By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
“Velo shamu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah.” This posuk in this week’s parsha is almost haunting in its implications.
Just try to imagine the scene. Moshe Rabbeinu was tending to his flock in the wilderness, when he beheld the extraordinary sight of a bush aflame. He stopped what he was doing to consider what was taking place in front of him, as he wondered how it could be that the fire was burning but the bush wasn’t being consumed.
Like his ancestor, Avrohom Avinu, who studied the world and concluded that it could not have come into being by itself, as the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 39:1) relates, Moshe perceived that the Creator was announcing His Presence. He recognized that this was a defining moment in his life.
While Moshe was standing at the bush, the Ribbono Shel Olam addressed him, stating that he has been selected for a lofty mission, with a mandate to save his people.
Moshe asks for assurance. “What Name shall I tell them?” he says.
Hashem revealed Himself using the name of “Ehkeh asher Ehkeh – I will be with them through this golus and all the subsequent travails and hard times.”
Moshe was fresh off experiencing the revelation of the Creator of heaven and earth, who had decreed that the children of the avos, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, to whom He had previously appeared, would be enslaved in a strange land and eventually freed. No doubt exultant after his long conversation with Hashem and bearing the knowledge that the painful enslavement would soon end, Moshe went to share the good news with his brothers and sisters who had been suffering for as long as anyone could remember. He appeared to them and said the words they had been waiting to hear: “Higia zeman geulaschem – The time of your redemption has arrived.”
Tragically, almost unbelievably, the enslaved heirs of the avos to whom Hashem had previously appeared, didn’t listen.
“Velo shamu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah.
They didn’t listen. They couldn’t listen. They didn’t have the keilim with which to listen. They were incapable of hearing the words that would have transformed everything for them. They failed to digest the message promising hope for a better tomorrow.
Like every posuk in the Torah, this posuk is recorded for posterity to instruct and guide us. The words and their lessons remain relevant for eternity. The tale of the people too tired to hear the words they had been awaiting for two hundred years is relevant to us in our day.
At the close of the year 2011, experts in the media and academia shared their choice for the “word of the year.” They searched for a word that defined the values, struggles and experiences of society in 2011. One of the most interesting of their selections was the word “bleak.”
This word has been used quite often during the past year. The economic forecast, of course, was bleak, as was the foreign affairs front. The word, and its accompanying baggage, marched into the American mindset, settling in like an unwelcome guest.
Yidden live in a state of constant anticipation, always awaiting good news. Like the Chofetz Chaim, with his special kappota ready for Moshiach’s imminent arrival, we all carry a sense of expectancy, viewing the events around us through eyes that look beyond them, our ears listening for the footsteps of our go’el.
The situation in our world is bleak, to be sure. So many people are struggling to feed their families. Suddenly, it has once again become acceptable to be anti-Semitic. Each day, it seems, there is graffiti in some other supposed safe place, reminding us that we are in golus. Tiny Eretz Yisroel is being targeted by despots and crazies. The Torah community has its own problems and is being targeted by secularists, with fodder being generously provided by extremists.
Yet, we are equipped with the tools to see beyond that, keeping our ears open for the mevaser tov, who will come to tell us that our troubles are over.
The sun shines brightly, though at times its rays are concealed by clouds. We have to posses the ability to see beyond the clouds to the light and warmth of the sun.
Few things are more disturbing than encountering bitter people. They are surrounded by opportunity and blessing, yet they insist on concentrating on the negatives. Such people remain locked in by the inability to see beyond the sadness which envelopes them. They are unable to dream of a better day or of working to achieve lasting accomplishments. They can’t acknowledge greatness in others, nor do they possess the self-confidence to achieve anything themselves.
There is so much goodness in our world. There is much to be happy about and proud of, yet too many are consumed by the negative, concentrating on the bad news and failing to see the entire picture. We forget that we are blessed to live in a land of plenty, which provides for the poor and those unable to make ends meet. We don’t know of much crime, and the anti-Semitism our forefathers experienced is basically in remission.
Fresh off the Holocaust which almost decimated our people, we have reestablished ourselves and now flourish in cities and towns across the globe. The waves of assimilation which plagued first-generation religious Americans are non-existent. We can do what we want, where we want, and no one bothers us.
Why the negativity? Why the constant harping on what is wrong without appreciating the good?
The process of learning Torah and avodas hamussar is meant to train us to see the tov. We are to acquire an ayin tovah that allows us to discern the good in what we do have and to appreciate the fortune that abounds, if only we were ready to look a little deeper. In order to be good Jews, we have to be happy with the present and positive about the future. If we aren’t, it is an indication of how much we are lacking in the study of Torah and mussar.
