump’s declaration, but to me it shows a leader who takes his position seriously, keeps his word, and is a genuine friend of the Jewish people. He is a straight talker and a straight shooter, and he sees things the way they are, not as a duplicitous politician, but as a person of considerable accomplishment.

No, I wasn’t invited to the White House Chanukah party, but facts are stubborn things, and it behooves us to acknowledge them and appreciate the historical significance of what happened.

We can quibble among ourselves whether the declaration is worth the risk of loss of Jewish life and other fine points, but as far as the president is concerned, he deserves our appreciation for being a friend of Israel and the Jewish people.

I sat awake a whole night on the plane, who can sleep when traveling to the land our grandparents dreamed of and wished they could see.

The trip was amazing and my goals were accomplished.

From the airport, I went to Rav Chaim Kanievsky and enjoyed an invigorating discussion. He also gave me several meaningful brachos and I left there with an extra bounce in my step. How blessed we are to have such a person living among us.

The Shuvu mission was in Bnei Brak, and I joined them for a short while before heading to Beit Shemesh and then Yerushalayim.

On the way, Mr. Trump’s speech played on the radio. There was a measure of comfort in hearing the US president acknowledging the truth about Yerushalayim, while the nations of the world refuse to recognize the simple fact that Yerushalayim has been at the center of Jewish life for thousands of years.

Long before anyone dreamed up the idea of a Palestinian people, and long before the Muslim religion was invented, there was Har Hamoriah at the center of everything.

It took guts to do what Trump did in a world of lies and threats. He stood up to them and provided a lesson for us. When we are right, even if threatened and mocked, we should ignore the scoffers and, having carefully assessed the dangers, move ahead and carry on with the truth on our side.

I comfort those of you who worry that I have become a partisan secular Zionist. Your fear is misplaced. I am simply acknowledging a historic fact, without delving into hashkafic or philosophic connotations.

It is said that when the Chazon Ish saw a beautiful flower, he quickly turned away. He would say that if he concentrated on its beauty much longer, he would faint from overwhelming emotion. He would be reminded that Hashem created a beautiful world for us, and the intricate beauty of a colorful flower was created to cause us joy. The Chazon Ish would be overwhelmed when he would contemplate all that Hashem does for us.

On Thursday, I headed for Naharia, with a stop in Zichron Yaakov. Walking through the breathtakingly gorgeous Ramat Hanadiv botanical park there, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of creation.

While far from being as sensitive and holy as the Chazon Ish, when visiting the park it is easy to be reminded of Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s manifold chassodim.

We continued on to Naharia for an audience with Rav Dovid Abuchatzeira, whose warmth and concern for other Jews is as overwhelming as his abilities to help people in need. Visiting him is always a chizuk and this time was no different.

The trip back to Yerushalayim was uneventful, and we headed straight for the Kosel. It was disheartening to go through the “bitachon gate,” and noticing that the area was basically empty but for a few intrepid souls. People were scared off by fears that Arabs would cause trouble in the Old City and had stayed home. Had I been paying attention to the news, perhaps I wouldn’t have been there either.

In fact, there was no reason to fear. The Arab threats did not materialize and the area was calm as could be. Those of us who were there had a view of the Kosel rarely seen, as the Arabs turned off the lights of their mosque on the Har Habayis to protest the president’s remarks. It was nice to come to the Kosel and, for once, not have to view the symbol of their tumah.

As time went on, people began coming. Rav Yaakov Ades arrived and began putting together a minyan for Maariv. While the quiet there was upsetting, it had a side benefit of allowing for easier concentration on tefillos at the makom haMikdosh from where the Shechinah never departed.

After a walk through Geulah and the purchase of food, it was time for some sleep. Friday, it was back to the Geulah/Meah Shearim area. I love to be there when chadorim empty out and I get to see the charming children of Yerushalayim running through the streets with their peyos flying and parsha sheets flapping. The sight is almost as beautiful as the flowers that caused the Chazon Ish to be overcome. These children represent the past and the future of Yiddishkeit, and embody the charm of the Jewish people.

