by Daneal Weiner
The week of
I heard from a Rav Mendel Weinbach, a Rosh Yeshiva in Jerusalem, a very relevant and very important talk beginning with the following question. When Israel came out of Krias Yam Suf- the split sea, the angels wanted to sing praise of Hashem. Hashem reprimanded them saying, “You wish to sing praises while My creations are drowning in the sea!?” So they were quite. But Israel did sing, Az Yashir. Why us and not the angels?
Rav Weinbach answered in the name of a Torah giant of the previous generation that Hashem created angels as being only capable of one task. Three angels once came to visit Avraham because there were three tasks at hand one nor two angels could accomplish all three. So when an angel sings praise of Hashem for saving Israel it is to the total exclusion of remorse for the drowning of the Egyptians. But human beings are capable of fulfilling two tasks. We are capable of mixed emotions.
The Rosh Yeshiva was specifically addressing the moment at hand. This week in Israel was Memorial Day and Israel’s Independence Day. At the same time that a Torah observant Jew has appreciation for fallen soldiers and for what benefits come from a Jewish state we also feel shame and grief that our non-observant brothers and sisters have adopted such empty, atheistic ritual as the required expression of any appreciation. The Rosh Yeshiva’s words, however, are also very relevant on a much greater scale. The mixed emotions regarding the immediate physical well being of the people of Israel.
On the religious front pages we read of righteous people and great scholars being taken from our midst. The emotional pain of such losses are mixed with the intellectual knowledge that only such losses are atonements for all of Israel. Hashem’s judgment as the vehicle for His mercy.
Last weeks paper spoke of the loss of a Rav, his wife and their eldest daughter killed in a car accident while another scholar drowned as he saved a woman and her daughter from drowning. And glancing at this week’s paper, expecting to see the news of the passing of the legendary Rav Avigdor Miller, who’s levaya I attended Sunday, I was further shaken by the adjacent column, the news of the passing of the Rebbe of Pinsk-Karlin. Also, on a very personal scale, as I was listening to the eulogies of the 92 year old Rav Miller, zt’l, unbeknownst to me was that 8,000 miles away preparations were being made for my 93 year old great aunt to be laid to rest that very same day. Zechusam yagen aleinu. May their merits protect us.
On the secular front pages we read of terrorist attacks foiled by open miracles. Emotional mixtures of fear and elation. The slap of Hashem’s hand and the protection of His hand. Furthermore, according to the nature of the beast, our bloodthirsty cousins do behave less violently when Israel takes a more powerful stance against them. Israel now has a government taking such a stance and the American government is even letting them (except for Powels phone call that they immediately withdraw from Gaza). Lest a be accused of proclaiming “Kochi v’otsem yadi”- By the might of my hand [I succeed], let me explain.
Last Shabbos I at merited eating lunch by the Fox family (I doubt you know them) and the father told me this wonderful story/dvar Torah. A century or two ago armies were not as equipped as they are today with all the necessities of war. When an advancing army would come upon a captured city, they did not wait for the truckloads of supplies to arrive. They found food and lodgings amongst the communities and in a day or two they would move on.
Once a Jewish community was stricken with such a predicament. But day after day would pass and there was no sign of further advancement. The leaders decided they would send a small delegation to a devoutly pious Jew who lived in a neighboring community and would ask him to pray for the departure of their uninvited guests. The delegation was formed and visited the Tsaddik. Having heard what they had to say the Tsaddik responded, “If the soldiers leave by this coming Wednesday, would your community agree to pay me 5,000 zlottys?”
“Very well then. With G-d’s help, consider it done.”
Wednesday arrived and, as hoped and prayed for, the army moved out. As the community happily engaged themselves in cleaning up the aftermath of their unwelcome visitors, one of the citizens picked up a discarded document, orders instructing the soldiers that on that Wednesday they were to move out. And the news of this document spread exceedingly quickly when it was noticed that the origin of the orders came from the vicinity of one well respected pious Jew, and it was dated prior to the day the delegation visited him. They’ve been duped!
Needless to say, when a messenger arrived to inquire into the army’s current position and to pick up the 5,000 zlottys, the townsfolk told him, “Deal’s off! We were agreeing to pay for the Tsaddik to exercise some merit. To put in some effort. Not to merely pass on to us information!” To make a long story not as long, the Tsaddik was forced to take this unreasoning community to a Beis Din- Jewish court of mutual consent where the judges heard the case and decided in favor of the Tsaddik. With all due respect to the unquestionably honorable judges the townspeople humbly asked what the source was for the Judges ruling? They said [from last week’s haftorah], “Shmuel II, 6:12.”
