Thursday, August 31, 2023

Torah Royalty

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 

I never learned at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, but have a special place for it in my heart. My relationship began when, as a young teenager, a mispallel in my father’s shul told me that he was going to take me to hear a ma’amar from his rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, the rosh yeshiva of that yeshiva.

From outward appearances, Reb Matis Greenblatt was a simple baal habayis, but even at that young age, I had come to respect him as a talmid chochom with a wide-ranging knowledge and deep understanding of Torah. He had a special neshomah and always spoke of his rebbi, “the rosh yeshiva.”

I was a young bochur from Monsey who had never been in Brooklyn, much less Chaim Berlin. I had heard of Rav Hutner, but had never been exposed to him except through his talmid, Reb Matis, and I figured that if this was the talmid, the rebbi must really be something very special.

I wasn’t let down. It was on Chol Hamoed Sukkos that we went. The maamar and everything about it was fascinating. The Torah was fascinating, and the style and content were like nothing I had heard before. The rosh yeshiva spoke softly and poetically, setting forth deep concepts beautifully and with much color in a way that the Torah he was saying danced in your head. The setting was fascinating. The rosh yeshiva was seated regally at the head of the table. Seated around the table were senior talmidim transfixed on the rosh yeshiva and what he was saying. It was mesmerizing.

All these years later, I still remember the maamar and the mark it made on me. Reb Matis took me to more maamorim, and although I never met Rav Hutner or learned as a talmid in his yeshiva, he opened the world of Maharal and machshovah for me, and a special place for him and his yeshiva in my heart.

I was reconnected to that bais medrash many years later when I became involved with Torah Umesorah. By that time, Rav Aharon Schechter, the foremost talmid of Rav Hutner and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, had established a reputation as a leading rosh yeshiva. He took an active role in several communal institutions and organizations, among them Torah Umesorah.

Rav Shea Fishman, who had learned with Rav Aharon under Rav Hutner, headed the organization and was very close to Rav Aharon. He introduced me to Rav Aharon, who was always very kind to me and was mekarev me. He was warm, kind and very aristocratic. He represented the gadlus ha’adam of a talmid chochom, always conducting himself with supreme dignity. He had a way of speaking to people that made everyone he spoke to feel special and appreciated. It was a pleasure to be in his company, automatically uplifted just by being in his presence.

For several years at the Torah Umesorah convention, I was privileged to eat at the rosh yeshiva’s table in his private dining room, together with his talmid and my good friend, Rav Chaim Nosson Segal, and several of the rosh yeshiva’s family members. During the week, Rav Aharon epitomized the portrayal of the glorious image of a talmid chochom. On Shabbos in that room, there was an illustrious sublime aura about him as he led the seudah, subsumed in the kedushas haShabbos, singing zemiros and discussing the parsha.

Though I was an outsider, I was welcomed and made to feel like a member of the family. Someone familiar with the way the rosh yeshiva guarded his privacy at the seudos there approached him and asked him why he had added me to his private sanctum, as I was not a talmid. He responded with a smile that he considered me an honorary talmid. He made me feel good then and many other times when we would have discussions.

The first time I was in Camp Morris I went over to the rosh yeshiva to say Shalom Aleichem and mentioned that I had never previously been there. He said, “Come, I will give you a tour.” He came into my car and directed me around the campus, pointing out with great pride all the various buildings and landmarks.

The rosh yeshiva attended the weddings of my children that were held in Brooklyn, as well as a vort. It was a great honor each time.

At Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, a talmid is a talmid for life, and the rosh yeshiva was always there for his talmidim, regardless of what it was that they needed. When he spoke with his talmidim, it was mitoch ahavah, and if it was necessary to be mochiach them, he did so very strongly, while reminding them that it was out of love. And he was that way not only with talmidim, but with other people with whom he came in contact. Because he cared so deeply about others, he always knew the right thing to say to put people at ease and explain to them their obligations, helping them work their way through challenging periods.

A young man made his way to a Torah life and davened in the shul of Rav Chaim Noson Segal. A talmid of Rav Aharon, he became engaged to a frum girl and was to get married. The boy’s father was adamantly opposed to his son’s embrace of Torah and was incensed that he was marrying a religious girl. He begrudgingly went to the wedding and was sad and forlorn.

When he was introduced to Rav Aharon, Rav Aharon took him into a side room and spoke to him privately for twenty minutes. When the conversation ended, the man came out with a broad smile on his face. He happily enjoyed the rest of the wedding and even danced with the rosh yeshiva.

