It was with a certain sense of foreboding that I left my house for the airport last Tuesday night.
President Trump had announced that he was going to fulfill his campaign promise and recognize Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel on Wednesday. The Arab world was screaming bloody murder and Western Europe was cheering them on.
It does happen to be ludicrous that a Jewish country can’t do what every other country in the world does and decide where its capital is.
The seat of government is there, the parliament is there, the city has been the capital of the Jewish nation forever, yet the free world and the not-so-free world refuse to recognize an obvious fact. They are concerned about “peace” and the rights of a fictitious nomadic people relatively new to the area. They also don’t have any particular love for the Jewish people.
Along comes a straight-shooting president and calls a spade and a spade, a capital a capital, and the world threatens him and Israel.
Arabs and Palestinians promise a new intifada and the end of the peace process.
The intifada begins Wednesday, they announce. Little me lands in Israel on Wednesday. I wouldn’t think of cancelling the trip, but I was more apprehensive about it than usual.
I have faith in the Shomer Yisroel and know that everything that transpires in the world is caused by Him and no other, so I am in good hands and off I go.
The plane was packed with all types of Jews heading to the land of their forefathers, as if there is no world, no self-righteous indignant heads of state, and no bloodthirsty Arabs aiming for them.
Others can debate the finer points of Trump’s declaration, but to me it shows a leader who takes his position seriously, keeps his word, and is a genuine friend of the Jewish people. He is a straight talker and a straight shooter, and he sees things the way they are, not as a duplicitous politician, but as a person of considerable accomplishment.
No, I wasn’t invited to the White House Chanukah party, but facts are stubborn things, and it behooves us to acknowledge them and appreciate the historical significance of what happened.
We can quibble among ourselves whether the declaration is worth the risk of loss of Jewish life and other fine points, but as far as the president is concerned, he deserves our appreciation for being a friend of Israel and the Jewish people.
I sat awake a whole night on the plane, who can sleep when traveling to the land our grandparents dreamed of and wished they could see.
The trip was amazing and my goals were accomplished.
From the airport, I went to Rav Chaim Kanievsky and enjoyed an invigorating discussion. He also gave me several meaningful brachos and I left there with an extra bounce in my step. How blessed we are to have such a person living among us.
The Shuvu mission was in Bnei Brak, and I joined them for a short while before heading to Beit Shemesh and then Yerushalayim.
On the way, Mr. Trump’s speech played on the radio. There was a measure of comfort in hearing the US president acknowledging the truth about Yerushalayim, while the nations of the world refuse to recognize the simple fact that Yerushalayim has been at the center of Jewish life for thousands of years.
Long before anyone dreamed up the idea of a Palestinian people, and long before the Muslim religion was invented, there was Har Hamoriah at the center of everything.
It took guts to do what Trump did in a world of lies and threats. He stood up to them and provided a lesson for us. When we are right, even if threatened and mocked, we should ignore the scoffers and, having carefully assessed the dangers, move ahead and carry on with the truth on our side.
I comfort those of you who worry that I have become a partisan secular Zionist. Your fear is misplaced. I am simply acknowledging a historic fact, without delving into hashkafic or philosophic connotations.
It is said that when the Chazon Ish saw a beautiful flower, he quickly turned away. He would say that if he concentrated on its beauty much longer, he would faint from overwhelming emotion. He would be reminded that Hashem created a beautiful world for us, and the intricate beauty of a colorful flower was created to cause us joy. The Chazon Ish would be overwhelmed when he would contemplate all that Hashem does for us.
On Thursday, I headed for Naharia, with a stop in Zichron Yaakov. Walking through the breathtakingly gorgeous Ramat Hanadiv botanical park there, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of creation.
While far from being as sensitive and holy as the Chazon Ish, when visiting the park it is easy to be reminded of Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s manifold chassodim.
We continued on to Naharia for an audience with Rav Dovid Abuchatzeira, whose warmth and concern for other Jews is as overwhelming as his abilities to help people in need. Visiting him is always a chizuk and this time was no different.
The trip back to Yerushalayim was uneventful, and we headed straight for the Kosel. It was disheartening to go through the “bitachon gate,” and noticing that the area was basically empty but for a few intrepid souls. People were scared off by fears that Arabs would cause trouble in the Old City and had stayed home. Had I been paying attention to the news, perhaps I wouldn’t have been there either.
In fact, there was no reason to fear. The Arab threats did not materialize and the area was calm as could be. Those of us who were there had a view of the Kosel rarely seen, as the Arabs turned off the lights of their mosque on the Har Habayis to protest the president’s remarks. It was nice to come to the Kosel and, for once, not have to view the symbol of their tumah.
As time went on, people began coming. Rav Yaakov Ades arrived and began putting together a minyan for Maariv. While the quiet there was upsetting, it had a side benefit of allowing for easier concentration on tefillos at the makom haMikdosh from where the Shechinah never departed.
After a walk through Geulah and the purchase of food, it was time for some sleep. Friday, it was back to the Geulah/Meah Shearim area. I love to be there when chadorim empty out and I get to see the charming children of Yerushalayim running through the streets with their peyos flying and parsha sheets flapping. The sight is almost as beautiful as the flowers that caused the Chazon Ish to be overcome. These children represent the past and the future of Yiddishkeit, and embody the charm of the Jewish people.
