Thursday, May 23, 2024

On The Precipice

His talmidim often recall how the famed Philadelphia rosh mesivta, Rav Mendel Kaplan, made each day an experience. Like the moshol given by Chazal in this week's parsha, he prepared a shulchan aruch for his talmidim filled with a variety of dishes so that everybody had something to taste. This week's parsha begin with the words, “Ve'eileh hamishpotim asher tasim lifneihem - These are the rules and laws to place before the Jewish people.” Chazal see hints from the way the Torah expresses the words of Hashem to Moshe as a lesson for the proper methodology of teaching. They explain that the term “tasim lifneihem” is used to instruct those who transmit our heritage and mishpotim to place timeless ideals, values and lessons before their students as a shulchan aruch, a prepared table.

An experienced chef at a five-star restaurant invests time and energy in setting the perfect table. He wants it to be attractive, welcoming and pleasant, knowing that his job is to satisfy the customer. From when the customer sits down at the table until he rises, he should feel attended to.


Similarly, Rav Mendel would create an atmosphere in the shiur room in which we felt ourselves being handed tools to face the future.


Among other things, he would analyze the headlines and lead stories of the newspaper through the prism of daas Torah, revealing the significance and relevance of each story to Torah Jews.


The newspapers of today tell a very scary story, and we need his insight.


The legendary maggid, Rav Yankel Galinsky, tells of a simple villager who returned home following his rov’s drasha one Shabbos.


“You know?” he told his wife. “The rov said that Moshiach might come very soon and we’ll all go to Eretz Yisroel.”


The wife wrung her hands. “But if that happens, what will be with our chickens? Who will feed them? And how will we live?”


The husband stroked his beard and pondered her question. “Good point,” he said. “But you know, life here is rough. The Cossacks are attacking Yidden all over. It might be better over there.”


The wife contemplated his wisdom and then her face lit up. “I know what to do!” she exclaimed. “We will ask the Ribbono Shel Olam to send the Cossacks to Eretz Yisroeland we can stay here, with our chickens!”


Comical as the story sounds, Rav Galinksy makes a strong point. We chatter about this and that and the cosmic significance of the events around us, but their effect on the ultimate geulah is lost upon us. We are oblivious, seeing things superficially and only how they pertain to our little world.


Yes, we need a Rav Mendel to clarify the events we witness and read about. Amidst the confusion, our Yiddishe instincts lead us to our Tehillims.


One needn’t be a news buff to know that Syria is massacring its people by the thousands, yet no one seems to care. The country’s citizens plead with the American government to fulfill its traditional role, but what they get in response is a perfunctory attempt at the United Nations to condemn the murderous actions of dictator Bashar Assad. Of course, everyone knew in advance that Russia and China, bulwarks of democracy and human rights, would block the bureaucratic efforts.


The double-standard no longer surprises. If Israel had inadvertently caused the deaths of a dozen Palestinians, the entire world would unite to condemn the evil Jews for their acts of aggression, and the tiny state would face boycotts, rockets and demands to forsake much of its current land to make amends.


Chazal teach, “Lomoh nikra shmoh Sinai? Why was the mountain upon which the Torah was given called Sinai? Because of the sinah, the hatred, that emanated from there.”


When the Jews received the Torah and became the Chosen People, a virulent, relentless hatred for the Jewish people was born. That hatred will persist until the arrival of Moshiach. It is not only ever-present in our history. It is as real today as it ever was.


Rashi, in last week’s parsha tells us that Yisro came to Klal Yisroel after hearing about “Krias Yam Suf andMilchemes Amaleik.Meforshim tell us that these two nissim, specifically, are what drew him close, because they told a story. They demonstrated not just how much Hakadosh Boruch Hu loves the Jewish people, but how much the umos ha’olam hate us.


Yisro understood then the duality of our role, to be loved byHashem and hated by everyone else, and then he knew that this was truth. Truth is always resisted.


It is said that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity was initially mocked by the wider scientific community, who were scared of becoming irrelevant and out-dated.


Someone showed Einstein a book that was written against him titled “One Hundred Scientists Against Einstein.” The professor shrugged and said, “If I was really wrong, why wouldn’t one be enough? Why do they need one hundred?”


The answer, of course, is that truth is always resisted with disproportionate passion and zeal. Ma’amad Har Sinai and its result, the formation of our nation, engendered unprecedented sinah, and we’re still feeling its effects, even in 2012.


