By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The story is told of a woman who was married for sixteen years and had not been blessed with children. Pain and loneliness were her daily companions. She begged her father, a great tzaddik, and her husband, an illustrious talmid chochom, to daven along with her, but the wait continued.
One day, a little over one hundred years ago, before the advent of washing machines and dryers, she spent several hours washing the family’s clothing. When that task was finally completed, as was her habit every week, she hung up the freshly-cleaned laundry in the courtyard she shared with other families. A neighbor, for some unknown reason, became upset at the sight of the hanging clothing, flew into a rage, and ran inside her home to get a scissors. She returned and cut both ends of the rope, sending all the clean clothing into the mud, ruining hours of hard work.
The housewife was upset and burst into tears. She hurried into the privacy of her home and gave vent to her distress there, weeping in solitude. Then she went and engaged in the long process all over again, this time hanging her laundry to dry in a neighboring courtyard.
That evening, the offending neighbor came to the house crying, begging forgiveness. “I don’t know what came over me. I am so sorry. Please be mochel me. Plus, I already got my punishment. My son is sick, burning up with fever.”
The woman forgave her and wished her son a refuah sheleimah. The story is told in many different versions, but the way I heard it, upon hearing the commotion, the woman’s father looked up from his learning and asked what had transpired.
With much emotion, she related the story. She explained that the cruel actions of her neighbor had been too much for her to handle in her already fragile state and she couldn’t calm down. But rather than react with angry words to her neighbor, she went inside her home to express her pain in private. She told him how she then went and redid the laundry, without making a machlokes or telling anyone.
“The fact that you didn’t respond to her and prevented this from becoming a fight,” said the father, “will be the merit you need to be helped. Your great deed will grant you a child who will be great.”
One year later, a son was born.
The zaide was the author of the classic sefer, Leshem Shevo Ve’achlama, Rav Shlomo Elyashiv. The baby who was born was Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. (His father adopted the family name of his wife when they sought certificates to leave Lithuania to British-controlled Palestine.)
There is a message here for us. Beneath the surface understanding of the story lies a reminder that our own revered gadol hador was a gift to the generation brought about by the middah of vatronus, by a chastened woman remaining calm and peaceful.
Devorim gedolim einam bemikreh. Rav Elyashiv would become a son-in-law of Rav Aryeh Levine, a rebbe in how to treat others and in appreciating the worth and dignity of every person.
The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 8:5) states that when Hashem created the world, there was a commotion. “Shalom” objected to the creation of the world, for shalom said that the world would contain arguments and conflicts. Hashem quieted the complaints by throwing “emes” into the world, as the posuk states (Doniel 8:12), “Vatishlach emes artzoh.”
The simple explanation is that once emes, truth, was given to the world, people wouldn’t fight. Hostility is caused when people cannot unite and each one dishonestly attempts to promote his cause. Once truth became an integer of the world, people would be able to work together for the truth.
However, the Maharal (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Emes 3) explains that the giving of the Torah is what caused shalom to give up its opposition to creation. Man is beset with dispute only when he is without Torah. Torah causes him to be peaceful, as the posuk states, “Derocheha darchei noam vechol nesivoseha shalom.” Furthermore, the Gemara (Brachos 64a) says, “Talmidei chachomim marbim shalom ba’olam.” The proper way to explain the Medrash is that when Torah was given to the world, shalom ceased to oppose its creation.
Yaakov Avinu, the embodiment of Torah, was motivated by emes and shalom. His brother Eisav, who lived by the sword, as the posuk states, “Ve’al charbecha tichyeh,” was the antithesis of those middos of Yaakov. One who lives by the sword isn’t confident in his ability to win arguments. He is dishonest and his arguments are weak and fictitious, so he is forced to rule through violence and terror. People are subservient to him because they fear him, not because they believe him to be correct in his actions or in his beliefs.
That is the definition of Yaakov’s admonition to Shimon and Levi as he parted from them in this week’s parsha. Yaakov refers to the way they chose to avenge what was done to their sister Dinah as “klei chomos.” Rashi explains that the means employed by Shimon and Levi are not the implements of the children of Yaakov. They are stolen from Eisav. The Bnei Yisroel do not engage in violent disputes, and when and if they do, they have to know that they have adopted the methods of Eisav and his disciples.
