Wednesday, Jun 12, 2024

The Thread Of Chessed

The sefer of Shemos, which we begin this week, is often referred to as the Sefer Hageulah, because it charts the course of our nation from the bitterness of bondage through the thrill of redemption. Sefer Shemos traces our progress from the lowest depths to the greatest heights, from the harrowing dangers of drowning in the Red Sea to the climax of creation at Har Sinai. After scaling the heights of Sinai, we quickly sunk back to the depths of idol worship with the Eigel. We did teshuvah for that shameful incident and Hakadosh Boruch Hu gifted us with an earthly home, a dirah betachtonim. The promise of “veshochanti besocham” was realized and a new level of holiness was created with the construction of the Mishkon.

A common thread of middas hachessed is evident in the Shemos parshiyos ofshibud, geulah, Matan Torah, cheit and teshuvah. The concept of olam chessed yiboneh, the force of kindness and compassion rebuilding the world, is a common theme throughout Sefer Shemos. Just as the world was brought about and created with the Divine middah of chessed, it is that middah which enables us to conquer the impediments that hinder our growth and existence.


Moshe Rabbeinu was sent by Hashem to rescue the Jewish people from bondage. The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 3:16) relates that Moshe hesitated to accept the Divine call. He feared that his brother, Aharon, would be insulted and hurt by his selection for the mission. It was only after Hashem promised him that Aharon would be comfortable with his own advancement that he agreed to return to Mitzrayim and lead the Jews out of their misery.


When Hashem told Moshe, “Vero’acha vesomach belibo – Your brother, Aharon, will rejoice at your appointment,” Moshe acquiesced to Hashem’s wishes.


Moshe was the Divine messenger to lead the Jews out of Mitzrayim. Rav Elozor Menachem Shach would teach from here that despite the Jews’ terrible situation in which physical abilities were taxed to the limit on a daily basis – they suffered every type of deprivation, their children were being systematically killed, and they were sinking fast – Moshe was concerned about one person’s feelings. He wouldn’t proceed with the mission of saving them until he was assured that the person wouldn’t be insulted.


This idea can be understood further when we consider the Medrash which states that the deliverance of the Bnei Yisroel was timed to the minute. Had they remained in Mitzrayim any longer, they would have sunk to the lowest possible level of tumah and would not have merited redemption. Though he must have known how precious every minute was, Moshe hesitated lest Aharon take offense.


This was because Moshe understood that no good can come from an action that causes pain to another person. He knew that as important as the mission he was being sent on was, if through his actions Aharon would be hurt, he could not succeed.


Under the surface of this story lies an enduring truth: The geulah was builtandthe way our people survived the darkest hours was through chessed and empathy. When there was no food and no light, they subsisted on the nourishment of strong relationships with each other.


– – – – –


Shortly after Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik was appointed rov of Brisk, the townspeople approached him and said that they had misgivings about the town’s shochet. They wanted him replaced. The young rov called a meeting of the important people in town but insisted that the shochet not be told about the meeting so he should not attend. Somehow, the shochet found out about the meeting and showed up, taking a seat alongside the concerned citizens of Brisk.


The rov called the meeting to order and talked about various topics. Every time someone attempted to introduce the issue over which the meeting had been called, the rov steered the conversation in another direction. The people didn’t know what had come over their new rabbi, but they eventually figured out that he was not going to address the problem and they gave up.


The relieved shochet breathed a sigh of relief and left for home with a slight smile on his lips. Finally, after he was gone, the rov called those remaining in the room together and explained to them that he did not want to do anything that would cause embarrassment to the shochet. That was why he didn’t want the shochet at the meeting in the first place and that was why he didn’t permit the topic to be raised.


Whatever problem there was with the shochet could be taken care of later, he said, but if the man’s feelings would be hurt, no good would come of their plans. Nothing good is derived from something that causes unnecessary pain to another person, he said.


Chassidim tell a similar tale. The story goes that Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa once said that he believed that with his avodah he could bring Moshiach. He said that he didn’t pursue it, because if Moshiach would come through his actions, people would ask who brought him and word would get out that it was “Binem’s doing.” He said that the tzaddik hador, Rav Meir of Apt, would hear the talk in the street and would be pained that he wasn’t able to bring about the same result. Rav Simcha Bunim concluded that since he didn’t want to cause pain to Rav Meir, he would forego bringing the geulah.


Whether the story is true is anyone’s guess, but the lesson certainly is. No cause is great enough to warrant the embarrassment of another person.


– – – – –


Even before Moshe Rabbeinu was born, his mother and sister, Shifra and Puah, made a career out of caring about others and extending kindness toward other human beings. The Torah says that in reward of their kindness, “Vayaas lohem botim,” they were blessed with institutions of Kehunah, Leviyah andMalchus.


The savior of the Jewish people was placed in a bassinet and saved through acts of kindness by Basya, the daughter of Paroh. The Torah recounts that she called him Moshe, stating, “ki min hamayim meshisihu – because I plucked him from death in the water.”


