One of the great Chassidic rebbes of the nineteenth century was Rav Uri of Strelisk, known as the “Sorof” for his fiery avodah. He lived a life of want and poverty. With great difficulty, he and his wife were barely able to feed the children. The house was literally a hovel with hardly a penny found to be spent. But physical needs would not stop Rav Uri from his illuminating simcha in avodas Hashem. And so, he continued with his holy service despite the disconcerting poverty.
However, some hishtadlus for parnassah he had to make, so he set out to the big city escorted by a group of his Chassidim, intending to return home after just a few days. While staying in the big city, there was frightening and shocking news. A massive fire erupted in the rebbe’s hometown that spread from house to house, turning them into piles of charcoal. Many of the homes were destroyed, including the one that belonged to the rebbe.
The tzaddik, who was deeply engrossed in his avodah, did not hear the news, and those who escorted him felt that it was best to delay telling it to him. With great miracles, no one was hurt, and as for the loss of his house, that news could wait for later, as there was not a thing he could do about it at this point in time. They pushed off telling him the painful news for later and later, but they were already on their way back home and felt that they couldn’t delay the news any longer.
At first, they hinted at a fire back home and that they didn’t know the fate of the people’s homes. But the rebbe showed no signs of concern, as if the fire had no bearing on him. Now it was clear to them that they must be open with him. Slowly and with great caution, still trying not to shock him, they said in measured words, “It is painful for us to notify the rebbe that according to what we have heard, the rebbe’s house was also damaged in the fire.”
But again, the rebbe did not react. He did not panic or ask for any details. They therefore added, “And it is possible, and we’ve heard from reliable sources, that the rebbe’s house was totally destroyed… Nothing is left of it.”
Once again, to their great surprise, the rebbe did not appear agitated in the slightest. They were startled, as they saw clearly that the shocking news did not move him at all. It didn’t change his mood and did not cause him any panic. They could not believe that a human being could hear such dreadful news about the destruction of his house, which was his sole possession in this world, and not even utter any expression, as if it didn’t affect him at all.
However, if they were surprised until now, their amazement was about to soar even higher. As their rickety wagon reached the house of the rebbe, they saw firsthand the devastation that the fire had wreaked. The hovel was reduced to ashes. The rebbe got out of the wagon and started to dance. To dance? Yes, to dance with great fervor. They looked on in total disbelief, but the rebbe paid no attention to them. He just continued dancing with great emotion, his face exuding a holy fire for no apparent logical reason.
Finally, the rebbe noticed the look of wonder on those around him, so he drew them close and said to them, “My dear sons, imagine to yourselves if I were not born a Yid. With the burning of my house and all my physical possessions, my furniture, my clothing, and all the amenities that I invested my efforts into would all be gone. I would cry and grieve over them, and even lose my sanity over this great tragedy, being left bare and losing everything.
“However, Hashem blessed me that I was born a Yid, a son to our Father in heaven who believes in a Creator. And when my house was destroyed with all of my belongings, the singular thing I have left is my relationship with my Father in Shomayim, and that bond is getting stronger at this moment in particular. For a house I no longer have. I have no money. My clothing is gone. I don’t have a roof over my head, not even one possession. The only thing I possess is my bond with Hashem, and that is worth more to me than anything in the world.
“Now I feel how fortunate I am to be a Yid more than ever.”
The rebbe asked them to join him in a dance, and they all sang together, “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu” (Peninei Parshas Hashovua, Rav Osher Kovalsky).
“This is my G-d and I will build Him a sanctuary: the G-d of my father and I will exalt Him” (Shemos 15:2). This is a two-part declaration that we say in Pesukei Dezimra every morning. But what do these precious words really mean? Rashi explains: “The G-d of my father…with this we are acknowledging that our spiritual stature is a legacy from previous generations. I am not the beginning of kedusha; rather, it is firmly established upon me from the days of my forefathers.”
The Mirrer mashgiach, Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, explains that when Hakadosh Boruch Hu performs a miracle, its purpose it not limited to the yeshuah, the redemption that it brings. It goes much further than that. With a craftsman who creates a piece of furniture or a tailor who sews a beautiful garb, when their work is finished, they depart from the scene. They are no longer a part of their creation. It is not so with a miracle. A neis is a revelation of Hashem. The greater the miracle, the more profound the revelation, and the revelation is not limited for the moment; rather, it remains with us forever.
