My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, did not approve of people making declarations about why various negative events occurred.
A prominent speaker once used a tragedy to speak about the evils of chillul Shabbos. A child was killed in traffic on a Shabbos afternoon and the rabbi stated that it happened because of a lack of proper shemiras Shabbos in the community. Rav Hutner felt that he had overstepped his bounds, because we no longer have nevuah and nevi’im. However, he did hold that we must react to world and communal events because our Creator makes them happen for a purpose. It may not necessarily be about the individuals or particular community that has directly suffered the misfortune. However, he taught us about the warnings in Chumash that es ligt oif Yidden ah tochacha – suffering comes upon Klal Yisrael and it is incumbent upon us to react without pointing fingers or accusations. It is enough that kol Yisroel areivim, we are responsible for each other and inexorably entwined.
It is in this spirit that I share the following words, with trepidation and concern. As Chazal often stated, “Lo novi anochi velo ben novi anochi – Neither I nor my father are prophets.” My heart tells me to share these feelings, but clearly no revelations or pronouncements. These suggestions are just in the spirit of my rebbi’s exhortation that there are times when one must react.
Rav Pinchos Lipschutz, in his Yated editorial last week, noted eloquently that perhaps “we have become numb to disaster…or maybe we have suffered so much that we can no longer mourn.” Indeed, many of the articles describing the horrific scenes from Surfside have begun with some reference to “here we go again.” I will not detail here the number of tragedies Klal Yisroel has recently suffered of a similar nature. Suffice it to say that various structures and buildings have collapsed in a relatively short time, bringing death and tremendous personal pain.
What in the world is the message?
The outpouring of chesed and people who have been nosei b’ol has been incredible and a kiddush Hashem. Although the collapse of the Champlain Towers South seems to have involved only a minority of Jews, the outside help has been largely of Jewish origin. Hatzolah, Zaka, Chesed Shel Emes and many others have been helping Jews and gentiles alike. No other ethnic or religious group has marshaled such efforts and this certainly is to Klal Yisroel’s immense credit. But for the rest of us who are not involved, we must all wonder with the Shivtei Kah: “Mah zos asah Hashem lonu – What has G-d done to us and why?”
As believers and children of believers, we do not read headlines and just sigh. Even if we are jaded by the sheer number of recent events, this should add to our conclusion that a reaction is demanded of each one of us.
Dovid Hamelech, our guide to so much in life, says, “When the shasos foundations are destroyed, what has the righteous man accomplished?” (Tehillim 11:3). The Medrash Shmuel (quoted in Mikdash Me’at, page 154) cites his rebbi as explaining: “When the people of the generation destroy their foundations, what can even the most righteous do once the yesod has been ruined?” When foundations collapse, and buildings and their understructures are found rotten, we must look inwardly at our own groundwork and most basic principles. Who are we? What have we built during these past few decades and where have we gone wrong?
The rebbe of my youth, Rav Shlomo Zalman Friedman zt”l, the Tenka Rov (Chemed Shlomo, page 55), refers us to a posuk later in Tehillim (127:1). “If Hashem will not build the house, in vain do its builders labor upon it.” He cites the Yismach Moshe, who sees this as a reference to the first two Botei Mikdosh that were destroyed. There must have been some purpose to building them and then having them destroyed if not to eventually build the third Bais Hamikdosh, which will last forever. The rebbe explains that the Gemara (Sanhedrin 26b) refers to the first posuk, too, as speaking of the destroyed Bais Hamikdosh. This teaches us that even destruction has its purpose, which is to lead to permanence and perfection.
This is certainly an optimistic and positive way to view the various churbanos, especially during this season commemorating ancient destruction and the catastrophe of current loss.
However, turning cataclysm into triumph clearly requires significant change and personal religious turmoil. Otherwise, even the Yismach Moshe would say that the “righteous” have accomplished nothing if we are not moved to action and teshuvah by what has happened.
Let us begin with a halacha. The Rosh (Bava Basra 1:17) rules that “If there is no foundation, there is no building.” We must certainly look at some of the foundations of our lives and beliefs to see if they are totally in sync with the Torah’s teachings and ideals.
Indeed, the Maharal (Ohr Chodsoh, Hartman ed., page 90) reveals that the name Vashti (from the word shasos, meaning foundation) comes from the fact that she was the foundation for Malchus Bavel, since she was the only survivor of the royal family. We can clearly see that there are solid foundations and there are those that are literally rotten to the core. In fact, the Chasam Sofer (Oros Chasam Sofer, Parshas Tetzaveh, page 398) teaches that both the names Sheis and Moshe have their root in the word foundation. However, although Sheis was the foundation of the new world, since he brought Noach into the world, most of that world was destroyed. Only Moshe Rabbeinu created a nation that would be eternal and a total credit to the Creator, thus justifying a true foundation for the world.
Indeed, the Ozherover Rebbe (Aish Dos 2:495) demonstrates, following the famous posuk of “tzaddik yesod olam,” that tzaddikim are like the foundation stone of the world, the Even Shesiah in the Kodesh Hakodoshim, because they are the bedrock of the universe. In fact, the Telzer rosh yeshiva, Rav Mordechai Katz (Be’er Mechokek, page 107), states unequivocally that tzaddikim of every generation are taken to task if there is a flaw in the foundation they have built in their own generation.
I would like to suggest that we might all be able to learn a tremendous lesson about foundation and homebuilding from a p’sak of Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s. We often give and receive the brocha of building a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel. What exactly does it mean to build such a home? The answer, as is often the case, comes from an encounter with adversity and a difficult nisayon. Rav Eliyahu Mann, one of Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s closest talmidim, tells the following story.
A Gerrer chossid approached his rebbe with a difficult problem, but the rebbe responded that the answer was beyond him and the only person in the world who could adjudicate this din Torah was Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Eventually, it came before Rav Chaim as follows. A chosson and kallah were due to be married in a few weeks, but the chosson was diagnosed with a malignant illness and would shortly begin chemotherapy. The chosson wanted to let the kallah out of her commitment, since she had not bargained for this eventuality. He didn’t want to burden her with beginning her new life with this problem. On the other hand, the kallah stated that she wouldn’t leave her chosson to deal with this alone and wanted to go forward. Rav Chaim listened carefully to both sides and ruled in favor of the kallah. At the chasunah, a surprise visitor – Rav Chaim – suddenly appeared and danced with the chosson for 45 minutes although he had long since ceased staying at non-family weddings.
Later, Rav Mann asked Rav Chaim for the source of this p’sak, for he is quite famous for having a Torah source for everything. Rav Chaim responded, “It is an open Medrash” (Bereishis Rabbah 33:1). The gist of the Medrash is that if two people are mevater – they give in to each other – both end up winning. “I saw,” Rav Chaim concluded, “that both sides were thinking only about each other. That is the foundation upon which to build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel.”
We live in a wonderful generation. But there are, sadly, deep divisions, powerful factions and fractionalism throughout our world. In Israel, the multiplicity of elections and political parties whose only common denominator seems to be mutual hatred has sadly been a source of chillul Hashem. Despite the very wonderful achdus gained during the current crisis in Florida, the usual divisions are often only temporarily masked by togetherness born of pain. Even in our Torah world, machlokes has become tolerated and even the norm in some places.
Let us take our cue for building strong foundations from Rav Chaim’s vision of a bayis ne’eman, a strong house that will withstand all. If we will all be mevater to each other – not G-d forbid giving in on any principles – on personal peccadilloes and dissatisfactions, we will be on much stronger ground than ever. May that be the solid ground to which Moshiach will wish to come soon, bemeheirah beyomeinu.