Monday, Jun 10, 2024

What We Can Do

 

In the days of old, when the Jewish people were blessed with leaders who were able to discern and portray the Hand of Hashem in all that transpired, people weren’t as confounded as they are now by the goings-on at home and abroad. In the times of the nevi’im, quite often, the people would be forewarned before a calamity would strike so that they could accept upon themselves teshuvah and prevent the tragedy. And even if they did not do so before, once the catastrophe took place, they were explained that it was the Yad Hashem that had hit them and would engage in whatever was necessary to rectify their ways.

Even after our people lost prophecy and Hashem began engaging in the conduct of hester, people were faithful enough to recognize that nothing happened by itself and that everything that took place did so because of Hashem.

As time went on and people became increasingly more unlearned, they were unable to see Hashem’s Hand in the various manifestations of His din. They began ascribing natural explanations for what was happening, without thinking that what they were seeing were Divine messages directed at them.

As media expanded and everyone fell under the influence of news organizations and analysts, most people saw everything that was going on through the eyes of newscasters and reporters. The Divine Hand became an aforethought, if it was thought of at all.

We see the world falling apart, so to speak, and we worry. We see corruption everywhere. Immoral laws are increasingly guiding this nation. Israel was brutally attacked, but when they fight back, they are condemned by the entire world, with very few exceptions.

The party in control of the bulwark of democracy seeks regime change in Israel, as the prime minister refuses to acquiesce to their plans for a Palestinian state and an end to the war that seeks to destroy the devils whose life’s mission is the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel.

The country that murdered 6,000,000 Jews shamelessly announces that it would arrest Prime Minster Netanyahu on genocide charges. They have neither remorse nor shame.

In the eighth month of a treacherous war, rockets continue to rain down on Israel and people are still unable to return to their homes, jobs and schools. The holy cities of Meron and Tzefas continue to be Hezbollah targets, as are towns and villages in the north and south of the country.

We look from far and wonder what we can do. What can we do to help those who fear for their safety? What can we do for those who have no income? What can we do for the thousands of yungeleit whose meager stipends were cut further by a leftist elite bent on their submission? What can we do to make the world a better place and bring about positive change?

The answers won’t be found in the news, or on news sites, or on chats or X, nor in the columns of the wise men and women of the world.

The answers are in this week’s parsha. Bechukosai is a short parsha. In it, Hakadosh Boruch Hu lays out for us how to live happy, successful and blessed lives.

The posuk states quite simply, “Im bechukosai teileichu v’es mitzvosai tishmeru va’asisem osam.” If you will follow the chukim and mitzvos of the Torah, you will be blessed.

Are you afraid of global warming? Do you think the world is running out of water? The Torah promises that if you follow its mitzvos, “venosati gishmeichem b’itom,” you will have as much rain and water as you need.

Are you afraid of the rising price of food? It is no exaggeration to say that every time we go to the supermarket, the prices are higher. There are certain foods that we have to cut out. As you walk down the meat aisle, you remember when you were learning in Brisk, or Mir, or seminary, and you met Israelis who only ate meat on Shabbos because they couldn’t afford to have it more than once a week. And now you wonder how far you are from having to cut down on things you had considered to be necessities until now. You fear that the day will come when your children will hunger just like the children of yungeleit in Eretz Yisroel.

Fear not, for in this week’s parsha, the Torah promises that if you follow its mitzvos, you will always have enough: “vehisig lochem…va’achaltem lachmichem lesova.”

You wonder what you can do to bring peace to Israel. You wonder what you can do to help alleviate the fear that millions there are faced with daily. Also in this week’s parsha, the Torah promises that if you follow the chukim and mitzvos, “vishavtem lovetach b’artzechem…venosati shalom ba’aretz ushechavtem v’ein macharid…v’cherev lo saavor b’artzechem,” you will live safely in your land, there will be peace in the land, and you will sleep with no fear.

Everything that is happening today is clearly prescribed in this week’s parsha. The history of the Jewish people is all in Parshas Bechukosai. When we were good, life was good. And when the people sinned and strayed, then what the pesukim say will happen (26:14-44) happens.

Most everyone is familiar with the words of Rashi on the opening posuk of the parsha. His words are so often repeated in shmuessen and drashos that they have become marching orders to generations of bnei Torah of all ages. But it’s always good to review them.

The posuk states, “Im bechukosai teileichu v’es mitzvosai tishmeru va’asisem osam.” The Toras Kohanim states on the words “Im bechukosai teileichu” that “Melameid sheHakadosh Boruch Hu misaveh sheyihiyu Yisroel ameilim baTorah…” From here we see that Hashem desires that the Jewish people be “ameil” in Torah.

How does the Toras Kohanim derive this lesson from the words “Im bechukosai teileichu,” which appear to indicate that Hashem wants us to follow His chukim? The posuk says nothing about studying Torah.

Apparently, this question was troubling Rashi, leading him to quote a different message from the Toras Kohanim: I would think that the words “Im bechukosai teileichu” refer to their literal meaning, namely observing the commandments known as chukim. But if that is the case, why does the Torah then repeat itself and say “v’es mitzvosai tishmeru,” referring once again to mitzvah observance?

Therefore, he writes those immortal words that “Im bechukosai teileichu” doesn’t only mean that we will be blessed if we follow the chukim. Rather, they contain another message: “shetihiyu ameilim baTorah,” that you shall toil in Torah. Those who toil in Torah will be blessed.

