Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Remembering Rav Aharon Leib zt”l

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such was his tremendous humility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a powerful message and what an important lesson.

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

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

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

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

Redemption

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It was with a certain sense of foreboding that I left my house for the airport last Tuesday night.

President Trump had announced that he was going to fulfill his campaign promise and recognize Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel on Wednesday. The Arab world was screaming bloody murder and Western Europe was cheering them on.

It does happen to be ludicrous that a Jewish country can’t do what every other country in the world does and decide where its capital is.

The seat of government is there, the parliament is there, the city has been the capital of the Jewish nation forever, yet the free world and the not-so-free world refuse to recognize an obvious fact. They are concerned about “peace” and the rights of a fictitious nomadic people relatively new to the area. They also don’t have any particular love for the Jewish people.

Along comes a straight-shooting president and calls a spade and a spade, a capital a capital, and the world threatens him and Israel.

Arabs and Palestinians promise a new intifada and the end of the peace process.

The intifada begins Wednesday, they announce. Little me lands in Israel on Wednesday. I wouldn’t think of cancelling the trip, but I was more apprehensive about it than usual.

I have faith in the Shomer Yisroel and know that everything that transpires in the world is caused by Him and no other, so I am in good hands and off I go.

The plane was packed with all types of Jews heading to the land of their forefathers, as if there is no world, no self-righteous indignant heads of state, and no bloodthirsty Arabs aiming for them.

Others can debate the finer points of Trump’s declaration, but to me it shows a leader who takes his position seriously, keeps his word, and is a genuine friend of the Jewish people. He is a straight talker and a straight shooter, and he sees things the way they are, not as a duplicitous politician, but as a person of considerable accomplishment.

No, I wasn’t invited to the White House Chanukah party, but facts are stubborn things, and it behooves us to acknowledge them and appreciate the historical significance of what happened.

We can quibble among ourselves whether the declaration is worth the risk of loss of Jewish life and other fine points, but as far as the president is concerned, he deserves our appreciation for being a friend of Israel and the Jewish people.

I sat awake a whole night on the plane, who can sleep when traveling to the land our grandparents dreamed of and wished they could see.

The trip was amazing and my goals were accomplished.

From the airport, I went to Rav Chaim Kanievsky and enjoyed an invigorating discussion. He also gave me several meaningful brachos and I left there with an extra bounce in my step. How blessed we are to have such a person living among us.

The Shuvu mission was in Bnei Brak, and I joined them for a short while before heading to Beit Shemesh and then Yerushalayim.

On the way, Mr. Trump’s speech played on the radio. There was a measure of comfort in hearing the US president acknowledging the truth about Yerushalayim, while the nations of the world refuse to recognize the simple fact that Yerushalayim has been at the center of Jewish life for thousands of years.

Long before anyone dreamed up the idea of a Palestinian people, and long before the Muslim religion was invented, there was Har Hamoriah at the center of everything.

It took guts to do what Trump did in a world of lies and threats. He stood up to them and provided a lesson for us. When we are right, even if threatened and mocked, we should ignore the scoffers and, having carefully assessed the dangers, move ahead and carry on with the truth on our side.

I comfort those of you who worry that I have become a partisan secular Zionist. Your fear is misplaced. I am simply acknowledging a historic fact, without delving into hashkafic or philosophic connotations.

It is said that when the Chazon Ish saw a beautiful flower, he quickly turned away. He would say that if he concentrated on its beauty much longer, he would faint from overwhelming emotion. He would be reminded that Hashem created a beautiful world for us, and the intricate beauty of a colorful flower was created to cause us joy. The Chazon Ish would be overwhelmed when he would contemplate all that Hashem does for us.

On Thursday, I headed for Naharia, with a stop in Zichron Yaakov. Walking through the breathtakingly gorgeous Ramat Hanadiv botanical park there, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of creation.

While far from being as sensitive and holy as the Chazon Ish, when visiting the park it is easy to be reminded of Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s manifold chassodim.

We continued on to Naharia for an audience with Rav Dovid Abuchatzeira, whose warmth and concern for other Jews is as overwhelming as his abilities to help people in need. Visiting him is always a chizuk and this time was no different.

The trip back to Yerushalayim was uneventful, and we headed straight for the Kosel. It was disheartening to go through the “bitachon gate,” and noticing that the area was basically empty but for a few intrepid souls. People were scared off by fears that Arabs would cause trouble in the Old City and had stayed home. Had I been paying attention to the news, perhaps I wouldn’t have been there either.

In fact, there was no reason to fear. The Arab threats did not materialize and the area was calm as could be. Those of us who were there had a view of the Kosel rarely seen, as the Arabs turned off the lights of their mosque on the Har Habayis to protest the president’s remarks. It was nice to come to the Kosel and, for once, not have to view the symbol of their tumah.