Rabbi Segal asked his rebbi what he told the man that so changed his approach to the wedding and to his son’s path of teshuvah. Rav Aharon told him that he understood the man’s anguish. He was a stranger at his son’s wedding and had no idea what was going on and what to expect. “I went through the whole wedding with him and told him step by step what was going to happen with some explanation.”

At a different wedding, Rabbi Segal introduced the rosh yeshiva to a man who attended shul six days a week, but couldn’t bring himself to stay away from work on the seventh. Later on, Rav Aharon searched out that man and sat down with him. He held his hand and spoke to him about the beauty of Shabbos, discussing the various halachos and how the man could minimize his chillul Shabbos.

Shortly thereafter, the man approached his boss and informed him that he would no longer be coming in on Saturdays. He became a full baal teshuvah. His sons went on to learn in yeshiva, becoming full-fledged bnei Torah, and this man has already completed Shas twice. What led to him changing his life? He told Rabbi Segal that it was the way the rosh yeshiva held his hand as he spoke to him that evening. “With so much warmth and understanding,” he said, “he spoke to me about Shabbos and I began to understand how important Shabbos is.

As soft and gentle as he was, when it came to bizayon haTorah, when it came to a chillul Hashem, he rose like a lion. In matters of Torah, in matters of kavod haTorah, yoker haTorah and yiras Shomayim, he was as tough as could be.

When he was learning, he was most intense, sitting for hours on end horeving with great hasmodah and thus reaching the high levels he reached. His shiurim lasted for hours, as he would methodically go through every detail and aspect of the sugya. He was totally absorbed and demanded the same from his talmidim.

His attachment to Torah was his life and he strove to remain rooted in that ideal without permitting anything foreign to intrude. He was considered the greatest talmid of his great rebbi, drawn to the great light of the supremacy of Torah. Everything in his life was guided by the Torah his rebbi taught him and that he later acquired on his own.

He appreciated that as he learned Torah, he rose in heights and became closer to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. When he performed mitzvos, he reflected on all facets of the mitzvah and considered that by doing so, he was affecting creation. There was nothing more important at the moment than the mitzvah.

He loved all Jews because he appreciated that they are members of the Am Hanivchar, blessed with a neshomah, a cheilek Eloka mimaal and a cheilek in Torah.

Rav Aharon embodied the aristocracy of Torah. In this week’s parsha, the posuk (29:8) states, “Lema’an taskilun eis kol asher ta’asun,” and the common translation is that you should follow the Torah so that you should succeed in all you do.

But if you look in the Sefer Hashoroshim, you will find that at the root of the word “haskolah” is the word “seichel,” which means intelligence and understanding. He cites as an example the posuk which discusses when Yaakov Avinu switched his hands as he blessed the two sons of Yosef, putting the younger son before the older one.

The posuk says, “Sikeil es yodov,” which is simply translated as “switched his hands,” to place the right hand on the younger son and the left hand on the older one. The Sefer Hashoroshim writes that the word sikeil is used as if to say that Yaakov put seichel into his hands and they acted with seichel and chochmah. The Targum supports this explanation.

So we see that at the root of the word taskilun is the necessity to understand and be intelligent in Torah. We can explain that the meaning of the posuk is that if you set aside all other considerations and work to be thorough in your understanding of Torah, you will be successful in all you do, because Torah necessitates understanding and the dedication of all of our intelligence. Torah is not a casual external pursuit, but requires lots of work and horeving to properly grasp and comprehend the Torah and its mitzvos. 

A person who thinks everything through very carefully grows in Torah and succeeds. A person who spends hours deep in thought, working through the intricacies of a sugya, is a maskil. A person who thinks before he speaks, who doesn’t answer a question until he has clearly thought through the issue, is a maskil. A person who thinks about each word he says and how he says it is a maskil. A person who thinks about every world of davening as he davens is a maskil, as is someone who thinks through each mitzvah he is about to perform prior to performing it.

A maskil is always growing, because he is always thinking and arriving at deeper understandings, reaching greater heights in Torah and in avodah. He is not stagnant, having arrived at a plateau, satisfied at having attained a certain height. Rather, he is never satisfied, and each time he opens a Chumash or a Gemara or lifts an esrog, he ponders again the meaning of what he is doing and learning.  Therefore, the Torah proclaims that he will be successful. He will be successful in his Torah learning, in his Torah comprehension, in his performance of mitzvos, in personal satisfaction with what he has done and accomplished, and in every facet of his life.

