When I first entered rabbonus, I asked one of the poskei hador if it was worthwhile to give a Daf Yomi shiur. A man with both a sense of humor and penetrating directness, he answered, “I can’t say what your listeners will gain, but you will certainly shteig from it.”
Now, some six cycles later, boruch Hashem, I am still not sure about my kind listeners, but I have certainly shteiged to some extent. The same can often be said about drashos and speeches. I am not always sure that I made my point, inspired or uplifted anyone, but I do know that preparing or thinking about what to say helps me focus upon what I need to know and do.
Last Sunday, I gave a speech at a fundraiser for an organization close to my heart, Chaverim, which consists of men who volunteer to change people’s flat tires, boost their dead batteries, unlock their car doors – often with terrified young children inside – and many other acts of chesed.
The breakfast was held on the day after we bentched Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, so I naturally quoted from the line we had all just recited, “He Who performed miracles for our forefathers…may He redeem us soon and gather in our dispersed from the four corners of the earth, chaveirim kol Yisroel.” I shared with the assemblage an incredible line from Rav Chaim Kanievsky (quoted in sefer Avnei Hamakom, Chagigah, page 251, from his grandson, Rav Aryeh Koledetsky). Rav Chaim notes that it is understood that the literal meaning of this prayer is that when the exiles will be gathered to return to Eretz Yisroel, all of Klal Yisroel will be chaveirim, good friends. However, Rav Chaim adds a powerful caveat to kibbutz goluyos: “When the exiles return, there will be no rancor and dissension amongst the nation and all will be chaveirim, because if there will be estrangement or contention, it would be better if everyone stayed put in their place.”
Although I added what I needed to say about Chaverim, with anecdotes and maamorei Chazal, I couldn’t help but think that Rav Chaim was sending us a message for Tammuz and Av beyond. There is no point in davening hard with great kavanah for the ingathering if we have not eradicated strife and squabbling from our midst. Of course, we must always stand up for what is right, condemn dangerous philosophies and heresies, and guard our traditions vigilantly. But we can and should redouble our chesed activities, which spread brotherhood and mutual caring amongst all our brethren.
An example of this process is Satmar Bikur Cholim, an organization that services all Jews recuperating in many local hospitals regardless of affiliation or personal religious observance.
As Dovid Hamelech says, “Olam chesed yibaneh” (Tehillim 89:3). The world was built and continues to be built upon loving-kindness. Perhaps, therefore, this is the best time to ponder the great mandate to perform chesed and make a commitment to devote the next two months to this noble activity.
The first directive must be cited from the Chofetz Chaim’s very title of his sefer about kindness: Ahavas Chesed. The great tsaddik notes that in the posuk where this phrase appears (Micha 6:8), we are enjoined not just to perform (asos) chesed, but to love chesed. Why this discrepancy? He answers (2:22) that chesed cannot be performed begrudgingly or merely occasionally as an obligation. It must done repeatedly out of love, eagerness and a sense of gratitude that one has the privilege of helping someone. Furthermore, we should not think of chesed as an unfortunate necessity to take precious time from learning Torah, but as a spiritual experience.
Rav Yisroel Salanter famously declared that “the other fellow’s gashmiyus (physical need) is my ruchniyus (spiritual mandate).”
The Chofetz Chaim also taught us that the concluding brocha we make after most foods states “boreh nefashos rabbos vechesronan – Hashem creates numerous things with their deficiencies.” He asks: Why did Hashem create anything with a deficiency? His answer (Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah 108) is that since the purpose of the world is the performance of chesed, people must have needs, shortcomings and inadequacies so that others can fill the gaps.
During these days commemorating the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh and more, we must counteract the sinas chinom that prevailed during the second Bais Hamikdosh with acts of chesed bringing people together. There are myriad ways of accomplishing this, and we must each find the proper venue for our abilities and opportunities.
A story with the Chazon Ish will illustrate. The Chazon Ish met a lonely ger tzedek – righteous convert – in the street who complained that no one cared about him. He had no friends and felt abandoned and distraught. The Chazon Ish asked him if he knew a niggun – a tune – that he could sing. The man began to sing a common song and the Chazon Ish danced to the tune. Slowly, a crowd gathered, honored to join the tzaddik in whatever he was doing, whether or not they understood the purpose of the unusual choreography.
