Over the past month, Jews around the world have changed. Our demeanor has changed. The way we view the world and our place in it, and the way we view ourselves, has changed. There is a renewed feeling of achdus and everyone is seeking improvement. People who have never observed Shabbos are doing so. People who never wore tzitzis are doing so. Women who had never previously lit candles are doing so. There is a worldwide shortage of tefillin because so many men have begun wearing them every day.
The news from Eretz Yisroel is sad. So many Jews have been slaughtered. Hundreds of thousands of people are at war, fighting for the survival of the small Jewish state. Many are paying with their lives and limbs for the safety of Eretz Yisroel. Fearsome images and slogans are on display from masses of Jew-haters marching in the streets around the world. What are we to do? There is no place to hide, no place to run, no place in the world where we are safe, al pi derech hateva, without Hashem’s protection.
A biblical tragedy took place. Men, women, children, grandparents, parents, and even little babies were killed, and others taken hostage, after terrorists crossed through what was assumed to be the world’s best defended border, rushing virtually unimpeded into a host of Jewish towns. Families were wiped out. People who survived the Holocaust met their end at the hands of animals more vicious than Nazi dogs.
The more we find out about the ruthless attacks that gave birth to the current war, the more we realize that we are living in historic times. Every day, history is being made, as events occur that defy explanation and are obviously guided and orchestrated by our heavenly Father.
Hashem favors neither the might of the horse nor the prowess of its rider. All the jets, tanks and heroic soldiers can only accomplish what the Divine allows them. So far, the war is going better than planned, as the army marches through northern Gaza, hitting one target after another and pushing Hamas further and further away. Hashem has caused President Biden to support Israel in ways nobody thought he would, even as he faces tremendous pressure from his political allies and base.
In this week’s parsha, referring to our evil uncle, Eisov, the posuk states “vehu oyeif.” The literal translation is that Eisov was tired. He lacked in spirit and vitality.
The idea that he was lacking life-sustaining energy is reinforced by the phrase used in the posuk to describe the sale of his bechorah: “michra kayom.” It was a sale for today, because Eisov’s vision was limited to that which fit with his need for immediate gratification. He was tired and wiped out. He couldn’t think beyond a day at a time.
Yaakov didn’t tire. He remained vibrant, fresh and young, with the feeling that a person has at the dawn of a new day, when he is getting started, aflame with the sense of possibility and optimism that comes with the start of a project or endeavor. He was able to think and see far into the future. He visualized the fires of the mizbeiach, the joy of a korban being accepted, and the sanctity of the makom haMikdosh. He was able to “taste” it right then. He felt it. His vista was far larger and wider than “kayom.” When he realized the value of every moment and every mitzvah and every word of Torah, he was energized.
In making that decision, he invested us, his children, with the ability to stay young – ki na’ar Yisroel ve’ohaveihu – and remain fresh. Yaakov studied for 14 years in the yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver without sleeping (Rashi, Bereishis 28:12, from Bereishis Rabbah).
Imagine a marathon runner nearing the finish line. He is sapped, drained, thirsty and hot. But he sees the finish line and his spirits are up. He looks ahead, more excited and energetic as his eyes behold his goal.
A nation of people who had the strength to walk into fires in Spain, death pits in Lithuania, and gas chambers in Poland, and face the less glorious mesirus nefesh of turning their backs on the world, ignoring the call of the street and the lure of the outside culture each day, draws its strength from that vision. It embodies the rush of power that comes from visualizing a goal.
The Jews of Israel, from the very north to the very south, are living through a war. There are bouts of anxiety, fear, hunger, loneliness and sadness. But then they think back to all the tragedies suffered in that country since its founding and they remember how Hashem has been there for them, as they bounced back each time, vanquishing our enemies and emerging stronger and better. Their emunah and bitachon get recharged, and people at every level of frumkeit seek improvement in how they live their lives. As they get better, their lives improve, their level of simcha improves, and their hatzlocha and brocha are enhanced too.
Thus, the posuk states, “Vekovei Hashem, those who hope to Hashem, yachalifu koach, are constantly re-energized.” Their hope and faith invest them with life, spirit and stamina.
Being a Jew means being connected and charged. That is the legacy of Yaakov Avinu. That is our legacy. That is who we are.
