Why did I not visit Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin in prison? Only after his release did I realize that he had been imprisoned in New York and not Iowa. I could so easily have gone there. I know what it means to visit a prisoner. Decades ago, when Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis was scheduled to speak to Jewish prisoners in Rikers Island Prison in New York City, an emergency arose and she asked me to fill in for her.
“A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know of Joseph… and [the Egyptians] became disgusted because of the Children of Israel.” (Exodus 1:8-12) This is amazing. How could Joseph have been forgotten? He saved Egypt!
“In the generation when [Moshiach] the son of Dovid will come, Torah scholars will decrease. And [as for] the rest [of the people], their eyes will become worn out through grief and anxiety. Numerous troubles and harsh decree will be appearing anew. Before the first [trouble] is over, a second one will … appear…. The meeting place will be [used] for licentiousness [and]… whoever turns away from evil will be [considered] foolish….” (Tractate Sanhedrin 97a)view
There is a long and rather surprising end to this week’s Torah Portion, beginning with the words, “these are the offspring of Esau ….” (Genesis 36:9) I counted thirty-four verses, listing name after name of the descendants of possibly the most evil person in history! Why does the Torah want us to know the descendants of Esau?
“Toras Hashem temima … The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, making the simple one wise. The orders of Hashem are upright, gladdening the heart. The command of Hashem is clear, enlightening the eyes….” (Psalm 19)view
Our Father Avraham was born in the year 1948, counting from Creation. The Prophet Malachi was born approximately 1400 years later. Jewish prophesy begins with Avraham and ends with Malachi. It is amazing to see how connected they are, and how we – some 2400 years after Malachi – are connected to them.view
“Know with certainty that your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own, and they will serve them, and they will oppress them, four hundred years. But also the nation that they will serve I shall judge, and afterwards they will leave with great wealth … And the fourth generation shall return here ….” (Genesis 15:13-16)
I had the privilege during just before Yom Kippur of speaking at Yeshiva Zeev Hatorah in the Holy City of Yerushalayim. This is the holy Torah institution presided over by the illustrious Rabbi Shmuel Brazil shlita”h. One of the students there, a young man named Yoel Fingerer, asked a very interesting question. We were discussing the War of God and Magog and the contemporary conflict between the Children of Yishmael (the Moslem Nations) and the Children of Esav (the Western Nations).
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the entire world is aware of profound danger, a palpable threat emanating from a certain dictator who has access to the most powerful weapons as well as the means to deliver those weapons to distant lands. This uncontrollable dictator does not respond to the moral considerations which guide ethical, civilized people.
“But … if you do not hearken to the voice of Hashem, your G-d, to observe, to perform all His commandments and all His decrees that I command you today, then all these curses will come upon you and overtake you …. Hashem will scatter you among all the peoples, from the end of the earth to the end of the earth, and … among those nations you will not be tranquil, there will be no rest for the sole of your foot; there Hashem will give you a trembling heart, longing of eyes and suffering of soul….” (Deuteronomy 28:15ff)
My wife and I got married in the “old days,” before we discovered Hashem. I had not wanted a rabbi to officiate at our wedding, but my wife’s grandfather insisted, so we searched for the most reform of the reform. This person provided us with a document that contained an echo of Torah, a piece of paper on which was written, “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li … I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” This was his version of a marriage contact (a kesuba).
We are about to enter the Month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” (Song of Songs 6:3) is understood to refer to Elul because the first letters of each word spell out the name of the month. (Vayikra Rabbah) Of course, this corresponds perfectly with the spiritual work of Elul, which is all about reconciliation with Hashem.
“Majestic, Beautiful, Radiance of the universe, my soul pines for Your love. Please, O G-d, heal her now by showing her the pleasantness of Your radiance.” (Yedid Nefesh)
Our entire existence is based on a relationship of love with Hashem. Because of that love, our relationship with Him is eternal. We have only to come back; He is waiting for us.
Teshuva, spiritual repentance, is the most upbeat process in the world. It is completely “empowering,” because teshuva is based on the knowledge that all our ills originate from our own weaknesses, and we can fix them. When apparently bad things happen, that is a sign that we have to fix something.
It is within our power to correct everything. As the Prophet says, “Where is your mother’s divorce document with which I sent her away?” (Isaish 50:1) We have to know that we will succeed! We have to know that even one person can bring the Redemption. Moshe Rabbeinu brought the Geulah! Yosef Hatzaddik brought the Geulah!
