Tuesday, Jul 23, 2024

Why We Are Still Languishing In Golus

A TIMELY DRASHAH DELIVERED BY RAV ELYA SVEI ZT”L In Honor of the 5th Yahrtzeit of the Rosh Yeshiva of Philadelphia Yeshiva The following drashah was delivered by Rav Elya Svei zt”l at the keynote session of the Agudas Yisroel Convention in 1999. Few can forget the comprehensive addresses delivered by the rosh yeshiva at the convention, where he discussed many of the burning issues of the time clearly and courageously, spelling out the Torah viewpoint as he received it from his illustrious rabbeim. Despite the fact that the following address was delivered fifteen years ago, its message is as relevant and as applicable today as it was back then.

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In the trajectory of Jewish history, we find that things that seemed to be relatively insignificant occurrences in earlier generations have a profound, far-reaching impact on later generations.

Rav Aharon (Archik) Bakst, rov of the pre-war town of Shavil and one of the great talmidim of the renowned Kelmer Talmud Torah, extrapolates this concept from the meeting between Yosef and his younger brother Binyomin after so many years.


Chazal teach us that when Yosef and Binyomin met, they fell on each other’s necks and cried. Yosef, Chazal say, cried over the two Botei Mikdosh built in the portion of Binyomin that would be destroyed.

Remarkable! After being apart for more than two decades, two brothers are finally reunited and this is what Yosef is crying about – something that will transpire hundreds of years later!

To better understand the sequence of events, Rav Bakst explains that Hashem had prepared the ground for the golus that the Jewish nation would experience in Mitzrayim years earlier. Each step is delineated in the Torah, beginning with Yaakov giving a special garment to Yosef, continuing with the sale of Yosef, and culminating in Yosef becoming the most powerful man in Mitzrayim, running the entire country.


Chazal teach that Yaakov Avinu was really supposed to be taken to golus Mitzrayim in chains, as befitting a prisoner who begins exile. Had Yaakov in fact been taken to Mitzrayim in chains, the difficulties of golus Mitzrayim would have purified Klal Yisroel completely, to the extent that they would not have needed any additional exiles. When they would have finally emerged from 400 years of that terrible golus, they would have been able to proceed to Har Sinai to receive the Torah, and, immediately thereafter, Moshiach would have come, heralding the geulah sheleimah, the ultimate redemption.

Hashgochah dictated otherwise, however.Yaakov went down to Mitzrayim amidst great honor. His son was the viceroy of the king and effectively ran the country. Yaakov and his family went down to Mitzrayim as the father and brothers of the ruler of Egypt. When Yaakov Avinu passed away, the kavod accorded to him and his children was colossal.

True, Yosef tried to temper that honor by insisting that they declare that they are shepherds, a despised profession in Egypt; by living in Goshen, totally separated from the culture of Mitzrayim; and by starting a yeshiva before they arrived. Nevertheless, the fact that they were treated royally by the Egyptians, the fact that they were viewed as special, brought them to a certain degree of closeness with the Egyptians and their culture.

This special status left them unable to fulfill the decree of a 400-year golus the way it was intended. Only the last 210 years constituted the fiery, cleansing furnace of golus. The initial years of the golus, however, contained a degree of closeness to Mitzrayim, and even a small degree of closeness and attachment to Mitzrayim and its ethos precipitated the necessity for additional exiles.

The question, Rav Bakst asks, is why they needed additional exiles. Weren’t Yosef, Efraim, Menashe and the other shevatim exalted ovdei Hashem? Not only did they not draw close to Egyptian culture, but they even instituted safeguards to keep away from it.


Rav Archik answers that, indeed, they were very strong, but as time went on, there were those among their descendants who were much weaker in their observance and their understanding of how one should conduct oneself in golus. When Paroh started instituting terrible gezeiros, there were superficially-thinking people who felt that the terrible decrees of slavery and the like were instituted by the Egyptians because the Jews did not sufficiently mingle with the Egyptians.

