The Days of Light: When Rav Olshin Visited Sholom Rubashkin


rav Yeruchem OlshinBy Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We are witnessing the rise of people who have had enough of fraudsters in leadership positions. Politicians who bend to the wind are being swept aside by Donald Trump, the brash billionaire who speaks what he thinks is the truth and promotes a return to the good old days of American greatness.

The sixteen other Republican candidates are too beholden to their donors, pollsters, consultants and advisors to break out of his shadow. The entire mainstream political apparatus is fearing for its future, for if a man of the people can rise from the business world and, ignoring what have become the rules of the game, rocket to serious consideration for the presidency, their industry is in peril.

The stale, predictable politicians are seen as passé. People want leaders who are enthusiastic and intelligent. They want people who will lead them to greatness and prosperity. They’ve had their fill of being lectured to. They’ve had enough of predictable sound-bites that have little to do with the reality they face in their daily lives.

John Kerry, who failed miserably as a presidential candidate because his phoniness was exposed, negotiated a deal with Iran that went against every one of the talking points he and the president mouthed as they went into the negotiations. The US caved in to every one of the Iranian demands and effectively gave them a ten-year clear path to the bomb. Anyone can see how they are lying about what was agreed to and what the outcome of the deal would be. Iran has been welcomed into the family of nations as Israel is being marginalized.

Yet, every Democrat congressional politician, including those who made a career of advocating for Israel, is lining up behind the deal. How can anyone ever trust them again? How can people be expected to have faith in their elected representatives when they see them openly lie time and again on matters as vital to the nation’s future as empowering the world’s greatest supporter of terror?

As ISIS gains, anti-Semitism spreads across Europe, and worrying trends sweep across this country, people’s attention is manipulated to concentrate on trite, silly matters. The attention span shrinks, and the more nonsensical a story is, the more bounce it gets in the media and culture. Crime is rising in New York City, but the big story is that both of the city’s baseball teams are in first place. The world is consumed with the news of a dead lion, then a dead giraffe, and stories of other animals that are being killed by hunters. Low information people are consumed by mercy for the poor animals. They either don’t know or ignore the fact that the leaders of the country in which these tragedies took place rule with an iron fist and treat their citizens worse than animals. Mozambique is one of the poorest, most corrupt countries in the world, yet the world’s conscience doesn’t care about its people. They are too consumed with the plight of majestic animals.

The news from Eretz Yisroel causes us to smart from pain. A mentally ill person commits murderous acts and is portrayed as a representative of all religious people. Extremism is on the rise, with radical Jews attacking Arabs and committing other silly, irresponsible acts that endanger the rest of the population. The government has changed, and even Yair Lapid is attempting to convey a public conversion from the rabid anti-religious positions he promoted. Yet, so many problems remain, and we wonder if solutions will ever be found for them.

In this week’s parshah, we read that if we follow the mitzvos of Hashem (Devorim 7:12), we will be blessed. Lest we think in our hearts that the nations around us and the problems that confound us are too great to overcome, the posuk (ibid. 17:7) tells us that if we observe the Torah, “lo sira meihem,” we should not fear them. Slowly, but surely, our enemies will be overcome (ibid. 7:22).

Hashem promises that He will bring us to Eretz Yisroel, where we “will lack nothing” (ibid. 8:9), as we inherit the land “asher Hashem Elokecha doreish osah tomid,” that Hashem always watches over.

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For the group of Boyaner chassidim, the rebbe’s impending arrival appeared on the horizon like an oasis in the desert.

For the many generations since the Ruzhiner Rebbe sent chassidim to live in Eretz Yisroel, there was a tight-knit chaburah of chassidim on the holy soil, connected to a rebbe whom many of them would never even see. The rebbe’s teachings trickled to Eretz Yisroel from Poland, keeping the chassidim connected to their leader.

After World War II, Rav Mordechai Shlomo Friedman, heir to the mantle of Boyan, settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, far away from the Boyaner kloiz located in Botei Hornstein, near Kikar Shabbos, in Yerushalayim. His followers there lived with his words, though few could afford to travel to America to hear them spoken.

Thus, when the news spread that the rebbe was planning a visit to Eretz Yisroel, the devoted nucleus of chassidim became charged with spiritual energy, as they anticipated the opportunity to see, observe and connect to their revered rebbe.

