By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This juxtaposition of this week’s Parshas Lech Lecha with last week’s Parshas Noach has a profound message for us. That lesson is underscored in the famous Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Noach that young children invariably quote from their parsha sheets at the Shabbos table. It’s a message we’ve heard innumerable times but for some reason, never truly absorb.
Rashi states that according to one opinion, had Noach lived in the generation of Avrohom, he wouldn’t have been regarded as anyone special.
Children read the Rashi off their sheets and continue their weekly devar Torah with the question: Why was Noach inferior to Avrohom? In what way did the two men differ so radically that the Torah has to hint that had Noach lived in Avrohom’s era, he would not have been considered a tzaddik at all?
The answer that is often given is that Avrohom reached out to the people and engaged in kiruv work. Avrohom cared about his neighbors. He davened for them and sought to bring them tachas kanfei haShechinah. Noach, by contrast, wasn’t able to be mekarev anyone.
When Hakadosh Boruch Hu told him about the impending Mabul, Noach’s reaction was acceptance of the decree. He didn’t defend the people or seek to have the decree annulled. Avrohom’s response to the news of destruction looming over Sedom was precisely the opposite. He davened to spare the wicked ones from annihilation.
Avrohom is credited with enlightening and educating an entire community, as indicated by the posuk which states, “Es hanefesh asher asu beChoron.” Noach’s sphere of influence was practically non-existent.
We listen to the vort once again as we wait for Mommy to bring out the soup, but it doesn’t register. We hear about the importance of kiruv but what impact does it have? It never seems to go beyond the nice little vertel. It never becomes real. We never take it to heart. By the time the main course arrives, we’ve forgotten about it.
Shouldn’t we pause to consider how we can apply the Torah’s message about the supreme value of reaching out to our fellow Jews in our own lives?
If Noach, whom the Torah describes as a tzaddik tomim, would have been totally insignificant in a future generation because he didn’t invest effort in drawing people closer to the Creator, how would the Torah describe us? Our generation may well be as immoral, corrupt and licentious as his. Yet, we live post Matan Torah, at a time when the people we are responsible for are not uncivilized pagans, but modern, intelligent, bnei Avrohom Yitzchok v’Yaakov, who, due to the upheavals of golus, have lost their connection to our glorious heritage.
We do our best to be tzaddikim. We work very hard at being temimim. We learn as much as we can, do as much chesed as is humanly possible, and constantly find worthy causes to donate to. But we are lacking in the way we treat people who look different than us. We look down upon them and don’t consider it our obligation to befriend them or get involved with them.
Let me share a story I read about Gustav, a student who became frum on a college campus. Gustav attended shiurim on his campus given by frum university alumni, baalei batim and rabbonim of the local community. As a result of the regular shiurim, Torah discussions and guidance, Gustav went on to embrace observant Yiddishkeit. He went to learn in yeshiva, giving back to Klal Yisroel far more than we ever gave him.
This is not a contemporary kiruv story. It happened in the 1930’s, in Germany. The campus kiruv organization was called the V.A.D. (Verein Judische Academiker), which was led by talmidim of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. The group operated in Berlin, Germany, and dedicated itself to teaching Torah to students whose neshomos cried out, “Anachnu rotzim lilmod Torah!”
We know Gustav Karl Friedrich Wolbe as Rav Shlomo Wolbe, whose light of Torah continues to radiate over Klal Yisroel through his seforim and talmidim. That is thanks to the talmidim of Avrohom Avinu who cared about Yiddishe neshomos and made an effort to reach him and others like him and bring them tachas kanfei haShechinah.
A story is told about three young residents of a virulently anti-religious Shomer Hatzair kibbutz who showed up at the kollel of the Chazon Ish in Bnei Brak. Upon entering, they said to the stunned yungeleit, “Anachnu rotzim lilmod Torah – We want to learn Torah.” The kollel fellows didn’t know how to respond. They consulted with the Chazon Ish, who instructed them to learn with the kibbutzniks. He explained that these young men were the children and grandchildren of the original olim to Eretz Yisroel who threw away their Yiddishkeit as their boats made their way across the Mediterranean.
The parents of those olim, said the Chazon Ish, had run to their shuls, grabbed the paroches, and cried bitter tears over their children who were becoming lost. Their tears may not have helped for those who intentionally abandoned Yiddishkeit, but they were stored in Shomayim and were being responded to as the olims’ children, who were tinokos shenishbu, sought out Torah. Thus, predicted the Chazon Ish, they will come back, and not only will they embrace a Torah life, but in the coming years so will many thousands more.
We see those prophetic words coming to life. We have a role to play in realizing the potential for greatness in the Jewish people, as far as many of our brethren have wandered. You’ll never know where there is a Shlomo in the guise of a Gustav if you don’t stretch out your hand to Gustav. There are Gustavs everywhere. When we come in contact with them, and when it is appropriate, we should try to interest them in the glory of their heritage so that they may one day enjoy the benefits of a Torah life.
We should not only concern ourselves with the Gustavs. There are many Shlomos as well who need us. There are so many people with whom we are in contact each day who could benefit from a little more love, some compassion, and the knowledge that someone cares about them. Frum people also need kiruv. Frum people can also be lonely and in need of a friend. Frum people can also use chizuk once in a while. They get down when things don’t go right with their parnossah or their children. They are overwhelmed as they cope with the myriad challenges of life. How can we think of ourselves as tzaddikim if we couldn’t care less whether the guy who sits next to us by davening was able to get his children into school? How can we consider ourselves temimim if we feign ignorance to the pain of our neighbors and colleagues?
A new day school opened this year in southern Florida for the children of irreligious Israeli yordim who would otherwise be in public school. A mother of one of the students washes the floors of the school to augment the $1,500 she is able to afford for tuition. This woman has no clear idea of what is motivating her to demonstrate this type of mesirus nefesh for her child to receive a Torah education. People who are distant from Yiddishkeit can still be so close to Hashem. All they need is for us to stretch out a friendly hand to them and they’ll do the rest themselves. It is folly for us to judge people based on their dress and outer appearances. Inside, heim rotzim lilmod Torah.
When Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin was on trial for his life in South Dakota, he went to the local mall to purchase something he needed. While there, he saw young Israelis at booths trying to convince shoppers to purchase their products. Instead of going home that weekend, he stayed in South Dakota with his family to spend the Shabbos with twelve Israelis. Did they become frum from that encounter? Who knows? But they surely absorbed the warmth of Shabbos in a way they never did previously. They acquired a new perspective on Yiddishkeit.
Many times we have passed by Israelis of that type without so much as giving them a second thought. We can’t all spend a Shabbos with them, but we can stretch out a hand of friendship and make them feel wanted. You never know where your initiative will lead.
The parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis are part of the eternal Torah so that we can learn the lessons they impart. The parshiyos are not simply collections of good stories. They are meant to portray how we are to lead our lives. Maybe not all of us are able to involve ourselves in kiruv activities. But we can all change our mindset to recognize that those who actively pursue kiruv are not people to be mocked, vilified or pitied for their naïveté.
Besides, life is about going as far as you can and doing as much you can; you never know how far you can go and how much you can accomplish until you try. You never know the difference you can make in a person’s life until you give it a shot.