Thursday, May 23, 2024

Celebrate Together

Rav Yaakov Edelstein, who passed away last week was a leading rov, founding talmid of Ponovezh Yeshiva, and close disciple of the Chazon Ish. When meeting him it seemed as if his high Litvishe yarmulka was a resplendent crown, a remnant of the bygone royalty of Lita.

A great tzaddik and gaon, he cherished all Jews, the simple and downtrodden as much as the successful and content. Multitudes beat a path to his door, some to speak in learning, others to immerse themselves in the concealed parts of Torah he mastered. Many came seeking words of blessing and encouragement.

Listen to a story of responsibility, sensitivity and achdus.

Rav Yaakov Edelstein once recounted: “While I was learning in Ponovezh, a group of bochurim who were not really up to par came to the yeshiva. When I went to visit the Chazon Ish along with my friend, Rav Jacobowitz, the Chazon Ish asked us to speak to the older bochurim in the yeshiva and convince them to learn with the weaker bochurim. I said to the Chazon Ish, ‘What should I say if a bochur tells me that he wants to use his time to learn iyun and he does not want to waste it learning with such a bochur?’

“The Chazon Ish answered me, ‘Ask him if he puts on tefillin. When he says yes, ask him why he doesn’t feel that it’s a waste of time and that he could be learning iyun during that time.’ The Chazon Ish equated putting on tefillin, which is a Biblical mitzvah, to learning with a weaker bochur.”

Imagine what our world would look like if we all felt and acted like that. Think about the revolution we could bring about, how many young people wouldn’t feel lost, and how pleasant everything would be.

Rosh Chodesh Adar ushers in the special season of simcha. Chazal say, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha, when Adar comes, we increase our joy.” A Jew must always be joyous, yet there is something about Adar that prompts us to be happier than usual.

During Adar, we clear our minds of mundane thoughts that usually impact our moods and focus on the coming days of redemption, Purim in Adar and Pesach in Nissan.

On Purim, we celebrate the geulah that came about when the Jews became united. On Purim, in merit of the diverse nation coming together in prayer and fasting, they were able to negate the decree that had been enacted to annihilate them.

Every year, during the month of Adar and on Purim, we engage in actions that recreate the bond of salvation. We send each other gifts, mishloach manos, we drink with good friends, and we help those who are unable to make ends meet. Such actions echo the mutual love extant back then, bringing us together and enabling us to merit redemption.

There is no greater joy.

During the month of Adar, we learn the parshiyos that detail the particulars of the construction of the Mishkon.

When we join together as one in the month of Adar, it is reminiscent of the avodah of the Mishkon, where Jews came together in unity and love.

The Vilna Gaon (Shir Hashirim 1:17) describes the power and potency of the Mishkon. Every Jew had a flame in his heart, but their passions were dormant until there was a collective place where the Jews and their little fires could gather and unite. As they connected with each other, their collective fires fueled a brilliant flame that would light up the world.

The Shechinah resides inside the heart of every good Jew who has purified himself and raised himself to the proper level of holiness. The Mishkon is the gathering place for the people who have brought themselves to that level.

When Hashem commanded Moshe to solicit donations from the Jewish people for the Mishkon, He told him to take a “terumah” from every person who will contribute from his heart, “asher yidvenu libo.” This hints that the people were not only contributing gold and silver, but also giving some of their spirit that lies in the heart towards the construction of the Mishkon, to enable all the hearts to join together in the special place.

In a very different way, this is what happens on Purim as Jews sit around the table at the seudah, each one with their little secrets, unspoken dreams, hopes, ambitions, and ideas that live only inside them. And then, as happened in the Mishkon, they all burst forward and come alive.

Life happens on Purim, the Torah was received again by the Jewish people because of the great ahavah that existed between them.

This past Shabbos, we read the parsha of shekolim, because their collection is another indication that the Mishkon was meant to achieve a sense of shared purpose that defines the Jew.

Achdus is a current buzzword, often misused as a catchphrase to paint those of us who have standards and traditions, as haters. People who call out the falsifiers of the Torah are condemned for lacking achdus.

Achdus doesn’t mean an absence of rules. It doesn’t mean that anything goes. It means that everyone who beholds holiness has a unique role to play in the mosaic of Yiddishkeit. Achdus doesn’t mean that we let everyone get away with everything because to go after them would cause pirud. Essentially, the opposite is true. If someone engages in actions that cause others to mock us or that cause people to deviate from halacha, we are obligated to speak up. Doing so removes pirud caused by sin and chillul Hashem, and brings about real achdus.

Achdus means that we set aside our differences with other good Jews and we daven together, speak to each other, bury the hatchets, and celebrate together. It is then that our little sparks come together and create giant flames of kedusha. It can’t happen any other way.

The Mishkon, which was the epicenter of unity in the universe, came with severe restrictions. While everyone could contribute to its construction, there were many halachos regulating who could approach the Mishkon and who couldn’t, who could perform the avodah there and who couldn’t. Achdus comes with rules. It is not a free-for-all.

