Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Realizing Our Potential

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Many months ago, we began the study of the Torah anew and learned the first Rashi on the Chumash. Rashi famously quotes from his father, Rav Yitzchok, that the Torah should have begun with the mitzvah of hachodesh hazeh lochem. He explains that the reason it doesn’t is so that if nations of the world will ever allege that the Jews stole Eretz Yisroel, the Jews will be able to respond to them that Hashem created the world and it all belongs to Him. He chose to give it to us and thus it is ours.

Others answer that the reason the Torah doesn’t begin with Parshas Hachodesh is because the stories of Sefer Bereishis are a necessary backdrop, a hakdamah of sorts, to the mitzvos.

This week, in Parshas Bo, we finally arrive at the parsha of hachodesh hazeh lochem with which the Torah should have ostensibly opened. By now, we should have studied and internalized the messages of our avos and grown to appreciate the connection we have, through the promises made to them, with Hashem and with Eretz Yisroel. We know that this land is ours and that no one can ever take it away from us. We have learned how to behave and how to conduct ourselves from the stories of our forefathers and should now be ready to progress to the mitzvos of the Torah.

We need to explain the significance of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh and understand why it is that we are welcomed with this mitzvah into life as avdei Hashem. What is it about this mitzvah that through it we are introduced to all the subsequent commandments of the Torah? Of all the mitzvos of the Torah, why was this the first one given to the Jewish people as a whole and the one with which Rashi believed the Torah should have begun?

An answer, perhaps, can be offered based on the fact that Kiddush Hachodesh is a process that is entrusted to the Jewish people as a whole. The proclamation of the new moon requires a verbal statement of a bais din. The dayanim on the bais din, who certify that a new moon has been seen and proclaim, “Mekudash,” have to either be members of the Sanhedrein or “semuchin,” certified and invested with the power of p’sak, who are links in a chain stretching back to Har Sinai (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 5:2). Why does the Torah require those who proclaim the new moon to be semuchin? Why is it not sufficient for them to be proficient in the shapes of the moon so that they can ascertain when to accept testimony regarding the birth of the new moon?

The reason is that when it comes to this special mitzvah, it is plainly evident that the words and actions of humans can be invested with Divine properties.

The Nefesh Hachaim and other seforim discuss the ability of Klal Yisroel to affect happenings in this world and in Shomyaim through the observance - and transgression, chalilah - of mitzvos. That capability is first evident in the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh.

It is through having the koach to proclaim Rosh Chodesh or be me’aber the shanah that the Torah first reveals to us the limitless capacity and potential of man to rise up to the highest sphere, becoming a partner with the Creator Himself.

Rav Chaim Vital and other authors of seforim kedoshim discuss how each Yom Tov brings with it special hashpa’os, an awakening of the Divine flow that occurred back when the miracle the Yom Tov commemorates originally took place. Bais din, through its proclamation of which day will be Rosh Chodesh, and subsequently on which day Yom Tov will begin actually determines when Hashem will cause that specific measure of Divine hashpa’ah to occur. The Ribbono Shel Olam, kevayachol, actually abides by the bais din’s reasoning and determination to celebrate the Yom Tov on that day.

The many ramifications of bais din’s decision attest to their power. An example of the extent of bais din’s power is discussed in the Yerushalmi (Kesubos 1:2) regarding a physical phenomenon that can be manifest in a girl when she reaches the age of three. (See Shach, Yoreh Deah 189:13, for a further dissertation.) If she was born during the month of Nissan, for example, if the bais din decides to add a second month of Adar, postponing her birthday for a month, the physical realities which set in as she becomes three years of age are actually dependent on the bais din’s decision and are postponed for a month because she will not be celebrating her third birthday until Nissan!

Thus, since the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh is unique in that it shows Klal Yisroel the incredible heights they can reach, that they can literally influence even the Heavenly realms, it is therefore the first mitzvah given to us as a group and serves as an introduction to all the other mitzvos. It goes to the root of the greatness of Am Yisroel and demonstrates how much we can accomplish if we devote ourselves to observing the mitzvos and living lives dedicated to Hashem and His Torah.

In Lita, people would retell a story to underscore the potency of a talmid chochom’s ruling. There was a man who lived in Volozhin who suffered from a lung disease. He sought out and tried all sorts of solutions and remedies which were available in his day, but he remained worried about his condition.

