By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
On Sunday, we entered the period commonly known as The Three Weeks, when we mourn the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh and, by extension, the long golus and all we have suffered in the exile. We lament events that took place in the past and seek to improve in the future.
Reb Chaim Soloveitchik was a son of Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rov. Though he suffered greatly, he was able to echo timeless truths he had absorbed in his father’s home. He often shared divrei Torah and insights that were both interesting and refreshing.
In the hesped that Rav Moshe Mordechai Shulsinger of Bnei Brak delivered following Reb Chaim’s passing, he spoke about how Reb Chaim’s proximity to the Brisker Rov had elevated his thought process.
He related a thought that he had once heard from Reb Chaim to illustrate his point. In his youth, Chaim entered a bais medrash on the evening of Shiva Assar B’Tammuz. He quoted the Mishnah that states that on this night, Apostomus burned a Sefer Torah and commented, “Only a foolish goy can think that it is possible to burn the Torah.”
Chaim laughed and continued.
“Do you know what really happened? Apostomus burned the Sefer Torah, but as a result of his action, Rav Yehuda Hanosi added seven words to the Mishnah: ‘Beshivah assar beTammuz soraf Apostomus es haTorah.‘ And now, whenever someone learns those words, he fulfills seven mitzvos asei of limud haTorah.”
Concluded Chaim, “It is impossible to burn the Torah. Torah emerges from the burning of the Torah. The parchment is burned, but the letters hover in the air. From the rasha’s action emerged more Torah.”
As we enter the saddest period of the Jewish year, the darkness threatens to engulf us. We remember the blows of last summer, just twelve months ago. The bruises have not faded much. We were sure the anguish of that bitter period was part of the chevlei Moshiach. We are still here, still waiting.
The news these days doesn’t do anything to lift our spirits. Despots across the Middle East are as trigger-happy as ever, ready to pounce on tiny Eretz Yisroel at the slightest excuse. In the small land of the Jews, tensions run high as the government, media and a majority of its citizens attempt once again to destroy the yeshivos by pulling bochurim and yungeleit away from their shtenders. They seek to replace the words of Rav Yehuda Hanosi, the Tanoim, Amoraim, Rishonim and Acharonim with tanks and guns. They seek to replace black hats with green helmets, black jackets with flak jackets, and dikduk b’mitzvos with a slide away from Torah and observance.
Even here, we are feeling the pinch of government activists apparently intent on banning the “archaic and cruel” practice of bris milah, as a German court recently did. We learn in Jewish history of the persecution our people suffered and the edicts our tormentors passed as they sought to eradicate us and our religion, and we think that such acts are a thing of the past. Alas, if it were only so.
Many have no doubt been following the ongoing effort to employ extreme methods to finally draft yeshiva bochurim into the Israeli army, but those of us living here do not fathom the degree to which this issue is being cynically used by the enemies of Torah and religion to incite the masses and drive a wedge between the people of Israel.
Last week, I flew to Eretz Yisroel for a few days. On the plane, I was treated to a smattering of the Israeli press. Huge headlines cry out against the despised chareidim. Respected columnists warn Prime Minster Binyomin Netanyahu that if he sides with the leeches, he can forget about winning the election next time around. They mock him for resurrecting a dying political party and the careers of those who seek to unseat him by bringing in Shaul Mofaz and the Kadima party he heads, into his government two months ago. Instead of carrying through on his planned early elections, Netanyahu empowered his political enemies to threaten him, and more dangerously, the Torah community.
So now, instead of Mofaz and Kadima being reduced to a mockery, they are the new heroes of Israel, using their power to force the issue of yeshiva drafts. Netanyahu, having to choose between his immediate needs and his supposed allegiance to those who put him in power, and who can be counted to fulfill the same function after the next election, makes the momentary expedient choice of joining the jihad against the religious Jews.
I sat on the plane reading one paper after another, each trying to outdo its competition in a bid for who can be more shrill in their defamation of the parasitical yeshiva bochurim. While one warns the secularists that this is the opportunity they have long been waiting for and that they dare not waste it by not making their voices heard very loudly, the other warns Netanyahu that he is on a precipice all alone, and if he sides with the chareidim, he will be committing political suicide. Another stated, “Baderech Lechurban – If we blow our opportunity this time, it will be a catastrophe.”
There are pages gushing over the new “gibor,” or hero, Yochanan Plesner, who until a couple of weeks ago was a fledging backbencher no one ever heard of. Now, he is the one man who, they believe, is on the cusp of succeeding where no one else has, putting those hated ones in their place and finally stemming their remarkable growth.
