Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Maybe, Maybe

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
It was back when the iron-horse railroad was coming to Russia and the transportation ministry planned to lay thousands of miles of track upon which trains would crisscross the giant country. When the plans were publicized, chassidim discovered that they called for a track directly over the kever of the Baal Hatanya. Alarmed, they sent a delegation to the minister of transportation and appealed to him.

They arrived for the meeting and pleaded their case. “Maybe you don’t appreciate what a rebbe means to us, so allow us to explain. He is more than a teacher and a guide. He represents life itself.”

The minister cut them off. “You don’t have to explain it to me. My brother and my father are religious. In fact, I was also religious until I was seventeen years old. I know what a rebbe is and what he means to you.”

The delegation was shocked and thought that they were about to catch a lucky break, but then the man continued talking.

“I was in yeshiva, when I decided that I wanted to join the Russian army. I became fixated with it. I didn’t want to give up religion; I just wanted to become a soldier. My father was worried that I would lose my connection to Yiddishkeit and begged me not to go, but nothing he said impressed me.

“My father was a Stoliner chossid. In a last-ditch effort, he asked me to go with him to the rebbe [Rav Shlomo Karliner, whose yahrtzeit was on Sunday]. I obliged. We entered the rebbe’s room. The rebbe appeared to be on fire, his face radiant and his eyes alight, totally connected to Hashem. The force of holiness was so strong that my father could not open his mouth to speak for the first few minutes. Finally, he gathered his courage and told the rebbe of my intentions to join the military, how I refused to listen, and his fears that I would become a goy.

“The rebbe’s face grew red, his countenance aflame, hot tears streaming down his face as he turned to me and begged, ‘Efsher doch, efsher doch. Maybe, maybe [you’ll change your mind].’

“I turned him down and went to the army, and as you see, I am so far gone, you didn’t dream that I knew what a rebbe is. I know the power of a rebbe, and every time I do an aveirah, those pleading words of the rebbe ring in my ears. ‘Efsher doch, efsher doch.’”

It’s the Three Weeks, the time we mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. We mourn that we are in golus. Our enemies gang up on us and we hear those words, “Efsher doch, efsher doch,” ringing in our ears. Maybe this will be the year we fix ourselves and make our way back.

Efsher doch, efsher doch. Maybe this will be the year we will be set free and get to go home. The sick will be healed, the abused comforted, and the homeless will be back at home in the land that is ours.

The posuk states, “Umikneh rav hayah livnei Gad velivnei Reuven” (Bamidbar 32:1). The children of shivtei Gad and Reuven did not want to join the rest of Klal Yisroel to continue on to Eretz Yisroel, the land they and their forefathers had been yearning to reach for hundreds of years. Why were they so connected to the land of Eiver HaYardein?

The rebbe of Peshischa interprets the words “mikneh rav” homiletically as a reference to the “kinyan” bond of these shevotim with their “rav,” their mentor and rebbi who had led them over the past few decades. They worried that in Eretz Yisroel, despite the opportunities for growth, they would be lacking the identity that comes with having a rebbi and would forget who they are and where they came from. They felt that since Moshe was buried in Eiver HaYardein, staying there would maintain their connection to who they are meant to be. Rightly or wrongly, they preferred being rooted outside the Promised Land to feeling rootless within the sacred embrace of Eretz Yisroel.

While some may not agree with the premise of the thought, it goes to the heart of the challenges we have faced throughout the long golus. People have found it difficult to remember who we are and where we come from, where we are headed and what our mission is. Sometimes, the stresses and distractions of everyday living threaten to overtake and engulf us and we forget.

Megillas Esther (2:5-6) introduces us to Mordechai by stating, “Ish yehudi haya b’Shushan habirah ushemo Mordechai ben Yair ben Shimi ben Kish ish Yemini. Asher hugla m’Yerushalayim. There was a Jewish man by the name of Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shimi, son of Kish, from the tribe of Binyomin (see Megillah 12b and Rashi), who had gone into exile from Yerushalayim.”

Who was he? A Jew, who followed in the ways of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, with the traditions of shevet Binyomin. He never forgot who he was. And he never forgot where he came from. He was an exile, a survivor of the churban, who longed to return home, no matter how comfortable his golus experience was.

Rav Michel Twerski told of a distinguished chassidic rebbetzin, a child of great tzaddikim, who was confused towards the end of her life. Once, when a hospital aide asked her for her name, the rebbetzin was experiencing a difficult moment. She replied, “I don’t know who I am anymore.” Then, she sat up straight and, with all her dignity, she continued, “But I do know whose I am.”

We go to Eretz Yisroel and traverse the Holy Land, tear kriah at the sites of the churban, stand at the Kosel and imagine what was and what will be, and daven at the kever of the avos, imahos and Rochel Imeinu. We feel their presence and beseech Hashem to help us in their merit. We walk on the derech ha’avos, where our forefathers trekked to Yerushalayim to be oleh regel and go to Shilo, the site of the Mishkon before the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh. And wherever we go, a chill runs down our spine. We feel connected to who we are and where we come from.

At great expense, people travel to the alter heim in the countries of Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Belarus, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia, Germany and elsewhere. They visit the old botei medrash, shuls, yeshivos and cemeteries to remember where they come from and what their mission is.

The struggle in golus is remembering who we are and hearing the call of “efsher doch,” reminding us that maybe we can find the way back to where we belong.

In the early nineteenth century, the government eased restrictions on Pressburg’s Jews, allowing them rights of residence. Many rejoiced, but the Chasam Sofer became worried. “Why is our Father making us more comfortable in an alien land? Why isn’t He making us welcome at home, in His house?” he asked.

Every year, as we bentch Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, the cheerful blessing generates bittersweet emotion. A new month usually brings smiles and hopes for a fresh start. But this Shabbos, as we recognize that a new month is about to dawn, the fact that it is Av, with its undertones of melancholy, causes our hearts to sink.

The period of national sadness begins on the 17th day of Tammuz, increases with the start of Chodesh Av, and peaks on Tisha B’Av.

Throughout our history, the first week of Av has seen wrenching, catastrophic events for the Jewish people. That legacy of sorrow and disaster continues. It’s a sadness shrouded in this rootlessness, a sense that things are not as they should be and we are not where we should be.

As we enter Chodesh Av, we wonder what we can do to reverse that cycle and when it will end.

Our search for a ray of hope begins with the awareness that the root of all our sadness and misery is the churban Bais Hamikdosh. We reflect on the Gemara in Maseches Yoma (9b) that teaches that the first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because we did not properly observe the halachos of avodah zora, gilui arayos and shefichas domim.

The Gemara says that at the time of the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdosh, the Jews were proficient in Torah and gemillus chassodim. What brought about that churban was sinas chinom.

We’ve heard it so many times, but apparently we need to continue hearing that since sinas chinom caused the churban, the final redemption cannot occur until we have all repented for that sin, cleansing ourselves of the senseless hatred that seems to accompany the Jewish people wherever we are.

