Avrohom Avinu Would Be Rejected By Chadorim Today

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rabbi-lipschutz By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In the Across the Fruited Plain section of this week’s Yated, there is a small news item about the closing of a shul in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Congregation Ahavas Achim had been struggling with waning membership and mounting deficits. It finally made the decision to shut its doors.

As one whose father hails from that section of the country, I found the closing of this shul very newsworthy. But you don’t have to come from Massachusetts to recognize the historical significance of the story.

With the closing of this shul, a slice of shining history will slip away, soon to be forgotten. That is regrettable, because this shul, founded 120 years ago by Litvishe Yidden from Europe, recalls the great mesirus nefesh for Shabbos that a handful of Jews demonstrated, despite the terrible price that they were forced to pay. That ought not be forgotten.

The Jews who arrived in New Bedford left behind their families, friends and everything they knew. Like so many others, they came to these shores in search of a new life. We don’t know much about these particular individuals, but we know the general outlines of their story.

Fine, ehrliche Yidden were starving in the old country. They could not afford to feed and clothe themselves and their families. Survival had become impossible. They finally threw their fate to the winds blowing from the new world on the other side of the Atlantic and sailed for the goldeneh medinah.

Many of those gutteh Yidden sought to remain loyal to their heritage, but more often than not, they were overwhelmed by the challenges; surviving in the new country while maintaining their fidelity to Torah, appeared impossible.

These Jews of Lita who were brought up on a diet of Torah came here and found no chinuch structure for their children. They couldn’t find jobs that didn’t require working on Shabbos. Given what was then an institutionalized six-day workweek, Jews who failed to show up for work on Saturday were back on the streets looking for employment on Monday.

The Jews were strangers adrift in a lonely world of doom and gloom where their most cherished values evoked universal scorn. Lacking a support system and the mental stamina and spiritual fire to navigate the obstacles, they faltered. They made the tragic calculation that temporary chillul Shabbos would enable them to earn a livelihood and ensure a secure future for their children. They thought they could then regain their former standing as observant Jews and rear their children in the same tradition.

When people allow themselves to compromise on their ideals, the end is never good. It is not for us to judge them, for we have no way of knowing whether we would have withstood their tests. In hindsight, it is very easy for us to imagine ourselves being staunch and heroic in the face of their challenges. It is so easy to say that had we been alive at that period of time, we definitely would have been among the minority who remained loyal to halacha.

Looking back at the trials to which so many succumbed, we can’t help but note the tragic fallout of their choices. The vast majority of their children and grandchildren abandoned the Torah way of life. In contrast, those few who persevered and were loyal to their mesorah and shemiras Shabbos merited to produce beautiful Jewish generations. But back then, in the very midst of the cauldron, when hunger and homelessness were real dangers, very few were capable of looking at the future and imagining a healthy and vibrant community they could draw strength from.

Every generation has its nisyonos. Today, we, too, are tested each day with new temptations that our parents and grandparents never dreamed of. Our senses are assaulted daily and we are expected to withstand those attacks. Despite the differences in our nisyonos, one thing is the same: The intensity of the nisyonos makes us feel as if we are being asked to put our lives and fortunes on the line in order to pass the tests.   

When Chazal teach that our forefather Avrohom Avinu was tested through ten nisyonos, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t face additional daily nisyonos. It means that Hashem tested him in ways that he doesn’t test other people. Besides for the regular daily battles we all must face quietly, Avrohom faced ten cardinal tests which determined whether he was worthy to speak with Hashem and be the progenitor of Am Yisroel.

The Lithuanian immigrants, who settled in New Bedford and established their shul there, were some of the rare few who were able to withstand the trials of the times. They took on all types of menial jobs and did their best to raise their children to follow the proper path. Some of the people who valiantly maintained that shul, are third- and fourth-generation members of the synagogue. They are the grandchildren of the heroes who withstood their nisyonos. However, the membership continued to dwindle and now the shul can no longer sustain itself. There simply aren’t enough people who are interested in what is soon to become a cultural artifact – an Orthodox shul in New Bedford dating back to before the turn of the 20th century.

In many of the communities where people read the Yated, there is not enough room in the local shuls for all those who wish to attend. The schools are bursting and the community continues to grow. We overlook the New Bedfords of the world. We forget about the millions of neshamos lost to the spiritual trials and temptations of the past century. We forget that the American map was once dotted with thousands of small towns with kehillos, rabbonim, kosher butchers and a religious infrastructure.

Those kehillos are all gone now and there is barely anyone who even remembers that they ever existed. The few towns like New Bedford which boasted religious populations and managed to persevere are dying out. Most lost their children to the melting pot, with the minority moving on to Boston or another city blessed with day schools and a frum base.

But let’s turn the spotlight for a moment on ourselves. How would you say we are faring with today’s nisyonos? Let’s take one example. In bygone years, Jews were compelled by Jewish employers to work in factories on Shabbos. Those Jewish employers forced fellow Jews to go off the derech. Today, we have an unprecedented situation that bears certain parallels to that tragic era.

