Yes, We Can


rabbi-pinchos-lipschutz-By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Shavuos, the Yom Tov that commemorates our raison d’etre, the deliverance of the Torah to us on Har Sinai, is most unique in the calendar of Jewish celebrations. It is basically a one – and in golus two – day Yom Tov, the chag that marks the apex of creation. It is the shortest of all the chagim and has the fewest commandments specific to that day.

Hashem offered the Torah to all the nations of the world. Following their rejection of the gift, it was presented to us. When the Jewish people were asked if they wished to subject themselves to the strictures and blessings of Hashem’s written word, they responded as one, “Na’aseh venishma.” With those two immortal words, they rose beyond the level of angels and became Hashem’s eternal people.

The Torah proclaims, “Vayichan shom Yisroel neged hahar.” Chazal emphasize that the Torah uses the singular verb vayichan, because they rested at Har Sinai as one, ke’ish echod beleiv echod. They stood there not as hundreds of thousands of individuals, but as one mass of people, totally unified in their acceptance of the Torah. Each Jew accepted upon himself responsibility for others. Every Jew was saying that he would do what he could to ensure that the others would keep their word.

The Ramchal in Daas Tevunos (155:2) states that at Har Sinai, the Bnei Yisroel received two gifts along with the Torah. They were given the strength that is required to properly observe all the Torah’s mitzvos and they were also granted the ability to bring about change in the briah through their actions.

Our actions don’t just affect us. They impact the entire world. We can each change the world for the better or, chas veshalom, for the worse.

Rav Yisroel Eliyohu Weintraub explains in Yiras Chaim (on Nefesh Hachaim 1:3) that since the Torah is at the root of the world – “istakeil b’Oraisa ubara alma” – it contains the power of chiddush. When the Torah was given to the Bnei Yisroel, they were provided with the ability to bring about chiddush, change and innovation, in the world.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner, in the beginning chapters of Nefesh Hachaim, discusses in detail that all of us have that ability. No Jew should minimize his ability and think that his actions in this world have no meaning or influence.

The Vilna Gaon in Aderes Eliyohu (Parshas Re’eh) explains that this ability is provided anew each day. Regardless of a person’s prior actions, he can improve himself and, through proper observance and Torah study, bring about goodness and better the world.

The yeitzer hora seeks to bring man down from his lofty position and demoralize him into thinking that his actions have no consequence. Our task is to ignore that negativity and cynicism and instead recognize our potential to impact the world in a positive manner.

On Shavuos, we celebrate these gifts and abilities. We remain awake through the night studying Torah to demonstrate the awareness of our task. Shavuos serves not only as a celebration of receiving the Torah and its powers and abilities, but as a reminder that it is incumbent upon us to live life on a daily basis cognizant of our responsibilities.

The greatness of our proclamation at Har Sinai was the inherent acknowledgment of the primacy of the na’aseh. We affirmed that we would study the Torah – nishma – in order to be osim, a nation of people whose actions would have serious impact on all of creation.

Chazal thus refer to the Yom Tov of Shavuos as Atzeres, which, in its literal translation, means break. We take a break from our daily activities to remind ourselves what we are all about and to revive the affirmation of our adherence to our commitment. Half of the Atzeres day, we are occupied with the realm of nishma, studying the Torah. The other half is devoted to the realm of na’aseh, the act of living as a Torah Jew. We don’t linger on this Atzeres break, but rather quickly return to being engaged in carrying out the task of chiddush bechol ha’olamos.

Those among us who are cognizant of their role in this world are able to accomplish much good. They don’t seek excuses for not getting involved in projects and actions for the public betterment. They use whatever talents they have to help, inspire, lead and act for communal welfare.

Eighteen hundred such people gathered this past Shabbos in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains for the annual Torah Umesorah convention. Roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, rabbeim, menahalim, menahalos, moros, and organizational heads and workers, as well as concerned and committed laymen, came together under one roof to celebrate their accomplishments and seek methods of improvement.

Like in the world outside of that convention, everyone present was a unique individual blessed with disparate abilities, yet, as they are people of achrayus, they are concerned, ke’ish echod beleiv echod, about their responsibly to the klal.

It is because of such people that our world is in a spiral of growth. Due to the dedication of those involved in chinuch, Torah flourishes in this land, despite all the problems and challenges that could bring us down. These individuals recognize and appreciate chovasom ba’olomom, the task incumbent upon Yidden.

Last week, the Yated in particular, and Klal Yisroel as a whole, lost a dear friend; a man who recognized that he was here for a higher purpose and that his actions had long-range implications. Mr. Julius (Reb Yoel) Klugmann, born in Germany and a long-time member of the Yekkishe kehillah in Washington Heights, epitomized the grandeur of German Jewry.

