Prior to last week, I had met Sholom Mordechai just once. Last Thursday, I visited him in Otisville, meeting him for a second time. I had met him the first time under such drastically different circumstances – in his home, surrounded by a loving family.
He was then awaiting trial, but had bitachon that he would be cleared of all charges since he knew he was innocent. Little did he imagine that the next time we would meet, he would be sitting in jail with a 27-year sentence hanging over him.
During the first visit, it was not possible to discern, either from his surroundings or from his demeanor, that he was the wealthiest person in town. His house was a large but simple pre-fab, at the end of a long unpaved road, surrounded by cornfields. There was no evidence of the turmoil into which his life had been plunged.
From the way he comported himself, he could have been just another of the many fine people who had moved to Postville to be employed as shochtim and bodkim at Agriprocessors. The people in shul treated him with quiet respect. When he was out of earshot, they spoke to me about some of his extraordinary deeds and his unheralded acts of charity and kindness. They told me of the high esteem in which he was held by the town’s residents, Jew and gentile alike.
People close to him knew him as a baal bitachon, a person suffused with yiras Shomayim and emunah. His custom of arising early in the morning to learn and say Tehillim was adopted many years back. He always understood that the wealth he possessed was not meant for him to enjoy, but rather to help people in need and to support worthy institutions. His home was not just a home. It was a virtual communal center, open at all times of the day and night to people who needed a warm meal, a comfortable bed, a shoulder to cry on, and financial aid.
Most of all, Sholom Mordechai had a sense of happiness and calm about him. When I met him last week, I was happy to see the same warm smile and the same quiet acceptance that mark those who place their faith in Hashem. To see him imprisoned in surroundings that so assault the senses was deeply painful.
I was struck by his ability to maintain his equilibrium despite his environment, and his deep concerns about his family and his legal case. Perhaps the most amazing thing about all this is that he is outwardly just a regular guy like you and me. Thrust into an awful situation, however, his response has been anything but ordinary. His quiet strength and heroism are humbling. Instead of blaming people and becoming embittered by his plight, he has remained a fountain of hope, optimism and trust in Hashem.
As we visited, I thought to myself how, most times, people’s strengths so often lie dormant and untested. When the chips were down, Sholom Mordechai reached into his deepest spiritual reserves to remain strong and undaunted. He is able to retain his humanity and the sense of dignity and self-respect that distinguish the free, despite his harrowing surroundings.
The way he has handled himself should inspire all of us with the realization that we, too, possess the raw power of emunah and the potential for greatness. We should never have to be tested by calamity in order to bring these kochos to the surface and to prove that we can meet crises without crumbling.
It is thanks to his love of all people and attempts, when he was free, to foster and ensure achdus in his corner of the world, that Klal Yisroel has rallied to his side with an unprecedented outpouring of tefillos and support which sustain him.
Achdus is the glue that holdsAm Yisroel together with a supernatural power. With achdus, we can overcome terrible adversity and the unrelenting hardships of golus.
Much of the world was focused last week on the rescue of the trapped Chilean miners. Many people derived lessons for life from their determination to survive their ordeal.
For 69 days, 33 men sat entombed in a dark underground cave, half a mile below civilization. They banded together and were on the brink of death when a drill bit from up above poked into their tiny shelter. They sent up a note that they were alive, and the nation of Chile, and the world, rejoiced. Food was sent down to the miners, and a couple of months later, they were pulled, alive and well, to safety.
What enabled these people to come out alive? By their own testimony, it was their shared plight and concern for one another. Before they were found to be alive in a tiny corner unaffected by the mine’s collapse, they survived by sharing a small amount of food that some of the men had left over in their lunch pails. Had each person reacted by caring solely for himself, no one would have made it. Had they not embraced one another, they would have all succumbed. Instead, they sat in that hot, damp, dark tomb, supporting and caring for one another.
In order to survive in our own cave, known as Earth, we must also learn how to care for one another and not be self-absorbed and self-centered. If we focus only on ourselves and are callous and inconsiderate of others, we will never excel and the society we create will be one we do not want to live in.
That is the message of the Tea Party revolution which is sweeping this country. People had become apathetic about the direction the country is taking. They permitted their leaders to act in ways which harmed the very populace they were elected to represent. Instead of recognizing their obligation to their constituents, they viewed themselves as being on a higher plane than the common man. Upon assuming positions of power, they lost touch with reality. They viewed themselves as being above reproach and promoted their own interests, oblivious and indifferent to the needs of others.
The failure of entrenched politicians was due not only to their trail of broken promises, but to the fact that they ignored the feelings and opinions of the people they were representing. They got away with this outrageous neglect of their mission because the masses weren’t united.
People who were being crushed by the declining economy, who had lost their jobs, whose incomes had dropped, and whose taxes had risen all believed that they had no options. Those who feared what would happen to their health care assumed that they had their backs against the wall and were out of options, as did people who had become ensnared in the growing government bureaucracy.
It was only after people began speaking to each other and realizing that they were not alone in their distress over the direction the country was taking that the incumbent Democrat reign began to weaken. Slowly, multitudes of people joined hands in the awareness that they were not isolated voices of dissent, and a movement began gathering speed and momentum.
People shared their concerns over rising taxes, a weakening economy, an ever-expanding big-brother government, and a president and party with an aggressive, leftist agenda.
It is only through open communication, a coming together of diverse groups, and selfless dedication to a cause and to each other that the country will succeed in reversing the current balance of power favoring the Democrats. When simple, ordinary folk organize around the cause of replacing politicians who promise one thing and do another, and when they finally demand an accounting from those who flout the public will, a changing of the guard will be ensured.
Let us also resolve to unify as we never have before, so that we can use the tools at our disposal to overturn the abuses of power that have harmed our community and individuals such as Sholom Mordechai. Let us resolve to follow the example ofAvrohom Avinu and the avos in the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis that we are currently studying. Let us genuinely adopt achdus as our defining trait, so that it may lead us from this dark cave of golus to the ultimate redemption, speedily and in our day.