Traffic in Yerushalayim was minimal, as people from other parts of the country who normally come to the city were scared away by a media seeking to report on protests and attacks as the Shomer Yisroel protected His people.
We let a taxi driver convince us to go to Kever Rochel for Mincha. He said that the roads were safe, and that with the reduced traffic, we’d be there in ten minutes. The kever was guarded by a dozen soldiers, as Arabs in Bais Lechem took to the streets to throw stones and burn garbage and tires. As we arrived, we heard gunshots and saw clouds of smoke right past the kever. There were many policemen and soldiers, who told us that they had shot rubber bullets and tear gas to keep marauders away from the Kever Rochel area.
It was special to daven Mincha and say Tehillim under such conditions at the location where Mama Rochel cries for her children.
There is nothing in the world like a Shabbos in Yerushalayim. I am thankful that Hashem allowed me to have that experience once again.
It was gratifying to spend over an hour with Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva. A rebbi to many and author of classic seforim, his warm welcome and humility match his brilliance in all areas of Torah. We discussed personal and communal issues, as well as topics pertaining to Chanukah. Being with him was heartwarming, inspirational and invigorating.
And then, before I knew it, I was back in Monsey, trying to eternalize the lessons learned.
I am reminded that the Chofetz Chaim said that before Moshiach’s arrival, chizuk and encouragement for Torah would decline. He said that there would be a few resolute individuals who would fight lonely battles.
He foretold that while they might be few, they would be proud and effective.
Every individual has the ability to grasp an ideal and stand tall in its defense. We all have a singular mission in life, and if we are true to our core, we can summon the strength to realize it. We must never lose sight of what our ultimate goal is, despite all the noise and static seeking to steal our attention. Challenges confront us, but we possess the ability to surmount them.
It is as true today as it was thousands of years ago, when the Chashmonaim confronted the masses to fight with dignity and pride in defense of Torah and mesorah.
On Chanukah, we celebrate the Chashmonaim and their mesirus nefesh for kedusha. The light source of the nation was blocked, and they rose to throw off the forces of darkness. They were the me’atim, the tzaddikim, the tehorim, the people who performed Hashem’s service in the Bais Hamikdosh and in the bais medrash.
The miracle of Chanukah that we celebrate is primarily that of the tiny flask that burned longer than was thought to be physically possible. The menorah’s lights signify that the power of light overcame the power of darkness. The oil lasting longer than one day signifies that if you expend the effort and work bemesirus nefesh, physical rules will not apply.
We see wrongs in our world and are told that there is nothing we can do about it. We try to right the wrongs and are mocked. Yet, in fact, if you look around, there are so many people who overcame odds, building Torah where no one thought it was possible, restoring lives others had given up on, and fighting abuse that people thought was part of life. We see teachers touching souls and impacting them forever. We see righteous men and women not taking no for an answer, standing up to an apathetic society, and awakening people’s consciences. We see people rallying to fight for those who have been wronged.
A delegation once traveled to St. Petersburg to meet with the Russian minister of education in an attempt to convince him to revoke a decree that would have terribly impacted yeshivos. Upon arrival in the Russian capital city, the participants met with the local rov, Rav Yitzchok Blazer, to discuss tactics they would employ to underscore the importance of Torah to the minister. Someone suggested translating the words of the tefillah of Ahavah Rabbah for the minister, to demonstrate the depth of love for Torah. Rav Blazer replied, “If we would translate those words for ourselves, we wouldn’t need to do so for them.”
We daven three times every day, but we don’t necessarily take the words to heart. We learn the story and halachos of Chanukah, but we have to recognize their relevance to us and our daily lives. The inspiration is there for those who seek it.
If each of us would internalize the lesson of the Chashmonaim, we could free ourselves from much oppression.
It is because of such people that we can learn and daven. It is because of the mesirus nefesh of people who went forth into an eretz lo zorua that Torah and Yiddishkeit are stronger than ever. It is because of their dedication that we can publicly light the menorah with pride, without fear of our neighbors.
There are ten middos of hanhogah in this world. These fundamental metrics of energy drive the universe.
The Arizal discusses the idea that each of the middos corresponds to a different Yom Tov. The middah of hod, he reveals, relates to Chanukah. Hod relates to the middah that defines the ability of the Jew to allow the Divine light to shine through him, submitting to a higher calling. His own essence is but a vehicle to bring honor to his Maker.
The middah of hod, Divine splendor, is mirrored in man’s ability to allow his personal splendor, referred to as his penimiyus, to shine through. Those who are thankful of Hashem’s gifts and act according to His wishes, practice hoda’ah and are capable of allowing the middah of hod to reflect through their being.
Hod is the middah of Chanukah, a Yom Tov of hallel vehoda’ah, when we ponder and appreciate the myriad chassodim of the Ribbono Shel Olam as we contemplate the lights of the menorah.
Let us all appreciate the gifts we have and let us seek to let the middah of hod shine through us, brightening the world with the light of Torah and splendor of those who follow its ways. The world will be a better place and that much closer to redemption with the coming of Moshiach. May it be soon.
Ah freilichen Chanukah.