By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Iran is back in the news again, as its citizens muster up the courage to protest against the crushing regime. The Iranian threat has dominated headlines for several years now, with its radical, irrational leaders pursuing a nuclear weapon with the ability to exterminate Israel. Jews and freedom-lovers the world over fear that Iran is on the precipice of realizing its ambition, and have serious concerns about the safety of the citizens of Eretz Yisroel.
Iran supports terror groups across the Middle East and is at Israel’s border in Lebanon and Syria. Their plans keep military planners up at night. Iran and its allies represent a serious threat to Eretz Yisroel. But Rav Michel Stern, a prominent Yerushalmi boki in niglah and nistar, says that Iran is not our biggest problem. He says that the lack of achdus is much more dangerous than what is going on in Iran.
Peirud, division, represents a more lethal threat than Iran.
Achdus is something we often discuss, and last week we saw how beautiful our world is when there is unity. Virtually all of Klal Yisroel was troubled by Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin’s excessive sentence. Jews everywhere davened for him, thought about him, cared about him, and followed his saga. And when he was suddenly freed during the last minutes of Chanukah, Jews with love in their hearts and achdus in their souls broke into spontaneous celebration. With few sorry exceptions, we showed that we can come together and that we are more united than we know.
We were awash in good feelings as we realized that despite all we have been through and despite our differences, we felt as one. The euphoria that washed over us provided hope that going forward we can maintain the state of togetherness and accomplish much together.
This week, we begin the study of Sefer Shemos, also referred to as the Sefer Hageulah. It charts the course of our nation from the bitterness of bondage through the thrill of redemption. Sefer Shemos traces our progress from the lowest depths to the greatest heights, from the harrowing dangers of drowning in the Red Sea to the climax of creation at Har Sinai.
The way we act towards others impacts our souls and proclaims what kind of people we are. If we are cognizant and appreciative of others, it helps us. We become better people and can work to achieve achdus and accomplish much more with our lives.
By Hashem’s design, human beings are unable to see success if they work only for themselves. It is only as a community and as a member of a group that we can endure. From the time we are born until the very end, we can only survive if we are connected to other people. As infants, we need everything to be done for us. Even as we grow and become more independent, most everything that we require for our daily existence is provided by others.
Arrogant, unappreciative people refuse to recognize that as great as they are, without the contributions and help of other people, they would be hungry, unloved, homeless, illiterate and without much to live for. Everything that we know and everything that we have is thanks to someone who took the trouble to teach us and equip us with the essentials of life and good health.
It is impossible for a person to be totally independent and live a meaningful life. Those who cause peirud engage in anti-social behavior that is detrimental not only to the broader community, but also to themselves.
In order to maintain our humility and mentchlichkeit, the Torah gives us many mitzvos to ingrain in our psyches awareness of this world’s abundant blessings and the goodness with which Hashem showers us.
No matter where we are and what we are trying to accomplish, it is crucial that we remain focused on the goal – not the immediate victory, but the ultimate one. Through unity, we can achieve more and be more effective.
The posuk in Devorim (7:7) tells us that Hashem didn’t choose us because of our great numbers, because, in fact, we are the smallest among the nations. We are not the largest in numbers, but we are the most in the sense that when we are b’achdus, all our deeds combine and add up, while the other nations, though much greater in number, can not combine all their deeds because they are not b’achdus.
We have to figure out how to work together as a united group with common goals, not as separate individuals who walk on the same path.
Even before the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu, his mother and sister, referred to by the Torah (Shemos 1:15) as Shifra and Puah, made a career out of caring about others and extending kindness toward other human beings. The Torah states that in reward of their kindness, “Vayaas lohem botim,” they were blessed with institutions of Kehunah, Leviyah and Malchus.
The savior of the Jewish people was placed in a bassinet and saved through acts of kindness by Basya, the daughter of Paroh. The Torah (Shemos 2:10) recounts that she called him Moshe, stating, “Ki min hamayim meshisihu – Because I plucked him from the water.”
The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem 18) teaches that of the many names of Moshe, he is eternally known by the one Basya gave him, since it reflects her act of kindness. The Torah is all about pleasantness – derocheha darchei noam – and all its paths are peaceful. It is a Toras Chesed and, therefore, everyone, including Hashem, refers to Moshe by the name given to him by the daughter of Paroh, who performed an act of chesed in saving the infant from death among the reeds.
The Torah reports concerning Moshe (Shemos 2:11), “Vayigdal hayeled – And the youth grew bigger.” What was the catalyst of his growth? The posuk continues: “He went out to his brothers and saw their suffering.” The young man who was growing up as a prince left the king’s palace to walk among the slaves and experience the cold, privation and oppression, so that it would be palpable and remain with him even after he returned to the privileged confines of the citadel of wealth.
When he saw a Jew being assaulted by a Mitzri, he reacted quickly and forcefully, refusing to accept it. When he saw a Jew raise his hand against a fellow Jew and then heard the Jew’s response to his rebuke, he cried out, “achein noda hadovor.” He was proclaiming that geulah results when Jews join together. It is a product of everyone being connected b’achdus. If there is division, peirud, he was telling them, we will remain in golus.
Moshe escaped to Midyon, where his first act was also one of chesed. He was at a well, and when he saw that shepherd girls were chased from watering their flock at the well, he performed that duty for them. His act of kindness to strange girls and their sheep led to him finding a mate for himself and beginning a family of his own.
The parshiyos and their lessons are timeless. Into each golus and subsequent geulah, the teachings accompanied us, instructing and providing insight into the minds of our oppressors. The storyline is always the same. Chesed, kindness, plays an integral part.
It behooves us to study the force that carried the Jews through Mitzrayim and the middah that accompanied them as they left, so that we can incorporate it into our lives and merit building a new world in the spirit of olam chesed yiboneh.
