Feeling the Pebbles


Pinchos Lipschutz 44By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week, we are introduced to Seder Shemos, the book of golus and geulah, in which the Bnei Yisroel sink to the lowest level of impurity and rise to the greatest heights man can achieve.

In every generation, it is incumbent upon each Jew to view himself as if he was a slave in Mitzrayim and was freed.

There is a golus hakloli, a communal exile, in which the entire nation is subjugated, and there is also a golus haproti, an individual exile, in which a person is part of a thriving community but imprisoned in his own personal golus.

People who appear to be wholesome and leading fine lives are often broken inside. Many times, this feeling is brought on by loneliness. So many people in our world are lonely. In fact, there appears to be an epidemic of lonely people. Nobody wears a sign that says, “I am lonely. Be nice to me,” but if you look in the eyes of lonely people, you perceive sadness, emptiness and loneliness. These people are in a personal golus, and by assisting them, we can help lead everyone to the communal geulah.

I once accompanied the Toldos Aharon Rebbe to the home of an individual who was going through a difficult period. He asked the rebbe for something to do as a segulah to be spared from further pain. The rebbe responded that there are gemachs today for everything and organizations to help with seemingly every communal tzarah, but there is one group of people who appear to be totally neglected – people who are tzubrochen. “There are so many tzubrochene neshamos,” the rebbe said. “When you have free time, call up a tzubrochene person.”

We can all do that. Call someone you know who can use a little chizuk. Say hello, ask how they are, show interest, wish them a good Shabbos, or wish them a good Yom Tov. Show that someone in the world cares about them. Show that they aren’t all alone. By doing that, you will have earned a zechus for yourself and brought the world closer to geulah.

Rav Pinchos Menachem Alter of Ger related that he would occasionally see deceased tzaddikim in his dreams. As he slept one night, the rebbe saw his uncle, Rav Menachem Mendel Alter of Pavianitz, a son of the Sefas Emes, who was killed by the Nazis.

“Dear uncle,” Rav Pinchos Menachem asked in the dream, “please tell me why there are so many personal tzaros today. There appears to be more illness, suffering and hardship than ever before.”

In the dream, the Pavianitzer Rov answered that previously, when a fellow Jew was suffering, the whole shtetl felt the pain. People were much closer to each other and one person’s agony was shared by all. In those days, a gezeirah on a yochid was a gezeirah on the tzibbur, because the tzibbur suffered along with the yochid.

When Hakadosh Boruch Hu causes people to suffer, everyone’s pain is considered in the equation. Even if the person who was supposed to be afflicted is determined to be worthy of the punishment, nevertheless, if the rest of the community who will be affected by the person’s pain is not deserving of that suffering, the person will not be afflicted.

Today, when people don’t care deeply for others, the zechus that had protected so many people has been removed.

Moshe Rabbeinu, brought up in the king’s palace, left the royal residence to witness the suffering of his Jewish brethren. Growing up in a bubble, he had never really met any of the Jews and had no relationship with any of them. As he matured, he wanted to exit the royally imposed isolation and assess their situation. When he saw a Mitzri beating a Jew, he was overcome with grief and his first reaction was to kill the evil man who was hurting his brother. His whole life, he had been restricted from meeting any Jews, yet as soon as he saw their affliction, he felt the pain and sought to remedy it.

While he thought that no one had seen what he did, two wicked Jews had watched as he committed the selfless act. They mocked him and he responded to no one is particular, “Ochein, noda hadovor.”

Rashi (Shemos 2:14) explains that Moshe was saying that he had wondered why Klal Yisroel was singled out from all the nations of the world for such suffering, but when he heard the comments of those two men, he understood and saw that Am Yisroel was deserving of the subjugation.

Hearing their negativity and apathy regarding fellow Jews, he perceived the discord and understood everything.

If a person has a healthy, strong heart, he can endure strong infections and serious illness. However, lo aleinu, if the heart is weak, even a seemingly minor virus or infection can be deadly, because the body is unable to fight back.

In order for Klal Yisroel to be able to withstand those who set upon it to destroy it, the nation needs a strong heart. The heart of Am Yisroel is strong when its people are united and connected and feel responsible for each other.

Achdus is what keeps our people alive through the vagaries of golus.

Every day, we hear of people who have become sick. We hear about another victim of Arab terror. We hear of more Jewish blood spilled. We say the requisite words, but our hearts aren’t affected.

Last week, a rebbi from Aish Hatorah lost his life walking along the ancient walls of Yerushalayim. I was heartbroken when I saw that his family resorted to advertising for people to come to help out with the minyan as they sat shivah. We are always dan lechaf zechus that they live in some faraway, inconvenient or dangerous place, but we would imagine that people would be flowing to comfort a family who lost their father and husband in such a gruesome fashion.

