Sunday, Apr 14, 2024

We Can Change the World

Often, people engage in discussions regarding issues of the day, and when convinced that a crisis is at hand, they conclude that someone ought to do something about it. That conclusion most often guarantees that they will do nothing to tackle the problem.

It is easy to be a critic. It takes very little effort to analyze a problem, criticize a public person, and then cower instead of accepting responsibility for one’s statements and actions. There is no attitude less helpful than that of “the gedolim/rabbonim/askonim should really take care of this.”

Commendable people rise above the chaos, find out the facts, and arm themselves with the truth and the self-confidence to tread where others have feared to go. Others rely on those officially charged with communal responsibilities to get the job done. They depend on formal askonim to make necessary changes. When people are experiencing financial difficulty, some look away, because it is the job of baalei tzedakah to support mosdos and help people who have fallen on hard times. It is the duty of the known baalei chessed to get involved and ensure that individual needs are being met. Sometimes those people are appreciated and sometimes not, but in times of need, people look to them to solve the crisis.

As Torah Yidden, we know that “Kol Yisroel areivim zeh bozeh.” We bear responsibility for each other. Every Jew possesses components of an askan, baal chessed and baal tzedakah. Torah Jews don’t look for the “they.” We know that every single one of us is the “they.” We see it as our personal responsibility to step forward when a situation calls for it. When we can be the guy, we don’t shirk the responsibility and wait for someone else to do the heavy lifting.

Where do we learn that from? How do we know that this is the way we are meant to conduct ourselves and feel for each other?

This week’s parshah highlights the role model who epitomizes what it means to act, rather than waiting for someone else to do something.

The posuk in last week’s parshah states, “Vayokom mitoch ha’eidah – And Pinchos emerged from within the community (Bamidbar 25:7).

The Sefas Emes explains that the Torah relates that Pinchos emerged from within the community in order to teach this lesson. Often, people rely on a particular kanna’i to be the designated shouter. They depend on him to protest injustice and wrongdoing. The Sefas Emes writes that proper vigilance and yiras Shomayim are displayed when an “ordinary citizen” steps forward and acts for the glory of Heaven.

Pinchos stepped forward from amongst the people to save his generation and inspire all those who followed. Due to the courage and passion of a person who had no official title, the plague that was engulfing his people ended. The act that evoked Hashem’s wrath was performed in public, but nobody responded.

Pinchos approached Moshe to discuss the halachah of how to respond and earned the right to carry out the heroic act. All through life, when action is called for, good reasons abound to take a back seat and blend in with the crowd. It takes a great person to look beyond the justifications for inaction and alter the face of history. In our private lives, we should resist the temptation to seek excuses for lethargy and indecisiveness.

Succeeding in life is a real challenge, because there are always many reasons not to take action.

Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir-Yerushalayim, was ill and infirm, but the yeshiva he headed was in particularly daunting financial straits, and the only solution involved him traveling to America on a fundraising mission. The trip would involve tremendous physical and mental anguish for the rosh yeshiva, for whom every move was excruciatingly difficult.

Taking leave of the yeshiva in middle of the zeman also meant that he would be unable to engage in what he loved more than anything else: learning with his chavrusos and delivering shiurim to his talmidim. He turned to his rebbi, Rav Chaim Kamiel zt”l, for advice on how to proceed. Rav Chaim asked for time to consider the question.

Rav Nosson Tzvi’s family was concerned for his health, so one of the family members called Rav Kamiel the day after the question was posed. “Before you render your decision regarding the trip at this time,” he said, “I just want the rosh yeshiva to know how weak Rav Finkel is and how poor his physical condition is.”

Rav Kamiel responded that he was sure the trip would be a difficult undertaking, “but what can I do if I already have an answer?” He related that the previous night, his rebbi, Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel zt”l, who re-established Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim, appeared to him in a dream.

“Don’t get involved in my ainikel’s running of the yeshiva,” Rav Leizer Yudel told him. “Don’t prevent him from doing what has to be done.”

And so, Rav Nosson Tzvi, ignoring the peril to his own well-being, got on a plane and traveled from place to place to raise the funds necessary to maintain the yeshiva. It was that dedication to his shlichus that repeatedly manifested itself, enabling him to achieve historic accomplishments, which stand as testimony to what happens when a person presses forward despite obstacles and council to the contrary.

Take a trip to your local yeshivos and see the results of the efforts of people who didn’t take no for an answer. When you look at the huge edifices of Torah currently being constructed in Lakewood, NJ, for example, seemingly wherever you go, you know instinctively that they are the result of much hard work and many sleepless nights. You know that people dreamed big, planned and believed. And you know that they didn’t let naysayers, cynics and negativity convince them that because it was never done, it can’t be done now.

Think of what these builders of Torah have accomplished, appreciate what they have done, and see what lesson lies there for you. Think of the people who supported them in their efforts and the generous patrons of Torah who donated large sums to make possible the growth of Torah. Thank them for what they have done and for the example they show us.

Look at the many yeshiva buildings in Yerushalayim and around Eretz Yisroel and think of how many doors were knocked on in order for those edifices to be built. Consider how many telephone calls were made, how many appointments were arranged, and how many pledges were obtained. Many of those people come to our doors and we laugh at them, wondering how they can think of putting up a building. Yet, the joke is on us if we don’t assist them, because we have lost an opportunity for eternal merit.

