Sunday, May 26, 2024

Attitudes Build Worlds

On a daily basis, one could spot the talmidim of Yeshivas Ohavei Torah taking their daily walk on Riverside Parkway during lunch break. Their rosh yeshiva encouraged these daily strolls, exercise that was good for the body and soul. This tree-lined street was especially pretty and the boys really enjoyed this walking time. It also happened to be a street where many Jewish families resided. Mrs. Adler just happened to park her car by her house as one of the boys was passing by. Seeing that she had a load of shopping bags that would take her a few trips up and down the stairs to bring into her house, the boy politely offered to help. In a jiffy, all of the shopping bags were in her house and she thanked the boy profusely for his kindheartedness.

Right down the street, Mrs. Berger had also just arrived home from buying groceries. She, too, ran into a strolling yeshiva bochur who graciously offered to help, and in no time her shopping bags were in her house. She was so appreciative that she took out a ten dollar bill and offered it to him for his efforts. Of course, he refused, but she insisted that she could not in good conscience use the services of a ben Torah without paying him, so he reluctantly accepted the money.


A couple of houses down, at the very same time, Mrs. Cohen was unloading merchandise from her car trunk as a third boy passed by. He, too, offered to help and she gladly accepted. But as he was carrying in the shopping bags, she was giving him all sorts of instructions. “Please don’t walk so fast, as you might trip and break the glass bottle. That’s not the way to put shopping on the floor. Do it softly, so you don’t break anything. Please don’t bump into the walls, as they are freshly painted.” She was so caught up in her instructions that she hardly uttered any word of thanks.


Needless to say, the varied reactions of the different recipients of the boys’ chessed brought varied results. Chavra chavra is lei. Word spreads. Mrs. Adler, who was so effusive in her appreciation, was the beneficiary of this same chessed on numerous occasions. Mrs. Berger, who insisted on tipping those who helped her, hardly ever had to carry her own shopping bags up the steps. But for Mrs. Cohen, the situation was much different. After another couple of unpleasant encounters, none of the boys ever offered to help her again. Of course, in a perfect world, the reaction of the recipients should have no bearing on the one doing the chessed, for a true baal chessed does it without expectation of reward or thanks. But we live in a world where people are only human and usually react according to the way they are treated.


And now for the rest of the story. All three women were mothers of girls going into shidduchim. The Adlers and the Bergers did not have to look far to find matches for their daughters. As far as they were concerned, the boys of Yeshivas Ohavei Torah had exemplary middos, as they had experienced firsthand their kindness and courtesy. Their shidduchim were just around the corner. Their neighbors, the Cohens, did not see any special friendliness on the part of these boys and weren’t particularly intrigued by them. To the contrary, the boys never offered her any help. They had to search for a shidduch somewhere.


While Mrs. Cohen was neighbors with the other two women, her behavior created a different situation for herself than the other two women faced. Her opinion of these fine boys was not based on reality, but on a subjective view created by her own shortcomings.


Here is another scenario that happens all the time. There are two gas stations diagonally across from each other at a busy intersection. The area has plenty of traffic with loads of potential customers. Only one of them is flourishing, while the other is struggling. Why?


Because the proprietor of the first one is friendly and courteous, while the other is gruff and impatient. The first one will top off the fluids in cars for no extra charge when people fill up on gas, while the other one nickels and dimes everyone for the smallest services. The first service station offers free air for tires to anyone who stops in, customer or not. The other one offers the same service – when you deposit fifty cents into the machine. Is it any wonder, then, that one has cornered the market while the other one hasn’t?


While we all co-exist in the same world, each and every one of us lives in his own “mini-world” based on his own opinion and experiences that very often are the results of choices that we ourselves make and the way that we conduct ourselves. No wonder Chazal say, “Who is a wise man? He who sees the results of his actions (Tamid 32a). The realities of different people vary from each other based on the situations that they created for themselves.


Of course, there is another major factor in this equation and that is the Hashgachah of Hakadosh Boruch Hu upon us. “Shomer pesaim Hashem” (Tehillim 116:6). Hashem is the protector of the simple. Even when we sometimes make foolish decisions that get us into trouble, the Ribono Shel Olam gets us out of the mess. But this, too, may be dependent on our actions.


Hashem tzilchaHashem is your protective shade” (Tehillim 121:5). The holy Baal Shem Tov explains that our relationship with Hashem is comparable to a man and his shadow. When he walks, the shadow walks with him, and when he jumps or makes any other movements, so does his shadow. It is like that with Hashem, Who is our shade. The way He acts towards us is reflected by the closeness that we create with Him. This is the main ingredient in the world that we create for ourselves.


In this week’s sedrah, we read, “These are the journeys of the Bnei Yisroel…” Why was it necessary for the Torah to list all the places the Bnei Yisroel camped? What does this add to what we already know about their travels in the midbar? Numerous answers are given.