At the root of taskilun, success, is haskolahseichel. At the root of growth is the need to work to thoroughly understand what we are doing.

Such a person was Rav Aharon Schechter, who spent his life hureving in learning to understand the finer concepts of Torah. He was an ish maskil who worked with much effort, strength and patience to understand every sugya that he touched. He continued along the path hewed by his great rebbi, studying and teaching the sugyos of Shas, as well as the seforim of the Maharal, the Ramchal and the Vilna Gaon, to arrive at a deep and lofty understanding of Torah, mitzvos and all of creation.

Therefore, the promise of the Torah was realized in him and he succeeded in his task as rosh yeshiva of a foremost yeshiva, taking over from his legendary rebbi and causing the yeshiva and its talmidim to grow and succeed in their unique, glorious path in Torah.

May his memory and what he stood for be a zechus for his family, his talmidim, and all of Klal Yisroel.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Ready to Fight

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 

In this week’s parsha of Ki Seitzei, we learn about fighting evil. We learn about going to war against enemies, about putting to death a thirteen-year-old boy for exhibiting behavior that indicates a bad future, and about remembering what Amaleik did to our people many years ago and the obligation to hate them for it until this very day. We learn about the eternal battle between good and evil and our role in that conflict.

Today, it has basically become forbidden to speak in terms of absolute truth and fiction, correct and incorrect behavior, and the like in polite company in this country. The woke media, politicians and educators have inculcated the idea that there is no definitive moral right and wrong. To them, everything is relative, and people can decide on their own how they wish to conduct themselves. Whatever choice they make is fine for them, and everyone else needs to respect their choice.

The Torah proclaims differently, and clearly sets right from wrong, directing us how to behave and how to conduct ourselves. We are to abhor evil and not give it any countenance. All throughout our lives, we seek to improve ourselves and perfect our actions in keeping with the Torah’s guidance.

The Torah teaches in this week’s parsha (Devorim 18:21-24) of a ben sorer umoreh, a thirteen-year-old boy who does not listen to his parents and is a glutton. His parents bring him to bais din, which, upon verifying the allegations, puts him to death. Rashi cites Chazal (Sanhedrin 71a), who explain that he is punished because if he were allowed to continue along the path he has set out for himself, he will eventually exhaust his parents’ finances to feed his habits and will rob people, killing them if necessary, to obtain money. He is put to death at the outset of his doomed journey, before he hurts anyone and ruins himself.

This is because, our rabbis teach, each person must live his life with the knowledge that Hashem placed him in this world for the purpose of learning Torah and doing mitzvos. Our lives are meant to center around our obligations. Our ambition is meant to be that we grow in Torah and kedusha. During our childhood, our parents’ obligation was to teach us and train us in Torah and mitzvos, and in recognizing truth from falsehood and living lives of truth.

When we become bnei and bnos mitzvah, and become obligated in mitzvah observance, we are by then supposed to be able to set our lives on the path of an ehrlicher Yid, following the well-trodden trail traversed by our parents and grandparents over the many centuries since Har Sinai. If we set for ourselves goals and seek to attain them, there is hope that our children will continue to grow and mature as fine bnei and bnos Torah. But if as we begin our lives of obligation, we have already become slaves to our yeitzer hora and have become consumed with the pursuit of physical satisfaction, spurning our parents and becoming addicted to the wrong flavors, the Torah proclaims that we are doomed.

We should be quick to point out that Chazal teach that there never was anyone who was determined to have been a ben sorer umoreh        and no bais din ever found anyone eligible to be put to death under these circumstances. No boy ever degenerated at that age to such a level that there was no hope for him to rectify himself and live a proper life.

This parsha is here for us to study to know that our actions have consequences and that we must always be cognizant of the difference between right and wrong and righteousness and evil. We must always be on the side of the just and proper and correct, never condoning or engaging in anything that is dishonest and improper. There is no rationalizing in the Torah, no condoning of evil, and no compromising with the yeitzer hora.

Taking small steps in the wrong way leads to taking big steps in the wrong direction, just as stealing pocket change leads to becoming a full-fledged crook. Take a look at what is going on in today’s cities, where anarchy and robbery are virtually uncontrollable. It started with liberal charges that the police were too tough on young criminals. We were told that there was no mercy and no understanding of the impoverished inner-city poor, who have no alternative but to steal in order to eat and evade fares in order to travel.

