Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Words to Touch and Inspire

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As we study Parshas Bo, we note that the pesukim and narratives of this parsha comprise many of the words and stories intrinsic to our faith, which combine to mold the drama and excitement of the Seder night.

On that night, every father is charged with imparting not only the stories, but also the eternal messages and lessons that emanate from our experiences in Golus Mitzrayim, and our deliverance from there, which formed us into the am hanivchor.

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.

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 arbaah bonim.”

The Baal Haggadah says, “Keneged arbaah 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.

The Torah provides an answer for each child. While every father wants to be blessed with smart, all-knowing, well-behaved children, when his offspring don’t necessarily turn out that way, the Torah provides the language with which to reach every type of child. As frustrated as he must feel, a father of such a child doesn’t have the option of ignoring or speaking roughly to him.

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 that he can understand.

Every talmid has the potential to become a gadol b’Yisroel if he is 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. In other cases, it was caused by the tefillos of a budding talmid chochom desperately pleading, “Choneinu mei’itcha deah binah vehaskeil.”

This is the depth of the posuk in Mishlei that states, “Chanoch lanaar al pi darko.” The premise of that advice is that every child has a derech. There is a distinct path to the heart of every child. There are no people who cannot be reached when the language and approach meant for them are utilized.

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 a way that he can understand and accept.

Communication seems to be a lost art, but if we want people to appreciate our way of life, if we want to have a better chance of our children following in our ways, and if we want to have a positive impact on those around us and on the world in general, we have to improve our communication skills. We have to learn how to think clearly and articulate our thoughts cogently, verbally and in writing.

If we want to influence the debate, we have to understand the questions that are being posed and respond to them in a way that the questioner can understand. How many times do we attend a speech, only to hear the same stories repeated? People tire of them and are turned off.

Too often, we act as if we are in an echo chamber, repeatedly mouthing the same platitudes and wondering why our points are not getting across. Often, this happens because we do not take the time and expend the effort to understand the mentality of the people we are seeking to influence. Thus, our arguments fail, either because we are not properly addressing their concerns or because our logic is communicated in a language and with methods that people do not relate to. Effective communication means understanding not only the topic, but also the thought process and the value system of the people we are addressing. We don’t take the time to prepare what we want to say and how to say it so that it will resonate with the audience.

Moshe Rabbeinu was not a gifted orator; in fact, he was quite the opposite. His koach was b’peh, but not because he wowed people with his oratory skills. He convinced his audience with the content of his words, not by the way he expressed them. He influenced people with the strength of his arguments.

The Drashos Haran says that the Ribbono Shel Olam caused Moshe Rabbeinu to stutter so that it would be evident that his successful transmission of the Torah to Klal Yisroel was due to the effectiveness and potency of his message and not his speaking style.

The Chofetz Chaim taught through speaking and writing in simple, plain language. Anyone who heard Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach’s urgent flow of words, and his passion and intensity compensating for a lack of elocution, saw that his effectiveness had less to do with the medium than the message. He cared, so his words were accepted in the spirit in which they were said.

There is no match for genuine concern. A good educator succeeds when he views each student with an appreciation that there is a language and path that can reach his soul and tailors the message accordingly.

Just this week, Yeshiva Darchei Torah honored Rav Yaakov Bender for his forty years of chinuch leadership in that world famous institution. Rav Bender epitomizes the ability to reach and inspire each child. He demonstrates that children taught with love and care can grow and flourish. This recognition was richly deserved and serves to inspire others to aspire to attain that level of success in imparting Torah and its lessons to the next generation.

Just as there are arbaah bonim, four sons, there are also four expressions, arba leshonos, of geulah. Perhaps this is a hint that in order to bring about the ultimate geulah, we have to use the proper language for every type of child. If we only speak in one lashon, we will not succeed in reaching everyone and we will not succeed in bringing about the geulah. The geulah is dependent upon everyone’s devotion to the mitzvos of the Torah.

Golus Mitzrayim was preordained to last 400 years. When that time period concluded, the geulah arrived, despite the state of the Jewish people at that time. The golus in which we now find ourselves, Golus Edom, 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.

With the right words, we can change the world, providing strength, humility, wisdom, joy, resilience, pride and, ultimately, the redemption.

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.

The skewered reality, representing the value system of the alma deshikra in which we live, has been on display since the 2016 election season.

Unhappy with the way that election turned out, the media has been gearing up ever since for the next election. There is almost no reporting on how President Trump has positively affected the economy. The stock market sets new records almost daily, last week the Dow hit 25,000 and this week it passed the 26,000 mark. Don’t expect to see any headlines about it.  

The reformed tax system has just gone into effect and is already putting more money into the pockets of workers. Instead of focusing on the historic swing in the economy, the media reports on liberal states where Trump’s reform will have little impact on homeowners.

The country is rebuilding its army and defense abilities, which had been weakened under the last president. American prestige is rising and consumer confidence is moving up. The GDP is up, unemployment is down. Black unemployment is at the lowest level in many years. But you’d never know any of that if you depend on the mainstream media for your news and information. All you’d know is that the president colluded with Russia to get elected, is a racist, bigoted nut.

There is a constant drumbeat that the president is mentally deranged, because it works. There is probably nobody left in the country who believes that Trump is playing with a full deck. The difference is that some overlook that flaw in favor of the many aspects of Trump’s agenda that are proving to be greatly beneficial to the country.

The media pounds propaganda into people’s psyches until the public accepts it. Mainstream politicians are so scared of saying something that one group or another will find offensive that they fear saying the truth. There is rarely any intellectual honesty displayed. Everything has to fit into a convenient politically-correct box.

But that doesn’t work for us as a people. If we want to reach people with 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 noise or sound-bites. What we need is practical direction, not grandstanding for the glory of the moment or fanciful thinking that has no application to reality.

It is far easier to deliver big speeches and to propose sweeping changes than to sit far from the limelight and develop a workable solution. Clearly thought-out approaches will have a lasting salutary effect on the community long after the speech has been forgotten.

Fighting battles of yesteryear will cause us to lose today’s battles. Seeking to be mechaneich children with the wrong methods causes 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 impossible.”

We have to reach the proper level of happiness, and learn the correct words, proper language and various leshonos with which to reach different people. Fathers will then reach their sons - veheishiv lev avos al bonim velev bonim al avosam.

We will raise a generation of satisfied, good people, and together - parents and children, teachers and students - we will greet Moshiach, bimeheirah biyomeinu.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Charge Your Spirit

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Velo shomu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah” (Shemos 6:9). The Jews in Mitzrayim refused to listen to the comforting words of Moshe.

Try to imagine the scene. Moshe Rabbeinu was tending to his flock in the wilderness, when he beheld the extraordinary sight of a bush aflame. He paused to consider what was transpiring, as he wondered how it could be that the fire was burning but the bush wasn’t being consumed.

Like his ancestor Avrohom Avinu, who studied the world and concluded that it could not have come into being by itself, as the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 39:1) relates, Moshe perceived that the Creator was announcing His Presence through the bush. He recognized that what he was seeing was a defining moment in his life.

While Moshe was standing at the bush, the Ribbono Shel Olam addressed him, stating that he was selected for a lofty mission, with a mandate to save His people.

Exultant, following his long conversation with Hashem and bearing the knowledge that the painful enslavement would soon end, Moshe went to share the good news with his brethren, who had been suffering for as long as any of them could remember. He stood before them and spoke words that they had been waiting to hear: “Higia zeman geulaschem - The time of your redemption has arrived.”

Tragically, almost unbelievably, the enslaved heirs of the avos to whom Hashem had previously appeared didn’t listen.

Velo shomu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah.