Similarly, all the signs and the wonders in Mitzrayim were revelations of Hashem, and this revelation is ever-present with us throughout the generations. The pinnacle of all these revelations took place at Krias Yam Suf, when, as stated in the Mechilta, “a maidservant witnessed at sea what Yechezkel ben Buzi and other nevi’im could not behold.” All of this happened because of the miracle. For a neis is not merely a supernatural occurrence or a yeshuah. It is the appearance of the very essence of Hashem, and that remains ingrained in us forever.
This is when the Yidden declared, “Zeh Keili… This is my G-d!” They were able to perceive the Shechinah like never before. But it did not end with the great miracle. With His revelation, Hashem gave them a piece of Himself forever to be connected to. This is why they followed with “ve’anveihu, and I will build Him a sanctuary.” They wanted to hold onto this elevating and enchanting experience forever.
But then they continued with, “The G-d of my father and I will exalt Him.” What did they add with this? It teaches us that we, the Bnei Yisroel, were blessed with two things. Firstly, that He is my G-d. That each and every Yid has his own personal relationship with Hashem that no one else in the world has. It is based on our own personal knowledge and recognition of Hashem, on our own experiences and nisyonos.
In addition to this, we have Elokei avi, the legacy passed down by our forefathers. This is the G-d of our fathers; I am not the beginning of kedusha. This means that even if for some reason we do not have a clear perception of Hashem, we still mention our obligations to Him because of our relationships that we inherited from the avos hakedoshim.
Paroh declared pompously, “Who is Hashem that I should heed His voice to send out Yisroel? I do not know Him…” (Shemos 5:1). The Targum translates: “The name of Hashem was never realized to me.” What a powerful statement that is, says Rav Yeruchem. Paroh’s whole basis for his obstinacy was that he never encountered Hashem. We learn from this that the nations of the world do not have a concept of a “G-dly legacy.” Therefore, if Hashem was not revealed to him, he has no obligations. We, on the other hand, have Elokei avi, the legacy of our forefathers. And even if our perception of Hashem is not of prime clarity, we are bound by the relationship of our fathers. What a precious gift we have been given. It is the secret of our existence throughout the thousands of years of bitter golus.
What is the first thing Yidden do when they move into a new neighborhood? They work on putting together a minyan and building a new bais medrash, like Yaakov Avinu who, thousands of years before them, sent Yehuda to Goshen to establish a bais medrash even before they all arrived there. What drives Yidden to constantly grow in ruchniyus, to improve their houses of chinuch, to expand their Torah initiatives, and to enhance their communities in general with chesed institutions, while insulating them from foreign, dangerous influences? It is this special double relationship with Hashem. My G-d…and the G-d of my fathers.
And perhaps this is the cause of the jealousy and anti-Semitism from the nations of the world that we have been forced to endure throughout the generations. For our special relationship gives us a sense of purpose and energizes us in the hardest of times to rise above the challenges we face. This is the key to our survival and what makes us, the chosen nation of Hashem, great. While the world is constantly sinking into a deeper moral abyss; while greed and the pursuit of power and honor are bringing more problems into the world, the Yid continues to persevere, rising above it all and maintaining his relationship with Hashem.
What could possibly motivate the New York Times, one of the most successful and influential newspapers in the world, to publish such an inordinate number of negative articles against frum Yidden? Were they to really look into our communities, they would see how refined and elevated we are far and beyond anything they could imagine – the beauty of our families, the law and order, the countless chesed organizations not found anywhere else, the sense of purpose generally felt by all its citizens.
But the Jewish elements that work at the New York Times subconsciously feel a certain jealousy. That there are Jews out there who live a different lifestyle than they because they answer to a higher Source. That they are not influenced by the wokeism and immorality of the world. That they are oblivious to the nonsense of the secular world and are perfectly happy with their lives. That the words “this is my G-d” are with them constantly and it is the key to their success. This is something that the Times cannot stand, because, on some level, they realize that we have this special relationship with Hashem, something that they lack, and the only way to assuage their jealousy is by attacking us.
The Times has a reputation of being the newspaper of the intellectual. The word intellectual is defined by Webster as “inclined to rational and creative thought.” These articles are far from intellectual. They are written by a group of college graduates who majored in journalism. They were taught how to write, how to use words that sound scholarly, and how to use words to obfuscate the truth. This is a far cry from expressing ideas of value and writing the truth. Unfortunately, these untruths are read by millions throughout the world.
Yidden who live by the Torah and follow the ways of Hashem have been lambasted in the secular press for many decades. While at times they have caused us great damage, those newspapers and their writers are long gone without even a memory, while Klal Yisroel lives on.
How fortunate we are to declare every day, “This is my G-d and I will build Him a sanctuary.” It is the key to our survival, the secret to our success.