Going easy on the criminals led to packs of teens robbing merchandise from stores and owners, while workers and security people are powerless to stop attacks. They started out stealing small items here and there, stuffing them in their pockets, but as they got away with it and became used to the free stuff, their appetites grew, as did their brazenness, and today, employees are warned to look aside, lest they pay the ultimate price for getting in the way of the robbers.

An entire generation of such people feels entitled to have whatever they want. They have no respect for anyone else, no boundaries and no self-control. How can they possibly ever be brought back? If there is no ultimate right and no ultimate wrong, then society collapses and ish es rei’eihu chaim bela’o. It becomes impossible to walk, drive or shop on the street.

If justice becomes corrupt and dishonest, as some are pursued and others are let go, and people lose respect for the system, the government cannot function and the empire can fall.

Look around the world. You’ll find that many countries are collapsing from the weight of criminality amongst gangs in the streets to the highest levels of government. And it all began from looking aside from one small crime, and then another, and one petty criminal, and then another, until it became ingrained and too difficult to uproot. Witness many of the African and Central and South American countries where anarchy pervades. Our country is far behind, but it is catching up quickly, unless people wake up and force changes in leadership.

And as it is with cities, countries and governments, so it is with people. To prevent total destruction, there must be change. If a person feels himself slipping, if he sees that he has become addicted to his taavos, if he finds that he does not abhor evil, wickedness, immorality and sins of all types, it is incumbent upon him to right himself before it is too late.

In his mercy upon us, Hashem gave us the gift of teshuvah with which we can turn back the clock and undo that which we have done wrong. It allows us to rectify ourselves and return us to where we were before we began slipping. Teshuvah enables us to remove the shackles that hold us down and send us on a downward trajectory, thus enabling us to become righteous once again. Teshuvah prevents us from ruining our lives, for as far as we may have strayed, we can come back.

If we have gotten into the habit of talking during davening, we can go back to speaking to Hashem and having the opportunity of Him listening to us and accepting our tefillos. If we have become gluttons for all types of exotic foods – or what used to be considered exotic foods – consumed by a need for constant pleasuring while neglecting to consider whether such activities assist in pursuing the reason for our existence, we can return to living a purposeful life through teshuvah. Doing so would help not only our spiritual health, but also our physical wellbeing, enabling us to live life as it was intended, as our forefathers did throughout the ages.

Teshuvah returns to us our humility, priorities, and fidelity to truth and honesty.

The parsha ends with the obligation to remember what Amaleik did to us when we left Mitzrayim and to eradicate any memory of that nation from the world. Amaleik is at the root of all evil. The Soton is the sar of Amaleik and the yetzer hora. We seek to wipe out any vestige of Amaleik, because as long as Amaleik is here, there will be evil in the world. We will only be rid of wickedness when we are rid of Amaleik.

The original sin of Amaleik was to battle Am Yisroel immediately following Yetzias Mitzrayim, when all the nations feared us. Chazal compare their act to a person who jumps into a burning hot bathtub that everyone is afraid of touching. Even though the braggart who jumps into the boiling water gets burned from his act, he took away the fear of others of doing the same.

Amaleik approached from the rear and attacked the weak ones among our people, and though Moshe Rabbeinu led the campaign against its armies and beat them back, they accomplished their goal of tempting others to attack us. They didn’t fear Hashem and caused others as well not to fear Him. In every generation since, the yeitzer hora, the Soton, and the progenies of Amaleik seek to weaken our fear of Heaven so that we deviate from our mission and sin. They attack and undermine us in a multitude of ways.

Any evil that is among us, any wickedness that seeks our demise, is from Amaleik. The Vilna Gaon wrote that those who cause machlokes and division among Yidden are Amaleikim, and Moshiach cannot come to redeem us until they have been banished. The yeitzer hora and the Soton utilize the power of Amaleik through various guises to steer people away from goodness and G-dliness. We have to strengthen ourselves to remain strong and firm in our yiras Shomayim.

This is why Moshe Rabbeinu reminds us and obligates us to remember what Amaleik is and what they did to us. There were other nations that battled us and sought to undermine us, but none acted like Amaleik and planted the poison within us that cools us from remaining focused on our goal. We are constantly reminded that there is definite evil in this world and we must seek to eliminate it.

When we remember to stamp out the memory of Amaleik, we are remembering that there is no compromising with evil, there is no negotiating with the wicked, and there is no condoning of improper, illicit, divisive and corrosive actions that only serve to weaken us.