A family consisting of seventy people came to a foreign country due to a hunger in their native land of Eretz Yisroel. They were led at the time by their grandfather, Yaakov, and his twelve sons. Things took a turn for the worse, and as the family grew, they became the subject of increasing hatred. Eventually, they were subjugated as slaves to the king and his people.

The slaves knew who they were, where they had come from, and how they had arrived in that country. They were well aware of the promises Hashem made to their forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov.

They were certainly encouraged by the fact that Hashem had promised their forebears that while their grandchildren would be tormented by a foreign power, they would then be released. They knew who Moshe Rabbeinu was. They knew his yichus. They knew that he grew up in Paroh’s palace.

Incarcerated people are generally desperate for any glimmer of hope. They trade rumors and stories that give them support and help them think that their freedom is around the corner. As we study this week’s parsha, we wonder why it was that when Moshe appeared and told them that the long-awaited redemption was at hand, and he expressed the four leshonos of geulah, the posuk states that the Jews didn’t listen to him.

We wonder how it could be that the suppressed people did not take heed and comfort from Moshe’s message.

The posuk says that the reason they didn’t listen to Moshe’s prophecy was “mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah.” Rashi explains that the posuk is saying that the enslaved people were like a distressed person who suffers from shortness of breath. In other words, they didn’t listen to Moshe because of their terrible situation and hard work.

The Ramban says that their failure to accept Moshe’s words was not because they didn’t believe in Hashem and Moshe, but because they were in terrible pain - kotzer ruach - and feared that Paroh would kill them. Umei’avodah kashah refers to the fact that their supervisors tormented them and didn’t let them pay attention to what was being said. They weren’t given the luxury of a moment’s peace to be able to listen.

Clear and direct as these explanations are, we still wonder what the people thought about as they dragged their exhausted bodies to their tents each night. Peace of mind or not, didn’t something sink in? Didn’t they wonder about Moshe and what he foretold? When they lay their emaciated bodies down to sleep, didn’t they think that perhaps there was something to Moshe’s prophecy? Why didn’t they give what he said a chance? Maybe, just maybe, there was something to what he had said.

Moshe Rabbeinu addressed the Bnei Yisroel with a Divine message of redemption. The four expressions of geulah refer to a physical and spiritual redemption from the tumah of Mitzrayim. Moshe quoted Hashem saying that he would rescue the Jews and adopt them as his nation. He would take them from the golus of avdus and raise them to the highest levels of kedusha. They couldn’t accept Moshe’s nevuah.

Man is blessed with three levels, nefesh, ruach and neshomah. The lowest level is nefesh, which refers to man’s physical attributes. Ruach relates to matters of speech. Neshomah is the highest spiritual level of man.

Perhaps we can thus understand the posuk that explains why the Bnei Yisroel were not heartened by Moshe’s prophesy. Their avodah kashah, hard physical labor, caused an inability to listen, as the physicality of nefesh overpowered the spirituality of neshomah, and caused a weakness in the attribute of ruach.

Their avodah kashah prevented them from studying Torah and being involved in the spiritual aspects of life. With their spiritual side impoverished, their spiritual ruach was impacted.

Their spirit was dead. With no spirit, there is no room for life.

When the spirit dies, the body becomes numb. With no spirit, there is neither stirring nor hope.

A person who has become enveloped in apathy, depression and despair cannot be reached before having his spirit restored.

In order to hear words of tanchumim, and to be able to understand what the novi is telling you and to anticipate freedom, a person has to have ruach.

As Rashi says, one who is short of breath cannot accept words of comfort. That shortness is brought about by a deficiency in Torah and avodah (tefillah).

This is the explanation of the statement of Chazal that says, “Ein lecha ben chorin ela mi she’oseik baTorah.” The free man is the one who is engrossed in Torah study. One who spends his time learning Torah becomes receptive to freedom, growth and happiness. One who studies Torah is blessed in all his bechinos. To the degree that a person subjugates his nefesh to his neshomah, he is able to gain happiness, pleasure and ruach rechovah.

The Mishnah teaches, “Kol halomeid Torah lishmah zocheh ledevorim harbeh - One who learns Torah merits many blessings” (Avos 6). One of the rewards of a lomeid lishmah is “kol ha’olam kulo kedai hu lo.” The literal understanding of the Mishnah is that the entire world was worth being created just for him.

Darshonim expound on that reward. What type of reward is it for him that the whole world was created for him? To answer that question, they explain the Mishnah to mean that the entire world is “kedai,” worthwhile, to such a person. He enjoys every experience. He lives every moment to its fullest and derives maximum satisfaction from each encounter, because Torah uplifts and expands a person to the point where every moment of life is worth celebrating and taking seriously.

Like every posuk in the Torah, this posuk is recorded for posterity to instruct and guide us. The words and their lessons remain relevant for eternity. The tale of the people too washed up to hear the words they had been awaiting for more than two hundred years is relevant to us in our day.

Jews live in a state of constant anticipation, always awaiting good news. We all carry a sense of expectancy, viewing the events around us through eyes that look beyond them, our ears listening for the footsteps of the redeemer, whose arrival will signal that our troubles are over.

The sun shines brightly, though at times its rays are concealed by clouds. We have to possess the ability to see beyond the clouds to the light and warmth of the sun.

Few things are more disturbing than encountering bitter people. Surrounded by opportunity and blessing, they insist on concentrating on the negatives. Such myopic people remain locked in by the inability to see beyond the sadness that envelopes them. They are unable to dream of a better day or of working to achieve lasting accomplishments. They can’t acknowledge greatness in others, nor do they possess the self-confidence to achieve anything themselves.

There is so much goodness in our world. There is much to be happy about and proud of, yet too many are consumed by pessimism, concentrating on the bad news and failing to see the entire picture.

Why the negativity? Why the constant harping on what is wrong without appreciating the good?

The process of learning Torah and avodas hamussar is meant to train us to see the tov. We are to acquire an ayin tovah that allows us to discern the good in what we have and to appreciate the goodness that abounds. In order to be good Jews, we have to be happy with the present and positive about the future. If we aren’t, it is an indication of how much we are lacking in the study of Torah and mussar. We have to know that everything that transpires is brought about by Hashem, for a higher purpose that we can’t always explain.

Torah and mussar keep a person who studies them active, optimistic, energetic and positive. They shape an individual into a mentch, a person who respects others and is worthy of respect himself.

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (6:9) explains that the reason the Jews in Mitzrayim were not able to listen to Moshe was because they were not bnei Torah. Torah broadens a person’s heart, he says. Had they been bnei Torah, they would have been receptive to Moshe’s message. We, who have been granted the gift of Torah, have no excuse for not being open to hearing the words of the Moshe Rabbeinus of our generation and those who seek to improve our lots and help us prepare ourselves for the geulah.

Kotzer ruach is brought about by not learning Torah. Elevating ruach to its highest form by learning Torah doesn’t only add to the power of speech, but enhances every aspect of life. As Dovid Hamelech says, “Toras Hashem temimah meshivas nofesh.” Torah restores the sunken nefesh of the person, as well as his energy and joy.

All through the ages, we have been victimized by angry, desperate people. Yet, we have endured. How have we battled back? What is the secret that enables us to remain strong and confident and successful despite having so many enemies and Kalashnikovs aimed at us?

Through learning Torah, we lift our spirits. Our neshomah becomes strengthened and overrules the nefesh. As our enemies try to snuff out our ruach, we respond with more chiyus, more energy, and more toil.

When Hashem asked Moshe to tell Paroh the message of deliverance of the Jewish people, Moshe demurred. “The Jewish people didn’t listen to me. How will Paroh?” he asked (Shemos 6:12). Rashi states that this is one of the ten instances in the Torah where a kal vachomer is used.