Rabbeinu Bechaya says that there is a great lesson to be learned here. All of the happenings in a person’s life are a direct result of his deeds and thoughts. We see this through the travels of the Bnei Yisroel. When they had merits and conducted themselves according to Hashem’s will, the middas harachamim guided and protected them.


For example: “They camped in Har Shoferthey camped in Maskah.” Shofer can be translated as splendid and beautiful, while maskah means sweet. When they followed the ways of Hashem, they enjoyed beauty and sweetness. Conversely, when they became stubborn and sinned, there are names of other places that are unpleasant. “They camped in Charadah,” a place of trembling, “Dafkah,” a place of pressure, “Marah,” a place of bitterness. That is where the middas hadin took charge in order to punish them. This also explains some of the strange names mentioned during these travels.


Just how much of our actions and attitudes and our relationship with Hashem affect our lives is illustrated in the following remarkable story related by Rav Boruch Leizerovsky ztl, a rov in Philadelphia and av bais din of the Igud Harabonim of America.


Before World War II, Rav Leizerovsky was the rov of a shul in Lodz. With the outbreak of the war, he was sent to Auschwitz and was one of just a very few who survived three years of that purgatory. As is well-known, when one first entered the horrific camp, one had to pass a “selektsia,” the dreadful eye of the malach hamovess, Dr. Joseph Mengele, who, with the turn of a finger to the right or to the left, decided who was to live and who was to die. Like many others, Rav Boruch, who was young and healthy at the time, and fit for labor, was sent to the right. Here is his personal narrative:


“Over two years had passed, years of torture and oppression that are impossible to describe. The end of the war was nearing and there was an announcement made that our group would have to undergo another ‘selektsia’ by that demon, Mengele ym”sh. We were all sure that its purpose was to weed out the weaker ones in order to send them off to the gas chambers, and the stronger ones would be kept around in this gehennom…at least for now.


“At that time, I had a large wound on the bottom of my foot, so painful that I could barely walk. When my turn came to pass his inspection, I tried with all my strength to walk normally despite the agony I felt with every step. The monster could not discern anything wrong with me and he pointed to the right – the line of survival – much to my relief.


“But then I thought about what I had just done and my heart was filled with terrible regret. When the Nazis first invaded Lodz, I witnessed firsthand their barbaric cruelty, as they threw many young children out of third-floor windows and committed other unspeakable atrocities. I came to the conclusion that these were far beyond human comprehension and this is obviously a terrible decree from Above of hester ponim like never before.


“I vowed, therefore, that I will throw my burden upon Hashem and let Him guide me throughout this ordeal. I would not have any special plans of my own to save myself. I will place my entire trust in Hashem. How, then, is it that, all of a sudden, I tried on my own to save myself? This was the advice of the yeitzer hara to distract me from that special bond that I had forged with Hashem. My Father in Shomayim, Who guided me from the day of my birth even through this valley of death called Auschwitz, will continue to lead me on the proper path, whether for life or for death. For my part, I will not make any attempt to change my destiny.


“Immediately, I moved away from the group of people whose fate had already been decided by the cursed Mengele. Instead, I went to the back of the line of people who were still awaiting their examination. When my turn came once again to pass under the scrutiny of this butcher, I did not hide the fact that my foot was incapacitated. Rather, I limped by. It was obvious how agonizing this was for me. As expected, the monster pointed to the left and I was relegated to the line of the sick and the weak.


“Now I was resigned to my lot. Soon I would be marched to the gas chambers. I began to fulfill the Chazal that says, ‘Repent one day before your death,’ if indeed I even had one more day to live.


“At this point, I literally experienced the posuk which states, ‘How great are Your deeds, Hashem; exceedingly profound are Your thoughts. A boor cannot know nor can a fool understand this (Tehillim 92:6-7). To our utter astonishment, our line was transported by truck not to the gas chambers, but to a beautiful modern hospital. The Nazis ym”sh established this institution right next to the death camp. Its purpose was to fool the world. Since from time to time the Red Cross would appear to see if the ‘workers’ were being treated decently, this was put up as a charade to display how wonderful they were and how nicely they treated us.


“I was there for two weeks and they treated all of my ills and pains. The doctors, all Jews, cured me and got me back on my feet. Later, I found out that the line on the right was marched out to their deaths. The Nazis, seeing that their cause was lost, included them with thousands of others on a death march tens of kilometers a day with hardly any food or drink. Most of them died of starvation or just being depleted of their last ounce of strength. May Hashem avenge their blood” (from Sefer Bemaalos Kedoshim Vetehorim by Rabbi Dovid Silber).


How many of us would have acted the same way Rav Leizerovsky did? Perhaps we thought that by stepping out of the right line to be re-inspected, he acted irrationally and irresponsibly. But this was his own personal world built on his attitude and trust in Hashem. And ultimately it ended up saving his life.



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