Thursday, May 23, 2024

And The Music Played On

So often, we read books about people who made it big, and it seems as if they led a charmed life, were born as geniuses with silver spoons in their mouths, were brought up surrounded by splendor, and then went on to become famous intellectuals, literati, scholars, politicians or artists whose fame and accomplishments captured the world's imagination. There is little for simple common folk, such as us, to learn from such people. We don't have the gift of genius, the enormous wealth or the pedigree to compare with them. We read the stories and we say, “If only we had been smarter, richer and more handsome, we could have accomplished so much more with our lives. But since we are not, we can excuse ourselves for our apathy, lack of initiative or action to help others, to lead people desperate for guidance, or to provide succor for those in need of help and salvation.” In fact, many of our leaders were born into poverty and suffered through childhood. They rose from humble backgrounds to occupy positions of authority and leadership, gaining the respect of the masses by dint of their hard work and long days and nights laboriously spent assisting others and bent over tomes.

Studying the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis as we are now, we see that the avos didn’t have it easy either, and this is so that we can relate to them, learn from them, and follow their examples.


In a new biography on Rav Mordechai Zuckerman zt”l titled “Yochid Vedoro,” he is quoted speaking about the practice of “eating teg” in the pre-war Lithuanian yeshivos. The boys would eat the main meal in the homes of local Jews, many of whom were poor and had little to offer. Rav Mordechai said, “Eating teg played a large role in the formation of the personalities of bochurim. It was said that a person who was lacking in fine personality traits was obviously one who hadn’t eaten teg, forby eating teg, you maintained some of the flavor of home. You learned how to say thank you and how to deal with embarrassment when the host family didn’t treat you properly. Those bochurim learned how to accept it when things didn’t go their way. They also learned how to deal with other people.”


Yeshiva bochurim in those days didn’t have it as easy as we do, yet they grew from their ordeals and were better able to deal with others because of those experiences. The abuse they took toughened them to be able to handle life’s difficulties, which would inevitably confront them as they matured and left the yeshiva.


There is a chassidishe vort on the words of the bracha “Borei nefashos rabbos.”


The explanation of the bracha is as follows. Hashem created great nefashos, the tzaddikim who would become the pillars of our nation. “Vechesronan al kol mah shebarasah.” They faced challenges and difficulties in virtually every area of life. Any problem that their children would encounter, they experienced first.


Why did this happen to them? “Lehachayos bahem nefesh kol chai.” So that we, their children, will be able to find “life,” a means and a path todaven for virtually anything, knowing that our forefathers davened for these very same things. Their tefillos forged a path that made it possible for us to approach the Kisei Hakavod and express our needs, just as they did.


All of the current crises or nisyonos that we face, such as problems withshidduchim, childlessness, difficulty in raising ehrliche children, safety from enemies, or parnassah, were faced and confronted by our avos andimahos.


The Slonimer Rebbe, in Nesivos Shalom, explains the words of the Mishnah in Maseches Avos which states, “Asarah nisyonos nisnasah Avrohom Avinu ve’amad bekulam,” with anothermaamar Chazal which tells us,“Ein amidah elah tefillah.” Avrohom Avinu, he says, faced ten serious trials and tribulations and he davened his way through them all.


The avos were baalei nisayon. They faced serious challenges, and in the way they confronted them lies their avhus. Our connection to them is based on the fact that we, in our personal nisyonos, can reach deep into ourselves and our history and find reservoirs of stamina and strength in our DNA, which is an inheritance from them. In fact, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, in Ruach Chaim (5,3), writes that the great levels that our forefathers worked so hard to reach thus became almost natural for us and are attainable with a minimum of effort.


Our avos, imahos, and every succeeding generation up until our grandparents and parents knew this, and they faced nisyonos undaunted, with a healthy, Jewish attitude.


They knew that, in this world, we have to forge on, prepared to confront all sorts of obstacles.


Recently, we experienced a universal outpouring of love and respect upon the sudden passing of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l. Much of the emotional reaction to him is undoubtedly the amazement people have from the way he dealt with adversity, overcoming handicaps which would have limited the accomplishments of a smaller person.


