Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How Much is a Matzoh Worth?

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

How many advertisements have you seen that claim to “make your Pesach easier this year”? How often have you heard people complaining about the price of matzoh?

Every time I hear or see such kvetching, I’d like to remind the person, who likely doesn’t know any better, that it wasn’t too long ago that Jews paid for matzoh with their lives or blood, and how thankful we should be that we live in a time when Jews are free to hold a Seder, drink wine, and eat as much matzoh as they want.

Rather than complaining, we should be thankful. Instead of seeing Yom Tov as a difficult period, we should be thankful for the opportunity to have a break from the mundane and live on a higher plane, becoming closer to Hashem, raising our levels of kedusha, and living - at least for a few days - on a more sanctified level.

Not wanting to sound sanctimonious, I usually don’t respond when such comments are offered. I know that whatever I say will sound trite and I will be accused of being uncompassionate.

The next time someone complains about the expenses and “difficulties” of Yom Tov, think of this story related by Rav Yaakov Galinsky as told to him by Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Ungar, who served as rov of K’hal Chug Chasam Sofer in Bnei Brak.

Hungarian Jewry was virtually the last to fall into the evil grip of the Nazis. During the last year of World War II, as the German army faced multiple defeats on the battlegrounds of Europe, they tightened their vice on Hungary. One million Hungarian Jews were herded into ghettos. Two months later, they were shipped off to death camps to be annihilated.

The protagonist of this story was one of those Jews. He arrived at the camp with his wife and children. They were sent straight to the gas chambers, while he was declared fit for work, tattooed with a number, and granted life. His bunkmate was a rebbishe ainikel who used every available moment to learn Torah. He would constantly offer chizuk to our friend and others in the block.

One day, the bunkmate whispered to him that Pesach was coming. There was no shortage of marror, he said, but he wondered how they would be able to observe the mitzvah of eating a kezayis of matzoh.

Our friend discovered where wheat was stored for the camp. Anybody caught taking anything faced being shot dead on the spot, but the rebbishe kind told our friend that he should be prepared to risk his life for the mitzvah. He began gathering a few wheat kernels at a time and hiding them until he had enough to make flour for two kezaisim of matzoh. One day, he found two stones and used them to grind the kernels into flour. He heated a piece of metal, added water to the flour, and baked the mixture on the white-hot piece of metal.

He produced a fist-sized matzoh, thick enough for two kezeisim, one for him and one for his friend. He hid the prize under his shirt and held his arm close to his body to keep the matzoh from falling. If he’d get caught, he’d be dead in an instant. He got past one check, but at the entrance to his block stood a Nazi, who saw that one arm was held stiffly. He pulled the arm of the hapless man and the treasure fell to the floor.

The accursed Nazi beat the man until he fainted and fell to the floor atop his matzoh. The Nazi continued stomping on him until he found another Jew to torture. The man came to, gathered as many of the crumbs and pieces of the matzoh as he could, and dragged himself to his cot, where he fainted again.

His friend found him there and waited for him to awaken. When he did, with a wide smile upon his beaten face, he told his friend what had happened. He then opened his hand to reveal his treasure, a kezayis of matzoh.

And that was when the dispute broke out.

His friend begged, “Please, let me have the matzoh. I never missed having matzoh at the Seder.”

He answered, “No way. It’s my matzoh. I almost gave my life for it. I was beaten to a pulp and fainted a couple of times. I’m not giving it up.”

And so it went, back and forth, in that awful bunk of the death camp.

“Please. I will recite for you the whole Haggadah from memory, and also the entire Shir Hashirim. You can repeat after me word by word. Just let me have the matzoh.”


“I’ll give you my whole Olam Haba for that kezayis. I lost my wife. I lost my children. I lost everything. Please, let me have the matzoh.

“I also lost everything. But the matzoh is mine and I am not giving it up.”

Finally, our friend, the one who is retelling the story, could take it no more and gave up. He allowed his bunkmate to eat the matzoh and say the Haggadah, but the reward for the mitzvah was to accrue to him. They cried and laughed together, doing their best to relive the deliverance from Mitzrayim, and they prayed, “Leshonah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim,” with all their hearts.

The next day, they both went out on their work detail. The rebbishe einikel began davening to himself. He got as far as Hallel and then collapsed and fell to the ground. He stood up and tried to walk, calling out the brocha, “Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav.” A Nazi bullet hit him just then. Hashem yikom damo.

The other man lived. After the war, he moved to Israel, established a new family, and became a member of the Chug Chasam Sofer kehillah.

All this he tells to Rav Ungar by way of introduction to his question.

Then he tells the rest of the story.

“Last night, that man came to me in a dream. He was dressed in white and his face was as bright as the morning sky. He said to me, ‘Do you remember when you let me eat the matzoh on the condition that you get the s’char? I came to ask you to please let me have the reward for that mitzvah. I received s’char for all the mitzvos I performed, except that one. It is the only mitzvah for which I received no reward. Please. I beg you to let me have the reward for that mitzvah.’

“In the dream, I responded to him. I reminded him that it was my matzoh. ‘I had risked my life for it. I gathered the kernels. I ground them. I baked them. I snuck it into the camp. Each step could have gotten me killed. I was beaten for it. I could have died on the spot. You begged. You cried. I gave you the act of performing the mitzvah. At least I should get the s’char.’

“He knew I was right. He agreed. But he reminded me that he was the one who kept track of the calendar. It was he who knew that Yom Tov was days away. He was the one who had prompted me to bake the matzoh. He recited the Haggadah with me. And now he came down to this world from on high to ask for the reward for that mitzvah. It was that important to him.

“I turned him down. His face became extremely sad. He was very upset. And then he disappeared.

“With that, I woke up. My heart and mind were racing. What was I supposed to tell him? It was my mitzvah. I should get the reward. But how can I say no to a holy neshomah? How can I turn down the wish of a dead man?”

He asked Rav Ungar what he should do. Should he let the martyred man have the reward for the mitzvah of matzoh or should he keep it for himself?

Rav Ungar told the man that this wasn’t a question for a rov. It was a question for a rebbe. He sent him to the Machnovke Rebbe and asked him to please return and share the response he receives.

He returned the next day and told Rav Ungar what happened by the rebbe. He found out that the rebbe saw people in the evenings and waited with bated breath at the rebbe’s door until he was able to enter. Then he told his story.

The rebbe told him that by right, he should give the reward to the other man.

“By right?” he exclaimed. “By right it belongs to me! My question is whether I should go beyond what is right and give it to him anyway.”

“No,” the rebbe responded. “You need to understand. Every day, you put on tallis and tefillin. You daven three times a day and make 100 brachos daily. There’s Shabbos and Yom Tov and so many other mitzvos that you perform. You have children who you were mechaneich to perform mitzvos, and thus you share in the reward for what they do. It is only fair that you be mevater and let the man have the reward for that mitzvah.”

The man conceded.

“Okay,” he muttered, “if the rebbe feels that I have to give him the reward, I will.”

“No, not like that,” the rebbe said. “You have to mean it. You have to do it b‘lev sholeim.”