Legend has it that the sick man’s father appeared to him in a dream and informed him that his specific lung ailment was the subject of a machlokes between the Rama and the Shaagas Aryeh. The Rama held that when the form of lung disease from which he suffered occurs in a cow, the animal is treif, as it is incapable of living for another year. The Shaagas Aryeh, however, ruled that an animal with this disease was kosher, since it could live well past a year. In the dream, the father warned his son to remain in Volozhin, the Shaagas Aryeh’s town, where the p’sak - and therefore the reality - would be in line with the Shaagas Aryeh’s view, and he would therefore live.

This is the idea of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh, which would have been a fitting opening to the entire Torah.

Imagine the message that Klal Yisroel received when, still in the throes of servitude, they were injected with this awareness and taught the particulars of a mitzvah with capacity beyond time and space. What a resounding announcement of their own freedom from the constrictions of Mitzrayim! It is as if they were gathered together by Moshe Rabbeinu and told, “You are ge’ulim, redeemed and ready to soar!”

Anyone who has ever beheld the countenance of a true tzaddik or talmid chochom has experienced the wonder for themselves. Indeed, even in the world of 2012, when so much has been dimmed and dulled, we can still witness the spiritual heights that man can attain.

Last week, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was taken to Shaarei Tzedek Hospital for tests. While there, he went to visit his son, Rav Avrohom, who was on the eighth floor of the medical center, recuperating from an illness.

The gadol hador wished his son well, stayed a while, and then left. As Rav Elyashiv exited the room, Rav Avrohom’s roommate, an elderly Sefardic Jew, burst into uncontrollable weeping. When he finally calmed down, he told Rav Avrohom what it was that had so profoundly impacted him.

Seeing the old rov, related the roommate, brought him back to his years as a teenager at Yeshivat Porat Yosef and the time the rosh yeshiva, Rav Ezra Attiah, took him and his friends to be tested by a much-younger Rav Elyashiv, a virtually unknown talmid chochom at the time, in the solitude of a Meah Shearim shul.

“Much has happened since that day sixty years ago,” related the man. “I left the path of Torah and mitzvos. But when I saw the face of the tzaddik, I was transported back in time, and I remembered the happiest, most fulfilling moment of my life. When I saw him again, my entire life flashed in front of me. His face impacted me so...”

With that, the elderly Jew broke down in sobs and could not continue the conversation.

The heights that man can attain and the glowing countenance of a giant in Torah can move a Jew to teshuvah.

That awareness, with its accompanying demand for growth, was given to Klal Yisroel on the verge of freedom, as if to say, “This is what you can reach and accomplish through these mitzvos and by learning Torah.”

We can now understand the depth of a posuk later on in the perek. After the pesukim discuss the halachos of Pesach, the posuk (12:28) states, “Vayeilchu vaya’asu Bnei Yisroel ka’asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe ve’Aharon - The Bnei Yisroel did as Hashem had commanded Moshe and Aharon.”

The Mechiltah, quoted by Rashi, notes that the lesson was given to the Bnei Yisroel on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, while the actual fulfillment of the dinim of Korban Pesach didn’t take place until the middle of the month. Still, the posuk refers to the Yidden having done as Hashem commanded Moshe, in the past tense.

We can suggest that the posuk refers to them as having completed what was asked of them because this parsha of hachodesh hazeh lachem carries within it something integral to the observance of every mitzvah that would follow it, namely, an instructive lesson into what a mitzvah can do to man and the levels he can reach by following the Torah. “Vaya’asu” indicates that they understood the message that was being imparted to them, appreciating its relevance at every juncture of life. In this case, hearing, comprehending and internalizing the messages of hachodesh hazeh lochem and the chag hegeulah were themselves fulfillments of Hashem’s will.

The dinim and halachos of Kiddush Hachodesh and Pesach aren’t merely introductory and practical. They are a call from Heaven. “My children,” the Ribono Shel Olam is saying, “you are ge’ulim. There is no end to your freedom and to how great you can become!”

According to the Nefesh Hachaim (1:13), the word asiyah, which lies at the root of the word vaya’asu, means that what was being discussed achieved its tachlis, or purpose. Thus, when the Torah employs the verb asiyah to complete the discussion, stating, “Vaya’asu Bnei Yisroel ka’asher tzivah Hashem,” that indicates that they realized the potential inherent in Hashem’s commandment. They understood the message behind the tzivuy, and thus, even though they had not yet performed the mitzvah, they had actualized the potential of how high they could reach.