Despite his physical limitations, he spent his days and nights fighting off exhaustion, engulfed in a sea of Torah and the construction and maintenance of an empire of Torah which had not previously existed.   


He refused to permit his illness to force him to curtail his sedorim, shiurim, chaburos, shmuessen, davening, and acts of chessed and love for others.


His loss was mourned by all strata of Jewish society. Everyone knew that this was a man who experienced several serious nisyonos and remained determined to grow and lead.


On a different level, the universal appeal of the Rubashkin story is similar. There are many reasons Yidden from all walks of life have rallied around Reb Sholom Mordechai and invested time, money and prayer into the campaign, but one of them is because he and his wife have prominently embraced their nisayon in the time-honored Jewish way. Their resilience, optimism and simcha strike a chord. Their response, looking ahead with the Chovos Halevavos Shaar Habitachon held close to their hearts, is the Jewish reaction to difficulty.


People look to them and are reminded of the way our zaides and bubbes lived in the alter heim.


The tale is told of a joyous wedding. The crowd danced, as peddlers and fishermen joined hands with the town’s leading citizens. All rejoiced in honor of the chosson andkallah.


The band played with vigor and energy, feeding off the exuberance of the crowd, comprised of tired, over-worked people who had left the pressures and stress of everyday life at the door of the hall.


Few noticed the look of fury that crossed the face of the band-leader as he caught sight of his drummer, who had dozed off while playing. While playing his own instrument, the band-leader reached over and slapped the face of the slumbering drummer, startling him awake. In one motion, the drummer lifted his head and resumed drumming, as if he had never stopped. The music continued.


Rav Nachman of Breslov would recount this story, commenting with great satisfaction on the outcome: “Ah potch gechapt, uhn veiter geklapt – He received a blow and he kept on playing.”


Even when he sustains a blow, the rebbe taught, a Jew must keep on making music.


Our generation doesn’t like it when things don’t go the way we want them to. We have little patience to think things through and arrive at proper and intelligent conclusions. We too often seek quick, simplistic solutions even for complicated problems.


Due to marked advances in science, medicine and technology, a process that may have taken months to accomplish can now be done in seconds. Ulcers used to require surgery. Today, people ingest a small pill. Diseases which used to wipe out entire populations are cured with a shot. Computers can make trillions of computations a second and solve problems man thought could never be solved.


Meals that used to take hours to prepare are now packaged in a box, ready to be popped into a microwave oven and, in mere minutes, satiate the desires of all those who want it “now!”


News travels around the world in seconds. Leaders no longer have the time to stop and think before responding to a crisis. They are expected to instantly provide deep answers to perplexing questions.


People attempt to offer solutions for the problems we confront in the realm of shidduchim as if one can pop up if we only cared enough. Life is not that simple. Problems that took years to develop, and are the accumulation of social, economic and a host of other factors, cannot be solved with a snap of the fingers.


It is true; the shidduch system that determines our children’s lives and the future of our people remains flawed and fraught with pain and hardship. We read the letters and we hear the stories, yet if we don’t have someone close to us in the parsha whom we are worried about, we go on to the next topic.


The Gemara in Maseches Sotah (2a) states, “Omar Rabba Bar Bar Chanah omar Rabi Yochanon: vekashah lezavgon k’kriyas Yam Suf – It is as difficult to match up couples as it was to split the Yam Suf for the Bnei Yisroel after they left Mitzrayim.” The difficulties we currently experience with shidduchim are devorim kashim. They are immense, intricate and endemic, necessitating hard work and much thought to remedy.


The problems run deep, with baffling complexity. Simplistic solutions will not do; catchy phrases and slogans will not solve the crisis. What is required is a thorough examination of the problems and serious analysis leading to responsible, viable, solutions.


We each have to do what we can to bring about the day when all Jewish men and women find life mates without coming to the brink of despair. We have to treat the problem as if it were our own personal burden and leave no stone unturned to help people find shidduchim.


That’s the way of our avos. To work and work and work – ve’amad bekulam, davening through it all.


There is no magic pill. There is no databank you can go to and punch in a name and address and have a computer spit out the perfect match. You have to keep plugging away and refuse to accept defeat.


