Wednesday, January 27, 2021

We Have the Light

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week, we follow the Bnei Yisroel as they finally leave Mitzrayim and cross through the Yam Suf to freedom. Four-fifths of the Jewish people were unworthy of redemption and perished during the makkah of choshech. As the Bnei Yisroel followed Hashem’s instructions and gathered at the river’s shore, Paroh and his forces chased after them. The people raised their voices in prayer to Hashem that He save them from the grip of their evil pursuers.

Hashem appeared to Moshe (Shemos 14:15) and told him that this was not a time for prayer. “Tell the Bnei Yisroel that they should move ahead” into the water, Moshe was instructed.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner, in Nefesh Hachaim (1:9), explains that Hashem said that they should move forward, because escaping Mitzrayim’s clutches was up to them. If they would display emunah and bitachon in Hashem by listening to Moshe and venturing into the water, then in the merit of their belief that the water would split for them, the water will miraculously part and allow the Bnei Yisroel safe passage out of Mitzrayim.

Sometimes, the koach of tefillah is not sufficient to merit salvation, but maintaining faith in Hashem’s ability to change the forces of nature and help his people brings about salvation.

I was discussing this concept with my cousin, Rav Yisroel Menachem Levin, and he referred me to the posuk in Mishlei (18:14) which states, “Ruach ish yechalkel machaleihu - A man’s spirit will heal him his sickness.” The Vilna Gaon (ibid.) explains that a person can overpower his sickness with happiness. Rav Dovid Goldberg explains that the reason for this is because a happy person is someone who has emunah and bitachon. A person who has faith is happy because he has no fears, knowing that Hashem will help him. His illness will therefore be cured.

People who have emunah and bitachon are blessed with special Divine intervention on their behalf.

At the end of the parsha (17:8), we read how Amaleik attacked the Jewish people. Moshe, Aharon, Yehoshua and Chur led the battle against them. The posuk relates that when Moshe raised his hands, the Jews advanced in their battle. The Mishnah teaches that when the Jews put their faith in the Aibishter, they won. That emunah and bitachon remained with them until Seder Bamidbar.

The parsha ends as Hashem instructs Moshe to write down the story of Amaleik’s attack and know that He will erase the memory of Amaleik. Until that happens with Moshiach’s arrival, we face attacks from Amaleik in every generation.

Amaleik, the nation of asher korcha baderech, works assiduously, with various guises, to temper Jewish belief.

When the members of Klal Yisroel asserted themselves, they emerged strong. The encounter with Amaleik tightened their connection to Hashem and brought them closer to the moment of Har Sinai. Similarly, in every generation, when Amaleik attacks us, he causes us to reaffirm our beliefs and turn to Hashem. This is why Hashem promises that our archenemy will be ever-present until the redemption. He keeps us in line, and as we battle him, we reaffirm our belief.

As we adapt to our host country in the exile, people grow comfortable with their surroundings and begin assimilating and adopting the outside culture. When that happens, the host nation begins despising us, overt anti-Semitism reappears, and Jews are reminded of who we are and what we are about.

Throughout our history, this pattern has been followed. Jews get comfortable and then are forced from their homes to a new exile. There is much pain and anguish. Jews are mercilessly killed and robbed of their possessions. Beaten and barely holding on, they establish roots in a new country. Slowly, they become accepted and comfortable in the new host country. Good times are had by all, but then, just as times are so good that it seems as if Moshiach has come and brought us home, the cycle begins again. The goyim get fed up with us, the noose tightens, and, before we know it, Amaleik has us on the run again.

This time it is different, for we have been told that America will be the final stop in this exile. When we leave here, it will be to go to Eretz Yisroel.

As the new administration takes over and begins undoing as much as it can of what President Trump accomplished, many will not be pleased. They may notice that many of those in leadership positions in the administration, congress and the senate are Jews. Those on the right will be blaming “The Jews” for what is happening and those on the left, well they don’t like us much anyway. It can be expected that we will need extra zechuyos and siyata d’shmaya over next couple years to keep us out of sights of those who would do us harm.

Amaleik is ever-present, bombarding us with new challenges, moral, legal and ethical. In the spirit of “asher korcha,” he seeks to cool us from our devotion to Torah and mitzvos. Sometimes, they sound intelligent and sophisticated, while at other times, they are directed at man’s baser temptations.

When people begin doubting halacha or mesorah; when people throw up roadblocks to shemiras hamitzvos; when they mock our values and talmidei chachomim, seeking to adapt Torah to other cultures and religions; when they say that we must be more open-minded or accepting, we should recognize the voice of Amaleik.