The parshiyos that we lain this Shabbos, Mattos and Masei, are always read during the period of the Three Weeks. They deal with the connection of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel. We are connected to that land not only as a nation, but also as individuals.

Chodesh Av is about connection. It is about a relationship that was severed, to ultimately be renewed. We are working towards returning to our cheilek in Eretz Yisroel.

The parshiyos contain the seeds of our geulah; lessons for us to improve our behavior in golus in order to merit our share in Eretz Yisroel.

Parshas Mattos begins with the laws of nedorim and shavuos, different types of vows and promises a person makes, and the obligation “not to defile your words and to do whatever you said you would” (30:3).

In our society, words are cheap. They are thrown around aimlessly and carelessly, sometimes in a bid to impress and sometimes just to pass time. In the Twitter generation, everything is superficial, most of all words. They are conduits used to express thoughts and feelings that contain facile meaning and no depth. Little thought goes into what is said, or written, and therefore words carry no weight.

But we know that words are so much more than that. Words are life itself.

There was a time when people valued written and spoken words, when they perceived the inherent value of every utterance.

They were people of depth who appreciated the meaning of words. Their words carried weight, and were honored.

We are quickly losing that. In our society, words should have meaning. Meaning also has to have meaning. We should not be focusing on external values, such as financial worth, supposed status and impressions.  We must not be superficial. The world is too dangerous a place for us to act without information and without thought. Too often, we express opinions and act based on feelings and not facts, emotions and not intellect. To do so is folly and can have drastic consequences.

Words affect us and other people. To end the golus and help rebuild the Bais Hamikdosh, we should think before we speak and ensure that our speech is neither hurtful nor insulting.

Once, in midst of a telephone conversation with Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, the line was suddenly disconnected, another reality for those unfortunate souls in our federal correctional system. They wait on line for a chance to place a phone call, and then their connection to the outside world goes dead.

I felt bad for him and went back to what I was doing. For him, it was a bigger deal. The next day, we reconnected. He said that when the line went dead, he was very sad. “I was waiting to talk to you, and when I finally got through, you were gone and I was alone again.”

I asked how he gets over those feelings and remains in good spirits. He matter-of-factly responded, “When we got disconnected, I was sad, so I ran to my Gemara and began learning. Torah lifts me up. Learning Torah makes me happy.”

The power of words.

A man isolated from family and friends, deprived of a connection to his loved ones, Reb Sholom Mordechai is sad because of a conversation cut short. When cut off from those treasured words of love, he finds comfort in the holy words of the Torah and comes alive once again.

Words have the power to break and the power to repair. Words heal and words sicken. Words bring people together and words separate people. The words we use have lasting repercussions.

The Stoliner Rebbe’s efsher doch and the potency of his holy words live on.

And sometimes, when a tzaddik speaks, the inherent sincerity can melt a soul too. A young man, a child of Gerrer chassidim, survived the horrors of World War II with his body intact but his faith shattered. He was done with religion.

He became friendly with a girl he met and became engaged to her. He bumped into the man who had been his mashgiach when he was in yeshiva, the prominent Gerrer chossid, Rav God’l Eisner.

The former chossid informed the mashgiach that he was engaged and that the young woman wasn’t Jewish.

Rav God’l smiled and said to the survivor, “Mazel Tov. Wonderful.” He shook hands with the former student and then quietly, quickly added, “Ubber fort, ess past nist fahr ah Gerrer chossid. What you are planning to do is unbecoming for a Gerrer chossid.”

The words struck the young man’s heart with the force of a hammer’s blow. The words triggered introspection and with time he remembered who he was and where he came from.

As we complete the laining of the parshiyos this week, we exclaim together, “Chazak chazak venischazeik.” We cry out a resounding message to each other and to ourselves. We repeat a word that is laden with power: Chazak. Be strong.

With that, we complete another sefer in our march towards the Torah’s conclusion. We internalize the chapter of the Bnei Yisroel’s passage through the midbar and try to learn the lessons that this seder has presented, so that we may be strong and strengthened. We say chazak.

Study the words of the Torah and you will be strong. Share the words of the Torah and you will be strengthened. Say it together again and again. Appreciate the power of words and use them properly.

Make the ikkar the ikkar and the tofel the tofel. Remember what our priorities are. In every decision, as you contemplate your various considerations, remind yourself of your identity.

Efsher doch, efsher doch. May this be the year.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Let Us Make a Kiddush Hashem

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The Sefas Emes (Pinchos 5640 & 5663) writes that the reason Klal Yisroel was counted in Parshas Pinchos is because the parsha describes the changes that took place as Moshe Rabbeinu passed the leadership of the nation to Yehoshua, which, in effect, ended the period of the generation that had left Mitzrayim and the ascendency of the generation that was to inherit Eretz Yisroel.

The passing of Moshe Rabbeinu and the installation of Yehoshua was a turning point in our history. The hanhogah of Torah Shebiksav under the leadership of Moshe was ending to be replaced with the hanhogah of Torah Shebaal Peh under the leadership of Yehoshua. Moshe received the Torah from Hashem Himself, while Yehoshua received it from Moshe.
With this, we can understand the Gemara (Bava Basra 75a) that relates that the elders of that generation were upset when the mantle of leadership was given to Yehoshua. They said, “Pnei Moshe kifnei hachamah, Moshe’s face was like the sun, pnei Yehoshua kifnei levanah, but Yehoshua’s is like the moon. Oy le’oso bushah, oy lah le’oso klimah. What a shame. What a disgrace.”

Just as the light of the moon is a reflection of the sun’s light, Torah Shebaal Peh is the source light of Torah Shebiksav, because Torah Shebaal Peh is all derived from Torah Shebiksav. The elders of the dor hamidbar were upset with the change and diminution. “Oy,” they expressed their longing for the original light and the essence of Torah, not its reflection, as great and as powerful as it is.

Yehoshua was not as great as Moshe, but he dedicated his life to his rebbi and his teachings. The posuk in Shemos (33:11) testifies, “Yehoshua bin Nun naar lo yomish mitoch ha’ohel.” Though he may not have been the greatest scholar at the time, Yehoshua was constantly learning from - and serving - the rebbi of Klal Yisroel. It was because of this levanah-esque quality that he was appointed to lead following the passing of Moshe. 
Hashem called Yehoshua (Bamidbar 27:18), “ish asher ruach bo,” a man with spirit. Rashi explains that not only was he a person with “spirit,” but he also had the strength to withstand the “ruach,” the whims of others.

Yehoshua’s leadership emanated from his ability to ignore the naysayers and those who were diverging from the proper path. Because he had a strong inner spirit and was dedicated to the teachings of his rebbi, acting responsibly and forthrightly, he and Pinchos were elevated to high positions.
All of Am Yisroel saw Zimri commit his act, and not knowing how to react, they stood at the entrance of the Ohel Moed and cried (Bamidbar 25:6-7). However, when Pinchos witnessed the crime, he alone remembered the halacha and, with Moshe’s permission and mesirus nefesh, he arose from the crowd and did what had to be done. Thus ended the plague that had consumed 24,000 Jews. 

