Monday, June 17, 2013

What Is Our Role During These Difficult Times?©

Based on a shiur by Harav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld’s great-grandson, Harav Yaakov Meir Sonnenfeld, Rav of Rechasim

ADAPTED BY VARDAH LITTMANN

I would like to speak about inyanei d’yoma (the events currently in the news). It has never been easy in Eretz Yisrael, but this time we have a feeling that they are “getting us” from all directions; the whole chareidi world is under fire. They are attacking the yeshivos. They are attacking the chadarim. They are attacking the high schools. There is nearly nothing that concerns charaidi Jewry that they have not assaulted.

I am sure each person is asking himself, “What is going on here?” We are after all believers, the children of believers, so we ask, “What does Hashem want from us?”

True, we are believers, but we are not prophets to know what Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants. Nevertheless, there is hashkafah Toranis. What is the literal meaning of hashkafah? Hashkafah can be compared to eyeglasses. When someone who requires glasses does not have his spectacles on, everything is blurred; all is fuzzy and imprecise. The moment he dons the correct eyeglasses, all becomes clear.

This is the meaning of hashkafah Toranis. When we contemplate any issue though the Torah-lenses of Chazal or of the Rishonim, the picture becomes clear. Using these Torah lenses, let us try to see and understand what is happening to us and what is required of us.

In order to understand at what stage we find ourselves we must do as it says, “Binu shenos dor v’dor — contemplate the years of each generation.”

After the Second World War, Judaism reached almost complete obliteration. All the Torah institutions were destroyed. European Jewry had been completely obliterated.

Even in Eretz Yisrael how much Torah was there back then in Eretz Yisrael? How much Torah was there in America? The Rosh Yeshivah of Telz, Cleveland, used to relate how he once entered a bookstore in America to buy a Ketzos Hachoshen. The Ketzos Hachoshen is a basic sefer learned by every yeshivah boy. The seller climbed up a ladder and brought down a dusty old Ketzos, for which he quoted a high price. The Rav asked why this book covered in dust was so expensive. The bookseller replied, “This is the last Ketzos in America. No one will ever print it again. Seeing as this is the last book of its kind, it naturally costs a lot. I am giving it to you cheap!” Today any post-bar-mitzvah boy has a least four copies of Ketzos Hachoshen that he obtained as gifts at his simchah!

Looking at it realistically, the bookseller was correct. That was the way things were heading then. According to natural odds there was no way the yeshivah world would revive. By natural means, Judaism seemed doomed. And if, by any chance, there were a way to revitalize Judaism, there was no way that Torah would actually be rejuvenated, that Torah would be learned and that there would Torah learners.

We must understand what is going on here. Throughout the generations there was nearly no such thing as a person who continued learning after marriage, aside from maybe a few great iluyim who usually married rich men’s daughters and were supported by their fathers-in-law. But normally a man went to work. Even children after bar mitzvah went to work, apprenticed to a tradesman — to a carpenter, a shoemaker or a painter … they hoped one day to be able to be a tradesman in their own right.

I heard Harav Shach, zt”l, ask, “You think Judaism was destroyed in the Holocaust? In a way, certainly it was. But let us rather ask how many yeshivah bachurim were there in pre-war Europe? There were millions of Jews, but there were very few yeshivah boys; very, very few.”

They persecuted the yeshivah boys. We read books about Radin, about Mir, but these were minute dots within millions. Rav Mordechai Mann came from Brankz, a very large city, full of frum Yidden. He once told me that there were exactly two yeshivah boys in Brankz — himself and a friend.

After the Holocaust the chance that yeshivos should be established and thrive was nil. There were just a few yeshivos in Jerusalem and each one had but a few students. When my father (may he be well and live long) got engaged, who wanted to get engaged to a yeshivah boy? No one wanted. It was a bushah (degrading) to get engaged to a yeshivah man.

Today, chareidi homes send their children to yeshivah ketanah, yeshivah gedolah, and then kollel. There had never been such a thing, from the beginning of time. Is this a simple thing that has occurred that so many yeshivos have opened? All are learning! It is an open miracle — above the ways of nature!