In the 6th chapter of Shmuel II, King David, while transporting the Ark of the Covenant to its permanent address in Jerusalem, is troubled by the death of Uzzah and decides to leave the Ark by Obed-edom. Uzzah died because the wagon upon which the Ark was being transported shifted and Uzzah, fearing the Ark would fall, put his hand on it and Hashem struck him on the spot. David took this as a bad sign and for three months housed the Ark by the Levite, Obed-edom.
Verse 6:12 says, “It was related to King David, saying, ‘Hashem has blessed the house of Obed-edom and all that is his because of the Ark of G-d.’” David now knew it was time to bring the Ark to Jerusalem.” What on earth does this have to do with 5,000 zlotty’s you ask? That’s because you forget that when you read the Prophets you have to bear in mind that you (us, we, me) have no idea what we’re reading. Rashi and the Radak ask, “What was the blessing of the house of Obed-edom? His wife and his 8 daughters each gave birth to sextuplets!” [They get their information from Chronicles.] Is this possible? The Ark was by Obed-edom for three months [3, III, 112 months] and the women gave birth, as in bore, as in completed the NINE MONTH gestation period, due to blessing from the Ark being by them?!? How is it possible?
It’s possible because there is a G-d who runs the world. All of it. Every bit of it! And a conception that took place 6 months earlier can be and absolutely was in the merit of something the people involved had no clue of was happening. And so, ruled the court, it became revealed, in perfect hindsight, that the reason the army’s orders became known to the Tsaddik was so that he would merit from that transaction the townsfolk proposed.
Hopefully, my previous comments of the “powerful stance” of the Israeli government have been explained in proper context. Maybe it’s due to the merits of the special prayers the Torah world has been saying these past few months that so long ago Barak began to go belly up. Maybe it’s due to our unwavering fight against the infiltration of foreign philosophies that his government finally fell. Maybe it’s due to the merits of the righteous servants Hashem has just taken from the world, z’ya, that Sharon was put in position, with the United States’ unspoken approval, to take a forceful stance against our enemies. Because the nature of it is that they well stop attacking from fear of retribution. And maybe the turn of events has nothing to do with anything we’ve done yet but has to do with merits we will earn next week, month or year? Or maybe, G-d forbid, lo aleinu, the nature of the beast has changed and the illusion of might of the Israeli army will not subdue the enemy at all, r’l. There is only one thing we know for sure. Nothing has anything to do with politicians, diplomats or armies. The security of the people of Israel is only revealing itself to the mixed emotions of the handful of Jews of have some idea of what the war is really about.
With this I’ll finally segue into what I originally intended this issue to be, a tribute to Rav Avigdor Miller, zt’l. Because the title of his talk which I’d like to disseminate is called “The Battle and the Weapons.” Only a handful of Jews have some idea, and only a fingerful really know. Rav Miller knew. In his merit, let’s know too.
The Mesilas Yesharim- Path of the Just, a fundamental work of the moral and ethical outlook of a Judaism, gives us his fundamental declaration what that outlook is. That this world is a place of tests.
That is an important fundamental key to the world. It is a key to understanding what transpires in our lives and it unlocks the mysteries of all history, why things happened the way they did and do. It not only tells us the purpose of life but also tells us how to react to it. To all people, to things and to nature. Everything in life is given to us for the purpose that we should be tested thereby.
When one passes from a state of happiness into a state of turmoil, chas v’shalom, one should know it merely as if one’s happiness has departed. Because everything else is the same! Life continues with exactly the same function as before. The function during times of success is the same function in illness and in unhappiness. It makes no difference.
Someone once asked R. Yisroel of Salant, zt’l, when he was old and ailing, how he was feeling. He said, “Thank G-d, a little bit worse.” Whatever condition a person is in, business goes on as usual. That business is the test. And if somebody transcends unhappiness and enters a state of well being, enjoyment, success, fame, it makes no difference. He/She is still being tested no less than before, and the functions continue.
How are you going to react to what is taking place now!?
The Mesilas Yesharim makes life analogous to a battle. And the battle is waging all around. If a soldier finds himself confronting an enemy and he overcomes him, shoots him down, he can’t sit down and take a rest. What’s doing behind him? Immediately he has to turn around and confront a different foe. The war is from all sides. In life there is no such thing as a vacuum. There no such thing as a tranquil or secure period when no test is taking place. From poverty to wealth or from illness to health, don’t think that the testing has stopped. New tests are confronting us constantly.