The question is obvious. The posuk explains that the Bnei Yisroel didn’t listen to Moshe because of kotzer ruach and avodah kashah. However, Paroh, who was safely ensconced in his comfortable palace, didn’t have those limitations, so why was Moshe convinced that Paroh wouldn’t listen to his arguments?

If we understand kotzer ruach as referring to a lack of Torah and the madreigah of ruach, then the argument is quite understandable. The Bnei Yisroel, heirs to a golden tradition, were weakened in their study of Torah and thus unreceptive to messages of freedom and spirit. Paroh, who never benefitted from this tradition and never studied Torah, would surely be unable to be sympathetic to a tender humanitarian message of opportunity.

We cry out in Selichos, “Veruach kodshecha al tikach mimeni - Hashem, please don’t remove Your holy spirit from me.” We can explain that the prayer is also a request that our ruach, spirit, remain holy and blessed, infused with Torah.

We seek to merit the brachos of the novi Yeshayahu (59:21), who prophesied, “Ruchi asher alecha udvorai asher samti beficha lo yomushu mipicha umipi zaracha umipi zera zaracha mei’atah ve’ad olam - May that spirit of Hashem that rests upon the lomeid Torah never fade from our mouths, from those of our children, and their children.”

We are currently in the teshuvah and growth period known as Shovavim, given its name by the acronym of the parshiyos we lain during this period, from Shemos through Mishpotim. As we read these parshiyos about Klal Yisroel’s descent into Mitzrayim and redemption, we are enabled to escape our personal prisons and enslavement.

Repentance is brought about through acts of charity, fasting and affliction. Ameilus baTorah, intense Torah study, also has the power to cleanse and purify. Shovavim is as good a time as any to add fervor and zeal to our learning.

We have to breathe in deeply and fight for each breath, because we are living in an era when ruach is in short supply. We exist in a state of mikotzer ruach.

We have to work harder to lift our nefesh, ruach and neshomah to higher and broader levels so that we can breathe easier, safer and longer, meriting the geulas hanefesh and geulas haguf bekarov through Torah.

We are in the final moments before the arrival of Moshiach. The chevlei Moshiach are difficult and painful. We await the day when they give birth to the end of the siege of this exile.

Reb Aron Pernikoff spent most of his time at the Montreal Community Kollel. Though he didn’t enjoy an easy life, he exuded a certain tranquil joy, a loftiness and chashivus.

Reb Aron would quote the posuk in Tehillim that tells of the tragic descent of the Bnei Yisroel into golus after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh.Al naharos Bavel, shom yoshavnu gam bochinu bezochreinu es Tzion - We sat and wept by the rivers of Bavel when we recalled Yerushalayim. Al aravim besocha talinu kinoroseinu - We hung our harps in the willow trees which grew at the river.”

He would ask, “Where did the exiled Jews have harps from?” When people go into exile, barely escaping with their lives, they take with them only bare necessities. “How did they have harps with them?” he would wonder.

He would answer, “A Yid knows that no matter where he is going, no matter how bleak the landscape ahead is, there will always be reason to sing. They took their musical instruments along in anticipation of those opportunities.”

There are always things happening in our world that give cause for shirah. Let us be on the lookout for them and appreciate them when they come to pass.

We are still exulting in the release of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. Those who have followed Sholom Mordechai’s story in these pages over the last decade know that he used his years behind bars as an opportunity to sing in the darkness of golus. In his writings and with those he conversed during that trying period, he joyously and repeatedly pledged allegiance to the ideals of eitz chaim hee lamachazikim bah, demonstrating that his daunting nisayon hadn’t dimmed his ahavas Hashem or his hope for a brighter future.

When we learn this week’s parsha and read the posuk of “Velo shomu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah,” let us ensure that we aren’t guilty of “velo shomu el Moshe.” Moshe’s word is the Torah. It is enduring and binding, and listening to it means keeping our ears tilted to hear the sounds of imminent geulah and open to the besoros tovos that are all around us.

Let us not grow so despondent about our situation that we can’t hear and see the good that is prevalent. Let us see the good in all that Hashem does. Let us celebrate the goodness experienced by others and ourselves. Let us look for the good and appreciate it, instead of being cynical and negative.

Doing so will cause us to be happier, more productive, and ready for the geulah, may it be bekarov.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Keep Achdus Alive

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Iran is back in the news again, as its citizens muster up the courage to protest against the crushing regime. The Iranian threat has dominated headlines for several years now, with its radical, irrational leaders pursuing a nuclear weapon with the ability to exterminate Israel. Jews and freedom-lovers the world over fear that Iran is on the precipice of realizing its ambition, and have serious concerns about the safety of the citizens of Eretz Yisroel.

Iran supports terror groups across the Middle East and is at Israel’s border in Lebanon and Syria. Their plans keep military planners up at night. Iran and its allies represent a serious threat to Eretz Yisroel. But Rav Michel Stern, a prominent Yerushalmi boki in niglah and nistar, says that Iran is not our biggest problem. He says that the lack of achdus is much more dangerous than what is going on in Iran.

Peirud, division, represents a more lethal threat than Iran.

Achdus is something we often discuss, and last week we saw how beautiful our world is when there is unity. Virtually all of Klal Yisroel was troubled by Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin’s excessive sentence. Jews everywhere davened for him, thought about him, cared about him, and followed his saga. And when he was suddenly freed during the last minutes of Chanukah, Jews with love in their hearts and achdus in their souls broke into spontaneous celebration. With few sorry exceptions, we showed that we can come together and that we are more united than we know.

We were awash in good feelings as we realized that despite all we have been through and despite our differences, we felt as one. The euphoria that washed over us provided hope that going forward we can maintain the state of togetherness and accomplish much together.

This week, we begin the study of Sefer Shemos, also referred to as the Sefer Hageulah. It charts the course of our nation from the bitterness of bondage through the thrill of redemption. Sefer Shemos traces our progress from the lowest depths to the greatest heights, from the harrowing dangers of drowning in the Red Sea to the climax of creation at Har Sinai.

The way we act towards others impacts our souls and proclaims what kind of people we are. If we are cognizant and appreciative of others, it helps us. We become better people and can work to achieve achdus and accomplish much more with our lives.

By Hashem’s design, human beings are unable to see success if they work only for themselves. It is only as a community and as a member of a group that we can endure. From the time we are born until the very end, we can only survive if we are connected to other people. As infants, we need everything to be done for us. Even as we grow and become more independent, most everything that we require for our daily existence is provided by others.

Arrogant, unappreciative people refuse to recognize that as great as they are, without the contributions and help of other people, they would be hungry, unloved, homeless, illiterate and without much to live for. Everything that we know and everything that we have is thanks to someone who took the trouble to teach us and equip us with the essentials of life and good health.

It is impossible for a person to be totally independent and live a meaningful life. Those who cause peirud engage in anti-social behavior that is detrimental not only to the broader community, but also to themselves.

In order to maintain our humility and mentchlichkeit, the Torah gives us many mitzvos to ingrain in our psyches awareness of this world’s abundant blessings and the goodness with which Hashem showers us.

No matter where we are and what we are trying to accomplish, it is crucial that we remain focused on the goal - not the immediate victory, but the ultimate one. Through unity, we can achieve more and be more effective.

The posuk in Devorim (7:7) tells us that Hashem didn’t choose us because of our great numbers, because, in fact, we are the smallest among the nations. We are not the largest in numbers, but we are the most in the sense that when we are b’achdus, all our deeds combine and add up, while the other nations, though much greater in number, can not combine all their deeds because they are not b’achdus.

We have to figure out how to work together as a united group with common goals, not as separate individuals who walk on the same path.