To survive, we must remain faithful to our mesorah, unyielding in our devotion to Torah, untempted by anything that introduces conduct foreign to our upbringing.

Rishonim and Acharonim remind us that what transpired to our forefathers is a precursor of what will happen to us. “Maaseh avos siman labonim.” The trajectory of the Jews in Mitzrayim foretells what will happen to us as we approach our period of redemption. The Jewish people, dispersed around the world, will be faced with many nisyonos. We will suffer until the appointed time arrives.

Today, we live in the period of ikvesa deMeshicha, leading up to Moshiach’s arrival. Just as during the period leading up to the redemption from Mitzrayim there was a plague of darkness, so too, in our day, there is darkness all around us.

We are confronted by a constantly changing society, one that is plagued by ebbing morals and a host of temptations that invade our lives. We cannot allow ourselves to fall prey to the vagaries of the moment. In order to merit the coming of Moshiach, we have to exert ourselves to remain loyal to that which makes us great.

We are confounded by many tests, as the level of tumah rises around us and so many are blinded to the obvious truth.

The challenges are tough. The tests to our emunah and bitachon are great. Tzaros abound. The good suffer, the weak squabble, and Jews around the world fear the future.

We can only imagine what transpired during the awful period of Egyptian slavery, as tens of thousands of grandchildren of Yaakov Avinu gave up hope. Mitzrayim, with its dark and corrupt values and attitudes, began to appeal to them. And then the plague of darkness descended on the country and those poor souls who had succumbed to the pressures slipped away into oblivion. Only one-fifth of the Jews made it through the plague of darkness.

The challenge is to realize that what appears to be light, what seems to be glitzy and attractive, might be darkness in a disguise.

The Brisker Rov spent Shabbos in a hotel for the sheva brachos of one of his sons. The Rov was careful not to benefit from electricity on Shabbos in Eretz Yisroel, because the electric production facilities are operated by Jews. A talmid volunteered to arrange for the hotel to provide a large room in which the lights would be off for them to daven and eat in.

For whatever reason, the job wasn’t done, and when the Rov walked into the room, the lights were shining brightly. He immediately left the room and found a small, dark place where there was no light. He announced that they would be using that room over Shabbos.

In obvious distress, the talmid approached the Rov to apologize. “I am so sorry,” he said, “that the large room is lichtig (illuminated).”

The Rov responded with a surprised look on his face. “Dort iz lichtig?” he asked, indicating the first, well-lit room. “Doh iz lichtig!” he said, pointing to the small, darkened room around him where Yidden sat davening.

Our way of life is lichtig. The Torah is lichtig. Proper observance of Shabbos creates a lichtige environment. Where shomrei Torah umitzvos gather, it is lichtig. Just as during the makkah of choshech, when the Jews had light even as the whole country was thrust into darkness, so too, in our day, when there is a confluence of obscurity and deception, and distortion and disinformation hold sway, we need to remain allegiant to authenticity, truth and justice.

At a time that cries out for light in so many ways, let us each do our share to shine some light on a dark world and help reveal the truths about the occurrences of our time, so that we may be better prepared for the coming redemption.

We see many things that are plainly obvious to us, yet we see how the media, culture and outside world misinterpret and lie in order to further their agenda. In the outside world, darkness rules, truth is of little importance, and lies are accepted as fact.

As we see forces of darkness gaining, we must not capitulate and surrender. We need to remember that lev melochim vesorim beYad Hashem and intensify our emunah and bitachon so that Hashem will be kind to us.

We mustn’t be misled and fall prey to media narratives pushing a new moral code and driving anti-religious agendas. They appeal to the heart, emotions and minds of a new generation.

People are enticed by charismatic speakers, charming thoughts and moving tales. Purveyors of darkness wrap their goods in color and glitter to entice unsuspecting people.

We must take care not to confuse the important with the inconsequential. We live in the lap of luxury, with the pleasure bar constantly rising. We spend time engaged in trivial pursuits instead of engaging in activities that accrue real benefits. When priorities are misplaced and we become entwined with the inconsequential and frivolous, our lives become perilous.

We must remember that there is strength in humility and nobleness in character. In a world where greatness is elusive, mediocrity is mistaken for superiority. Fairness has been replaced with intolerance, as those who called for unity work towards establishing division.

The looming darkness doesn’t have to envelop us. We are different. Torah and mitzvos bring us light and meaning that drive out the darkness of makkas choshech and the depravity of Amaleik.

May we be blessed with the luminous lives promised for those who maintain emunah and bitachon even through difficult circumstances.


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