By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
An apocryphal tale is told about a man who came to town presenting himself as a traveling tzaddik. Since he arrived late and without prior notice, he and his devoted gabbai were put up at the home of a simple shoemaker, as there were no rooms available in the town’s kretchme, inn.
The shoemaker and his wife were honored to have the tzaddik in their home and did their best to make him and his gabbai comfortable until a room at the inn would become available.
The two guests ate something and went to bed. As midnight approached, the tzaddik rose to recite Tikkun Chatzos, the tefillah of mourning for the destroyed Bais Hamikdosh. His bitter cries over the churban woke his attendant, who joined him in the mournful prayers.
The gabbai began to complain. “Rebbe,” he said, “it is unbearably cold here. I cannot have the proper kavanos when I feel as if I am going to freeze to death.”
The tzaddik agreed. The gabbai proposed that they drink a small lechayim, just a sip of brandy to warm their bones. That way, they would be able to say the tefillah properly. The alcohol warmed them and they resumed their supplications. Soon enough, though, the gabbai was cold again.
“Rebbe,” he said, “I think we need another drink. Who can say Tikkun Chatzos when they are this cold?”
Thus, to warm themselves, they drank a little more – just a drop, of course – to stay warm.
A few minutes later, they agreed that a third drink was necessary, the cold being so intense. In no time, the bottle was emptied. The gabbai managed to find another bottle in his suitcase and offered a fresh lechayim.
As they consumed the alcohol, they returned to their tefillos, crying over and bemoaning the churban habayis. Both men were davening with fervor and spirit, crying out, becoming cold, drinking a bit, and then returning to their cries and prayers.
Their bawling was so loud that they woke up the simple host couple, who stood at the door in silence, watching in amazement as the tzaddik and his gabbai wailed over the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. They felt so proud that they merited hosting such holy people in their simple home.
However, as the men finished the second bottle of brandy and their alcohol level was dangerously high, they began dancing and singing the words of the sacred, mournful tefillah.
The half-asleep shoemaker came in from the shadows to interrupt them.
“Listen,” he said. “I am but a simple, uneducated man, and I never learned much Torah. I never saw anyone say Tikkun Chatzos before either, but I think I know enough to be certain that it shouldn’t be said amidst singing and dancing.”
Sometimes see people work very hard to accomplish good things, but instead they become so involved in the details of what they are doing that they lose sight of their goal. The process becomes the mission as their original objective remains elusive and forgotten.
Last week, I was asked to join a panel in the Catskills to discuss current events in Eretz Yisroel. I shared the following story.
A wealthy, well-known philanthropist would make it a point to go bid farewell to Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach zt”l before leaving Eretz Yisroel. One evening, as he was in the vestibule and about to enter Rav Shach’s room, a man asked him for a favor.
“I know that when you go in,” the man began, “you will probably be with the rosh yeshiva for a while. I am here with my fourteen-year-old son. I just want to ask the rosh yeshiva for a bracha for him. It will take a minute. Would you permit me to go in before you?”
The kind gentleman graciously agreed, and the fellow and his son went in to Rav Shach’s room. The philanthropist watched through the open door as they approached the elderly rosh yeshiva at his table. Rav Shach said something to them and then stood up, walked to the door, closed it and locked it. The door remained locked for two and a half hours, while the famed philanthropist waited outside.
Finally, the door opened. The man remorsefully approached the dignified industrialist. “I am so sorry,” he said. “I had no idea it would take so long. I really thought it would only be a moment. Please be mochel me.”
“I forgive you,” he said, “but please tell me: What happened in there for two and a half hours?”
The man explained: “My fourteen-year-old son is having a hard time in yeshiva. He complains that he has no cheishek for learning. He’s a good boy and we agreed to go to Rav Shach to ask him for a bracha that he develop a cheishek for learning. When I told Rav Shach what our problem is and why we came, the elderly and weak rosh yeshiva got up to close and lock the door.
“Then he asked my son what masechta he is learning in yeshiva. My son said Bava Metziah. Rav Shach removed two Gemaros from the bookcases, one for himself and one for my son. With much love, he looked at my son and said, ‘If you don’t feel a geshmak in learning and if you learn without cheishek, it is because the Torah is not being taught to you correctly. You don’t understand the sugya, and that is why you have no cheishek. Let’s learn a sugya and you’ll see that you will have cheishek.”
Together, the gadol hador and the young boy sat down to learn, tasting the sweetness of Torah and experiencing the intense joy of havanah and the exhilaration of true ameilus.
For two and a half hours they learned. Nothing was important besides the Gemara, Rashi and Tosafos. Then, when the rosh yeshiva sensed that the boy understood the sugya and was finally learning with cheishek, he bid the boy and his father farewell.
The elderly leader, who carried a nation on his shoulders, knew that the wealthy man upon who supported many Torah institutions close to his heart was waiting outside. The rosh yeshiva had his own shiurim to prepare and many issues required his attention. But the most important thing in the world to him was that a bochur zol kenen lernen mit cheishek. He didn’t forget his goal. He didn’t ignore his mission.
Everyone is concerned about the political situation in Israel. People are concerned about the looming military draft of yeshiva bochurim, and the bill the Israeli cabinet approved this week to effect that; as well as the draconian budget cuts to yeshivos, and the weakening of the role of halacha in the Jewish state. But at the same time, we must remember what it is that we are fighting for: az ah bochur zol kenen lernen mit cheishek.