Salah Tamri is one of the Palestinian leaders with whom Israel expected to be able to work. Prior to being jailed during the Lebanon War, he advocated a peaceful coexistence with Israel and a sharing of the disputed land. That all changed when he was freed from jail in one of the infamous prisoner exchanges. He returned to his base of operations radicalized and no longer interested in achieving any accommodation with the Jewish state.

Tamri was asked what happened to him. How could such a bright, educated and successful Palestinian, who advocated peace, now be agitating for friction and war with the Jews?

In explaining his jailhouse conversion, Tamri related that he had previously wanted to reach a peace deal with Israel because he feared that Israel would win any war against the Arabs. He thought that Israel would swallow up the Palestinians and completely overtake the West Bank if prompted to take military action. He therefore felt that the best approach for the Palestinians was to reach some sort of amicable cooperation with the occupiers.

That all changed in jail the day he saw one of his Israeli guards eating falafel and pita. He said to the guard, “What are you doing? Why are you eating that?”

The guard was incredulous, “What is it your business what I eat?” he said. “Don’t tell me what to eat. I am the guard and you are the prisoner.”

“But today is Pesach, your holiday of liberation, and the Torah says you should not eat bread today,” scolded the prisoner. “How can you be eating pita so impassively?”

The guard unloaded on Tamri.

“He told me,” recalled Tamri, “that he couldn’t care less what a four-thousand-year-old book says about anything.”

When he heard that, Tamri began looking at the whole equation differently. He said that if the Israelis don’t care about what the Torah says regarding their liberation and Pesach, then they probably couldn’t care less about what the Torah says about Eretz Yisroel. The Arab concluded that if they don’t have a feeling for the Torah, then they don’t have a strong feeling for the land. And if they aren’t connected to the Torah and to the land, then they won’t sacrifice and fight hard enough for the land. And if they aren’t prepared to fight to the end for the land, then the Arabs will win. And if the Arabs will beat the Israelis, why should they work towards an accommodation and peace when they can fight for their liberation and win?

A people that has lost its belief in its own destiny and historic role, reasoned Tamri, is a people that wouldn’t fight for its G-d-given right either. Thus, when he left jail, he emerged determined to wipe out a nation that eats pita on Pesach.

What that rasha perceived was that his guard, and hundreds of thousands of others like him, had stopped hearing that they were ge’ulim. They no longer appreciated the lesson of Kiddush Hachodesh and Am Yisroel’s potential. Thus, Rashi’s hakdamah to the Torah - that Eretz Yisroel is ours - was no longer relevant.

We, the she’airis Yisroel, the remainder that clings to Pesach and Kiddush Hachodesh and cherishes every mitzvah, know that we have a higher calling and a path to traverse.

With this, we can explain the significance of the custom to say “Shalom aleichem” to each other when we recite Kiddush Levanah. We go outside and greet the new moon, perceiving in its reflected light our ability to rise, and the levels we can attain if we would exert ourselves and dedicate ourselves to Torah. Beholding the new moon should generate thoughts of teshuvah, thoughts of growth, and thoughts of a new beginning. Thus, as we begin that journey, we wish each other “Shalom aleichem.

As we study parshas Bo and begin this new month of Shevat, let us restart the march with renewed vigor towards realizing the potential that lies within each and every one of us to reach the apex and positively affect the world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Find Reasons to Sing

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Velo shamu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah.” This posuk in this week’s parsha is almost haunting in its implications.

Just try to imagine the scene. Moshe Rabbeinu was tending to his flock in the wilderness, when he beheld the extraordinary sight of a bush aflame. He stopped what he was doing to consider what was taking place in front of him, as he wondered how it could be that the fire was burning but the bush wasn’t being consumed.

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

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

Moshe asks for assurance. “What Name shall I tell them?” he says.

Hashem revealed Himself using the name of “Ehkeh asher Ehkeh - I will be with them through this golus and all the subsequent travails and hard times.”

Moshe was fresh off experiencing the revelation of the Creator of heaven and earth, who had decreed that the children of the avos, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, to whom He had previously appeared, would be enslaved in a strange land and eventually freed. No doubt exultant after his long conversation with Hashem and bearing the knowledge that the painful enslavement would soon end, Moshe went to share the good news with his brothers and sisters who had been suffering for as long as anyone could remember. He appeared to them and said the words they had been waiting to hear: “Higia zeman geulaschem - The time of your redemption has arrived.”

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

“Velo shamu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah.

They didn’t listen. They couldn’t listen. They didn’t have the keilim with which to listen. They were incapable of hearing the words that would have transformed everything for them. They failed to digest the message promising hope for a better tomorrow.