The pesukim at the beginning of Sefer Bamidbor (1:50) charge shevet Levi with assembling and dismantling the Mishkon and its keilim when the Bnei Yisroel traveled. Any outsider who attempted to do the coveted work specified for shevet Levi would be killed. There were also precise rules for each one of the keilim.

While detailing the laws of the Mishkon, the posuk says, “Vehayah haMishkon echad – And the Mishkon will be one.” The Ibn Ezra explains that the oneness of the structure reflects the oneness of Hashem’s creation. It reflects harmony and unity.

The Bnei Yisroel became one, coming together at Har Sinai and then at the Mishkon. The Shechinah in each person joined together at this special place, bringing back the Sinai experience, forming a home for the Shechinah in this world and a place where the voice of the Shechinah could converse with Moshe.

With the words of the Vilna Gaon as our guide, we can understand the oft-repeated lesson that achdus will lead to geulah. It’s not merely in the merit of unity. It is the synergistic effect of unity, when we camp around a place and allow the song within each of us to emerge, fusing with the melodies of others, that will lay the opening for the geulah.

Haman was well aware of the power Jews possess when they are together. As an Amalekite, he knew their secret. Seeing them divided, he thought that he would be able to overcome them, as he referred to them as a people who are “mefuzar umeforad.”

He didn’t succeed, because Esther advised Mordechai, “Leich kenos es kol haYehudim. Go and gather all the Jews. If they will be unified, we will be able to overcome this.” And we did.

We live in an era in which words are cheap. Hurling irresponsible accusations has become quite simple. The new president is closer to the Jewish people and Israel than any president ever was, yet his enemies have targeted him as an anti-Semite and the media has adopted that wild accusation as fact, as ridiculous as it is. Leftists who hate Israel, along with media stalwarts who never met a Jewish cause they like, promote this fiction, as they sell fear over rising anti-Semitism, they claim is caused by the president.

Over the ages, we have experienced real anti-Semitism. We have been tortured and killed by every method available to man. We have been kept out of cities, states and countries. We have been locked out of universities, trades and professions. We have been locked into ghettos. We should be smart enough not to fall prey to the fake stuff. We should be thankful to the president for his friendship to our people and to Israel. We should find ways to let him know that we appreciate the new relationship, a most welcome change from the previous administration and the indignities suffered at the hand of the Democrat Party. We should definitely not use him as an attention magnet and punching bag.

Megillas Esther is a guide in dealing with anti-Semitism and anti-Semites. “Leich kenos.” Seriously, why can’t we all just get along? Why do we act foolishly in public? Why do we squabble over nonsense? Why are we divided by trivial matters, for example it is no longer sufficient to wear a black yarmulke, now questions are asked whether it is made of velvet or terylene?

Why can’t we put the pettiness aside and become the great people we can be?

Imagine if we could gather together, in achdus, and harness the force of “leich kenos,” “terumah,” and “asher yidvenu libo.”

We could turn over the world.

After undergoing throat surgery one year ago, Rav Yaakov Edelstein could only communicate by writing. A few months ago, a speech therapist suggested that the rov could relearn how to speak, and he asked Rav Edelstein to write down two words with which they should begin.

The rov thought for a long moment. He was rebuilding his vocabulary. Which two words would be most useful?

Then he wrote down his decision.

Todah and amein.

Two words. One to acknowledge his family and talmidim, as well as the doctors, nurses and visitors who were so kind to him. The other word would connect him with Heaven and bind him to the Master of the World.

Essentially, those were the tools of the Mishkon and the tools that saved the Jewish people in Shushan.

The Machnovka Rebbe of Bnei Brak maintained the customs of his Chernobyler forbearers, except one. He sat in the front of his bais medrash facing the people, in contrast to Chassidic tradition, where the rebbe faces mizrach.

He explained that he had spent decades in virtual seclusion in Siberia. He said that while there, “There was nothing I craved as much as a connection with another Yid. I was literally starving for that. Now that Hakadosh Boruch Hu, in His great kindness, has allowed me to sit here, in Eretz Yisroel, in a chassidishe shtiebel, surrounded by Yidden, I cannot turn my face away from them.”

We learn in the parsha (26:20) that atop the Aron, which sat in the Mishkon, there were two small keruvim, cherubs, which faced each other, “peneihem ish el ochiv.” They faced each other, because although they were in the holiest place on earth, they signified that no matter how important we are, we should never lose sight of others.

The posuk says in Iyov (23:13), “Vehu b’echod umi yeshivenu.” The Vilna Gaon explains the cryptic words to mean that when Klal Yisroel is together b’achdus, the Shechinah rests among us.

The beauty of Adar is that we get to see each other in a good light. We unite to celebrate our great deliverance on Purim. We read Parshas Terumah as Adar arrives to remind us that to merit the return of the Mishkon and the Shechinah, we have to face each other with happiness, love and heart.

Let’s do it.

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