My own anecdotal observations lead me to say that American Orthodox Jewry cares very much about what is happening in Eretz Yisroel. Ever since Shemini Atzeres 5784 (October 7, 2023), I have received numerous shailos that I cannot remember hearing in over four decades in rabbonus. Many people want to know if they are permitted to eat in restaurants, attend a simcha, smile, laugh and go on vacation. People are really taking the struggles of our brothers and sisters to heart. Klal Yisroel is in pain and does not know what do. Whatever the answers, I believe that American Jewry really does care.
However, the question remains: What does being nosei b’ohl entail and what should we all be doing?
Unquestionably, those who have traveled to Eretz Yisroel as Hatzolah volunteers, taken over for farmers who have been called up to war, paid for tefillin and tzitzis for newly incentivized soldiers and other such noble activities are to be lauded. But what about the rest of us? Is there something else that we should be doing?
Besides the relevance to the realities on the ground in Eretz Yisroel, Seder Shemos cries out loudly and eloquently to us. Moshe Rabbeinu, our teacher and role model, “goes out to his brethren” (2:11) because, as Rashi explains, “his eyes and his heart” are suffering along with them. Rav Shlomo Wolbe (Alei Shur 2:208) cites many examples of how we, too, can be nosei b’ohl both with those who are suffering and even with those who are celebrating. He relates (page 209) the story of Rav Avrohom Grodzensky, mashgiach of the Slabodka Yeshiva, who suddenly glanced at his watch and began singing and dancing. When asked about this, he explained that he was in Warsaw at the time and unable to attend the wedding of one of his talmidim. “I can’t attend,” he explained, “but I can be mesameiach with him here and now.”
On another occasion (page 211), Rav Yeruchom Levovitz, famed mashgiach of the Mir, related that his rebbi, the Alter of Kelm, seemed unusually pensive on a Shabbos, when he was always accompanied by a special glow of pleasure and holy joy. When asked about it after Shabbos, he explained with a sigh, “Peretz Smolenskin,” a man who was one of the notorious Maskilim of that generation, a man who always exhibited hatred toward Torah Jews, “has just died. Who can imagine the pain of this neshomah when it arrived in the Olam Ha’emes and had to stand in judgment?”
Rav Yeruchom (Daas Chochmah Umussar 3:257 and 295) quotes the Alter of Kelm that the essence of how to be menachem avel – console those in mourning – is to feel their pain when they are in the throes of the middah of din, suffering from the full effect of Divine judgment.”
Rav Yechezkel Levenstein (Ohr Yechezkel, “Middos,” page 99, and see also Ohr Rav Simcha Zissel, Vayeishev, page 203) also mentions the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 1:27) thatn quotes Moshe’s quality of nesiah b’ohl as mesirus nefesh mamosh – literally being willing to offer his very life for those in pain. This is no idle lip service or uttering of platitudes. The Medrash concludes that for this level of mesirus nefesh, Moshe was rewarded with the eternal leadership of Klal Yisroel and becoming the greatest novi.
Rav Chatzkel reveals that this level of empathy is available to all of us, with its concomitant rise to spiritual grandeur.
