By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
A man by the name of Vagshal, who lived in Bnei Brak, had the idea of building a hotel with a wedding hall on its bottom floor. He approached the Chazon Ish in his humble apartment and asked for advice in advancing his project. The Chazon Ish told him to look at his home, an impoverished hovel in desperate need of repair and renovation with minimal furniture. He told the ambitious prospective hotel owner that he was not able to provide him with architectural advice.
Mr. Vagshal responded that he wanted to ensure that his building was properly constructed and needed the input of the Chazon Ish.
“If that’s the case,” responded the Chazon Ish, “then I will tell you what to do. Whatever the contractor tells you he needs in the construction of the foundation, tell him that you want double. If he says he needs ten beams, tell him you want twenty. Whatever amount of concrete he says is required, tell him to use double.”
The man was incredulous.
“Rebbe,” he said, “I came here for a brocha and ideas to help me get this project going with my limited funding, but what you said will just cost me money and I don’t understand the purpose of doubling my initial expenses.”
The Chazon Ish looked at him lovingly and said, “Reb Yid, der ikkar iz der yesoid. The most important thing is to have a solid foundation. If you have a good foundation, you will have a good building and it will stand for a long time.”
That building, encompassing Ulamei Vagshal and Malon Vagshal, still stands proudly decades later in Bnei Brak.
Having a good foundation is a good rule for everything in life, not only buildings. Now, as the summer draws to a close and we are in the month of Elul, we have an opportunity to lay a strong foundation for the coming year. Elul is a period gifted to us to solidify and strengthen ourselves in advance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
We stand at the foot of a ladder that reaches to the heavens. If we climb to the top, we can ascend to a realm of blessing. But in order to reach those levels, we must first have our feet planted firmly on a solid foundation.
This week’s parsha begins with the words, “Ki seitzei lamilchomah al oyevecha – When you go to war against your enemy.” While the Torah is speaking of a time when the Jewish people will go to combat against a physical enemy, many understand the posuk to be referring allegorically to our never-ending battle against the yeitzer hora. In fact, the Chovos Halevavos writes [Shaar Yichud Hamaaseh, Perek 5] that the most dangerous enemy man has is the yeitzer hora. We can never rest in battling him or we will be defeated by him.
Elul is meaningful, for it is during this month that we determine anew that we must and can defeat him.
Rashi states at the beginning of Parshas Bereishis that Hakadosh Boruch Hu planned to create the world with the strict middah of din. When He perceived that the world could not exist that way, He combined rachamim, mercy with din, judgment, and everything that He did was through the combination of those two middos. When the world is judged on Rosh Hashanah, it is through that combination (see Ramban, Vayikra 23:24).
The Vilna Gaon teaches that throughout the entire year, the world is run according to those two middos, but during the month of Elul, Hashem operates only through middas harachamim.
Although we refer to Hashem as the Av Harachaman, a merciful father, and appeal to Him each day and say, “Avinu Av Harachaman hameracheim racheim aleinu – Our merciful Father, please have mercy upon us,” and we have faith that He will indeed have mercy, that rachmanus is accompanied by din. During Elul, there is no din, only rachamim.
We do teshuvah during Elul not only because we want to be cleansed for the din of Rosh Hashanah, but because this month is the best time to clean up our act and be accepted back into Hashem’s embrace.
However, since it is the most auspicious period of the year to improve ourselves, we can expect the yeitzer hora to endeavor to prevent us from doing teshuvah. He uses different methods to keep us bogged down in cheit and remain unworthy of rachamim. Therefore, last week’s parsha of Shoftim, the first to be read during Elul, warns us to appoint for ourselves shoftim and shotrim.
The admonition to appoint shoftim, judges, and shotrim, police, is understood to mean that we should utilize the attributes of these agents of the law to guard ourselves from not acting properly. Following that, the Torah warns “Velo sikach shochad,” do not accept bribes for they distort the thought process even of smart people.