Jews don’t hit. Jews don’t shout. Nor do they spit or react with violence and anger.
The tools we possess are respect, acceptance and equanimity, laced with the confidence that comes from living in accordance with the perfect harmony of halacha. We know who we are and what we stand for, and we know that in order to influence others, we need to work with them to make a difference. Shouting louder doesn’t make us more audible; using physical threats or violence only makes us weaker.
When we hear about beatings and threats, we must protest. We need to acknowledge the problem and reaffirm our own commitment to following the paths of our grandparents and rabbeim, who taught us not just by what they said, but by how they lived and conducted themselves. Chazal cite the hallmarks of talmidim of Avrohom Avinu. They are rachmonim, bayshonim and gomlei chassodim. We, who consider ourselves to be in the category of Avrohom’s pupils, must test ourselves by that qualifier. To the degree those adjectives apply to us, we are bnei Avrohom.
Respect was their hallmark. Like the Rambam teaches us in Hilchos Talmud Torah, they addressed every human being with calmness, tranquility and humility. The sifrei mussar are replete with admonitions of how Torah people are supposed to conduct themselves – with humility, kindness and empathy.
The Ponovezher Rov famously retold how, while undergoing medical treatment in an American hospital, he met a secular Jewish doctor. Speaking with him, the Rov discovered that he had learned in Lithuanian yeshivos in his youth, and although he wasn’t observant, he still maintained respect for Torah and its scholars.
The Rov observed that the man had lost all connection to Yiddishkeit.
“The only reason that I don’t officially convert and go to church,” the doctor confided, “is because the kapote (coat or jacket) of the Chofetz Chaim doesn’t allow me to.”
The Rov, a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim, looked at the doctor with curiosity, wondering what he meant. The old doctor explained that, when he was a child, his parents sent him to learn in the yeshiva of Radin.
When he arrived, he joined the line of new bochurim at the humble home of the Chofetz Chaim, waiting to introduce himself and receive instructions regarding where he would be lodging. His journey had been lengthy and exhausting, and, as he waited there, he was overcome by fatigue. He sat down on the floor and, within moments, was fast asleep.
He barely felt hands lifting him and carrying him to a bed, but when he awoke late that night, he realized that the host himself, the great tzaddik, had carried him to a bed and covered him with his own kapote. The Chofetz Chaim himself was sitting and learning in his shirt-sleeves.
The compassion and simplicity of the Chofetz Chaim affected this doctor profoundly, and even through the decades and continents, a warm glow remained. It was that inspiration that prevented him from leaving Judaism completely.
That respect – respect for everyone – is intrinsic to the make-up of the Torah Jew. This is because respect isn’t a public relations gimmick that Torah Jews use. It isn’t a broad smile and pleasant greeting in order to win friends and influence people. Respect is a part of our spiritual DNA, a legacy from our forefather Avrohom Avinu who welcomed visitors into his home, even if he opposed the choices they had made.
A talmid sat in the back seat of a taxi along with his rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, discussing a sugya.
They were going back and forth with spirit and energy, when, suddenly, Rav Moshe Shmuel stopped him. The rosh yeshiva scanned the identification card hanging near the driver’s seat, looking for the driver’s name.
“Let us continue the conversation in Hebrew, rather than Yiddish, so that Arik, in the front, can also enjoy and partake,” said Rav Moshe Shmuel.
The stereotypical Israeli taxi driver didn’t understand the rest of the conversation, but he got the message most important to him: he was a person too, and he was deserving of recognition and respect.
And yes, that same respect and empathy afforded to adults is meant to be displayed to children as well.
In a Yated interview, Rav Reuvein Feinstein related a story about his father, Rav Moshe Feinstein. The Feinsteins would spend some time each summer in the city of Hartford, Connecticut. Rav Moshe was friendly with a shochet, Rav Berman, who lived there.
During the time the family was in Hartford, a relative of the Bermans, a yeshiva bochur, came to stay with them. The bochur took advantage of the opportunity of being in the presence of Rav Moshe to observe him and try to learn from his conduct.