Traffic in Yerushalayim was minimal, as people from other parts of the country who normally come to the city were scared away by a media seeking to report on protests and attacks as the Shomer Yisroel protected His people.

We let a taxi driver convince us to go to Kever Rochel for Mincha. He said that the roads were safe, and that with the reduced traffic, we’d be there in ten minutes. The kever was guarded by a dozen soldiers, as Arabs in Bais Lechem took to the streets to throw stones and burn garbage and tires. As we arrived, we heard gunshots and saw clouds of smoke right past the kever. There were many policemen and soldiers, who told us that they had shot rubber bullets and tear gas to keep marauders away from the Kever Rochel area.

It was special to daven Mincha and say Tehillim under such conditions at the location where Mama Rochel cries for her children.

There is nothing in the world like a Shabbos in Yerushalayim. I am thankful that Hashem allowed me to have that experience once again.

It was gratifying to spend over an hour with Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva. A rebbi to many and author of classic seforim, his warm welcome and humility match his brilliance in all areas of Torah. We discussed personal and communal issues, as well as topics pertaining to Chanukah. Being with him was heartwarming, inspirational and invigorating.

And then, before I knew it, I was back in Monsey, trying to eternalize the lessons learned.

I am reminded that the Chofetz Chaim said that before Moshiach’s arrival, chizuk and encouragement for Torah would decline. He said that there would be a few resolute individuals who would fight lonely battles.

He foretold that while they might be few, they would be proud and effective.

Every individual has the ability to grasp an ideal and stand tall in its defense. We all have a singular mission in life, and if we are true to our core, we can summon the strength to realize it. We must never lose sight of what our ultimate goal is, despite all the noise and static seeking to steal our attention. Challenges confront us, but we possess the ability to surmount them.

It is as true today as it was thousands of years ago, when the Chashmonaim confronted the masses to fight with dignity and pride in defense of Torah and mesorah.

On Chanukah, we celebrate the Chashmonaim and their mesirus nefesh for kedusha. The light source of the nation was blocked, and they rose to throw off the forces of darkness. They were the me’atim, the tzaddikim, the tehorim, the people who performed Hashem’s service in the Bais Hamikdosh and in the bais medrash.

The miracle of Chanukah that we celebrate is primarily that of the tiny flask that burned longer than was thought to be physically possible. The menorah’s lights signify that the power of light overcame the power of darkness. The oil lasting longer than one day signifies that if you expend the effort and work bemesirus nefesh, physical rules will not apply.

We see wrongs in our world and are told that there is nothing we can do about it. We try to right the wrongs and are mocked. Yet, in fact, if you look around, there are so many people who overcame odds, building Torah where no one thought it was possible, restoring lives others had given up on, and fighting abuse that people thought was part of life. We see teachers touching souls and impacting them forever. We see righteous men and women not taking no for an answer, standing up to an apathetic society, and awakening people’s consciences. We see people rallying to fight for those who have been wronged.

A delegation once traveled to St. Petersburg to meet with the Russian minister of education in an attempt to convince him to revoke a decree that would have terribly impacted yeshivos. Upon arrival in the Russian capital city, the participants met with the local rov, Rav Yitzchok Blazer, to discuss tactics they would employ to underscore the importance of Torah to the minister. Someone suggested translating the words of the tefillah of Ahavah Rabbah for the minister, to demonstrate the depth of love for Torah. Rav Blazer replied, “If we would translate those words for ourselves, we wouldn’t need to do so for them.”

We daven three times every day, but we don’t necessarily take the words to heart. We learn the story and halachos of Chanukah, but we have to recognize their relevance to us and our daily lives. The inspiration is there for those who seek it.

If each of us would internalize the lesson of the Chashmonaim, we could free ourselves from much oppression.

It is because of such people that we can learn and daven. It is because of the mesirus nefesh of people who went forth into an eretz lo zorua that Torah and Yiddishkeit are stronger than ever. It is because of their dedication that we can publicly light the menorah with pride, without fear of our neighbors.

