Historic Times

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By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Put aside politics, religion and your personal thoughts about the State of Israel. Something monumental took place last week in Yerushalayim. Over fifty heads of state gathered in Yerushalayim to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

In a world where parlor meetings are termed historic, this was something that was really significant and momentous. And we should sit up and take notice. At a time when people are consumed with touting the supposed increasing anti-Semitism around us, people who decide the fates of countries and hundreds of millions of people came together in the Jewish state that didn’t exist 75 years ago to declare that they will do what they can to ensure that Jews are not targeted for complete destruction ever again.

No, it is not up to them, but to hear them say it is a dramatic, remarkable change.

It is historic, indeed.

In the context of history, 75 years is an infinitesimal dot. In a book, it’s one sentence. In a calendar, it is the flip of a page. To have the leaders of the world gather in the capital of the Jewish nation so soon after the world stood by as millions of our brothers and sisters were systematically murdered in the most degrading way, is to have come a long way in a short time.

Nowadays, especially with the partisan impeachment of an American president underway, we tend to ignore what politicians say, or, at best, we take their words with several grains of salt. Often, they don’t believe what they say. They merely mouth the words and give expression to what was written by a lonely speechwriter in a stuffy, windowless back room.

That may be true, but if Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, comes to Yerushalayim with a rabbinic friend and speaks against anti-Semitism just a few years after the fall of the Iron Curtain which cut off millions of Jews from their religion, that is historic.

‘I Cannot Forgive’

If a 7-½-year-orphaned boy, prisoner number 117030, locked in a concentration camp, can stand in front of world leaders 75 years later and proclaim, “I cannot forgive and I cannot forget [what was done to me]. What I remember is that I am the 38th generation of a rabbinic dynasty; I remember that I am a Jew,” and those words trigger applause, that is historic.

We need to know that we live in historic times, free to rebuild what was destroyed in the past century and the preceding centuries, free to hop aboard an airplane and walk the streets of Eretz Yisroel and daven in the holiest places. It is historic and we should appreciate it. We have come a long way and can hear the footsteps of Moshiach approaching.

We are an eternal people, with a long history. For thousands of years, the nations of the world have been trying to destroy us, and despite all their best efforts, we are here, thriving and flourishing. We study Parshas Bo this week and note that the pesukim and narratives of this parsha encompass many of the words and stories intrinsic to our faith, as well as special guidance in being mechaneich one’s children.

On the night of the Pesach Seder, every father is charged with imparting to the next generation the eternal messages and lessons that emanate from our experiences in Mitzrayim and our deliverance from bondage. In the process of retelling, we relate the lessons of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim to our children and ourselves, as we try to remain true to our calling in today’s golus.

The Ramban famously teaches that Parshas Bo is the guidebook of emunas Yisroel, which is the foundation of our belief throughout the ages. Interestingly, besides for Yetzias Mitzrayim being the bedrock of our faith, within the account of Yetzias Mitzrayim we find important chinuch lessons and timeless truths about how to maximize the potential of every Jewish child.

Divine Wisdom On Reaching Every Child

It is in regard to the mitzvah of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim that the Torah charges each father to be a mechaneich, invested with a sacred task of inspiring his children. The Rambam (Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 7:2) writes that it is incumbent upon fathers to teach children about Yetzias Mitzrayim, and a father should teach his children according to each child’s level.

Several pesukim in the parsha discuss how to teach our children about the importance of Yetzias Mitzrayim and its connection to the mitzvos we observe on Pesach.

The Torah discusses diverse questions that various types of children may pose. A different response is suggested for each type of child. Rashi quotes the Mechilta and the Yerushalmi in Pesachim that state, “Dibrah Torah keneged arba’ah bonim.” The Baal Haggadah says, “Keneged arba’ah bonim dibrah Torah,” the Torah speaks about four different types of sons who question our Pesach observances. There is the wise, the wicked, the ignorant, and the one who is so simple that he cannot even express his questions.

It is interesting to note that the Haggadah introduces this concept by stating, “Boruch haMakom boruch hu, boruch shenosan Torah le’amo Yisroel.” Hashem is to be praised for giving us the Torah – “keneged arbaah bonim dibrah Torah.” We praise Hashem for giving us the Torah, which speaks – and is relevant – to different types of children and people.

While every father wants to be blessed with smart, knowledgeable, well-behaved children, they unfortunately don’t always turn out that way. The Torah provides the language with which to reach each and every type of child, including the challenging ones. As frustrated as a father must feel at times, he doesn’t have the option of ignoring or speaking roughly to such a child.

Every person is born with the potential for greatness. Should he unfortunately be detoured from his mission, we never abandon him. The Torah requires us to reach out to him and respond to his queries in a language he can understand.