Even before the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu, his mother and sister, referred to by the Torah (Shemos 1:15) as Shifra and Puah, made a career out of caring about others and extending kindness toward other human beings. The Torah states that in reward of their kindness, “Vayaas lohem botim,” they were blessed with institutions of Kehunah, Leviyah and Malchus.

The savior of the Jewish people was placed in a bassinet and saved through acts of kindness by Basya, the daughter of Paroh. The Torah (Shemos 2:10) recounts that she called him Moshe, stating, “Ki min hamayim meshisihu - Because I plucked him from the water.”

The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem 18) teaches that of the many names of Moshe, he is eternally known by the one Basya gave him, since it reflects her act of kindness. The Torah is all about pleasantness – derocheha darchei noam - and all its paths are peaceful. It is a Toras Chesed and, therefore, everyone, including Hashem, refers to Moshe by the name given to him by the daughter of Paroh, who performed an act of chesed in saving the infant from death among the reeds.

The Torah reports concerning Moshe (Shemos 2:11), “Vayigdal hayeled - And the youth grew bigger.” What was the catalyst of his growth? The posuk continues: “He went out to his brothers and saw their suffering.” The young man who was growing up as a prince left the king’s palace to walk among the slaves and experience the cold, privation and oppression, so that it would be palpable and remain with him even after he returned to the privileged confines of the citadel of wealth.

When he saw a Jew being assaulted by a Mitzri, he reacted quickly and forcefully, refusing to accept it. When he saw a Jew raise his hand against a fellow Jew and then heard the Jew’s response to his rebuke, he cried out, “achein noda hadovor.” He was proclaiming that geulah results when Jews join together. It is a product of everyone being connected b’achdus. If there is division, peirud, he was telling them, we will remain in golus.

Moshe escaped to Midyon, where his first act was also one of chesed. He was at a well, and when he saw that shepherd girls were chased from watering their flock at the well, he performed that duty for them. His act of kindness to strange girls and their sheep led to him finding a mate for himself and beginning a family of his own.

The parshiyos and their lessons are timeless. Into each golus and subsequent geulah, the teachings accompanied us, instructing and providing insight into the minds of our oppressors. The storyline is always the same. Chesed, kindness, plays an integral part.

It behooves us to study the force that carried the Jews through Mitzrayim and the middah that accompanied them as they left, so that we can incorporate it into our lives and merit building a new world in the spirit of olam chesed yiboneh.

If we stand tall, remind ourselves who we are and what we stand for, and grab hold of our neighbor’s hands and work together, then we can succeed in building a brighter future.

We need to live lives of sensitivity, realizing that our Torah is Toras Moshe, a legacy of the kind, compassionate shepherd who was also our rebbi, and teach and learn it in a way that builds people, leaving them feeling good.

We need to bear in mind that the Torah is a Toras Chesed. Greatness means being aware of the needs of others - not only the klal, but every individual in the klal.

This is the sensitivity demonstrated by great people, which we must emulate and incorporate into our everyday lives. By living with such focus and compassion, we will trigger Heavenly mercy and bring about the geulah for which we are all waiting.

The posuk states (Shemos 8:1), “Vayokom melech chodosh al Mitzrayim asher lo yoda es Yosef - And a new Paroh arose over Mitzrayim who did not know Yosef.” Rashi quotes a machlokes between Rav and Shmuel. One explains that the posuk is saying that there was a new king. The old Paroh died and the new one did not know Yosef. The other opinion maintains that the Paroh of Shemos was the same Paroh with whom we became familiar in Sefer Bereishis. He knew who Yosef was - after all, he had saved his kingdom - but acted as if he did not know him.

According to the second explanation, he is referred to as a melech chodosh because he pretended to have forgotten Yosef. He worked with the talented, reliable, efficient young man who stepped out of the obscurity of prison to save the country. He listened as Yosef spoke to him and followed his advice. And then, he abruptly erased the many accomplishments of the Jew who had made Mitzrayim into a world superpower and established a system that filled Paroh’s coffers.

He did that because he had an agenda. There were many Jews and Paroh began perceiving them as a threat. They had to be contained, stopped and subjugated, and his advisers suggested enslaving them. But he had a problem: What about the debt of gratitude he owed Yosef?

He arrived at a solution. He craftily rewrote history and convinced himself, and his people, that the Jew had contributed nothing to the rehabilitation of Mitzrayim. His marketing people launched a campaign to change the public perception of Yosef and his people.

They likely started small, with a comment here and some innuendo there. But that was followed by: “Yosef? Who’s Yosef? I don’t know any Yosef.”

One of the great heroes of the civil rights movement was a Jewish fellow from Chicago who taught America how to organize individuals and entire communities against an enemy. Not only was he the consummate community organizer, but he actually invented the concept and term.

His premise was that the way to triumph over the one who stands in your way is to first isolate him. Then you demonize him and lob your arguments against him, and after he has been sufficiently weakened, you move in for victory.

What he invented was the art of discrediting, which is used to perfection by politicians all the time. That tool is also used against us and our community, as we are regularly tarred with a wide, filthy brush. We have to work to ensure that the allegations don’t stick. We must act in ways that ensure that the libels will not be believed. We should always be above reproach.

Certainly, anyone breaking the law should be punished for their crime. Anyone engaging in anti-social behavior should be ostracized. Anyone causing a chillul Hashem should be vilified.

Nobody should be permitted to bully another into submission. No one should take advantage of other people. Abuse must never be tolerated. We should not be silent as we watch travesties take place. Everyone should be treated with compassion, honesty and decency.

Each week, as the melava malka candles flicker, we gaze at them and think about the sublime joy of Shabbos and wonder how we’ll face another week, six more days of zei’as apecha, until we can experience Shabbos again.

The transition, from Shabbos to Motzoei Shabbos, is sort of like the one the Bnei Yisroel faced as they left Eretz Yisroel, traveling to Mitzrayim to avert hunger. They left behind light and holiness, and descended into darkness and tumah.

We partake of melava malka to ease that transition. We sing “Al tira avdi Yaakov. We say, “Do not fear. You are equipped with the strength and ability to rise above it all and remain true to yourselves, to each other, and to the Torah if you remain loyal to the teachings and lessons handed down from avdi Yaakov.”

Hakol kol Yaakov.” With the calm voice of Yaakov, with the restrained middos of Yaakov, with the temimus of Yaakov, and with the dedication to Torah that Yaakov personified, we can overcome.

We hail from different backgrounds and different countries. We are spread out across the world, speak different languages and have different life experiences. We have different views on many things, but deep down we are brothers and sisters, more interested in getting along than in squabbling.

One on one, we are able to get along, irrespective of dress or differing minhagim. We should not permit labels to divide us into different groups. There is more that unites us than divides us, and we should always do what we can to keep Jews together as a united cohesive group.

We should press on, always going upward, reaching new heights every day. Each day represents an opportunity to grow in Torah, emunah and bitachon.

Where others see darkness, we should bring light. Where others battle loneliness, we should bring brotherhood.

When we are b’achdus, we demonstrate that we are worthy of being redeemed from golus. When we are mefuzar umeforad (Megillas Esther 3:8), Amaleik can scheme to destroy us, but when we are united ke’ish echad beleiv echod (Rashi, Shemos 19:2), we can surmount all obstacles and reach the greatest heights available to man.

In a time of tragedy, we cry together. In times of joy, we celebrate together. No man is an island, no man is a rock. We mourn and we dance as one, spontaneously and without prodding. We help each other financially and spiritually. We don’t live only for ourselves. We live for others. We are positive, not negative; loving, not cynical; looking to praise each other, not condemn.