As time went on, people began coming. Rav Yaakov Ades arrived and began putting together a minyan for Maariv. While the quiet there was upsetting, it had a side benefit of allowing for easier concentration on tefillos at the makom haMikdosh from where the Shechinah never departed.

After a walk through Geulah and the purchase of food, it was time for some sleep. Friday, it was back to the Geulah/Meah Shearim area. I love to be there when chadorim empty out and I get to see the charming children of Yerushalayim running through the streets with their peyos flying and parsha sheets flapping. The sight is almost as beautiful as the flowers that caused the Chazon Ish to be overcome. These children represent the past and the future of Yiddishkeit, and embody the charm of the Jewish people.

Traffic in Yerushalayim was minimal, as people from other parts of the country who normally come to the city were scared away by a media seeking to report on protests and attacks as the Shomer Yisroel protected His people.

We let a taxi driver convince us to go to Kever Rochel for Mincha. He said that the roads were safe, and that with the reduced traffic, we’d be there in ten minutes. The kever was guarded by a dozen soldiers, as Arabs in Bais Lechem took to the streets to throw stones and burn garbage and tires. As we arrived, we heard gunshots and saw clouds of smoke right past the kever. There were many policemen and soldiers, who told us that they had shot rubber bullets and tear gas to keep marauders away from the Kever Rochel area.

It was special to daven Mincha and say Tehillim under such conditions at the location where Mama Rochel cries for her children.

There is nothing in the world like a Shabbos in Yerushalayim. I am thankful that Hashem allowed me to have that experience once again.

It was gratifying to spend over an hour with Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva. A rebbi to many and author of classic seforim, his warm welcome and humility match his brilliance in all areas of Torah. We discussed personal and communal issues, as well as topics pertaining to Chanukah. Being with him was heartwarming, inspirational and invigorating.

And then, before I knew it, I was back in Monsey, trying to eternalize the lessons learned.

I am reminded that the Chofetz Chaim said that before Moshiach’s arrival, chizuk and encouragement for Torah would decline. He said that there would be a few resolute individuals who would fight lonely battles.

He foretold that while they might be few, they would be proud and effective.

Every individual has the ability to grasp an ideal and stand tall in its defense. We all have a singular mission in life, and if we are true to our core, we can summon the strength to realize it. We must never lose sight of what our ultimate goal is, despite all the noise and static seeking to steal our attention. Challenges confront us, but we possess the ability to surmount them.

It is as true today as it was thousands of years ago, when the Chashmonaim confronted the masses to fight with dignity and pride in defense of Torah and mesorah.

On Chanukah, we celebrate the Chashmonaim and their mesirus nefesh for kedusha. The light source of the nation was blocked, and they rose to throw off the forces of darkness. They were the me’atim, the tzaddikim, the tehorim, the people who performed Hashem’s service in the Bais Hamikdosh and in the bais medrash.

The miracle of Chanukah that we celebrate is primarily that of the tiny flask that burned longer than was thought to be physically possible. The menorah’s lights signify that the power of light overcame the power of darkness. The oil lasting longer than one day signifies that if you expend the effort and work bemesirus nefesh, physical rules will not apply.

We see wrongs in our world and are told that there is nothing we can do about it. We try to right the wrongs and are mocked. Yet, in fact, if you look around, there are so many people who overcame odds, building Torah where no one thought it was possible, restoring lives others had given up on, and fighting abuse that people thought was part of life. We see teachers touching souls and impacting them forever. We see righteous men and women not taking no for an answer, standing up to an apathetic society, and awakening people’s consciences. We see people rallying to fight for those who have been wronged.

A delegation once traveled to St. Petersburg to meet with the Russian minister of education in an attempt to convince him to revoke a decree that would have terribly impacted yeshivos. Upon arrival in the Russian capital city, the participants met with the local rov, Rav Yitzchok Blazer, to discuss tactics they would employ to underscore the importance of Torah to the minister. Someone suggested translating the words of the tefillah of Ahavah Rabbah for the minister, to demonstrate the depth of love for Torah. Rav Blazer replied, “If we would translate those words for ourselves, we wouldn’t need to do so for them.”

We daven three times every day, but we don’t necessarily take the words to heart. We learn the story and halachos of Chanukah, but we have to recognize their relevance to us and our daily lives. The inspiration is there for those who seek it.

If each of us would internalize the lesson of the Chashmonaim, we could free ourselves from much oppression.

It is because of such people that we can learn and daven. It is because of the mesirus nefesh of people who went forth into an eretz lo zorua that Torah and Yiddishkeit are stronger than ever. It is because of their dedication that we can publicly light the menorah with pride, without fear of our neighbors.

There are ten middos of hanhogah in this world. These fundamental metrics of energy drive the universe.