The bochur observed how Rav Moshe, the tremendous masmid, would wake up every day at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and begin learning. Then, at about 6 o’clock, a little girl entered his room. To his astonishment, the bochur witnessed how Rav Moshe got up from his table and started playing ball with the little girl.
Intrigued, the yeshiva bochur revealed himself and asked the gadol hador if he was perhaps related to the girl and why he deemed it necessary to interrupt his learning to play ball with her.
Rav Moshe, demonstrating the wisdom and sensitivity that characterized his middos and hanhagah, replied, “Until I came here, she was the gantze macherke. She was the one who garnered everyone’s attention. When I arrived, I stole the focus and attention from her and I therefore owe her something. I must repay her by, at the very least, spending some time playing with her!”
In the timeless brachos of Yaakov Avinu, he faced his beloved sons and analyzed their kochos and character traits. The message he imparted would guide not only his immediate family, but his descendants, for thousands of years. His words are a beacon of light to us today as well. He cursed the anger of Shimon and Levi, stating, “Ki be’apam hargu ish, uveretzonam ikru shor.” No one doubted their sincerity and that their actions were lesheim Shomayim, fueled by the most righteous of calculations. Yet, their father cursed the middah that had generated such results.
The Maskilim who had been battling traditional Judaism for years, saw Zionism as a vehicle with which to continue their war. The Maskilim effectively used the new movement to battle religion.
What is transpiring today in Eretz Yisroel must be understood as another chapter in that ongoing, awful, century-long tug-of-war.
We should not allow ourselves to be drawn into the cauldron or be lectured by the ideological heirs of those early Maskilim who did everything in their power to vilify Torah, gedolei Torah and Yiddishkeit.
They were quick to discover the power of the media and propagandized regularly against the religious community. Nothing was beneath them. They lobbied to have rabbonim sidelined and at times jailed. They sought to have chadorim made illegal and to delist melamdim, who they demeaned and accused of kol dovor assur. They vilified botei din and attempted to have them banned as well. They also lobbied the authorities, claiming that rabbonim used seforim to encourage anti-government and anti-social activities, and sought to have them made illegal.
Everything the Israeli media and those in power engage in today is taken from their destructive playbook and must be viewed in that context in order to understand the extreme media focus on the goings-on in the religious community.
Dealing with people with respect means recognizing the value that people place on symbols, places and memories, and reflecting on how one’s actions can impact others. The brutality of Israeli police is well documented. Regrettably, discrimination against chareidim is a bitter fact of life in the Holy Land. However, to compare such conduct to that of the Nazis is insensitive and insulting. To use images that have haunted our people for seven decades as a propaganda tool is cynical manipulation. It is disrespectful to those who truly suffered. Trivializing Jewish pain and suffering for a cheap photo-op gimmick is foolish and wrong.
Too many people who were hurt by the Nazis are grieving. Too many people who suffered are pained as they relive the horrors that they – and our people as a whole -endured. Just decades ago, millions of Jews were rounded up, maimed, beaten, and destroyed financially, mentally, and of course physically. Jewish life as it had existed for hundreds of years was upended. There were millions of karbanos, most of them in the Olam Ha’emes, but many with us, everywhere.
For people to lower themselves in an attempt to further multiple agendas is callous. For us to remain silent in the face of actions timed and staged to make waves at a sensitive time in front of the world media would be to condone senseless insensitivity.
As descendants of the avos, who taught the world sensitivity, and as talmidim, children and grandchildren of great people whose lives embodied nobility of spirit and empathy, we have a mandate to always act with consideration and responsibility.
Rav Yisroel Salanter caused a revolution amongst Klal Yisroel with the emphasis he introduced on the study of mussar in yeshivos. He sought not only to bring about the study of classic sifrei yirah which had been neglected, but also to infuse the Jewish people with recognition of the need to improve the way they deal with each other, the way they speak, and the way they conduct themselves. The mussar he preached was not only about how a Jew relates to Hashem, but also how he relates to his fellow man.
Rav Yisroel taught a generation how to act and how to conduct itself. He also fought the Maskilim bitterly. He was from the first of a long line of gedolim who advocated establishing newspapers to combat the negative influences of those determined to besmirch Torah. He taught the young how to communicate and how to present themselves, with kindness and sophistication. With gaonus in Torah and middos, he was a leader in preserving the Torah nation.
