Vayeishev 5775 -- What Can We Do for Them?; Change in order to Preserve
by Jonathan Rosenblum
December 12, 2014
What can we do for them?
I suspect that most of us if asked, "What can we do for those murdered in Kehillat Bnei Torah?" would be hard pressed to answer. We might mention contributing to the families of those slain, but for the pure korbonos themselves, we would be stumped. After all, they are already in the Olam HaEmes far beyond our reach. If pressed, we might come up with learning mishnayos or some other good deed l'ilui nishmasam (for the elevation of their souls), but nothing more than we might do for anyone who passed away.
These various responses, however, fail to take account of the sudden, shocking manner of their deaths, and the worldwide attention that they garnered, first and foremost among Torah observant Jews. In a hesped for Rabbi Moshe Twersky, H"yd, at the end of shiva, his brother Rabbi Meir Twersky distinguished between different forms of dying al Kiddush Hashem. In some cases, an otherwise ordinary and incomplete life might be somehow redeemed by the manner of its ending. But with respect to his brother, he said, the death al Kiddush Hashem, was the natural culmination or fulfillment of a life lived al Kiddush Hashem.
Rabbi Moshe Twersky himself seems to have sensed something of the sort. Death al Kiddush Hashem was a subject very much on his mind. In a June 2012 drashah, he told his talmidim, "Again, you hae to be ready for Kiddush Hashem. One never knows. It could happen anywhere. It could happen in Moscow;'it could happen in Paris; it could happen in London: it could happen in New York; it could happen in Yerushalayim. An Arab could come up with a knife, and it could happen. Anywhere. Any place. Anytime."
But what does it mean that one's death al Kiddush Hashem is the natural culmination of one's life? I think it means that Hashem has found one's life to be so exemplary that He holds it up as an example for emulation for all to see. Thus the shocking, much publicized nature of the deaths.
Had Rabbi Kalman Levine, Hy'd, for instance, lived many more decades of intense avodas Hashem, he would surely have had a licthige Gan Eden awaiting him. But few outside his family and close friends would have known anything about him. My sons had to remind me of how a few years ago he completely uplifted the very simple chasanah of a young man from the Ukraine with whom he had been learning a few years ago with his joyful dancing. (At the shiva house, there were many tearful stories of those who told the mourners they would not have been religious today had Reb Kalman not taken the time to learn with them at low points in their lives.)
Now the whole world knows who Rabbi Kalman Levine was, and Reb Aryeh Kupinsky, Hy"d, and Reb Avraham Goldberg, Hy"d. Hashem acted in such a way that we would all know of these men, and the same is true of some of those still in grave condition. At the end of the shiva, Rabbi Yitzchak Mordechai Rubin, the rav of Kehillas Bnei Torah, described Chaim Yechiel ben Malka, may Hashem grant him a full recovery, and how he literally runs to minyan in the morning.
The message Hashem is sending us by highlighting these lives of Kiddush Hashem is that we must learn from their lives and use them as models for ourselves, each according to his madrega (level). That doesn't just mean a few moments of inspiration and some tears. It means reflecting deeply on what can be learned from them and taking on concrete kabolos (resolutions) to apply those lessons to our own lives. Without that, the inspiration will soon pass.
That is what we can do for the niftarim (deceased). We can maximize the impact of their lives of Kiddush Hashem in such a way that their tragic deaths do not go to waste but become the culmination of their lives lived on a very high level.
An old friend from yeshiva days called from Lakewood this week to share some of his discussions with his oldest son learning in Israel about the tragic events in Har Nof. (Those discussions form the basis for most of this column.)
In the course of our conversation, he recalled the murder a quarter century ago of Eliezer Schlesinger, H"yd, by a young Arab woman in a park near his yeshiva, as he and his chavrusah sat speaking in learning in the early hours of the morning.