The Arizal discusses the idea that each of the middos corresponds to a different Yom Tov. The middah of hod, he reveals, relates to Chanukah. Hod relates to the middah that defines the ability of the Jew to allow the Divine light to shine through him, submitting to a higher calling. His own essence is but a vehicle to bring honor to his Maker.

The middah of hod, Divine splendor, is mirrored in man’s ability to allow his personal splendor, referred to as his penimiyus, to shine through. Those who are thankful of Hashem’s gifts and act according to His wishes, practice hoda’ah and are capable of allowing the middah of hod to reflect through their being.

Hod is the middah of Chanukah, a Yom Tov of hallel vehoda’ah, when we ponder and appreciate the myriad chassodim of the Ribbono Shel Olam as we contemplate the lights of the menorah.

Let us all appreciate the gifts we have and let us seek to let the middah of hod shine through us, brightening the world with the light of Torah and splendor of those who follow its ways. The world will be a better place and that much closer to redemption with the coming of Moshiach. May it be soon.

Ah freilichen Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Focus on Success

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In this week’s parsha of Vayeishev, we read of the travails of Yosef, Yaakov’s favorite son, the one whose life most closely followed the pattern of Yaakov’s. Hounded by brothers who wanted to kill him, forced to run away, held against their will, Yaakov by Lovon and Yosef in captivity, the list of comparisons is quite long.

Yaakov’s dedication to his mission of raising twelve shevotim empowered him to persevere despite his many travails. From the day he left the home of his parents, he remained focused on his goal of perpetuating the mesorah he had been handed by his father, Yitzchok, and his grandfather, Avrohom.

The posuk (Bereishis 37:9-11) states that Yosef told his father and brothers of his dream in which the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed to him. Yaakov scolded him for seeming to foretell that they would bow to him. The brothers were furious at Yosef, but Yaakov “shomar es hadovor,” waited to see when the dream would be realized.

The brothers despised Yosef and let their bias affect their thinking. They scoffed at the dream and mocked Yosef for repeating it. Yaakov, displaying his middah of constant focus on his goal and mission, “shomar es hadovor,” paid attention to the dream and anticipated watching it play out.

As we go through life, there are many ups and downs. There are things that go our way and things that don’t. There are friends who stand by us and some who hinder us. There are health issues that crop up and challenges of a financial nature. Small people become deterred and thrown off course, while great people never permit anything to disturb their concentration and focus.

Listen to people who have accomplished things in life and you will hear tales of dreamers who wouldn’t let naysayers talk ‘sense’ into them. Listen to people who have accomplished much and you will hear how they responded to their “hair will grow on my palm before that happens” moment. War, hunger and pestilence could not take their eyes off the prize that awaited them for continuing to pursue their goal. And nothing should deter us from realizing ours.

Yaakov saw in Yosef the attributes that would make him the one who would carry on the mesorah. The posuk (37:3) explains Yaakov’s affection for Yosef: “ki ven zekunim hu lo.” Onkelos says that it means that Yaakov saw intelligence in his son. The Ramban explains that Yaakov taught him everything he learned at the feet of Sheim and Eiver. By the time Yosef was sold into captivity, he was versed in all of Torah, with wisdom way beyond his years.

This, says the Alter of Kelm, is what is meant by “v’oviv shomar es hadovor.” Yaakov waited to see how his plan for Yosef to transmit his Torah to future generations would play out.

The brothers were selling a young boy to a traveling tribe, thinking that they would be done with him. Yaakov, however, though he accepted the tale that Yosef had been killed, watched to see how his plan for the future would unfold.

In fact, as Yosef was repeatedly tested in Mitzrayim, he withstood every temptation and remained loyal to his mission as the “ben zekunim,” because the image of his father appeared before him (Sotah 36b, quoted by Rashi 39:10).

While commonly understood as meaning that he was reminded of his father, perhaps we can explain that he was reminded of his mission to perpetuate the teachings of his father. He remained focused on what his mission in life was, and therefore wasn’t thrown off track by what came his way.

The parsha, in discussing the saga of Yosef, relates how he was sold into Egyptian slavery. The posuk (39:2) then tells us that Yosef was a very successful person: “Vayehi ish matzliach.” If you were asked to describe a young man hated by his siblings who attempted to kill him and sold him to a group of vagabonds who sold him as a slave, would you call him a success?

To all outward appearances, Yosef was anything but a success. He was a lonely slave in a strange land with no home. Why does the Torah describe him as an “ish matzliach”?

I was discussing this with my dear friend, Shalom Mordechai ben Rivka Rubashkin, this past Motzoei Shabbos, and he suggested an answer quite fitting for him and the way he lives his life in the place Hashem has put him in.