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

At the close of the year 2011, experts in the media and academia shared their choice for the “word of the year.” They searched for a word that defined the values, struggles and experiences of society in 2011. One of the most interesting of their selections was the word “bleak.”

This word has been used quite often during the past year. The economic forecast, of course, was bleak, as was the foreign affairs front. The word, and its accompanying baggage, marched into the American mindset, settling in like an unwelcome guest.

Yidden live in a state of constant anticipation, always awaiting good news. Like the Chofetz Chaim, with his special kappota ready for Moshiach’s imminent arrival, we all carry a sense of expectancy, viewing the events around us through eyes that look beyond them, our ears listening for the footsteps of our go’el.

The situation in our world is bleak, to be sure. So many people are struggling to feed their families. Suddenly, it has once again become acceptable to be anti-Semitic. Each day, it seems, there is graffiti in some other supposed safe place, reminding us that we are in golus. Tiny Eretz Yisroel is being targeted by despots and crazies. The Torah community has its own problems and is being targeted by secularists, with fodder being generously provided by extremists.

Yet, we are equipped with the tools to see beyond that, keeping our ears open for the mevaser tov, who will come to tell us that our troubles are over.

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

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

There is so much goodness in our world. There is much to be happy about and proud of, yet too many are consumed by the negative, concentrating on the bad news and failing to see the entire picture. We forget that we are blessed to live in a land of plenty, which provides for the poor and those unable to make ends meet. We don’t know of much crime, and the anti-Semitism our forefathers experienced is basically in remission.

Fresh off the Holocaust which almost decimated our people, we have reestablished ourselves and now flourish in cities and towns across the globe. The waves of assimilation which plagued first-generation religious Americans are non-existent. We can do what we want, where we want, and no one bothers us.

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

The process of learning Torah and avodas hamussar is meant to train us to see the tov. We are to acquire an ayin tovah that allows us to discern the good in what we do have and to appreciate the fortune that abounds, if only we were ready to look a little deeper. In order to be good Jews, we have to be happy with the present and positive about the future. If we aren’t, it is an indication of how much we are lacking in the study of Torah and mussar.

Torah and mussar keep the person who studies them active, optimistic, energetic and positive. It shapes an individual into a mentsch, a person who respects others and is worthy of respect himself.

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

Every year, the previous Boyaner Rebbe would make a siyum during the Nine Days on Maseches Makkos. People thought that he made the siyum on that particular masechta because of its relatively small size, until the Rebbe explained that there was a deeper reason for his custom.

The final Gemara in Maseches Makkos tells the story of the Tannaim walking alongside Rabi Akiva up to Yerushalayim. When they beheld the makom hamikdosh in ruins, they began to weep, but Rabi Akiva smiled. They asked him why he was smiling, while they cried at the sight of foxes walking out of the place of the Kodesh Hakodoshim. He explained, using pesukim, that in order for the nevuos of geulah to be fulfilled, the nevuos of churban must be completed first.

Now that the destruction is so complete, he reasoned, we can anticipate the geulah.

Akiva nichamtanu. Akiva nichamtanu,” they famously replied. “Akiva, you have comforted us.”

The Boyaner Rebbe explained that during the days which commemorate the churban, he wanted to be reminded of this lesson. He wanted to remember that there is no situation that doesn’t carry hints of a better tomorrow.

We have to work, as did Rabi Akiva, to locate those markers, those lights along the side of the road promising good tidings. It would behoove us to keep our ears wide open for good news. We have to look for the sparks of goodness in the Jewish people. We should be thankful for the shuls we have to daven in and the yeshivos and botei medrash spreading Torah and kedushah to a thirsting people. We should be thankful for the peace and tranquility we enjoy, and for the homes, the heat, the cars, the gasoline, the electricity, and everything else that we are blessed with in this country.

A friend in Montreal told me about an eltere Yid named Reb Aron Pernikoff, who spent most of his time at the Montreal Community Kollel. Reb Aron didn’t enjoy an easy life, but he exuded a certain tranquil joy, a loftiness and chashivus.

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

Reb Aron would ask, “Where did the exiled Jews have harps from?” When people run away, when they are barely escaping with their lives into a golus, they take only the bare necessities that they think they will need. “How did they have harps with them?” he would wonder.

