The unique spiritual energy of this special season comes to a fore this Shabbos as the power of Rosh Chodesh merges with that of Parshas Hachodesh and Parshas Tazria. The fusion of the three creates a unique opportunity for us.
This Shabbos, we usher in the month of Nissan, commonly referred to as the chodesh hageulah, the month of redemption. The Vilna Gaon writes (Even Sheleimah 11:1) that the redemption will transpire in four stages. It will begin on Pesach, one of the four periods in which the world is judged. Rosh Chodesh embodies the strengths of that month.
We are currently in the last stages of the final golus. The three earlier exiles were caused by the sins of avodah zorah, giluy arayos and shefichas domim. The current golus is caused by lashon hora and sinas chinom. In order to merit redemption, we have to uproot those sins and remove them from our midst. How do we get rid of them? It’s not as simple as scratching out crumbs from cracks in the kitchen table.
What causes these sins? Why are they so rampant in our world? Despite all the emphasis placed on rectifying them, they linger, seemingly ever present.
The taavah for lashon hora and sinas chinom comes from klipos that remain from the Eirev Rav, who caused great damage to our people when they left Mitzrayim.
To remove these impure forces from our midst, we must remove the klipas Eirev Rav that empowers them and enables them to subvert the heart of man and cause so much derision, machlokes and hatred, even though there is no real physical enjoyment from engaging in these sins.
Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover writes (Ohr Torah 27) that the sins of lashon hora and sinas chinom are caused by bittul Torah. The remedy for this is, as the posuk says (Mishlei 15:4), “marpeh lashon eitz chaim.” The cure for speech is Torah, the tree of life. Torah purifies a person’s soul and gets rid of his evil inclinations, which are caused by a lack of proper middos due to the influence of the Eirev Rav.
Individuals speak ill of others, hate good people, and spite their existence seemingly for no reason. Today, hate is so prevalent; you don’t need a reason to hate someone. If someone davens differently than you do, you hate him. If his kids go to a school you don’t like , you hate him. If he drives the wrong car, you hate him. If he has different customs than you do, you hate him. If his beard is too long or too short, or he doesn’t have one at all, you hate him.
Hate. Hate. Hate. It’s all over. It’s rampant.
Why? Where does it come from?
It comes from the Eirev Rav. It comes from bittul Torah. As helpful as the programs and lessons about lashon hora and sinas chinom are, if we don’t get to the root of the problem, it will persist.
When we speak of geulah and the chodesh hageulah, it would seem to indicate that the month of Nissan contains something that leads to limud haTorah, which leads to a reduction in the Eirev Rav’s klipah to influence us. What is it?
Rav Tzadok Hakohein says (Pri Tzaddik, Rosh Chodesh Nissan) that Moshe Rabbeinu explained to Hashem that appealing to Paroh would be of no use. “Aich yishmo’eini Paroh,” Paroh would not listen, he said, because “va’ani aral sefosoyim.”
Although Hashem, who is “som peh l’adam,” assured Moshe Rabbeinu that He would repair his speech defect and Paroh would accept what he says, Moshe explained his reticence of approaching Paroh, “va’ani aral sefosoyim,” referring to the klipah of tumah in the hearts of the Jewish people, which caused their disconnect from Torah, and inability to heed to Moshe.
This is what he meant when he said, “Hein Bnei Yisroel lo shamu eilay ve’aich yishmo’eini Paroh va’ani aral sefosoyim.” Arlah refers to the yeitzer hora. Moshe complained that the yeitzer hora was blocking his voice from being heard.
When Hashem told Moshe, “Hachodesh hazeh lochem,” he gave the Jewish people the strength to inject kedushah into this month. Once this month became one of added kedushah, the Jews were able to overcome the areilus. They returned to the study of Torah and Moshe’s impediment, which was caused by their weakness, was removed and he was able to speak to Paroh. The areilus of his speech was no longer present. Geulah was now on the horizon.
The antidote to that arlah was the added potency injected into the month.