Because, even when the situation calls for change or retribution, anger is not the means with which to achieve it. It requires one steeped in Torah and mussar to lead the charge. When one needs to influence or chastise another, he can learn from the Master of the Universe: “Ess asher ye’ehav Hashem yochiach.” Hashem rebukes those He loves. His messages are laced with compassion and concern.
When the Chazon Ish famously agreed to speak to David Ben-Gurion, two Jews at the polar opposites of the spectrum met. One represented the holy mesorah of Pumpedisa and Sura, while the other proudly dreamt of the Maskilim’s vision of the “new Jew.” The Chazon Ish brilliantly rebuffed the arguments of the politician. He made it clear, with the ferocity of a mother lion protecting her young, that the Olam HaTorah was untouchable and that his “army” wasn’t impressed by the military might of Ben-Gurion. Yet, he spoke calmly, with warmth and a begrudging respect. As he explained, “In between each ‘frask,‘ each ideological blow I dealt him, I felt like I had to give him a ‘glett,‘ a stroke on the cheek.”
As fierce as the battle he waged was, the Chazon Ish knew that ne’imus, pleasantness, is proper and more effective.
In all the reporting and coverage of what has been transpiring, the entire religious community has been tarred with the same brush and portrayed as crazed anti-social Neanderthals.
The hundreds of thousands of fine, ehrliche, decent frum people who humbly and quietly go about their peaceful lives, living as the generations before them did, are ignored. They are given no voice in a hostile media engaged in a Kulturkampf, on a mission to portray us all as fanaticized Taliban weirdoes.
While the reaction of Torah leaders such as Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rav Ovadia Yosef and the Belzer Rebbe; political leaders such as Moshe Gafni, Yisroel Eichler and Aryeh Deri; organizations such as Agudas Yisroel, the Orthodox Union and the RCA; and so many others are completely ignored, religious and secular self-righteous opportunists rush to the microphones to promote themselves and their agendas.
Perhaps this Shabbos, when the baal kriah reads the posuk of “Arur apam – Cursed is their anger,” we will reinforce the time-honored ways of our people and proclaim its lessons to ourselves and our children in a way that no one can deny in accusatory fashion.
When we hear how “birtzonam ikru shor,” we will reinforce our behavior so that no one can infer that the posuk refers to us.
The pesukim will remind us not to sit by apathetically, in oblivion and silence, in the face of outrageous behavior that can be taken as a form of ratzon, compliance and acceptance of the situation. Wanton voices that shout viciously and angrily, with all the associated bad middos, should not be permitted to achieve their goals, besmirching an entire community.
This week, as we lain the parsha, we will be proclaiming that we speak with the authentic Jewish voice, the one that expresses itself with warmth and calmness to friends, neighbors and people we meet on the street.
We daven that our wayward brothers, who have been led astray and brought up to hate, will be able to take this message to heart. We hope that the truth will prevail, the good of the many, recognized; and the aberrations of the few, acknowledged for what it is.
We daven that our feet will tread back to the way of “deracheha darchei noam” and once again find the path of “chol nesivoseha shalom.”
And then, perhaps, we will heal a fragmented people, united, with our differences, like the twelve sons around Yaakov Avinu’s death-bed, who cried out, as one, “Shema Yisroel.”
Chazal derive from the posuk in Shema, “Ve’ohavta eis Hashem Elokecha,“ that we should endeavor to cause the name of Hashem to be loved – “shetehei Sheim Shomayim misaheiv al yodcha.” When viewing the actions of bnei Torah, people should say, “Kamah na’eh ma’aseihem. How pleasant are the ways of the people who adhere to Torah.” Upon contemplation of religious people, the hearts of those removed from Torah should be opened to learn, appreciate and accept a life of Torah.
The most emotional parts of davening are Shema and Kaddish, when we proclaim, “Yisgadeil veyiskadeish shemei rabboh,” that the Name of Hashem should be made great and holy.
May we merit to see that transpire in our day, when the entirety of Am Yisroel will be awakened to the truth, the emes and the shalom with which the world was created.