Since we are understanding these pesukim allegorically as advising us how to conduct ourselves during Elul and all year, we can understand this posuk that way as well. Our enemy, the yeitzer hora, portrays the forces of evil and darkness as glitzy and glamorous, appealing to our senses and enticing us to be smitten by them. They have the good public relations and the media promotes them incessantly, but the Torah warns us not to let ourselves be swayed by the seductive allure, but rather to fearlessly follow Hashem.
This idea is also found in Rashi, Parshas Shoftim [20: 3]. There, the posuk, in discussing doing battle against enemies, warns not to fear them. We would think that the reason to fear our enemy is because they are more plentiful and stronger than us, plus they are armed with more powerful weapons. But Rashi says that the fear is caused by the enemy armies making a lot of noise, to impress us that they are large and powerful. Says the Torah, don’t be impressed by the grandstanding and don’t fall for the pageantry. Have faith in Hashem and you will defeat them.
It is Elul, and as we seek to detach ourselves from the things that tempt us to stray from learning Torah and properly observing halacha, the yeitzer hora plants must-see information on the internet so that we can’t peel ourselves away from. He creates good “hock” of different machlokesin going out and little battles we must know about to keep us from being areingeton in learning. Just as we are preparing to get to bed, a new kernel of nonsense is thrown our way to keep us awake and typing back and forth with our friends, so that we aren’t able to wake up on time for davening in the morning and we are too tired to learn properly the next day.
We have to be smarter than that. We must follow our middos of shoftim and shotrim and not allow the appealing shochad of the yeitzer hora to destroy us as we seek to take advantage of the month of rachamim to make sure that we won’t have a year like we have been experiencing in Tof Shin Pey.
There was a master realtor who would assemble remarkable deals. He would propose them to wealthy people, and if they had faith in him, they would buy in and greatly profit. But he had a condition with his investors: He wouldn’t explain his deals or answer questions. He laid everything out in a nice prospectus and the rest was a matter of faith.
One of his investors was Warren Buffet, who would regularly invest $100 million in every deal the realtor proposed. One day, the broker approached Buffet with a deal that required a $1 billion investment. Buffet was in a serious quandary and didn’t know what to do. Even for him, a billion dollars was a lot, and he was leery of investing that much money in a deal that he didn’t know much about.
Additionally, this realtor was his go-to guy with whom he would consult before he did big deals, because he was the only person he knew he could completely depend on and trust. Here he was, being presented with what could be either an amazing opportunity or a blistering disaster. He didn’t know what to do. In the end, he decided that he had to trust the expert with the amazing track record whom he knew he could trust implicitly.
This moshol describes our relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam. Things happen throughout the year that we don’t understand. But we know that everything that happens is from Hashem, who gives us life and everything that we have. So, when things happen that we don’t understand, we have no choice but to believe that He knows what He’s doing and we work on getting past the pain we may be experiencing.
It would be folly for us to listen to the yeitzer hora and his arguments and tricks that are devised to separate us from Hashem. We do ourselves well to stick to what has worked for our parents and grandparents, stretching all the way back through the ages to Avrohom Avinu. Those who allowed the shochad of the yeitzer hora to influence their actions and fell prey to his evil designs and allures were drawn away from the chain of our people and relinquished any hope of eternity and a meaningful, blissful life.
Imagine for a moment that you were able to persuade the gabboim at 23 Rechov Rashbam to allow you a full hour with Rav Chaim Kanievsky, with the promise that he would answer all your questions, provide guidance for life, and brachos for you and your family. The Yated would have a photographer there and your picture would end up in the centerfold. Everyone would know of your good fortune.
Then, instead of showing up at the appointed time, you were late because you had to taste the best cholent in Bnei Brak. Your friend heard that you were in Bnei Brak and WhatsApped you that you must – must! – go to Misadat Muchan Umezuman right next to the Itzkovitz shtieblach for cholent and kugel. You were so enamored by the cholent that you took a few extra portions and lost track of time. You showed up late and missed your appointment. Imagine how upset you would be.
Those of us who had corona, and those who fear getting it, have new insight into how important the chodesh harachamim of Elul is. This is the time when we can get our things in order and work on ensuring that we will be granted another year of life and good health, along with nachas and parnossah and everything else that we need and want.
Let us ensure we do not miss the opportunity.