The Great Transformer

Just a few months before the petirah of Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt”l, the Ponovezher Rov, when he was already bedridden, a delegation arrived from Kibbutz Ein Charod notifying him that they had established a bais haknesses and were inviting the rov to participate in the chanukas habayis ceremony. Ein Charod…a bais haknesses? What astounding news. This was a bastion of Zionist atheists who wanted nothing to do with old-fashioned Jewish tradition. And now this happy news that they were building a shul.

The rov’s declining health did not allow him to take part in this simcha, but just the news that in this kibbutz they were building a shul made his eyes light up with simcha. Truth be told, this did not come as a surprise to the rov. Someone reminded him that 25 years earlier, he had predicted that eventually there would be a yeshiva in Ein Charod. The rov commented with a smile, “A shul is not yet a yeshiva. We were not yet zoche to see that. Nevertheless, something is beginning to move there.”

Twenty years later, a group of teachers from Ein Charod visited the Ponovezher Yeshiva. The rov’s son, Rav Avrohom Kahaneman, told them, “Perhaps it is time to open a yeshiva in Ein Charod.”

They answered in the negative. “Meanwhile, we came only to see what a yeshiva is.”

“Did you ever believe that you would come to visit a yeshiva?” asked Rav Avrohom.

“No,” came the answer.

“The same way you never believed that you would be interested in visiting a yeshiva and yet you did, so too, you’ll eventually see the building of a yeshiva in your kibbutz just as my father zt”l was able to foresee in his time.”

In one of the rov’s first drashos in front of a gathering of Agudas Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel, he declared with great enthusiasm, “Write tefillin and mezuzos for the children of Ein Charod and there will be talmudei Torah and yeshivos in the secular settlements.”

Fast forward to the year 2007. One who witnessed this event must have rubbed his eyes in bewilderment. What he was watching couldn’t possibly be real. It had to be a dream. Indeed, it was a dream of the Ponovezher Rov, but now it became a reality. A siyum on Maseches Brachos was being celebrated in Ein Charod.

And who was the maggid shiur of the mesaymim? Rav Yiftach Tzisling, grandson of one of the founders of this kibbutz, Mr. Ahron Tzisling, one of the heads of the Mapam party, which was known for its extreme opposition to religion. Rav Tzisling returned to the mesorah of his illustrious ancestor, Rav Menachem Tzvi Tzisling, whose chiddushim are quoted in numerous seforim. For five years, he had been giving shiurim in Ein Charod on the parsha, then on Pirkei Avos, then Mishnah, and now a siyum on Gemara. Since then, the Torah is making great strides in this former non-believing community (B’Mechitzasam, Rav Shlomo Lorincz).

After Churban Europe, one of the Zionist leaders who met the Ponovezher Rov said to him derisively, “What is left of Ponovezh, Slabodka, Belz or Ger? Nothing! All is destroyed. Come to us in Kibbutz Nehalel and you’ll see green blossoming fields, fruits of the labor of the chalutzim. And what is left of all of your efforts?”

The rov wasn’t fazed in the slightest. He said with confidence, “Let’s wait 50 years and we’ll see whose strength is greater.”

Near the Zichron Moshe neighborhood, there were once numerous buildings that served those who trampled on anything holy. There was the Lemel School that trained young children to disdain religion. Opposite that was the Edison Theater, which was open on Shabbos. Then there was the Histadrut building, a bastion of unholiness. Many holy wars were fought in this area to counter the actions of the heretics. Yet, today, in the Lemel School building, there is a beautiful chassidishe Talmud Torah with little children with curled peyos and tzitzis learning Hashem’s Torah in purity. In the place where the theater once stood, there are now apartments and a bais medrash for Satmar chassidim. And in the former Histadrut building, there is another chareidi mosad and a chasunah hall for frum ehrliche Yidden to celebrate the establishment of another pure mishpacha that will carry on our holy mesorah (Dorash Mordechai, Rav Mordechai Druk).

Such is the power of Torah to transcend all barriers and to transform even the most stubborn-minded individuals to return to the ways of Hashem. When the Bnei Yisroel were in the midbar, this vast wasteland was turned into fertile ground. Here the Yidden used the Be’er Shel Miriam to irrigate the areas they camped on, and they planted fig trees and pomegranate trees that produced fresh fruit every day (Tanchuma, Parshas Kedoshim 7). If the power of Torah can change a desert into land similar to Gan Eden, then it can effect a change in every Yiddishe neshamah no matter how far it has strayed.