What are our priorities? What are our goals? What is it that we desire? What is it that we aspire to?
We are in a period in the Jewish year when we are instructed to conduct ourselves a certain way, reflecting the mourning we feel within. Chazal direct us not to eat meat or listen to music. However, it is possible to observe all the halachos and refrain from all forbidden activities, and yet not experience the mournful feeling that our actions are meant to express.
The goal of the Nine Days is not to be deprived, but rather to be aware of what we lack and what we are missing by being in golus.
Being in jail is dreadful. Even the so-called “country club jails” are awful, sad places. Though they are not surrounded by barbed wire and filled with dangerous criminals, they are not home. Every waking moment, a person incarcerated there is reminded that he is not home.
The prisoners have a certain degree of freedom in their dormitory-like rooms and can walk about the campus unencumbered, but the knowledge that they are not home is a constant punishment.
Children go to sleep-away camp, where nowadays they don’t lack many creature comforts, yet they get homesick. Camp is great. It’s a lot of fun. Campers get to meet other youngsters from all over, swim, play ball, and go on exotic trips. But it’s not home. They get homesick and call up their parents crying that they want to come home.
The campers receive packages from home, letters and cards, and after being away for a whole week and a half, their parents sit through what feels like endless traffic to spend time with them on visiting day.
The prisoners, and lehavdil the campers, are comforted in their longing by remembering home, thinking about home, and getting updates and packages from home. Yet, we, the Jewish people, are so far removed from home. We don’t remember it. We have become accustomed to being imprisoned and don’t know what we are missing.
We live in historic times. Look at what is transpiring in Eretz Yisroel. On one hand, there is terrible suffering. There is constant in-fighting and the security situation is tenuous. The citizenry is suffering economically. Many can’t afford to feed their families. Secular Israeli culture is once again battling the chareidim as in days long forgotten.
Yet, somehow, amid all the despair and heartbreak, Hashem’s imprint is strikingly bold. Eretz Yisroel is a land of kedushah. In cities as disparate as Be’er Sheva, Ramle and Dimona, and in every other spiritually downtrodden area of the country, there are eruptions of kedushah. Even as politicians battle and deliver bombastic statements against the chareidi community, there is a yearning for Yiddishkeit. The teshuvah movement continues to grow.
The Chazon Ish once remarked, “Hasinah sheyeish bahem hu machmas kedushah sheyeish bahem – The deep animosity and mistrust that secular Israelis feel toward their religious counterparts stem from an innate Jewish holiness.”
The opposite of love is indifference. Hate is a sign of care, and passionate hate is a sign of passionate care. The friction in Israel indicates that the time is ripe for devoted p’eylut.
Yes, there is certainly good news to report in Eretz Yisroel. News that has gotten lost amidst the sea of negative reporting that seems to be our daily fare. The estranged people of Israel are yearning for Torah and for emes.
Although there is much kicking and shouting in public, deep down there is love and brotherhood. Away from the spotlight of the media and politicians, people are trying to get along, attempting to bring the light of Torah to those who live in darkness, who are so close to kedushah yet so far removed from it. Those who have their priorities straight haven’t lost sight of the goal.
Rav Azriel Auerbach visited America last week on behalf of Lev L’Achim. Speaking at the organization’s annual asifa in Lakewood, he said, “People ask me why I left Eretz Yisroel for the first time in my life. They ask how I could leave if my father and father-in-law never left.
“I answer them that the reason to live in Eretz Yisroel, and the reason to refrain from leaving, is to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel. But if tens of thousands of children are going to public school every day in Eretz Yisroel and do not even know how to say Shema Yisroel, how much is missing from yishuv Eretz Yisroel!
“The posuk [Vayikra 18, 28] says, ‘Velo soki ha’aretz es’chem betama’achem ossah,’ tumah and aveiros cause the opposite of yishuv Eretz Yisroel.
“If Lev L’Achim will be helped, they will be able to bring thousands of Jews to a life of Torah umitzvos. That will surely enhance yishuv Eretz Yisroel. I did not come here despite the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel. I am here to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel!”
Three times a day, following the recital of Shemoneh Esrei, we ask, “Yehi ratzon sheyiboneh Bais Hamikdosh bimeheirah beyomeinu…vesein chelkeinu beSorasecha.” We pray for the Bais Hamikdosh to be restored and to receive our proper share of Torah.
The Vilna Gaon explains that we will only receive our share in Torah when the Mikdosh is rebuilt, because in the absence of the Bais Hamikdosh, although we study Torah, it is but a reflected light. In a time of churban, the essence of Torah is lacking.
We are surrounded by blessings. We can learn in peace from beautiful seforim and we can listen to shiurim delivered by gifted maggidei shiur in attractive botei medrash, but we aren’t home.
We enjoy our families amidst summer’s laid-back pace, with the sun shining brightly in the background, but we aren’t home.
We are surrounded by relative peace and tranquility, free to live our lives as we please and serve Hashem, but we aren’t home.
We are homesick. We want to go home. We daven and cry out to Hashem, “Please, come and take us home. Please come soon. We can’t take it here anymore.”
For our priorities and goals to be properly realized, we need to be home, with the Bais Hamikdosh rebuilt. May we see it soon, speedily in our day.