Today, we have frum children who are out of school, rejected for arbitrary reasons. Parents making a genuine sacrifice to enroll their children have the door slammed in their faces. These rejected children often have literally nowhere to turn. 

In certain cases, there is a troubling similarity between those who slam the school doors shut in front of tearful patents and those factory owners who, on Monday morning, slammed the door shut on those workers who didn’t come in on Shabbos. By rejecting these children, it is possible that they are pushing the children away from the community that should be embracing them. 

The Lomza mashgiach offers a fascinating insight into the nisayon of the Akeidah. Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Avrohom Avinu to bring Yitzchok to a non-descript out-of-the-way mountain. What compounded the nisayon for Avrohom, the mashgiach pointed out, was that his sacrifice was to take place far from civilization. Nobody would witness what he had done.

If the Akeidah would have been held in a public square or stadium where everyone could watch, and if it would have been covered live by the media and posted on You Tube, the nisayon would never have propelled him to the level of greatness he attained. He reached sublime heights precisely because he carried out his act of devotion utterly alone, far from human view.

We witness people who appear to be acting selflessly in Hashem’s name, while they are actually seeking to add glory and fame to their own names as well. That is not the test of greatness. The true test of greatness and fidelity to Hashem’s word is how a person conducts himself when no one is watching. Will he do the mitzvah with the same fervor as if there is a camera nearby to capture his dedication?

It is not those who seek out the attention or the ones who hold press conferences to announce their meritorious deeds who are the true heroes of the Jewish people. Rather, it is those who shun publicity and who labor without the benefits of spotlights who are the most deserving of our esteem. 

The people who thrive on attention are not motivated by idealism or benefitting the people they claim to be fighting for. The true leaders of Am Yisroel don’t assume leadership positions because they are adept at manipulating the press. They pay no attention to the ever-changing trends and idols of society.

Individuals such as Maran Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l, whose yahrtzeit was this past Sunday, and ybl”c Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman toiled in virtual anonymity for decades before they became household names. Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and his son-in-law, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, learned day and night without a break before they became recognized as giants of the day. Rav Ovadiah Yosef suffered years of deprivation as he amassed his computer-like knowledge of Torah.

Cavorting with politicians and hobnobbing with big names can bring flashing fame, but often, to find those with real power and effectiveness, you have to search the walk-ups of non-descript buildings.

True heroes carry the nobility of spirit that defines certain people at the core. The Litvishe Jews who built the New Bedford shul at the turn of the past century are such people who sacrificed to keep their sacred traditions intact.

Many of the nisyonos that we face in our daily lives challenge us in a different way – in the way we treat our fellow Jews. Do we look down at other people or do we put ourselves in their shoes and respond compassionately? People who have power over others should consider how truly great individuals would respond to the nisyonos that they are facing. To carry forth our example, what would Rav Shteinman say if he were running a school and a person with a slightly different background would apply for admittance?

The answer to that question is not a mystery. Several menahalim actually posed just this question to him several years ago during one of his visits to America. He responded that had Avrohom Avinu come to register in their schools, he would not have been accepted. Despite the promise he radiated, they would have rejected him based on his father’s ineligibility to be a parent in their school. 

The director of a cheder in Beit Shemesh approached Rav Shteinman several years ago with a dilemma. A current parent in the cheder remarried and wanted to enroll the children of his new wife in the school. The school rejected the new applicants because the hanhallah feared that they didn’t completely meet the mosad’s criteria. When the father refused to back down, Rav Shteinman was approached by the school’s director for guidance in dealing with this stubborn individual who refused to accept the school’s decision.  

Rav Shteinman was incredulous. He responded that it is gaavah to insist that you are better than the other person. To reject a child from a cheder for specious reasons is not a sign of greatness, but a sign of gaavah. Those were the words of Rav Shteinman.

What a powerful message and what an important lesson.

But how is a principal to deal with a parent who applies to his school, when he knows that other parents will mock him if he accepts a child that others have rejected? It is his personal nisayon. No one is watching. There are no klieg lights trained on him. It is not an easy decision. He has to be able to demonstrate his love for a random Jewish child. He has to rise above petty concerns and face down the baalei gaavah who say they speak in the name of purity. He has to consider in his soul what would be best for the child and the other children of the school.

When faced with such a nisayon, it is incumbent to turn to someone of the caliber of Rav Shteinman, if necessary, and pose the question to him.

Today, at this late date in the school season, there are still children who have no school to attend. Through no fault of their own, they languish at home. The school they attended last year closed, or the child’s family moved from another city, or other extenuating circumstances marked them as “rejects.” 

As we sit in our offices, at our shtenders and in our homes, we should consider how our decisions will hold up to scrutiny in hindsight. How will we be judged when our actions – or our lack of action – become public knowledge? Not everything we do is momentous, but all of our actions are eternal and have ramifications.