If you see a successful person, know that he or she has labored hard for many years. Such people have cried themselves to sleep many times. At other times, they went for days without sleeping. They never ceased working, thinking, doing, moving and, most importantly, refusing to let anything get in the way of their goal.


They davened as if their lives depended on it. They gave tzedakah and they helped other people. They ran around looking forsegulos. They worked and worked and worked until one day the bracha was fulfilled.


There are no shortcuts in life. In order to arrive at a solution, you have to understand the true essence of the problem and analyze every step of the process. It is only by ripping the issue apart from beginning to end, and thoroughly understanding every one of its components, that you can arrive at a working solution. Often, the issue is complex and requires great effort to be examined from all sides, while bearing in mind all the ramifications of the attempted resolutions. In fact, often, the deeper you go into the complexity of the conundrum, the simpler and more obvious the solution is. For only when you truly understand what you are facing and the forces organized against you, are you able to dominate them.


Someone shared a comment with me from a very dynamic rov and mashpia. During Hakafos in his shul, the mispallelim were singing the traditional song, “Ivdu, ivdu, ivdu, ivdu ess Hashem besimcha.” Many of the younger people were singing the tune, but rather than repeating the word “ivdu” four times, as the tune goes, they were extending the word for a longer period, drawing it out.


The rov stopped the Hakafah and pointed out that the older generation knew that it was a process. They knew it was ivdu, and then again ivdu, and then again, despite the obstacles, a continuance of the avodah, undaunted, and once again ivdu.


Our generation wants their avodah to be smooth and uninterrupted. They want an ivdu that isone long song, with no bumps in the road.


Back in Parshas Lech Lecha, we learned how Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Avrohom Avinu to leave his home and birthplace for a promised land. Avrohom received Hashem’s promise that he would be blessed in the new country. The posuk relates that following the command to leave his home, Avrohom took Sarai and Lot and the nefashos they made in Charan and they left for Canaan.


Lot’s shepherds were not able to get along with those of Avrohom Avinu, and Avrohom decided that they had to separate. He could not bear the thought of entering into a dispute with Lot, and he told his nephew to choose the area where he preferred to live.


The posuk relates that Lot saw that the Kikar Hayardeinwas blessed with fertile land and he chose to move there. He was looking for the quick fix. He was looking to make a fast buck. He wasn’t interested in challenges.


Lot didn’t think through the problem to arrive at a proper solution. He ignored the root of his dispute with Avrohom and the fact that he would be living with the wicked people ofSedom. All he was interested in was making money. The dollar bills were dancing in his eyes as he surveyed the territory he had chosen as his own.


He left the company of Avrohom, the holiest and kindest man alive, to move in among the most wicked and selfish people ever to walk the earth. He could have answered Avrohom that his shepherds would exercise more care in the future. Instead, as soon as Avrohom asked him to leave, he was gone, off to the Kikar Hayardein. He thought his life would be better off there than living in close proximity to an honest and righteous man.


Avrohom didn’t let Lot cut corners. He got upset when Lot fed off of other people’s property. We all know the end of the story. Sedomwas destroyed and its inhabitants and their wealth were obliterated.


The solution to Lot’s problem could have been to plead with Avrohom Avinu for guidance and direction. The solution could have been to stay true to the principles taught to him by Avrohom since they had lived in Charan.


We are all affected by outer appearances. Promises of fame and glory tempt many people. The objects of our desires may not be good for us, but we rationalize them and fall prey to the lure of Sedom. The glitter dazzles and blinds us to what lies beneath the attractive veneer.


Lot had a problem and he saw the Kikar Hayardeinas a convenient solution.


If you want to be successful at what you do, and if you want to really solve pressing issues of the day, know that you have to work real hard at it and not simply take advantage of the opportunity to run off to the attractive kikar, for what may appear enticing at first glance may indeed be as virtuous as Sedom was.


Our job is to care about the problems of our time and attempt to solve them by working intelligently to come up with proper and responsible remedies. Our job is to care about people who aren’t making ends meet and those who are in pain, who have been abused, who are suffering, and who are seeking encouragement and guidance.


Our job is to keep on making music, even when the going gets rough, Uhn veiter klappen.


It’s the Jewish way. It’s the only way.




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