By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Our people have a tortured history. We have been buffeted about, chased from place to place. We have known deprivation and tragedy. The flow ebbs and increases. Some times are better than others. For a while, we were living in what has to be classified as one of the better periods in our history. We were living comfortably, blessed with economic and social success and peace.
It appears, though, that things have taken a turn for the worse, chas veshalom. War seems to be just over the horizon. An increasing number of people can’t make ends meet. Children can’t find suitable schools, too many kids are at risk, and tragedies abound. People are sick, bewildered, abused and lost. They become anonymous globs in masses of groups desperate to stand out and secure a future in which they can feel that they are contributing to the common betterment.
There is no krechtz that can adequately express the depth and intensity of our communal suffering during the past few weeks. We’ve been hit on so many levels. From our generals to our humble foot soldiers, we’ve sustained losses all around.
We lost gedolim batorah, such as Rav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg zt”l, gedolei ovdim such as the Vizhnitzer Rebbe zt”l, gedolei gomlei chassodim such as Reb Shloime Gross zt”l, and, most chilling of all, gedolei amcha bais Yisroel, a young, sincere, talented talmid chochom, who sought only to influence others and bring them close, killed along with three beautiful children, two of them his own. Hashem yinkom domom.
Two weeks ago, we shared a thought of chizuk from Rav Klonymus Kalman of Piacetzna. Once again, we find ourselves turning to the Aish Kodesh – a holy fire ignited during the darkest, most painful period in recent history, a fire which refused to be extinguished, not by bloodshed, hunger or loneliness; a fire that illuminated the despair of the Warsaw ghetto – for words of chizuk on coping.
The rebbe wondered about an interesting passage in the Haggadah. The Baal Haggadah quotes a posuk: “Vayarei’u osonu haMitzriyim, vaya’anunu.” Simply put, the Mitzriyim oppressed us.
The Haggadah goes on to state that we cried out to Hashem and he heard: “Vanitzak el Hashem… Vayishma Hashem ess koleinu… Vayar ess onyeinu, ve’es amoleinu, ve’es lachatzeinu.“
The posuk which refers to the enslaved Jews crying out for salvation simply uses the word “vanitzak.” The posuk states that Klal Yisroel shouted out to Hashem, without explaining the reasons for their cries. Yet, when the posuk relates that Hashem heard the cries, it breaks down the cries into various types of suffering – onyeinu, amoleinu, lachatzeinu.
Shouldn’t the different types of oppression inflicted upon the Jews be recounted when the posuk tells of how the Mitzriyim caused the Jews to cry out, rather than when the posuk tells of Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s reaction?
The Piacetzna Rebbe explains that sometimes a person suffers so terribly that he only knows one thing: “I am hurting. I need help.” He is beaten so badly that he is numb to the various methods of oppression to which he is being subjected. All he knows is that he is beaten down and needs to be rescued.
The Yidden in Mitzrayim only knew to scream. They were abused to the level that they couldn’t take it anymore. They could no longer identify all the forms of torture to which they were being subjected. All they knew was that it hurt and they needed it to stop.
Hashem, however, had a specific cheshbon for each blow. Each dose of suffering was metered out and part of the Divine plan. Hashem was counting each lash. He was adding up all the pain they suffered, all the inui, amal and lachatz. He felt and measured it all.
The Piacetzna Rebbe told the broken people gathered around him to see from this that there is a plan for every little bit of suffering a person endures. There is a cheshbon for each rough moment and an exact calculation of when it will end.
The rebbe didn’t tell his people not to mourn their losses. He didn’t deny the immense sadness that surrounded him. But he was mechazeik the broken people by reminding them that nothing that happens is random. He told them to be heartened by the awareness that there is a plan.
The past couple of weeks have been rough. The pictures of the pure face of Rabbi Yonatan Sandler and the sweet children are haunting. The vacuum left by the passing of a rosh yeshiva, who through hasmodah in learning ascended the heights of gadlus, raising many talmidim and answering the simplest halachic shailos with the same respect as he did the sophisticated ones, has left us in grief. We mourn that we are bereft of the shining nobility of a rebbe who reshaped a Chassidus after the war. And we grieve over the gaping void left by a beloved friend who shared whatever he had with whoever needed it.
