Thursday, May 23, 2024

For Our Own Good

After the devastation of Churban Europe, the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, settled on these shores and began to rebuild his community. This was a most daunting task. First of all, he was in a totally new country that he wasn't accustomed to. His followers at the time were few and scattered, broken souls who struggled to put the pieces of their lives together. At the time, they didn't have the wherewithal to build shuls and mosdos. The Rebbe served as a listening ear for the groans of pain of his constituents and a shoulder to cry on. Resources or no resources, there was a lot of work to be done. Mosdos had to be built and the community had to take form. They started from scratch, but with great toil and mesirus nefesh things were taking shape.

The menahel charged with building the girls school once went to the Rebbe with a problem. He felt that he wasn’t getting the cooperation of the parents. Here he was being moser nefesh for the chinuch of their children, yet he felt that they weren’t on the same page with him. For the school to be a success, the parents and teachers had to work together. He asked the Rebbe for advice: How could he get the parents to be partners in this great venture?


The Rebbe thought for a while and suggested that the school do a project on kibbud av va’eim. They should learn the halachos and make posters and other projects regarding this great mitzvah. The menahel didn’t quite understand how this would solve the problem, but, like a true chossid, he followed the Rebbe’s advice.


The results were amazing. Not only was the program a smashing success, but the principal could also see a marked change in the parents’ attitude towards the school. They became much more involved and helpful in their daughters’ chinuch. The principal reported happily to the Rebbe that his eitzah worked wonders and suggested that the Rebbe had ruach hakodesh with his suggestion.


The Rebbe said that it was not ruach hakodesh at all, but rather an open Gemara.


A Gemara?


Yes. In Maseches Kiddushin (31a), Chazal say, “When Hakadosh Boruch Hu said the first two of the Aseres Hadibros, ‘Anochi’ and ‘Lo yihiyeh lecha,’ the nations of the world scoffed and said, ‘He is only seeking His own honor.’ But once He said, ‘Kabeid es avicha ve’es imecha – Honor your father and mother,’ they realized that He is not only interested in His own honor, but also in the honor of humans. They then admitted that even the first dibros are true.”


The Rebbe continued: “The parents, survivors of the churban, are broken in both body and spirit. They are struggling, just barely surviving. They’ve lost their families, are strangers in a foreign land, and are toiling beyond their kochos just to put food on the table and have a roof over their heads. Many of them are embittered and cannot find room in their hearts to be enthusiastic about their children’s ruchniyus, about honoring Hashem. But when they hear that the children are learning about honoring their parents, that Hashem is interested in their benefit, it shows that He cares about them. This strengthens their hearts and makes them enthusiastic about their children’s chinuch.”


This anecdote, aside from showing the great pikchus of a tzaddik who was totally steeped in Torah like the Satmar Rebbe, sheds light on the essence of our great simcha on Shavuos. There is a machlokes Tannaim as to how we should celebrate our Yomim Tovim: “Rabi Eliezer says: We can rejoice by either eating or drinking or by sitting and learning. Rabi Yehoshua says: Split the day, half for eating and drinking and half in the bais medrash. Rabi Elazar said: Everybody agrees that on Shavuos we must also celebrate in a physical way, because that is when the Torah was given” (Pesachim 68b).


This last statement of Rabi Elazar is difficult to understand. Would it not be more appropriate to celebrate the giving of the Torah in a spiritual way? Why, then, does everybody agree that on Shavuos we must also rejoice with food and drink?


This teaches us a great lesson about keeping the Torah. It would seem that fulfilling the mitzvos is solely to serve Hashem. Because He created us and He is Master of the Universe, and because He redeemed us from Mitzrayim, we are obligated to serve Him by keeping His commandments. While this is definitely true, we must also realize that keeping the Torah is much to our benefit, for Hashem created the world in order to do chessed with His creations. Performing the mitzvos allows Hashem to shower us with His blessings, so that we may enjoy His kindness both in this world and in Olam Haba.