Every talmid has the potential to become a gadol b’Yisroel if properly nurtured and allowed to develop. There are many stories of boys who were considered average in their youth and developed into famed gedolim. Sometimes it was a rebbi who took an interest in them and reached deep into their untapped greatness. Other times, a student’s stubborn dedication to learning allowed the intelligence to develop.

This is profound meaning in the posuk in Mishlei that states, “Chanoch lanaar al pi darko.” The premise of that advice is that every child has a unique derech. There is a distinct path to the heart of every child. When the appropriate language and approach are used, there is no one who cannot be reached.

In this week’s parsha, we are reminded that the Torah speaks to every person. We have to heed that message and seek to speak to every Jew in every period in a way that he can understand and accept.

When we speak of the Holocaust, we must bear in mind Yetzias Mitzrayim. When we teach the next generation about the Nazis, we think of Amaleik three thousand years later.

We seek methods to reach our children, to reach the youth of today. The Torah speaks of arba’ah bonim, four sons, and also offers four expressions, arba leshonos, of geulah. Perhaps this is a hint that in order to bring about the ultimate geulah, we have to use language that is appropriate for every type of child.

If we only speak in one lashon, we will not succeed in reaching everyone which in turn will thwart our efforts to bring about the geulah. The geulah is dependent upon everyone’s belief in Hashem and devotion to the mitzvos of the Torah.

Golus Mitzrayim was preordained to last 400 years starting from the birth of Yitzchok. When that time period concluded, the geulah arrived, despite the state of the Jewish people at that time. Golus Edom, in which we now find ourselves, has no known expiration date. The redemption depends on us, our dedication to Torah, our emunah and bitachon, and, mostly, our teshuvah.

It is only when Klal Yisroel does teshuvah that Hashem will bring us Moshiach and the geulah.

The yeitzer hora is a crafty enemy. Because he understands our motivations, he is able to outsmart us. For us to perceive the plainly evident truth is an epic struggle, for he shades and colors the way we understand what is happening around us and goads us to react in ways that harm us.

He uses words and ideas that paint negative actions as positive ones and causes us to view positive accomplishments with negativity and cynicism. He tells us that [not] all who wander are lost and endeavors to remove our focus from the goal. But that doesn’t work for us as a people. If we want to reach those who have questions and prevent them from going OTD, we have to be open and honest. We have to learn how to address our own issues using real solutions and honest ideas, not being content with noise or soundbites. What we need is practical direction, not grandstanding for the glory of the moment or fanciful thinking that has no application to reality.

Beyond Cliches

Having world leaders come together to give speeches about anti-Semitism may be historic and sound comforting, but a few good speeches alone never changed anything. Change requires clearly thought-through approaches, implemented with hard work and effort.

Much the same, seeking to be mechaneich children with clichés, stale arguments and outdated methods cause them to be turned off.

A mechaneich traveled from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak to consult with the Chazon Ish on chinuch matters. Before he had a chance to begin speaking, the Chazon Ish turned to him and said, “I see on your face that you are not happy. You need to know that it is impossible to reach children without simcha. It is simply not possible.”

A young boy sat with his father in Auschwitz reciting what they could remember of the Haggadah on the Seder night. As they found themselves in the world’s most dismal corner during the darkest of times, their minds were elsewhere.

The father and son, shuddering from hunger, fright and exhaustion, held their Seder in Auschwitz. As they attempted to recall the memories of Sedorim in years past, at home, with the festive atmosphere, beautiful faces of family gathered around the decorated table, the emaciated boy with his scarecrow of a father commemorated the redemption of their forefathers.

The boy asked the four questions of the Mah Nishtanah and, when he was done, there was a fifth.

Tatte leben ich vil dir fregin… I have one more question. Will we be alive next year, me and you, so that I can ask you the questions again?”

The father turned to the boy and said, “My son, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Neither of us knows what our fate is. But one thing I know: Whether or not we will live until next Pesach, you can be sure that next year there will be boys all around the world asking their fathers the Mah Nishtanah.”

Our history continues, stretching back to the days of Mitzrayim, fathers relating to children and looking to the past and the future. Every day, we say Krias Shema in the morning, when we awake and begin the day, and again in the evening, when we go to bed at the close of the day. We are then reminded of Yetzias Mitzrayim. This reinforces the concept that despite all the threats we face from the nations of the world in every age, Hakadosh Boruch Hu inevitably protects us from them and ensures our survival.

The nations come and go, rise and fall. Their actions and speeches resonate and then dissipate, but as long as we continue studying Parshas Bo and transmitting its messages to our children, we shall survive and thrive until the coming of Moshiach speedily in our day.

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