Even though everything Moshe spoke was Torah, as commanded to him by Hashem, without the added kedushah brought on by the month of Nissan, his words were not able to be accepted.
It would seem, then, that what transformed Nissan into a month of redemption was the fact that it contains added kedushah, which neutralizes the areilus which had caused people to slacken off in Torah study.
We read in this week’s parshah, “Uvayom hashemini yimol besar arlaso” (Vayikra 12:3). The arlah of the bosor is removed by others on the eighth day of a boy’s life. But the arlah of the heart and soul is much more difficult to remove, and we have to do that by ourselves. No one can do that for us.
The month of Nissan, the month of redemption, contains the mitzvah of biur chometz, ridding our homes of chometz. We search for it “bechorim ubesdokin,” in the cracks and crevices of our homes, to ensure that there is no chometz anywhere in any of our possessions.
We are aware of the teaching that chometz is allegorically compared to the yeitzer hora, which prevents us from repenting and acting properly.
Chometz is dough that has risen. Matzah is dough that has not risen. Chometz represents gaava, while matzah represents humility. One who is humble does not engage in lashon hora and sinas chinom. He doesn’t hate others or seek to destroy them.
During this month of geulah, the removal of chometz from our homes is tied to the removal of chometz from our souls. In order for us to merit geulah, we must engage in a search of our inner souls and make sure that we are cleared of the se’or shebe’isah, the yeitzer hora, which prevents us from rectifying our ways and disrupts us from studying and observing the Torah. Since the geulah is dependent on Torah, in this month of geulah there is extra kedushah, enabling us to defeat the yeitzer hora and kochos of tumah. Therefore, in this month we are newly confident to search for any vestiges of tumah that lie within us, knowing that we will be able to destroy them and return to lives devoid of chet, lashon hora and bittul Torah.
When we rid our homes and hearts of chometz, we are not only ready for the higher kedushah the month contains, but also prepared to accept the geulah this month brings.
The Arizal taught that the name of the chag, Pesach, hints at the gift of speech, as it can be pronounced as peh soch, which literally translates as the mouth speaks.
Now that we have the added kedushah and the preparations for geulah, our mouths are cleansed of their sins of lashon hora and sinas chinom, and are able to speak lovingly of our fellow man and Hashem. We are able to use the gift of speech positively and sing the praises of Hashem for granting us the ability.
Thus, when we sit at the Seder, we say, “Vechol hamarbeh lesaper b’Yetzias Mitzrayim harei zeh meshuboch – The more one speaks about Yetzias Mitzrayim, the more praiseworthy one is,” for one has demonstrated his ability to use the gift of peh soch, speech, the way it was intended, to increase kedushah through proper language and Torah study.
Imagine a young musician blessed with a rare ability to make the keys of the piano dance. He plays beautifully, but since he is incredibly poor, he learns a trade and becomes a plumber. Even should he succeed and become the most successful plumber in town, part of him is dead. There is unexpressed song inside him, and as he works on pipes and drains, he dreams of music. All day long, as he goes about his business, he thinks about music. He plays piano in his head while he repairs pipes with his blessed fingers. It may be that nobody notices this about him, but that is because they don’t really know him.
As Klal Yisroel toiled in Mitzrayim, they were a nation with a song trapped inside of them. They were unable to express themselves. The avdus and tumah locked their ideas and attitudes inside of them.
When they were redeemed and removed from avdus and tumah, their gifts of speech burst forth, along with wellsprings of kedushah and depth.
Thus, vechol hamarbeh lesaper b’Yetzias Mitzrayim harei zeh meshuboch. We celebrate our geulah with the gift of speech. The Seder is filled with expression, as we open the reservoirs inside us with Torah, Hallel and mitzvos, all performed with our mouths newly redeemed and consecrated.
The night of peh soch.
On Pesach, we became who we are. Our music finally bursts forth.
Parshas Tazria teaches us the majesty of man.
Man, unique among all creations, is blessed with speech. But he must keep it pure, for impure speech results in the immediate and obvious punishment of tzoraas.
