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.
“When the ark would journey, Moshe said, ‘Arise Hashem, and let your foes be scattered. Let those who hate You flee from before You.’ And, when it rested, he would say, ‘Reside tranquilly, O Hashem, among the myriad thousands of Israel.’” (Bamidbar 10:35)view
We have just completed the Holiday of Shavuos, which is the culmination of Pesach, so really we are still working on themes from Pesach. The question is: where do we go from here? Is this it? Is this where the work of Pesach ends? Or does it all go onward?
Why is Dovid Hamelech the eternal king of Israel?
There was never anyone else like him. He is Kodesh Hakadoshim, Holy of Holies. He tried to remain hidden just as the Ribono shel Olam is hidden. His descendant, Moshiach ben Dovid, is extremely hidden. It seems quite likely that Moshiach ben Dovid is in the world today, but we do not yet know who he is.
In last week’s column I mentioned the death of Moshe Orlansky.
Reb Moishe was my friend. I davened next to him at Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv for almost two decades. His livelihood was making doughnuts and muffins, but his life was Torah. “V’ani sfilosi … ” (Psalm 69:14), which, I believe, can be understood as “I am tefilla/prayer.” Reb Moishe was prayer. He could fill the entire Sh’or Yoshuv Yeshiva Study Hall with the sound of tefilla.
I don’t even know his name. I know that he survived the Holocaust. He An old man, he is bent over, a widower. He is alone, and yet he is not alone. He is not depressed. He gives out candy. You know about the candy man. He’s the one who gives out candy to the children in Shul.view
I have trouble praying at the Western Wall (Kosel). At the holiest place on earth one can feel very strongly the absence of the Holy Temple. On a recent visit, I had a powerful sense that the Wall itself was impenetrable, as if my prayers were bouncing off the massive stones in front of me. How could I pray through this barrier that seemed so impervious to the tears I wanted to shed?
We have completed the epic holiday called Passover and are counting the days until Shavuos. This reflects our ancestors’ historic physical and spiritual march from Egypt to Mount Sinai, which in turn reflects the spiritual activity which should be going on at all times within the soul of a Jew, as we continuously work to free ourselves from our spiritual Egypt and deepen our attachment to the Master of the Universe.
The world is in such a mess! How can the Messiah emerge from this disaster? If you start to enumerate the problems, you will run out of ink and paper before you finish. “Rabbi Yochanan said: [the Messiah] Ben David will come only in a generation that is [either] entirely virtuous or entirely guilty” (Sanhedrin 98a). If you are at the bottom, what can you do?
At Mount Sinai, the Jewish People “stood at the bottom of the mountain” (Exodus 19:17). “Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa said: [This] teaches that the Holy One Blessed is He, covered them with the mountain as [though it were an upturned] vat. And He said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, fine. But, if not, your burial will be there.’”
“V’asu li mikdash … they shall make a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them…” (Exodus 25:8). We don’t have it any more! We don’t have the Ark, the Table, the Menorah, the Altar. We don’t have the Tabernacle and the Courtyard.