The rebbe took a ring of keys from his pocket and gave them to the survivor.

“Here. This key opens the door to the bais medrash. There is nobody there. Go inside. With this key, open the aron kodesh. Stick your head in there. Pour out your heart to Hashem. Tell Him how you got to know the other man. Tell Him of your friendly relationship. Tell Him of the chizuk he gave you in that awful place. Tell Hashem that he gave you the idea to obtain matzoh there.

“Tell Hashem what it was like that Seder night, the last night of that man’s life. And when you are done, tell Hashem that b’lev sholeim you are mevater on the s’char for the mitzvah performed that night, and you surrender it to the other man, in order to give his neshomah a nachas ruach in the olam ha’elyon. When you are done, lock up and return to me.”

The man did as the rebbe had told him. He recounted the whole experience in the camp. It took everything out of him. He could barely drag his legs away from the aron kodesh. He locked the bais medrash, but didn’t have the strength to return to the rebbe. He was drained. He gave the keys to the gabbai and asked him to tell the rebbe that he would return the next day.

He went home, collapsed into bed, and fell asleep. His friend came to him in a dream once again. With a shining face and bright countenance, he said, “Thank you,” and was gone.

The next morning, the man went to daven in the minyan of the rebbe. After davening, he went over to the rebbe and told him what happened. The rebbe was not surprised. He shared with the man a message that he remembered for the rest of his life and that we should take to heart, particularly in this period leading up to Yom Tov. This is what he said:

“Think about it. Your friend was a rebbishe kind. He grew up in a home of Torah and yiras Shomayim. There is no doubt that he performed many mitzvos. To top it off, he merited to die al kiddush Hashem. Even if Heaven would have had any complaints against him, they would have been erased. So he was a person who had only mitzvos and no aveiros, which is why Chazal say that in Gan Eden nobody can come close to people who were killed al kiddush Hashem. They are in the most exalted place.

“Yet, it was worth it for him to leave the bliss of basking in the glow of the Shechinah to come down here, to come like a beggar, and plead with you to give him the reward of just one more mitzvah. Think about what that tells you regarding the value of a single mitzvah.

“And here we are, with the opportunity everywhere to pick up mitzvos, and we don’t run after them. Every parsha of the Torah, every Mishnah and every page of Gemara contains so many mitzvos, yet we lackadaisically waste time.

“Every time we help someone, when we just say a nice word to someone, we get another mitzvah, yet we ignore other people. Think about it.”

The man returned to Rav Ungar and told him all that happened and what the rebbe said.

There are so many teachings of Chazal about the value of a mitzvah. There are so many lessons we have come across in our lifetimes about the reward that awaits those who fulfill Hashem’s commandments, but rather than engage in a discussion of them as we usually do in this space, I thought to try something else and instead, transcribed this story.

How can we not be moved by it? Who can complain about the price of a kezayis of matzoh after reading this? Who cannot feel proud to be a Jew? Who cannot be excited that Pesach - the Yom Tov of cheirus, daled kosos, Mah Nishtanah and matzoh - is almost here?

Let us get our priorities straight and enjoy and appreciate all we have been blessed with.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Potential, Unity and Renewal

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

One of the greatest Chassidic rebbes was the Izhbitzer. One of his followers was Reb Dovid of Lokov, an elderly chossid, who had known the Chozeh of Lublin and the Yid Hakadosh of Peshischa. He had frequented the courts of Kotzk and Peshischa before making his way to the Izhbitzer.

One day, as the elderly chossid was walking in Izhbitz, a young boy bumped into him. Reb Dovid turned to the precocious boy and admonished him, “Derech eretz, mein kind. Show some respect.”

The boy, a grandson of the Izhbitzer Rebbe, would grow up to be the Radziner Rebbe. He responded to the man he had bumped into, “Farvos? Why do I need to have respect for you?”

“Because I knew the Chozeh,” the elderly Reb Dovid responded.

“So what? I am a grandson of the rebbe,” the boy replied.

“How can you compare the two?” the man demanded.

“My grandfather is greater than the Chozeh!” the lad said.

That was enough for Reb Dovid, who would have no more of the insolence and smacked the boy right across his face.

The boy ran to his grandfather, crying. “Zaide, Reb Dovid hit me.”

“Why did he do that? He must have had a good reason.”

“Because I told him that you are greater than the Chozeh of Lublin. Did I not say the truth, grandfather?”

The holy Izhbitzer wiped the tears off the cheeks of his bewildered grandson. “Go back to Reb Dovid and say that I told you to tell him that it is true that there is no comparison between the Chozeh and me. But there is a difference: The Chozeh reached as high as he will reach. He can never attain more greatness, for he has passed away. I am alive. I can rise. I can grow. It is possible for me to reach the heavens in greatness.”

Life is all about potential. As long as we are alive and ambitious, we can improve. There is no imposed limit to how much we can achieve. The only thing that holds us back is ourselves and our self-imposed limitations.

We can grow to be as great as the Izhbitzer and the Chozeh if we maintain a pure heart and devote ourselves to the service of Hashem. We can become great if we control ourselves from sinning, remain humble, embrace goodness and good people, daven well, learn with diligence, and refrain from sin, pettiness and machlokes.

We all know that we have an inclination that seeks to entrap us in silliness and actions that provide momentary pleasure. We need to smack down the yeitzer hora and not permit him to gain a foothold in our hearts, souls and minds. We must allow ourselves to be guided by the yeitzer tov, doing good and being good.

Chazal’s declaration that “Ein adam choteh elah im kein nichnas bo ruach shtus” conveys that since every person understands that succeeding in life involves becoming more connected with Hashem, we seek to do mitzvos, study Torah, and be kind and caring. Knowing that aveiros distance us from Hashem, the only way we commit them is when a ruach shtus enters our mind and causes us to act in a way that will harm us and draw us away from Hashem.

The Sefer Hachinuch (95) writes that this is the reason for korbanos. The bodies of man and animal are quite similar, except that man was given intelligence and a soul; animal was not. When man sins he takes leave of his intelligence, he is essentially like an animal. Therefore, when he repents, he brings an animal to the choicest location and it is totally consumed and forgotten. This reminds him that a body without intelligence is doomed to be destroyed and erased. He remembers that he was given a body plus intellect and a soul, and he repents for his misdeed, resolving that he would not permit his intellect to give way to a ruach shtus again.

Our mission in life is to bring ourselves closer to Hashem. Every mitzvah that we perform, every word of Torah that we study, every time we do chesed, and every time we love another Jew, we are firmer in Hashem’s embrace. However, when we do an aveirah, we distance ourselves from Hashem. Aveiros create walls that separate us from Hashem. Being divisive and spreading machlokes and peirud between people in this world causes Jews to separate from each other and from Hashem.

Seder Vayikra is all about korbanos. The parsha begins this week with an introduction to the concept of Jews offering animal sacrifices to Hashem to atone for their sins. The posuk (Vayikra 1:2) states, “Adam ki yakriv mikem korban laShem,” using the word adam, instead of the usual ish, to denote man. Many reasons are offered for this.