We tasted what it feels like to be geulim. We resolve to remain united, strengthen the achdus, increase the love, and feel part of a greater, larger group, so that we merit the geulah ha’amitis vehashleimah bekarov.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Parenting Prime

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parenting is a big industry. People are unsure how to raise their children and turn to seminars and books to find guidance. Put the word “parenting” in the title of your book and you are practically guaranteed a bestseller.

In next week’s parsha, we see Yaakov Avinu lovingly praise, exhort and admonish his sons. Successful parenting requires those responses in measured doses. In order for life skills to be properly conveyed, children must be disciplined and taught respect, responsibility, fidelity to Torah and moral principles. The question is how that is best accomplished.

In this week’s parsha, we learned of the reunification of Yaakov and Yosef after a multi-year separation that began when Yosef was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Although the brothers told Yaakov that Yosef was killed by wild animals, Yaakov hoped that somehow they would meet again. As he struggled to maintain his dignity and fidelity in a foreign land, Yosef’s ability to remember his father’s love provided him with the strength to persevere.

The posuk (Bereishis 46:29) describes their meeting. Yosef traveled to Goshen, “vayeira eilov, and he appeared to him, fell on his shoulder, and wept.” Rashi explains that when the posuk says “vayeira eilov,” it means “nireh el oviv,” that Yosef appeared to his father.

The Sifsei Chachomim elaborates that when hunger forced Yaakov and his family to travel to Mitzrayim, he went directly to Goshen, the land Yosef had selected for him to live until the hunger would pass. When Yaakov arrived there, Yosef went to visit him. Thus, it was Yosef who was going to show himself to his father.

The posuk still needs elucidation. What does the Torah want us to learn from stressing that Yosef went to show himself to his father?

Perhaps we can explain that although Yaakov was happy that his son had survived the years of separation, he might have feared that Yosef had assimilated into the Mitzri culture. There was also the chance that the great honor and power involved with being a ruler of the land had affected Yosef. Yaakov would have been correct in fearing that the angelic son he remembered and loved changed so much that he couldn’t be recognized.

Yosef respectfully traveled to Goshen to appear before Yaakov to show him that he was the same Yosef Hatzaddik his father remembered. “Beloved father, it is I, your son. The exile and years apart did not take a spiritual toll. Ani Yosef, I am the same Yosef you sent to find my brothers many years ago on the fateful day I disappeared.”

Yosef’s resolve not to disappoint his father motivated him to remain loyal to Yaakov’s teachings despite all that befell him. The knowledge that his father believed in him empowered him. He wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t betray his father’s faith in him.

Bearing this in mind creates difficulty understanding the pesukim (47:29-30) that relate that when Yaakov felt his strength ebbing and his life drawing to a close, he called Yosef to him and asked that he not be buried in Mitzrayim. Yaakov didn’t act the way you would think a loving father approaching death would when making a request from a loyal, powerful son. He didn’t tell him, “Don’t bury me in this country.” He didn’t say, “I want to be buried in Eretz Yisroel near my parents and grandparents.” He said to his most beloved son, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please give me your hand and do me a tremendous favor and don’t bury me in Mitzrayim. I [wish to] lay with my fathers. Take me from Mitzrayim and bury me [next to] where they are buried.”

Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz says that we learn from this the way a parent should deal with children. A father should not make unrealistic demands of his progeny. When parents require a favor from a child, they shouldn’t demand it, even though they have the right to. They should explain to the child what it is that they need done and why. Yaakov gently asked Yosef if he thought he would be able to honor his request, which he calmly explained.

The Torah commands children to honor their parents, and the obligation to do so is one of the underpinnings of Yiddishkeit. But no one, not even a child, should be taken advantage of. We should treat children the way we want to be treated, considerate of their needs and feelings.

At the end of their meeting, Yaakov bowed to his son, displaying respect for his royalty. Rashi quotes the Gemara (Megillah 15b) which states, “Taala be’idnei sagid leih - When a fox rules, bow to him” (Bereishis 47:31). He also comments that Yaakov was thankful that Yosef remained righteous, despite what had transpired.

As a father, Yaakov endeavored to see the good in his child. He didn’t question whether it was proper for a father to bow to a son, but paid the customary honor to Yosef’s position.

Children who are treated justly recognize what is expected of them and seek to ensure that the confidence in their abilities and loyalty is not misplaced. When they have to be disciplined, they are better able to accept the tochacha, knowing that it emanates from parents who love them and want the best for them, not merely from doctrinaire elders who possess a need to dominate and control.

The author of sefer Minchas Shmuel writes that his rebbi, Rav Chaim of Volozhin, said that in our day, in order for tochacha to be accepted, it has to be delivered calmly and softly. Someone who angers easily and speaks harshly is freed from the obligation of hocheiach tochiach, rebuking those who act improperly. (See a similar quote in sefer Keser Rosh, 143.)

Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman once spoke at a parenting conference in Eretz Yisroel. He related that it is said that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik only hit his son, Rav Yitzchok Zev, once during his childhood.

Rav Aharon Leib explained that smacking children does not accomplish much, but if the parents are suffused with yiras Shomayim, it is easier for them to influence their children. This is similar to the parable of the Dubno Maggid that an overflowing cup waters its surroundings and helps it grow. He added that children who are influenced in that way have greater respect for their parents. The more parents work on themselves to be better people, the more influence they will have upon their children and the more the children will respect them.

Your children will not improve because you become angry with them and hit or berate them when they do something wrong. They will be better when they feel love flowing from your heart and soul.

A different time, Rav Aharon Leib stated that the Dubno Maggid asked the Vilna Gaon how it is possible to influence others. The Gaon responded with a parable. If a person has a large glass surrounded by small glasses, as long as the large glass has not been filled, the smaller glasses won’t be filled by it. So too, he said, if a person wants to influence others, he must be full. If he is filled with Torah and middos tovos, he can influence others. However, if he himself is not full, then he is like the large glass, which cannot fill the other glasses as long as it itself is not full.

Rav Aharon Leib added that in our generation, too, if we want people to follow the path of Torah, we have to be able to reach out to them. If we work on ourselves to be filled with Torah and derech eretz, then we can be mashpia on others. This has been the way of Klal Yisroel throughout the generations. Ever since the time of Avrohom Avinu, Jews knew that to impact others, we need to fill ourselves with Torah, seichel, and derech eretz.

We recite in Eil Adon every Shabbos concerning the “meoros,” “melei’im ziv umefikim nogah, full of splendor, they radiate brightness.” Rav Yeruchom Levovitz explained, when they are full of splendor, then they are able to radiate brightness.

The greatest gedolim serve as the conscience of their generations. They see as their main responsibility as being the ones to motivate their students and followers to grow in Torah, avodah and middos tovos. They demand excellence and dedication to the goal, yet they are loving and realistic, helping their students climb the ladder to greatness one rung at a time. And they radiate brightness and holiness.

Last week, we lost Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, a man who epitomized being filled with the wisdom of Torah and gedolei Torah, coupled with seichel and derech eretz. He grew up in the shadow of greatness, living on the same block as the Brisker Rov and Rav Simcha Zelig Riger, the famed Brisker dayan. All his life, he was in the company of great men and close to such giants as the Chazon Ish. He used every available minute to grow in Torah, yiras Shomayim, and middos tovos. After a lifetime engaged in those pursuits, following the passing of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, Klal Yisroel turned their lonely eyes to him for leadership and guidance.

Rav Shteinman recounted that during his short stay at the Kletzk Yeshiva, he encountered Rav Shach. “At the time, he was around thirty years old,” remembered Rav Shteinman. “He would say chaburos at the side of the bais medrash and was always surrounded by many bochurim. His middos tovos and kindheartedness were apparent, and the bochurim would discuss that among themselves with great appreciation.”