If we stand tall, remind ourselves who we are and what we stand for, and grab hold of our neighbor’s hands and work together, then we can succeed in building a brighter future.
We need to live lives of sensitivity, realizing that our Torah is Toras Moshe, a legacy of the kind, compassionate shepherd who was also our rebbi, and teach and learn it in a way that builds people, leaving them feeling good.
We need to bear in mind that the Torah is a Toras Chesed. Greatness means being aware of the needs of others – not only the klal, but every individual in the klal.
This is the sensitivity demonstrated by great people, which we must emulate and incorporate into our everyday lives. By living with such focus and compassion, we will trigger Heavenly mercy and bring about the geulah for which we are all waiting.
The posuk states (Shemos 8:1), “Vayokom melech chodosh al Mitzrayim asher lo yoda es Yosef – And a new Paroh arose over Mitzrayim who did not know Yosef.” Rashiquotes a machlokes between Rav and Shmuel. One explains that the posuk is saying that there was a new king. The old Paroh died and the new one did not know Yosef. The other opinion maintains that the Paroh of Shemos was the same Paroh with whom we became familiar in Sefer Bereishis. He knew who Yosef was – after all, he had saved his kingdom – but acted as if he did not know him.
According to the second explanation, he is referred to as a melech chodosh because he pretended to have forgotten Yosef. He worked with the talented, reliable, efficient young man who stepped out of the obscurity of prison to save the country. He listened as Yosef spoke to him and followed his advice. And then, he abruptly erased the many accomplishments of the Jew who had made Mitzrayim into a world superpower and established a system that filled Paroh’s coffers.
He did that because he had an agenda. There were many Jews and Paroh began perceiving them as a threat. They had to be contained, stopped and subjugated, and his advisers suggested enslaving them. But he had a problem: What about the debt of gratitude he owed Yosef?
He arrived at a solution. He craftily rewrote history and convinced himself, and his people, that the Jew had contributed nothing to the rehabilitation of Mitzrayim. His marketing people launched a campaign to change the public perception of Yosef and his people.
They likely started small, with a comment here and some innuendo there. But that was followed by: “Yosef? Who’s Yosef? I don’t know any Yosef.”
One of the great heroes of the civil rights movement was a Jewish fellow from Chicago who taught America how to organize individuals and entire communities against an enemy. Not only was he the consummate community organizer, but he actually invented the concept and term.
His premise was that the way to triumph over the one who stands in your way is to first isolate him. Then you demonize him and lob your arguments against him, and after he has been sufficiently weakened, you move in for victory.
What he invented was the art of discrediting, which is used to perfection by politicians all the time. That tool is also used against us and our community, as we are regularly tarred with a wide, filthy brush. We have to work to ensure that the allegations don’t stick. We must act in ways that ensure that the libels will not be believed. We should always be above reproach.
Certainly, anyone breaking the law should be punished for their crime. Anyone engaging in anti-social behavior should be ostracized. Anyone causing a chillul Hashemshould be vilified.
Nobody should be permitted to bully another into submission. No one should take advantage of other people. Abuse must never be tolerated. We should not be silent as we watch travesties take place. Everyone should be treated with compassion, honesty and decency.
Each week, as the melava malka candles flicker, we gaze at them and think about the sublime joy of Shabbos and wonder how we’ll face another week, six more days of zei’as apecha, until we can experience Shabbos again.
The transition, from Shabbos to Motzoei Shabbos, is sort of like the one the Bnei Yisroel faced as they left Eretz Yisroel, traveling to Mitzrayim to avert hunger. They left behind light and holiness, and descended into darkness and tumah.
We partake of melava malka to ease that transition. We sing “Al tira avdi Yaakov.” We say, “Do not fear. You are equipped with the strength and ability to rise above it all and remain true to yourselves, to each other, and to the Torah if you remain loyal to the teachings and lessons handed down from avdi Yaakov.”
“Hakol kol Yaakov.” With the calm voice of Yaakov, with the restrained middos of Yaakov, with the temimus of Yaakov, and with the dedication to Torah that Yaakov personified, we can overcome.
Together, we have the key to bring the geulah. Together, we can bring salvation to those who suffer. Together, we can beat back those who lie and portray us all as being dishonest. We can overcome the demagogues who demonize us. We can refute those who seek to demean and divide us.
We hail from different backgrounds and different countries. We are spread out across the world, speak different languages and have different life experiences. We have different views on many things, but deep down we are brothers and sisters, more interested in getting along than in squabbling.
One on one, we are able to get along, irrespective of dress or differing minhagim. We should not permit labels to divide us into different groups. There is more that unites us than divides us, and we should always do what we can to keep Jews together as a united cohesive group.
We should press on, always going upward, reaching new heights every day. Each day represents an opportunity to grow in Torah, emunah and bitachon.
Where others see darkness, we should bring light. Where others battle loneliness, we should bring brotherhood.
When we are b’achdus, we demonstrate that we are worthy of being redeemed from golus. When we are mefuzar umeforad (Megillas Esther 3:8), Amaleik can scheme to destroy us, but when we are united ke’ish echad beleiv echod (Rashi, Shemos 19:2), we can surmount all obstacles and reach the greatest heights available to man.
In a time of tragedy, we cry together. In times of joy, we celebrate together. No man is an island, no man is a rock. We mourn and we dance as one, spontaneously and without prodding. We help each other financially and spiritually. We don’t live only for ourselves. We live for others. We are positive, not negative; loving, not cynical; looking to praise each other, not condemn.
We tasted what it feels like to be geulim. We resolve to remain united, strengthen the achdus, increase the love, and feel part of a greater, larger group, so that we merit the geulah ha’amitis vehashleimah bekarov.