TheMaharal (Gevuros Hashem 18) teaches that of the many names that were given to Moshe, he is eternally known by the one Basya gave him, since it reflects her act of kindness. The Torah is all about pleasantness and all its paths are peaceful. It is a Toras Chessed and, therefore, everyone, including Hashem, refers to Moshe by the name given to him by the daughter of Paroh, who performed an act of chessed in saving the infant from death among the reeds.


The Torah reports concerning Moshe (Shemos 2, 11), “Vayigdal hayeled – And the youth grew bigger.” What was the catalyst of his growth? The posuk continues: “he went out to his brothers and saw their suffering.” The young man who was growing up as a prince left the king’s palace to walk among the slaves and experience the cold, the privation and the oppression, so that it would be palpable and remain with him even after he returned to the privileged confines of the citadel of wealth.


When he saw a Yid being harassed by a Mitzri, he reacted quickly and forcefully, refusing to accept it. When he saw a Jew raise his hand against a fellow Jew and then heard the Jew’s response to his rebuke, he cried out, “achein noda hadovor.” He was proclaiming that geulah results when Jews join together. It is a product of everyone being connected b’achdus. If there is division, peirud, pettiness and political games, he was telling them, we will remain in golus.


Moshe escaped to Midyon where the first act he performed there was also one of chesed. He was at a well and when he saw that some shepherd girls were chased from watering their flock at the well, he performed that duty for them. His act of kindness to strange girls and their sheep led to him finding a mate for himself and beginning a family of his own.


The parshiyos and their lessons are timeless. Into each golus and subsequent geulah, the teachings accompanied us, instructing and providing insight into the minds of our oppressors. The storyline is always the same. Chesed, kindness, plays an integral part.


Yes, just as back then, our initial arrival is greeted with joy. The nations around us are well aware of the gifts we bring; intelligence, ability and creativity. Then the initial welcome gives way to jealousy and fear. They utilize the means available to civilized people, who would never use force to compel us to adjust and assimilate. There is always the force of the law. They seek to intimidate and stop us through the enactment of legislation and rules which they declare with feigned innocence. They don’t threaten or shout at us. They smile, they shake our hands, and they subtly encroach on our spiritual territory. There are always those who smile along, assuring the rest of us that our hosts mean no harm, but there are the prophets of doom who sense the direction in which everything is leading. People wish they would keep their pessimistic messages to themselves, but they feel they have no choice but to share their insights and predictions with everyone in a bid to fight back and preserve our nation.


In Mitzrayim, Paroh feared our growth and demagogued that we weren’t a patriot group. He urged his countrymen to “nip us in the bud,” proclaiming, “Pen yirbeh,” our growth is an existential threat which must be dealt with forthrightly. And just as then, at the beginning of golus Mitzrayim, so too in our day, the same fear and the same marching song of “pen yirbeh” is played.


We are also in golus, with our keepers plotting against us. Anyone who thinks that metztizah b’peh isn’t relevant to him is choosing the bliss of ignorance over the harshness of reality. Anyone following the saga since it originally presented itself a few years back as an allegation against a mohel from Monsey up until and including the recent court case can clearly discern that their goal is not metzitzah. The goal and endgame is bris milah and all that it represents. The bond between man and his Maker, sealed in flesh, represents a proclamation that we live for a higher cause and purpose whose rules weren’t crafted by power-hungry politicians.


It behooves us to study the force that carried the Yidden through Mitzrayim and the middah which accompanied them as they left, so that we can incorporate it into our lives and merit to build a new world in the spirit of olam chessed yiboneh.


In Israel, where our hosts are bnei Avrohom Yitzchok v’Yaakov, we are being attacked the same insidious way. Our old friend, Binyomin Netanyahu, created an alliance with a notoriously corrupt politician, whose inbred hatred of religion from his Russian homeland leads him to disparage religious people. The prime minister felt that his merger would gain him enough votes in the upcoming election that he would not be beholden to religious partiesin his next government.


Seeking to minimize the obligation to tend to the needs of frum Yidden, Netanyahu said that the Shas party will not get the ministries it has headed for many years. He has also assured voters of his commitment to drafting yeshiva bochurim. Not content with only going after the chareidim, he also attacked the leader of the settler party, which boomeranged on Mr. Netanyahu and led to a rise in the polls for the party to his right.


Here in New York and there in Yerushalayim, we hear echoes of the age-old Mitzri worry – “pen yirbeh” – and their solution: “Hava nischakmah lo. Let’s outsmart them and crimp their way of life.”


They forget that throughout the ages, all who echoed the Mitzri’s call lost and faded away. We are survivors.


If we accept the recent rash of violence between brothers, then we are in trouble. If the fact that yodayim shel Eisav have reached into our camp doesn’t disturb us, then there are few solutions. But if we stand tall, remind ourselves who we are and what we stand for, and grab hold of our neighbor’s hands and work together, then we can succeed in building a brighter future.


We need to follow the example of Moshe Rabbeinu. When offered the leadership of his people and a chance to lead them to the Promised Land, his first consideration was the feelings of another Yid. Our leaders throughout the ages have displayed similar conduct and sensitivity, and so must we.


