Shocked. Stunned. Numbed. What words can one use to describe the emotions upon hearing of the horrific bloodshed in Jersey City? At first, one hears the news, a vague headline shooting in Jersey City. It doesn’t even make an impression, as these things are in the news every day and Jersey City is a crime-ridden area. But then more information comes in. It happened in a kosher store. The mind puts up its defenses. What kind of kosher store in Jersey City? There are Jews there? It’s probably a kosher-style eatery and has nothing to do with Yidden. But finally the stark reality hits me like a ton of bricks.
Two Yidden, heilige korbanos. Not a robbery by criminals seeking money, but rather a sheer act of murder solely for the sake of killing Jews. This didn’t happen far away in Eretz Yisroel, where we’ve gotten accustomed to acts of terror. It happened right here in the country of freedom, the United States of America, right next to us. It sends a shudder through our spines and we feel utter sadness.
Two pure neshamos full of life destroyed by monsters who had no life. A young mother who had a difficult life as a youngster and wanted nothing more than to raise her kinderlach to be ehrliche Yidden and to help her husband. And a fine chassidishe bochur, a baal chesed, dreaming of building his own mishpacha. Now a husband mourns, bereft of his aishes chayil. The young yesomim pine for their mother, and parents grieve for their children. Who can replace them? There are no words to describe the tragedy. There are no words of solace. Only Hakadosh Boruch Hu, the Baal Hanechamos, can bring them comfort. We can only daven that Hashem give them the strength to pick up the pieces and be able to move forward, leading a fruitful life laden only with simcha.
And there are no words to describe the greatness of Yidden. “Veromamtanu mikol haleshonos.” You have exalted us above all tongues. There is no language that can portray our people. How various chesed organizations immediately went into action, a true kiddush sheim Shomayim, and how we are all united in feeling their pain.
That we are shaken and saddened is understandable. That such a tragedy arouses fear in each and every one of us that this could happen right here is to be expected. But should we be surprised? Throughout the many centuries that we have spent in golus, this has been our lot. We are blessed to live in a medinah of chesed, where we enjoy the freedom to serve Hashem in a way not experienced by earlier generations. But with these rights, it is easy to be lulled into a state of delusion and we forget that we are still in golus.
On the eve of World War II, Rav Elchonon Wasserman was in London collecting funds for his yeshiva. The Yidden in London and rabbonim, including Rav Elya Lopian, begged him to remain with them and not go back home to Poland, where the danger was obvious. It was a matter of pikuach nefesh, they said. Rav Elchonon, in the middle of a drasha at the Machzikei Hadas shul, said:
“What do you Yidden of London think? That you will not endure the tzarah of chevlei Moshiach? All of the Yidden will, at some point, have to endure the birth pangs of Moshiach. At this time, it is us. Eventually, you, too, will feel it.” Shortly after, Rav Elchonon returned to his yeshiva, and eventually he was a korban al kiddush Hashem.
“What should a person do to be saved from the birth pangs of Moshiach? He should be engrossed in Torah and gemillus chassodim” (Sanhedrin 98b). Every day that passes uneventfully, we must be grateful to Hashem. We must never lose our awareness of golus. We must daven that Hashem continue to protect us and to speedily bring the geulah. Tragedies such as these are a stark reminder not to be deluded and forget that we are still in exile and that we must anxiously await Hashem’s salvation.
In this week’s sedrah, we learn of the dramatic culmination of the conflict between Yosef Hatzaddik and his brothers. It begins in Parshas Vayeishev with the words “Eileh toldos Yaakov Yosef. These are the chronicles of Yaakov…Yosef.” The Chofetz Chaim explains that if you want to understand the history of Klal Yisroel, look at the happenings of Yosef. He was his father’s most beloved son, and in his best years he was exiled from his father’s home and sold as a servant. There he encountered various nisyonos. In better times, as a valued servant in the house of Potifar, he faced the test of Potifar’s wife. In worse times, it was surviving the dark dungeons of prison. Then there were tribulations serving as the viceroy of the kingdom. Yet he remained righteous from the beginning to the end.
It is the same with the nation of Klal Yisroel, referred to by the novi as “the remnant of Yosef.” In the thousands of years of golus, we have faced many nisyonos in better times and in darker periods, but with the help of Hashem, we have survived as a nation until now.