With mitzvos and maasim tovim we create good malachim – not only angels in Heaven, malachim mamash, but also malachim who walk among us, precious Jewish children and worthy adults.

Avrohom Avinu showed the way and made it easier for us to withstand our nisyonos. May we all merit to make the right choices and withstand our momentous, and daily, tests.

{Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. thank you thank you- as a mother of a kollel son and a working son both ehrliche yidden with wonderful homes I want all their children in yeshivas not some yes and some no based on what tatty does for a living. Torah is life and not a job and my working son lives that torah life as does his brother!

  2. you can cry when you read this. Every word is true.
    I heard the story with R’ Shteinman slightly different.
    Avrohom would not have been accepted into school because he was a Ba’al Teshuvah.
    Ytzchok not, because he had a brother Yishmael.
    Yaakov not because he had a brother Esav.
    The shevatim had their issues with uncle Esav and Yosef and Dinah.

  3. I mean Rivka’s parents would’ve been arrested for child abuse for marrying her off at three, Yitzchok would’ve started the shidduch crisis, Eliezer would’ve been arrested for killing Besuel etc etc you get the gist….

  4. Yes but BH we have schools of all different types.

    There are schools for mitzuyanim, schools for boys who want to learn but need extra individual help, schools for boys who cant make it for social reasons, schools for boys that want to take vocational courses, schools for boys that need to be kept off the streets and away from worse things.

    So you tell me now, if theres a boy or group of boys who woould obstruct other boys from learning well, then why does a yeshiva need to accept them? let them be put in schools for boys just like them.

    Im sorry!

  5. Rabbi Lipshitz,
    I thank you for your wonderful article.

    I have just one question?
    In your article you mention the nisayon a school owner faces by having the pressure of NOT accepting a child. How true you are!
    However…what about discussing the oneish parents will face one day for pressuring school owners with the threat of leaving (thereby causing enormous financial loss and embarrassment to the owner if they are forced to close)if they take in children “not to their standards”??

    It boggles my mind how this trend is growing the last number of years, and no one has mentioned it yet!!!

  6. Rabbi Pinni Lipshutz: you da man:

    To number 5, you started of well,
    but each child when you use the term “LIKE THEM”, instead of using the term SPECIAL NEEDS, instead of PROBLEM CHILDREN, or THOSE BOYS, YOU KNOW WHO I MEAN, you are labelling them, and they carry that with them for the rest of their lives, they become insecure, thats when they become LIKE THEM, treat them with a little more TLC, and see how they respond.

  7. As the president of a large Yeshivah , i must tell you that it is a shame on what schools are doing to our children > In a very large upstate frum community , there are still close to 25 girls that have still not been acccepted to a school .Rabosai , these are our future dropouts and kids at risk ! And if we don’t do something about it , we are all guilty !

  8. We are literally killing our parents and children. I beg you to speak out ! Do not support the schools that cater only to mitzuyonim and perfectioism . Evey child ha the right to learn Torah . We will not be forgiven for the anguish that we are causing these parents and children !!

  9. In Monsey, there is a school that on the first day of school, they kicked out an 8th grader, because his parents sent their 1st grader to a different school!
    I don’t have to explain how that kid has been destroyed. Trying to find a school that wants to take an 8th grader on the first day of the school year!
    When we stopped educating people and started teaching Torah (as one Gadol described it), we lost our direction.
    Its all about EGO EGO EGO

  10. I am the President of a large Yeshivah in Rockland County ( Monsey ) . What has happened in the Monsey community this year is nothing short of embarrasing . As much as 35 girls in our community have not ben accepted to any school . These chidren are kept at home day after day without education . It surprises me that our Rabbonim are not speaking about this in a public forum. They should be closing all the schools until every child is placed. Rabosai , these children are our future drop outs and chiildren at risk . Unless we do something about it , we will all be accountable and guilty!

  11. Alter bachur, a few thoughts:
    Not all communities have as many choices.
    Maybe those who do might benefit from a little less homogeneity.
    Maybe, sometimes, parents are tilting at windmills and trying to make a point, and yes, they should look for the more appropriate specialized school.
    But – and this is no maybe – Rabbi Lipschutz brings up some important points.

  12. It is worth noting that there is thriving Chabad House in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which is bringing the descendants of those yidden back to Orthodox Yiddishkeit.

  13. “Today, we have frum children who are out of school, rejected for arbitrary reasons. Parents making a genuine sacrifice to enroll their children have the door slammed in their faces. These rejected children often have literally nowhere to turn.

    “We witness people who appear to be acting selflessly in Hashem’s name, while they are actually seeking to add glory and fame to their own names as well.

    “When the father refused to back down, Rav Shteinman was approached by the school’s director for guidance in dealing with this stubborn individual who refused to accept the school’s decision.”

    Thanks for pointing out the sickness of today’s society: gaivah, love of money, spitting on Jewish children who are not “perfect,” etc. etc. I have walked away from you all and am happier for it.


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