By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The most dramatic and meaningful bond between Hashem and man is demonstrated in this week’s parsha with the account of a people gathered at the foot of the mountain, a faithful leader ascending the mountain and descending with the most precious gift of all time, theTorah.
We all stood there at that glorious moment encountering our Creator Who addressed us in His Voice. He charged us with keeping Hismitzvos, learning His Torah, and safeguarding a sacred trust. He entrusted us with the DNA of creation, the keys to forces of nature, and provided us with the ability to transcend what is normally thought to be human limitations.
At the mountain, Hashem informed us of our role, our title and our mission amongst the people of this world. As the posuk says, “Ve’atem tihiyu li mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh.” He told us that we will be princes in His kingdom.
Following a long and arduous escape from Europe, the Brisker Rov arrived in Eretz Yisroel accompanied by his sons and daughters. Many quickly recognized the obligation to help the noble family as they resettled. When the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel, heard that the Brisker Rov’s sons were wearing the same suits in which they’d arrived, he sent an envelope with cash for the Rov, writing on it that it is to be used to purchase new suits for his sons.
The Brisker Rov returned the money with a note of appreciation. Rav Leizer Yudel approached him and persisted that he accept the money to buy clothing for his children, but the Rov remained adamant in his refusal.
Rav Leizer Yudel asked him why he was so unwavering in refusing the gift. “Why should these bochurim feel different than every otherbochur their age?” exclaimed the Mirrer rosh yeshiva.
The Brisker Rov hesitated, unsure of whether to respond, and finally, out of respect for Rav Leizer Yudel, explained his reasoning.
“It is good for them to feel different,” said the Brisker Rov, “because they are different.”
Being a prince means that a different standard of behavior is expected. As the French saying goes, noblesse oblige. There is a responsibility, an achrayus, that comes with royalty.
We are familiar with Chazal’s account of how Hashem circulated amongst the umos ha’olam to offer them the Torah and how they all turned Him down.
Am Yisroel accepted the Torah, and along with it came the title ofmamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh. Occupying that position means, for example, that a talmid chochom who wears dirty clothing ischayov misah (Shabbos 114a), because, as Rashi explains, he causes the general opinion of talmidei chachomim and, by extension, the Torah they represent to be downgraded.
In the written accounts of the final moments of Rav Nachman of Breslov, it is related that when he was too weak to speak or even move, he summoned his final strength to ask his attendant to pull up the hem of his shirtsleeve so that it would not protrude beyond his jacket. Rav Nachman was teaching a final lesson about seder, order, and its place in the life of the oveid Hashem.
The last Rashi in Parshas Yisro reinforces this concept. The Torah directs us not to construct steps to ascend the mizbei’ach in order to show respect for the stones. Rashi tells us that the posuk implies akal vachomer: Umah avonim halolu she’ein bohem daas lehakpid al bizyonam, these stones lack the perception to care about the humiliation, yet the Torah admonishes us not to treat them in a derogatory fashion. Certainly when dealing with a person, who is fashioned in the image of the Creator and who is particular about the way he is treated, must we be considerate of his feelings.
Great men are never relaxed when it comes to the respect or dignity of another. They are inherently respectful not just of people, but of objects.
When Rav Simcha Zissel Broide, rosh yeshiva of the ChevronYeshiva, was a bochur, Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel met him and was impressed by his quick mind and sterling middos. The Mirrer rosh yeshiva recommended that the bochur travel to learn in the greatyeshivos of Lita, much like those who seek aliyah nowadays go to Eretz Yisroel to learn.
Rav Simcha Zissel followed the advice and, for the rest of his life, he would share stories of his experiences there.
He once recounted how, during his time in Kelm, the washing cup was found away from its proper place. This was considered a disaster by the bnei hayeshiva. Rav Simcha Zissel’s rebbetzin heard him retell the story and she wondered aloud: “From something like a washing cup being out of place does one make a Tisha B’Av?” The Chevroner rosh yeshiva responded, “From a misplaced washing cup one makes a Yom Kippur!”
In this pithy response lies a penetrating truth. Respect and dignity are the hallmarks of royalty, and if we truly felt our sacred role, we would be incapable of showing disregard or a lack of respect. In Kelm, they lived in accordance with the words of Chazal of “Kol Yisroel bnei melachim heim.” Any breach in decorum was a disaster, because it represented a moment when someone forgot their lofty station.
We are not thoughtless, sloppy, careless individuals. We are the bearers of a regal tradition and our every nuance needs to reflect that. It’s certainly easier to remember our superior status when things are calm and easy. Amidst turbulence and instability it becomes harder, but the fact is that a real relationship doesn’t ever allow for forgetting.
In one of the Al Cheit confessions that we recite on Yom Kippur, we bang our chests and beg forgiveness “al cheit shechatanu lefonecha besimhon leivov,” for the sins we committed through confusion of the heart.
Why do we need to ask forgiveness for sins that are caused by confusion? Why are they not onsim, mistakes, for which the Torahabsolves us?