I learned in Brisk. The Rav of Brisk said each yeshivah’s existence is an open miracle. If they (the government) could, they would set off a live bomb under every yeshivah. The Brisker Rav once met the son of Harav Yechezkel Abramsky and asked him in a humorous way, “Tell me, have they hanged your father yet?” The son asked why the Brisker Rav thought his father might be hanged.

The Brisker Rav answered, “It seems to me they have a plan to hang all the Roshei Yeshivah. But this will be done in alphabetic order. I am Soloveitchik which is samach and will take time to reach. Abramsky begins with an alef and therefore one of the first on the list.”

What in effect he was saying was that if they could, they would have stopped all Torah Learning, hanged all the Rabbis and bombed the yeshivos! That they did not do it is because Hakadosh Baruch Hu prevented them. The government had the power and the means to stop it, yet the yeshivah world arose and grew in measures unequalled since Creation. Never was there such a flowering.

Let us consider the blossoming of Bais Yaakov. Never was there such a thing — myriads upon myriads of modest girls, whose highest aspiration is that their husbands learn Torah. They are willing to be moser nefesh for this purpose. Understand: this all is a miracle. 
It should be clear that the trajectory of the growth of chareidi Jewry, the waves upon waves of lomdei Torah, and all the legions of Bais Yaakov students, the growth of Torah and Chassidus are a nes.
• • •
The above was an introduction to the message I would like to impart.
From the above we see that Hakadosh Baruch Hu built Torah anew from scratch. It was done in an unnatural way, above the laws of nature.

However, now we have reached a crossroads. It seems that at this junction the whole Torah world is in sakanah. All the yeshivah boys are in danger of being conscripted. All the yeshivos’ survival is in danger because of drastic budget cuts. The Seminars (high schools) are also in great danger. We are full of fear.

We have to take heart; everything is and has been directed by Hashem. We have grown and flourished not because of secular government, but in spite of them. If it were in their ability, they would have wiped us off the map long ago.

Hakadosh Baruch Hu will not allow them to destroy the yeshivos and harm the avreichim.

The Gomorrah Baba Basra daf 37 (amud 31?) relates that Iyov asked HaShem if a whirlwind had passed by Him and mixed up Iyov’s name with oyev (enemy). (Iyov was an unbelievable Tzadik. He was asking why he was being treated as an enemy, with such harsh midas hadin).

Hakadosh Baruch Hu explained to Iyov that each hair of the body has its own pore and He makes sure no two hairs use the same pore. Each raindrop of uncountable millions of raindrops is directed along its specific partway. Each thunder clap and lightening bolt has its own route managed by HaShem Himself. HaShem makes sure nothing gets mixed up. So would Hakadosh Baruch Hu mix up Iyov and oyev? Of couse not.

We see from the above the exactness of the hoshgocho of 
Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Torah is Hashem’s most precious possession. To destroy Torah is to destroy the world, as the world stands on Torah. If He looks out for every hair, every raindrop, every lightning-flash and accompanying thunder, then surely He will protect the Torah world. Hashem will not allow some decrepit people to harm or destroy Torah. If we realize in Whose Hands we are, we will calm down.

This is a nisayon (test). We are now in the period known as Ikvesa d’Meshicha. No one knows when Moshiach will come. As the Vilna Gaon put it, “Those who know do not say; those who say do not know.”

The Chofetz Chaim already wrote in his time that we are in the epoch of Moshiach. This era has many stages. Exactly when it will end is unknown, but it is very close.

Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants to bring the Geulah. Now is the period of birur (selection). To be eligible to be redeemed is no simple matter. I heard from Harav Yechezkel Levenstein, zt”l, that just as only one in five left Egypt, so too will it be at the future Redemption. Not everyone will merit it. It will not be automatic. To merit, one needs to withstand the nisyonos.

We know there are four exiles. The Ohr Hachaim says we were able to shake off the first three in merit of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
We will be redeemed from the fourth galus in the zechus of Moshe Rabbeinu, the pillar of Torah.