Many reasons are given for the minhag to read Megillas Rus on Shavuos. The Shaarei Teshuvah (Orach Chaim 494) quotes his grandfather, the Bechor Shor, who says that a reason for this is because Dovid Hamelech was niftar on Shavuos and tzaddikim are niftar on their birthday. Then, certainly, Dovid was born on Shavuos. We therefore lain Megillas Rus because it was written to show us the pure lineage of Dovid Hamelech.

This reason is somewhat curious, as generally we don’t celebrate birthdays. Furthermore, when we read Shir Hashirim on Pesach, it has a direct connection to the Yom Tov, as it speaks about the loving relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisroel that we felt during Yetzias Mitzrayim. On Sukkos, we lain Kohelles, as it speaks about the futility of Olam Hazeh and how transient it is, an idea expressed by the mitzvah of Sukkos, which is a temporary dwelling place. But what is the connection between Dovid Hamelech’s birth and Matan Torah?

The Sheim MiShmuel (Bamidbar, Page 44) quotes a short comment from his zaide, the Kotzker Rebbe, “that naturally, malchus should not have existed in Klal Yisroel, and it had to be taken from Amon and Moav.” He explains that our nation, which is b’achdus like one man, cannot inherently have one person ruling over others just as one limb of the body does not reign over the others. Even though Moshe Rabbeinu ruled over the nation, he was unique in the fact that he was the Ish Ha’Elokim, endowed with a higher neshamah, and he was equal to all of Klal Yisroel. But this is not applicable to any other individual.

In order for malchus to exist, an undesirable middah had to be imparted from another nation. It is a middah that Hashem finds repugnant – the middah of ga’avah, pride and haughtiness. This middah was found in Moav, as it says, “We have heard of Moav’s pride, exceedingly proud, his haughtiness and pride and scorn are untrue deceptions” (Yeshayah 16:6). A king who rules over others must have pride. This is why Dovid descended from Rus, whose soul was taken from amidst the Moabites, so that this middah of pride can be incorporated into Malchus Bais Dovid.

But how can such a repulsive middah be used for the highest and holy institution that was meant to bring Klal Yisroel closer to Hashem, to destroy Amaleik and to build the Bais Hamikdosh? Obviously, it had to be refined and changed from the way it was in foreign lands. It came to us through Rus, who was humbled through much poverty and suffering. And it went through even more rarification through Dovid, who also went through untold suffering. But more than anything, Dovid was immersed in Torah, and it was through this strength that he was able to transform a loathsome characteristic to one of kedusha that was used as a tool for avodas Hashem.

This is why Shaul Hamelech’s kingdom did not last, because he was perfect without any undesirable traits. He lacked this middah of pride. As Shmuel Hanovi told Shaul after he failed to eradicate Amaleik, “Though you may be small in your own eyes, you are the head of the tribes of Yisroel” (Shmuel I, 15:17). But Dovid Hamelech, a descendent of Rus the Moabite, inherited this trait of haughtiness, and with his koach haTorah, he transformed it into geius d’kedusha, holy pride, which was used to serve Hashem and to rule over others to discipline them in the ways of Hashem.

This is why we lain Rus on Shavuos – not merely because it was the day of Dovid’s physical birth, but also because it was the day that allowed Malchus Bais Dovid to come to fruition. For only through Kabbolas HaTorah was it possible for the middah of ga’avah to be purified to be used as a tool so vital for Dovid’s kingdom that will eventually bring the tikkun of the entire world with the coming of Moshiach.

This is alluded to by the fact that the shtei halechem that were brought on Shavuos were made of chometz. Why? Matzoh represents simplicity and humility, but chometz, the rising of the dough, is symbolic of ga’avah. On this day of Kabbolas HaTorah, this trait of haughtiness could be changed into a constructive quality (Sheim MiShmuel, Page 59).

Dovid Hamelech says: “The Torah is sweeter than honey and drippings from the combs…” (Tehillim 19:11). The Chofetz Chaim explains: Honey has the power of changing anything that is immersed in it to become honey. In fact, there is an opinion amongst the Rishonim that if something non-kosher falls into a jar of honey, it is permissible to eat the honey even where there is no bittul berov, because the item has turned into honey. It is much more powerful in being able to reconstruct a person. And if it has the power of reforming bad middos into something good, how much more so a person who wants to do good into someone special.

On Shavuos, it is customary to decorate our homes and shuls with flowers and greenery. It is a symbol of blossoming and growth. For on this day, we were given the Torah, which allows us to flourish way beyond our limitations. It enables us to refine our middos and perfect our character. The greenery is a reminder to us that with a sincere Kabbolas HaTorah, we can continue to grow spiritually throughout our entire lives. This is truly something to rejoice about. Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu.

Ah freilichen Yom Tov.