The answer is given by way of a moshol. Imagine a man traveling on his boat. A vicious wave tips over the boat and throws the man into the water. After initially flailing about, he summons his inner strength and swims to the shore. When he reaches safety, he realizes that in the confusion and turmoil, he forgot his Cartier watch on his boat and that he will never see it again. Obviously, the man is easily forgiven for forgetting about his watch under those conditions.
Now imagine that the man is thrown from his boat by a strong wave, and after swimming to shore, he realizes that he swam to safety without thinking about saving his wife who was traveling with him. In all the tumult, he forgot about her. The act of forgetfulness in such a situation is unforgivable. Their relationship doesn’t allow for forgetting!
At Har Sinai, we forged a relationship that endures through blood and fire, in good times and bad. Ki anu amecha ve’atah Elokeinu. There is no exclusion in times of confusion.
Today, in 2013, it’s as true as ever. We must seek to live with that reality, pledging allegiance to the ideal and embodying it. Emunah andbitachon are our lifeblood.
A daughter of our friend, Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, got married last week. The bride’s father did not spend the wedding day doing last-minute errands. He didn’t run to the tailor to fix his frock or visit the barber to get a haircut. Nor did he welcome any guests or fill in the last-minute place cards.
The avi hakallah spent the day in prison, far away from the happy commotion. From afar, he offered his tefillos for the young couple and a message for his family and dear friends. He wrote a note to them, recounting a story told by Reb Mendel Futerfas.
It is a tale of a small-time musician, who made his livelihood traveling from town to town with his instrument, playing in public places. The sound of his happy music would draw a crowd, whom the musician would regale with joyous song for a long while. In turn, the audience would fill his plate with coins, demonstrating their appreciation for the musical entertainment.
Troubadours would often travel with a helper. An unfortunate boy from a poor home that could not afford to care for him was given over to the vagabond. In exchange for food and clothing, the boy’s job was to clap and bang along with the musician. He would also try to create a festive atmosphere by crying out, “Freilecher! Freilecher! Freilecher!“ spurring on the crowd, encouraging the townspeople to permit the music to gladden their souls and pay the piper.
It happened one day that the young hapless helper was distracted and wasn’t doing his job properly. He was missing his cues to clap and bang along with his boss. The musician tried to get his attention, but the tired helper was oblivious. He was ruining the show and squandering the opportunity for a full plate of coins at the end of the performance. Finally, the musician reached out and slapped the day-dreaming helper across his face.
The poor young man was humiliated and hurt. He was shattered, but the show had to go on. Despite his intense pain and shame, the young man had a job to do, so he began to clap and bang once again, crying, “Freilecher! Freilecher! Freilecher!“ as his reddened face told a different story.
The helper realized that without this job, he had no home, no food and no drink, nor a place to rest or keep warm. His life depended on maintaining his position as an apprentice to the musician. With no choice, he swallowed his pride and agony, and he pasted a smile on his face. He then continued clapping, smiling, laughing, singing and shouting as loud and convincingly as he could.
Initially, his enthusiasm was only external, as he suffered inside. However, quickly, even as he was in pain, he realized that his agony would soon pass and that his essence, as one who was grateful for and happy with his job, would once again define him. Thus, even in his moment of pain, he was able to shout, “Freilecher! Freilecher! Freilecher!“ and encourage the crowd to be cheerful, because he recognized that he himself had ample reason to be happy.
His existence was all about him assisting the musician, and everything in his life was connected to this job. He understood that his action of banging and clapping would ensure him his job and his life. When that realization hit home, he himself became freilach once again and he cheered on the crowd.
Reb Mendel Futerfas would conclude his tale by stating that theyeitzer horah tries to cause Yidden to fall into yei’ush and bitterness, but we refuse. Instead, we are “Freilecher! Freilecher! Freilecher!“ as we sing through the pain, focused on how fortunate we really are.
This was the message of the avi hakallah, who lives with the sting of the slap, but is able to transcend the pain and appreciate that the One Who can give the rebuke is the One Who gives life itself. Perhaps the joy at that special chasunah last week was reflective of that message, a united dance of “Freilecher! Freilecher! Freilecher!”
Am Yisroel is bound in a deep relationship with Hashem. We are special. We are princes in His kingdom. No matter where we are and what nisyonos we are facing, we cannot forget that. We cannot become depressed or despondent when things don’t go our way. We have to remember that our avodah and our existence are tied to theMelech Malchei Hamelochim Who controls every movement on earth. We have to absorb the slaps, but remain loyal and freilach.
Being part of the mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh is a responsibility, but it is a happy one, which continuously reminds us of who we are, what our purpose here is, and what we will merit if we fulfill it.
And so, as we once again hear the Aseres Hadibros being read with the taam ha’elyon, we relive the glory that was back then, and everyYiddishe neshomah feels a rush as we rise in shul, turn our eyes heavenward, and say, “Here we are, loyal as ever, waiting patiently for You to take us home.”
Freilecher, freilecher, freilecher.