Never seeking the limelight and always operating under the radar, he bore the achrayus of always searching for ways in which to improve the plight of Yidden. He pursued the commitment of na’aseh venishma with relentless zeal.

All his actions were lesheim shomayim, emanating from a heart that beat with ahavas Yisroel, the products of a lifetime steeped in shimush talmidei chachomim, coupled with deep emunah and bitachon and strict fidelity to halacha and mesorah.

Mr. Klugmann was heavily influenced by the fiery determination of Rav Yosef Breuer, his rebbi and rov. As a young man of 31, he traveled to Eretz Yisroel for the 1954 Knessiah Gedolah and met the Brisker Rov. That meeting changed his life. The Rov took a liking to him, appreciating his ehrentzkeit and ehrlichkeit. Upon the Rov’s passing, his son, the Brisker rosh yeshiva, Rav Berel Soloveitchik, turned to Mr. Klugmann and asked him if he would be able to raise some much-needed funds for the nascent Brisker Yeshiva.

Never having previously engaged in the daunting and humbling task of fundraising, much less for a small and unknown yeshiva, Mr. Klugmann set out on what would become one of his life tasks. He became the sole fundraiser for the Brisker Yeshiva, without ever calling attention to himself and receiving nothing in return besides the satisfaction of knowing that, in his small way, he was changing the world. The money he raised enabled the yeshiva to grow and flourish, reaching its position at the pinnacle of Torah study in our world.

Mr. Klugmann didn’t only attach himself to the Brisker Rov and his children and grandchildren. He became close to giants of yesteryear such as Rav Reuvein Grozovsky, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Elozor Menachem Mann Shach, the Steipler Gaon, the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Elya Svei and so many others. He maintained close relationships with many of today’s leading roshei yeshiva as well. He was their devoted servant, often visiting them, speaking to them, and always consulting with them on ideas to help improve the matzav of Yahadus. He mined them for divrei Torah and hashkofah, not just as a scholarly pursuit or hobby, but to improve himself and enable him to influence others. They all respected him and valued his insight and friendship.

An Israeli businessman took leave of Rav Shach before making his first trip to America. When he told the Ponovezher rosh yeshiva who he was planning to visit to gain an understanding of the country, Rav Shach responded, “Oib ihr vilt trefen mit an ehrlicher mentch, gei red mit Yoel Klugmann – If you wish to meet an ehrlicher Yid, go talk to Yoel Klugmann.”

He was a fixture at Agudah conventions, cajoling, prodding and effecting change in bits and pieces, never seeking anything for himself. His sole goal was to contribute to chiddush ha’olam.

When this newspaper was founded, few gave it a chance of survival. However, because it had the support of gedolim, Mr. Klugmann was one of a handful of friends we had in the early days. He was a constant fount of moral support, advice and encouragement, ultimately delighting in our growth.

When one of his sons came across the manuscript of the Rokeiach‘s seforim on Chumash in a British museum, he spared no effort to have the seforim properly transcribed, reviewed, edited, annotated and published. In fact, it was none other than Rav Chaim Kanievsky, who was then totally unknown, whom he engaged to help him produce the classic seforim.

Once again, his ehrlichkeit and determination were rewarded. He was given min hashomayim the zechus to publish a Rishon’s seforim, rescuing them from oblivion. Just as he was the first friend of the Brisker Yeshiva, he was introduced to Rav Chaim, the man who would become the gadol b’Yisroel when he was yet just another unsung kollel yungerman.

We should all learn from his example.

Every one of us is presented with opportunities to improve the world in which we live, helping people in need of assistance and providing support for lomdei and marbitzei Torah. We all know of people who have been abused and hurt through no fault of their own, caught up in a corrupt system and victimized for crimes they did not commit. We know of children, teenagers and adults who are lonely and desperate for friendship and for someone to simply care about them. We know of kids slipping through the cracks, we can help them if we care enough. We know of causes so vital yet so forsaken, because people turn a blind eye to them.

We cannot permit the yeitzer hora to entice us into believing that we are powerless. We cannot let him fool us into thinking that our ma’asim don’t count. Every word of Torah we study and every mitzvah we perform alters the cosmos. Every person we inspire to prevail when they think they are unable to, becomes another positive force who can have great influence, transforming evil into good and tragedy into accomplishment.

Take a break from the negativity and cynicism and recognize that with the proper positive attitude, we can overcome all that stands in our way and build the world of goodness that we committed ourselves to 3,325 years ago, when we joined together and proclaimed, “Na’aseh venishma.”

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