There are ten middos of hanhogah in this world. These fundamental metrics of energy drive the universe.

The Arizal discusses the idea that each of the middos corresponds to a different Yom Tov. The middah of hod, he reveals, relates to Chanukah. Hod relates to the middah that defines the ability of the Jew to allow the Divine light to shine through him, submitting to a higher calling. His own essence is but a vehicle to bring honor to his Maker.

The middah of hod, Divine splendor, is mirrored in man’s ability to allow his personal splendor, referred to as his penimiyus, to shine through. Those who are thankful of Hashem’s gifts and act according to His wishes, practice hoda’ah and are capable of allowing the middah of hod to reflect through their being.

Hod is the middah of Chanukah, a Yom Tov of hallel vehoda’ah, when we ponder and appreciate the myriad chassodim of the Ribbono Shel Olam as we contemplate the lights of the menorah.

Let us all appreciate the gifts we have and let us seek to let the middah of hod shine through us, brightening the world with the light of Torah and splendor of those who follow its ways. The world will be a better place and that much closer to redemption with the coming of Moshiach. May it be soon.

Ah freilichen Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Focus on Success

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha of Vayeishev, we read of the travails of Yosef, Yaakov’s favorite son, the one whose life most closely followed the pattern of Yaakov’s. Hounded by brothers who wanted to kill him, forced to run away, held against their will, Yaakov by Lovon and Yosef in captivity, the list of comparisons is quite long.

Yaakov’s dedication to his mission of raising twelve shevotim empowered him to persevere despite his many travails. From the day he left the home of his parents, he remained focused on his goal of perpetuating the mesorah he had been handed by his father, Yitzchok, and his grandfather, Avrohom.

The posuk (Bereishis 37:9-11) states that Yosef told his father and brothers of his dream in which the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed to him. Yaakov scolded him for seeming to foretell that they would bow to him. The brothers were furious at Yosef, but Yaakov “shomar es hadovor,” waited to see when the dream would be realized.

The brothers despised Yosef and let their bias affect their thinking. They scoffed at the dream and mocked Yosef for repeating it. Yaakov, displaying his middah of constant focus on his goal and mission, “shomar es hadovor,” paid attention to the dream and anticipated watching it play out.

As we go through life, there are many ups and downs. There are things that go our way and things that don’t. There are friends who stand by us and some who hinder us. There are health issues that crop up and challenges of a financial nature. Small people become deterred and thrown off course, while great people never permit anything to disturb their concentration and focus.

Listen to people who have accomplished things in life and you will hear tales of dreamers who wouldn’t let naysayers talk ‘sense’ into them. Listen to people who have accomplished much and you will hear how they responded to their “hair will grow on my palm before that happens” moment. War, hunger and pestilence could not take their eyes off the prize that awaited them for continuing to pursue their goal. And nothing should deter us from realizing ours.

Yaakov saw in Yosef the attributes that would make him the one who would carry on the mesorah. The posuk (37:3) explains Yaakov’s affection for Yosef: “ki ven zekunim hu lo.” Onkelos says that it means that Yaakov saw intelligence in his son. The Ramban explains that Yaakov taught him everything he learned at the feet of Sheim and Eiver. By the time Yosef was sold into captivity, he was versed in all of Torah, with wisdom way beyond his years.

This, says the Alter of Kelm, is what is meant by “v’oviv shomar es hadovor.” Yaakov waited to see how his plan for Yosef to transmit his Torah to future generations would play out.

The brothers were selling a young boy to a traveling tribe, thinking that they would be done with him. Yaakov, however, though he accepted the tale that Yosef had been killed, watched to see how his plan for the future would unfold.

In fact, as Yosef was repeatedly tested in Mitzrayim, he withstood every temptation and remained loyal to his mission as the “ben zekunim,” because the image of his father appeared before him (Sotah 36b, quoted by Rashi 39:10).

