Klal Yisroel has been buffeted about of late and is worried. We have lost a most amazing gadol baTorah, a man who learned through Shas and Shulchan Aruch hundreds of times and was familiar with kol haTorah kulah. Whenever there was a difficult question, we knew that there was a place on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where we could turn to and receive a definitive answer.
My grandfather, Rav Eliezer Levin, learned in the Radin Yeshiva for seven years. He once told me, in Yiddish, that the Chofetz Chaim looked like a poshuter Yid. “If you didn’t know who he was, you thought he was a simple person. Az men hut nit gevust, hut men gornit gezen – If you didn’t know, you didn’t see anything. Uber az men hut gevust, hut men altz gezen – But if you knew who he was, then you saw everything.” That’s what he said about Klal Yisroel’s rebbi.
If you knew you were looking at the Chofetz Chaim, and you watched him carefully, you could see in his every move that he was a very holy person.
We can say the same thing about Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l. He was a great gaon and tzaddik, but if you didn’t know who he was and you saw him in the grocery helping someone reach a product, or filling the yeshiva’s soda machine, or sitting in the back of the bais medrash, you could be forgiven for assuming that he was just another nice East Sider.
He was sensitive to Klal Yisroel’s needs and those of every individual. For some time, the Yated had a halacha column with American poskim, in which Rav Dovid participated. He repeatedly told the column’s coordinator, Rabbi Elli Bohm, to make sure that every person who sends in a shailah gets a response, even if the question is not published in the newspaper. Every person’s feelings were important to him, and he wanted to ensure that they would have proper halachic guidance.
Modest and understated, Rav Dovid had no need to impress anyone. From all outward appearances, he seemed like a regular person. Yes, he was a scion of greatness, who spent his life learning and growing, humble and far from the public spotlight. Yet, when he visited Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the latter rose in his honor.
Kavod was not important to Rav Dovid and he never forced his opinion on anyone.
At his bar mitzvah, he undertook to never speak lashon hora. Rav Dovid was not wont to speak about himself, but when someone once asked him to what he attributes the strength of his brachos, he simply told the person that because he didn’t speak lashon hora, what emanates from his mouth is accepted.
He was able to learn with total concentration no matter what was transpiring at the time. On 9/11, when the Twin Towers fell, Rav Dovid was not yet in yeshiva and the talmidim began to recite Tehillim. When Rav Dovid entered, he sat at his shtender, opened his Gemara Bava Kamma, and began learning. Everyone followed. He sat and learned with total concentration, because for him, there was nothing more important going on anywhere than limud haTorah.
Following seder, a talmid asked him why he hadn’t joined in the recitation of Tehillim. He responded that the highest level of protection is derived from Torah study.
He would say that the ikkar hishtadlus takes place in the bais medrash. We need to inculcate that message.
Rav Dovid’s passing leaves a tremendous void in the world of Torah, the world that really counts, and his petirah came at the end of a week that left people baffled, not knowing what to think as they fear the future.
Paranoia and conspiracy theories are grabbing hold, as people try to figure out who really won the U.S. presidential election. Whistleblowers tell stories depicting wholesale corruption in the counting of ballots, while a lack of transparency on the part of the people doing the counting and those responsible for them feed the feeling that something wrong is going on.
Much effort was expended to ensure that Republican poll watchers would not be able to supervise the counting process in certain areas. Close to seventy-one million people voted for Donald Trump, and they believe that the election was stolen from him. That is not healthy for this country. Such things are not supposed to happen in a legitimate democracy.
For four years, people were fed a steady diet of Trump-bashing. He was portrayed as an out-of-control fringe figure with a dwindling following. Electoral polls ever since the nomination predicted a Democrat sweep, with Trump far behind.
The polls never made any sense to Trump supporters and to objective observers, but it didn’t make a difference. The media, with the exception of Fox News, spoke in a unified voice, gloating over Trump’s resounding defeat and anticipating the Democrat takeover of Washington.
Senator Charles Schumer, envisioning himself as Senate Majority Leader, warned the president not to dare nominate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, saying that if he did, when Schumer would take over the Senate, he would exact a quick and dramatic revenge, forever changing the court and the way it operates. He and Speaker Pelosi had a list of changes that they would enshrine in law, tilting the country towards a one-party leftist country, and nobody doubted it would happen.