Pinchos earned eternal kehunah, leadership and life because he remembered what Moshe had taught and was prepared to sacrifice his life to fulfill his rebbi’s teaching and be mekadeish Sheim Shomayim.

Since the passing of Moshe, we have been experiencing a steadily diminishing essential light and need to acclimate ourselves to an increasingly dark reality. The light of the moon is not as illuminating as the light of the sun, but it does shine and light up the darkness of night, as do the leaders in golus who cleave to the rabbeim of the previous generation and the mesorah they transmitted to us.
Although we lost the sun of Torah Shebiksav and Moshe, we were still blessed with the sun of the Shechinah and kedusha as long as the Mishkon and Botei Mikdosh were with us. On Shivah Assar B’Tammuz, we commemorated the beginning of the process that led to the loss of the Shechinah’s earthly home, where our people experienced extraordinary miracles and brought korbanos to cleanse and purify themselves. With the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we lost the center of kedusha in our world. From that time onward, we have relied on less substantial replacements.

Since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we have been forced to find our way back to Hakadosh Boruch Hu without the benefit of the mizbei’ach and a korban. Klal Yisroel has since adapted to a world of hester, where Hashem’s presence is hidden from us.
With this in mind, we can appreciate the significance of the Torah’s declaration that as a reward for his single-minded act that succeeded in removing Hashem’s wrath, Pinchos earned the blessings of shalom and kehunah.

This is because the role of removing Hashem’s anger from Am Yisroel is the specific mission of the kohanim. By offering korbanos in the Bais Hamikdosh, they created harmony in the cosmos and shleimus in the world. Sin creates a division between the Jewish people and Hashem, while teshuvah and korbanos remove the division and bring the Creator and His nation back together.
The silence of the Bnei Yisroel in the face of Zimri’s deed spawned a plague. Twenty-four thousand died because no one protested Zimri’s act. Finally, Pinchos, acting in accordance with a halacha v’ein morin kein, jeopardized his life and future to stop the plague. By removing its cause, he reconnected the Bnei Yisroel with their Creator. The reward and result of his action was to be granted kehunah, because he had demonstrated that he was worthy of the sacred calling of those who repair the relationship between Hashem and His people.

Perhaps this is why this parsha is read each year at the onset of the Three Weeks. Although we no longer have the Bais Hamikdosh and we lack the avodah of the kohanim, we can learn from the example set by Pinchos.
Everyone is able to learn from the lone individual who stepped forth from the crowd and acted to remove the Divine wrath that has kept us in golus since the churban.

We have no shemesh, and sometimes it appears like we have no levanah. People despair because we are lacking illumination. But instead of complaining, we should learn from Yehoshua and keep our spirits awake, sensitive and attuned to opportunities to achieve great things, helping others beruchniyus and begashmiyus.

There are many opportunities to create a kiddush Hashem in a world full of the opposite. We can help build Torah and support lomdei Torah, who bring light to the world. We can help the poor and the abused, and work to achieve justice, as the posuk states, “Tzion bemishpot tipodeh.” At a time of negative publicity, we can work to conduct ourselves in a way that will cause others to remark how wonderful the ways of those who study and observe Torah are. 
Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandl, the famed Nitra rosh yeshiva and Holocaust hero, lost his wife and five children to the Nazis. After the war, he moved to America, remarried, and had five children. The bris of his fifth child born in America was understandably very emotional for him. As he spoke at that occasion, he quoted from the last piyut that is recited on Shabbos Parshas Poroh: “Vechol asher yeish bema’aloh yeish bematohbonim mul bonimkedoshim mul kedoshimmakdishim mul makdishimukedushah lekadosh meshalshim.”

What do those words mean?
Rav Weissmandl cried out with great emotion, “I had five children who were mekadeish Hashem. They are now in ma’alah. They died as kedoshim, who were mekadeish Hashem. I pray that just as those bonim died as kedoshim, mekadshei Hashem, the fifth child, for whom I have now merited to perform a bris, along with his siblings who are with us lematah, will be mul those who are lemaaloh.” 

He pleaded to merit children who are kedoshim, mekadshei Hashem with their lives, as the previous five were mekadeish Hashem with their deaths.

Following the recital of the aforementioned paragraph on Shabbos Parshas Poroh, the congregation and chazzan call out, “Nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom. We will sanctify the name of Hashem in our world the same way those who are now in Heaven sanctify it.”
Rav Weissmandl told his listeners, “Let us all cry out together, ‘Nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom.’ Let us all resolve to be mekadshei Hashem, to live lives of kiddush Hashem.”

That baby, who was named Menachem Meir, grew up to be the rov of the Nitra kehillah in Monsey, a well-known and admired rov who is mekadeish Hashem in all he does. I heard the story from him.
Not only Holocaust survivors, whose every mitzvah following that awful period was a kiddush Hashem, and not only their children have the ability and obligation to be mekadeish sheim Shomayim, but so do all of us.

One of the most enduring speeches of modern Jewish history was delivered by one of the clearest thinkers of the past century. Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s mission in life was to be a melamed, to set young bochurim on the path of understanding, appreciating and growing in Torah learning, as they made their journey through the yeshiva system. His clarity of mind and insightful analysis still light the way for new generations of lomdei Torah.
On Sunday afternoon, 11 Tammuz, July 6, 1941, Rav Elchonon was led to his death together with other gedolei Torah and ehrliche Yidden at Kovno’s infamous Ninth Fort. Rav Elchonon addressed those with him whom the Lithuanian Nazis had arrested, sharing poignant words that echo through time.

“It appears,” he said,that in Shomayim they consider us tzaddikim, because our bodies have been chosen to atone for Klal Yisroel. Therefore, we must immediately do teshuvah. We don’t have much time. The Ninth Fort is nearby. We will be better korbanos if we do a proper teshuvah, and that way we will be able to save the lives of our American brothers and sisters.
“Let us not have any machsheves pigul, foreign thoughts that could render an offering unfit. We will soon fulfill the greatest mitzvah of all. Yerushalayim was destroyed through fire, and in fire she will be rebuilt. The fire that consumes our bodies will one day rebuild the Jewish people.”

Rav Elchonon - described by an eyewitness as bearing the countenance of a “malach Elokim” - and the rest of the Jews were led to the Ninth Fort, where they were slaughtered in a hail of bullets. Their mesirus nefesh, their kiddush sheim Shomayim, and their becoming korbanos saved multitudes of other Jews from death. Like Pinchos of old, Rav Elchonon and the victims of the Kovno ghetto seized the moment to remove Hashem’s anger.
We are all familiar with the moving Chazal of how Yaakov Avinu elected to bury his wife Rochel alone on the side of the road, rather than in Chevron, alongside the other avos and imahos. His reasoning was that when her broken and devastated children would be exiled by Nevuzaradun, they would pass their mother’s kever. Passing her resting place, they would perhaps be uplifted. They would daven and cry out before her tomb, knowing that she would intercede on their behalf. Indeed, she would, as the posuk states, “Rochel mevakoh al boneha.”

