The modern state of Israel was founded to be a place of refuge for the Jewish people. Here they will be safe. Here the Jews will fight for and defend themselves. After thousands of years in exile, the Jews will return to their ancestral home. They will build a country, the desert will bloom, and the nations will respect us. We will be democratic, progressive, intelligent, advanced, and recognized as a leading force for good.
Yet, something happened to that dream and it didn’t turn out as planned.
Arabs kill innocent men, women and children, and the world blames the victims.
An eltereh Yid stands at a bus stop. This person, who never harmed anyone in his life, is a target. When his murderer is neutralized, the American government and the compliant media term it an over-aggressive response.
A teenage murderer stabs a 13-year-old boy on a bicycle and is cared for in an Israeli hospital, yet the Palestinian president, who speaks of moderation but foments murder and doesn’t work towards peace, spreads a lethal blood libel that quickly gains traction.
The murderous Jews, he would have you believe, killed the teenage tzaddik. And he is supported by the United States, propped up by the European Union, and lauded by a billion Muslims.
And we wonder when it will end and how it will end.
We wonder why it happens. How can people be so cruel? How can people be so depraved, insane and irrational?
What can we do about it?
No nuclear bomb can stop teenagers from taking a kitchen knife and stabbing a man walking down the street. No army can go door to door identifying and neutralizing every individual ready to kill and be killed for a lie. No army and no police force can stop senseless individual acts of wanton terror.
Palestinians have heard the lie so many times they may even believe it. Jews have no history in this land, they don’t belong here. Jews are imperialist conquerors who attempt to usurp Arabs from their ancestral land. Jews want to steal the Haram al-Sharif from Muslims with the fallacious claim that two Botei Mikdosh stood on that hallowed spot. No amount of rationalization or historic fact will convince them of the truth, or stop them from killing and being killed to maintain that fictitious narrative.
I was in Eretz Yisroel for a couple days this past weekend; it broke my heart to walk down streets usually teeming with people and find them deserted. People don’t go out at night and many don’t venture out even during the day. Kids stay home from school and moms make do with less milk, fewer eggs, and stale bread. Going shopping becomes a life-threatening activity.
The heart aches to be at the Kosel and find less than a minyan of Jews there.
How sad it was to walk to the Kosel on Shabbos and find goyishe tourists making their way there and snapping pictures of the empty Kosel plaza. I went to the gan of Hashem, the place from where His Presence never left, and I found Hashem lonely. Valuing their lives, His children didn’t come to visit this past Shabbos. And who can blame them?
On Thursday, I was there, and it was so empty that birds were parading around as if they own the plaza. I felt like the Tanna’im who wept when they saw foxes on the Har Habayis. But then I mused that they were pigeons, birds of peace. Fluttering around the holy site, they foretell that one day soon, peace will reign there and the home of the Shechinah will be rebuilt.
Last Thursday as well, I visited two Shuvu schools on Rechov Rashi in the heart of Yerushalayim. 40% of the students stayed home. Their parents feared putting them on a bus. They feared having their children sit in a classroom. During recess, nobody dared play in the yard. After all, Rabbi Yeshayahu Akiva Krishevsky Hy”d was killed on Rechov Malchei Yisroel, just a couple blocks from the Shuvu schools, at a bus stop across from a Bais Yaakov school, and the Shuvu students heard the gunfire.
How much can people take? How strong can they be? Enough to withstand wave after wave? People may be strong and their spirit may be heroic, but sadness and depression are in the air. There’s no avoiding it.
Israel has known war since its beginning. It has been attacked by armies and terror groups, with rockets and bombs. Suicide bombing began in Israel and was exported around the world. Plane hijacking was invented by Israel’s enemies, and it was Israel that perfected the battle against the phenomenon. More recently, the country has been confounded by the latest tactic to undermine the state, attacks by so-called random lone wolves spurred to action by hateful rhetoric and religious promises.
How do you fight against a man apparently assimilated into your culture, working for a national company, driving a company car to bring him to service calls in Jewish residences and businesses? How do you identify someone like that and isolate him from the rest of society before he can do harm?
Can you lock up every teenager? Can you ban all knives?
Imagine a wedding to which no guests show up, a chosson standing forlornly in middle of a dance floor with no circles around him, a kallah in her gown, sitting on a chair, waiting for well-wishers who do not appear.