While commonly understood as meaning that he was reminded of his father, perhaps we can explain that he was reminded of his mission to perpetuate the teachings of his father. He remained focused on what his mission in life was, and therefore wasn’t thrown off track by what came his way.

The parsha, in discussing the saga of Yosef, relates how he was sold into Egyptian slavery. The posuk (39:2) then tells us that Yosef was a very successful person: “Vayehi ish matzliach.” If you were asked to describe a young man hated by his siblings who attempted to kill him and sold him to a group of vagabonds who sold him as a slave, would you call him a success?

To all outward appearances, Yosef was anything but a success. He was a lonely slave in a strange land with no home. Why does the Torah describe him as an “ish matzliach”?

I was discussing this with my dear friend, Shalom Mordechai ben Rivka Rubashkin, this past Motzoei Shabbos, and he suggested an answer quite fitting for him and the way he lives his life in the place Hashem has put him in.

Shalom Mordechai said that the answer lies in the beginning of that same posuk: “Vayehi Hashem es Yosef, vayehi ish matzliach, vayehi b’vais adonav haMitzri.” Yosef was with Hashem even as he slaved in his master’s house. The reason he was termed a success was because he stayed loyal to Hashem.

We attach success to physical accomplishments. If a person is wealthy, he’s referred to as a success. If he has a good business, a nice house and car, a good wife and children, then he’s successful. Here the Torah is teaching us that to be a success, a person must remain loyal to Hashem – and, if we may add, loyal to his mission in life.

Yosef was an ish matzliach and blessed because he didn’t permit his surroundings and situation to affect him, his identity and his mission. By any other definition, a lonely young slave is an abject failure, but not by the value system of the Torah.

Shalom Mordechai is locked away with the worst criminals, but he grows daily in Torah and emunah and bitachon. He prays that every day will be his last in that place, and Jews around the world pray with him that he merit a quick redemption.

Our situations are nowhere as extreme as his, and it is much easier for us to maintain our commitment to Hashem and His Torah. It is easier for us to remain focused on achieving success.

Temptations and nisyonos abound. We live in a time of moral depravity and laziness. We have to keep them at bay. Yaakov and Yosef paved the way for us to succeed in golus, remaining optimistic about the future and focusing on the real goal.

We can do it. We can all do it. We can all succeed. We can each be a success story.

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and former chief rabbi of the State of Israel, told me that he once met Cuban President Fidel Castro at the United Nations. Castro mentioned to Rabbi Lau that he had read his story and knew about his fascinating history. Rabbi Lau’s brother snuck him into the Buchenwald concentration camp as a young child and kept him alive there by hiding him under a bed and feeding him scraps. Castro recalled the story of his miraculous deliverance from the gehennom of the concentration camps.

“But I have one question,” said Castro. “How was it that after all you went through, you didn’t give it up? How did you not abandon your religion? Not only did you keep your religion, but you became a rabbi. What was the force that kept you going? What is your secret?”

Rabbi Lau told the communist ruler, “I descend from a line of 37 generations of rabbis. I wasn’t going to be the one to break that chain.”

It takes tremendous fortitude to hold on to a legacy in the face of severe hardship and adversity. We should never go through what Rabbi Lau endured, and we should never know of such evil and pain. But we must ensure that no matter what challenges life hurls at us, we will remain determined enough and strong enough to keep that chain going.

Every Jew forges his own link in the chain of generations that stretches back to Har Sinai. It is our duty to keep our link strong and durable, capable of weathering the pressures and the pitfalls of modern life.

We are descendants of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. We descend from great, smart and strong people. Our forebears struggled through anti-Semitism, pogroms, blood libels, holocausts, churbanos worse than anything we can imagine, and the most awful deprivations known to man. They had few physical possessions, small dwelling places, no heat in the winter and no air conditioning during the summer, and no running water or electricity, yet each one was a success. Each one had a mission and lived their life by it. They all lived so that we could live, so that we could succeed, so we could prepare the world for the next generation and for Moshiach.

Let’s focus on success!