Yaakov Avinu buried Rochel there, instead of alongside of him and her sister Leah, as well as with the other three couples in the Me’oras Hamachpeilah, so that she would be in position to help her children many years later. This message gave strength to those exiles, as a call to each of them to demonstrate self-sacrifice for the good of Klal Yisroel.
Rochel’s descendant, Esther Hamalkoh, sacrificed for her people. She forfeited her own olam hazeh, marrying a rasha to save her people. She was even prepared to die on their behalf, as she uttered, “Ka’asher ovadeti ovodeti.” As she entered the room of the hateful king, she whispered, “It’s not about me.”

Today, we need to seize these examples, finding ways to stand tall. We cannot be content when our brothers and sisters are suffering. We have to feel their pain and do something to alleviate it. We cannot be affected by the general apathy and negativity. We have to learn from the example of Pinchos, as studied in this week’s parsha.
As we experience the three weeks of churban, the words of Rav Weismmandl should resonate in our minds, prompting us to do what is right, even when it is uncomfortable. Remembering the tragedies that befell our people during these weeks reminds us of what we must do. Reading this week’s parsha empowers us, as it lays out our obligation, directing us with regard to what we must do if we want to remove Hashem’s wrath and achieve redemption.

Nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam kesheim shemakdishim osoh bishmei marom
Let us do what we can to bring the day closer when the weeks of mourning will become days of celebration with the arrival of Moshiach.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Who We Are

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The novi Yirmiyohu mourns, “Vayeitzei mibas Tzion kol hadarah… Her adversaries have become her master, her enemies are at ease, for Hashem has aggrieved her for her transgressions. 
Al eileh ani bochiya eini eini yorda moyim.

“Hashem is righteous. It is I who has disobeyed His words. Hear this all the nations and see my pain, as my youth has gone into captivity.” 
This week’s parsha is comprised of beautiful words uttered by Bilam the prophet. He had intended to attack and curse, yet from his mouth emanated poetic words of praise. When he beheld the splendor of Klal Yisroel, he found himself unable to curse them.
But this year, the words of Eicha seem more appropriate, as the week of Parshas Balak brings a torrent of criticism and mockery our way. Our community finds itself struck dumb, unable and unwelcome to offer answers and defense.

The “innocent until proven guilty” bedrock of democracy seems to have been swept away, as an entire town and way of life are being impugned. Suddenly, being a bigot and a racist, and attacking Jews, have become virtues. Old stereotypes are awakened and brought to the fore after lying dormant under the surface. 

We live in an era of fake news. We are apathetic when Donald Trump is the target, but when we are affected, we are pained and anxious, being bashed by people close and distant.

Tammuz and Av, the months of Jewish tragedy, have barely begun, and the whip is out. We are thrashed and trashed, and our boat rocks from side to side as storm winds blow. 
Certain siddurim include with the tefillah of Mussaf of Rosh Chodesh a special name of Hashem as revealed by the Arizal in pesukim corresponding to each of the twelve months. The sheim of the month of Tammuz is found in the words of Haman. In his angry rant against Mordechai, the wicked one stated, “Vechol zeh einenu shoveh li - This is all insufficient for me.” The final letters of the words in that statement are hey, vov, hey and yud, spelling out, in reverse, the name of Hashem.

Kabbalists explain that the name of Hashem that indicates the hanhogah of mercy is reversed this month because Rosh Chodesh Tammuz begins a season of din. Now is a time for us to bear down, daven, and seek zechuyos.
During Shacharis we ask Hashem, “Useneinu hayom uvechol yom ,” to grant us every day that we be viewed with kindness - chein, chesed and rachamim - by Hashem, as well as by all those who see us.

The request seems to be redundant. If we find favor in the eyes of G-d, then certainly people would also view us favorably, and even if they don’t, of what concern is it to us?
In the newly published siddur Shaarei Yecheskel, Rav Yecheskel Levenstein explains that from this tefillah we see that man is obligated to act in a way that ensures that his conduct elicits praise from man.

This is akin to Rebbi’s lesson that “the proper path for man is that which is honorable for himself and brings him honor from others” (Avos 2:1).
We are meant to be an honest, hardworking people. We are meant to be a G-d-fearing people, whose G-d abhors falseness of all types. We are prideful and self-sufficient, philanthropic, caring and sharing. 

That is who we are and what we are all about.
And yet, when the opportunity arises, the haters pounce to tar and feather the entire Torah community with a broad brush.

The tzaddikim, talmidei chachomim, people who study Torah lishmah, and those who leave the house at 5 a.m. and return at 10 p.m. to put bread on the table, pay tuition, cover their mortgage and shell out taxes are ignored as if they don’t exist. 
A city whose clock revolves around sidrei hayeshiva, the few square miles where more Torah is learned that anywhere else outside of Eretz Yisroel, the town of incredible tzedakah and myriad gemachim, from where so many wonderful seforim come forth, is darkened.

Kol amuh neenochim.” We are all pained. We are all suffering. We are all condemned. 
The Netziv writes in Bereishis (Harchev Dovor 47:28) that the main reason most of our existence has been spent in exile is, as explained by Hashem’s revelation to Avrohom (Bereishis 17:6), that his children are meant to be a light unto the nations. That is only possible if they are scattered among them.

Thus, he writes (Haamek Dovor, Bereishis 17:6) that Hashem’s brocha to Avrohom of “Vehifreisi oscha” is not referring to having plentiful offspring, because he had already been blessed with this. Rather, it refers to the fact that his grandchildren will spread around the world so that they will be able to increase knowledge and understanding everywhere. Our mandate is to illuminate the world for its inhabitants.

The Rambam writes (Hilchos Deios 1:7), “How does a person instill in himself the deios, proper thoughts and actions, which are incumbent upon us to follow? By acting upon these ideas repeatedly until they become implanted within him and they become like second nature and are performed without difficulty… This is called the derech Hashem, the path of Hashem, which was taught by Avrohom to his children, as the posuk says, ‘Lemaan asher yetzaveh es bonov v’es beiso acharov, veshomru derech Hashem la’asos tzedek umishpot. Avrohom commanded his children and those who follow them throughout the ages to be righteous and just.’”
The Rambam completes the thought: “And those who go in this path bring goodness and blessings to themselves, as the posuk states, ‘Lemaan hovi Hashem al Avrohom asher diber olov.’”

Despite the halacha of Eisov sonei leYaakov, we are to bring daas and chochmah to the amim. And what path are we meant to follow? That of tzedek and mishpot.
Doing so brings us what we need and deserve.