“It is because you want us to be all alone in Goshen and have nothing to do with them that they hate us,” they contended. “If we would only become a little closer to them, and show them that we understand their culture, and show them that we have a connection to their world, and adopt the good things of their culture while maintaining the Jewish culture, they would not hate us so much. They would recognize the amazing way in which we synthesize our heritage from our avos while participating in their world. Then there would be no anti-Semitism and everything would be great.”

Similarly, in our times, we constantly hear this refrain from feeble-minded fellow Jews who don’t understand how Jews are supposed to live in golus.

In Sefer Tehillim, Dovid Hamelech says differently than those “enlightened” Jews in Mitzrayim and their hashkafic descendants throughout the ages. He says that the reason that the Jews became the hated nation despite the fact that when they came to Mitzrayim they were treated with honor was because “Hofach libom lisno amoHe transformed their hearts to hate His nation” (Tehillim 105). The reason for anti-Semitism is not because we don’t mingle among the nations and adopt aspects of their culture. The reason is that when we sin, Hashem transforms their hearts so that even those who liked us can become haters.


Those feebleminded people who determined that the reason for the long golus was because the Jews were not becoming sufficiently part of Egyptian culture were the ones who, unlike Yosef and the shevatim, did not properly absorb the message of the purpose of golus and how it is supposed to purify us.

Now we can understand why Yosef cried on Binyomin’s shoulder. When he saw that they came to Mitzrayim amidst such honor, he understood that golus Mitzrayim would not be the final golus and Klal Yisroel would have to undergo additional exiles that would eventually lead to the destruction of the two Botei Mikdosh situated in the land of Binyomin. That is why he cried.


In his sefer Avnei Eliyohu, the Vilna Gaon says that chevlei Moshiach, the birth pangs of Moshiach, will last for seventy years. Golus, the Gaon says, can be compared to the birth of a child. Although the entire nine-month period leading to a child’s birth is difficult on the mother, the most difficult part is the actual labor. Similarly, just as the darkest part of the night is the segment just preceding the morning, so too, the darkest, most difficult portion of the golus is the final period just before the arrival of the geulah.

It is clear that we are now in the midst of the chevlei Moshiach. What can we do to save ourselves from this most difficult final period?

We can preface our answer by referring to a dispute between Yitzchok Avinu and Rivkah Imeinu.

Yitzchok wanted to give the brochos of olam hazeh to Eisav, but Rivkah insisted that she had been told in a prophecy that the brochos belong to Yaakov.

What was the essence of their difference of opinion? Certainly, Yitzchok knew that Eisav was “a man of the field,” while Yaakov was “a complete man who dwelled in the tents of Torah.” What, then, did Yitzchok want to accomplish by giving the brochos to Eisav?

The answer is that he felt that by giving Eisav the brochos, he would endow him with the ability to raise the material to a spiritual plane. Chazal tell us that Yitzchok went “losuach basodeh,” to daven in the field. Yitzchok chose the field because he wanted to take something as material as the field, a place where harvesting and hunting are done, and elevate it to the spiritual. He wanted to take the ish sodeh of Eisav and endow him with spiritual blessing, thereby empowering him to elevate the mundane and infuse it with kedushah.


Indeed, Chazal tell us that when Yaakov came in dressed as Eisav to receive his father’s brochos, Yitzchok smelled the aroma of “begodov.” The word begodov means “his clothing,” but if the letters are switched, it can be read as “bogdov,” meaning “those who rebel.” Yitzchok smelled the scent of people who rebel against Hashem. He saw even in the “bogdov,” even in those who rebel against Hashem, the ability to transform themselves from bogdim, “men of the field,” to high levels of kedushah.

Whereas Eisav and his descendants were not endowed with this middah, Yaakov’s descendants were empowered to transform themselves from terribly rebellious sons into holy kedoshim.