Shalom Mordechai said that the answer lies in the beginning of that same posuk: “Vayehi Hashem es Yosef, vayehi ish matzliach, vayehi b’vais adonav haMitzri.” Yosef was with Hashem even as he slaved in his master’s house. The reason he was termed a success was because he stayed loyal to Hashem.

We attach success to physical accomplishments. If a person is wealthy, he’s referred to as a success. If he has a good business, a nice house and car, a good wife and children, then he’s successful. Here the Torah is teaching us that to be a success, a person must remain loyal to Hashem – and, if we may add, loyal to his mission in life.

Yosef was an ish matzliach and blessed because he didn’t permit his surroundings and situation to affect him, his identity and his mission. By any other definition, a lonely young slave is an abject failure, but not by the value system of the Torah.

Shalom Mordechai is locked away with the worst criminals, but he grows daily in Torah and emunah and bitachon. He prays that every day will be his last in that place, and Jews around the world pray with him that he merit a quick redemption.

Our situations are nowhere as extreme as his, and it is much easier for us to maintain our commitment to Hashem and His Torah. It is easier for us to remain focused on achieving success.

Temptations and nisyonos abound. We live in a time of moral depravity and laziness. We have to keep them at bay. Yaakov and Yosef paved the way for us to succeed in golus, remaining optimistic about the future and focusing on the real goal.

We can do it. We can all do it. We can all succeed. We can each be a success story.

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and former chief rabbi of the State of Israel, told me that he once met Cuban President Fidel Castro at the United Nations. Castro mentioned to Rabbi Lau that he had read his story and knew about his fascinating history. Rabbi Lau’s brother snuck him into the Buchenwald concentration camp as a young child and kept him alive there by hiding him under a bed and feeding him scraps. Castro recalled the story of his miraculous deliverance from the gehennom of the concentration camps.

“But I have one question,” said Castro. “How was it that after all you went through, you didn’t give it up? How did you not abandon your religion? Not only did you keep your religion, but you became a rabbi. What was the force that kept you going? What is your secret?”

Rabbi Lau told the communist ruler, “I descend from a line of 37 generations of rabbis. I wasn’t going to be the one to break that chain.”

It takes tremendous fortitude to hold on to a legacy in the face of severe hardship and adversity. We should never go through what Rabbi Lau endured, and we should never know of such evil and pain. But we must ensure that no matter what challenges life hurls at us, we will remain determined enough and strong enough to keep that chain going.

Every Jew forges his own link in the chain of generations that stretches back to Har Sinai. It is our duty to keep our link strong and durable, capable of weathering the pressures and the pitfalls of modern life.

We are descendants of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. We descend from great, smart and strong people. Our forebears struggled through anti-Semitism, pogroms, blood libels, holocausts, churbanos worse than anything we can imagine, and the most awful deprivations known to man. They had few physical possessions, small dwelling places, no heat in the winter and no air conditioning during the summer, and no running water or electricity, yet each one was a success. Each one had a mission and lived their life by it. They all lived so that we could live, so that we could succeed, so we could prepare the world for the next generation and for Moshiach.

Let’s focus on success!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Book with the Answers

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

People have many questions and don’t know where to go for answers. In truth, the answers are ever-present in the words of the Torah. So many of our questions are answered in the parshiyos of Bereishis, which we are currently studying. If we study them properly, it can help us navigate our daily lives. When we are at a loss as to which way to proceed, the Torah provides us direction.

The Ponovezher Rov, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, was on his first fundraising trip to the United States. He was riding alone on the New York City subway, going to an evening appointment, when he noticed a group of people who were up to no good. They were eying him as an easy target and drawing closer. He stood no chance against them and began to think of an escape plan.

He took out a piece of paper with the address of his destination scrawled on it and showed it to the group. “Which stop do I get off to go here?” he asked them.

The ruffians were thrilled to be of help. It would be much easier to hold the man outside on a dark street than in the lighted, occupied subway train.

“Get off with us,” they responded. “We are also going there.”

The train stopped and the rov let them exit first. He moved as if he was going to follow them off the train, but he was purposely too slow and the doors closed. He was safe.

When the rov recounted his tale of salvation, the person he was talking to marveled at his on-the-spot brilliance.

“Please,” said the rov, who was known for his genius. “I got the idea from the pesukim in Parshas Vayishlach (33:12-14), which state that when Eisov suggested to Yaakov that they travel together, ‘nisah veneileicha,’ Yaakov responded, ‘No, it’s fine. Yaavor na adoni lifnei avdo.’

“Yaakov told Eisov to go before him with his gang and he would slowly follow. It’s a befeirushe posuk!”

The answers to the questions are in the Torah.

In 1933, when Hitler became Germany’s chancellor, one of the roshei yeshiva in Radin asked the Chofetz Chaim whether the madman would succeed in his stated mission to wipe the Jewish people off the map.