We all feel a familiar pride when our children point out that a cashier has given us extra change. We have had the opportunity to point out an error that would have benefitted our account to a bank teller and seen the look of amazement and gratitude wash over their faces.

That is who we are, and that is our role.
In times of challenge and constant questioning, the best response is to stand taller and prouder and more committed than ever to being an upright people.

In a time of weak leadership and failed spokesmen, we need to speak with actions and lead by example. We need to remain loyal to the teachings of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, Moshe and Aharon, Dovid and Shlomo, to never, ever, forget who we are and what we represent.

Bilam refers to himself as a “shesum ayin,” which literally means a person of good vision. Rashi explains that he was blind in one eye; the other eye compensated for the blindness and had very good vision.
Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa would say that man was endowed with two eyes so that he could reflect two parallel truths. With one eye, he views himself as a great being with much potential, as indicated by the statement, “Bishvili nivra ha’olam.” With the other, we are to view ourselves with great humility, as indicated by the posuk which states, “Ve’anochi afar va’eifer.”

Bilam’s failing was rooted in the fact that he had just one eye. He saw his own greatness, but he never contemplated that he was but a mortal, here on a mission, whose every breath is a gift from Heaven.
We are a people of two eyes and dual visions. We must never lose sight of our essence - afar va’eifer - and why we are here.

Bilam’s eye is always upon us. Ma’asei avos siman labonim. What happened once will happen again. Just as Bilam only gained respect for our people as he examined them, so may it be in our day.
Let us act in ways that allow people to see our kindness and respectfulness. Let us speak softly and properly with all. Let us extend common courtesy when driving, shopping and interacting with people in general.

Perhaps it’s time to consider hanging an American flag outside our homes on national holidays, demonstrating our patriotism and thanks to the country that has been more welcoming and kinder to us than any in our long history.
Rav Shlomo Freifeld was once being driven by a talmid in an old car. As the rosh yeshiva entered the car, the young man sought to cover a gaping hole in the seat, from which stuffing had poured out. He reached for the American flag he kept handy to cover and fill the hole.

Reb Shlomo lifted the flag and gently folded it. “Here,” he said. “This represents the country you live in. It is not meant to be used that way. Treat it with respect.”
Every year on July 4th, Rav Avrohom Pam would hang an American flag in front of his home. The story is told that one year, after he had become weak and unwell, a granddaughter arranged to have a date pick her up at the home of her grandparents. Since the date was set for July 4th, she asked her grandmother if she could convince Rav Pam not to hang the flag that year, since it was an “old-fashioned” thing to do and would cause her embarrassment.

Rebbetzin Pam assured her that since Rav Pam was not feeling well, he wouldn’t be hanging the flag that year and there was no reason for concern.
The boy came to the house and rang the bell. Rav Pam answered the door and welcomed the boy. Then he asked him for a favor. “Before going inside, would you mind helping me with something?” The boy was happy to oblige the rosh yeshiva.

Rav Pam brought the American flag, and the bochur proceeded to help him fly it like every year. Thanking the boy, Rav Pam remarked, “I have to show my hakoras hatov, even if I am not feeling well.”
That is who we are.

Hakadosh Boruch Hu set the path for us in golus. The avos expounded upon it. Chazal delineated how to deal with Rome and everyone else. Rishonim and Acharonim wrote extensively about it. Latter day gedolim who lived through pogroms, the worst anti-Semitism and the Holocaust paved the path for us through shmuessen and personal example.
We scramble. We try to catch our collective breaths and find the right words, yet we come up empty.

Perhaps now is not a time to speak. Maybe now is a time for quiet reflection. A time of vayidom Aharon.
It is a time to study and contemplate, resolve to review the laws and halachos, ponder our situation in golus, and endeavor to work to make ourselves better people and the world a better place. 

It is not a time for clever sound bites, but a time for returning to the basics and demonstrating through all of our actions and interactions what we really are and what we can really be. 
Bilam was engaged by Balak to curse the Jewish people, but he found himself unable to. He was only able to bless. Upon seeing Bilam’s ability to bless, Balak should have asked him to bless his nation Moav that they be able to overcome their enemies. Why did he continue to insist that Bilam curse the Jews?
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:19) states that students of Avrohom Avinu are recognized by their “ayin tovah,” while those who follow Bilam are recognized by their “ayin ra’ah.”
The mindset of Bilam - and generations of talmidim of Bilam, defined by the middah of ayin ra’ah - has always been to destroy. They don’t know another way. Blessing is anathema to them. They can’t build up their side. They can only destroy the other.
A follower of the Radomsker Rebbe had a financial dispute with a chossid of another rebbe. They tried to work it out, to no avail. The Radomsker chossid turned to his rebbe for help. He told the rebbe that he was very frightened. He said that the other litigant threatened that if he does not accede to his demands, his rebbe would curse him. The Radomsker chossid was in a panic.
The Radomsker Rebbe looked at him and said, “I don’t know how to curse, but I am a kohein and I can do something much more effective. I know how to bless!”

His response is essentially our legacy as talmidim of Avrohom.
There will always be those who see only the negative, who have just “one eye.” At times like these, they come out like earthworms after a heavy rain, shouting and condemning. We must use our eyes to see good, to focus on what we are doing right and build upon it as we rectify that which is lacking.
As Bilam rode to carry out Balak’s request to curse the Jews, his donkey, which was created at the beginning of time for this very purpose, sought to talk him out of it. Unfazed by the wonder of a donkey speaking, Bilam argued with the donkey, even as the animal increasingly mocked him with each exchange.
Rashi (Bamidbar 22:33) cites the Medrash (Tanchuma 9) which states that following the incident, the donkey died to spare Bilam the embarrassment of people pointing at the animal and saying, “That’s the donkey that rebuked its master.”
The mussar master Rav Avrohom Grodzensky pointed out that a good animal lost its life to protect the dignity of someone who was on his way to hurt Klal Yisroel. This serves to remind us that despite Bilam’s failings, he was a person, nivra b’tzelem, crafted in G-d’s image and thus deserving of respect.
All around us are human beings shenivre’u b’tzelem.
Everyone is worthy of respect.
Rav Avrohom Genechovsky, the Tchebiner rosh yeshiva, was known for his gaonus, tzidkus and exceptional respect for all people. One Motzoei Shabbos, a talmid went to the rosh yeshiva’s home for Havdalah. He saw seated there at the table a secular couple, the woman with her hair uncovered.
The talmid wondered how his rebbi would recite the brachos in front of her. Moments later, Rav Avrohom filled the becher and lifted it.
Then he intoned: “Before we sanctify the new week and part from Shabbos, let us turn to Yerushalayim, the holiest place.”
And with that, he turned his back on his company and began reciting Havdalah.
It is possible. We can stay focused on our lofty role and still respect those around us. We can live bigger and higher and be an ohr lagoyim.
There’s never been a better time to start, to get back to our mission and role.
Let’s do it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Rav Meir Zlotowitz: An Appreciation