One particular example brought in the Medrash is about a person named Yosef Meshisa, a terrible transgressor. At the time of the churban, when the gentile conquerors arrived at the Bais Hamikdosh, they were afraid to enter. Even the goyim were afraid to enter the Heichal. What did they do? They found a Jew named Yosef Meshisa, whom they instructed to enter the Bais Hamikdosh with a promise that he would be able to keep whatever he would take out. The Medrash tells us that Yosef Meshisa entered the Heichal and came out with the holy menorah.

When the gentiles saw that he had taken the menorah, they told him, “You can’t take the menorah! Go in and take something else!”

Yosef Meshisa, a true sinner who had cavalierly gone into the Bais Hamikdosh and stolen the menorah, answered, “Is it not enough that I have made my Creator angry once? I should do it again?”

The Ponovezher Rov asked: What changed? Why did Yosef unhesitatingly enter the Bais Hamikdosh the first time and then refuse to go in a second time? Not only that, but his later refusal was with such conviction that he accepted upon himself a torturous death at the hands of the Romans rather than re-enter.

The Rov answered that once Yosef Meshisa was exposed to the kedushah of the Bais Hamikdosh, he became a changed person. He was transformed from a boged, a rebellious Jew, into a holy Jew.

This was what Yitzchok Avinu wanted to accomplish with Eisav. He wanted the brochos to fortify him with the spiritual power to transform himself from a rebellious son into a holy son. He wanted Eisav to elevate the mundane field where he killed animals and committed all sorts of other transgressions to become a field where he would daven.

It is clear, however, that Hashem had dictated that it was impossible for Eisav’s “field” to be transformed into Yitzchok’s “field.” That is why the brochos had to go to Yaakov. Only an ish sodeh from Klal Yisroel can become holy.


I have been thinking. It is already nearly seventy years since we underwent the churban of Europe. Certainly, the unspeakable suffering that Klal Yisroel suffered then must be part of the chevlei Moshiach. If, chalilah, it is not, what will we have to ultimately endure as part of the terrible pain and suffering of chevlei Moshiach?

We should take to heart the lesson elucidated above in the name of Rav Archik Bakst. In Mitzrayim, we did not properly endure the fullest degree of golus, because we developed a degree of connection with the culture of Mitzrayim. That is why the golus was lengthened. It follows that in order to fix that transgression, we must be very vigilant not to become attached to the host culture.

What, then, can we do to rectify that sin? How can we ensure that we stand alone as a nation without being influenced by the surrounding culture?

The first thing we must do is ensure that the yoshvei ohel, those who devote their lives to Torah learning, are completely separated from the street culture. We must invest more effort to ensure that the culture of unbridled hedonism, with its luxuries, styles and immorality, does not seep into our world. Those who devote their days to Torah learning must remain pure and untainted.

What about those who are not privileged to sit and learn all day? What should they do? They must follow the advice of Yitzchok Avinu. When one is sent to the field, he must try to elevate the field to kedushah. If one assists the yoshvei ohel, he will be able to cling to Hashem as well. This is one way that we can merit to survive the chevlei Moshiach.


Once we are on the topic of the yoshvei ohel, I must interject and say that I have recently heard murmuring. People say, “How will we be able to support so many bnei Torah? It is too much already!”

The answer is that, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go until it is too much. The Targum Yonason writes on the posuk of “Shuvah Hashem rivevos alfei Yisroel” that Hashem will one day have mercy on Klal Yisroel and rest His Presence on 22,000 Jews: 20, 000 Bnei Yaakov and 2,000 Bnei Yisroel. Bnei Yisroel refers to the yoshvei ohel. We see from here that the ratio of learners to the rest of the Jewish people must be ten percent. Even though, boruch Hashem, the community of yoshvei ohel has grown, we are still unfortunately very far from ten percent.

We don’t need fewer bnei Torah. We need more and more bnei Torah. 

We previously said that we had to endure all of the exiles, including the present one, as a result of the fact that the weak, foolish Jews in Mitzrayim felt that they would be saved by becoming more like the Egyptians. They did not listen to Yosef, the shevotim and the other tzaddikim who urged complete separation from the culture of Mitzrayim.

