They wanted to know. Was it something that they had to worry about? How would this peril affect them?
They were afraid to just approach the rosh yeshiva and ask him what happened, so the bnei hayeshiva asked one of his closest talmidim, Rav Dovid Tevel, the Nachlas Dovid, to approach him. With great trepidation, Rav Dovid entered the private room of the rosh yeshiva and, with chosen words, said to Rav Chaim that he and the other talmidim were alarmed by his sudden crying and outpour of emotion.
At first, Rav Chaim was hesitant to divulge what was on his mind, but since in Heaven it was determined that his outpour of emotion should happen in public, he saw it as a sign that he should indeed share with his talmidim that which was in his heart.
“Know my son,” the rosh yeshiva said in a quivering voice, “that the day will come when the walls of European Jewry will shake and all of its mosdos of Torah will be destroyed and uprooted. But in the end, they will be reestablished in the last journey of the Jewish people before the geulah, golus America. The Torah was destined to go into ten exiles before the final redemption. First it went to Bavel, then to North Africa, then to Egypt, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Poland-Hungary, and Lita. It will still yet find a home in America, the last center of Torah.”
“But why did rebbi cry the second time?” asked Rav Dovid.
“I am worried and fearful,” said Rav Chaim, “because of the hardships and obstacles that the builders of Torah in this final golus will face. Will they be able to establish it in the same form, with the same pattern of mesorah that we have? Who knows what look it will have after its arduous journey there?”
At the time Rav Chaim said this, the possibility of having full-fledged Torah communities and institutions in America was about as likely as having Torah today on planet Mars. These words of the Volozhiner rosh yeshiva were passed on from mouth to ear throughout the generations, but no one could envision their practical application. It was only with the outbreak of World War II that people began to see the vision of Rav Chaim coming to fruition.
The great manhig hador, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, would constantly speak of Rav Chaim’s prophecy. When his brother-in-law, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, and his talmidim were on the run in 1940, he was constantly mechazek those around him with these words of Rav Chaim. Rav Aharon Kotler heeded these words when he escaped to America. Today, we see the realization of this dream in its fullest sense (Avi Hayeshivos).
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“These are the journeys of the Bnei Yisroel who went forth from the land of Mitzrayim according to their legions, under the hand of Moshe and Aharon” (Bamidbar 33:1). We know that every single letter in the Torah has a purpose and the Torah is very frugal with its words. Why, then, was it necessary to enumerate all of the travels of the Bnei Yisroel, especially since most of them are already mentioned in earlier parshiyos?
Numerous meforshim deal with this question. The Ramban says that Hashem commanded Moshe to record all these places because great secrets are contained in these forty two masa’os. In fact, the Mogein Avrohom (428:8) quotes the Tzror Hamor that they allude to the mystical Forty-Two Letter Name of Hashem.
The seforim hakedoshim say that until this parsha, when the places where Klal Yisroel camped were mentioned, they were only a place to stop temporarily on their way to their ultimate destination of Eretz Yisroel. But here, the Torah repeats the entire list of the journeys to tell us that in addition to merely being a means of getting to Eretz Yisroel, they served a valuable purpose of their own. They refined Klal Yisroel, preparing them to live in the Holy Land, and they each provided Hashem’s nation with valuable lessons. This is why these travels were listed as a unit unto themselves. But there is an important lesson for us that rings true throughout the generations.
In next week’s sedrah, the Torah states, “For I have given to Eisav as an inheritance Har Se’ir” (Devorim 2:5). A similar posuk in Yehoshua (24:4) accentuates the difference between Yaakov and Eisav in this respect: “To Yitzchok I gave Yaakov and Eisav. To Eisav I gave Har Se’ir to inherit and Yaakov and his sons went down to Mitzrayim.” Why is it that the chosen son, Yaakov, and his pure and righteous progeny are relegated to golus and wandering, whereas Eisav Harasha and his corrupt descendants get to find their homeland immediately?
To understand this, says Rav Ahron Bakst, let us observe the nature of creatures. When a calf is born, it is already on its feet just a few days later, and is already capable of eating on its own. How different is it with the birth of a human baby, whose mother is busy taking care of it day and night. It usually takes at least a year for it to get on its feet and began to say words. Then, preparing the child for life and being mechanech him takes many years. What practical message can we derive from this?
We see from here that man, the purpose of creation, the one who the world revolves around, needs more preparation for his role in life. A single cow, although important and useful, is not nearly as significant as man. Thus, it takes a lot less time to develop. As Chazal say, “A one-day-old ox is already called an ox” (Bava Kama 65b).
This is true with the direction of the entire briah. That which has a greater mission in life and whose goal is higher and exalted has a longer time of priming and readying for its function. The planets and the animals do not serve such a pivotal position in the briah, so their development does not take so long. But man, who was created as the focal point of the world, and who has been endowed with powers that can hoist him up to exalted levels, requires much longer preparation. He must endure hardships and travails before he reaches his full maturity.
It is the same with Klal Yisroel, as opposed to Eisav and the other nations of the world. Bereishis bara Elokim. Because of Klal Yisroel, who is called reishis, the first and foremost, Hashem created the world. Thus, all the other people do not need a lengthy period of preparation before they find their land, their destination. But Klal Yisroel, the purpose of creation, has a higher calling in this world, with loftier goals that necessitate travels, nisyonos and troubles before we reach the Promised Land for good.
This has been the story of our people from the very beginning. The first words that Hashem said to Avrohom Avinu were, “Lech lecha – Go.” As Rashi says, go for your own sake. Avrohom’s journeys, and the journeys of his progeny, are all for our ultimate benefit. It was so with the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar, and it was so with our people from Bavel to Northern Africa, from Germany to Eastern Europe, and throughout.
What applies to the entire nation is true of each individual. The hardships that a Yid faces are merely Hashem refining him. The nisyonos polish a person and form him so that he can realize his full potential and accomplish his purpose.
This, says the Skulener Rebbe, is why Parshas Masei is always lained during the Three Weeks. It was during this period of Bein Hametzarim that Klal Yisroel suffered so much at the hands of the goyim. All of our pursuers and tormentors caught up with us during Bein Hametzarim. The sedrah reminds us that these hardships are only temporary. They are merely travels that will produce Hashem’s most beautiful fruit.
There is also a comforting thought here, says Rabbeinu Bechaya. It was well-known that in most places mentioned, it was impossible for a human being, and most certainly an entire nation of millions of people, to survive. Yet, Hashem provided us with all of our needs in these most dangerous places. This should serve to strengthen our emunah that no matter how difficult the times we live in, Hashem is most capable of guiding us and sustaining us.
This is also a lesson for us as parents and mechanchim. We have a tendency to expect instant results from our children and talmidim, and if they face difficulties, we are sometimes quick to write them off as failures. But many are the talmidim who were not instant success stories and yet have grown into wonderful talmidei chachomim, askonim, and credits to their communities. To the contrary, because of their trials and difficulties earlier in life and their perseverance, they have become better people and have more profound understanding of others. The key is to be patient and not be discouraged when it takes time to get where we want to be.
May we be zocheh to reach the land of our dreams, the place we are destined for, bekarov.