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

This past Motzoei Shabbos, I joined multitudes of Monsey Yidden in paying tribute to the roshei yeshiva and talmidim of Lakewood’s Bais Medrash Govoah at the yeshiva’s annual Monsey reception. It was heartening, almost therapeutic. It was an opportunity to sing in the darkness of golus, to join together and say, “Look, even thousands of years removed from the days of gilui Shechinah and the fires of korbanos, we can still gather around the holy mekomos haTorah. We can still come yachad shivtei Yisroel and joyously pledge allegiance to the ideals of eitz chaim hee lamachazikim bah.

Every week, there are dinners, parlor meetings and receptions for yeshivos, shuls and mosdos of tzedakah and chessed. As difficult as the economy is, people still open up their wallets and help each other.

When we sit down to learn this week’s parsha and read the posuk, “Velo shamu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kashah,” let us ensure that we aren’t guilty of “velo shamu el Moshe.” Moshe’s word is the Torah. It is enduring and binding, and listening to it means keeping our ears tilted to hear the sounds of imminent geulah and open to the besuros tovos that are all around us. Let us not grow so despondent about our situation that we can’t hear and see the good which is prevalent.

Let us always be on the lookout for Eliyahu Hanovi, who will soon be mevaser lonu besoros tovos yeshuos venechamos.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Yisgadeil Veyiskadeish Shemei Rabboh

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The story is told of a woman who was married for sixteen years and had not been blessed with children. Pain and loneliness were her daily companions. She begged her father, a great tzaddik, and her husband, an illustrious talmid chochom, to daven along with her, but the wait continued.

One day, a little over one hundred years ago, before the advent of washing machines and dryers, she spent several hours washing the family’s clothing. When that task was finally completed, as was her habit every week, she hung up the freshly-cleaned laundry in the courtyard she shared with other families. A neighbor, for some unknown reason, became upset at the sight of the hanging clothing, flew into a rage, and ran inside her home to get a scissors. She returned and cut both ends of the rope, sending all the clean clothing into the mud, ruining hours of hard work.

The housewife was upset and burst into tears. She hurried into the privacy of her home and gave vent to her distress there, weeping in solitude. Then she went and engaged in the long process all over again, this time hanging her laundry to dry in a neighboring courtyard.

That evening, the offending neighbor came to the house crying, begging forgiveness. “I don’t know what came over me. I am so sorry. Please be mochel me. Plus, I already got my punishment. My son is sick, burning up with fever.”

The woman forgave her and wished her son a refuah sheleimah. The story is told in many different versions, but the way I heard it, upon hearing the commotion, the woman’s father looked up from his learning and asked what had transpired.

With much emotion, she related the story. She explained that the cruel actions of her neighbor had been too much for her to handle in her already fragile state and she couldn’t calm down. But rather than react with angry words to her neighbor, she went inside her home to express her pain in private. She told him how she then went and redid the laundry, without making a machlokes or telling anyone.

“The fact that you didn’t respond to her and prevented this from becoming a fight,” said the father, “will be the merit you need to be helped. Your great deed will grant you a child who will be great.”

One year later, a son was born.

The zaide was the author of the classic sefer, Leshem Shevo Ve’achlama, Rav Shlomo Elyashiv. The baby who was born was Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. (His father adopted the family name of his wife when they sought certificates to leave Lithuania to British-controlled Palestine.)

There is a message here for us. Beneath the surface understanding of the story lies a reminder that our own revered gadol hador was a gift to the generation brought about by the middah of vatronus, by a chastened woman remaining calm and peaceful.

Devorim gedolim einam bemikreh. Rav Elyashiv would become a son-in-law of Rav Aryeh Levine, a rebbe in how to treat others and in appreciating the worth and dignity of every person.

The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 8:5) states that when Hashem created the world, there was a commotion. “Shalom” objected to the creation of the world, for shalom said that the world would contain arguments and conflicts. Hashem quieted the complaints by throwing “emes” into the world, as the posuk states (Doniel 8:12), “Vatishlach emes artzoh.”

The simple explanation is that once emes, truth, was given to the world, people wouldn’t fight. Hostility is caused when people cannot unite and each one dishonestly attempts to promote his cause. Once truth became an integer of the world, people would be able to work together for the truth.

However, the Maharal (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Emes 3) explains that the giving of the Torah is what caused shalom to give up its opposition to creation. Man is beset with dispute only when he is without Torah. Torah causes him to be peaceful, as the posuk states, “Derocheha darchei noam vechol nesivoseha shalom.” Furthermore, the Gemara (Brachos 64a) says, “Talmidei chachomim marbim shalom ba’olam.” The proper way to explain the Medrash is that when Torah was given to the world, shalom ceased to oppose its creation.

