It was a Friday morning when Rav Mordechai Pogramansky boarded a train en route to a certain town for Shabbos. A man sat down next to him and they began talking. A mohel and shochet, he was also a talmid chochom and took advantage of the opportunity to engage Rav Mordechai in conversation. They became so engrossed in learning that they didn’t notice when the train stopped at the town where they had planned to spend Shabbos.
By the time the mohel looked out of the window and noticed that they were far past their intended stop, it was too late to do anything about it. There was no train going back to their intended destination before Shabbos. He turned to Rav Pogramansky and informed him of their predicament.
“Where will we stay?” asked the man. “Where will we obtain wine for Kiddush, challos for lechem mishnah, and food lekavod Shabbos?”
Rav Mottel consoled him. “A Jew is never lost,” said the tzaddik. “When a Jew ends up in a certain place, it is always with Hashgocha Protis, because Hashem wants him there.”
The next stop was coming up, and even though through the window it appeared as if the area was sparsely populated and they didn’t know anyone who lived there, when the train stopped, they disembarked. They began asking people if there were any Jews in the town. Nobody could identify any. The mohel was growing pessimistic and stopped asking, but Rav Mottel didn’t give up. He continued to ask people if there was a Jew in town. Finally, his persistence paid off and one of the people he asked was able to show him where to locate the town’s only Jewish family. They hurried there and knocked on the door.
When the homeowner opened the door, he began shedding tears of joy. To him, it was as if Avrohom Avinu and Eliyohu Hanovi had appeared at his door. The guests, however, let him know that they were normal human beings just like him, who had been sent to his door min haShomayim. Very happily, the man let them in and invited them to stay for Shabbos.
When he heard that one of them was a mohel, his joy was multiplied. He told them his story.
“A week ago, my wife gave birth to a baby boy. Today is the day he should be having a bris. I was davening the whole day, begging and crying that Hashem send me a mohel to perform the bris on my son. Behold, you have been sent by Heaven.”
Rav Mottel was the sandek as the mohel performed the bris. The two guests remained with the overjoyed couple for Shabbos.
When they left the home after Shabbos, Rav Mottel turned to the mohel and said, “Remember, a Jew is never lost.”
In the midst of the Nine Days, we can be forgiven for wondering why we are still in this state. We want to know how we ended up here and why. We think that we are lost in golus and pine for a return home.
We need to know that we didn’t end up here accidentally. The majority of our families were wiped out in the Holocaust, and we are here because a grandparent somehow survived where others didn’t. Everyone has their own story. There is no happenstance in Jewish life. Nobody just happened to be in the right place, or happened to escape a day early, or happened to have had a secret source of food and strength in a concentration camp. They survived because Hashem willed it so. We are here to fulfill their mission and demonstrate that their rescue had long-lasting positive implications.
The churban took place many years ago and reverberates until this very day. It is up to us to right our situation.
In this week’s parsha of Devorim, Moshe Rabbeinu recounts the struggles of life in the midbor, hinting to the many failings of the Jewish people, beginning with the sin of the meraglim.
The Chiddushei Horim (cited in Sefas Emes, Devorim 5656) explains why much of the admonition is delivered through veiled hints. The sins that Moshe referred to were committed by the generation that had left Mitzrayim. They had all died as punishment for the chet hameraglim. The people who Moshe was speaking to were their children, the next generation, who played no role in those sorry acts. However, the sins committed created a black hole, as it were, that existed in the following generation and exists until our day. Moshiach can only come when that sin is thoroughly rectified. It is for this reason that Chazal say that a generation in which the Bais Hamikdosh hasn’t been rebuilt is equivalent to the one in which it was destroyed. It is because we have not fully repented for those sins and have not stopped committing them that we are still “lost” in the exile.
We all know that the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of the baseless hatred that was prevalent at the time. As the Gemara (Yoma 9b) states, “What was the main sin that brought about the destruction of the Bayis Sheini? Mikdosh Sheini shehoyu oskin baTorah uvemitzvos ugemillus chassodim, despite the fact that the people of that time busied themselves with Torah and mitzvos and charitable acts, it was destroyed because there was sinas chinom among them…”
The Yerushalmi presses the point further and proclaims, “We know that the people from the time of the churban Bayis Sheini would delve into Torah and were punctilious in their observance of mitzvos and the laws of maaseros, and they possessed every proper middah, but they loved money and hated each other for no reason,” and that is why the churban was brought on.