When we study Torah, we are connecting with Hashem. We study His word and it affects us, our neshamos, and the way we conduct ourselves. We become better people, more attached to our purpose in life, strengthening our very being.

Shetihiyu ameilim baTorah is the hymn of our yeshivos and kollelim, islands of intense limud haTorah to produce exalted people.

The person who sits at his shtender struggling to grasp a Tosafos, lost in a world inhabited by him and Hashem, is who we aim to emulate.

I saw a picture today of Rav Eliyahu Levin, one of the leading talmidei chachomim of Lakewood, holding a large Gemara, or maybe it was a Shulchan Aruch, open on his lap. His face portrayed the image of human bliss, as he had sort of a smile. But if you looked at his eyes, you saw that they were focused somewhere far away, as he was lost in concentration.

You might ask: What’s so special about that? And why am I writing about this picture?

Boruch Hashem, bli ayin hora, you can enter the botei medrash of Bais Medrash Govoah any day and find thousands of people like that. And not only in Lakewood. In many cities across the United States, as well as Montreal and Toronto to the north and Mexico City to the south, and in England and France and Switzerland and all across Eretz Yisroel, you’ll find the same scene.

The reason the picture is special is because he was sitting at a gate in an airport. He wasn’t thinking about his plane, or his trip, or his destination. He was in a sugya, connected with Hashem and disconnected from anything to do with teva and this world. A pure display of being omeil baTorah.

When people push themselves beyond their comfort level and find the strength for another blatt of Gemara, another few minutes in the bais medrash, or one more Tosafos, they enter that exalted realm.

Each one of us can have that gift. With a little spirit and determination, we can go where Rav Eliyahu Levin went and where tens of thousands of others go. We can delve into the sugya. We can care about the finer points in the machlokes between Rashi, the Rashba and the Rambam, and experience the thrill of understanding how the Brisker Rov brings them all together. When we do that, we earn brachos for ourselves and for the world.

Shetihiyu ameilim baTorah.

When mortals like us brush up against the heavens and earn the brachos of Heaven.

Studying Torah helps us confront the temptations society offers and withstand the ever-present pressures and enticements.

Sunday was Lag Ba’omer, the festive day that seems to mark the Sefirah midpoint. Sefirah is a serious time, and not only because 24,000 talmidim of Rabi Akiva died during this period. Sefirah is serious because during this time, we are to be preparing ourselves to accept the Torah once again as our forefathers did so many years ago. They left Mitzrayim unlearned, with few mitzvos and on a low level of kedusha. Every day of Sefirah, they raised themselves a bit more until they were ready for Har Sinai, where they were brought into Hashem’s embrace and received the Torah.

We do the same as we count towards Shavuos and receiving the Torah, working on our middos and steadily reaching upward. Each day of the count, we seek to improve ourselves so that when Shavuos comes, we will be able to receive the Torah anew.

There is an unprecedented explosion of Torah study in our day. Increasing numbers of Jews of all walks of life study Gemara daily, whether as part of Daf Yomi, Dirshu, Oraysa or some other program. It is no longer rare to travel on a plane and see people with a Gemara on their tray table.

All across the country and around the world, there are more people dedicating themselves to full-time Torah study in kollel. We are palpably nearing the day when “umalah ha’aretz dei’ah es Hashem,” the world will be full of people who appreciate Hashem and recognize His Hand in everything that happens.

The current war in Gaza is a prime example. The nations of the world and those who follow the news as it is presented have one way of understanding the goings-on. We, maaminim bnei maaminim, see the Yad Hashem in every bomb, missile and mission. When hundreds of terrorists crashed through the world’s strongest, most well-protected border and there was no army waiting to defend thousands of civilians from their wrath, we knew that such a thing doesn’t happen by itself, but is foretold in this week’s parsha.

And then, when Iran sent 300 of its most powerful missiles, expecting tremendous casualties, and not one person was killed and there was only minimal damage, we knew that it was only the Yad Hashem that held them back, as foretold in this week’s parsha.

When the nations of the world gang up against us and tens of thousands march in hate; when ancient anti-Semitism is woken from its nap and others wonder why it is happening, giving speeches and trying to write laws against it, we know that this is the curse of golus that appears in this week’s parsha.

We are not economists. We don’t have the recipe to cure inflation and bring down interest rates so business can prosper and people can have affordable housing. We are not farmers. We can’t procure fertilizer, grow more crops, and get chickens to produce more eggs. Nor can we get to the bottom of why meat is so expensive and get into the business of raising steers so we can lower the prices somehow. We are neither generals nor foreign policy experts who can end the war in Gaza and Ukraine and keep China from taking over Taiwan. And even if we could, nobody would listen to us.

What we can do is study more Torah, with deeper concentration. We can work on the way we observe the mitzvos and do a better job of it. We can daven better, slower, and more carefully, taking the time to say every word and giving what we are saying some thought. We can be more careful with what we read, what we watch, what we bring into our homes, and where we go.

When we learn Parshas Bechukosai this week, we should do so slowly and carefully, studying every Rashi and Ramban and the classic Meshech Chochmah about golus, until we understand what they are saying and spend some time thinking about adapting their messages to our lives.

By doing that and taking the message of Sefirah seriously as well, we will not only be improving our lives so that we can attain fulfillment and inner happiness, but we will be earning for ourselves and the world, and all those we care about, the special brachos contained in this week’s parsha.

We will then merit the eternal brachos, as Hakadosh Boruch Hu will finally end this golus and bring us all to where we belong bekarov.

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