Kelmer mussar teaches that under normal circumstances, man’s evil inclinations are kept in check by the “normal” rate and measure of tragedies and calamities. But when the regular spate of illness, death and turmoil fails to inspire us to repent and improve our ways, Heaven causes new, unimaginable horror to be created to scare us and steer us back onto the proper path.
The novi Tzefania speaks of a Yerushalayim stained with blood. It disobeyed the nevi’im, did not accept mussar, failed to have bitachon in Hashem, and did not draw itself near to Him. The novi speaks of ministers “roaring like lions” in the midst of the city, where there are “rebellious robbers of the Torah.” Hashem’s justice remains exact. “I have cut down nations and made their towers desolate in the hope that you would pay attention and learn mussar lessons from what Hashem has done, so that your homes would not be destroyed.”
One of the highlights of the tefillos of the Yomim Noraim is the tefillah of Unesaneh Tokef. We cry out, “Mi yichyeh? Mi yomus? Who will live? Who will die? Who will be torn apart? Who will live comfortably? Who will be rich? Who will be poor?” After we chant those fearful words and realize that everything that will transpire in the world during the coming year is decided by the Creator on Rosh Hashanah, we cry out and proclaim to all the world, to each other and to ourselves that teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah have the power to change the undesirable decisions.
Those tefillos aren’t just words. And they’re not just meant for the Yomim Noraim. The fear and kavanah with which we expressed them must remain with us throughout the year, especially in times of din, war and rampant anti-Semitism.
Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah have been our weapons during our darkest days throughout all the ages. We never despair. We don’t get broken. Our spirit remains alive and vibrant no matter what is being done to us and what is going on around us. We never give up hope, irrespective of the issue we are plagued with, for we know that netzach Yisroel lo yishaker and hinei lo yonum velo yishon Shomer Yisroel.
My three-year-old grandson woke up on Friday night. He was shivering from fever. He went into his parents’ room and said, “Hashem is making my teeth shake and I can’t sleep. What should I do?”
Little Yaakov, who receives a good chinuch at home and in Yeshiva Nachalei Torah, understood that if something is happening to him, it is coming from Hashem. He didn’t say, “I’m shivering.” He didn’t say, “I’m feeling sick.” He said, “Hashem is sending me a message. He is causing me to shiver and my teeth to shake. What am I to do?”
We all need to be like little Yaakov and understand that everything that happens to us, to our people and to the world is from Hashem. Instead of saying, “I caught the flu,” or, “The flu is going around and it got me,” we need to say, “Hashem afflicted me with the flu. Which part of my life needs improvement?” Instead of saying, “I wonder how it could be that Hamas was able to break through Israel’s security fence and kill 1,200 people without the army being able to stop them,” we need to say and understand that they were able to do what they did because Hashem allowed them to. We should articulate what message there is for us in what happened and what chizukim in kiyum mitzvos we can undertake to do our share to make sure that it never happens again.
Ani Maamin is not just a nice moving tune to sing at serious times. It is the foundation of our belief and the frame of reference in understanding what happens to us in golus. Wrapping our arms around each other and singing “Lemaan achai verei’ay” and other songs of achdus is very touching and gives off warm feelings, but it doesn’t mean anything if we go on hating people who don’t think – or dress – the way we do.
At times like this, we need to take these things seriously and strengthen our emunah and bitachon, our dikduk b’mitzvos and ahavas Yisroel. Even though we are now b’ikvisa d’Meshicha, he is not able to reveal himself and undertake his mission until we are truly united and do teshuvah.
Each person has different challenges, but Hashem gives us the ability to withstand them and keep our internal fire of Torah burning, ready to burst into a glowing flame. Let us do what we can to grow that fire, day after day, week after week, and year after year, expending our energies on matters of substance and meaning.
Let us endeavor to always remain focused on a goal, ambitious and driven, young and vital, as long as we are able to on this earth. If what we are doing is worth doing, then it is worth doing right and energetically, giving it all we’ve got.
Let us never become lazy, lethargic or tired. Let us stop focusing on silly and trivial things. So much nonsense is passed around during these days of war and confusion. We would all be so much better off if we would do away with the little pekelach of nezid adashim that pop up on our phones minute by minute to avert our attention from our mission.
We have our work cut out for us. We are so close to the finish line, realizing the goal of Am Yisroel since its inception. Let us all do what we can to get there, bemeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.