Perhaps we can say that adam refers to the potential of man. Adam Harishon was given that name to signify that he was created from the ground, adamah. Though he had the lowliest physical beginning, he has the potential to rise to the heavens and become a spiritual being, immersed in Torah and avodah.

When a person commits an aveirah, he sinks from whatever level he has attained and becomes closer to the earth from where he began. But he has the ability to erase what he has done and resume his spiritual connection on his way to realizing his potential for greatness. A korban along with viduy and charotah returns him to the path that he was born to climb. The path of the Izhbitzer.

Perhaps we can offer a deeper explanation. Rav Chaim Vital writes cryptically in the Kisvei Arizal on Parshas Kedoshim, in explaining the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha,” that the concept that all of Am Yisroel are “areivim zeh lozeh” is based upon the idea that “kol Yisroel sod guf echod shel nishmas Adam Harishon.”

He says that this is the reason the Arizal would say viduy for the sins of other people, because all members of the Jewish nation are really one.

The words of the Arizal can be understood as such: Adam carried within himself the future neshamos of Klal Yisroel, and thus every Jew is a limb of one large body and we are all interconnected (Derech Mitzvosecha). The optimum behavior of Klal Yisroel is when we all recognize that we are parts of one whole, acting with unity and achdus, and caring for each other. This lies behind the command that we should love each other.

Therefore, before he davened, the Arizal would recite viduy for disparate parts of the Jewish body to bring everyone together. For just as if a korban is blemished and incomplete it cannot be offered to Hashem, so too, if the person who is bringing the korban is blemished, he is not worthy for the korban to forgive him for his sin.

It is for that reason that the Arizal instituted that prior to davening, a person should accept upon himself the mitzvas asei of “v’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha.” A person who hates another Jew, or despises him or her, is a baal mum, for he prevents himself from being connected with the entire body of Klal Yisroel.

We know that tefillah is in the place of korbanos. Thus, just as a person’s korbanos are not accepted if they are found lacking, the same applies to his prayers.

It is for this reason that the Torah uses the appellation “Adam” when discussing the bringing of korbanos. It is to remind us that Adam Harishon embodied all the neshamos of Klal Yisroel, and if we wish to be forgiven and accepted by Hashem, we must acknowledge that since we are all interconnected, if even one person is left out, the person who is bringing the korban and saying viduy will fail in his bid of seeking penitence.

Adam ki yakriv mikem.” The person who is bringing the korban must acknowledge that he is a part of “mikem,” the entire klal. Just as Adam encompassed all the neshamos of Klal Yisroel, the makriv must be connected to all the neshamos b’achdus.

When we read Parshas Hachodesh this Shabbos, let us bear in mind the explanation offered by the Sefas Emes to the wording of the posuk, “Hachodesh hazeh lochem,” which literally means this month is for you. Although in this posuk the word “hachodesh” means month, it also contains a connotation for renewal, as in hischadshus.

The posuk is admonishing us that the ability to be rejuvenated is up to us. At times we may fall or slip, but we don’t have to stay down. We each have the ability to pick ourselves up, to rise, and realize our potential.

Let’s do it!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Time to Build

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Vayakhel and Pekudei conclude the five parshiyos that discuss the construction of the Mishkon.

The Mishkon was constructed over a period of a few months. The project required hundreds of workers and large amounts of material. To facilitate the construction, there was a large fundraising campaign, in which everyone participated. When the Mishkon was completed, a festivity ensued.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky points out that for all that effort, the Mishkon was originally intended to stand for a short period of time. The Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim on Pesach and were to travel through the Sinai desert and then enter Eretz Yisroel, a short trek. It was the chet hameraglim that caused the Jews to wander in the desert for an extra thirty-nine years. Why, then, was so much effort and expense invested in constructing such a temporary edifice?

After experiencing the joy of Purim and being reminded of our obligation to eradicate Amaleik, we can understand the necessity of the expenditure of time and effort for a building that would last but a few months. Throughout the generations, Amaleik has mocked us, as he seeks to sow doubt about Hashem’s Presence in our lives. Purim celebrates our victory over Haman, the embodiment of Amaleik in his time, and demonstrates for us that we can overcome evil if we unite and raise our level of commitment to Torah and mitzvos.

On Purim, we are b’simcha and seek to be mesameiach others. We meet new people, make new friends, and reconnect with old ones. We are introduced to worthy causes and recruit others to causes we believe in.

We gain an appreciation for what can be accomplished in one day. And then, even after the sun goes down, music plays and people continue to celebrate the miracles and messages of Purim.

We learned last week in Parshas Ki Sisa how the Jews sinned with the Eigel Hazohov. Misled by the Soton, they feared that Moshe Rabbeinu would not return and fashioned a golden image to replace him. The people desired leadership and a Divine relationship, but they were misguided. Following their teshuvah, they were granted their wish, along with the directions of how to construct a place among them where Hashem could be found.

Although the Mishkon would be temporary, its effect would be eternal. While it was meant to last for several months, it represented the ideal that every day could be spent in the presence of Hashem. No day, or even part of it, should be taken for granted or wasted. Every minute is precious and can generate greatness.

Klal Yisroel, newly-cleansed from the chet ha’Eigel and desirous of a proper relationship with Hashem, appreciated the opportunity to construct a dirah batachtonim. They understood that building the Mishkon, and contributing to its construction, was teshuvah for their sin and immediately responded to the appeals. They engaged in a labor of love, determined to begin again. It did not matter that the Mishkon was to be temporary, for they would take advantage of the opportunity to become closer to Hashem and in that zechus enter Eretz Yisroel and build the permanent Bais Hamikdosh.

Alas, that was not meant to be. They sinned again, this time with the meraglim, and didn’t merit entering Eretz Yisroel. Today we suffer from the absence of the Beis Hamikdosh due to internecine hatred and battles.

A story is told about a king who announced his intention to visit a certain town. The locals were excited to finally meet their beloved monarch, and spent weeks cleaning the town and decorating the streets. A special tax was levied on the townspeople and a beautiful gift was purchased for the king.

The great day arrived. Men, women and children lined the streets, waiting for the king’s entourage to appear. After a while, it was visible on the horizon. Everyone craned their necks and saw the magnificent horse-drawn carriage as it made its way toward them.

Finally, the king himself, a tall, handsome man with royal bearing, appeared. He stepped out of the carriage and waved to the people. A special delegation, led by the mayor and local dignitaries, came forth and presented him with the gift.

The king smiled and held up his hand. “I appreciate the gift,” he said, “and in return I am giving this town a year with no taxes. In addition, I will send money to build new roads and a few parks.”

The grateful crowd, overcome with emotion and gratitude, burst into applause. The king beamed at his people and continued on to the next town, leaving behind assurances of relief and assistance.

The next week, a golden carriage pulled up to the town square. Out stepped an impressive looking man, surrounded by guards. There was no delegation to greet him and no crowds lining the streets.

The irate man claimed to be the king. He was aghast that there was no welcoming ceremony for him. The mayor was summoned and hurried to the square to explain to the guest that the king had come the week before. The new visitor explained that he was the king and that the person who had visited must have been an imposter who had taken advantage of the impending royal visit.