We are still trying to rectify that sin. How we can rectify it today, in our times? The tikkun lies in being guided by and becoming subservient to the tzaddikim, who have a better understanding of how we should conduct ourselves in golus. This will fix the original sin of not listening to the tzaddikim.

We are in dire need of manhigim, Torah leaders, to guide us, and we must turn to Eretz Yisroel to attain desperately needed guidance.


Look at what is happening in Eretz Yisroel today (1999). The State of Israel has brought in hundreds of thousands of goyim from Russia to offset the growth of the Torah-observant public.

How true do the well-known words of Rav Chaim Brisker ring: “They don’t want their own state. They want to battle against the Torah.”

If they would truly want a Jewish state, how does bringing in hundreds of thousands of goyim help? Why bring those who have proven that they hate us right into our own country?

The answer is that for them, any sacrifice is worthwhile to stop the growth of the chareidim.


I would like to take this opportunity to clarify something else as well. In a publication called Torah Umada, a writer recently wrote an article accusing our community of falsifying history. In an attempt to prove that this ideal of Torah umada is something that prominent yeshivos advocated, he says that Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, menahel of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, and Rav Yitzchok Hutner, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, were both at one point contemplating making a night college in their respective yeshivos for the bochurim. He writes that this proves how Rav Mendlowitz himself deemed college to be a very important educational component.

I will tell you what actually happened. Indeed, Rav Mendlowitz at one point contemplated making a college. Why? Because some of the best talmidim, talmidim who were learning with great diligence, were leaving Torah Vodaas and transferring to Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon. Thus, many of the best, most promising talmidim were lost, many becoming Conservative rabbis. The roshei yeshiva thought that in order to halt this intolerable situation and save these talmidim, it would perhaps be important to open a college.

Rav Shraga Feivel went to consult with the rosh yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l, and Rav Aharon emphatically rejected the idea. “Real bnei Torah will not come out of such a yeshiva,” he said. Rav Mendlowitz listened to the rosh yeshiva’s advice and buried the plan. Torah can only be transmitted in purity when the purpose is to produce gedolei Torah. From such a yeshiva will emerge both gedolei Torah and fine, upstanding baalei batim who appreciate Torah, support Torah, and want nothing more than for their own children to become gedolei Torah and marry bnei Torah.


I would like to mention another related, very important matter. The yeshivos belong to the Ribono Shel Olam. They do not belong to the roshei yeshiva or to the founders or to the menahelim. They belong solely to Hashem. Therefore, no one is permitted to make decisions based on what will be good for the yeshiva. Every decision must be made purely based on what Hashem would want done, regardless of how that reflects on the yeshiva. There is no room for any other kind of cheshbonos with Hashem’s yeshivos.


The following is a dovor poshut. Itis an elementary matter that I do not even have to mention here, nor do I have to mention the well-known ruling of 11 roshei yeshiva [prohibiting rabbinic collaboration with Conservative and Reform]. It is absolutely clear that if someone establishes an institute of Jewish learning where, in addition to classes being taught by Orthodox rabbis, there are also classes taught by Conservative and Reform clergy, that person is guilty of engaging in outright kefirah. Allowing Conservative and Reform clergy to teach side by side with Orthodox rabbis grants them [the Conservative and Reform clergy] rabbinic legitimacy, as if they have something to teach us about Yiddishkeit. Neither they nor their teachings have any connection to Yiddishkeit.

I don’t know how anyone can hear about such an outrage and remain quiet. If bizayon haTorah, shaming the Torah, really hurts us, we would vociferously protest. How can we keep quiet when we see people taking our Torah and, as it were, ripping it to pieces?

We must do everything we can to continue in the path of our holy avos with whom the Shechinah resided. When we do this, when we strengthen Torah learning in its purity, the way it has been passed down in our mesorah throughout the ages, we will certainly merit the geulah.

Adapted for publication by Rabbi Avrohom Hoffenberg.




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