That’s what went through my mind as I stood at the center of the universe, mesos kol ha’aretz, Yerushalayim. Her streets are empty, her inhabitants fearful, her stores and sidewalks, usually bursting with energy and vitality, stilled.
As I went down the stairs to the Kosel, it seemed as if someone had pressed pause on the usual soundtrack, the hum of banter in varying accents that fills the air. It was eerily quiet at the Kosel. There was none of the buzz of minyonim being formed, Borchus and Amein Yehei Shmei Rabbahs blending with Rav Chananya ben Akashyas.
My footsteps echoed across the vacant plaza. When I approached the sacred wall, I was heartened by the sight of a lone man, his gravelly voice intoning words of Tehillim.
Keep davening, Reb Yid. Speak for all of us.
Last week, we read the story of Noach and the great flood brought about by the sins of man.
This week, we learn the story of Avrohom Avinu and his travels to and from the Promised Land.
We learn of his charity, character, honesty, and, above all, chessed.
The first words spoken by the Ribbono Shel Olam to a Jew was Hashem’s commandment to Avrohom Avinu: “Lech lecha mei’artzecha…el ha’aretz asher areka.” The root of the eternal Jewish yearning for the land is in this posuk, at which time Avrohom Avinu was invested with a drive and determination to reach its boundaries.
Why did Hashem not tell Avrohom which land He was leading him towards? Why did Hashem send him forth on a journey without revealing the destination? Rashi (Bereishis 12:2) asks this question and answers, “Lo gila lo hamakom miyad kedei lechaveva be’einov.” The actual destination was withheld from Avrohom Avinu to add to its appeal.
Wouldn’t the opposite seem to be a more effective way of making Avrohom desire the land? If a travel agent is trying to sell a traveler on the benefits of a particular getaway, he wouldn’t say, “Look, trust me, I can’t tell you where it is, but when you’ll get there, you’ll love it.” Rather, he will inundate his customer with brochures and pictures that depict the scenery, the tranquility and the local attractions.
How are we to understand Rashi’s explanation? How does not revealing the destination increase the anticipation for it?
The Steipler Gaon shared a powerful psychological insight. We love that which we work for, that which doesn’t come easy. A good relationship doesn’t just happen. It’s the product of work, struggle, effort, and ultimate triumph.
Hakadosh Boruch Hu was teaching Avrohom Avinu how the unbreakable bond between Klal Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel would be formed. He would lead Avrohom Avinu on a journey that would be punctuated with adversity and challenge. At the end of the road, however, he would enter the land and he would love it.
Eretz Yisroel is nikneis b’yissurim, acquired through hardships.
It is obvious that we live in historic times. Each day is momentous. We have a sense that things are coming together and the stage is being set for a great moment. Eretz Yisroel is at the center of that stage, the place where it will happen. These yissurim will lead to all of us returning home once again.
Avrohom Avinu tasted the land, then lost it. Hashem promised him many brachos (Bereishis 12:2-3), yet they weren’t immediately realized. Then, after famine, war and oppression, Hashem reassured him, “Al tira” (15:1), your children will be driven from the land, but they will return. The blessing and suffering it entails have been interwoven ever since, because, as the Steipler says, it’s the obstacles that create the indestructible bond, the bris domim, between us and the Holy Land.
After enduring hardship and danger, a family member of the Rogatchover Gaon escaped from Europe and made his way to Eretz Yisroel. The Turkish rulers of Palestine refused to allow him to immigrate. However, were he to become a Turkish citizen by signing a paper that he was born in the country they controlled, he would be able to remain in Eretz Yisroel. He wrote a letter to the Rogatchover asking if he could sign falsely that he was born in Eretz Yisroel in light of the danger he faced. He was surprised when the Gaon, known for his complete adherence to emes, ruled that it is permitted. The Rogatchover shared a brilliant source.
The Gemara (Kesubos 75) quotes the posuk which states, “UleTzion yei’omar ish ve’ish yulad bah – To Tzion, it will be said, man after man is born in her” (Tehillim 87:5). Not just one who is born in Eretz Yisroel, but also one born in chutz la’aretz and anticipates Tzion’s rebuilding is considered to have been born there. The Rogatchover reasoned that his relative was desperate for binyan Tzion and was thus considered to have been born there.
Someone who lives with that hope – pleading, begging and crying to the Bonei berachamov Yerushalayim – is considered its child, spawned and nourished by the chiyus that emanates from it.