A madman sits in Iran and painstakingly works toward his stated goal of building a nuclear weapon with which to annihilate Israel. The Western nations sat and watch and until very recently barely reacted. Ever since they have been aware of the methodical race towards the bomb’s construction, they did little more than issue strong statements of condemnation. They threatened and spoken very strongly of guaranteeing that Iran would never have the capacity to build a nuclear weapon. Those words were never supported with any real action, nor were they taken seriously.


Now, the crazed despot who leads Iran has scared them all; the United States and its allied nations are worried, but it may be too late. Israel has let it be known that by the summer, Iran will have passed the point of no return. There are reports that the US administration is currently involved in attempting to dissuade Israel from putting an end to the Iranian threats on its own, and it is only to buttress their attempts at preventing Israel from taking action that they have put in place their sanctions..


A bit of history. Following the First World War, the nations of the world, led by United States President Woodrow Wilson, formed the League of Nations with the stated guarantee that a world war would never again take place. From the ashes of the Second World War, the United Nations was formed so that a monstrous demagogue like Hitler would never again rise to power.


Unity, it was thought, would be a barrier no dictator could overcome. The organizers didn’t factor in apathy and indifference.


More recently, the post 9-11 surge of responsibility saw world leaders announcing that it was a new world and new age and that they would never allow terror to wreak mayhem of such magnitude ever again. President George W. Bush declared his doctrine for fighting the Axis of Evil, Americans and every democratic nation supported him. He declared war on al-Qaeda, Iraq and the Taliban.


America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, but it’s also a country of fast-food and high-speed everything, a land of instant results and instant gratification. Wars are dirty and protracted, and Americans have no patience for battles that aren’t won overnight, no matter the consequences. President Bush’s successor ended the war in Iraq and has announced plans to pull out of Afghanistan shortly. The gains in Iraq have already begun unraveling. The Taliban in Afghanistan are biding their time and are poised to fill the vacuum created by the American departure.


Today, at every opportunity, the president of Iran lets everyone know that he is serious about destroying Israel and killing its inhabitants. Yet, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nor any of the Western powers, appear to have the will or determination to stop him on their own. It is as if they are being forced into action by Israel.


Make no mistake about it. If Israel does indeed follow through on its threats to carry out strikes on Iran, the Ayatollahs will not sit back quietly and accept it. Iran and its proxies can be expected to rain down missiles on all of Israel, attempting to extract a very heavy toll of human life and substantial damage. Their revenge will not be limited to targets in Israel. They will strike wherever they can, Rachmana litzlan. It is difficult to overestimate the resultant costs.


The times we live in are indeed frightening. We don’t realize it. We go about our daily lives as if there is no sword hanging over us. We are pleased that the sun shines and warm weather reigns across most of the country. We are relieved that we have not experienced much snow this year. Many of our worries are over inconsequential matters. Perhaps that is the doing of the Soton, for he seeks to prevent us from engaging in teshuvah to prevent serious tragedies from occurring.


The world stands by as the Bnei Yishmoel increase their power and threaten murderous acts against the Bnei Yisroel.


There are few journalists who are capable of unraveling what’s happening around us, providing us with concrete steps for a return toHashem and to merit His mercy.


We need Rav Mendel Kaplan to read the newspaper for us.


The baalei mussar explain the double lashon of “Lifnei Hashem, ki va, ki va lishpot ha’aretz” (Tehillim 96:13) to mean that before Hashem arrives in judgment to His people, He slowly sends messages, coming gradually closer. Ki va, ki va. The world today resounds with the sounds of His approaching footsteps. The din is imminent.


We need to be serious in examining what is going on around us and recognize that we are living on the precipice of what may be great danger. We must get the message and do what we can to prevent catastrophe from striking before it is too late.


There is a frighteningly relevant idea in the writings of Rav Chaim Vital, prime disciple of the Ari Hakadosh.


In his Sefer Eitz Hadaas Tov (Tehillim 124), he writes, “There are four exiles,Bovel, Modai, Yovon and Edom, but at the End of Days, Yisroel will be in golus Yishmoel, as stated in Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer and in Medrashim and in the Sefer HaZohar at the end of Parshas Lech Lecha… This exile will be more difficult than the others. This is why his name is Yishmoel, because ‘yishma Keil veya’aneim,’ Yisroelwill cry out during that golus and Hashem will listen and respond to them.


“Yishmoel will rule over the world and over Yisroel… and attempt to wipe out the name of Yisroel from under the sky as if it never existed… They will cause Yisroel great tzaros, the likes of which have never before been seen.”