We seek to be upstanding, honest, decent, yirei Elokim. That is our task and mission in life, and anything else is lacking. Compromising with what is wrong, and sinning here and there, empowers Amaleik and causes our golus to last longer.

We lain this parsha of “Ki seitzei lamilchomah al oyvecha during Elul, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, to remind us of our obligations to do battle with our spiritual enemies now before the Yom Hadin, so that we beat back our yeitzer hora and the things that empower it, and thus merit that “unesano Hashem beyodecha.” Hashem gives us the ability to defeat and control our yeitzer hora and hold him captive so that we can engage in teshuvah, Torah and tefillah, and merit a sweet, healthy, successful new year.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Now is the Time

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Time marches along, too quickly it seems. It feels like it was only a couple of weeks ago that the weather warmed and summer was upon us. It was just yesterday that many were packing for camp and the country, looking forward to a slower pace of life with reduced pressures and time for travel, rest and relaxation. Those experiences are now rapidly coming to an end, as we welcome the month of Elul, which signifies seriousness as well as a return to school, yeshiva and our regular routines.

Some find it more difficult than others to resume their normal schedules and get back to doing what they must to be productive and realize their potential and purpose. Often, in the razzle dazzle of life, we forget what it is all about, that there is a reason for our being here, and that it is not necessarily to engage in full-time enjoyment. Perhaps the shortness of the time that the calendar allows us relaxation before the shofar of Elul is blown is a reminder that we all have jobs to do.

One of the reasons that secular people convince themselves that the world haphazardly came to be is that this mindset creates no obligation to seek accomplishment and advancement. If man is equal to soulless animals that somehow came to find themselves on earth, then there is no reason to pursue anything more than enjoyment and physical contentment. Life is little more than a pursuit of food, shelter and pleasure.

It is because we know that Hakadosh Boruch Hu created the world that we understand that we are here for a greater purpose. Since the world has a Creator, and He created us as well, everything that exists was placed here for a reason. Hashem speaks to us through the Torah and tells us what He expects of us and how we are to conduct ourselves.

Last week’s parsha of Re’eh spoke of the brachos reserved for those who follow the mitzvos of Hashem and the klalos that befall the ones who do not listen to what Hashem commands. We can understand that those who follow the mitzvos are blessed not only as a reward, but as a natural occurrence.

Chazal teach us that Hashem created the world with the Torah for Am Yisroel. The understanding of this is that since Hashem created the world with the Torah, the Torah is our guide for how to live in His world. If we follow its prescriptions and instructions for life, then we will be living the life that Hakadosh Boruch Hu intended for us.

It is the same as your car, which requires gasoline in order for it to get started and run, because the person who invented the car devised it to use that form of fuel in order to generate its power. So too, lehavdil, Hashem requires us to live our lives according to the contours of the Torah in order for us to be functional and successful. If we live our lives in a manner that conforms to Hashem’s intentions, we can be productive and blessed, but those who don’t, live cursed lives, because they simply are not able to function properly, as they are not living the way they were created to live.

Just as if someone places water into his gas tank it will ruin the engine and not allow it to produce the energy required to operate the vehicle, so too, a person who doesn’t follow the Torah will break down. Every limb of a person is powered by a different mitzvah. Should a limb be causing pain or not function properly, tzaddikim who understand these things and are proficient in Torah are able to cure themselves by strengthening their observance of those specific mitzvos. In fact, it is said of the Steipler Gaon, whose yahrtzeit is this week, that he was able to cure himself without going to doctors. His son, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, was famous for, among other things, advising people as to which portions of Torah to study to help cure ailments and sickness.

It is that way with specific limbs and organs, as well as with a person’s entire being. Failing to properly observe mitzvos and study Torah leads a person to ruin. Those who think that they can spend their lives lounging around, eating, drinking and enjoying themselves full-time, soon enough learn that such a life breeds emptiness, shallowness and sadness instead of contentment.

A life lived without Torah is not lived. It is not life. It quickly degenerates into boredom and pointlessness, because Hashem created man with a purpose, and those who ignore this are not only denying creation and the purpose of creation, but also denying themselves life itself.

Man was not created as a machine that can constantly operate. Rather, Hashem made us with the need for daily rest and for periodic breaks. Not only is there nothing wrong with vacation, but it is a necessary component of the human condition, just like sleep.

After a couple of weeks of taking it easy, albeit, of course, with shemiras hamitzvos and limud haTorah, from which there is never a vacation, we need to return to the more vigorous life Hashem intended for us, lest we begin to slacken off.