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Often times there are certain people who come into your life seemingly by accident, and then they stay there and make a profound impact on you. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz and I made contact by phone back when I was starting out, and eventually we clicked, becoming very close. Rabbi Zlotowitz played a special role in my life. His loss is personal.
We read in this week’s parsha, “Vayiru kol ha’am ki gova Aharon” (Bamidbar 20:29). Moshe, Aharon and Elazar climbed Hor Hohor together. Aharon’s soul departed, and Moshe and Elazar returned to the encampment. 
Rashi explains that when the people saw Moshe and Elazar descend from the mountain without Aharon, they asked where he was. When told that he had passed away, they refused to accept the news. “It cannot be,” they cried. How could it be that Aharon had died?
Moshe pleaded for Divine mercy and the malochim showed the people the image of the mittah,” Aharon’s coffin, and only then did the people see and believe.
Ra’u vhe’eminu.
Rav Shmuel Berenbaum wondered how both terms can be used. Re’iyah means to see, to be able to perceive. Emunah means to believe even when you cannot see at all.
How can both be true?
The Mirrer rosh yeshiva explained that the people couldn’t conceive of the possibility that Aharon Hakohein, who had faced down the Malach Hamoves and stopped a plague, could have been defeated by the angel.
When they saw the image of the mittah, however, they finally believed that the inconceivable was reality. Aharon had left them.
It took the re’iyah for them to believe.
Motzoei Shabbos, as the news of Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz’s passing spread, many of us experienced a similar feeling. How can it be? The man of such energy, chiyus and action embodied life itself.
He was always in a perpetual state of motion, thinking, doing, talking, writing, communicating, producing, and flying back and forth to Eretz Yisroel. How could it be that he was suddenly niftar?
And then the news sunk in.
He was gone. A legend had passed.
He tread where no one had gone. The need was there, but nobody picked up on it. He published one book, a sefer in English on Megillas Esther, and with that he created and filled the need. He spent the rest of his life sensing needs and filling them.
The first book was printed as hakoras hatov to a dear departed friend. Perhaps as a reward for the great mitzvah of expressing hakoras hatov, he was rewarded with being the shliach to spawn a Torah revolution.
Many years ago, I helped him with something. He never forgot. He would often remind me of the favor and express his appreciation long after the statute of limitations had expired. It was embarrassing how thankful he was about it, but that’s how he was. He was fiercely loyal, a great friend whom you could always depend on for good advice, insightful banter, and, most importantly, old-fashioned friendship.
I would have loved to publish a few books over the years, but I never asked him, because that friendship was more important to me than anything, and I didn’t want him to think that it was a means to an end.
He insisted that I call him Uncle Meir, and I happily complied. It didn’t feel corny or trite. It felt right. To me, he was like a favorite uncle, who encourages and advises and is always there to share a laugh. He was a dear friend, a cherished mentor, and a loyal, passionate advocate. I shall miss him.
He enriched the lives of English-speaking Jews everywhere. He spawned entire genres that had never previously existed.
When he finished a major project, there was the thought, “Okay, he's done with that. Now what is he going to do?” And just when you thought that there were no new vistas to conquer, he proved you wrong.
Just this past Shabbos, I was learning the parsha in the Chumash Mikraos Gedolos he had published. You could be forgiven for thinking, “Why would he publish yet another Mikraos Gedolos? There are so many out there.” But just as his siddur changed the way people daven and many wouldn’t think of davening from anything else, as the ArtScroll siddur is the siddur in most every shul around the world, and just as his Chumash is the Chumash of choice wherever you go, that Mikraos Gedolos opens new vistas, and learning from it is a unique pleasure.
What he did for the siddur and Chumash, he did for Mishnayos, Gemara, Medrash and so many seforim. He used his crystal sharp mind to produce clean, neat, beautiful seforim, with just the right fonts and a perfect layout so that the words can jump off the page and into your heart.
There is an ArtScroll Chumash for students and for scholars, and a groundbreaking peirush on Mishnayos in English and Hebrew. There are siddurim with translations and without, and if you like the translation under the words, there’s such a siddur for you too, as well as one for beginners and those who have been davening for decades. There is a Tehillim for study, and for reciting, and there is even one in large type which makes it easier to reach out to Hashem. The Gemara was a revolution of its own. Now a standard wherever you go, the blue Schottenstein edition is as at home in Rav Elyashiv’s house as in a Satmar Bais Medrash.
He published biographies of great people as nobody else previously had. He produced novels and stories for kids, books of chizuk and inspiration, halacha seforim everyone could relate to, and peirushim on Chumash. He popularized the study and knowledge of Jewish history and thought, allowing generations to learn about and appreciate Yiddishkeit. For a good book, you didn’t have to go to the library anymore and the biographies you read weren’t limited to those of presidents and secular leaders. Look at your bookshelves and see how many ArtScroll books are there. Look at the variety and thank Rabbi Zlotowitz for making all that possible. And it’s not only ArtScroll books you have to thank him for. Because of him, the world of frum publishing is wide open, and there are many other publishing houses following the path he paved.
Before the light bulb lit up in his head, our world was poorer and darker. Books came out sporadically, and even then, they appealed to a limited audience.
He will be remembered as many things, gauged by his incredible impact. Who can even estimate how much Torah, halacha, and holy information and inspiration he unleashed?
But to me, it was much simpler than that.
Two years ago, we were both in Yerushalayim for Shavuos. I went to visit him at the Plaza Hotel, where he always stayed. We were sitting outside and it was boiling hot. The temperature was up in the nineties. I removed my jacket.
Uncle Meir looked at me pointedly. “You should wear a jacket no matter how hot it is, even if no one is around. My children have never seen me without a jacket and tie.”
I appreciated the comment, even the inherent mussar, because it was about so much more than it seemed. It wasn’t fashion advice. It was life advice.
Know what you represent, know what you are, and know what you can do.
As much as he was Klal Yisroel’s rebbi in Torah, he was a teacher in what it means to live a life fulfilling a shlichus, a sense of mission. He portrayed the gift of being able to understand and follow the messages sent from Heaven. He was all about hearing the call to action and coming forward.
He was larger than life, yet when you sat with him, he was the classic regular guy, enjoyable, pleasant, funny and normal.
The mission and ordinary life were one to him. He wasn’t heavy, grim and so focused that he was unable to see anything past his goal. Quite the opposite. He had a tremendous ayin tova for people doing something for the klal and for anyone who felt charged with a shlichus.