The Medrash states that when someone rids the world of evil, as Pinchos did, it is as if he has brought a korban. Perhaps we can understand it as follows. When one sins, one brings a korban to arrange forgiveness for the aveirah. Aveiros cause a separation to be formed between the sinner and Hashem. The korban removes that barrier and re-establishes the relationship. Aharon is the paragon of shalom, not only because he made peace between men, but because his avodah in the Mishkon brought about shalom between man and his Creator.

Pinchos was rewarded with the covenant of peace, as the posuk says, “Hineni nosein lo es brisi shalom,” for his act erased the separation, caused by chet, between Hashem and Klal Yisroel. Hashem is the Source of life and the Torah is an eitz chaim. When sins separate Am Yisroel from the Source of life, mageifos are enabled.

When Pinchos removed the sin that was rampant, he reunited the Jews with Hashem, bringing about shalom and shleimus. Thus, the mageifah ended and he was blessed with eternal shalom. Although he wasn’t born with kehunah, he had now earned it, for he performed the task of the kohein, bringing shalom and shleimus between man and Hashem.

When one rids the world of evil, it is as if he brought a korban, because he removed the separation between the sinner and Hashem, just as a korban does.

Today, as we mourn the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh, we are not able to bring korbanos. But there is no shortage of things around us that need to be rectified. While we shouldn’t walk around like gladiators, there is much we can do to improve our condition if we set our minds to it.

The parshah begins with the act of Pinchos and ends with a discussion of the various Yomim Tovim. People who display loyalty and fidelity to the Torah on the level of Pinchos enable the nation to enjoy Yomim Tovim.

Parshas Pinchos ushers in the period of Bein Hametzorim, the Three Weeks. The lesson of Pinchos is most significant at this time of year, as it reminds us that every person can make a difference and be a catalyst for the geulah.

The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah (3:4) famously enjoins us to view the world as perfectly split between impurity and holiness. One single deed can tilt the balance and bring the universe to a state of kedushah and geulah.

Rav Yaakov Emden writes that the length of our golus might be a result of not sufficiently mourning the churban. He decries the lack of passion, sincere tears and true mourning. We engage in the minhagim of aveilus, but we fail to allow the acts to penetrate our senses and recognize what it is that we are mourning. We don’t appreciate what golus means.

Especially in our time, when we have had it so good, there is a danger of viewing the lack of haircuts, music and celebrations as a ritual not tied to anything that really affects us. We have grown comfortable with our status and don’t perceive our lives as lacking in any way.  

Current events serve as reminders. In America, the anti-religious crusade has scored repeated victories and our way of life is under attack and repeatedly vilified. Hedonism and immorality rule the day, as truth-seekers become increasingly lonely.

The new deal with Iran spells danger for the tiny country that sits in the crosshairs of that despotic regime.

Wearing a yarmulka in Europe has become more dangerous than at any other time since the Holocaust.

And there is no place to run.

We live in a time when it’s not facts that count, but perceptions. As people increasingly rely on bits of second-hand information to form opinions, a fake reality exists in many minds. Assumptions are made and conclusions are arrived at. These bear little relationship to what is really going on and are thus doomed to failure.

To rectify a problem, an honest assessment must be undertaken based on facts and a proper analysis. When we allow biased suppositions to govern our judgment, we fail in our missions and lose to our enemies.

Pinchos arose from amongst his countrymen to avenge sinful crimes. But before acting, he discussed the issue with Moshe Rabbeinu, who responded to him, “Kreina de’igrasa ihu parvaknei. Because you are the one who objectively studied the issue and arrived at the proper conclusion, you have earned the right to respond.”

For Pinchos to merit being the one to act on behalf of Moshe and stem the awful tide, it was not sufficient for him to be courageous. He also had to be objectively correct in his assessment. Because he acted without internal biases and with total selflessness, he was able to succeed in vanquishing the temptations that ripped at Am Yisroel.

As we view the challenges that our day presents us, we must act like Pinchos, with sound reasoning, with objective analysis of the facts, and with the approval of Moshe Rabbeinu, while remaining impervious to the vanity of shifting public opinion. If we act as he did, we will be able to overcome the serious nisyonos which abound and merit the brochah of shalom b’shleimus.    

Our custom at weddings is that the groom breaks a glass while he stands under the chupah next to his bride. Through their act, as their mothers demonstrated by breaking a plate just prior to the chupah, they proclaim that Jewish joy is not complete as long as we are not home.

They stand under the canopy, signifying their new home, and look out at the crowd and see how much joy they have brought to so many people. Hundreds have gathered to share in their joy. Many thousands of dollars and many hours of effort are expended to bring about this moment. When it comes down to it, it is all for two individuals, who are often young and have not yet made their mark on the world.

They see the power they possess and the faith the community has in them. The intense joy serves as a catalyst for them to realize that they have the ability to return the Jewish people to their home, to their chupah with Hashem at the Bais Hamikdosh. At the apex of joy, the chosson smashes the glass to signify that he is aware of his abilities and will do what he can to bring about the long-awaited reunion.

Thus, Chazal say, “Kol hamesameiach chosson vekallah ke’ilu bonoh achas meichurvos Yerushalayim. Bringing joy to a chosson and kallah is akin to rebuilding a destroyed home in Yerushalayim.”

It is due to the people who gathered for the simchah that the chosson and kallah appreciate their abilities and resolve to work for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim. Whoever contributes to that joy shares in the merits it brings about. 

We can empower people through joy and celebration, and we can remind them of their abilities through our other actions. We each possess the ability to not only rebuild parts of Yerushalayim, but to cause the Bais Hamikdosh to be returned. May we each recognize our abilities and use them to their fullest potential, so that these weeks of mourning become weeks of joy and celebration, kimsos chosson al kallah.



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