One of the most successful people in modern history at fulfilling Chazal’s dictum to seek out learned sons-in-law was Rav Shraga Feivel Frank, a businessman who lived in a Kovna suburb. An intimate of Rav Yisroel Salanter, he passed away at a young age, r”l, and charged his wife with the task of finding suitable mates for their daughters.


When it came time to marry off their oldest daughter, she traveled to Volozhin and asked the Netziv to identify for her the best bochur in the Volozhiner Yeshiva. He suggested two bochurim, Isser Zalman Meltzer and Moshe Mordechai Epstein. She couldn’t decide between them, so she asked her brother-in-law to help her out. He met and farhered both of them and also couldn’t choose one over the other. The four of them traveled to Kovna, where she asked the rashkebehag, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, to determine which bochur would best fulfill her husband’s dying wish.


According to legend, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon asked Mrs. Frank if she had more than one daughter. When she told him that she had four, he told her to take both. The rest is history.


The biographies of both these gedolim report that when Rav Yitzchok Rabinowitz left Slabodka to take up a rabbinic position, the Alter of Slabodka offered the two brilliant brothers-in-law to replace him as rosh yeshiva.


Yerushalayimer talmidim of Rav Isser Zalman would say that, initially, the Alter offered the position to Rav Isser Zalman, and he accepted only on the condition that Rav Moshe Mordechai be offered to serve alongside him. Rav Isser Zalman’s talmidim explained that their rebbi feared that if he were to accept the post himself, there would inevitably be those who would remember the original “contest” to determine which of the two was the greater talmid chochom with the most potential. They would see the appointment as a determination that Rav Isser Zalman was the better man. He refused to accept the higher calling unless he could ensure that another Yid wouldn’t be hurt by it.


It is not as if anyone would have accused Rav Moshe Mordechai of being weak in any area. He was renowned as an illui, versant in the entire Shas. He would review Mishnayos every month, and the entire Shas and Shulchan Aruch Yoreah Deah and Choshen Mishpot every year. Even in his old age he would study 40-50 blatt of gemara daily. Yet Rav Isser Zalman was worried lest some reach the wrong conclusion and cause Rav Moshe Mordechai pain.


This sensitivity would define Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer and so many of our leaders throughout the ages. They possessed refined character and sterling middos combined with Talmudic brilliance,gaonus and penetrating lomdus.


As we work to get out of this golus, we have to promote and revere leaders who care about others, about the yechidim, the quiet and weak ones. There are so many people,causes and parties allied against us. We need to permit the brightest and the best to rise to the top and engage the enemy.


We need to live lives of sensitivity, realizing that our Torah is Toras Moshe, a legacy of the kind, compassionate shepherd who was also our rebbi, and teach and learn it in a way that builds people up, leaving them feeling good.


We need to bear in mind that the Torah is a Toras Chessed. Greatness means being aware of others, seeing not only the forests but the trees, not only the klal but every individual in the klal. It means to care about the most prone and weak people among us. Trying to help people find shiduchim, befriending the lonely, and supporting those going through difficult periods in their lives. It means giving young people a chance to right their lives and help to place them on the proper path and not condemning them to a life of misfortune.


Reb Chaim Yitzchok Cohen was approached with a request one year before Purim. “I know that you enjoy a close relationship with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach,” his friend said to him. “As you’ve probably heard, my daughter recently broke her engagement; she is extremely depressed and in need of chizuk. When you go to bring mishloach manos to Rav Shlomo Zalman, can you take my daughter with you and ask him to give her a brochah?”


Later in the day, Reb Chaim Yitzchok went with the girl to Rav Shlomo Zalman’s Shaarei Chessed walkup. As he entered the humble apartment, he saw that it was filled with family, talmidim and neighbors. Rav Shlomo Zalman was seated at the head of a crowded table, saying divrei Torah. Rav Chaim Yitzchok walked over to him and told him about the girl. He said that she was waiting at the front door and asked if he could bring her in for a brochah.


Rav Shlomo Zalman immediately rose from his seat and made his way out of the crowded room, motioning for the girl to come inside. He then went into a side room with her and Rabbi Cohen. He began to speak with the girl, offering words of encouragement and hope, and a brochah for her to find a wonderful chosson. The girl was profoundly moved by the encounter and stood there weeping profusely. When the gaon was done showering her with blessings, Rav Chaim Yitzchok accompanied him back into the main room. He had only one question: “Why did the rov have to go into a side room for that?”


Rav Shlomo Zalman looked surprised. “I imagined that, as she is in a sensitive, vulnerable state, she would probably begin to cry when I gave her a brochah,” he said. “Has she not received enough bizyonos already? Must she also cry in front of a room filled with people?”


This is the sensitivity demonstrated by great people, which we must emulate and incorporate into our everyday lives. By living with such focus and compassion, we will, G-d willing, trigger Heavenly mercy and bring about the geulah for which we are all waiting.


Chazal tell us that when the Mitzriyim plotted against us, saying “pen yirbeh,” perhaps the Bnei Yisroel would increase; the Divine voice responded with a promise, “kein yirbeh,” they most definitely will increase.


May the zechus of our chessed and achdus earn us that same Divine response; and announce once again “kein yirbeh,” continued growth and prosperity, leading us to the redemption.



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