By Yisroel Gelber
We live in unique times. Baruch Hashem, we have live in a country where we are free to practice our religion without fears or inhibitions. Within our own frum communities, lomdei Torah occupy a respected and admired place on the social strata. But things weren’t always this way. Before the destruction of European Jewry, the great Mussar master, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, instructed his student, the Alter of Slabodka that the latter’s primary focus in creating the Knesses Yisroel yeshiva should be to “revive the hearts of the downcast, and uplift the spirit of the downtrodden;” yeshiva students in those days were indeed the “downcast and downtrodden” of Jewish society. This attitudinal transformation, then, is both dramatic and astounding. Yet today we face an alternately concerning trend among today’s population of Torah learners, different but no less grave than those faced in earlier generations.
The kollel student who chooses to transition into the “olam ha’maysa,” the “world of action” – who is now prepared to not only support his family spiritually but also physically – he or his wife may feel b’dieved or second class citizens.
A statement from the Ari z”l regarding Purim may cast this situation in a different light.
Noting that the word “Yom Kippurim” can be translated as “a day like Purim,” he asserts that somehow this day of pure physicality, of drinking and reverie, gift baskets and masquerades, not only approaches but even surpasses in holiness the most sublime day on the Jewish calendar. This statement is confounding, to say the least. After all, Yom Kippur is filled with fasting and prayer, angelic dispositions. The Yetzer Hora, we are told, is restrained on Yom Kippur and the congregation unites in total submission to a higher goal. What then, is the secret to Purim’s spiritual power?
Rav Yerucham Levovitz, the famed Mashgiach Ruchani of the Mir in Ppland, explains that on Yom Kippur, change may not necessarily be long lasting: the Yetzer Hora can entice a person to limit his newly founded ahava , bitul hayetzer and connection to others to the day of Yom Kippur itself, absorbed as we are then in prayer and purely spiritual activities. On this day we can withdraw from the world into a rarefied “bubble”, but what about the day after? Will our sense of fraternity and connection remain?
On Purim, conversely, we again enjoy this day of freedom from any jealousy or competition, , but this time we do so from within the physical world. It is a weekday in the technical sense; we eat and drink extensively; we run from house to house, building loving relationships with others . On this day, there is no room for the Yetzer Hara to trick a person in abandon hew new connections. In certain ways, Rav Yeruchem suggests, these Purim activities can reverberate far longer than the confined pursuits of Yom Kippur. In fact, a basket of MiShalach Manos has the potential to last with us much longer more than our knocking Al Chet!
Analogously, while one studies in Kollel, he can reach great heights, as we all can and do on Yom Kippur. And while it is certainly an uncomparable zchus to be a Yisachar. Yet, the Yetzer Hora may lurk in the background, knowing that once this man transitions and leaves that rich environment , he may struggle mightily to retain those levels in the working world.
Not so one who can vanquish his Yetzer in the midst of a much more challenging environment. One who can daven properly, maintain a commitment to Torah learning, operate honestly in his profession, treat others with dignity regardless of the circumstances…such an individual has indeed risen to the truest heights of greatness. And while we never try to test ourselves. It is , however possible that one who feels that his personal avodah is now expanded to work in the wider world will find that in his situation, is the possibility of not only coming to grips with it-but realizing it can be a l’chatchila situation for him allowing him to reach levels that can’t be broken.