Lest you think that the push to draft bochurim is not all about cutting the chareidim down to size, a column in The Jerusalem Post may open your eyes. It discusses the release last month of a study that showed the growth of the Orthodox population in the New York area. According to the article, it “sent shockwaves throughout the Jewish world.”
But not to fear.
“The future of American Jewry is not necessarily Orthodox or haredi despite the firm finding,” the eminent sociologist who conducted the study told the Post. The article explains: “By 2040, Jewish New York might be largely Orthodox and/or haredi.” But things can happen to change that. “It might be that the haredim can’t sustain a sectarian lifestyle, it is financially impossible… So the men go off to work, birthrates fall and their children and grandchildren drop out of a haredi lifestyle and become Conservative or Reform or non-denominational.”
And lest you think this is pure secular fantasy, the newspaper tells you that “there is evidence to support this theory,” and puts forth some other reasons for “optimism” that the growth of the chareidim can be stopped.
Having had enough of the endless class warfare and hatred of the media, I opened the Hebrew edition of Forbes Magazine, curious to see what they are reporting. I should have known. The cover story was about the rich rabbis of Israel. Inside the business magazine were juicy tidbits and quotes about how all, or most of, the rabbis are crooks.
Perhaps it can be expected that liberal, secularist newspapers would engage in the same demagoguery as politicians and do all they can to turn the masses against the religious community, blaming them for much of what ails the country. It may even be that intelligent readers discount to a certain degree what they read in the various publications, but when a respected business publication engages in the same bitter, dishonest victimization game under the guise of serious reportage, such reports can be counted on to achieve the common goal.
Forbes quotes a rabbinic expert as saying that, “Most of today’s rabbis are boors and amei aratzim, who have turned the religion into an avodah zara. They have no knowledge and mislead their adherents, and cause them to spend thousands of shekolim on lies. They cause business-owners to go bankrupt and suffer severe economic harm, and the worst part is that most of them have no semichah to be a rov.”
The expert goes on to say, “Today, every rabbi is a tycoon, business advisor and businessman. Every one turns himself into a god… They are busy with everything except Torah and helping the public. They do nothing leSheim Shomayim, or else Moshiach would have already been here.”
They quote another expert, no less an authority than the chairman of the journalist organization, who says, “Many of today’s rabbonim are swindlers and charlatans who make money off of the weak and unlucky, who are forced to donate [to them] from their empty pockets… They are boors lacking in even the basic knowledge of Torah and Gemara… Their goal is to enrich their organizations and be driven around in fancy cars.”
Just as in classic demagoguery, our enemies do not engage in serious analysis of the issues, but rather seek to score propaganda points in order to advance their careers by appealing to the base emotions of the masses. They feed off prior ingrained prejudices, achieved after decades of what can be understood as brainwashing, poisoning the minds of those who don’t know better or understand the underlying issues which gave growth to the problem of today.
Chaim Der Rov’s had it right. Much as the posuk recounts about our experience in Mitzrayim, “Ka’asher ya’anu oso kein yirbeh vechein yifrotz,” the more they fight us, the stronger we get. Aspostomus Harasha set fire to a scroll and created more Torah. Antiyochus sought to curtail mitzvah observance and, instead, his decrees led to the mitzvos and celebrations of Chanukah.
Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach would often say that the proper response to a threat to the olam haTorah is an explosion of Torah. As the government attempts to shrink yeshivos and kollelim, the appropriate response is to work to ensure that there is more Torah.
And who knows? Maybe these dark times are necessary to make us fight back, rise up to the challenge, and show who we really are, in order to merit the geulah.
In fact, the gemora at the end of maseches Kesubos (112b) foretells that “Dor sheben Dovid ba kateiroga bitalmidei chachomim – in the generation in which Moshiach will come, talmidei chachomim will be vilified.” Rashi explains that in that time “many mastinim and melamdei chova will rise against them,” seeking to disparage and undermine them.
In Eretz Yisroel, we fight for the Torah itself, while in Europe and the United States there is a serious threat to a most basic mitzvah. All over, ehrliche Yidden must rise up and cry, “Never again.” Never again will we permit anti-religious governments to impede Yiddishkeit. Never again will we place our faith in government, in politicians whose loyalty to us and to the truth is as fickle as the weather.
In the year 2012, in a world of lies, impurity, immorality and filth, we feel tzaar at the lack of the most sublime and spiritual structure in the world.
While in Yerushalayim, I had the opportunity, as usual, to daven in the Zichron Moshe shul. Thursday morning, I saw a man sleeping on a bench. His clothing was dirty. His sleep was repeatedly interrupted as he scratched himself in pain from not having showered in many days. It was a pitiful sight, though not unusual in that hallowed shul.