The mayor apologized profusely, describing to the king the expensive gift, the parades, and the cheering of the week before. The king was incensed over the insult and issued an edict raising property taxes for the town. Anybody who couldn’t pay would be thrown into jail and charged with treason for dishonoring the king’s wishes.

A local wise man approached and begged for permission to speak. “Honored king,” he said, “last week, an impostor came to town. We gave him an expensive gift and we all came forth to show respect, but we thought it was you. That gift, that parade, that reception, they were all for you, even though you didn’t see them, and they all reflected our feelings for you. Please accept that what we did was our expression of how we feel toward you.”

The king was calmed, as he recognized the truth of the wise man’s words. He offered to give the people a chance to build a monument to him and promised to return for the unvailing ceremony after its completion.

Our forefathers attributed Divine abilities to the golden calf they had fashioned from their own jewelry. Alas, they erred and served an imposter.

The binyan haMishkon presented them with an opportunity to welcome the real King. Newly pardoned, they were given a second chance. The King was coming and they were charged with making the preparations for His arrival.

This time, there would be no mistakes. They labored in joy, thrilled at the opportunity to welcome their beloved and revered King. They understood that even a short period of hashro’as haShechinah was worth everything.

On Purim, we sensed and felt the points of light and holiness that define us. We wished that we could keep those embers aflame longer and merit more of the joy and fulfillment we felt on that one day.

On Purim, we dress differently, as virtual masks cover our faces. When Purim is over and we go back to our regular dress, we find ourselves freshly invigorated with a renewed sense of the abilities we each carry within us.

On Purim, people shlepped with their children from rebbi to rebbi and teacher to teacher, with one eye on the road and the other on their watch. There was so much to accomplish in just a few hours. Yet, special simcha permeated the day.

We should seek to maintain the sense of the opportunities we associate with Purim, the chance to do good, to increase and spread happiness and kedushah. We need to recognize that not only Purim, but every day, is a gift from Hashem and worthy of expending the effort to construct a Mishkon, a place for Hashem, in our hearts. Every day presents new opportunities to grow, learn and achieve greatness.

On Purim, we energetically performed the mitzvos hayom, giving as much as we thought we could, and then, when we thought we were done, we gave a little more. We must learn to stretch our spiritual reserves every day. When we have pushed ourselves to our maximum ability, we will merit the eternal blessings promised to the eternal people. The amount we accomplish from the time we think we have no strength left until we are really depleted is the difference between greatness and also-rans.

The Chazon Ish would learn daily until he only had enough strength remaining to place a pillow under his head. Stories are told and retold of gedolim who would sit at their Gemaros with their feet in buckets of cold water to keep them awake. Last week, we learned that Rav Shmuel Auerbach would learn nightly in the bais medrash until he fell asleep over his seforim.

Greatness means never saying, “What good is it? It’s only for a few minutes, a few days, or a few months.” Greatness means utilizing every opportunity and moment to gain knowledge and grow.

Purim is a day when we put everything else aside and spend our time in revelry and high spirits. To do this, we mask a part of our lives, the things that are disappointing or painful. We subjugate the somber tendencies to the mitzvos of simcha and mishteh. For people who can accomplish this feat, simcha shines from them with a new radiance.

Perhaps, the influence of yayin helps some gain a new perspective on life. They realize that, for at least one day, they can set aside the pressures that sap their attention and energy. And so they smile.

When Purim has ended, we find that we have a new look and a new face. We have a new perspective. You had a great Purim when you are able to maintain that fresh perspective after the yayin has worn off and after the last mishloach manos has been eaten. Keep your priorities straight. Look for the good. Concentrate on the positive.

Sometimes, we need to be reminded to have faith in our convictions. We must have the moral courage to stand up for what we believe. A winner does not bend his beliefs to conform to popular ideas, even if not bending makes him appear to be a loser. The real loser is the one who has no courage, twists with the wind, and has no core beliefs that he is ready to fight and sacrifice for.

Rather than fall prey to apathy, fatalism or self-serving causes, let us remain idealistic, dedicated to the ideals and values of the Torah. Let us remember that elections, political intrigue and world events are veils masking the work of Hashgochah.

The posuk states, “Vayavou kol ish asher nesao libo” (35:21). Every man “whose heart lifted him” came to work on the construction of the Mishkon.

The Ramban writes that none of the people who worked on building the Mishkon had learned that trade, nor did they have any previous experience. Those who built the Mishkon were the people who responded to the call of Hashem. Nosom libom, their hearts lifted them up. They were consumed with the desire to fulfill the wish of Hashem. They didn’t say that they weren’t trained for anything that the Mishkon required. They didn’t say that the work was too difficult. They didn’t say, “Leave it for someone better to do.” The Mishkon was built by men of greatness who ignored their shortcomings and pushed themselves to do what they didn’t know they could, to serve Hashem.

They achieved greatness. They brought the Shechinah here. They received the brochah of “Viyhi noam and the Mishkon lasted much longer than anyone thought it would. In fact, the Mishkon was never destroyed. It lies in hiding, waiting for the day when we can all join together and summon the inner strength we possess to put aside all differences and work together to reestablish a dirah laHashem batachtonim with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

Purim is a day of chizuk that resonates in our age. As the story of Megillas Esther progressed, there was no obvious Yad Hashem involved. The people of Shushan read the newspaper and scrolled the news - pun intended - and noted the comings and goings of the various ministers and King Achashveirosh. There was lots of palace intrigue as well, but no one attached any of it to the decree against the Jews.

It was only in hindsight that the people were able to trace everything that transpired and recognize that Hashem had been pulling the strings all along.

In our day, we see things happening that make no sense to us. This president was given no chance at winning the election and he swept the Electoral College into power.

The Israeli prime minister is one of the most respected world leaders. He leads and lectures on vital matters that affect the entire world, yet he is going through the grinder at home. Though he has no obvious replacement, many wonder how much longer he will be able to remain in office. Why go through a mess like this now? Nobody knows.

We see the evil emanating from Iran and North Korea as the world remains silent. We see people starving in Venezuela, turmoil in Germany, and Muslims sweeping across Europe. Nobody does anything about any of this, and nobody seems to even care. Why? Nobody knows.

In our communities and lives, there are ups and downs, occurrences we understand and appreciate and many others that seem to defy logic.

Purim recharges us and reminds us that we are children of Hashem who know that every move here is carried out by Him up there. There is no depression and despondency when we recognize and testify that the Borei is manhig.

Thus, we bring joy to ourselves and salvation to the world. For just as the Mishkon was a reward for the Jews repenting after mistakenly thinking the Eigel would lead them (Rashi 38:21), the realization of the truth in our day and placing our complete faith in Hashem will enable the Bais Hamikdosh to be built and bring about our redemption.

What is stopping us?

Chazak chazak venischazeik.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Warmed on the Inside

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha opens with the commandment of counting the Jewish people following the sin of the Eigel (Rashi). They were not to be individually counted, but rather each person donated a half-shekel coin to the Mishkon and the coins were counted.