Our task in golus is to repent for that sin and rectify it. Instead, petty squabbles are permitted to intensify and cause hatred and division. People look askance at others who dress differently than they and view others as inferior. Disputes fester and grow, involving more people who deride each other.
When the Torah (Shemos 3:2) describes the famed burning bush, the posuk states that Moshe viewed the bush and behold, “hasneh bo’eir ba’eish, vehasneh ainenu ukol, the bush burned on fire and the bush was not consumed.”
The Kli Yokor questions that since the fire was burning and not the bush, instead of saying that the bush burned on fire, hasneh bo’eir ba’eish, the posuk should have said that the fire burned within the bush.
He answers that this hints to the idea that hatred – sneh is similar to sinah – that people have for each other causes aish, fire, to burn within the Jewish people and is the leading cause of why we are still in exile after all these years.
We have discussed previously that the shikchas haTorah that was caused by the churban contributes to the disputes that we have in golus, and thus it is incumbent upon us to overcome sinas chinom, so that we may merit a return of the Torah and kedusha lost when the Bais Hamikdosh went up in flames.
It is amazing that for over two thousand years, we have had the curse of sinas chinom hanging over our heads and we have not been able to overcome it. Petty fights, jealousies, and battles that seem senseless in hindsight and to people who aren’t participating have roiled our people for centuries and continue until this very day.
We must rise above the petty issues. We must find the grace, nobility and strength to beat back this scourge and defeat it. We could if we would join together. We really can.
A king asked a Jew who lived in the city of Ostropol what made Jews different than every other nation in the world. Afraid that he would provide an unsatisfactory answer, the man suggested to the king that he pose the question to the rabbi of his town. Together, they went to Rav Shimshon, the rov of Ostropol, and the king asked him his question.
The rov suggested that for the king to see the difference, he should hold a celebratory dinner simultaneously in two ballrooms. To one, he should invite his ministers and leading assistants, as well as ministers from other countries. In the second ballroom, he should serve kosher food and only invite Jews. There should be plenty of good food, the rov told the king, but with one proviso: the flatware with which the people would eat the food should be six feet long.
The king followed the rov’s suggestion and had craftsmen prepare six-foot-long forks, spoons and knives for the festive affair. Invitations went out and the day of the dinner arrived. Sumptuous fare was prepared, and the people entered the designated rooms dripping with anticipation for the king’s feast. Fish, soup and an entire menu were served to each of the attendees.
The king waited outside with the rov. Finally, Rav Shimshon told the king that it was time to go inside. They first entered the gentile ballroom. All the food was untouched. The people were perplexed and frustrated. They could not figure out a way to eat with the strange implements. Since eating by hand was verboten at royal occasions, they engaged in conversation and ignored the food.
They left that room and entered the room in which the Jews were seated. Everyone was eating and having a good time. Each person was feeding the person who sat opposite him, and that way everyone was able to enjoy the royal menu.
Rav Shimshon turned to the king and said to him, “Dear wise king, now you see the difference between the Jews and the gentiles. It is the nature of the gentiles to only think of themselves. Therefore, they could not arrive at a solution. Jews, by nature, and at the core of their being, think about each other. Here, you see that.”
Our essence is one of kindness and compassion. Meet a good old-fashioned Jew and you will find those attributes prominently displayed. Go anywhere in the Jewish world and you will find charitable people who support Torah and chesed in their communities. Ask any good Jew to help another, and even if he has never met the person in need, he will open his wallet. It’s in our DNA, ever since the days of Avrohom Avinu.
Somehow, in the midbar so many years ago, sinas chinom also crept into our DNA. It is not enough to be baalei chesed. It is not sufficient to be charitable, to be medakdeik bemitzvos, and to learn Torah day and night. We have to also stop the sinas chinom. We have to bring people together. We have to stop the machlokos that rage in our world. We can all agree that it is enough already.
Enough with the fights, enough with squabbles, enough with jealousy and hatred.