Yaakov Avinu, the embodiment of Torah, was motivated by emes and shalom. His brother Eisav, who lived by the sword, as the posuk states, “Ve’al charbecha tichyeh,” was the antithesis of those middos of Yaakov. One who lives by the sword isn’t confident in his ability to win arguments. He is dishonest and his arguments are weak and fictitious, so he is forced to rule through violence and terror. People are subservient to him because they fear him, not because they believe him to be correct in his actions or in his beliefs.

That is the definition of Yaakov’s admonition to Shimon and Levi as he parted from them in this week’s parsha. Yaakov refers to the way they chose to avenge what was done to their sister Dinah as “klei chomos.Rashi explains that the means employed by Shimon and Levi are not the implements of the children of Yaakov. They are stolen from Eisav. The Bnei Yisroel do not engage in violent disputes, and when and if they do, they have to know that they have adopted the methods of Eisav and his disciples.

Jews don’t hit. Jews don’t shout. Nor do they spit or react with violence and anger.

The tools we possess are respect, acceptance and equanimity, laced with the confidence that comes from living in accordance with the perfect harmony of halacha. We know who we are and what we stand for, and we know that in order to influence others, we need to work with them to make a difference. Shouting louder doesn’t make us more audible; using physical threats or violence only makes us weaker.

When we hear about beatings and threats, we must protest. We need to acknowledge the problem and reaffirm our own commitment to following the paths of our grandparents and rabbeim, who taught us not just by what they said, but by how they lived and conducted themselves. Chazal cite the hallmarks of talmidim of Avrohom Avinu. They are rachmonim, bayshonim and gomlei chassodim. We, who consider ourselves to be in the category of Avrohom’s pupils, must test ourselves by that qualifier. To the degree those adjectives apply to us, we are bnei Avrohom.

Respect was their hallmark. Like the Rambam teaches us in Hilchos Talmud Torah, they addressed every human being with calmness, tranquility and humility. The sifrei mussar are replete with admonitions of how Torah people are supposed to conduct themselves - with humility, kindness and empathy.

The Ponovezher Rov famously retold how, while undergoing medical treatment in an American hospital, he met a secular Jewish doctor. Speaking with him, the Rov discovered that he had learned in Lithuanian yeshivos in his youth, and although he wasn’t observant, he still maintained respect for Torah and its scholars.

The Rov observed that the man had lost all connection to Yiddishkeit.

“The only reason that I don’t officially convert and go to church,” the doctor confided, “is because the kapote (coat or jacket) of the Chofetz Chaim doesn’t allow me to.”

The Rov, a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim, looked at the doctor with curiosity, wondering what he meant. The old doctor explained that, when he was a child, his parents sent him to learn in the yeshiva of Radin.

When he arrived, he joined the line of new bochurim at the humble home of the Chofetz Chaim, waiting to introduce himself and receive instructions regarding where he would be lodging. His journey had been lengthy and exhausting, and, as he waited there, he was overcome by fatigue. He sat down on the floor and, within moments, was fast asleep.

He barely felt hands lifting him and carrying him to a bed, but when he awoke late that night, he realized that the host himself, the great tzaddik, had carried him to a bed and covered him with his own kapote. The Chofetz Chaim himself was sitting and learning in his shirt-sleeves.

The compassion and simplicity of the Chofetz Chaim affected this doctor profoundly, and even through the decades and continents, a warm glow remained. It was that inspiration that prevented him from leaving Judaism completely.

That respect - respect for everyone - is intrinsic to the make-up of the Torah Jew. This is because respect isn’t a public relations gimmick that Torah Jews use. It isn’t a broad smile and pleasant greeting in order to win friends and influence people. Respect is a part of our spiritual DNA, a legacy from our forefather Avrohom Avinu who welcomed visitors into his home, even if he opposed the choices they had made.

A talmid sat in the back seat of a taxi along with his rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, discussing a sugya.

They were going back and forth with spirit and energy, when, suddenly, Rav Moshe Shmuel stopped him. The rosh yeshiva scanned the identification card hanging near the driver’s seat, looking for the driver’s name.

“Let us continue the conversation in Hebrew, rather than Yiddish, so that Arik, in the front, can also enjoy and partake,” said Rav Moshe Shmuel.

The stereotypical Israeli taxi driver didn’t understand the rest of the conversation, but he got the message most important to him: he was a person too, and he was deserving of recognition and respect.