The Mesilas Yesharim goes so far as to say we are in the midst of a milchama chazaka- a strong battle. “Battle” alone is already a strong description for life. Not enough! It’s a strong battle says the Mesilas Yesharim! Say it’s your day off. A legal holiday. Your at home resting, or, even better, looking into a sefer. The children went out to play. . And everything is quiet. You must know you are in the middle of a milchama chazaka! Is there such as a comfortable battle? Any soldier will tell you that any times the bullets are whistling it is very uncomfortable. Milchama chazka! Not only are bullets whistling, they’re coming like hail! We all know how hard it is to dodge between the hail. So what is the strong battle? What is the war? What are we constantly and endlessly up against?
“Hatov ha’amiti hu had’veikus bo”- the true good is when man is joined to Hakadosh Baruch Hu- The Holy One Blessed be He. It means, among other things, when one’s mind is connected to Hashem. D’veikus- clinging. Thinking about Hashem. That’s the only real success in life. Hashem has two methods of urging people to think about Him. Inspiration and desperation. A moment in which you think about your Creator, not only are you fulfilling a very important precept of the Torah, you are winning the war.
Let’s say you’re waiting for the traffic light to change. Instead of wasting your time, you’d like to do a mitsva. But not just a good custom or a rabbinical decree. You want to do a fat mitsva d’oraisah. A real mitsvas asei min hatorah- positive biblical command. So while you’re standing at the light, think about Hakadosh Baruch Hu. It’s no less than any other mitsva! As good as putting on tefillin! And if you think that Hashem created the world, even better. Like $700 tefillin! To think that He took us out of Egypt, ooooh, mehudar min hamhudar! The crème de la crème! $1000 tfillin! And it didn’t cost you a penny. This is not the slightest exaggeration.
If you can think of Hakadosh Baruch Hu for two whole minutes… longer than any street light… mehudar min hamhudar min hamhudar! You’d be are a rarity among mankind. An exceptional person in this world. That’s if you did it once. And if you do it a number of times…? Better yet, every day. Better yet, during your prayers, actually thinking about Who you are supposed to be talking to… words cannot describe the reward. It would be a tremendous achievement.
That is the tov amiti- the true good, the true success, says the Mesilas Yesharim. There are many good people in this world that are willing to do a lot of good things, but not once do they stop to think once about the Almighty. D’veikus. Clinging. Thinking. It is such a rare gem. Not everybody is granted the success to achieve it. You think that hearing it now it is in you’re pocket, Rav Miller asks? Lets see if you remember when we finish the lesson.
All life’s circumstances, for better and worse, are to challenge us to stop and think about Hashem. A young man and woman about to get married, it’s a big ordeal. In most circles, first you have to meet before marriage, at least once. Sometimes a number of times. Sometimes he/she is not the one so you have to start all over again. And finally when he/she comes along you have to plan the engagement. And then the relatives start crowding in on you from all sides. They are also part of the picture. And then there’s the question of income, paying rent. And then begins years and years of being busily busy.
Many people, when they get married, are entirely unaware of what they are doing. They don’t realize that a very big event took place in their lives. It’s more like they were hit over the head with a club, went into a deep stupor, and years pass by. When the children are maybe 10 or 11 they begin to wake up and realize that they were once standing under a chupah. They think back, how did I feel? Such an opportunity, once in a life time. But they were so knocked out, physically, emotionally, they weren’t able to think what was taking place. It’s a glorious opportunity. When a man says to the woman “harei at mikudeshes lee,” at the moment the Shchinah descends and becomes the third partner in the marriage! I once whispered into the ear of a groom, before he put the ring on her finger, “Just think, the Shchinah is coming down now.” It was like talking to someone who had been drugged. I’m afraid that if I told it to him a year before, he also would have been like he was drugged. The world drugs everybody. People are sleep walkers. Even the good ones. Even the G-d fearing ones. They are not aware of what is talking place. They are living like people in the midst of a battle and all they know is the battle! But what is the battle about?! What are you trying to achieve in the battle? D’veikus! Never lose sight of the fact that you are standing before Hashem.
When a person learns properly, like we are learning today, that the whole world is all for the purpose of testing us, for knocking us out and keeping our mind occupied with other things, then we have a chance of overcoming all the disturbances, all the hectic activities and continue to think always about Hakadosh Baruch Hu. No matter what. The perfect Jew, says the Mesilas Yesharim, is the one who remains joined in his thoughts to Hashem. That’s the one who won the great battle.
We must know that Hashem didn’t let us out into this world to face such a difficult campaign against us without giving us weapons. We were provided with weapons. But, most people are like soldiers given effective weapons and then never once use them.
Before we study the weapons, let’s remember, the war is, “Be on guard lest you forget Hashem.” Therefore, the weapons are with the purpose of not forgetting.
Some people used to say the big ammunitions manufacturers would send mercenaries, say, into South American countries. They’d overthrow a regime, and when the war broke out the manufacturer supplied both sides of the war with weapons. May true, maybe not.