The Tchebiner Rov would listen for hours to a depressed scholar who thought he was regaling the great posek with his chiddushim. When asked why he didn’t just interrupt the man who was preventing the rov from his writing and learning, the gadol replied, “Is this not chesed? Why should I stop?”
I have personally witnessed this form of chesed in the homes and offices of many gedolim.
Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky was probably the busiest person in Europe – perhaps the world – since at one point all of the yeshivos had relocated to his city of Vilna. He personally undertook to feed, clothe and provide for all their physical needs in addition to his regular monumental duties as posek hador. Nevertheless, he always found time for every forlorn individual, many of whom had become at least partially deranged by the tragedies they had suffered. Despite his own failing health and personal losses, Rav Chaim Ozer had become the embodiment of his two names to all, bringing both life and help to all who required them.
Even the Vilna Gaon, who virtually never wasted a moment from Torah study, was ecstatic to have been given the opportunity to perform chesed with body, instead of the usual venue of teaching Torah, which is a chesed in and of itself. In his years of personal exile, he was once asked by his wagon driver if he could take the reins for a few moments. The driver was exhausted and promised the Gaon that the horses knew their way perfectly. “All you need to do for just a few moments,” the tired man promised, “is make sure that they don’t wander off this road and all will be well.” The Gaon happily took the reins, but the few moments turned into hours while the man snored contentedly next to him. As the wagon with the angelic-looking baal aggalah entered the city, little children and adults alike ran to witness the strange sight of the Gaon wearing tallis and tefillin looking even more radiant than usual with the joy of his chesed (Hagaon Hachossid MiVilna, page 159).
Rav Yechezkel Taub of Kuzmir gives us a wonderful perspective about people who come to us in need. It was a dark and stormy night and no other candles were burning in the windows of Kuzmir except those of the rebbe, who was learning Torah with his usual joy. A knock at the door revealed two bedraggled individuals who had just arrived in town. Rav Yechezkel, overjoyed at his hachnosas orchim opportunity, happily fed them, made their beds and served them royally. The rebbe’s shamosh opened one eye, thought they were the neshamos who occasionally came down from heaven to the rebbe for a tikkun – rectification of some kind – and remained in his bed terrified of the “apparitions.” Later, when he saw them in shul, he asked the rebbe why he had felt obligated to serve them so meticulously. The tzaddik replied, “Those who come from heaven arrive for their own tikkun. When live people come to me, they are coming for my tikkun” (Chovas Tiferes Yisroel 6).
Some years ago, Rav Avrohom Tovolesky (Olam Chesed Yibaneh, volume 7, chapter 9, page 304) put together a list of everyday chassodim that we can all readily accomplish. We have added a few more recent such innovations, and perhaps these can serve as a guide to the avodah of Tammuz and Av ahead:
¨ One can purchase a few extra mezuzos, taleisim and, if possible, tefillin to be loaned out when people suddenly find themselves without these mitzvah necessities.
¨ Setting up chavrusos for those who are seeking this learning venue.
¨ Many gemachs already exist for these things, but some are not available in all neighborhoods. For instance, gemachs for Torah books and magazines, especially for Shabbos; strollers and various items for people making simchos; andchairs, tables and other items for unexpected guests or simchos are very useful.
¨ Children can certainly be trained in chesed activities when elderly neighbors need shopping, unloading and placement of what has been purchased.
¨ People with “kosher smart phones” can sometimes provide important information to those who do not have any of these gadgets.
This is a wonderful time to remember Rav Chaim’s mandate to us that to help gather the exiles, we do not have to send planes or trains. We have to send our love and caring to our brethren. We may borrow from Nechemiah’s injunction at the last great ingathering preceding the building of the second Bais Hamikdosh. He instructed Klal Yisroel to “send food packages to those who have none” (Nechemiah 8:10 and see Pachad Yitzchok, Rosh Hashanah, maamar 1). The best path to redemption is the well- paved road of chesed. May we turn Tammuz and Av into their joyous potential by making us all chaveirim again.