The posuk states that by conducting the census in this way, the act of counting would not bring on a plague, and each person’s donated coin would help forgive him for his sins.

Many commentators discuss what it is about the census of Jews that causes a plague. Why does each person give a half-shekel and how does that bring about forgiveness?

A simple explanation is that when all Jews are counted equally, it demonstrates that one Jew is as important as the next, and no one should ever feel that they have sunk too far for redemption. A rough upbringing, a tough divorce, or so many of the difficulties we deal with in life can drive a distraught person from Yiddishkeit. The census shows that although they hit a rough patch and veered off, they are still Jews who are loved by Hashem, and their return is eagerly awaited.

Rav Tzadok of Lublin writes (Tzidkas Hatzadik 154) that just as a person is obligated to believe in Hashem, a person is obligated to believe in himself. No one should ever give up on themselves and feel that all hope is lost and they are too far gone. In whatever position a person finds themselves they posses the abilities to clamber back up and excel once again. Everyone counts.

The Alshich quotes Rav Shlomo Alkabetz, author of Lecha Dodi and the classic sefer Manos Levi on Megillas Esther, who says that each person contributes a half-shekel to demonstrate that every individual on their own is not whole. We only become complete and worthy of being counted as a member of Klal Yisroel when we live b’achdus with our brethren. If we are aloof, apathetic and alone, we don’t count, so to speak.

Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover explains that the counting was not to determine how many separate people there were and to add the number, but rather to bring the people together and count them all as one unit.

Additionally, the posuk states, “He’oshir lo yarbeh, vehadal lo yamit,” the rich man should not give more than a half-shekel and the poor man should not give less. The census is conducted to remind the Jewish people to rectify the sin that causes the Shechinah to be removed from among them, namely machlokes and peirud.

At the root of every machlokes is ga’avah, when one person feels that he is better than the other. For example, the rich man looks down at the poor one and says that his success is proof that he is more righteous and a better person. The poor man says that he is the bigger tzaddik and it is because of his righteousness that Hashem punishes him severely for his few minor sins. Each one feels himself superior to the other. Such feelings lead to squabbles among Jews and the departure of the Shechinah.

Therefore, the Torah calls for everyone to contribute the same small amount to signify that nobody knows their value in the eyes of Hashem and they view each other as equals. This leads to forgiveness of sins through the census, for the feelings of equality remove sinas chinom and machlokes and lead to achdus. When there is achdus among the Jewish people, the Shechinah returns.

Rav Chover adds that when there is achdus among Jews, they are able to help each other improve. When people despise each other, they cannot offer reproach or help. When two people are squabbling and one of them sees the other doing something wrong, he smiles, fantasizing about how he can spread virally what he saw and cause the person much pain and anguish. Even were he to reprimand the person who did wrong, the person wouldn’t accept the tochacha and suggestions for improvement, because he would feel that the other person is mocking him and seeking his downfall.

If we cannot be mochiach each other, then people won’t improve, and we will stray further and continue to act foolishly.

Mordechai HaYehudi was a champion of achdus and searched for ways to bring the Jewish people together to counter Haman. As a grandson of Amaleik, his ability to destroy the Jews would only be effective if the Jews remained divided. He enacted decrees and sought to scare and divide them further, but because Mordechai rose up to bring the Jews together, Haman failed.

The posuk at the end of Megillas Esther recounts that upon the conclusion of the Jewish victory over Haman, many people converted to Judaism: “Verabim mei’amei ha’aretz misyahadim, ki nofal pachad haYehudim aleihem.” They converted, the posuk tells us, because they feared the Jews.

The sefer Manos Levi remarks that despite the severity of Haman’s evil decree, there is no record that any Jews converted to spare themselves. Perhaps we can answer that this was because Mordechai brought the Jews together. He was thus able to be mochiach them and strengthen their faith in an ultimate triumph. Through the achdus he engendered, they were able to accept his mussar and repented for what they had done wrong. With their spiritual rise and restored faith, they fasted and prayed and Hashem heard their tefillos.

We are reminded of the crucial need for achdus as we lain the Megillah and engage in the mitzvos hayom, all of which seem intended to remind us to increase our brotherhood and love for each other. Every yom tov, the influences of the time of the original miracle for which the yom tov was proclaimed are present once again. On Purim, our ability to set aside differences to be able to merit geulah is real. Let us take advantage of the opportunity.

A story is told about Rav Shmuel Munkez, who sought to travel to visit his rebbe, Rav Shnuer Zalman of Liadi. He was poor and unable to afford the trip, so he made his way to the local market and searched for a merchant who would be traveling to Liadi and willing to let him hop along. He found a whiskey merchant who was headed to Liadi and agreed to give him a ride, with a hitch. He told the chossid that he wouldn’t be able to sit in the heated front carriage because of lack of space. He would gladly take him, but he would have to ride with the whiskey barrels in the unheated baggage section. Happy to have found a ride to his rebbe, Rabbi Munkez agreed.

The longer they traveled, the colder he became. It was a stiff Russian winter night, and after a few hours, the passenger felt as if he was going to freeze to death. He got out from between the barrels and went to the merchant in the warm carriage and shared his predicament. The generous merchant shared his cup with him and told the freezing man that he could open the spigot of one of the barrels and drink some of the whiskey. That would surely warm him. The chossid drank enough to warm himself and felt as if his life had returned to him.

When they arrived in Liadi, the chossid headed straight to the Alter Rebbe. They shook hands, he said shalom aleichem, and the rebbe answered aleichem shalom. And with that, the man told the rebbe that he was heading back home.

The rebbe understood that it was with difficulty that the man had traveled so far, and wondered why upon arriving all he wanted to do was turn around and go home.

The chossid responded that he had come to hear messages of Torah that would enable him to conduct himself properly. He told the rebbe that as he traveled to see him, he learned a lesson applicable to him and worth the trip. He told of how he suffered from bitter cold as he quivered among the whiskey barrels. It was only after he opened one of the barrels and drank from it that its liquid went through his body and totally warmed him.

He said that from this he learned that it is not sufficient to be among great men – tzaddikim and kedoshim - as you can still freeze to death. To be warmed by them, a person has to work to get the light of tzidkus and Torah into himself.

“I am returning home to work on that,” the chossid said, “and I shall return when I feel that I have accomplished in that regard.”

Purim is here, with its great lessons and hashpa’os. It is not enough to sit among the whiskey bottles. It is not enough to drink from the bottles. We must work on ourselves to ensure that the influences of the mitzvos of the day work their way through our innards and warm our souls on this special day, ensuring that the warmth lingers within us as we go forward.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Be My Friend

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Megillas Esther annually reinforces the closeness Jews feel with the Creator and with each other.

Unlike many of the famed miraculous redemptions that occurred in Eretz Yisroel, or at a time when the Jewish people were pious, the Purim story took place when the Jews were exiled, divided and, through attending the seudah of Achashveirosh and bowing to his “tzelem,” [see Megillah 12a], demonstrably lacking in spirituality.