No doubt that contributed to Rav Shach’s ability to reach and impact so many thousands of bnei Torah, talmidim and others throughout his life.

A prominent mashgiach was visiting Rav Shach when the elderly rosh yeshiva’s young grandson entered the room. Rav Shach offered the boy a candy, asking him which color he preferred. The boy considered the options carefully and happily chose the red one.

The rov turned to Rav Shach. “Rosh yeshiva,” he said, “with all due respect, aren’t you encouraging the child to become like Eisov, who saw everything superficially? Why is choosing a red candy over a green one and making the distinction important different than Eisov asking Yaakov to ‘pour me this red soup’?”

Rav Shach smiled. “You need to understand the mind of a child,” he said. “A child sees the world on a shallow level. He has not yet matured to the point where he can see deeper than the color of a candy. He inhabits an imaginary realm. To him, the color of candy is very important. Eisov was already a grown person, yet he maintained a child-like superficial view of the world.”

Rav Shach looked back at the contented child. “He is doing exactly what he should be doing. Remember, he is just a child.”

Our great leaders, inhabiting the peaks of spiritual grandeur, never felt too exalted to look down and see the struggles of a child.

When Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler moved to Eretz Yisroel to assume the position of mashgiach at Ponovezh Yeshiva, he sought to reprove through giving chizuk.

Talmidim who visited him the first Chol Hamoed he was there were amazed by the reception they received. “What an honor that you came,” Rav Dessler said to his teenage visitors. “I have special wine that I only take out for important guests.”

He made them feel important, and they returned the favor, raising themselves to be worthy of his respect and doing their best not to disappoint him.

Once, talmidim behaved in a way that required rebuke. The owner of a nearby makolet complained to Rav Dessler that bochurim were not paying their bills, causing him not to have sufficient cash flow to keep his small grocery going. Rav Dessler delivered a shmuess, discussing the severity of selfishness and the importance of behaving with honesty and integrity. He didn’t mention anything about the bills at the makolet. He didn’t have to. He had let everyone know what was expected of them and they modified their behavior accordingly.

A teenage talmid had questions on emunah and his rebbi feared that he was becoming at-risk. On Purim, he brought the boy to Rav Shach, asking the rosh yeshiva if he could answer the boy’s questions. Rav Shach told the boy that there were many people coming and going, and it wasn’t a good time to engage in discussion. “Why don’t you come back over the Pesach bein hazemanim? Then we’ll have time and the ability to discuss your questions.”

When the boy returned to yeshiva after bein hazemanim, his rebbi asked him if he had gone to Rav Shach to pose his questions. “No, I didn’t,” he answered. “When we were there on Purim, through his conversation with me, he found out where I live. He came to my house twice. I couldn’t believe it. He said that we made up to meet, so he came to me because I hadn’t come to him.”

“Did he answer your questions?” the rebbi asked.

“He didn’t have to. I never asked them. The fact that he troubled himself to travel to me in Tel Aviv changed everything for me.”

This boy’s life was turned around when he saw that Rav Shach believed in him, cared about him, and was worried about the direction in which he was headed.

This is the lesson that Yaakov Avinu taught when he bowed to his son. He recognized the long journey that Yosef had taken through the moral depravity of Mitzrayim, emerging pure. Hu Yosef she’omeid betzidko.

Yaakov was inspiring us to view children with appreciation for dealing with their challenges and for their accomplishments.

It is difficult to be a young person. Youngsters have long, hard schedules, days that start early and end late. They are surrounded by multiple nisyonos, often with challenges that overwhelm adults, yet much is expected of them.

Most people have an innate desire to do well, grow, prosper and be successful in what they are doing today and in life in general. As we arm them with the tools they need to make it in these trying times, we have to let them know that we believe they have what it takes to make it.

Since the time of Adam and Chava, temptations have been ever-present. Subsequent to their failing, life has been rough. To succeed at anything, we have to work hard and endeavor to enable the yeitzer tov to overpower the yeitzer hora. We have to be seriously motivated in order to overcome life’s tribulations. As we grow and mature, we are expected to derive that strength on our own from studying Torah and mussar, and through our avodah and tefillah. But the younger people among us, who are the future of our nation, need the older ones to pave the way for them, lovingly demonstrating and teaching how it is done in order for them to be motivated.

Chinuch is all about transmitting our heritage to the next generation in a way they can understand and appreciate. We begin when they are in their youth by lovingly explaining the mitzvos and setting a fine example for them to follow.

When Yaakov became ill, Yosef brought his two sons who were born in golus Mitzrayim to their grandfather for a final brocha. Yaakov opened the conversation by telling Yosef that he knew he was upset with him for not burying his mother in the Meoras Hamachpeilah (See Rashi Bereishis 48, 7). He explained with great reverence for Yosef that he had done so “al pi hadibbur,” in accordance with Hashem’s will. He then upset Yosef by blessing the younger Efraim before Menashe. Not always does a parent accede to the wishes of the child. Not always does the child get his way.

Recognizing the accomplishment of successfully raising children in golus, Yaakov blessed Yosef that from that day onward, every time a father would bless his sons, he would say, “Yesimcha Elokim ke’Efraim vecheMenashe - May you grow as the two sons of Yosef, who persevered despite the many challenges, becoming as great as the shevotim who grew up in Yaakov’s home.”

May we merit, with Hashem’s help, as Yaakov did, children and grandchildren who make us proud.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Remembering Rav Aharon Leib zt”l

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It is difficult to encapsulate the life of an adam gadol in a few words. He was exceedingly weak for the last few months of his life, yet Klal Yisroel davened that he be given strength and the tefillos were answered. Every time he recuperated from illness, legions of people rejoiced. Born 104 years ago in the city of Brisk, a century of Torah and gadlus came to end on Erev Chanukah.

Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman was a throwback to a bygone world. He derived no enjoyment from olam hazeh. His life was Torah. His being was Torah. He lived a simple life in a simple apartment. All he did all day was learn Torah, perform mitzvos and help people. What negius can a person like that have? It is no wonder that he had siyata diShmaya.

The gentle man who had lived his life far from the headlines was propelled into a leadership position after Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach felt that he was unable to continue carrying the burdens of Klal Yisroel.

Rav Aharon Leib sought no earthly pleasures for himself. He ate the most meager portions of food and sat on chairs without backs. He was a man who literally spent all his time learning Torah and providing guidance for his followers.

During his American trip, he undertook such strenuous travel for someone his age, and people were trying to figure out his agenda.

His agenda was to strengthen Torah. His agenda was to support people who are learning Torah. His agenda was to support people who lead a Torah lifestyle.

People were unused to such purity of intention. They looked at him like they were observing a malach.

Just by beholding him, they got chizuk. Just by hearing him speak, they were inspired. And those who had the privilege to speak to him for a few minutes walked away with even greater chizuk.

It was inspiring to be in the company a person and realizing that at his age, he left his home for a two-week trip to strange cities solely to be mechazeik fellow Jews. How uplifting it was to stand before a man who was an exalted eved Hashem.

When observed in the midst of the hubbub surrounding him, and considering the fact that he was oblivious to the spotlight, it was obvious that he was an exceedingly modest person. He taught us all that it really is possible to sit in your corner and learn Torah all day, and to live a life without luxuries and be content.

My grandfather, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l, was a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim zt”l. There is some dispute over what the Chofetz Chaim looked like and if he indeed bore any resemblance to the popular, widely distributed picture of him. I once asked my grandfather what his rebbi looked like - meaning, did he look like the picture? It was many years ago. I was very young, my language skills were poor, and my zaide didn’t understand that I was asking about that picture. It didn’t matter, because his answer taught a great lesson nonetheless.