The jacket was a sign of the esteem he felt towards that shlichus. He had the vision and heart of a marbitz Torah within the cloak of prestige and professionalism of a corporate giant. He ran ArtScroll with precision and efficiency, but its core product was the Torah itself. His eyes lit up when he spoke about the exceptional talmidei chachomim on his staff, the writers and the editors, his kollel, as he liked to call it.
He hated the word “visionary,” preferring the storyline that he had simply taken the opportunity when it arose and never looked back. It wasn’t a plan. He was a young yeshivaman, a talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein who had a printing business. He made wedding invitations and brought joy to ba’alei simcha.
If ever the famous story with the Netziv is applicable, it is to Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz. The Netziv festively celebrated the printing of his sefer and recalled how close he had come to being a shoemaker. He described what his life might have looked like being an honest, decent shoemaker providing quality footwear to grateful customers, feeling like a success. And then, he imagined going up to Shomayim after 120 years and the Heavenly Court challenging him, “Where is the Meromei Sodeh? Where is the Ha’amek Shaila? Where are the classic seforim that you could have produced?” And he would have had no clue what they were talking about.
Reb Meir was that upstanding, respected invitation printer who was, by all accounts, a good Jew. And then, one day, he found out that he was destined for so much more. And he never forgot that. He spent the rest of his life on his Meromei Sodeh.
His jacket was always on, ready and waiting for marching orders, a shliach ready to act.
I remember a story he once told me.
It was the day of the horrific, shocking sentence of Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. We had been expecting a much lighter sentence, or a complete reprieve, and then the awful news of the cruel verdict came down.
We were numb. We had a rally planned for that night in Boro Park and didn’t know how to handle it. Amazingly, an estimated ten thousand people attended, joining to share the tza’ar and to daven. I was asked to speak, but I was literally at a loss as to what to say.
Reb Meir called me when he heard about the verdict. We discussed it a bit. I told him about the rally and that I would have to speak. “Let me tell you a fascinating story. Say it at the rally.” He told me a tale he’d heard from Rav Yaakov Eliezer Schwartzman about a bochur learning in Kletzk who went to ask his rosh yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler, for a brocha that he be found unfit for Russian military service.
He was panicking, and he told the rosh yeshiva that he was traveling to another town, an hour away, where he thought he might find documents that could help him avoid the forced conscription.
Rav Aharon gave him the brocha.
The next day, the bochur went to take the train to the other town. He had no clue what was awaiting him there. All he had was hope. As the train started steaming up and moving a bit, he looked out the window and saw Rav Aharon running frantically from car to car and banging on the windows. He was calling out, “Bochur’l, bochur’l, vu bist du? Where are you?”
The bochur opened his window and yelled out, “Rebbe, rebbe, vos iz? What is it?”
Rav Aharon shouted to him over the sounds of the train, the station and the people, “I just received a telegram that papers are waiting for you in the shtetel to which you are headed. Bochur’l, ihr zolt nit zorgen. Don’t be worried! Your papers are waiting for you.”
The train station was an hour away from the yeshiva. Rav Aharon had run for an hour to reach the station and then an hour back to the yeshiva to spare the bochur the uncertainty about what awaited him.
The papers were there, but Rav Aharon wanted the young man to know right away, so as to remove the pain and anxiety a bit sooner. He ran for an hour each way so that he could tell the bochur, “Bochur’l, ihr zolt nit zorgen.”
Sholom Mordechai,” I told the crowd that night, “ihr zolt nit zorgen. The yeshuah will come.” (May we indeed see it b’chush real soon.) That was the punch line, a hopeful message and word of chizuk provided by Rabbi Zlotowitz to Sholom Mordechai and the distraught people who had gathered.
A person who is meshameish talmidei chachomim has that sense of how to react as he knows what is suitable and proper. Reb Meir was a quintessential meshameish chachomim. His relationship with his rabbeim defined him. He spoke with Rav Dovid Feinstein shlit”a every day, sometimes more than once, and he traveled with the rosh yeshiva on summer vacation.
People speak of his charisma and the force of his personality. What drew others to him and what made time spent with him so pleasant was his genuineness. He saw himself as a regular person with a big shlichus, it never went to his head. He worked hard at keeping relationships real. Invariably, he was among the first, along with his wonderful wife, to show up to our simchos, a regular guy with all the time in the world to share in someone else’s joy. He was a friend to my children as well, always with a kind word, a nice thought, and a reason to smile and be optimistic. They felt close to him and appreciated his company.
For a time, his son and mine were in the same class at Mesivta of Long Beach. He would call regularly to let me know that his son had told him that my son was doing well. For years, he would ask about that son. “How’s he doing? How’s your son who was in Chaim Chaikel’s class? I have a special interest in him,” he would say. He had a rare sense of refinement and friendship. 
He loved a good joke and made those less accomplished than him feel like equals.
He figured out the crucial distinction between taking yourself seriously and taking what you represent seriously.
Once, several years ago, he called me.
“Pinny, you ruined my third shirt this year. It’s enough,” he said.
He explained, “I don’t like the ink you’re using for the Yated. It’s cheap and it comes off on my fingers and shirt. Change it.”
Then he said, “If it happens again, you’re paying for my dry cleaning,” and he burst out laughing.
That was Reb Meir – the demand for excellence and perfection in presenting Torah, the respect for those vehicles that reflected its ideology and truth, and the very human joke that followed.
We learn in this week’s parsha that when Aharon Hakohein died, “Vayivku oso kol bais Yisroel – All of Yisroel, men, women and children, mourned his passing” (Bamidbar 20:29).
Reb Meir, you made us better people. You brought us together because you lived bigger. You elevated us by making Torah accessible and beautiful, and connected us to its pages. You were a national treasure uniting us in the shared joy of Torah.
Yes, you were Uncle Meir, a dear friend with whom we laughed and cried. You were a student of the human condition and so greatly contributed to our world. You were a giant.
And so we weep, all of us, scholars and students, the erudite and the unlearned, adults and teenagers, baalei teshuva and FFBs. You gave us life itself.
Your name, Meir, means to illuminate. Meir, you showed us how a regular guy can light up the world with the light of Torah, clarity in halacha and hashkofah, the light of your smile and personality and kindness. Meir, you were brilliant in so many ways and used that brilliance to light up tens of thousands of lives.
A light has been extinguished.
Yehi zichro boruch.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Overcoming Human Nature