We can surely hope and pray that the result of our emulating Moshe Rabbeinu in this middah, even if we don’t become nevi’im, is that we can end the suffering and pain of those in captivity and anguish. It is well-known (see Ashkavtei D’Rebbi, page 93) that the Steipler spent numerous hours, days and nights helping people through their various crises so that they were eventually able to rebuild their lives properly in happiness and taharas hakodesh. He did this with full nesiah b’ohl with each of his supplicants. Rav Berel Povarsky (Bad Kodesh, Shemos, page 19) contrasts Hagar’s abandonment of Yishmoel when he was in danger with Miriam’s dedication to the baby Moshe. Although there was actually nothing that she could do for him, she made sure to share his pain and suffering. As he concludes, Moshe later did exactly the same for all of Klal Yisroel.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Rav Shlomo Levenstein, Umasok Ha’ohr, Peninei Rav Chaim Kanievsky, pages 436-449) details Rav Chaim’s devotion to sharing people’s burdens, as did his father, the Steipler. First let’s listen to Rav Chaim’s proof that being nosei b’ohl is not a theory or hypothetical act, but a very specific mitzvah that could even override something being done for the good of all of Klal Yisroel. The Taz took upon himself to go into golus, as did many gedolim, to help alleviate Klal Yisroel’s suffering. During his exile, one of his students recognized him and begged him to accept some rabbinic position, so that he could have enough to eat. Reluctantly, he accepted the job of being a menaker (traibering/deveining) in a butcher shop. In those days, the butchers would send any shailos that came up to the local rov. However, the butchers, without knowing the Taz’s true identity, took note of his clear mastery of his craft and began asking him their questions. The local rov visited the establishment, asking the Taz for his name. The rov didn’t recognize the name and called the great posek impudent for daring to pasken and ordered that the new menaker be locked into his room.
The Taz, however, first noticed that a little girl was crying bitterly. He inquired for the reason and she answered that her parents had saved up for several weeks so they could have some chicken for Shabbos. Unfortunately, a shailah about the bird had arisen and the rov had ruled that it was treif.
“I’m crying, she concluded, “because the rov has just ruled that our only chicken is treif and I don’t know when we will be able to have any kind of meat again.”
“Do you still have the chicken?” the Taz asked.
When the girl said yes, he asked to see the chicken and ruled that it was kosher. He then suggested that the poor girl ask the rov to please look at the Taz in a certain place. He stressed that she not reveal anything about the person who gave her this information. When the truth emerged, the local rov apologized profusely for the disrespect he had shown to the Taz. At this point, the Taz’s cover had been blown and he returned home.
When Rav Chaim heard this story, he asked a powerful question and gave an even more important answer. If the Taz went into golus to help Klal Yisroel, how could it be that to help one little girl he would end up giving up this great gift he was giving to the entire nation? His answer illuminates the entire subject of nosei b’ohl: “This proves,” said the Sar HaTorah, “that the cries of one girl that her family may not have chicken for Shabbos outweighs even the needs of all of Klal Yisroel. It was worth it for the Taz to have to give up his journey and the kapparah of golus for the nation so that one little girl would not have to cry in her deprivation.
Indeed, Rav Chaim conducted himself in the same way. First of all, a story that is close to my heart: When my rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, was on a hijacked plane, he was in dangerous captivity by Palestinian terrorists. Rav Chaim took out Rav Hutner’s commentary to Rabbeinu Hillel on Toras Kohanim where the rosh yeshiva had appended a list of all the places where the Safra states something that is not found any place in the Gemara. Rav Chaim learned this list specifically so that it should be a zechus for the rosh yeshiva and all the others on the plane. Indeed, as we know, they were all miraculously freed soon thereafter.
Furthermore, Rav Chaim chased after one of his talmidim who had brought his children for a visit to the rov and rebbetzin. When Rav Chaim realized that the father had left his baby’s bottle on the table, he chased after him into the street to return the bottle. When asked about this, Rav Chaim explained that “it’s a rachmonus on the baby not to have his bottle.” Many noticed that Rav Chaim did not even mention that this might be a mitzvah of hashovas aveidah. He was simply concerned about the baby and his nosei b’ohl was to try to return the bottle, as eventually he did.
With all of these examples and evidence of the importance of commiserating with our brethren, even when they don’t even know about it or deserve it, we must conclude that worrying about our innocent brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel and doing whatever we can for them should be our top priority at the moment. If the Alter could change his Shabbos demeanor over the death of an enemy of the Torah, how much more should be work hard not to forget about our suffering family in Eretz Yisroel who are being moser nefesh for us all. Surely, if we identify with those who are in pain and truly care, Hashem will take note of our achdus and bring us the geulah rapidly without further suffering, be’ezras Hashem.