The Chofetz Chaim responded with a posuk from this week’s parsha. He said that no one will ever be able to kill all the Jews, as the posuk (32:9) states, “Im yavo Eisov el hamachaneh ha’achas vehikohu vehaya hamachaneh hanishor lifleitah - Were Eisov to succeed in wiping out one camp, there will be another that will survive.”

“Nobody was ever able to kill all the Jews, and no one will ever be able to,” said the Chofetz Chaim.

The man asking the question was frightened by the response. “And if this murderer will be able to destroy European Jewry, who will remain?” he asked.

The Chofetz Chaim responded again with a posuk (Ovadiah 1:17): “Ubehar Tzion tihiyeh pleitah vehaya kodesh - Eretz Yisroel will be a place of refuge.”

The answers to the questions are in the Torah.

The immortal words of the parsha (32:25), “Vayivoseir Yaakov levado vayei’aveik ish imo,” ring with special urgency in our own times. “Yaakov was left alone and a man came to do battle with him.”

Chazal explain that “the man” referred to in the posuk was the angel of Eisov. Unable to defeat Yaakov, the malach struck Yaakov and hurt him. The angel left, but not before blessing Yaakov, saying, “Your name will no longer be Yaakov. It will be Yisroel, for you were able to do battle with angels and man and prevailed.”

Levado. Our legacy, handed down by Yaakov, is to be alone. Halacha hi beyodua she’Eisov sonei l’Yaakov. It is an irrevocable force built into the natural order that the Jewish people are hated. The nations of the world and the forces of evil will be forever locked in battle with us.

All through the ages, wherever Jews have found themselves, they have been hounded. Through the merit of our forefather Yaakov, as long as we were true to the mission of Yisroel, we were spared. Though battered and bruised, as was Yaakov, we have remained standing long after those who fought Eisov’s battles in each generation disappeared from the scene.

In the darkness of golus, men of faith stand out as lonely beacons of light and hope. Remaining loyal to the Torah in a degenerate world is not easy. We are always on the defensive. Sometimes Eisov appears in the guise of a well-meaning brother trying to help us. He tells us to make compromises so that we can advance our causes. He tells us to sacrifice our principles and bend the rules in order to get ahead.

We have to be prepared to do battle with him and his ilk. This means being prepared to be lonely, unpopular and unloved. They speak of love and paint us as creatures of hate. They speak of peace and acceptance, and define us as spiteful non-progressives.

Take the example of the promoters of Open Orthodoxy, though they are not the only deviants from Torah and mesorah.

People said that no person or shul that calls itself Orthodox could ever do it, but they have done it repeatedly.

Recently, two Open Orthodox shuls wished mazel tov to people who underwent unconventional marriage ceremonies. Here is what happened.

Congregation B’nai David-Judea of Los Angeles is led by a male Open Orthodox rabbi, Yosef Kanefesky, and a female “rabbanit,” Alissa Thomas-Newborn, the latter of whom was given semicha at Avi Weiss’ Yeshivat Maharat.

Kanefsky’s bio gives a sense of his Open Orthodox orientation:

He helped to introduce changes in synagogue ritual and leadership to enhance the role of women, and most recently guided the congregation through hiring its first female clergy member.”

Kanefsky wrote two articles in 2011 that argued against the recitation of the morning brachos of shelo asani isha and shelo asani goy, in which he provided what he called a halachic loophole that would enable people to avoid saying these brachos. The fact that these brachos are required by the Shulchan Aruch does not seem to matter to Kanefsky.

“Rabbanit” Newborn is basically Kanefsky’s assistant rabbi, who recites Kiddush for the congregation on Shabbosos when Kanefsky is away, among other tasks.

B’nai David-Judea’s weekly bulletin for Shabbos Parshas Vayeira, 2017, wished mazel tov upon the birth of a baby to a couple who have an unconventional marriage. Despite the halachic and hashkafic violation involved, B’nai David-Judea celebrates it.

Then, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR) wished mazel tov for another such unconventional wedding, as featured in the HIR weekly bulletin of Shabbos Parshas Vayeira, 2017.

The regular clergy at HIR, the Open Orthodox congregation founded by Avi Weiss, who is now semi-retired and is currently listed as “rabbi-in-residence,” are two males who were ordained by Weiss at his Open Orthodox seminary, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), and by two females who were ordained at his Yeshivat Maharat.

HIR has previously been featured in the Yated for many of its outrageous deviations from halacha and tradition. A case in point is its annual Martin Luther King Day concert, where a church choir, garbed in church robes, sings gospel music in the HIR sanctuary in front of the aron kodesh. Some of the songs are solos performed by female church choir members, some of the songs are sung by the church’s pastor, Rev. Roger Hambrick, and some of the songs are led by Avi Weiss with the pastor and the church choir. This desecration has gone on for years, and no one from the Orthodox establishment besides this newspaper has really condemned it.