At the time of the petirah of the young bochur described by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as "an ilui among the iluim, a masmid among the masmidim, tahor ve'kodesh, his personal kabolos came to light and were widely publicized, something that would never have happened except for the tragic circumstances of his death. My friend was then an twenty-year-old bochur, two years older than the niftar, learning in Brisk. He still recalls the powerful impact that those kabolos had on him. It had never dawned on him until those kabolos became public that an eighteen-year-old bochur could search his deeds with such rigor or that he could live with such high aspirations continually before him. It was thus revealed to him how much more was demanded of him, and how much more he could strive for. As the late gaon Rabbi Efraim Zuravin, who learned with Eliezer Schlesinger in chavrusah said in a hesped, "Who knows if his entire eighteen years were not just to teach us that such bnei aliyah exist in the world and to what an eighteen-year-old bochur can reach."
May we all be zocheh to use the horrible murders of the four kedoshim in the same fashion, and in so doing continue to add merit to the lives of those so brutally taken from us.
Change in order to Preserve
"Shev v'al ta'aseh adif -- [In a case of doubt] remaining stationary is preferable," is a familiar Talmudic principle. But we learn in this week's parashah Vayeishev that there are times in life where the inertia principle does not apply.
After all the travails of Lavan and Esav and Dina, Yaakov Avinu sought nothing more than a little peace and quiet, But, as Rashi, explains peace and quiet are not the natural state of a tzaddik in this world. And so Hashem immediately brought Yaakov's most difficult test – the disappearance of his beloved son Yosef for 22 years.
For the tzaddik, the natural state is one of continual striving. There is no possibility of remaining stationary. If one is not ascending on the spiritual ladder, one is descending – just like the angels in Yaakov's dream. In the tzaddik's world – the world of ruchnios – there is no standing still.
At the communal level too, it is often impossible to remain standing or to continue to operate according to old battle plans. Often times, just to preserve what has been gained, it is necessary to change the course of action that made possible those gains in the first place.
Not long ago, the Belzer Rebbe observed the remarkable growth of Torah learning in Eretz Yisrael over the last six decades and commented, "It will take no less siyata d'Shmaya to preserve what was built than it took for the building itself." I understood him to mean, inter alia, that building and preservation are separate stages, and the hanhaga of building may not be the hanhaga of preservation. After all, in the process of building a great deal changed from when the process began.
Today, the Bais Yaakov system is so embedded at the heart of the Torah community that it is hard for the current generation to begin to appreciate the revolutionary nature of Sarah Schenirer's movement..Yet Rabbi Chaskel Sarna, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, once said to an audience of gedolei Torah and roshei yeshiva that the person who had done more for Am Yisrael than anyone else is the preceding hundred years was none of their ancestors, and had never even learned a single blatt Gemara. Everyone present laughed until he revealed the name of the person about whom he was speaking: Sarah Schenirer. At which point, all agreed.
True, she convinced the Chofetz Chaim and the Imrei Emes of Gerrer to join her revolution, but she was the one who saw the need that had escaped others: For the young women of her native Cracow, Yiddishkeit had become an empty shell that they were eager to abandon. Had matters been left to head in the same direction there would soon have been no Jewish women left eager, or even willing, to marry a Torah scholar.
A radical change in women's learning was needed to preserve Torah itself.
And similarly when the Chazon Ish declared that Hebrew would henceforth be the language of instruction in Chinuch Atzmai. He knew very well that blood had been spilt in Jerusalem over the issue of Yiddish vs. Hebrew as the language of instruction in the chadorim.
Yet he also decided that those holding up the banner of Yiddish instruction were like the generals who are always said to be preparing for the last war. "Yiddish is not the battle front today," the Chazon Ish said to those who came to question his decision. The battle of the hour, in his eyes, was the preservation of the ancient religious culture of Jews from Arab lands. Had Chinuch Atzmai remained Yiddish-speaking it could not have absorbed that population and they too would have been largely lost.
In business today, we see countless examples of the impossibility of just "playing it safe" and trying to protect one's market share. Witness what happened to companies that once dominated their respective markets right up until the time those markets simply ceased to exist – Olivetti (typewriters); Eastman Kodak and Polaroid (film).
Just carrying on with what we have been doing until now is often not the best way to protect once past achievements. Standing pat is never a response with respect to preserving one's level of ruchnios and often not in hanhagas of the Klal either.
Related Topics: Jewish Ethics, Personalities
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