The rebbe was to travel by boat and arrive at the port of Haifa. The chassidim gathered in the kloiz and agreed to draw lots to see who would be fortunate enough to welcome the rebbe and accompany him from Haifa to the Holy City. The lucky winner would get to sit with the rebbe as he rode to Yerushalayim.

Reb Berel won the raffle, and all the chassidim were so happy for him, for they saw him as a distinguished chossid, uniquely worthy of the honor.

Finally, the great day arrived. Reb Berel joined the leading chassidim in welcoming their rebbe as he debarked from the ship. Reb Berel took his place in the back seat of the automobile hired for the occasion. He wouldn’t miss a word. Every utterance of the rebbe would live on in his heart.

But the rebbe didn’t speak. He didn’t say a word. He looked out the window intently, studying the scenery.

As Reb Berel waited with much anticipation, his beloved and revered rebbe, strangely, did not share a single vort or insight. He just looked out the window, riveted by the passing trees, hills, valleys and gulleys.

Finally, the rebbe spoke. Reb Berel became excited. The rebbe was going to talk to him and share insights and lessons for life he would treasure.

The rebbe raised his finger, pointed out the window, at the sky, at the mountains, and at the sand, and emotionally quoted to Reb Berel the posuk from this week’s parshah: “Eretz asher… tomid einei Hashem Elokecha bah – The Land that the eyes of Hashem are upon it” (ibid. 11:12).

Oib di Ribbono Shel Olam kukt, if Hashem is looking at this land,” said the rebbe, “then certainly I must look.”

Reb Berel had heard a lesson for the ages.

The rebbe was teaching his chossid about the different situations in life. There are different seasons and different settings, each with its own avodah.

There is a time for speech and a time for silent contemplation.

In the formal environment of the rest of the year, it’s all about speech and communication. Now, however, amidst the serenity and tranquility of summer, it is time for silence. Summer is the time to look and appreciate. The weather and atmosphere of summer provide us the opportunity to listen to the song of creation and internalize it, seeing and contemplating the splendor all around us, and becoming inspired to mirror it with our own conduct.

After experiencing the Three Weeks of mourning, we are currently in the Shiva Denechemta, the seven weeks of consolation. School is out, bein hazemanim is at its height, and camp is in full swing.

The various periods in the Jewish calendar aren’t exclusive. They feed each other, working in tandem to allow a person to reach shleimus.

A prominent rebbetzin launching a kiruv organization sought the blessing from the leading gadol, posek and tzaddik, Rav Yosef Eliyohu Henkin zt”l. She was welcomed into his small apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Rav Henkin listened to her plans and blessed her warmly. He then added a poignant personal observation. He told her, “I am an elderly man and have lost my ability to see. Now, the only way I can learn – which is the purpose of my life – is by reviewing what I learned during the many years when I was able to see. Boruch Hashem, I used those days wisely. Tell the people you meet about me, and tell them that if they don’t take advantage of the days of light, they will have nothing to fall back on when it grows dark.”

The days of summer are days of light. They provide an opportunity for rest and relaxation, a much-needed break for every Yid in their unique mission. Everyone needs to recharge. This is our chance. We can’t operate at full capacity without taking a break from time to time. This is the time for that.

The Gemara discusses “bei kayta,” the botei medrash used by the chachomim during the summer months, so that they could enjoy the pleasant air as they learned. Pictures of gedolim of pre-war Europe show rabbonim, roshei yeshiva and admorim strolling side by side with their talmidim in summer dachas in places such as Marienbad, Krenitz and Druskenik. These were people who understood the meaning of toil. In fact, they lived their lives only to work hard. Yet, they, too, took advantage of the month of Av to create yemei beinayim, days filled with meaning and substance of a different sort. The sort that enables people to work hard the rest of the year.

Rav Yitzchok Dov Koppelman zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Lucerne, would point out an interesting connection between the pesukim in last week’s parshah and the haftorah of that week, Shabbos Nachamu. The posuk warns of a person who lifts his eyes to observe the heavens, “Ufen tisa einecha hashomaymah …va’avadetam” (Devorim 4:19). A person can behold the splendor of the sun and the moon and become overwhelmed by their power, seeing them as worthy of worship. The Torah warns against that.

In the haftorah, however, the novi enjoins Klal Yisroel to raise their eyes heavenward and contemplate the glory of creation: “Seu marom eineichem ure’u mi vara eileh” (Yeshayah 40:26)

Rav Koppelman said that, clearly, the very same image – the magnificence, precision and harmony of the cosmos – can lead a person to avodah zarah or to the heights of avodah. It depends on the purity of heart of the observer and the sincerity of his attitude. Where one person sees kefirah, another sees kabbolas ol Malchus Shomayim.