The Rambam, in Sefer Hamitzvos, writes that the lesson of the Megillah is that it is true, emes he, that there is no one as close to us as Hashem Elokeinu, who responds to us whenever we turn to Him, just as a loving father, who even when separated from his children, never loses touch with them. Even when they are apart, the father is present somewhere in the background, watching and waiting for progress. Similarly, Hashem showed His enduring love for us in Shushan, even when the mechitzah of golus separated us.

And so, this year again, the sounds of Megillas Esther will fill our shuls and homes with happiness and optimism. They will tell us to remain together and hopeful, for nothing really is what it appears to be. There is always a story behind the story and things taking place that no one would fathom. There are plots and sub-plots happening beneath the surface, while we have no clue about any of it.

Despite all the headlines and sub-heads, quick glances and deep analysis of current events, nothing even scratches the surface in explaining what is really going on. Even those who rely on skimming social media for news would have to admit that there are things going on that they cannot understand or explain. There is so much fake news that unless you really devote yourself to digging through the silliness to get to the truth, you are clueless.

Purim is a time that tells us to recognize that nothing is what it appears to be, and if we have faith in Hashem, we will see salvation.

Achashveirosh, says the Medrash, was a superficial chonef, who sought to ingratiate himself with those around him. He killed his wife because his friend told him to, and then he killed his friend to satisfy his wife, the Medrash remarks, referring to the king’s easy acquiescence to Haman’s suggestion that he kill Vashti and his equal willingness to kill that same Haman for Esther’s sake. There was no loyalty, only convenience and political expediency. He had no core beliefs. There was nothing he really believed in or cared about besides his burning desire to remain in power surrounded by sycophants.

Initially, he favored his Jewish citizens. Then he rejected them, because he craved money and power, and his advisor convinced him that he would have more of both if he would rid himself of the Jews. Then he had a change of heart and began favoring the Jews and helping them in every way possible. He was fickle and capricious. Today’s leaders are no different.

Take, for example, Israel’s prime minister, Binyomin Netanyahu, who faces increasing domestic and international pressures. Originally empowered as prime minster thanks to the support of the chareidi political parties, he was widely viewed as a friend who shared our concerns. Chairing the party of Menachem Begin, he followed his heritage to electoral victory and then to forming a governing coalition. But when peirud caused Shas to lose three seats to splinter parties and Naftoli Bennett pushed the National Religious leader into the arms of the anti-religious demagogue Yair Lapid, Netanyahu changed his spots. He spurned his former allies and friends who enabled his career and signed on to the Lapid agenda.

A few years later, there were new elections and the cards lined up differently. Netanyahu put together a coalition with the religious parties and is once again everyone’s best friend.

The posuk (Esther 2:5) describes Mordechai as “Ish Yehudi.” The Medrash (Esther Rabbah 6:2) expounds on the choice of the word Yehudi, which would signify that he was from shevet Yehudah, when, in fact, he hailed from the tribe of Binyomin. The Medrash concludes that the choice of words is to indicate that he was a “yechidi, because he was meyacheid shemo shel Hakadosh Boruch Hu.”

The Sefas Emes explains that when Chazal say, “Ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha zeh klal gadol baTorah,” it is because at the root of life, all Jews are connected as one. A person who is connected to the “nekudah chiyus hapenimis” loves all Jews, for that is the point of achdus.

The pure state of the Jewish people is achieved when they are all together, joined with achdus. It is then that we are strong enough to combat Amaleik and his descendants. When we are together, we rise to the greatest heights and are able to achieve the spectacular. When we are divided, we get in trouble. When we battle each other, when we permit people to drive wedges between us, we are all losers.

The United States is accusing Russia of meddling in the 2016 elections and stirring up trouble. Apparently, the Russians didn’t advocate for any specific candidate. In one day they held a rally in New York City for Donald Trump and against Donald Trump. They sought to weaken the American democracy by “sowing disorder,” and turning citizens against each other.

When people try to stir up trouble in our camp and divide brother from brother, we ought to let them know that they are not welcome. We aren’t interested in fighting anymore. We don’t want silly splits and fracases. We’ve had enough. It’s time we really got back to where we were the night Rubashkin was freed, when Jews of all stripes danced together, talking to each other without regard to any differences. It was just a few weeks ago. Why can’t we go back there? Why can’t we all work to unite instead of divide? Would it really be that hard?

When we are united, there is no force that can stop us. We can defeat Amaleik and Haman. We can overturn evil decrees and get our lives back.

That is what Mordechai told his people. He gathered them all together. “Leich kenos es kol haYehudim,” he said. He dressed himself in sackcloth and delivered mussar to the Jewish people and Esther. He enforced three days and nights of tefillah, teshuvah and fasting. He committed everyone to achdus, as the posuk states (Esther 9:16), using the singular verb “nikhalu v’amod al nafshom,” signifying that they gathered as one to beseech Hashem. Through his prodding, they did teshuvah, and as a result of their improvement, they were reconnected to the “nekudah chiyus hapenimis” and once again loved each other as Jews are meant to.

Thus, they were able to earn Hashem’s intervention, and the decree that had hung over them for ten years was swept away. They got new life. Their achdus brought them back to where we were as we gathered at Har Sinai to accept the Torah, “k’ish echod belev echod.” The togetherness enabled them to once again accept the Torah and they had much to celebrate. “LaYehudim hoysah orah vesimcha vesasson vikor.”

Rav Yeshayahu Pinto, a talmid and mechutan of Rav Chaim Vital, explains that the enormity of the sin of attending the seudah of Achashveirosh’s was because the feast was held to celebrate that according to the king’s calculations the Jews would never be redeemed and the Beis Hamikdosh would never be rebuilt. Since the Beis Hamkidosh was where the Jewish people connected with Hashem, by joining in the celebration the Jews demonstrated that as far as they were concerned that special connection was broken. Without that special relationship, they no longer had a reason to exist.

Parshas Vayikra deals with the laws of korbanos. The parsha details the process of one who is makriv himself, his very essence, through a korban. In fact, the word kiruv, meaning to come closer, lies at the root of the word korban, sacrifice, for it brings people closer to Hashem.

The Ohr Hachaim (Vayikra 1:2) expounds on the posuk at the beginning of Parshas Vayikra which states, “Adam ki yakriv mikem (korban).” He explains that the desire to become close to Hashem has to come from within the Bnei Yisroel. Sinning creates distance between Hashem and us, as a sinner becomes separated from the Shechinah. Since Hashem wants us to remain close to Him, he commands, “Hochei’ach tochiach es amisecha.” He wishes for us to seek to draw closer to those who have drifted away. This is the reason that Chazal say, “Kol hamezakeh es horabim ein cheit ba al yado” (Avos 5:18). Because Hashem wishes to be reunited with His lost children, he heaps reward upon people who enable that relationship to crystallize.

The Bais Hamikdosh was a place of kirva, representing the ultimate closeness attainable in our world between man and his Creator. Referred to as a place of yedidus, the highest level of interpersonal friendship, it was built in the biblical portion of Binyomin, who is referred to in the Torah as “yedid Hashem, the friend of Hashem,” to underscore the closeness of the relationship.