Elul arrives as a month of rachamim, mercy, to help us get back to where we were and where we need to be. It is a month when Hashem reaches out to us and accepts our teshuvah so that we can earn another year of life on the upcoming Yom Hadin of Rosh Hashanah.

Summer was good, getting away – for those who were able to - was great, and recharging the batteries is imperative, but it is incumbent upon us to recognize our obligations in this world and do what we must to merit a year of good health, success and life that comes with proper observance of Torah and mitzvos.

The Dubno Magid was gifted with the ability to put life in the proper perspective in a way that people were able to understand deep and important concepts on a basic level. He told the story of a successful store. It was before the days of credit cards and checks, and every day, people would come to the store and spend money. The cash began piling up and the owner decided that it was no longer safe to keep the money at home and in his store. He began depositing the money at the local bank for safekeeping.

Eventually he hired a local young man to take the money to the bank every day before closing. To prevent against being robbed, the fellow would only walk on the main street and never take any detours or shortcuts. That way, there were always people around who could see if anything untoward was happening. The man was confident that if anyone would attempt to steal the money, the townspeople in the street would stop him.

There was a thief who became aware of the carrier’s route and schemed to come up with a way to get his hands on the money. It was just too tempting for him to know that every day, there was a bag of cash making its way through the street and he couldn’t get his hands on it. And then he came up with a plan.

On the path that the man followed every day as he walked on the main street from the store to the bank, there was a tailor who had a nice little shop with a large glass window facing the street. One day, the thief went into the shop and told the tailor that he was sent by a wealthy fellow to have a suit made for him. This was in the days before suits and clothing were mass produced.

The tailor was thrilled with the prospect of sewing a suit for a wealthy customer. “Tell him to come in for a fitting and I will sew him the nicest suit in town,” the tailor told the supposed messenger.

“But the prospective customer is too busy to take off to come to the shop for a fitting,” the messenger said. “He suggested that I watch the people walking down the street past your store, and when I see someone of his size and build, I should ask him to come into the store for a few minutes and you will conduct your measurements on him. Based on your fine reputation, my boss is confident that you will fashion for him a fine suit.”

The tailor, hungry for business, agreed to the proposal.

The messenger stood at the stoop and looked over the crowd. When he saw the young man coming with the briefcase full of cash, he innocently stopped him and asked him if he could come inside for a few minutes. He explained the reason, and the fellow with the cash was happy to do the Jew a favor.

The tailor got to work and placed upon him his most expensive material. He began measuring it and marking it up for a perfect fit. As the tailor was doing his work, the bag with the cash began to grow heavy, so instead of holding it and switching it from hand to hand to facilitate the fitting and measuring, the man placed it on the floor.

The thief was waiting for just this moment. As soon as the bag was placed on the floor, the thief scooped it up and ran out of the shop and down the busy street. The young man began running after him, screaming, “Thief! Thief! Come back here!”

But then the tailor began running after the young man. “Hey, where do you think you’re going? You have my best material on you! Come back here. I need that.”

Meanwhile, the thief got away.

During Elul, said the Dubno Maggid, we can gain so much. We can earn millions. Everyone knows that Elul is a most advantageous month. The yeitzer hora has a serious problem: How can he trip up people and get them to forgo the opportunities Elul presents them? So he tailors for each person a suit to keep them occupied. Each person gets a pekel tailor-made for them to keep busy and make them forget about Elul. Some people get happy stuff loaded up on them, and others get not-such-happy things to be busy with. The main objective is that they not bring themselves back to where they belong.

Rabbosai, Elul is upon us. Let us take advantage of the time to get our things in order and remember that we are in this world for a reason and a purpose. If we want to be healthy and happy and successful, then we have to tune ourselves in to the word of Hashem.

Let us rededicate ourselves to Torah, its observance and study. Let us learn the parsha of the week thoroughly. Let us learn sifrei mussar that inspire and speak to us at this time of year. This week, Daf Yomi starts a new masechta. Let’s hop aboard. The zeman is about to begin. Let us return with a renewed frishkeit and bren.

Let’s all do what we can to throw the yeitzer hora off and concentrate on becoming even better than we have been, realizing our potential and bringing meaning to our lives and the lives of others, so that we will all merit a happy, healthy and successful new year.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Summer Perspectives

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz 

With the Nine Days behind us, we are now in the depths of summer. Everyone is taking it easy. Many are on vacation, or in summer homes in the country, or taking little day trips, changing scenery and dialing everything down a couple of notches.