The posuk in Tehillim in which Dovid Hamelech says, “Lulei Hashem shehayah lonu bekum aleinu adam, azai chaim bela’unu,” alludes to this era. “If Hashem had not been with us when they rose against us, we would have been swallowed up alive.”


Rav Chaim Vital writes that be’Acharis Hayomim, during the period of the End of Days leading up to the arrival of Moshiach, when the Arabs will dominate the world, the Jews will be at their wits’ end. They will have no choice other than to cry out to Hashem and He will answer them. “We will have no hope or recourse other than our trust in Hakadosh Boruch Hu that he will save us from their evil hands,” writes Rav Chaim Vital.


The nevuah that the Jews will have no one to turn to, to help them out of their predicament is appropriate for our times. We see that the nations of the world will not stop the Ishmaelite murderers.


The words of Rav Chaim Vital resonate with the immediacy of today’s news. We indeed have nowhere and no one to turn to other thanAvinu Shebashomayim. Yishma Keil. The nation rises, never resting, focused on its goal through the millennia.


The signs are everywhere. The urgency of the situation drives us to our Tehillims.


As the life of the great gadol, Rav Yosef Shalom ben Chaya Musha, was hanging in the balance, Jews everywhere paused after welcoming in Shabbos and deviated from custom to recite pirkei Tehillim so that he would merit a refuah sheleimah. We perceived the danger.


We welcomed in the blessings of Shabbos, chantingLecha Dodi andBo’ee Veshalom, and then beseeched the One to whom is the comforting peace that He have mercy upon His people. We then said, “Ahavas olam bais Yisroel amcha ahavtah,asking him to be poreis sukkas shalom aleinu.


Then we learned that other leading rabbonim and roshei yeshiva were rushed to the hospital, namely Rav Aron Leib Shteinman, Rav Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss and, in this country, Rav Yisroel Belsky. We fear for the life of Rav Yaakov Yosef, who was diagnosed with a dreaded disease and has courageously responded by continuing his regimen of shiurim and Torah learning.


Last week, the Ponovezer rosh yeshiva, Rav Gershon Eidelstein, delivered a shmuess and recounted that prior to the Second World War, several leading gedolim passed away. He said that in their hespeidim, many quoted the posuk, “Hatzaddik ovad ve’ein ish som al leiv…ki mipnei hara ne’esaf hatzaddik” (Yeshaya 57:1), meaning that as long as the tzaddik lives, he shields the nation. When the Jews aren’t worthy of being protected from evil, the tzaddik is gathered up and returns his soul to Heaven.


Rav Edelstein recounted that the Chazon Ish commented that had Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz been alive, his yegias haTorah would have protected the generation and the Holocaust would not have taken place.


Over the summer months, we lost several gedolei marbitzei Torah. As we note, lehavdil bein chaim lechaim, the gedolim who are currently ill, a shiver must go up and down the collective spine of the Jewish people and we must do what we can so that Heaven will grant them a refuah sheleimah, if only so that we can continue to be protected in their merit.


We need to beseech Hashem to have rachmonus on us. We have to use the time He has given us now, warning us of impending peril, to improve our ways so that we will ward off danger.


Yeshayahuhanovi says (42:25), “Vatelahateihu misoviv velo yoda, vativar bo velo yosim al leiv – The power of war and Hashem’s fiery wrath burned all around him, but he did not know. Then it burned within him, but he did not take it to heart.”


The explanation of that posuk is that initially Hashem brings catastrophe upon nations of the world “misoviv,” who surround us. If that doesn’t suffice, “velo yoda,” and we don’t pay attention to reform our actions, mitzvah adherence, middos and Torah observance, but instead attribute what is transpiring to natural and geo-political causes, then “vativar bo,” the fire comes closer and closer to us, continuing as long as “velo yosim al leiv.”


As we witness nations of the world gripped in upheaval and the winds of war blowing closer to us, as we see danger, disease and disunity in our world, we would do well to grab hold of our own traditional weapons – Torah, tefillah and tzedakah – and turn heavenward to seek merits on our own behalf, and for the sick and needy among us.


We must understand the messages being sent to us and grasp the seriousness of the situation as we pray that Hashem spread His sukkas shalom, sukkah of peace, over all of Klal Yisroel and spare us from disease and danger. For we know, as Yisrodiscovered, that as much as they hate us, that’s how much He loves us.



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