The punishment for this aveirah is unique in that it causes deformities on the sinner’s body, home and clothing, for the person who speaks improperly betrays his soul and demonstrates a lack of belief that everything that transpires in this world is directed by the Creator.
A person who has proper emunah and bitachon is unfazed when another seems to be more successful than him, for he knows that everyone receives what Hashem determines he should get. Thus, there is no room for jealousy and hatred or speaking ill of others.
Therefore, someone who engages in such behavior is struck by a punishment that directly demonstrates that Hashem watches over and monitors every person. When a person sins in these matters, he is separated from others and given time to ponder what caused the nega of tzoraas. He realizes that it came from Hashem, who provides for all of mankind, and recognizes that his sin was caused by a lack of faith in that regard. When he repents and accepts that Hashem cares for all, his nega is healed and he can return to properly serving Hashem and utilizing the gift of speech.
The majesty and supremacy of man are arrived at by responsibly using each word; understanding its potential to build worlds.
Rav Meir Soloveitchik zt”l, son of the Brisker Rov, who passed away on Motzoei Shabbos, was a scion of that majesty and greatness. Every word was precious to him. Everything he said was measured and clearly thought through before being spoken. Like his father and the other members of that illustrious family, his dikduk b’mitzvos was matched by his meticulousness in the words used to express an idea and to explain deep Torah thoughts and concepts.
A huge gaon, he was a sefer torah written by the Brisker Rov. He worked to understand every word of a gemara, medrash and chazal, with utmost care and concern. That same seriousness and care was apparent when he would speak with others.
He embraced the simplicity and majesty of Brisk, through personal conduct, devotion to halachah and mesorah, and living the life of a real ben chorin, dedicated to learned and teaching Torah.
With unfailing emunah and bitachon, he demonstrated the way a Jew should live, what should be important to us, and that the material is immaterial when it comes to living a Torah life. He lived on a different plane, concerning himself with Hashem’s wishes, cognizant of the fact that we are in golus, and never succumbing to the areilus that overtakes those who lose sight of the fact that we have to be working towards the geulah.
During this month of geulah, his passing should serve as a reminder not to become overwhelmed by the tumah of our surroundings, and not to let the areilus overtake us, but to always remember to live Yiddishe lives of kedushah and taharah, dedicated to dikduk b’lashon, kiyum hamitzvos and limud haTorah.
Reb Yonasan Schwartz, the renowned badchan, came to this country as an impoverished Israeli orphan. He went from shul to shul with his hand outstretched, begging for help. But while he was doing that, deep down he believed that he had a talent. He thought that he had enough musical ability, creativity and wit to be a successful badchan. He didn’t know anyone and no one knew him. He was but a collector, going from place to place gathering enough money to provide some food and shelter for himself.
One morning, while he was going from row to row in a Flatbush shul, a Yerushalmi collector gave him a tip. “Do you see the tall fellow in the corner? He is a real baal chesed. Tell him your problems. He will help you.”
After davening, Yonasan sat down across from the strange man. He immediately had the sense that rather than simply asking for a few dollars, this was the guy he could tell about his dreams.
“I don’t want to be a shnorrer. I want to be a badchan,” Reb Yonasan said.
“Tell me a badchan joke,” suggested the stranger.
Shyly, the young man complied, but he knew that he hadn’t done a great job. Still, the American’s eyes reflected the badchan’s pain, showing that he understood what he was going through.
“Okay, listen,” said the man. “Tomorrow night I am hosting a sheva brachos for a close friend. I want you to perform. You come and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Yonasan spent the next day practicing for his first real performance, reviewing his jokes, stories and insights. At the sheva brachos, the host welcomed him warmly, exuding a contagious sense of confidence.
It came time for the performance and the host stood up. “Ladies and gentlemen, now we will hear from the performer of the century,” he called out enthusiastically. “Please welcome Yonasan Schwartz!”
The warm introduction sent the badchan up in a cloud of self-assurance. And he delivered, offering a superb performance. The host complimented him and paid him generously. He then began telling friends making simchos to hire this top performer.
