The View: Keeping the Chain Strong



By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Observing a young child’s innocence and purity, the love for learning and trusting acceptance of authority, one is hard pressed to understand chazal’s statement that a person is born with a yeitzar hara, but only develops a yeitzar hatov when he becomes a bar mitzvah.  

Isn’t this a complete reversal of the way things appear?

Anyone familiar with children is aware that it is usually after the bar mitzvah-and the emergence of the yeitzer hatov-that children tend to challenge and to get into trouble. Why is it that davka at this stage, with the positive influence of the yeitzer hatov, that children begin losing their innocence?

I was mulling this question at the bar mitzvah of my son Dovid’l a couple of weeks ago, and shared the following thought. I believe that the answer to our question lies in a deeper understanding of the elemental forces that vie for dominance in a person.

Contrary to popular belief, innocence is not a sign of a strong yeitzer tov, nor is naiveté a synonym for tzidkus.

The yeitzer tov is often translated as “an inclination for good.” But it actually encompasses far more. Its purpose is to fight rah, evil. It infuses us with the energy and wisdom we need for a lifetime battle against the forces of evil and darkness, in ourselves and in the world.

When a boy becomes a bar mitzvah, he has to begin looking at life differently. He has to start taking note of the presence of evil in the world, and to make a serious effort to avoid its many different manifestations.

Take a look at a bar mitzvah bochur. From the day he first puts on his tefillin, you can often see a noticeable difference. The young man trades in his proverbial Yankee cap for a black hat. In one sense, he seems to have matured overnight.

But maturity doesn’t mean that he can no longer have fun. Maturity doesn’t mean that a bar mitzvah bochur has to stop being a kid and morph into a strait-laced adult. It means that he has to keep his antennas attuned. He has to start drawing distinctions between the important and the trivial; between the issues that are worth fighting over and those that are not.

Maturity is about priorities. It’s about not letting people derail you from your aspirations to attain greatness. Maturity means to set goals for yourself, and to achieve them.

My son Dovid’l is named after his grandfather, Rav Dovid Svei zt”l, who was blessed with a keen mind and broad intelligence. He didn’t bow to the sheker of this world; he fought for the truth. At my son’s bris thirteen years ago, Rav Dovid’s brother, Rav Elya Svei shlit”a, traveled on Purim from Philadelphia to be the sandek. When he spoke that morning, he related that his brother was like Mordechai Hatzaddik. The posuk says in the megillah, “Umordechai lo yichrah velo yishtachaveh.” Mordechai didn’t bow to the Hamans of his time. He remained steadfast, proud and strong. Rav Elya told us that his brother was very much the same, possessing the force of character to resist the pull of the prevailing cultural and intellectual climate, or the evil forces lurking in every corner.

Our responsibility, as we bid goodbye to the Yom Tov of Purim for the year 5769 and look ahead to Pesach, the Yom Tov of cheirus, is to similarly train ourselves to recognize the evil that so often masquerades behind the mantle of piety, and to resist the temptation to go with the flow.

This is a time of year when we celebrate that we live lives of cheirus and not avdus. We take time to appreciate our Yeitzer Tov and the ruach of nitzchiyos that it instills in us.

I told my son that this is what we celebrate upon the occasion of a bar mitzvah. This is why we sing so joyously and are so festive. Another boy joins Hashem’s army. Another young man decides that he will be another link in the great chain stretching back to Har Sinai.

There is no simcha greater than that. There is no simcha greater than commemorating that despite all the suffering inflicted upon us by Amaleikim throughout the generations, despite their efforts to weaken our connection to the Torah, we are steadfast and strong. When young men join the battle of emes versus sheker, it is indeed a cause for celebration.

We come from a long line of people who had their priorities straight, who used their wisdom and life experience to separate rah from tov. Many of them paid dearly to stay true to these ideals. It is because of their dedication and zeal that we are all here today, raising beautiful Yiddishe families. It is because of their efforts that we are able to celebrate the joyous day of Purim.

The Shabbos prior, a group, led by my rebbi, Rav Moshe Schapiro, traveled to Lithuania. I so badly wanted to go and be mispallel at the yeshivos in which my grandparents learned; in Kelm, Slabodka and Kamenitz. I wanted to walk the streets that my zaida walked in Slabodka. I wanted to stand under the porch from where Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt”l would address the holy Yiddilach of Vilna every Friday. But I wasn’t able to. I asked my friend Reb Zev Dunner to daven for us at the kever of our rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector zt”l, and ask that the bracha he gave my zaide, Rav Yaakov Halevi Lipschutz zt”l, who was lochem milchamos Hashem, should continue to shower blessing upon our generation and future doros.

I had the occasion to speak to Rav Yisroel Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, and formerly chief rabbi of the State of Israel. Rav Lau related to me that he met Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba, during one of his speeches at the United Nations. Castro told Rav Lau that he had read his story and knew about his fascinating history. Rav Lau’s brother had sneaked him into the Buchenwald concentration camp as a young child and kept him alive there by hiding him under a bed and feeding him scraps. Castro told Rav Lau that he had heard the story of his miraculous deliverance from the gehennom of the concentration camps.

“But I have one question,” said Castro. “How was it that after all you went through, you didn’t give it up? How did you not relinquish your Judaism? Not only that, but you became a rabbi! What was the force that kept you going?”

Rav Lau replied, “I descend from a line of 32 generations of rabbis. I wasn’t going to be the one to break that chain.”

It takes tremendous fortitude to hold on to one’s legacy in the face of severe hardship and adversity. We should never go through what Rav Lau went through, and we should never know of such evil and pain. But we must ensure that no matter what challenges life hurls at us, we will remain determined enough and strong enough to keep that chain going.

Every single Jew forges his own link in the chain of generations that stretches back to Har Sinai. It is our duty to keep our link strong and durable, capable of weathering the storms, the pressures and the pitfalls of life. Let us take the inspiration we gleaned from the joyous Yom Tov of Purim and utilize it to continue rising in our avodas Hashem, and perpetuating our cherished mesorah.

{Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz is Publisher and Editor of Yated Ne’eman where this article originally appeared.}

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  1. Thank you for printing Rabbi Lipschutz’s excellent articles. Insightful as always. And great story with Rabbi Lau and Castro. I have to put that in my file.

    Keep up the good work.