Chassidishe seforim point out that the roshei teivos of the posuk in Yeshayah, “Seu marom eineichem ure’u mi vara eilehRaise your eyes to the heavens and see Who has created them,” form the word Shema. There are various paths to reach kabbolas ol Malchus Shomayim. When a person looks up and around, taking a moment to behold the magnificence and splendor all around him, he should be inspired to praise and serve the Creator of that beauty.

The resources we amass during these quiet summer days will come in handy during the long winter that will follow. That is the avodah of this season.

Wherever you may be, and whatever it involves – whether it is a pleasant evening walk, an early morning drive, or simply watching the sun rise or set – try to soak in summer’s light. That way, when winter’s inevitable darkness comes, you’ll be bulked up and ready.

Summer is a time we can use to be mechazeik people in a way we can’t during the year. For example, on Monday, Rav Yeruchim Olshin, rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah in Lakewood, used the opportunity presented by bein hazemanim to visit Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin in prison.

But it wasn’t that simple. Reb Yossi Ostreicher, who accompanied the rosh yeshiva and drove him to the jail, worked hard to arrange this visit. Shalom Mordechai was so excited that the rosh yeshiva would be coming to visit him. Imagine this Yid sitting alone in jail, cut off from the outside world. Imagine when he hears that the Lakewood rosh yeshiva is coming to visit him. He couldn’t contain himself. The rosh yeshiva was equally happy that he would be able to be mesameiach the locked-away, humble Yid. I spoke to each of them on Sunday and was happy that the visit was going to come about.

Then, Sunday evening, Rav Yisroel Meir Yagen zt”l, a Lakewood kollel yungerman and son-in-law of Rav Gershon Ribner shlit”a, was tragically niftar. Rav Olshin would have to forgo the visit to Shalom Mordechai. He would be devastated, but how could the rosh yeshiva not be at the levayah?

How surprised I was when Shalom Mordechai called me Monday afternoon. I learned a serious lesson in middos and in mesirus nefesh for another Yid. I learned a lesson in gadlus ha’adam more potent than a mussar shmuess.

Rav Yeruchim woke up pre-dawn, davened vosikin, got into the car for the 2-½ drive to Otisville, NY, stayed with Shalom Mordechai for twenty minutes and then headed back to Lakewood to attend the levayah.

He had the best excuse not to go. Who would not understand that he couldn’t make the visit? He had to be at the levayah. Anyone could accept that. Shalom Mordechai, the Lubavitcher Yid he had never met before, would surely understand. But instead of forgoing the five-hour trip on a difficult day, the rosh yeshiva chose to be moser nefesh to raise the spirits of a Yid. They only spent a few minutes together, but every time Shalom Mordechai ponders his fate, he will be emboldened because of the gadlus of a person who used the opportunity presented by summer to lift up a fellow Jew.

A shopper was watching a scene unfold in front of him in a supermarket. A small boy was sitting in a shopping cart, feet dangling, hands swinging, screaming at the top of his lungs for candy. His father was slowly pushing the wagon, repeating softly, “Chaim, you can stay calm. Chaim, you don’t have to scream. Chaim, don’t be upset.”

After watching the father behave so calmly as the child’s tantrum continued, the shopper went over to the man and complimented him on his self-control and how impressed he was with the way he was talking to little Chaim.

The father turned to the man and said, “You’ve got it all wrong. My son’s name is Yanky. My name is Chaim. I was talking to myself, not to Yanky!”

The way we deal with life and overcome its many obstacles depends on our attitude. If we proceed with calmness and faith, we can surmount that which gets in our way and know that we can beat back our enemies and overcome those things that test our patience. Summer is the time to reattach to our calmer side, to harken back to the faith of our youth, when everything seemed so much simpler.

If we want grass to grow on barren soil, it is not enough to buy seeds. We need to place them into the earth and provide them with water and nourishment. Torah is the tree of life to which we dedicate our lives. Our limud haTorah and kiyum hamitzvos are the seeds of growth. Summer is like the dirt that provides a place for the seeds to take hold and develop. We need some down time as well in order to develop into complete human beings striving for the sky. Let’s take advantage of the opportunity. After all, Elul is around the corner.

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