Soon, Yonasan Schwartz rose to the top of his profession. Over the years, he performed at many simchos with his original booster in attendance.
That man’s name was Shloimy Gross.
Shloimy’s yahrtzeit was this past Friday.
We are a nation of badchanim, capable of accomplishing great things with our mouths, and we’ve been encouraged by the Master of the World Himself, who said, “Harchev picha! Open your mouths wide!”
In desperate need of redemption, we must utilize the added kedushah that chodesh Nissan embodies to increase our devotion to Torah, so that the areilus that hardens our souls and causes us to engage in lashon hora and sinas chinom will be depleted and we will be able to hear Eliyohu Hanovi telling us, “Higi’a zeman geulaschem. It’s time to pack up and move.”
Remembering Rav Chaim Goldberg zt”l
Over ten years ago, I went to Eretz Yisroel for three days. I arrived on a Thursday morning and left Motzoei Shabbos. Friday morning, after barely sleeping, I woke before dawn and went to daven kevosikin at the Kosel. On a practical level, it made no sense, but there was a little voice inside of me saying, “Go. It’ll be worth it.”
Before I had a chance to put on my tefillin, Dovid Leib Cohen spotted me and asked me to go along with him as he did his rounds later in the day. A legend for his chesed and maasim tovim with the poor of Israel, I had heard about him for years, but I never gave his activities much thought.
His partner was Rav Chaim Yosef Goldberg zt”l, who passed away last week.
I was about to find out what type of tzaddik he was. Tagging along with him on a Friday in Yerushalayim showed me that he was not a regular person. He was a malach b’demus adam, an angel disguised as a man. He was a storybook figure come to life.
My wife and I squeezed into Dovid Leib’s tiny car, and as we rode with him and Rav Goldberg, we were transported to a different world. We saw acts and people we never thought possible. We saw things so beautiful and so holy that we were left speechless.
Our first stop was on Rechov Bar Ilan, at the corner of Eli Hakohein. I lived in Ezras Torah when I was learning in Yeshivas Brisk and had walked by that corner hundreds of times, never giving a second thought to what type of people lived there.
Rav Goldberg wrote out a check and said, “Go upstairs to So-and-so. Say that Rav Goldberg sent you. Ask the lady to show you the beds we made for her. Look around the house. Ask her if she needs anything and give her this check.”
I had never done anything like this before. We felt strange enough intruding on this poor lady and delivering her a tzedakah check.
We knocked and the lady answered. We said, “Rav Goldberg sent us.” Her face lit up. “Tzaddik, tzaddik,” he said. “What a tzaddik he is.”
Had we not known differently, we would never have realized what dire straits this woman was in. Her home looked neat and put together. She had the biggest smile you could ever see. There were kids all over the place looking at us and scurrying about. Her husband was at work.
Following orders, we asked to see the beds. Her face brightened even more. With much pride, she showed us the eight rollaway beds that were designed for her. She told us that she has ten children sleeping in that one room. They used to sleep on the floor, but Rav Goldberg changed that. Now each child has their own bed, except for the two youngest, who share a crib.
She was so proud of those beds. “Look, look,” she said. “See how well they are made. Look at what he did for us. Plus, he had closets built for us. And look at what else he did. He had gates put on the window so that we can open it and get some air and light in here without having to worry about someone falling out.”
We gave her the check and she blessed us. I wanted to linger there to soak up the scene. Look at this poor woman. She has nothing, I thought. Her husband works and they do not make ends meet. But not like people we know who can’t “make ends meet.” They have nothing. They don’t have an extra shekel. They need the help of Rav Chaim Goldberg to keep their heads above water. And yet they are so happy.
We asked her if she needs anything. “Boruch Hashem, we have what we need,” she answered. “Tell Rav Goldberg that we are all just fine.”
We got back to the car with a new respect for our two hosts. What I saw that day still inspires me.