This past summer, HIR’s weekly bulletin for Shabbos Parshas Ki Seitzei, 2017, included an announcement that extended mazel tov wishes to an HIR couple for their son being married in an unconventional union.

The posuk refers to it as toieva, an abomination, yet they celebrate it.

At the Agudah Convention, the Novominsker Rebbe addressed the scourge of “the new plague called Open Orthodoxy,” which represents the “corruption of Torah ideals, Mesoras avoseinu and downright apikorsus.” He drew attention to the Mazel Tov announcement on the engagement of two men in the synagogue bulletin.

He warned that “the soton – and he’s standing next to everybody - comes sometimes with reasonable sympathetic arguments in the name of fairness, equality, enlightenment and being good natured and accepting and before you know it – if you are not on guard with strong Torah ideals - you can fall into his trap.”

Despite the disgrace, no one else has said a word publicly, other than the new TORA Rabbis organization, which issued a November 16 “Statement on Synagogue Acknowledgment of Forbidden Unions,” which read in part:

We call upon spiritual and lay leaders and members of the public of respective synagogues not to congratulate or celebrate, whether orally or in writing, those celebrating life cycle events in violation of Jewish law, included but not limited to halakhically prohibited marriages… celebrations held in blatant violation of Shabbat or kashrut laws, or any other event that publicly proclaims opposition to Jewish law…

“When there are events we cannot condone, it is not out of contempt or disrespect, but rather out of a firm commitment to the Torah, its values and its worldview, which requires us all to submit to the Torah even when doing so is difficult or inexpedient.

“We call upon all Jews to reaffirm the immutable character of the Torah’s value…and proclaim that to celebrate events that publicly flout Torah law is itself a violation. Within the confines of Jewish law, we recommit to making our synagogues and other Orthodox institutions sacred spaces where all can seek the wisdom of the Torah, the guidance of its teachers and the inspiration from the fulfillment of its precepts and the internalization of its values.”

More voices are needed to condemn these Open Orthodox shuls.

It is not only about female clergy. It is not only about changing brachos and violating the Shulchan Aruch. It is, rather, about a rejection of the values of the Torah and the authority of chachmei haTorah. It is about a rejection of all that Torah Judaism stands for.

What more will it take for us to recognize that there is nothing Orthodox about Open Orthodoxy?

We sit complacently, thinking that their deviation will never affect “us,” but as many have found out already, if we sit quietly and don’t expose these people for what they are, an Open Orthodox rabbi may be coming soon to a shul near you and bringing this brand of Judaism to your door.

Levado. We have to remain separate from them and continue reminding Torah Jews that they represent a growing danger to Judaism. We must not permit them to distort our religion and openly defy Torah and halacha.

People who celebrate actions the Torah refers to as disgusting are abhorrent. We pray that they reconnect with the veracity of the pesukim of the Torah and reunify with those for whom Shulchan Aruch is the guide.

The opening to Parshas Vayishlach tells us about the malochim sent by Yaakov. Rashi teaches that the messengers sent by Yaakov to scout his brother were malochim mamosh, angels. What was it about this mission that could not be carried out by men and required angels?

Why did Yaakov immediately assume that there was malice in the heart of his approaching brother? How did he know that Eisov intended to harm him? Perhaps upon hearing that his brother was returning home after having done well, he wanted to greet him and express his love.

The Baal Haturim in Parshas Toldos (25:25) states that the numerical equivalent of Eisov is shalom, peace. Perhaps we can understand the gematria as teaching that Eisov oftentimes presents himself as a progressive man of peace. He seeks peace and walks in peace, and all he does is motivated by a desire to spread peace and love.

Yaakov feared that if he would send humans to explore his brother’s intentions, they would be fooled by Eisov’s appearance and comforted with the belief that he seeks a peaceful existence with Yaakov.

When he was informed that Eisov was on the way, Yaakov sensed that he was in danger. The Torah doesn’t recount that the malochim warned Yaakov that Eisov was planning to do battle. It only says that he was on his way. But Yaakov understood that if Eisov was coming towards him, it could only mean trouble.

The wicked adopt the posture of Eisov, portraying themselves as calm intellectuals. As they promote their agendas, they slam us for deviating from the modern, liberal, progressive outlook.

The Bnei Yisroel though, have always opted for the emes of Yaakov, stating the facts as they are and accepting the ramifications.

The novi Michah said (7:20), “Titein emes l’Yaakov.” Yaakov Avinu, the fountain of emes, sent malochim to Eisov to gauge his positions. Yaakov yearned for shalom, but his primary concern was that it be within the context of emes.

He sent malochim mamosh, who could discern the truth of Eisov’s intentions. Yaakov was sending a message: “If you speak of peace, but under your smile lies a dagger, I will have no choice but to kill or be killed. I will not compromise on the emes. I won’t change and will not adapt the truth to conform to your evil path.”