Rav Moshe Shapiro explained that the word yedid means friendship because in every relationship there are ups and downs, times of closeness and times of distance. In every relationship, there is a time to stand apart. There are times defined as yemin mekarev, when the right hand draws close, and periods of s’mol docheh, when the left hand pushes away.

Even bein odom laMakom, between man and Hashem, there is a precedent for this type of distance. When Yaakov bowed to Eisov, he was expressing an admission of the fact that in this world, there is an order. The will of Hashem at that time was for Yaakov to subjugate himself to Eisov.

Since Binyomin was not present at that encounter between Yaakov and Eisov, he didn’t accept that there are times when right and justice must submit to might. As such, Binyomin was defined as a yedid, which in Hebrew is written as a compound of the word yad twice, yud dalet, yud dalet. Rav Shapiro explains that a yedid possesses only a yemin mekarev, perpetual closeness.

Generations later, Mordechai maintained this yedidus. When others insisted that it was necessary, even pikuach nefesh, to conform to the dictates of Haman, Mordechai refused to bow. The Megillah states that Mordechai was “lo kom velo za (Esther 5:9). Not only did Mordechai refuse to rise before Haman, but he seemed to be unaware of Haman’s existence. He didn’t flinch when Haman passed him. Mordechai was showing his people, and instilling in those who would follow until this very day, that they possess the strength to confront evil without shuddering. He taught not to succumb to the urge to surrender to the prevailing temporal power.

Mordechai was a yedid of Hashem, possessing a closeness that didn’t leave room for disloyalty. He was an unfailing yedid of the Jewish people, admonishing them not to compromise, because he loved each of them and wanted to ensure that they would remain yedidim of Hashem.

Due to his efforts, they merited being saved from the plots against them and returning once again to be close to Hashem, so much so that they embraced Torah Shebal Peh as their forefathers had accepted Torah Shebiksav at Har Sinai. Their acts of return and devotion were so great that they led to the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.

The Jews had been “mefuzar umeforad,” spread apart from each other. Each was in his own sphere, unconcerned about the other. Now they were together once again, the way we should be.

Mordechai, a descendant of Binyomin, was a yedid of Hashem and a cherished friend of every Jew. He fulfilled the mitzvah of hochei’ach tochiach in its most ideal form. When people ignored his halachic ruling forbidding attendance at Achashveirosh’s feast, he bore the burden of their collective suffering after the gezeirah was passed. Like a loving father, he reassured, comforted and led, establishing the mass fast and gathering in Shushan.

Though they had sinned, Mordechai loved them and Hashem enabled a salvation to be brought about. Through his mesirus nefesh and yedidus, the Jews merited the Purim miracle.

Our enemies have tried, ever since the days of the Shushan miracle, to entrap and ensnare us. But if we care for each other and seek to bring about achdus and yedidus, we can overcome that which is put in our path and merit a return of the Bais Hamikdosh in our day.

Throughout the generations, our great leaders have been men such as Mordechai, who cared about each Jew. Genuine giants are unfailingly humble and gentle, accessible and available to every person who needs help, guidance or a warm smile.

The closeness of good people with the Ribbono Shel Olam allows them to see the Divine light in every Jew as they are mekarev them with love and devotion, as true yedidim. Their friendship echoes the overriding friendship that gave us the neis of Purim; the yedidus of Binyomin, and the deveikus of Mordechai to Hashem and every Jew.

We all have our problems and are upset about various issues that plague our community. We have tuitions to pay, mortgages to worry about, and a pile of bills, but there also has to be room in our hearts to feel the pain of others who are suffering. We need to befriend and help them. Often, people suffer in silence. A person can appear to be very successful, but in his heart, there might be a gaping hole that we can help fill. People who appear to have everything going for them might have issues tormenting them. There is no way to know. If we smile to everyone, we are bound to help cheer up those lonely souls as well.

The Megillah (4:6) relates that Mordechai told Esther’s messenger, “Kol asher korahu ve’es parashas hakesef.” Mordechai shared everything that happened to him. While he was in prison, Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin once asked me why the posuk states that Mordechai told him of his own personal experiences. The Jewish nation was in serious peril, as Haman plotted to kill every Jew. It seems to be a very selfish act for Mordechai to tell Esther’s messenger what had happened to him personally.

The answer is that he only told of other peoples’ pain but every Jew’s pain was Mordechai’s very own personal pain. He told the messenger to report to Esther what was going on outside of the palace and how so many people were suffering. He felt their pain as if it was his own.

Every Jew’s pain should be our pain. If someone is in trouble, we should rush to help him. If we see people fighting, we should bring them together. We shouldn’t tolerate anything divisive. We have had enough of golus. If we could only stop the squabbling, we’d be able to end it.

Everyone is thinking about what the next big thing will be. Let’s try achdus.

Let’s make it happen. Let’s silence the dividers and empower the uniters. Let’s all get together and say that we’ve had enough, once and for all. When we exchange mishloach manos let us show that we can all get along and be friends. Let us reconnect with the nekudas hachiyus and each other.

We will then merit rejoicing in the great nahafoch hu with the imminent arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

Ah freilichen Purim.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sparks of Holiness

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha deals with the construction of the Mishkon, the dwelling place of the Shechinah in this world. Introducing the description of this holy place and its construction, the posuk (Shemos 25:2) states, “Veyikchu li terumah – And they should take donations for Me” to build the Mishkon.

The Vilna Gaon explains that the Shechinah was in the hearts of the Bnei Yisroel, but the people needed a place where they could gather together. This was accomplished by “all the hearts” - all the people who had the Shechinah beating in their hearts - donating as per their heart’s desire, “asher yidvenu libo.”

When people demonstrate that they appreciate what Hashem has given them, they show that there is holiness in their soul. Kedusha seeks to expand and strengthen. When they give of themselves and their possessions, they are able to build a place where kedusha can take hold, gather other sparks of holiness, and fashion a place of holiness in the world.

To understand this, we can imagine a single person striking a match on a dark winter night. The match lights for a few seconds and then withers away. Suppose two people are together and each one lights a match. The flame is larger, brighter and warmer than when a single match is struck, though it is still quite feeble. The more matches struck together, the more warmth and light there will be.

Every Jew has an individual spark of kedusha, but by itself and when it is cold and dark, the spark can’t accomplish much. When Jews join together, each one with his spark, a torch of kedusha erupts and the Shechinah has a place to visit.

This is the explanation of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos which states that when two Jews join to study Torah, the Shechinah is among them. This is because they have combined their sparks to light the world for Torah. In such a place, the Shechinah feels comfortable and joins.

When the entirety of Klal Yisroel joins in contributing “bechol levovom,” for a place of kedusha, the Shechinah has found a dwelling place among us in this world.

With this, we can understand a statement of Rabi Akiva: “Ish v’isha zachu Shechinah beineihem - If a man and woman merit, the Shechinah is with them” (Sotah 17a). When a man and a woman marry, if each one is filled with hopes of building a proper Jewish home and has strengthened themselves with good middos and fidelity to Torah and kedusha, that is a couple who have fostered a place where the Shechinah can feel comfortable.