When we hear of a tzarah in the community, we must feel the pain as if it was ours. Feeling sad is not enough. We have to daven for the people who are suffering. We have to seek ways to help them, even if it is difficult and even if it is time-consuming. That is the secret of our strength. That is what keeps us going.

There shouldn’t be such a thing as a personal tzarah. The distress of every yochid should be felt by the tzibbur.

When everything appears bleak to an acquaintance, your smile can make the difference. You don’t have to say anything. Just show that you care and that you want to help. Show that you share the grief. Words are tough during sensitive times and there isn’t always something to say, but showing a suffering person that he isn’t alone is a consolation.

As the Pavianitzer Rov taught in the dream, the very act of feeling for each other can itself bring about a resolution to the problem.

The length of the golus is one of the prices we pay for the fragmentation of society. By drawing closer to each other, by feeling the pain and puncturing the bubbles of companionless, solitary suffering, we can help bring about the geulah.

Our forefathers were shepherds, because to excel in that profession, you have to feel the pain of an animal and understand how to motivate it. Moshe, our greatest leader, taught an enduring lesson when he passed the burning bush. He paused to marvel at the phenomenon of a bush on fire, with the blaze roaring through it but not consuming it. He wondered why the bush wasn’t swallowed up by the flames.

As he stood at the site trying to comprehend what was going on, Hashem told him to remove his shoes.

Baalei mussar would say that his shoes were removed to teach Moshe to experience the pain caused by the small stones underfoot. A leader must empathize with people even when their problems appear to be insignificant.

Sifrei Chassidus explain that, in removing his shoes, Moshe was being told to show respect for the holiness of the place, for the burning bush homiletically represented a person in pain, flames licking at him and singeing him, but unable to consume him.

A leader must appreciate the pain of another and know how to “remove his shoes” and stand back, silently and respectfully. Don’t judge someone who is suffering. As far as you are concerned, he is a holy person. Love him, daven for him, and encourage him with sensitivity. Remove your shoes and feel the pain and pebbles, the sticks and stones. Judging is for Hashem; our job is to empathize.

With that perspective, Moshe was able to lead a broken people out of golus and into geulah.

There are so many lonely people in personal golus. We can help them with our thoughtful words and actions. They are imprisoned. Their world may seem bright, but it is black. We can shine light upon them. We can befriend them, smile at them, take an interest in them, and thus set them free. A wealthy man who seems to have many admirers, a rov with many devotees, and a macher with a large rolodex (or Rolex) can all be lonely.

They’re crying out for friendship. Show them that you appreciate them for the people they are, not for what they have achieved. Try saying hello to them without asking them for something. Exhibit a normal human connection. You’ll be helping them and helping the world, bringing Moshiach a step closer.

Rav Mordechai Schwab would say that even people with poor memories can tell you who came to their simcha and how long they stayed. This indicates that the moments of the whispered mazel tov, the warm embrace, and statements such as, “I came just for you,” are extremely vital to the human condition.

People crave those moments. It is not so hard to make a person feel good.

And even when it is hard, we still must feel for each other.

Rav Boruch Shimon Schneerson, son-in-law of the Tchebiner Rov and rosh yeshiva of the Tchebiner Yeshiva, would speak with reverence about a group of Litvishe yeshiva bochurim he met while in Russian captivity. A student of Chassidishe yeshivos, when he met them for the first time, he was wary. However, with time, he became an admirer of their learning, hasmodah, lomdus and yiras Shomayim.

Rav Schneerson would say that what was more impressive than the way they lived was how they died. Soviet beasts asked the yeshiva bochurim for information regarding the names of some escaped talmidim. As one, each bochur refused to divulge any information. Although they endured terrible horrors at the hands of the evil Russians, they made it clear that they would sooner die than cause harm to their friends.

The Tchebiner rosh yeshiva would say that the effect of their Torah was evident not just in how they learned, but in the way they were connected to each other. They understood what it meant to be one.

We can emulate their heroism, even as we, bechasdei Hashem, do not to face their nisayon. We can create a sense of oneness in our communities, shuls and neighborhoods by warming up lonely souls, one by one. There is no one immune to a smile, no one deaf to a compliment.

It’s a revolution that takes just one person to start. Moshe Rabbeinu was one person, yet he led a nation out of golus. It all began when he felt the jabs of the pebbles.

It is time for us to get out and touch people. Let’s free people from their individual golus.

We can begin by emulating Moshe’s path, feeling the despondency of others, and extending our hands and hearts so that we might all go home soon, together.

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