In the early twentieth century, European Yidden faced numerous hardships. One of the main difficulties was parnassah. The poverty was so great that families were lacking for even basic bread. Many were forced to immigrate to America, known as the “goldene medinah.” There, they thought, all of their problems would be solved. But much to their chagrin, the nisyonos became even greater, for in addition to financial hardship, they now faced nisyonos in ruchniyus. One could not find a job where he could remain a shomer Shabbos. There were many pitfalls in the field of kashrus and there were no mosdos of chinuch with the spirit of the Jewish mesorah. Many were forced to compromise on their Yiddishkeit, and even if they managed to survive, their children were influenced by this new culture and gave up their Jewish identity.
The Chofetz Chaim was asked why so many people who came to American shores were unsuccessful in maintaining the standards of Judaism that they kept in the old country. He said with a sigh, “There is no question in life whose answer is not found in the Torah.
“Everyone knows how the Yidden went down to Mitzrayim, as all of the details of Yaakov going there to see Yosef and the shevotim following him are related to us in Parshas Vayigash. The Torah felt it necessary to repeat this fact at the beginning of Sefer Shemos: ‘V’aileh shemos Bnei Yisroel haba’im Mitzrayma eis Yaakov ish ubeiso ba’u – And these are the names of the Bnei Yisroel who were coming to Mitzrayim with Yaakov, each man and his household came.’ Why did the Torah have to repeat that they came with Yaakov Avinu? In order to convey to us that without Yaakov Avinu, they would not have transferred their families to Mitzrayim, for it was a land filled with abominations – idolatry, sorcery, and immorality. How could they possibly maintain their high spiritual level and how could they give their children a pure Jewish chinuch under such circumstances? The only way to do this was to be accompanied by the patriarch of the family of Yaakov Avinu, with his kedusha and his great influence on them. If the children would live in his surroundings guided by his light, they could maintain a high spiritual level.
“Those who set out for America left behind the elders who were saturated with Torah and mitzvos, and their youth had very few examples to emulate. That is why they are so overwhelmed by the nisyonos and foreign influences and suffer spiritual casualties.”
Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch points out that when the Torah says that they came with Yaakov, it uses the words “eis Yaakov” instead of the more common “im Yaakov.” The word im implies alongside Yaakov. But the word eis connotes a much more intimate connection to Yaakov. They didn’t merely learn from Yaakov, and they weren’t merely influenced by him. They were totally connected to his way of life, and this was the key to their survival.
We know that while Avrohom Avinu was the pillar of chesed and Yitzchok Avinu the pillar of avodah, Yaakov Avinu was the pillar of Torah. The key to our overcoming all of the obstacles of golus and to avoiding all of its negative influences is to immerse ourselves as much as we can in the study of Torah and be occupied with its mitzvos. The Chida writes that the first words in the parsha, “V’aileh shemos,” are an acronym for “vechayov adam likros haparsha shnayim mikra v’echad targum.”
Why would this remez appear particularly here at the beginning of Sefer Shemos? Because this is the story of our exile in Mitzrayim and a portent of future exiles. The only way we can flourish in golus is to learn the Torah or, more accurately, live the parsha. For the Torah is our light in the deep darkness, our oasis in the desert and our lifesaver in the raging sea of exile. It is our only guide for survival.
The Chofetz Chaim would often speak about how close Moshiach is, if only we would beseech Hashem for his arrival. Rav Moshe Londinsky, the rosh yeshiva in Radin, felt that speaking so much about the impending geulah might just lead to disappointment upon his delay. Thus, once, when the Chofetz Chaim was talking about this topic, Rav Moshe interjected, tongue-in-cheek, “Ay, Rav Yisroel Meir, why do I need Moshiach? I have all the firewood for the entire winter, and all of the potatoes and shmaltz that we need for the coming months are already stocked. What more am I lacking?”
The Chofetz Chaim answered, “Rav Moshe, you are correct. Indeed, you don’t need Moshiach, but Klal Yisroel needs Moshiach!”
This answer was explained by a Radiner talmid. For someone like Rav Moshe Londinsky, whose life was saturated with kedusha and who was immersed in Torah 20 hours a day, not much would change when Moshiach comes. As the Rambam says: “The chachomim and the nevi’im did not long for the days of Moshiach to rule over the world…nor to be honored by all the nations, nor to eat, drink, and be glad. Only to be free for Torah and its wisdom, and that they wouldn’t have oppressors who distract them in order that they merit Olam Haba (Yad Hachazakah, Hilchos Melachim 12:4). But for most Yidden, who are far from this exalted level, things will be drastically changed. Klal Yisroel desperately needs Moshiach.
In last week’s parsha, we find that Yaakov Avinu wanted to reveal the end of the golus, but his ruach hakodesh was taken away from him. A number of questions arise here. Why was it so important for us to know the End of Days? How would that improve our avodah? Secondly, we find that Chazal frowned upon those who try and figure out the end of golus (see Sanhedrin 97b). Why, then, would Yaakov want to reveal it? Furthermore, if Yaakov merely wanted to reveal the date of Moshiach’s arrival, why was it necessary to have ruach hakodesh for this? Even if this was taken away from him, the date was lodged in his memory. And finally, if Yaakov felt that it was important for us to know the day, why did Hashem prevent him from revealing it?
The Sefas Emes explains that the “keitz” that Yaakov Avinu wanted to reveal was not a specific date when the geulah would come. Rather, he wanted to teach his progeny how they can bring an end to their own personal golus. How can they transform the golus to be productive and that it would not affect them adversely? Ultimately, there is much good contained in golus. If we are worthy, if we turn ourselves into vessels that can contain the hidden blessings of exile, then not only can we avoid suffering, but we can harvest its spiritual treasures.
For this, Yaakov Avinu needed ruach hakodesh to foresee each difficult situation and to instruct us on how to navigate it. If we would receive this message and follow the instructions, it would virtually be the end of golus. But Hashem did not allow this, because a part of golus is to grope in the darkness to find the truth and to live with emunah when matters are not clear. Were we to live by Yaakov’s directive, there would be no darkness. There would be clarity and we would not reap the full benefits of golus.
Our determination to cling to our father Yaakov has allowed us to witness open miracles in our times. The recent Siyum Hashas, publicized around the world and celebrated by many thousands of people and viewed by millions, was a kiddush Hashem not seen in ages. In the aftermath of Churban Europe, who could have imagined that there would be such a proliferation of limud haTorah and that so many people who are not learning in yeshivos would strive to finish Shas and do it with such dedication?
Less publicized are the nissim that we are witnessing in our yeshivos. We are accustomed to saying “niskatnu hadoros,” that the generations are getting weaker. As a rebbi for many years, that’s not the way I see it. I see bochurim shteiging in a way that I’ve never seen before. The hasmadah, the earnestness, the purity, and the desire to grow are most evident. While we are experiencing the chevlei Moshiach, we are almost there. The Vilna Gaon compares this period to Erev Shabbos, when the upcoming kedusha can already be felt. With the zechus haTorah, may we see that day very soon.