Let us endeavor to inculcate a desire for fidelity to Torah as well as emes and shalom. Let us hope and pray that peace will reign in our camp, and that a united desire for truth leads to harmony. Let us all seek to bring peace among Jews.

The Maharal in Ner Mitzvah states that at the time of the neis of Chanukah, the Yevonim sought to transform the Jewish people through Greek intellectualism. The Sefas Emes (435) adds that there is a fine line separating truth and fiction. Knowledgeable individuals are able to bring people over to the cause of sheker by making small, barely perceptible changes. However, Jewish people, through their connection to Hashem, have an inbred ability, through the roots of their souls, to discern the truth.

Our study of Torah reinforces our fidelity to the truth.

Allowing the pesukim to pave our way will lead to unity, success, nachas and permanent peace.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

First Class


Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha portrays the difficult life of Yaakov avinu. The av of golus, Yaakov left his home in Be’er Sheva and was displaced for the next few decades. The posuk (Bereishis 28,11) relates that as darkness descended, he laid down to go to sleep. The Medrash (partially quoted in Rashi, relates that he slept there, but did not sleep during the fourteen years which he spent learning Torah at the feet of Eiver. He slept at that place, but did not lie down to sleep during the twenty years he lived in the home of Lavan. Such was the life of Yaakov in exile.

Hashem promised him as he slept that He would be with him as he wandered from place to place and would protect him and bless him. Though alone and penniless, Yaakov was strengthened (Rashi, ibid, 29,1) by his faith that he would emerge from his experience bigger and better than ever.   

The parsha details the ups and downs of Yaakov’s life under Lavan, his marriages, children, financial blessings despite all the maneuvers employed against him. Finally, at the end of the parsha, Hashem determined that it was time for Yaakov to return to the Promised Land. After all he was put through, Yaakov remained the same strong believer he was when he left the home of Yitzchok. Despite all the many blessings heaped upon him, despite his wealth, Yaakov remained as humble as he was when he fled to escape the wrath of his brother Eisov.

Thus, at the beginning of next week’s parsha, Yaakov avinu declares, “Katonti mikol hachassodim umikol ha’emes asher asisa es avdecha - I have become small because of all the kindness and truth that You have performed with me…”

Too often people who are successful become arrogant and pompous. They view themselves as on a higher plane than the people who fly coach. Oftentimes, when people become wealthy or assume higher positions they begin to take themselves very seriously, cutting themselves off from reality and looking down on others. Power and money lead to conceit and corruption.

Vayishman Yeshurun vayivot,” the Torah (Devorim 32,15) testifies that as people become more successful, they forget that Hashem has blessed them. They become enamored with themselves and assume credit for all they have attained, saying, “kochi v’otzem yadi asu li es hachayil hazeh.”

When Yaakov arrived in Choron, he was penniless and alone. As he was returning to Eretz Yisroel with his wives, children and many possessions, instead of becoming haughty, he felt humbled and undeserving of the gifts Hashem had bestowed upon him.

Yaakov, the av of golus, reminds us that when we live in times of plenty such as ours, we dare not become complacent and apathetic, we must always remember the source of our largesse and be appreciativee of the blessings granted us. Returning  home, Yaakov thanked Hashem for His kindness.

In expressing his gratitude, Yaakov thanked Hashem for the chesed bestowed upon him, and also for being dealt with emes, truthfully.

Rashi explains that Yaakov was grateful to Hashem for being true to His word and fulfilling His promises to him.

Isn’t that to be expected?

Perhaps we can understand “emes” in this posuk in another sense, as well. Yaakov was thankful for being dealt with honestly. In a world of darkness, with a brother like Eisov and a father-in-law like Lavan, there was subterfuge at every turn. Yaakov expended much time and effort during his life navigating between liars and their falsities as he sought to pave a successful path.

After being in golus for so many years, Yaakov was thankful that his faith was not misplaced. Hashem watched over him and protected him from the evil plots of those who sought his demise. Yaakov was able to marry and raise fine children far from the idyllic home of Yitzchok and Rivkah.

Titein emes leYaakov,” says the prophet Micha (7:20). “The truth belongs to Yaakov.” While maligned by those who detested him, Yaakov proved to be the essence of truth, as Avrohom was the paradigm of chesed. Thus, Hashem remained faithful to Yaakov through all his difficulties and blessed him and the shevotim with lives embodying the truth of Torah, the source of emes in our world.

Yaakov paved the way for us to excel in golus. Away from our ancestral home, removed from the kedusha of the Bais Hamikdosh, ensconced among cultures becoming more depraved by the day, we succeed, with the abilities inherited from Yaakov, in remaining faithful to the Toras Emes despite all that gnaws at us and all who seek our downfall.