Data didn’t stand in the way of the Democrat narrative. Trump was constantly portrayed as an evil white supremacist racist. Everything he said was parsed to fit the narrative. His words were taken out of context and repeated enough times to, for example, prove that following Charlottesville, he praised Nazi sympathizers. He was portrayed as an anti-Semite, despite the fact that he was the best friend Israel ever had in the White House, doing that country untold favors, publicly and privately. He freed Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, with no ulterior motive. And most glaringly, he permitted his daughter to convert to Judaism and marry a Jewish boy, to whom he entrusted some of the most important aspects of his presidency. Unlike some of the secular Jews who can’t stand him, Trump has Jewish grandchildren.
Trump supporters find it difficult to accept that a candidate who barely campaigned and drew sparse crowds when he did, didn’t do interviews or answer questions, and is clearly past his prime, pulled out a stunning victory?
These questions and many others bother people and they search for answers. They are afraid that soon they won’t be able to express their opinions without fearing retribution.
Batches of votes were brought to the counting areas in the middle of the night when nobody was watching, and 100% of those votes were for Biden. Trump outperformed every Republican presidential candidate over the past sixty years in non-white votes. I did not compare the numbers, but it is said that Biden underperformed Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in major metropolitan areas, except in the battleground cities of Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Detroit.
People wonder what they are to make of the mess.
The fiction of much of what goes on has been revealed since Trump came to power. Institutions that Americans long revered – such as the FBI, CIA and Justice Department, along with many politicians, their families and political groups – were exposed to be corrupt. And that was prior to the election. And that may be a blessing in disguise.
We all know that it was foretold that in the times of Moshiach, we will recognize that ein lonu lehisha’ein elah al Avinu shebashomayim. We will have no one to depend on but Hashem, as everything else that we believed in will crumble.
Rav Elchonon Wasserman writes in Ikvesa D’Meshicha that prior to the coming of Moshiach, the Jews will believe that their fate is controlled by avodah zorahs that operate independent of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. He says that before the geulah, all those avodah zorahs will be exposed as false hopes. He lists socialism, communism, nationalism and democracy. With the latest revelations, people have become insecure about the ability of democracy to save them. For all we know, the current upheaval will lead to the coming of Moshiach bekarov. It is time we remember that Hakadosh Boruch Hu coordinates all that transpires in the world – “hamamlich melochim velo hamelucha” – and it is He who appoints kings, leaders, and even presidents.
One of the highlights of learning under my rebbi, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik, in Brisk is the Chumash shiur, where eye-opening, mind-expanding divrei Torah are commonly discussed. Stories and anecdotes of Bais Brisk are a special feature, always providing a lesson for life and conveying important hashkafic lessons. An example comes to mind now.
The Bais Halevi would wonder why the Marxists were granted so much power by Hakadosh Boruch Hu, as they tortured the Jews under their control in Russia and made their lives miserable. He’d explain that while the czar ruled with an iron fist, killing people at will, pillaging their property and exercising power with no mercy or fealty to decency, the Jewish people thought that there could be no government worse than his. They fervently davened that Hashem strengthen the Marxists and enable them to topple the czar and take over control of Russia and its environs.
The people davened with such fervor and devotion that Hashem accepted their prayers and caused the Marxists to topple the evil czar and assume power, as the Jews had requested. The Marxists turned out to be more oppressive and evil than the tyrant they supplanted. Consequently, the Jews suffered much more than they had previously. Ultimately, Jews suffered under Communist rule for many decades.
The Bais Halevi would say that when we plead for Hashem’s assistance in Hallel, we say, “Ana Hashem hoshiah na, Hashem, please help us, ana Hashem hatzlicha na, Hashem, please cause us to succeed.” Hashem doesn’t need our advice to tell Him how to help us; He knows what to do. We need to let Him run things His way, for that way, we will all succeed and merit what is beneficial for us.
We have all become armchair political strategists trying to make sense of the bizarre. Instead, we should follow the example of Rav Dovid Feinstein to return the bais medrash and concentrate on learning Torah, recognizing that what happens is Divinely orchestrated for reasons we may or may not understand with time.
Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach went to be menachem a grief-stricken family. He told them that it is not tzidkus to accept Hashem’s harsh judgment, but, rather, it is simply the smart thing to do. It is beyond our abilities to understand what Hashem does and figure out the reasons why. However, many times, in hindsight, we see that things that people thought were terribly tragic and incomprehensible when they occurred, turned out to be greatly advantageous for all.
Rav Shach gave an example of just such an occurrence. When the Second World War broke out, the Soviet authorities announced that they would permit anyone who feared the war to leave Russia, providing exit visas to those who submitted an official request. A debate broke out among the Jews who lived in the border regions of Russia and the eastern European countries. To some, this was a golden opportunity to escape the notorious Soviet repression and anti-Semitism. Others saw it as a communist ruse, designed to trick people into betraying themselves as enemies of the state. They reasoned that all who apply to leave will be branded as traitors and harshly punished.
Some filled out the forms and applied to leave. Others, fearing the worst, decided that they wouldn’t fall into the trap. And a trap it was. The people who asked to leave were singled out and banished to far-off tundra-frozen Siberia.
At the time, it seemed that it was a terrible miscalculation to have asked to leave. Those who were sent to Siberia and their families bemoaned their tragic fate and agonized about how they had been ensnared in a trap. Those who had decided to stay congratulated themselves on their foresight.
However, with time, it became evident that those who had been exiled to Siberia were the lucky ones. By being out there, far from the ravages of war, and under constant Russian domination, they survived the awful Holocaust. The people who had thought that they had made the correct decision, staying behind in the Soviet border zone, were overrun by the Nazis when those areas fell. Many of them died tragic deaths.
We don’t understand what is happening. It is beyond human comprehension. But we are people of faith and we know that there is something going on behind the scenes, way deeper and more impactful than we can imagine.
Far be it from me to try to understand Hashem’s plan, but permit me to offer a thought, if only to demonstrate that we have no comprehension of the world’s topical issues and events.
When it became known that Iran was on a mission to secure for itself nuclear weapons with which to threaten Israel and the world, people began to panic. Israel wanted to bomb the Iranian reactor, much as they bombed the one Saddam Hussein was contracting in Iraq. America put a stop to that idea, and people again began worrying that Iran would secure the bomb and wreak havoc in Eretz Yisroel.
I had heard that my rebbi, Rav Moshe Schapiro, had spoken about the crisis, so when I met him in the United States at that time, I took the opportunity to ask him how he understood what was going on. He answered that he saw it building to a crescendo, with a showdown with Iran that would precipitate the coming of Moshiach.
Much has happened since he spoke those words. The previous administration struck a deal with Iran, which took the issue off the table. President Trump changed all that, backing out of the treaty Obama and Biden signed with Iran, and began to isolate Iran and squeeze them economically, forcing them to curtail their nuclear ambitions. President Trump and his administration are working with friendly Arab countries to join with Israel in further isolating Iran. Should Biden assume the presidency, that policy will change and the United States will return to the previous appeasement policy, which will arouse Israel and its newfound allies to take matters into their own hands.
For all we know, this is why Hakadosh Boruch Hu decided that a change in leadership is necessary, and He is laying the groundwork to cause the arrival of Moshiach.
Let us recognize that all that transpires is part of a Divine plan. We may not always understand the workings of Hashem, but we must recognize that they are what causes everything to happen and nothing happens just because. As observant Jews, we must ensure that we don’t act erratically and foolishly in golus. We may be in for hard times, but let’s keep it all in perspective and remember that it is up to us and our maasim tovim to determine the outcome of this trying historic period.
“Lev melochim vesorim b’Yad Hashem” is not just some overused cliché. It is the truth. “Yishma Keil.” Hashem will really listen to us if we trust in Him and reach out to Him as we should.
We don’t know what the Ribono Shel Olam’s plan is, but we beg him, “Ana Hashem hoshiah Na,” please, Hashem, help us and save us from anyone’s evil plans.
Let us do what we all know is incumbent upon us to merit the Divine mercy as the world prepares for the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu, bimeheirah beyomeinu.