And Hashem said to Yaakov, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and your native land and I will be with you. And Yaakov sent and summoned Rochel and Leah to the field, to his flock…” (Bereishis 31:3-4). At this meeting with his wives, Yaakov Avinu told them about Hashem’s message. Yaakov prefaced it by saying, “I have noticed your father’s disposition towards me is not as it was in the earlier days.” He told them about how Lavan tried cheating him and changing his wages a hundred times.


Only after this introduction did Yaakov tell Rochel and Leah about Hashem’s command to return to Eretz Yisroel. And what did Rochel and Leah answer? “Have we then a share and an inheritance in our father’s house?Are we not considered strangers?For he has sold us and even totally consumed our money…” (ibid. 14-15). What is the meaning of this rationalizing leaving the house of Lavan? If Hashem commanded them to go, then that is the only thing that matters. Why was it necessary to give reasons for leaving? And it seems that if things were working out well for them, then there would be no need to listen to Hashem’s word, chas veshalom. How do we understand this?


Rav Elya Lopian explains that from here we see one of the great fundamentals in avodas Hashem. One should not think that fulfillment of the Torah makes our lives difficult on this world, but it pays to live a life of hardship for the dividends we will receive in Olam Haba. One should not think that life in Olam Hazeh is one big sacrifice for the Ribono Shel Olam for which we will reap benefits in the future. No, this is not the proper way of looking at things. Rather, a person is required to recognize that by living a life of Torah, our lives on this world are also much enhanced. True, we will merit infinite reward in Olam Haba, but the goodness is not limited to the future. We enjoy it in our lives at the present time.


What kind of life does someone without Torah live? It is a life without goals, without purpose, and without direction. It is seeking pleasure for a fleeting moment, here today and gone tomorrow. Conversely, the Torah Jew leads a life of structure, builds a family on a solid foundation, and enjoys a feeling of fulfillment because his main component, the neshamah, is satisfied.


How different the strong Jewish community is from the outside world. Our neighborhoods are safe, peaceful, and free of crime. This is in contrast to the secular society, which is coming apart at the seams. Of course, Yaakov, Rochel, and Leah would listen to Hashem’s word regardless of what their situation was in Lavan’s house. But they also wanted to articulate that by listening to Hashem’s command, they weren’t sacrificing anything. It wouldn’t compromise their quality of life. To the contrary, Hashem wanted only their good and it was in their best interest.


About Maamad Har Sinaii, the posuk says,And all of the people saw the sounds…” (Shemos 20:15). Rashi says that this refers to the words emanating from Hashem. What would possibly be gained by seeing the words? Would it not suffice to just hear them?


Here they reached a very high level. Chazal tell us that Hakadosh Boruch Hu looked to the Torah as a blueprint and created the world. The Bnei Yisroel at that moment were able to see how every word of Hashem, when integrated into their daily life, would greatly enhance it. They were able to perceive that the Torah was not a burden on them, but rather a guide, a handbook to maximize their quality of life not only for the World to Come, but also in this world.


Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi said: With every word that emanated from the Mouth of Hakadosh Boruch Hu, the entire world became filled with a wonderful aroma. But if the world was already filled with the aroma from the first dibbur, where was there room for the aroma from the second dibbur to enter?Hashem brought a wind from His storage to blow away the first wonderful smell, which allowed for the next fragrance to enter” (Shabbos 88b). What is the meaning of this wonderful scent that accompanied Hashem’s words?


With this, Hashem taught us that His words are not a burden or a sacrifice, but rather the words of Torah are fragrant and geshmak. They add spice to our life. They enrich us and fill us with happiness. Certainly, we are servants of Hashem and we would serve Him even if it wouldn’t be to our benefit. But the fact of the matter is that the Torah sweetens our lives.


This is why Rabi Elazar says that on Shavuos everyone agrees that we must celebrate in a physical way. By doing so, we testify to a fact that is not so obvious: The Torah is not only good for our spirituality. It also benefits us in this physical world.


Ah freilichen Yom Tov.



Facing the Test

  Parshas Behar opens with the mitzvah of Shmittah. The discussion of the topic begins by stating that Hashem told these halachos to Moshe Rabbeinu

Read More »

My Take on the News

    Five Soldiers Die in Friendly Fire Mishap Tensions are running high in Israel, and even if life seems to be moving along normally

Read More »


Subscribe to stay updated