But the study of Torah continues. That obligation doesn’t fade, and the lessons we derive from the weekly parsha that we lain on Shabbos and study throughout the week are as strong as ever.

Parshas Eikev helps us as we continue our journey of solace through the Shiva Denechemta. In Moshe Rabbeniu’s final lesson to his people, Mishneh Torah, he reviews what they had learned and experienced during the previous forty years.

Last week, in Parshas Vo’eschanon, we encountered chapters about s’char v’onesh, reward and punishment. “Hishomru,” we are warned. Take heed lest you forget the covenant formed with Hashem, “ki Hashem Elokecha aish ochlah hu – because Hashem is a fire that consumes.”

The timeless, enduring relevance of the Aseres Hadibros resounds through the ages. They are the basis of all that is right and wrong, the defining line of truth and falsehood.

Though it is the haftaras of these weeks that give the appellation of nechomah to the current seven-week period, the parshiyos carry much comfort as well. By studying the parsha, we are comforted.

The vast personal motivation industry revolves around psychologists’ discovery that the greatest catalyst for personal joy and meaning is the realization that each person makes a difference. The people trying to catch your attention to sign up for their podcasts and buy their books use the same gimmicks to get you to buy in. They all scream out to people who feel sad and empty that they make a difference and are important, and that their actions are really relevant. Quite often, they are empty slogans meant to appeal to empty people.

But for us to follow and study the Torah, we don’t need anyone’s pitches to tell us that our lives are empowered and full of meaning. Anyone who performs mitzvos properly and studies Torah in a way that he understands it feels empowered and accomplished several times throughout the day.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner authored his classic Nefesh Hachaim to invest man with the realization of how significant his every move is. The cosmos literally hinge on our behavior.

The Torah and its precepts provide us with that sense of worth. The Imrei Emes of Gur says that the roshei teivos of the words Torah tzivah lonu Moshe form the word “tzelem.” The Torah gives man dimensions of greatness, transforming a mere human into a tzelem Elokim capable of influencing his own destiny and world events.

Parshas Eikev derives its name from the word in the first posuk: “Vehayah eikev tishme’un - And it will be in exchange for your listening that you will be rewarded.”

Every meforash, it seems, has a different interpretation of the word eikev. Perceiving the depths of the Torah and its messages provides chizuk and nechomah to us as we are buffeted about. We take comfort in knowing that there is a deeper meaning of everything that occurs and nothing happens by itself or without purpose. Just as there is nothing random in the Torah, nothing in the world happens by chance. The knowledge that the Creator of the world sustains and administers it is a major source of comfort.

Rashi explains that the Torah uses the word eikev to teach us that Hashem desires that we observe not only the major mitzvos, but also those that people think are minor. If we observe the mitzvos that are commonly squashed under people’s heels, the posuk tells us, we will be richly rewarded.

The Baal Haturim states that the gematriah of the word eikev is 172, which is the number of letters that appear in the first Aseres Hadibros. Thus, the Torah is telling us that we will be well rewarded for our observance of all of the mitzvos. When it comes to Torah, nothing is minor and nothing is simple.

An insight that can resonate with us in our time is offered by the Chofetz Chaim’s son, Rav Aharon Hakohein, in his sefer al haTorah. He writes that the yeitzer hora knows that his work will be completed at the time of the geulah.

The novi Yechezkel (31:26-27) tells us that Hashem promised when that time comes, “venosati lochem lev chodosh veruach chadoshah etein bekirbechem…” The novi Yoel (2:20) delivered a similar message: “Ve’es hatzfoni archik mei’aleichem.” Both of these prophecies foretell that at the time of Moshiach, the forces of tumah will be destroyed and removed from the world.

Therefore, in the times leading up to the arrival of Moshiach, the yeitzer hora and the forces of evil and tumah increase their efforts to entrap the Jewish people. They do everything they can to cause us to sin so that we will not merit redemption. Meanwhile, the yeitzer hatov and the forces of good do everything in their power to cause the Bnei Yisroel to act properly and be meritorious of geulah. As the time of Moshiach approaches, there is a tough ongoing battle between the yeitzer hatov and yeitzer hora. We need to be aware of that and ensure that whatever we do is motivated by the yeitzer hatov, lest we act callously and are led to sin. Being misled by the devious yeitzer hora is deleterious to us personally and empowers the forces of darkness and evil.