We no longer have the Mikdosh among us, but we do have within us sparks of holiness, and if we properly observe halacha, study Torah, and help other people, we can fashion within our hearts and homes a place for the Shechinah.

Hashem told Moshe to accept donations from people “asher yidvenu libo,” who want to give. Nobody should be forced to contribute to the construction of the Mishkon.

The Alter of Kelm asks that considering that the call for the construction of the Mishkon came in the desert after the redemption from Mitzrayim and receiving the Torah, who of the Jewish people wouldn’t want to contribute to a building where the Shechinah would dwell among them?

How are we to understand that people in their situation would not want to part with a few shekels to help construct a Bais Hashem?

The question is strengthened by the fact that nobody among them had earned any of the riches with which they had been blessed. Thus, any money they had was obtained through chesed Hashem, fulfilling the promise made to Avrohom of “V’acharei chein yeitz’u b’rechush gadol” (Bereishis 15:14).

Since none of the Jews of the Dor Hamidbor worked hard for what they had and none of them could convince themselves that their money was a product of “kochi ve’otzem yodi,” why would they not willingly give some of it back to the Benefactor who enriched them?

It would appear that once man gains a possession, he convinces himself that it is his, that he earned it, and that nobody can take it away from him. In an effort to remind us of this message, back when we were in yeshiva, we would write in our seforim before our name, “LaHashem ha’aretz umeloah, b’reshus,” loosely translated as, “Hashem is the owner of the world and all that is in it, and has placed this object in my possession.”

Hubris and selfishness are ingrained in our mentality to such a degree that it is with great difficulty that we part with our possessions to benefit others. We forget that Hashem has given us what we have and that it is incumbent upon us to recognize His beneficence. We look back at the people who were enriched by looting the Mitzriyim and wonder how they could not appreciate the source of their wealth. Yet, others from different generations can view us similarly. They can easily say, “Look at the wealth Hashem gave the Jewish people at this time of history. Look at how Hashem removed so many of the impediments to Jewish people being accepted among the general populace and accumulating great wealth.” They may wonder about us, “How can it be that they didn’t realize that Hashem had blessed them? Why didn’t they share more of it? Why did they think that they were entitled to ignore the cries of the poor and needy?”

Sure, there are many generous people among us, and it is thanks to them that Torah is built and maintained. It is to their credit that there are so many charitable organizations that help people deal with every conceivable need. Who knows if charity was ever distributed on the level it is now? But we also know that there is so much more that can be done.

If you want to merit a share in the Bais Hashem in your area, if you want to merit a Mishkon and a Mikdosh, you have to be a person of nedivus halev, thoughtful generosity. That comes by recognizing that all that we have is a gift and acknowledging that the Torah is made of halachos pertaining to bein adam lechaveiro, not only bein adam laMakom. We have to care about others. We have to seek to benefit fellow Yidden.

The Baal Shem Tov is quoted as saying, “It is worth living seventy-eighty years if only to do chesed with another Jew one time.”

As we study Parshas Terumah, we learn of the keruvim (Shemos 25:20), angels with cherubic faces of young children that were fashioned on top of the Aron. The keruvim were generally facing each other, but when the Jewish people didn’t act properly and sinned, the keruvim turned around and faced the wall of the Mishkon.

Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz explains that the optimal situation is when Jews face each other and care about one another. When a person turns away from others and doesn’t care about them, even if he is facing the holy wall of the Mishkon and working on his own avodah, Hashem sees him as a sinner.

A person who cares only about himself is unable to grow in Torah and have a proper relationship with Hashem. [See also Avodah Zorah 17b.]

The Chofetz Chaim turned to the Chazon Ish and said, “You should know that I am aware that were I to lock myself away and only study Torah, I would grow to much greater heights in Torah and avodas Hashem, but our task in this world is not to think only about ourselves. Man wasn’t created for himself, but rather to bring satisfaction to Hashem, who desires that we                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              help others. This is compounded when dealing with matters that affect the community.”

This is the way tzaddikim and good people conduct themselves.

Many years later, the Chazon Ish, already living in Bnei Brak, was raising money for an important cause. He asked a certain rov to visit a wealthy man in Tel Aviv to solicit a donation from him. The rov didn’t want to go and said, “An adam gadol is needed to explain the importance of this cause to him.”

The Chazon Ish wasn’t impressed with the excuse. He said to the rov, “How does a person become an adam gadol? When he succeeds in a mission such as this one.”

When we care about others and give of ourselves to help people, we grow, for by doing so, we are following the ways of Hashem, as the Rambam states in Hilchos Dei’os (Perek 1), “Mah hu nikra chanun af atah heyei chanun.” The most important thing we can do is help each other.

An adam gadol is one who understands priorities and acts upon them. MK Shlomo Lorencz was leaving on one of his many fundraising trips abroad and went to the Chazon Ish to bid farewell and ask if there was anything he needed done before he left. The Chazon Ish told him that there was a small yeshiva that was experiencing a specific problem. He asked Rabbi Lorencz to ensure that the issue was resolved before leaving.

Rabbi Lorencz asked what was so important about helping this small yeshiva. He wanted to know if there was something really important that had to be taken care of before he was to leave. Helping some tiny yeshiva he never even heard of didn’t seem to fit the bill.

The Chazon Ish told him, “Yeshivos are of utmost importance. What happens outside of yeshivos is of secondary consideration. Our main focus is on yeshivos, and not only large, famous yeshivos, but every yeshiva, even the smallest ones, even those that are taking their first baby steps, such as this one, which you never heard of. They are paramount, and it is worth devoting time and working to ensure that the issues are cleared up and the talmidim can enter their building and begin learning.”

Yeshivos, botei medrash and shuls are what we have today in place of the Mishkon and Mikdosh. We have to appreciate them and seek to spend time there engaged in Torah, tefillah and seeking to become closer to Hashem. We enter them with our small sparks of kedusha and the Shechinah, and we team up with the other people there and their sparks, together lighting a torch of kedusha that brings light to our lives and to the world.

And just as the Mikdosh, in its time, served as a location from where holiness spread out to Klal Yisroel, so too, great tzaddikim are able to accept Hashem’s influence, and from them it spreads to those who have properly prepared themselves to accept it.

[The Drashos HaRan (Drush 8) enhances this point and adds that the same applies to kevorim of tzaddikim, and it is for that reason that Chazal (Sotah 34b) advise to daven there. See also Oros HaGra page 226.]

As we study Parshas Terumah this week, let us delve beneath the surface and learn its lessons. As we learn the halachos pertaining to the construction of the Mishkon, let us feel its absence and strive to improve the way we conduct ourselves with each other. Let us seek to keep our sparks alive and work to be proper hosts for the Shechinah. Let us contribute to mikdoshei me’at we have been blessed with and appreciate that they are hosts for the Shechinah.

Let us appreciate the tzaddikim who live among us and the benefits they bring to the generation. Let us be close to them and support them, so that we may enjoy the kedusha that emanates from them.