The Nefesh Hachaim (1:21) explains why Yaakov married two sisters, even though he observed the Torah before it was given and the Torah forbids such a relationship. When we say that the avos kept the laws of the Torah before it was given to man on Har Sinai, it is not to be understood that they were aware of the laws of the Torah and accepted upon themselves to observe them. Rather, they were on such a high spiritual level, and their neshamos were so purified, that they were able to comprehend the tikkunim that each mitzvah accomplishes in creation, as well as the damage caused by the performance of each aveirah. They understood the cosmic relationship between heaven and earth, the spiritual and the physical, and thus acted in ways that strengthened the world and abstained from actions that would bring harm to creation.

Yaakov perceived that his soul could achieve great accomplishments for the spheres of the world if he would marry the two sisters, Rochel and Leah. He understood that through them, he would be able to build Klal Yisroel. Therefore, he labored mightily and withstood much pain and humiliation under Lavan.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains that the Torah was not given to the avos, for if it had been, Yaakov could not have married Rochel and Leah, and the foundation of Klal Yisroel would never have been established.

Titein emes leYaakov.” Our forefather Yaakov was given the ability to perceive the truth of the world and thus lay down the foundation for Am Yisroel. The world was created with Torah, and when we observe its commandments, we contribute to the greater good in ways we cannot understand. As anshei emes, we believe that the more Torah we study and the more truth we bring about, the more we fortify the world.

The Ben Ish Chai offers a similar explanation for how Rochel and Leah became familiar with Torah as they grew up in the home of Lavan. He says that they were born with exalted neshamos and were thus able to perceive the truth about Hashem’s existence and the fallacy of their father’s ways.

Our forefathers were blessed with special neshamos and ruach hakodesh to guide them as they grew in a stunted, pagan world.

We have been blessed with the strong foundations that they laid for us. In a world of decadence, they followed the light of truth. That truth was later delivered to us in the form of the Torah and has been guiding us ever since. We are a people of truth and have always been. Since the days of the avos and imahos, we have been mocked and vilified. We have been accused of every crime, blamed for various catastrophes, and hated throughout the ages.

Through it all, we have survived, and today Hashem has caused us to prosper spiritually and financially as never before. We must take advantage of the blessings, recognize them, and be appreciative of all we have achieved. Like our forefather Yaakov, we should collectively proclaim, “Katonti mikol hachassodim umikol ha’emes,” recognizing the source of our wealth and the obligations we have because of it.

All we do must be consistent with the truth. Our Torah is a Toras Emes, our foundation is emes, and our lives must be all about emes.

Too often, we sense danger, but are unable to properly address our concerns because we aren’t honest in appraising the situation. We see ill winds blowing, but if we don’t honestly examine their roots and causes, we can’t expect to be able to defend and fortify ourselves.

Our community seeks to deal with a wide range of serious problems, including shidduchim, abuse, drop-outs, children being rejected by schools, overcrowded educational institutions, rising tuitions, inadequate incomes, high costs of living, and other vexing issues. To formulate solutions, we must be able to honestly examine the substance of the issues without being straight-jacketed by tunnel vision and political correctness. If we are not forthright in our introspection, we will be overwhelmed by the dynamics and complexities of our challenges.

People who care about the truth get upset when told a lie. People who seek the truth are not afraid of it. The truth is what strengthens them. The more the facts emerge, the clearer their focus is and the stronger their convictions are.

Contrast this approach with philosophies built on self-deception and lies. Think of those whose way of life is fraught with duplicity. These people are threatened by the truth. They are scared of the facts. They hide from reality. They crumble when confronted by it.

People who know that they are right don’t have to sweep issues under the rug. They are secure in their beliefs and do not have to resort to convoluted rationales to convey their messages. When faced with an issue, they are able to examine it honestly, allowing them to arrive at a proper solution.

Similarly, countries built on lies and tyrannical governments lock their borders. They don’t permit their people to leave and don’t allow foreigners to enter. They are afraid that if their citizens learn the truth, they will revolt, so they feed their people a steady diet of fabrications, seeking to indoctrinate them with the greatness of their government and the supposed idyllic way of life they have created. The leaders know that they must ensure that the masses are never educated about the truth.

As bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok v’Yaakov, we are heirs to a golden heritage of fidelity to the truth. We know our place in the world and appreciate our blessings. Even in success, we must remain humble, ethical and honorable. We recognize that we become smaller when we become unprincipled and untruthful. We lose when we become disconnected and aren’t able to honestly examine problems that confront us. We jeopardize our connection to the avos and imahos, and risk being separated from our foundation if we don’t follow in their ways.

Yaakov Avinu merited to grow, prosper and receive Hashem’s chesed and emes because he was all about emes. If we want to succeed as a people, as a community, and as individuals, we must do the same.