Thus, the first posuk of the parsha, “Vehayah eikev tishme’un,” can be understood to be addressing this very period in which we now live. It will be in the period of “ikvesa deMeshicha.” If you follow the chukim and mishpotim of Hashem, He will adhere to the bris He forged with your forefathers and He will love and bless you and cause you to flourish. If, during the period prior to Moshiach’s arrival, you are able to resist the temptations offered by the yeitzer hora, you will be doubly blessed, as each person and Klal Yisroel will be able to realize their potential.

Chassidim relate that the Rizhiner Rebbe once went into a trance, visualizing something beyond the confines of his room. When he returned to himself, he told his chassidim that there will come a time just before Moshiach arrives when confusion and turmoil will be so strong that it will take extraordinary strength to remain an ehrliche Yid. People at that time will have to climb the bare walls and hold on with their fingernails to remain true to the Torah, said the rebbe.

We are living in the period about which Chazal and tzaddikim foretold, the era that this posuk is speaking of. We see how the yeitzer hora endeavors to sink the world to unprecedented levels of deprivation and tumah. We experience the temptations he throws our way. We see the powers of tumah gaining around the world. We see our moral way of life mocked and under continuous attack. Such is life in the era of ikvesa deMeshicha.

This week’s parsha offers us many chances to earn eternal good. We learn that we have the ability, through performing mitzvos, to elevate the world around us and to ultimately triumph over evil.

It’s a comforting thought that charges us with hard work and a mandate to keep improving ourselves and our actions.

With this, we understand the parsha’s first posuk, “Vehoyah,” which denotes a joyous occurrence. There is nothing more hopeful - “Vehoyah eikev” - than the moments of ikvesa deMeshicha, when we live in a state of expectation, doing what we can to help prepare ourselves and the world for the arrival of Moshiach. Our people have endured centuries of suffering and deprivation, yet they persevered as they waited for the epoch of Moshiach. We are there now.

When we read the pesukim of Parshas Eikev, we see Moshe pleading with the Jewish people. He reminds them of all that they have been through, and of all the miracles Hashem performed to bring them to where they are. He admonishes them to remember Who has fed, clothed and cared for them, even though they were ungrateful. He reminds them how stubborn and spiteful they were, and how he repeatedly interceded on their behalf.

Read the pesukim of this week’s parsha (8:11 and on): “Be careful lest you shall forget Hashem… Lest you eat and become full and build nice, good, fancy homes and become settled… Lest you have much gold and silver and become haughty and forget Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Mitzrayim and led you through the midbar, where he quenched your thirst and fed you. Yet you say in your heart, ‘I did this all myself with my own strength.’ Remember, it is Hashem who gives you strength to wage war… If you will forget Hashem and go after strange gods and you will serve them and bow to them, I warn you that you will be destroyed…”

These pesukim are directed to us as well, reminding us that we should not be misled by our gaavah to think that we are self-sufficient, smart and strong enough to take care of ourselves. We must remember that it is Hashem who provides us with the know-how and stamina we require to earn our livings and get ahead in this world, and to survive life’s many challenges.

It is He who makes us rich and successful. It is He who causes our hands and our feet to move, and our brains to function and think. There is no way we can do any of that on our own. And if we think about where we have gotten in life and how we have gotten there, it rapidly becomes obvious to us that it was not due to what the world calls “good luck” and “chance encounters” and being in the right place at the right time. We know that is the Yad Hashem, guiding and helping us every step of the way.

The yeitzer hora leads us to focus on the wrong things in order to dull our thinking and lead us down the wrong path. Without cogent perspective, we can easily get sidetracked, with marginal concerns skewing our missions. When the trivial becomes important, the important becomes trivial.

We live in an age when perception is more important than reality. People who excel at creating the “in” perceptions appear to get ahead and then flounder, while those who do things the old-fashioned way aren’t cool, but they don’t crash and burn as the others do when the glitz comes off. Adhering to the chukim and mishpotim of the Torah aids us in maintaining proper focus, clarity of vision, and essential proper perspectives.

In the smell of the clean rural air, the lapping of the ocean’s waves, and the gentle summer breeze, we enjoy as we dial down the intensity of the rest of the year. We have the calmness and peace of mind to focus on the blessings Hashem has given us, as we contemplate life and gain a sharper appreciation of the truth.

Let us fulfill our missions during this period prior to the arrival of Moshiach so that we hasten his coming and make ourselves deserving of his redemption.