Even during this latest tragedy, we heard voices of hatred from the outside, voices that stem from envy of the Jewish community, similar to the feeling of the brothers toward Yosef. It is obvious that we have been blessed with chochmah, that we are industrious, and that we have a sense of purpose in life. We are the children of the avos and imahos hakedoshim, and in addition, we have the Torah. It is much like the kesones pasim, the fine woolen garb that Yaakov made for Yosef, a special gift for a special son.
The word pasim is an acronym for Potifar, socharim, Yishmoelim and Mitzrayim, representing the tribulations of Yosef. The brothers didn’t realize that with the special privilege of Yosef, there would be much pain woven into his life. That is a lesson for all of us. Sometimes, we see people endowed with special gifts, be it riches or special talents, and we are secretly envious of them. However, we don’t know what is in their heart. What price do they pay for these privileges. What secret pain might they be experiencing?
It is the same with our nation. We have been graced with special abilities, but look at the price that we have paid for it over thousands of years. We have been exiled from one country to another. We have suffered bloodshed and horrors, disgrace, and all sorts of edicts against us. Yet, like Yosef Hatzaddik, we have remained loyal to Hashem throughout the generations of carrying on our legacy under the most difficult circumstances.
Yosef did not complain about his lot. To the contrary, he was grateful to Hashem for what happened to him. He said to the brothers, “And now be not distressed, nor reproach yourselves for having sold me here, for it was to be a provider that Hashem sent me here ahead of you… To ensure your survival in the land and to sustain you for a momentous deliverance” (Bereishis 45: 5-7). “Although you intended me harm, Elokim intended it for good. In order to accomplish, it is as clear as this day that a vast people be kept alive” (ibid. 50:20).
Why did Hashem orchestrate matters in such a way that Yosef was torn away from his family and had to face so many difficulties? The Gemara tells us that because of the decree of golus told to Avrohom Avinu at the Bris Bein Habesorim, Yaakov Avinu should have been taken down to Mitzrayim shackled in iron chains (Rashi: the way of captives), but because of his great zechusim, he went down there willingly, drawn there by his love of Yosef (Shabbos 89b). Therefore, Yosef was taken down to Mitzrayim years earlier to make it pleasant for Yaakov to come and to pave the way for Yidden to be able to survive the golus there.
If so, Yosef can have a valid complaint: “Why did I have to suffer so much, endure the jealousy and hatred of my brothers, face the fear of death, be sold as a slave, face an embarrassing nisayon, be imprisoned for 12 years, and be torn away from the source of life, my father’s home, and my grandfather Yitzchok, to live alone in a distant land filled with tumah? And all of this just to make it more comfortable for my father and brothers?” Yet, not only didn’t he complain, he was thankful, saying, “Elokim intended it for good…that a vast people be kept alive.”
One may ask the same question about a different Chazal. Turnusrufus Harasha asked Rebbi Akiva: “f your G-d loves the poor, why doesn’t He give them sustenance?” Rebbi Akiva answered: “So that we can support them and save ourselves from a judgment of gehennom (Bava Basra 10a). Here, too, we must understand why the poor man must suffer hardship and indignity to save others from the punishment of gehennom.
Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler says that from here we have a proof to what the Nefesh Hachaim says in his introduction that man was not created for himself, but rather to help others to the best of his ability. If through him others will merit to be saved from gehennom, it is worth it for the poor man to endure all of the hardship. Of course, because of all he suffered on behalf of others, he will receive the immense reward in Olam Haba far and beyond anything he could even have imagined.
It is the same with Yosef Hatzaddik, says Rav Yaakov Galinsky. In the end, he saw the Yad Hashem in all of his travails in Mitzrayim and clearly perceived the purpose of it all. He was fulfilling the tachlis for which he was created: to help others. And even in his lifetime, he was able to see the immense blessing that it brought him.
Chazal tell us that the entire world exists only because of Klal Yisroel and because of the Torah (Taanis 3b, Pesikta Zuta, Vayeitzei). “Every day a heavenly voice emanates from Har Chorev, saying: “The entire world gets its sustenance in the merit of Chanina my son, and Chanina my son subsists on a small amount of carob from Erev Shabbos to Erev Shabbos” (Brachos 17b).
Hashem has chosen us to bring blessing to the world with our avodah. Part of that privilege is to live in golus and to be a light to the nations so that they act righteously and also have a relationship with Hashem. Like Yosef Hatzaddik, we must endure the golus to be providers for the world both physically and spiritually. That is man’s purpose in the world. Our people have merited to see the blessing that our way of life brings us. Even in the bitter golus, we are able to raise beautiful families as Yosef saw nachas from Ephraim and Menashe. The reward in the next world will be beyond anything we can imagine.