I still remember his grandfatherly words as he gently held my hand, patted my cheek, and said, “Az men hut nit gevust hut ehr oisgezen vi ah poshuter Yid un men hut gornit gekent zen, uber az men hut gevust, hut men gekent zen alles. If you didn’t know who he was, he looked to you like a simple Jew, but if you knew who he was, then you were able to see that every action he did was special.”

Those words rang in my ears as I observed Rav Aharon Leib prior to the Shabbos he spent in Monsey. I was allowed into the small guest house where he was staying to ask him some shailos. I walked in behind him, and as he passed the small kitchen, I noticed that he stopped to look at the six small Israeli lachmaniyot (bread rolls) on the kitchen table. He turned to his attendant and asked what they were for. The answer was that they were for “lechem mishnah heint bei nacht.”

The aged rosh yeshiva, who had thousands buzzing about him wherever he turned in this country, turned to the attendant and asked, “Uber vos darft men azoi fil? Why do we need so many?” The attendant answered that they were there in case others would join them for the meal.

They moved into the next room, where another man approached the rosh yeshiva to ask about something that baffled him.

When Rav Aharon Leib was visiting the Skverer Rebbe, a bowl of fruit was set before him on the rebbe’s table, and as is customary, the rosh yeshiva was asked to make a brocha. He made a ha’eitz and, to the surprise of those observing him, ate only half of a grape. “What’s the reason for this?” they asked him.

Rav Aharon Leib answered that a grape is a beryah, and eating a whole grape presents a problem regarding a brocha acharona. So he only ate half of the grape.

The conversations were simple and straightforward, not meant to impress anyone. They were beautiful in their simplicity. He was really wondering why they needed so many lachmaniyot. He had a bowlful of mouth-watering fruit set in front of him and all he ate was half a grape.

“Az men hut nit gevust hut ehr oisgezen vi ah poshuter Yid un men hut gornit gekent zen, uber az men hut gevust, hut men gekent zen alles.”

And I thought to myself: Why did he come? And suddenly, I understood. He came to show us that it is possible to lead a life of pashtus, of prishus, of kedusha, and of shalom. He demonstrates the power of these values to command the respect and allegiance of tens of thousands of Jews.

The person for whom thousands had lined the streets to welcome him here was wondering why he needed six lachmaniyot. A person who had no desire to eat more than half a grape had so much to teach us without even saying a word.

He traveled to America and other countries for the same reason the Chofetz Chaim wrote that were he able to do so, he would fly any distance in order to save Jewish children. He came because people visited him in his humble apartment in a nondescript building in Bnei Brak with an important message. As they walked in, he was seated on a stool at his old table, poring over piles of seforim in a room that hadn’t been painted since he moved there decades prior. His visitors told him that he could be mechazeik the Jews of America.

He came here because he took the words of the Chofetz Chaim literally. He came because he believed the petitioners who felt that we can all benefit from being in the daled amos of an adam gadol who has as little benefit from this world as is humanly possible.

And he came because he cared about us. If the Ribono Shel Olam kept him alive for 91 years and gave him the required strength, he told someone, he felt that he had an obligation to reach out and strengthen the Ribono Shel Olam’s children. He came because just as he constantly prodded others to accomplish more, he pushed himself to do more.

The following incident shines a light on the nobility of the leader Klal Yisroel has lost.

The Rechovot branch of Lev L’Achim under the leadership of Rav Zvi Schwartz had grown to encompass a plethora of programs. The central location, where shiurim and learning take place at all hours of the day and night, was so crowded that people had to reserve seats in the bais medrash.

The Rechovot municipality, in recognition of Rav Schwartz’s devotion to the people of the city, granted him a plot of land for a community center for L’ev L’Achim. Construction of the building’s frame cost close to $500,000, at least half of which was donated by local baalei teshuvah in gratitude to Rav Schwartz.

However, the Shinui party, in a joint effort with the Reform movement, filed a suit in the Supreme Court challenging Rechovot’s right to allocate the land. The court, despite having no jurisdiction in municipal matters, overturned the decision and halted construction.

Furious at the Supreme Court’s interference, the lawyer for the Rechovot municipality came up with a plan to counteract it. The plan was for Rav Schwartz to sue the city for breaking its commitment to him and causing him a financial loss. The city would “lose” the case and then have to reimburse him. Lacking the funds to meet its obligations, the municipality would resort to a legalism whereby land is used to pay a debt when the municipality lacks the funds. Thus, the municipality would turn over to Rav Schwartz the land originally intended for the Lev L’Achim center and construction could go forward.

The brilliance of the plan pleased the city officials, who were intent on allowing Lev L’Achim to resume construction. But the plan had a hitch. Rav Schwartz doesn’t just blindly follow the law. He answers to a higher authority. Much to the consternation of the Rechovot City Board, Rav Aharon Leib ruled against their plan of action for fear that it would result in a chillul Hashem. He said that the Left would showcase the shpiel as an example of religious subterfuge.

“Even if it will delay construction, we had best pursue a different route,” Rav Aharon Leib told him.

Such was his dedication to the truth and his concern for the repercussions of any action. Rav Schwartz desperately needed a building, but it would have to wait until it could be built properly without any hint of scandal, sheker, or chillul Hashem.

A prominent rov was speaking to Rav Aharon Leib, when the coordinator of a large gemach entered the small room. The rov, wishing to encourage the askan, introduced him to Rav Aharon Leib. “The rosh yeshiva should know that this man is a tzaddik. He lends a lot of money to many talmidei chachomim.”

Rav Aharon Leib reacted immediately. “I hope you don’t have any money from him on loan,” he said, “because, in that case, the compliment you just gave him is a form of ribbis devorim.”

The rov marveled at Rav Aharon Leib’s response, repeating it again and again. “I am an active dayan,” he said, “experienced in financial dinei Torah, but I wasn’t sharp enough to sense that my comment could be a violation of halacha. Yet, the aged tzaddik, who is attuned to perfect din, felt it right away.”

When people followed the instructions of someone like Rav Aharon Leib, they were not merely agreeing with his ideas. They were expressing something much deeper. They were acknowledging that his instincts, thought processes, and reactions were rooted in Torah. They knew that his mind was attuned to the Torah’s will, and therefore his vision was refined enough to see beyond what the average person saw.

Being blessed with leaders of this stature is the reason our nation is still here after so many challenge-filled centuries of exile.

I once traveled to Eretz Yisroel for the Yom Tov of Shavuos and went to the Kosel Friday morning, Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the day after I arrived. Still jet-lagged but eager to daven at the Kosel, from where the Shechinah has never departed since the time of the Botei Mikdosh, I awoke early and headed there for Shacharis kevosikin.

Thousands of people were present at the Kosel that morning. Hundreds had come to daven, but many more had arrived to fulfill the wishes of Rav Aharon Leib and Rav Ovadiah Yosef.

An antagonistic, provocative group of women had just received a long-awaited favorable ruling from a district court. The court ruled that for women to form a minyan and pray with tallis and tefillin at the Kosel is a legitimate expression of their customs and is neither a provocation nor a departure from the “minhag hamakom.”

The women hold their prayer meetings at the Kosel every Rosh Chodesh. Until the ruling, the meetings were illegal and police arrested participants, leading them away amidst minimal fanfare. That Rosh Chodesh Sivan was the first time the provocations went on with the imprimatur of the state. That time, the women would be protected, while the offended traditionalists expressing their consternation over the defilement of Judaism’s holiest site would be the targets of police wrath.

Rav Aharon Leib and Rav Yosef urged high school and seminary girls to be at the Kosel by 6:30 a.m., when the Women of the Wall, as they call themselves, were scheduled to hold their mock-service. The high school and seminary girls were to peacefully demonstrate by their dignified presence that the overwhelming majority of people who frequent the Kosel and respect its minhagim are opposed to the attention-seeking feminists.