And yes, that same respect and empathy afforded to adults is meant to be displayed to children as well.

In a Yated interview, Rav Reuvein Feinstein related a story about his father, Rav Moshe Feinstein. The Feinsteins would spend some time each summer in the city of Hartford, Connecticut. Rav Moshe was friendly with a shochet, Rav Berman, who lived there.

During the time the family was in Hartford, a relative of the Bermans, a yeshiva bochur, came to stay with them. The bochur took advantage of the opportunity of being in the presence of Rav Moshe to observe him and try to learn from his conduct.

The bochur observed how Rav Moshe, the tremendous masmid, would wake up every day at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and begin learning. Then, at about 6 o’clock, a little girl entered his room. To his astonishment, the bochur witnessed how Rav Moshe got up from his table and started playing ball with the little girl.

Intrigued, the yeshiva bochur revealed himself and asked the gadol hador if he was perhaps related to the girl and why he deemed it necessary to interrupt his learning to play ball with her.

Rav Moshe, demonstrating the wisdom and sensitivity that characterized his middos and hanhagah, replied, “Until I came here, she was the gantze macherke. She was the one who garnered everyone’s attention. When I arrived, I stole the focus and attention from her and I therefore owe her something. I must repay her by, at the very least, spending some time playing with her!”

In the timeless brachos of Yaakov Avinu, he faced his beloved sons and analyzed their kochos and character traits. The message he imparted would guide not only his immediate family, but his descendants, for thousands of years. His words are a beacon of light to us today as well. He cursed the anger of Shimon and Levi, stating, “Ki be’apam hargu ish, uveretzonam ikru shor.” No one doubted their sincerity and that their actions were lesheim Shomayim, fueled by the most righteous of calculations. Yet, their father cursed the middah that had generated such results.

The Maskilim who had been battling traditional Judaism for years, saw Zionism as a vehicle with which to continue their war. The Maskilim effectively used the new movement to battle religion.

What is transpiring today in Eretz Yisroel must be understood as another chapter in that ongoing, awful, century-long tug-of-war.

We should not allow ourselves to be drawn into the cauldron or be lectured by the ideological heirs of those early Maskilim who did everything in their power to vilify Torah, gedolei Torah and Yiddishkeit.

They were quick to discover the power of the media and propagandized regularly against the religious community. Nothing was beneath them. They lobbied to have rabbonim sidelined and at times jailed. They sought to have chadorim made illegal and to delist melamdim, who they demeaned and accused of kol dovor assur. They vilified botei din and attempted to have them banned as well. They also lobbied the authorities, claiming that rabbonim used seforim to encourage anti-government and anti-social activities, and sought to have them made illegal.

Everything the Israeli media and those in power engage in today is taken from their destructive playbook and must be viewed in that context in order to understand the extreme media focus on the goings-on in the religious community.

Dealing with people with respect means recognizing the value that people place on symbols, places and memories, and reflecting on how one’s actions can impact others. The brutality of Israeli police is well documented. Regrettably, discrimination against chareidim is a bitter fact of life in the Holy Land. However, to compare such conduct to that of the Nazis is insensitive and insulting. To use images that have haunted our people for seven decades as a propaganda tool is cynical manipulation. It is disrespectful to those who truly suffered. Trivializing Jewish pain and suffering for a cheap photo-op gimmick is foolish and wrong.

Too many people who were hurt by the Nazis are grieving. Too many people who suffered are pained as they relive the horrors that they - and our people as a whole -endured. Just decades ago, millions of Jews were rounded up, maimed, beaten, and destroyed financially, mentally, and of course physically. Jewish life as it had existed for hundreds of years was upended. There were millions of karbanos, most of them in the Olam Ha’emes, but many with us, everywhere.

For people to lower themselves in an attempt to further multiple agendas is callous. For us to remain silent in the face of actions timed and staged to make waves at a sensitive time in front of the world media would be to condone senseless insensitivity.

As descendants of the avos, who taught the world sensitivity, and as talmidim, children and grandchildren of great people whose lives embodied nobility of spirit and empathy, we have a mandate to always act with consideration and responsibility.

Rav Yisroel Salanter caused a revolution amongst Klal Yisroel with the emphasis he introduced on the study of mussar in yeshivos. He sought not only to bring about the study of classic sifrei yirah which had been neglected, but also to infuse the Jewish people with recognition of the need to improve the way they deal with each other, the way they speak, and the way they conduct themselves. The mussar he preached was not only about how a Jew relates to Hashem, but also how he relates to his fellow man.