On Friday evening, Yerushalayimer Yidden of all types came to daven Kabbolas Shabbos there. Many of those who had completed Kabbolas Shabbos in the smaller shtieblach were waiting in the large bais medrash for the required period after shkiah in order to begin Maariv. I walked by the large shul and looked into the window. There was the Yid who, a day before and probably that day as well, had been sleeping in squalor on a bench in that very room. But from the window, I saw him as he sat on the mizrach wall, facing the shul. He was bedecked in a Yerushalayimer gold bekeshe and shtreimel. He was shining as he sat there with a broad smile on his face. The Shabbos transformed him. He was a new person. His neshomah yeseirah had arrived. It was Shabbos and he was a new being, almost unrecognizable from what he was a few hours before.
I stood there soaking in the image and thinking that this is how the geulah will be. We are overcome with shmutz, dirt, pain and sadness. We are in golus, exiled among the nations and those who have strayed. We are far from home. But we do not despair. We know that the day of our redemption is around the corner. We will be cleansed, freshened and made anew. Joy will return. And in the very place where we experienced pain, humiliation and suffering, we will find comfort.
Meforshim wonder about the connection between the geulah and the heightened moments when Shabbos enters every week, which are combined in the universally recited Lecha Dodi.
We raise our voices and sing, welcoming the Kallah, yet the words we chant aren’t as much about Shabbos as about Yerushalayim.
We shift from Likras Shabbos to Mikdash Melech, focusing on the Palace of the King. We hope for Hisna’ari and call out for Hisoreri, breaking into dance as we envision the time of Yosis olayich Elokayich.
The commentators ask why we chant these poetic expressions about the redemption and Yerushalayim at the time that Shabbos descends on the world. Why do we mix the two?
This past Shabbos, in Zichron Moshe, as I stood transfixed at that window, I saw the transformational power of Shabbos and I discovered the answer to that question.
Each Shabbos, we are able arise from the dust – mei’afar kumi – as individuals.
When Moshiach comes, we will do so as a people, together, just as we sing in Lecha Dodi, “Hisna’ari m’ofur kumi, livshi bigdei sifarteich ami al yad ben Yishai.. .korvah el nafshi g’olah.”
May it take place soon in our day.
The media reported that during Russian premier Vladimir Putin’s recent trip to Israel, he visited the Kosel at 1:30 in the morning after a long day of diplomatic meetings and dinners. While there, a man called out to him in Russian welcoming him to Israel. The president approached him and asked him what he was praying for at 1:30 A.M. The Russian immigrant responded that he was praying that the Beis Hamikdosh should be rebuilt. They entered into a discussion about what the Beis Hamikdosh was and what it represented. As they were about to part, Putin told the man that he would also pray for the return of the Beis Hamikdosh. The Jewish man told the president of the former communist bastion that when he lived in Russia he had no concept of Judaism and knew nothing about the Beis Hamikdosh. “I learned about all of this when I arrived in Israel, in Russia I knew nothing about Judaism.” The communists suppressed it all.
Putin, according to the report, shot back that it wasn’t true. The country didn’t restrain Jewish religion, he told the incredulous man. “In fact,” said the leader of the former Soviet Union, “I remember hearing my Jewish neighbors singing Jewish tunes every Saturday as they ate festive meals.”
We have come so far that Vladimir Putin, the man who heads the country which fought a desperate battle for seventy years against Judaism, ripping millions from their roots and robbing them of their heritage, can shamelessly deny that any of that ever took place. It seems so far off and so bizarre that up until quite recently an empire would expand so much effort to eradicate the Jewish religion from its borders, that its current head who has an amicable and friendly relationship with many Jews, seems to have forgotten about that sorry chapter. He stands at the holiest Jewish site, declaring that Jews were allowed to openly practice their religion in the Soviet Union, and saying that he was going to pray for the return of the Beis Hamikdosh. It must be Moshiach times.
Rav Mayer Zelig Mann was a longtime member of the hanhalah of Yeshivas Telshe in Wickliffe, Ohio. He was a member of the yeshiva since its glory years in Telshe, Lithuania. While on the run with his close friend, Rav Chaim Stein, during the war years, he witnessed and experienced miracles that saved their lives.
He told of a particularly frightening time, when they were in hiding and heard the footsteps of Russian soldiers running over their underground hideout as they searched for them.
Rav Chaim turned to him and said, “Zelig, Moshiach kumt balt.” He told Reb Zelig, a gifted baal menagein, to compose a niggun to the words “Ma novu al heharim.“
In the sounds of the stomping boots of the enemy seeking to kill them, Rav Chaim heard “raglei mevaseir,” the song of the footsteps of impending geulah.
May we sing that song this year, joining together as one to be mevaser yeshuah and tell Tzion the long-awaited news that “Molach Elokayich.”