My childhood was spiritual suffering, as I have often mentioned. Life without Torah was black as night and confusing as a maze. I could not breathe because of constant mental anguish. I had no idea what was wrong, which in itself was a terror. But I thank Hashem for all this, because, as a result, I knew that I needed Him. If I had not been in such pain, then I would have remained in that blackness for eternity, G-d forbid.
My wife and I own an apartment in Yerushalayim. Recently, we had a robbery; the entire place was ransacked. One’s first reaction is shock and anger. You feel violated. You feel helpless. You desire revenge. It’s our home! How can people be so evil?
However, you also want to say, “gam zu l’tova … it is all for the best.” (Taanis 21a) But how do you say it? What could be good about this? So I tried to think: how is this good?
I had a thought. We tend to feel that we own this world. When things go well, we want to say that it all came about through “my strength and the might of my hand….” (Deuteronomy 8:17) I have a house. It is mine. I am happy there. What more do I need? This is potentially dangerous. As we read recently, “When you beget children and grandchildren and will have been long in the Land, you will grow corrupt and anger [Hashem]….” (Deuteronomy 4:25)
Something can easily go wrong when we become comfortable. We tend to forget that this is Hashem’s world. It exists only as a result of His willing it to exist. What would happen if He changes the way the world looks? What will happen when Moshiach ben Dovid comes? Will the world look the same? Will we live the way we do now? Maybe I’m hanging onto the old world, the world of Exile, and impeding the advent of Moshiach.
Before the Children of Israel left for Mount Sinai, Biblical Egypt collapsed. In order for us to leave that world and meet Hashem, we had to sever our relationship with that powerful, enticing world of Egypt.
What will happen when Moshiach ben Dovid comes? Will the world we know today look the same? Maybe the world as we know it will collapse the way Ancient Egypt collapsed. Maybe we will have to be willing to give up our familiar world in order to enter a new world.
After the robbery, I thought: Hashem is training us for the world of Moshiach. Maybe He is telling us, “You have to know what it is like when your world is turned upside down. You have to learn that this apparent cataclysm is in fact ‘for the good.’ I am going to bring you into a world that is infinitely better than the world you think is normal today.”
I have to know that the pain and the anguish are a blessing. If I know they are a blessing, then perhaps I will be able to deal with the anguish. If we can look at the chaotic events of our times in this way, then perhaps we are going to be able to accept the future that Hashem is preparing for us, a future infinitely greater than what we have seen up to now.
It’s not easy. I’m giving a possible scenario. But because so many people are finding so much difficulty coming their way, we need to see a pathway to redemption.
“Oh, storm-tossed, unconsoled one, behold, I shall lay your floor stones upon pearls and make your foundation of sapphires…. All your children will be students of Hashem and abundant will be your children’s peace.” (This week’s Haftarah)
May we see that beautiful and perfect world soon in our days!
Now we are in the blessed days after Tisha B’Av. They are blessed simply because we have survived. I don’t mean only “survived” the Three Weeks, but we have survived all the events of the past thousands of years of Exile. That in itself is comforting. Hashem intends that we should live!
Last week we discussed the words of Bilaam, which ring down through the ages: “Am levadad yishkon … Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9) The reality is that we are completely alone among the nations. Yishmoel (the Moslem World) hates us and Esav (the Western World) hates us, and we should never yearn for their love. The only affection for which we as a Nation should yearn is the love of Hashem, as it says, “Your love is dearer to me than all earthly delights….” (Song of Songs 1:2)
Some of the most basic truths emerge from the mouths of our enemies. They come to correct us; Hashem sends them only because we need them. As it says, “Beware lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others and bow to them. Then the wrath of Hashem will blaze against you…” (Deuteronomy 16-17)
Recently, while attending a wedding, my wife and I met a security guard, a former Iraqi soldier. He described the frightening world of Iraqi society – even more chaotic since the death of Sadaam Hussein! – with open warfare in the streets and no semblance of civilized behavior.
““Lo sachmod … You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:14) This is the last of the Ten Commandments, positioned at the end of the series perhaps because these cosmic words would so clearly affect the future of the Children of Israel.
On May 22, a bombing attack occurred in Manchester, England. A few weeks later, there were violent attacks in London. President Trump and other Western leaders condemned these attacks. The Prime Minister of England stated, “Enough is enough.” But even powerful leaders seem helpless in the face of this growing threat.