Rav Yisroel taught a generation how to act and how to conduct itself. He also fought the Maskilim bitterly. He was from the first of a long line of gedolim who advocated establishing newspapers to combat the negative influences of those determined to besmirch Torah. He taught the young how to communicate and how to present themselves, with kindness and sophistication. With gaonus in Torah and middos, he was a leader in preserving the Torah nation.

Because, even when the situation calls for change or retribution, anger is not the means with which to achieve it. It requires one steeped in Torah and mussar to lead the charge. When one needs to influence or chastise another, he can learn from the Master of the Universe: “Ess asher ye’ehav Hashem yochiach.” Hashem rebukes those He loves. His messages are laced with compassion and concern.

When the Chazon Ish famously agreed to speak to David Ben-Gurion, two Jews at the polar opposites of the spectrum met. One represented the holy mesorah of Pumpedisa and Sura, while the other proudly dreamt of the Maskilim’s vision of the “new Jew.” The Chazon Ish brilliantly rebuffed the arguments of the politician. He made it clear, with the ferocity of a mother lion protecting her young, that the Olam HaTorah was untouchable and that his “army” wasn’t impressed by the military might of Ben-Gurion. Yet, he spoke calmly, with warmth and a begrudging respect. As he explained, “In between each ‘frask, each ideological blow I dealt him, I felt like I had to give him a ‘glett,’ a stroke on the cheek.”

As fierce as the battle he waged was, the Chazon Ish knew that ne’imus, pleasantness, is proper and more effective.

In all the reporting and coverage of what has been transpiring, the entire religious community has been tarred with the same brush and portrayed as crazed anti-social Neanderthals.

The hundreds of thousands of fine, ehrliche, decent frum people who humbly and quietly go about their peaceful lives, living as the generations before them did, are ignored. They are given no voice in a hostile media engaged in a Kulturkampf, on a mission to portray us all as fanaticized Taliban weirdoes.

While the reaction of Torah leaders such as Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rav Ovadia Yosef and the Belzer Rebbe; political leaders such as Moshe Gafni, Yisroel Eichler and Aryeh Deri; organizations such as Agudas Yisroel, the Orthodox Union and the RCA; and so many others are completely ignored, religious and secular self-righteous opportunists rush to the microphones to promote themselves and their agendas.

Perhaps this Shabbos, when the baal kriah reads the posuk of “Arur apam - Cursed is their anger,” we will reinforce the time-honored ways of our people and proclaim its lessons to ourselves and our children in a way that no one can deny in accusatory fashion.

When we hear how birtzonam ikru shor,” we will reinforce our behavior so that no one can infer that the posuk refers to us.

The pesukim will remind us not to sit by apathetically, in oblivion and silence, in the face of outrageous behavior that can be taken as a form of ratzon, compliance and acceptance of the situation. Wanton voices that shout viciously and angrily, with all the associated bad middos, should not be permitted to achieve their goals, besmirching an entire community.

This week, as we lain the parsha, we will be proclaiming that we speak with the authentic Jewish voice, the one that expresses itself with warmth and calmness to friends, neighbors and people we meet on the street.

We daven that our wayward brothers, who have been led astray and brought up to hate, will be able to take this message to heart. We hope that the truth will prevail, the good of the many, recognized; and the aberrations of the few, acknowledged for what it is.

We daven that our feet will tread back to the way of “deracheha darchei noam” and once again find the path of “chol nesivoseha shalom.

And then, perhaps, we will heal a fragmented people, united, with our differences, like the twelve sons around Yaakov Avinu’s death-bed, who cried out, as one, “Shema Yisroel.”

Chazal derive from the posuk in Shema, “Ve’ohavta eis Hashem Elokecha, that we should endeavor to cause the name of Hashem to be loved - “shetehei Sheim Shomayim misaheiv al yodcha.” When viewing the actions of bnei Torah, people should say, “Kamah na’eh ma’aseihem. How pleasant are the ways of the people who adhere to Torah.” Upon contemplation of religious people, the hearts of those removed from Torah should be opened to learn, appreciate and accept a life of Torah.

The most emotional parts of davening are Shema and Kaddish, when we proclaim, “Yisgadeil veyiskadeish shemei rabboh,” that the Name of Hashem should be made great and holy.

May we merit to see that transpire in our day, when the entirety of Am Yisroel will be awakened to the truth, the emes and the shalom with which the world was created.