This is why before the coming of the Redeemer there will be a tremendous amount of Torah, since Hashem does not want to redeem a nation of boors and loafers (batlanim).

Now, with this understanding given to us by the Ohr Hachaim we can grasp what happened here in the past 65-70 years, and start to understand the immense, unbelievable flourishing of the Torah world. Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants to bring the Geulah, so He made the Torah grow in a way that it never did in any previous generation.

Forty-five years ago, when I was a bachur in Ponovezh, the Ponovezher Rav asked a few of us boys to travel around the country during bein hazmanim (summer break) to be mechazek (strengthen) people. The situation was terrible; even in big cities the shuls were almost empty.

One place I came to there was an unusually large number of men in
shul. I complimented the gabbai on his ability to gather together the
crowd in his capacity as gabbai.
“I am not the gabbai,” he told me, “I am only his helper.”
“And who is the gabbai?”
“The angel of death. He made sure all these people would assemble for the saying of Kaddish.”

This was the way it was then. But in the last 25 years there has been a turnover. Besides yeshivah boys and kollel yungeleit, even baalei batim learn. There are innumerable Torah shiurim (classes), as never before. Nowadays shuls all over Eretz Yisrael are full of Torah shiurim. One cold, dark winter’s night I was called to give a class in Kiryat Shemona. I was eager to go, as this had been one of the “empty” places I had visited all those years before. As the icy pouring rain pounded on the synagogue’s windows, I addressed an unbelievable crowd — 200 people. I said to them: “I see here a revival of the dead.”

Now we have reached a hard point. It has never been easy, but now
Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants to see if we are ready to learn Torah in hardship. Are we prepared to sacrifice?

One of the things Rav Elya Lopian, zt”l, often said was, that when there was a war between two enemies that lasted a long time (for example, the Thirty Year War, the Hundred Year War), then each side made sure to hold back some armaments after each small skirmish in order to have them for later. But at the end of the war, when the decisive battle was being fought, all the weapons were taken out.

Now is the showdown. We are now in the decisive war between
kedushah/Torah, and the forces of darkness. Geulah means that the power of Torah will be the victor over tumah. As we get closer to the
End of Days, the most sophisticated weapons will be taken out.

We know the Torah side will win. This is clear. But we must realize there is a difference between the general public and the individual. The klal is assured, but not so the individual person. Am Yisrael will win. The world of Torah will win. But each person must ask himself, “Will I be among the winners?”

The testing ground is how much one will be ready to stand in the adversity of sacrificing for learning Torah.

Moshiach will come. Torah will be built. The Land will be full of yeshivos. No question about it; it will happen. The question is, who will have a part in it? Each one of us needs to ask himself, “Will I be part of that great simchah?”

The answer depends on YOU. On each and every one of us. What will you do to merit this? What will you do for Torah learning? How will you stand up to the hardships? The great day will come; make sure you are part of it.
Remember, do not think you are saving the Torah. The Torah will survive without you. You are saving yourself. As the Ponevezher Rav put it, the Torah does not need you; you need the Torah.

“A tree of life is she, to all that hold onto her.” Those who hold onto
Torah will be saved. We need to grasp Torah with all our strength to be saved. When there are storms, we need to hold on even stronger.

So this is what is happening now. Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants to redeem us. He is giving the last vigorous shake to see if we will hang on with all our might to Torah or will we say, “Leave it, I have no strength.”

Hold on, my brothers, hold on. This is our test. If we know it is a test, it is easier to persevere. If we know it is a test and that One is “looking from the windows and peeping though the cracks,” we will pass the trial.

Hakadosh Baruch Hu is protecting each one of us. Each one of our children. No one can harm the Torah world.

It should be clear that He is there to protect us and these current events are but nisyonos to test us: How much, despite the hardship, will we cling to Torah? How much will we sacrifice to make sure to educate our children in purity and holiness? How much will we do all in our power tom protect the purity of our daughters?

Then, may we will merit speedily, in our day, the coming of Moshiach,
bimheirah beyameinu amen.

Published in Hamodia.


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