Present that morning at the Kosel were not only teenage girls, but women and men of all ages. As the appointed time arrived, boys at the Kosel began singing to drown out any superfluous sounds sure to be raised. Their gambit didn’t last long, as the media and police began arriving in droves, seemingly anxious to provoke a spectacle they could use to mock the traditionalists. By and large, they failed.

The sights and sounds that morning left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they demonstrated the growth and power of the frum community - the number of people who treasure kedushas haMikdosh enough to arise before dawn to daven at that location and the number of young people prepared to forgo sleep to follow the call of gedolim. It was a beautiful sight to see so many people davening at the Kosel. At the same time, the presence of those poor, misguided souls was a depiction of the kulturkampf in that country.

Such was the concern and foresight of Rav Aharon Leib to all matters confronting Klal Yisroel, and such was the reverence of Am Yisroel for him. His every word was followed.

Rav Aharon Leib would recount that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik asked children riddles to sharpen their minds. He would tell them of a blind man who would raise one finger to signal that he wanted to eat. When he wanted to drink, he would raise two fingers. The great Rav Chaim would then ask the children what the blind man did when he wanted to eat and drink. The children – and most adults – wouldn’t realize that he said the man was blind. He didn’t say that he was dumb and unable to speak, so when he wanted to eat and drink, he would simply say so.

That was the aura in which Rav Aharon Leib was raised. From childhood on, he was always seeking to grow and become more proficient in Torah through properly learning and concentrating.

Some yungeleit went to speak to Rav Aharon Leib. A member of their kollel was niftar, lo aleinu, and they wanted to be mekabel something in his memory. They had various ideas, but wanted the rosh yeshiva to suggest an appropriate kabbolah.

Rav Aharon Leib listened to their proposals. Then he spoke. “Those are all very nice ideas, but I think you should try something else. You live in a relatively new neighborhood, where people continuously move in and new buildings are constantly rising. I think that everyone in the kehillah should sign a letter being mekabel that no matter what, they will avoid neighborly disputes.

“Your upstairs neighbor might be doing construction and it will be very noisy for a few months. Your neighbor down the hall might close in his porch and obstruct your view. Instead of fighting, step back and contemplate the brocha that led to that construction. Think of a growing family that needs more room, or more space for an overworked mother, bringing menuchas hanefesh to another family. That kabbolah will be an eternal source of merit to your friend’s neshomah.”

Always thinking about other people, that was Rav Aharon Leib. His lessons should guide us for many years to come.

Rav Aharon Leib was once asked to give a mussar talk to a gathering of Bais Yaakov teachers.

“Me?” he reacted with surprise. “I should speak to them? I should give them mussar? These are women who are up late at night preparing their classes, then tending to their children early in the morning. When they finally dress and give their children breakfast and get them off to school, they hurry off to teach. Six hours later, after a long morning of teaching, answering, speaking and inspiring Yiddishe techter to Torah and yiras Shomayim, they rush home, where ‘di pitzkalech varten, the children eagerly wait for them. If they want to rest, the children don’t permit them to. Yes, they deserve chizuk, but I certainly can’t give them mussar.”

Such was his tremendous humility.

During the 2006 war, when a yeshiva in Haifa was unsure of whether to relocate as the city came under attack, they turned to Rav Aharon Leib for guidance. He responded by writing them a letter assuring them that anyone who stays in the yeshiva and learns will not be harmed, even as rockets continued falling in Haifa.

What an inspiring example of leadership in a time of crisis. He had the courage to give advice and the certainty that future events would confirm the wisdom of that guidance.

During the Gaza War, Lev L’Achim waged its own battle. Schools in the line of fire in the country’s southern region were closed, as the rocket-fire was fierce. Several intrepid Ashdod yungeleit traveled to Ashkelon and set up shop in a basement bomb shelter. They dispensed warmth, pizza and Torah. Local teenagers were so bored that they came and were intrigued. When the war ended and normal life resumed, the kids were still interested, so the yungeleit continued coming, creating a small afternoon bais medrash in Ashkelon.

Slowly, they had some real talmidim, and finally they finished a masechta with the secular teenagers. On Chanukah, the talmidim, accompanied by their Lev L’Achim rabbeim, went to celebrate the siyum at the home of Rav Aharon Leib. The aged gadol was very moved by the sight of the teenagers in his home, proclaiming, “Hadran aloch,” to the first masechta they had learned.

As the siyum ended, one of the boys asked Rav Aharon Leib for a brocha. He asked that the resistance of his parents to his Torah study weaken. “In fact,” he told the rosh yeshiva, “if they knew where I was now, they would be furious. I told them that I was going to play soccer.”

Rav Aharon Leib said to the boy, “You have answered a question of mine. Why, in Al Hanissim, do we thank Hashem for the milchamos? War is a necessary evil, as people get killed and hurt, and lives are destroyed. Why do we thank Hashem for the war, when, in fact, we should just be thanking Him for the nissim and niflaos?

“But now, I have a new understanding. It is for milchamos such as yours - the wars waged by those determined teenagers - that we thank Hashem!”

He cared for Klal Yisroel and loved Jews and Torah so much that he was joyous at such an occasion and learned a vital lesson from it.

Many of the nisyonos that we face in our daily lives challenge us in the way we treat fellow Jews. Do we look down at other people or do we put ourselves in their shoes and respond compassionately? People who have power over others should consider how truly great individuals would respond to the nisyonos that they are facing. To carry forth our example, what would Rav Aharon Leib say if he were running a school and a person with a slightly different background applied for admittance?

The answer to that question is not a mystery. Several menahelim posed the question to him during one of his visits to America. He responded that had Avrohom Avinu come to register in their schools, he would not have been accepted. Despite the promise he radiated, they would have rejected him based on his father’s ineligibility to be a parent in their school.

The director of a cheder in Beit Shemesh approached Rav Aharon Leib with a question. A current parent in the cheder remarried and wanted to enroll the children of his new wife in the school. The school rejected the new applicants because the hanhallah feared that they didn’t completely meet the mosad’s criteria. When the father refused to back down from his insistence that the children be accepted, Rav Aharon Leib was approached by the school’s principal for guidance in dealing with this stubborn individual, who refused to accept the school’s decision.  

Rav Aharon Leib was incredulous. He responded that it is gaavah to insist that you are better than the other person. To reject a child from a cheder for specious reasons is not a sign of greatness, but a sign of gaavah.

What a powerful message and what an important lesson.

Speaking at a kinnus to mark the completion of shivah for Rav Elazar Abuchatzeira who was killed by an intruder, Rav Aharon Leib remarked that a Jew who is desensitized to bein adam lachaveiro is capable of even bloodshed, Rachama litzlan. The rosh yeshiva traveled to Be’er Sheva to share this message. The second five dibros are bound with the first five, he said. Bein adam lachaveiro is as fundamental as bein adam laMakom.

“We are in the last generations before Moshiach's arrival,” said Rav Aharon Leib, “and we need to be extra careful with the honor of our friends. It's forbidden to humiliate another person. We have to be careful to protect the kavod of each otherto pay attention to this issue of bein adam lachaveiro so that such incidents shouldn't reoccur.”

May we be zoche to go in his ways, to try to emulate him, to abhor evil and machlokes, and to avoid kavod and ta’avos olam hazeh, as he did. May we merit to learn more, to be marbeh kevod Shomayim, and to do good without ulterior motives.

May the memory of Rav Aharon Leib remain with us. May his humble gaze inspire us. May his soft words punctuate our actions. And may his plea for greatness in Torah and emunah inspire us as we prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu, bimeheirah biyomeinu.