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It was, in a sense, the first gathering of the Bnei Yisroel, the twelve pillars of our nation surrounding the bedside of their father. Yaakov Avinu looked at each of his sons in turn, focusing on their gifts and challenges, studying their destiny, before bestowing the brachos and tefillos that would accompany them and their progeny for eternity.

Looking at Levi, Yaakov foresaw a road with some bumps, but one that climbed to the loftiest of callings, the right to serve in Hashem’s earthly home, standing guard over the Bais Hamikdosh and its sacred keilim.

But he also saw something else, the dark and turbulent events of this week’s parsha, the uprising of Korach and his people against the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Bekehalam al teichad kevodi. I want no part in it,” Yaakov Avinu pleaded. Therefore, Rashi tells us, Korach’s lineage is traced back to Levi, but not to Yaakov Avinu.

It’s puzzling. If Yaakov foresaw the incident, why did he not ask that there be no machlokes altogether? Why not daven that Hashem’s trusted messenger be untarnished by this rebellion? Why didn’t he daven that Klal Yisroel should not rise up against Moshe?

When his grandfather, Avrohom Avinu, sensed that Sedom was on the verge of destruction, he began to daven, as improbable as the chances were of there being many tzaddikim in Sedom in whose merit the city could be saved. Yet, his concern for all mankind led him to daven in a valiant attempt to prevent the judgment from being carried out. Why didn’t Yaakov attempt to use tefillah to try to prevent the ugly story from happening?

Perhaps the explanation is that at the root of the machlokes was jealousy. Korach was jealous of Moshe and Aharon, and he was upset that he wasn’t recognized for his greatness and given the position of leadership that he felt he deserved. Yaakov wanted it to be clear that this middah ra’ah was not traced back to him.

Jealousy is part of the teva with which Hashem created the world.

Back at the very onset of creation, the great luminaries, the sun and the moon, fell prey to jealousy. “Who will rule? Who will be bigger?” they questioned.

The upper waters and the lower waters got locked in an epic and enduring battle, each pining for Divine closeness at the expense of the other.

Jealousy is built into creation. It is part of human nature.

Kayin encountered Hevel and revealed the most basic human emotion.

Man ventured forth into the world, interacting with other humans, engaging in commerce and conversation, and there were always undertones of jealousy, competition and rivalry.

Perhaps we can say that Yaakov didn’t feel it proper to ask that Hashem change the teva ha’adam, as per the general rule that we are not mispallel to change teva (see Pachad Yitzchok, Rosh Hashanah, Ma’amarim 10 and 33). Additionally, Yaakov was the av who declared, “Katonti mikol hachassodim umikol ha’emes.” The Medrash Hagadol Toldos relates that Rabi Yanai said that a person should not stand in a dangerous place and say that a miracle will occur for him. Firstly, perhaps he won’t merit the miracle, and even if he does, it will diminish his zechuyos. Rabi Chonon adds that this is derived from Yaakov Avinu, who said, “Katonti mikol hachassodim umikol ha’emes.” w

Yaakov felt that it would be fruitless for him to daven to change the teva ha’odam. He felt that he could only daven that he shouldn’t be included in the rebellion that would ensue years later on account of jealousy, praying that the machlokes shouldn’t be traced back to him.

Human nature is not always what we want it to be. Ki yeitzer lev ha’adam ra mine’urav. It requires much work for man to break his inclinations and middos ra’os and make a mentch of himself.

It is the goal of the human experience to try to cultivate the G-dly and subjugate the animalistic tendencies that combine to make us what we are. Those whose lives follow Torah can subdue their base human inclinations, such as the trait of jealousy and the propensity for machlokes. Torah has the ability to cure man of pettiness and help him rise above societal ills.

Yaakov was an ish tom yosheiv ohalim. He was purified and cleansed by Torah and its mussar. Having devoted his energy and strength to rising above human frailties, he felt that the machlokes had no connection to him. He wanted to demonstrate that although teva dictates that human interactions lead people to be consumed by jealousy, the condition is not terminal, as one who is a yosheiv ohalim and works on himself to be subservient to the precepts of Torah until he becomes an ish tom, can win these battles and actually change his teva.

When Yaakov Avinu beheld Levi, he saw the unfortunate results of jealousy and rivalry, but he also saw something else: the lofty destiny of the shevet and the koach they possess to rise above it all. The fruition of this vision is found later in this week’s parsha.

The pesukim in perek 18 following the tragedy of Korach relate that Hakadosh Boruch Hu tells Aharon what to do to ensure that there won’t be another catastrophe such as the one that took place with Korach and his eidah. Hashem tells Aharon that he, the kohanim and shevet Levi, should be “shomer mishmeres” and then there will be no more “ketzef” on the Bnei Yisroel. The posuk explains that Hashem has separated the kohanim and Leviim from the Bnei Yisroel. They will not engage in everyday commerce with the rest of the Jews. They will perform their work in the Temple of Hashem. They will do the avodah in the Ohel Moed and will receive no nachalah, portion, in Eretz Yisroel. Hashem will be their cheilek and nachalah.

To understand the correlation, we examine the famous words of the Rambam at the end of Hilchos Shmittah V’Yovel (13:12-13). He explains that Levi did not receive any nachalah, because he was chosen to serve Hashem in the Mishkan to teach His righteous ways and laws to the rest of the people. Therefore, says the Rambam, they were separated - “huvdolu midarkei ha’olam.”

In other words, in order to ensure that there would never be another ketzef such as that which took place in the time of Korach, shevet Levi was separated and removed midarkei ha’olam, from the ways of the world. They didn’t engage in regular business and interactions, as others do, because to do so would once again cause them to become jealous and argumentative. To prevent them from reverting to the teva of man which leads to jealousy and rivalry, allowing human failings to manifest themselves and cause “ketzef,” they could no longer engage in the type of human interaction which exposes mortal weaknesses.

From that point forward, Levi would not be subject to these pressures, but would instead be dedicated fully to Hashem’s work. For the only way a person can overcome issues which lead to machlokes and bitterness is by dedicating himself to the avodah of Hashem, and rising above mundane everyday commerce. It is only by dedication to the precepts and teachings of the Torah in all we do that we are able to rise above the subliminal earthiness which seeks man’s downfall.

Thus, the Rambam states in the following halacha that this mode of life is not only reserved for kohanim and Leviim, but can be followed by anyone who sees the light and wishes to earn for himself a life of blessing and peace, walking a straight path and cleansing himself of human trivialities and foibles.

Korach was blinded and hindered by his negios. His desire for personal advancement grew out of his jealousy of Moshe and Aharon. He couldn’t rise above the teva. It seems strange to us, but he was able to convince all the great men of Klal Yisroel to join him in his rebellion. For it wasn’t only Korach who was consumed by jealousy, but others as well. They all wanted the “big job.” Their vision was hampered as well, and they were unable to perceive Moshe’s greatness. Jealousy so clouded their vision and dulled their senses that they were rendered unable to appreciate the significance of what happened to the meraglim, who had doubted Moshe. They weren’t able to rise above the teva of anoshim and thus brought ketzef upon themselves and others.

As we study the parsha, we have the benefit of hindsight, the clarity of Rashi’s lens, and the Rambam’s lucid perspective. We delve into the explanations of the tale and think about how such smart and righteous people could sin so terribly and err so badly. We learn the pesukim, the Rashis and the Rambam, and we resolve to become better bnei Torah, baalei mussar and anshei tom in order to rise above the middos ra’os that can bring down lesser men.

It is possible for a human being to rise to such heights at which he soars above agendas and pettiness, and his sole concern is for the will of the Ribbono Shel Olam and the good of His children. May we all merit to aspire to, and reach, that level.