With Hashem it is absolutely true! He made the war and He provided us with precisely the weapons necessary to deal with all the exigencies of the war. Their isn’t any better anywhere! But they are not effective if they are not used. What good it to have a bazooka hanging by your side if you never pull the trigger? Some underdeveloped countries were supplied with such weapons. The Russians sold some African tribesman bazookas, all they’ve ever handled were spears, so he runs into battle with it trying to club his enemy over the head. Now that you’ve finished laughing, we are in exactly the same situation. Hashem has given us excellent means of self-defense and we never learned how to properly use it.
An example. The Torah commands us to wear tsitsis. Patience ladies, you’re in here too. There was a time when you walked amongst observant Jews and you had to have faith that they had tsitsis on because you couldn’t see them. Lately, it’s become fashionable to display them. Ancient times, clothing was like sheets, four-cornered garment. You could recognize a Jew from a mile away. What’s the purpose of tsitsis? So when you see them you will remember all the mitsvos, so you will do them, so you will be holy. Woman, it’s not the wearing them, it’s the seeing them. You can see them too.
If I was talking to a group of college boys and girls, say, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, they’d be hearing about tsitsis for the first time. I’d take some out and show them. They’d be amazed. It’s an interesting thing. It would have an affect on them. But when talking to people who are all familiar, it’s very difficult for them to relearn what tsitsis mean because they think they know. The Gemorah says if you want to take clay from old bricks and mix it with water and knead it again, it’s going to be very difficult. New clay, however, is easy to form into new bricks. To re-learn something old is far more difficult than to learn something new. But what can we do? We have to realize the real purpose of tsitsis. Otherwise we are going into battle with weapons we never use. And then it is no surprised when they had no effect.
The Gemorah tells us about a student of Rabbi Meir whi had far too much money for his own good. He once heard there was a harlot in Rome who was an outstanding in every way. He was hooked. She required a tremendous investment but money was no object. He journeyed from Israel to Rome. The voyage cost plenty. He took quarters in Rome. He had to make an appointment. For such a woman there is a line. Finally the great day came which cost him most of all.
As enters the building of the harlot and he sees before like him a big tower in the middle of the apartment. The whole building was occupied by just her apartment. There was a golden bed in front of him with nothing on it but a ladder. From that gold bed you had climb up to another floor with another gold bed. They knew how to advertise the merchandise. She charges big and the production is big. From that bed you go up to another bed. There she was was.
Finally reached her he sits down. He talks a bit. For this encounter there is no hurry. It was a dignified business deal. After the chit chat he begins to prepare himself. He takes off his four cornered garment his tsitsis strings slap him in the face. You can describe it as a natural occurrence, the awkward position, it happened before… He starts back down the ladder! Then the next. He sits down on the floor way below. The harlot never saw anything like this in her life. She went down after him and said, “By the temples of Rome you must tell me what you saw in me that you went away from me.” He said, “I swear by the Beis Hamikdash,” [he was a Jew, after all,] “I never in my life saw such a beautiful woman as you.”
“So whats wrong?”
“We have a mitsva called ‘tsitsis’ and the mitsva is so that when you see them you should remember Hashem and you should not follow after your eyes. I’m going home.” The harlot asked him for the name of his teacher, the city he resides in and the place he studies. He wrote it down for her and left.
Our Rabbis tell us the harlot liquidated her business. She sold all her property. One third she had to give the government. That was Roman law. One third she gave to the poor. The last third she took, with her beds, and headed for Israel. She found R. Meir’s city. She found the study hall. She found Rabbi Meir and she said, “I forsake my idolatrous past and I want to be a convert.” Rebbe Meir said that if her soul was so great as to do such a turn around then that student who influenced her should marry her upon her conversion.
For the audience we went through the ending but the lesson the Gemorah wants to teach us is how an olden time Jew understood the mitsva of tsitsis. The ability of his response didn’t happen in a day. Hanging a bazooka around the naked loins of a savage is no different than hanging tsitsis around a head empty of it’s meaning. Maybe in a mystical way it will do something. But that is not the true and intended effectiveness of the weapon. It has to be learned! The Torah wants us to practice it till we get it. We should practice looking at tsitsis and remembering what tsistis are saying to us. Think, look, think, look. A little each day, day after day, until finally one gets to the stage that they see tsisis and think of Hashem, and think of mitsvos and feel holy! That’s a person who can, in the very face of the strongest of desires, stop, turn around and head out the door!
Make up your mind that’s what you want it to do. Make up your mind that by looking at tsitsis it will remind you of decency. It will remind you that it’s assur to follow your eyes. It will remind you that you are a holy Jew.
How Rav Miller talked was how he walked. He will certainly be remembered as a warior, a victor, a holy Jew.