Now, as we stand in our shuls following davening, earnestly reciting Tehillim for our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel, we show more than solidarity. We proclaim our right to be included in the list of Yerushalayim’s children.
These are the final hammer blows before the shofar gadol is sounded.
Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlop was very ill at the end of his life and endured terrible headaches. His Shaarei Chessed apartment was in the center of an area experiencing a building boom, and the loud and incessant drone from machinery was ruining whatever rest he might have enjoyed. The family decided to ask the contractor to suspend building for a few months in deference to the great rabbi who lay there, suffering. Rav Yaakov Moshe got wind of their plans and directed them to leave things as they were.
“The machines are loud,” he said, “but it doesn’t seem that I will merit seeing the true rebuilding of Yerushalayim in my lifetime. At least let me hear the sounds of building.”
We hear sounds. They sound awful and they keep us awake at night, but they are sounds of construction, sounds of a bright future.
On Motzoei Shabbos, I visited Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chevron. He related to me the shmuess he delivered at his yeshiva earlier during seudah shlishis. He cited the words of the Ramban in Bereishis (6:3) in explanation of the cryptic posuk, “Vayomer Hashem lo yadon ruchi va’adam l’olam beshagom hu vosor.”
He explained that Hashem created man to be “yoshor,” like malochim with a nefesh placed in them to make them spiritual beings. Instead, through the pursuit of physical desires, man became like animal, whereupon Hashem removed his spirit from man and he became a physical being without spiritual attributes, unlike the malochim. Once he became a physical being, Hashem said that he is not any more worthy than animals of having Hashem’s life-giving spirit in him. However, Hashem did give man a period to repent. If man does teshuvah and reclaims his spiritual being, Hashem would welcome his return.
Our initial mission was to be like malochim. We have the capacity to be like malochim. If we would only control our pursuits of taavah, we can reclaim our mission and then earn life.
The Chofetz Chaim in Sefer Sheim Olam (Chapter 18) cites a similar concept from the Semag in the introduction to his sefer. He writes that Hashem created man with nishmas adam, which equates him to a malach through his knowledge and intelligence, but he was also given a nefesh bahamis, which is controlled by physical desires and contains bad traits, such as anger and illicit desire. If the nefesh habahami is subjugated, man becomes like a malach and is regarded as a tzaddik. If the nefesh habahami rules, then man becomes like an animal and is regarded as a rasha.
The posuk testifies that Noach was a tzaddik. He was thus saved as the rest of the world was destroyed. He was the singular person fulfilling his role and was granted life.
Avrohom Avinu was the paragon of virtue. He observed the entire Torah and performed chesed with all of mankind. He welcomed nomads into his home, and fed and cared for them. They turned out to be angels disguised as men. They came to him to deliver brachos, for he was fulfilling his role and living as a malach betzuras adam. Hashem promised Avrohom at the outset of this week’s parshah that a great nation would emanate from him. He will be blessed and all the families of the earth will be blessed through him. For Avrohom was a tzaddik, as described by the Semag. He was a malach, as described by the Ramban. Thus, he merited much blessing and was an example for others to follow and earn blessing as they fulfilled the role Hashem intended for man.
In our day, as we are beset by resho’im who seek our demise, in order to earn life and safety in our troubled universe, we must hew to the example of Avrohom Avinu, dedicating our lives to Torah, ki hi chayeinu v’orech yomeinu, and chesed, for tzedakah tatzil mimovess. We perform chesed for that is the way of Hashem, and we are commanded to follow his example, as the posuk states, “Veholachta bidrochov.” Following in the path of Hashem sustains life, thus “Al sheloshah devorim ha’olam omeid,” the world exists on three things, Torah, avodah and gemilus chasodim. Much the same Rabi Elozor (Sanhedrin 98b) told his talmidim that Torah and gemilus chasodim spare from chevlei Moshiach.
In times such as these, we can only gain by following the examples of Avrohom and Noach, agitating for what is proper, seeking to help and encourage others, and engaging in charitable and honorific acts, accompanied by Torah study and observance.
We ask Hashem, “Samcheinu kiymos inisonu.” May our good acts spare us. May the blood flowing in the streets be replaced by blood flowing from korbanos in the Beis Hamikdosh. May the lives lost, the families destroyed, and the voices stilled be revealed as steps towards the redemption, speedily in our times.