Torah and mussar keep the person who studies them active, optimistic, energetic and positive. It shapes an individual into a mentsch, a person who respects others and is worthy of respect himself.
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (6:9) explains that the reason the Jews in Mitzrayim were not able to listen to the words of Moshe was because they were not bnei Torah. Torah broadens a person’s heart, he says. Had they been bnei Torah, they would have been receptive to Moshe’s message. We, who have been granted the gift of Torah, have no excuse for not being open to hearing the words of the Moshe Rabbeinus of our generation and those who seek to improve our lots and help us prepare ourselves for the geulah.
Every year, the previous Boyaner Rebbe would make a siyum during the Nine Days on Maseches Makkos. People thought that he made the siyum on that particular masechta because of its relatively small size, until the Rebbe explained that there was a deeper reason for his custom.
The final Gemara in Maseches Makkos tells the story of the Tannaim walking alongside Rabi Akiva up to Yerushalayim. When they beheld the makom hamikdosh in ruins, they began to weep, but Rabi Akiva smiled. They asked him why he was smiling, while they cried at the sight of foxes walking out of the place of the Kodesh Hakodoshim. He explained, using pesukim, that in order for the nevuos of geulah to be fulfilled, the nevuos of churban must be completed first.
Now that the destruction is so complete, he reasoned, we can anticipate the geulah.
“Akiva nichamtanu. Akiva nichamtanu,” they famously replied. “Akiva, you have comforted us.”
The Boyaner Rebbe explained that during the days which commemorate the churban, he wanted to be reminded of this lesson. He wanted to remember that there is no situation that doesn’t carry hints of a better tomorrow.
We have to work, as did Rabi Akiva, to locate those markers, those lights along the side of the road promising good tidings. It would behoove us to keep our ears wide open for good news. We have to look for the sparks of goodness in the Jewish people. We should be thankful for the shuls we have to daven in and the yeshivos and botei medrash spreading Torah and kedushah to a thirsting people. We should be thankful for the peace and tranquility we enjoy, and for the homes, the heat, the cars, the gasoline, the electricity, and everything else that we are blessed with in this country.
A friend in Montreal told me about an eltere Yid named Reb Aron Pernikoff, who spent most of his time at the Montreal Community Kollel. Reb Aron didn’t enjoy an easy life, but he exuded a certain tranquil joy, a loftiness and chashivus.
Reb Aron had a vertel he loved to share. He would quote the famous posuk in Tehillim that tells of the tragic descent of the Bnei Yisroel into golus after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. “Al naharos Bavel, sham yoshavnu gam bochinu bezochreinu es Tzion – We sat and wept by the rivers of Bavel when we recalled Yerushalayim. Al aravim besocha talinu kinoroseinu – We hung our harps in the willow trees which grew at the river.”
Reb Aron would ask, “Where did the exiled Jews have harps from?” When people run away, when they are barely escaping with their lives into a golus, they take only the bare necessities that they think they will need. “How did they have harps with them?” he would wonder.
He would answer, “A Yid knows that no matter where he is going, no matter how bleak the landscape ahead is, there will always be reason to sing. They took their musical instruments along in anticipation of those opportunities.”
This past Motzoei Shabbos, I joined multitudes of Monsey Yidden in paying tribute to the roshei yeshiva and talmidim of Lakewood’s Bais Medrash Govoah at the yeshiva‘s annual Monsey reception. It was heartening, almost therapeutic. It was an opportunity to sing in the darkness of golus, to join together and say, “Look, even thousands of years removed from the days of gilui Shechinah and the fires of korbanos, we can still gather around the holy mekomos haTorah. We can still come yachad shivtei Yisroel and joyously pledge allegiance to the ideals of eitz chaim hee lamachazikim bah.“
Every week, there are dinners, parlor meetings and receptions for yeshivos, shuls and mosdos of tzedakah and chessed. As difficult as the economy is, people still open up their wallets and help each other.
When we sit down to learn this week’s parsha and read the posuk, “Velo shamu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah,” let us ensure that we aren’t guilty of “velo shamu el Moshe.” Moshe’s word is the Torah. It is enduring and binding, and listening to it means keeping our ears tilted to hear the sounds of imminent geulah and open to the besuros tovos that are all around us. Let us not grow so despondent about our situation that we can’t hear and see the good which is prevalent.
Let us always be on the lookout for Eliyahu Hanovi, who will soon be mevaser lonu besoros tovos yeshuos venechamos.