Rav Goldberg told us how he heard about this family’s problems. He said that he searched for poor people, relying on a grapevine of informants who notified him of people who had fallen on hard times. If a teacher noticed that a child was wearing ill-fitting clothes and has no lunch or snack and rotting teeth, they would call Rav Goldberg and he would solve the problem.
He liked giving to people who didn’t ask. He would find out about the people who couldn’t manage. He looked for people too proud to beg.
If you would have seen the smiles on people’s faces when Rav Goldberg walked in, you would agree that he was a malach.
He did it with a smile that never faded.
He walked on those same streets we have walked on dozens of times in Yerushalayim without being aware of the abject poverty that exists there. When we think of poor people, we never fathom the level of poverty that people like those we met that day have to struggle with.
Those people really have nothing, or as close to nothing as you could have and still live normal lives. They live in tiny apartments. Their children go to regular schools. They are nice, gracious, hard-working people. They just have no money. None. Not a dime.
And they all smile.
How do they do it? We met family after family, each one with its own story. Each one sweeter and more endearing than the other. There were poorer than we can imagine. Destitute would be a better word. Rav Goldberg asked them what they need and they said, “Nothing,” yet all we had to do was peek around the tiny apartment and we could tell that they needed everything.
In one home, the table was set for Shabbos and the children were sitting at the table eating their meal, which consisted of challah and a red dip. The husband was a kollel fellow and the wife babysat. She told us about her neighbor who has no money to feed her children. It was obvious that these people were also impoverished, but they were so content with their lot, and the only needs she could tell Rav Goldberg about were those of her neighbor.
We didn’t want to leave the presence of this special family, but the hour was growing late and there were more people who needed help.
So we went to the neighbor. Rav Goldberg knew them from before. He stood there like an angel of mercy and spoke to the woman. The husband was sleeping and her two children were hanging around, waiting for Shabbos.
“How are things?” Rav Goldberg asked.
“Boruch Hashem,” the woman answered.
“Do you need anything?” he asked.
“Boruch Hashem,” she answered with a straight face, “I don’t need anything.”
We knew that she needed everything or we wouldn’t have been there, but her face was aglow. She was smiling and she really meant it. She didn’t have a penny in her pocket, she couldn’t afford to feed her children, and her husband got laid off from his job and had just found another one, yet she smiled and said with a straight face that she needed nothing. She was not lying. She really didn’t need anything. She was so happy with her lot.
Rav Goldberg wasn’t deceived and started ticking off things that she might need. “Does your heat work?” he asked. She didn’t know. You know what that means. He asked her how her refrigerator is doing. Sheepishly, she answered that it’s not really working 100%, as it leaks. “How bad?” he asked. “All over the kitchen.” She added that “it also doesn’t exactly keep the food cold.”
Rav Goldberg told her, “On Sunday, you’re getting a new refrigerator. Write down the name and address of the store we deal with. Take the measurements of the space you have for a refrigerator and on Sunday go to that store. Tell them I sent you. They’ll deliver you a brand new fridge and will take away your old one.”
We saw tears form in her eyes as she looked at Rav Goldberg in stunned gratitude, the way someone would look at a larger-than-life savior.
We made some more small talk with her and the children, wished them a good Shabbos, and it was back to the car to dispense more kindness and goodness.
One family got $300, another $500. A woman whose husband just passed away got a check for $2,000. She didn’t want to take it and they agreed that she will ask her rebbe if she should cash the check.
It was Friday and Shabbos was drawing closer. We rushed back to our place to get ready for Shabbos with a new appreciation of our people and giants of Torah and chesed like Rav Chaim Goldberg zt”l. He was a serious talmid chochom from a family of talmidei chachomim and tzaddikim who portrayed the greatness that our people are capable of.
Last week, we lost this giant of spirit, whose heart was large enough to include every needy member of Klal Yisroel.
On that Friday a decade ago, I got to see firsthand why Rav Goldberg was a true legend, a one-of-a-kind dynamo whose quiet tzedakah and genuine concern for his brethren were unparalleled.
And now he is gone.
Hashem has taken one of His finest creations, a malach in the guise of a man, a giant of spirit whose life was lived for others.