Hakadosh Boruch Hu counts the blows. He sees the suffering and the pain and He keeps precise cheshbon of how much, to whom, and for how long. And when it is over, bechipazon, in the greatest of hurries, we will be rushed out of golus to happier times.
Until that day comes, we have to face the trials and tribulations and use them as springboards to grow. We need look no further than the example of Rav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg.
As a child, he met hunger for breakfast and again for dinner.
His shver, Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman, selected him as a husband for his daughter and then promptly shipped the young couple across the sea to Mir, where the basic comforts that Americans took for granted were unheard of.
Together with so many others, he shteiged there, amidst privation and want. He, and the wife who would support, encourage and stand by him for eight decades, developed in that climate of doing without.
After returning to America during the years of World War II, the Mirrer masmid taught here and there, delivering shiurim between Minchah and Maariv instead of chaburos to gedolei olam. He once confided to a talmid that later on, when he arrived in Eretz Yisroel in 1963 to help get Kiryat Mattersdorf off the ground, he saw how native Israelis made do with very little.
“But poor?” the rosh yeshiva continued. “Poor is what we were back in America, in the late thirties, when we had mamesh nothing. I learned all day and my rebbetzin somehow managed to feed the family. I don’t know how. In Eretz Yisroel, I saw poverty, but they had more than we had back in America in the early years.”
The product of that hunger?
Classic seforim such as the Taba’as Hachoshen, Chiddushei Rav Chaim Pinchos and Mishmeres Chaim. Thousands of talmidim, and their talmidim.
Hardships don’t have to break a person. They can build, too.
We can take the sadness and pain and use it to grow.
We can fight pain by seeking to gladden the hearts of others and by reaching out to the ill, infirm or lonely, looking to brighten their days.
And even the darkness of true wickedness, the evil of the rasha in Iran and the resha’im all around us, can be combated with love.
In the heart of Yerushalayim there is a charming neighborhood called Botei Broida. To most people in the Holy City, the enclave is a secret. Few realize that just minutes from downtown Yerushalayim and directly behind the hubbub of Machaneh Yehudah sits a little island where the sanctity and holiness of one hundred years ago still exists.
The people of Botei Broida are tzaddikim, serving Hashem with joy and greeting friend and stranger alike with pleasantness and warmth. One of its notable residents was Rav Yitzchok Nosson Kuperstock, who passed away just a few months ago.
A great gaon, author of seforim and one of the revered figures at the Tchebiner Yeshiva, Rav Kuperstock was sought out for brachos by all sorts of people, which each of them received with his beautiful smile.
Once, while sitting in the holy chotzeir of Botei Broida, he told a story of another chotzeir, the legendary courtyard of Chotzeir Strauss, a neighborhood in the Old City where he’d grown up. The neighborhood was a hub of baalei mussar, led by the great talmidim of Rav Yisroel Salanter.
Rav Kuperstock related what he’d heard from Rav Avrohom Broide, who lived in Chotzeir Strauss. Late one night, Rav Avrohom noticed one of the great souls of the neighborhood, Rav Tzvi Hirsh Weissfish, standing by the communal bulletin board, reading the signs posted there.
It was astonishing to see a tzaddik and masmid like Rav Tzvi Hirsh, who didn’t waste a moment, standing and reading the various posters and signs which announced the goings-on and happenings all over the city. Rav Avrohom came closer and saw that Rav Tzvi Hirsh was reading a poster detailing an event, a show of some sort at a theater.
Intrigued, he waited until morning and he asked the tzaddik to explain the strange behavior.
Rav Tzvi Hirsh shrugged him off, but Rav Avrohom persisted until he got his answer.
“No one knows about our little chaburah, but since you ‘caught’ me, I’ll share the secret with you,” said Rav Tzvi Hirsh. “A group of us decided that since there is so much tumah around us, we must combat it. So every time there is a moment when the yeitzer hara seems to be in control, pulling people after him and his distractions, we fight extra hard through limud haTorah.
“We have a schedule, and each person takes a turn when they need to check the bulletin board for announcements. If there is anything going on that involves a lack of tznius or apikorsus, we make sure that one of us is learning Torah with great fervor and concentration during that time. Last night was my turn, so I checked the signs to know who my enemy was.”
We look at our sign-boards and see the signs everywhere – signs of distress, of strife, of struggle. We remind ourselves that each one of us has a mission to fight the darkness, to ignite the me’at min ha’or, the little bit of light that can drive choshech away, and to carry the message that just like b’Nissan nigalu, so too b’Nissan asidin lehigael.
The hill is so hard to climb. We fear setting out on the trek lest we not be able to reach the goal.
Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the recently departed Mirrer rosh yeshiva, whose life’s work was celebrated this past Sunday at the massive Yeshivas Mir-Yerushalayim dinner in New York, once went to Bnei Brak to ask Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach a question: Did he have to go to chutz la’aretz to raise money for the yeshiva? He didn’t have the strength, he said. Rav Shach told him that he should go and Hashem, the nosein layo’eif koach, will give him strength.
If you doubt that Hashem provides the strength that one needs, take a look at the Torah institution that Rav Nosson Tzvi built. Look at the amount of superhuman strength the ailing rosh yeshiva was blessed with and what he was able to accomplish with it. Look at the empire of Torah he built. Hanosein layo’eif koach is not allegorical, it is real.
I found the following story in the sefer Yissochor Zevulun, written by Rav Aharon Tawil and printed 99 years ago in Yerushalayim. The sefer was recently republished by Rav Yaakov Hillel.
The Arizal was once sitting in his home learning with his talmidim when a very young Rav Shmuel Ozidah (who went on to write the sefer Medrash Shmuel) entered to discuss something with his rebbi. When the Arizal saw him come in, he immediately rose and said, “Boruch habo.” He took him by his hand, sat him down on his right, and spoke to him. After Rav Shmuel’s questions were answered, he rose and left.
Rav Chaim Vital was intrigued and apologized for asking, but he couldn’t control himself. “Rebbi,” he said to the Arizal, “why did you rise for that young man and why did you extend to him the greeting of ‘Boruch habo,’ something you have never previously done?”
The Arizal told him that he did not rise in respect for the young talmid, nor did he say “Boruch habo” to him. “I was being mechabeid Rav Pinchos ben Yair, who arrived with him. His neshomah was nislabeish in this bochur today because he performed a mitzvah that Rav Pinchos ben Yair was accustomed to performing, and therefore his neshomah came to him today to be mechazeik and to help him.”
The Arizal continued: “That is the sod, the explanation, of Chazal‘s statement that ‘Habo letaheir mesayin oso – One who seeks to increase his holiness through his enhanced observance of mitzvos receives assistance” (Yoma 38b), for as soon as a person thinks about doing a great mitzvah, the neshomah of a tzaddik from the other world who excelled in that mitzvah comes to help him, and through that he is able to properly perform the mitzvah. If not, the yeitzer hara would overpower the person and scare him out of doing the great mitzvah.”
We are scared of undertaking great commitments. We look at all the work that there is to do to prepare the world for Moshiach and we shudder. We look at all the people who need help and give up before we even get started. We look at all the people who are removed from Torah and we wonder how it is possible to reach them. We look at the size of Shas and are frightened away from attempting to learn through it. We want to be better Jews and study Shulchan Aruch, but we are scared away by the complexity of it. We need not be.
Hanosein layo’eif koach. It is our duty to begin the process, to try to improve ourselves, and to try to make a lasting mark on transforming the world into a better place. We have to start. We have to show a willingness to learn better and to assist others, and the help will come from Above.
Habo letaheir mesayin oso. We have to begin. We have to show the willingness to undertake improvements and we will be granted the strength and ability to fill the vacuum in our world. We have to do what we can to repair the breaches and to replace tears with smiles, sadness with happiness, and tumah with taharah. The tzaddikim whose losses we mourn will help us, the tzaddikim of the ages will help us, and Hakadosh Boruch Hu himself will come to our assistance.
If we do, we can replace golus with geulah. It can happen this year, this Nissan, this chodesh hageulah.
We pray that the Aibishter, Who is keeping cheshbon, will decide that we have suffered enough, so that the tears will be wiped away, the tragedies will end, the suffering and deprivation will stop, and we will finally return home, kimei tzeischa mei’Eretz Miztrayim, arenu niflaos.