By Rabbi Pinchos Lipshutz
The period of the Three Weeks, when we mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh and its implications, has begun. We feel and fear the golus this year more than in several decades.
This country stands on the precipice of tilting towards socialism and worse. Rabid leftists and secularists are in control of the schools, universities and media. With their stooge who is running for the presidency riding a wave in the polls, they are so close to victory that they can already feel it. Nobody knows what this country will look like should they actually win the White House, especially if they will also control the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Just take a look at the large cities of this country, which are all controlled by Democrat mayors, and you will have an inkling of what is in store. New York City, formerly the country’s capital of business and culture, is now seeing a rise in crime, boarded up businesses, and fleeing taxpayers. Instead of beefing up the police so they can lower crime and create a level of comfort for businesses and citizens, the radicals in charge have cut the police budget and turned a deaf ear to the concerns of law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.
The numbers of shootings and murders in Chicago continue on an upward trajectory and nobody cares. Blacks of all ages are being killed, but doing something about it doesn’t fit anyone’s political agenda. The other large cities are not faring much better.
THE GAMBIT IS WORKING
Joe Biden is an empty canvas upon which people paint their imaginary picture of what he thinks and what he will do. His handlers and enablers have him basically under house arrest. He rarely goes out to meet regular people. He doesn’t do press conferences. His staff issues statements in his name, and their gambit is working, apparently. The media is on board, bashing President Trump all day every day, doing whatever they can to get Biden elected and Trump out of the way.
The Republicans, as a party, are impotent. They are afraid to speak up and arouse the ire of the media. So, for now, the only one condemning the leftist socialist tilt is the president.
When “peaceful” protesters decide that Columbus statues are not “woke” and must come down because the Italian white man caused the birth of the evil empire known as the United States of America, nobody says boo besides Mr. Trump.
The election in November is shaping up not as a choice between Biden and Trump, but rather between leftist Marxist ideology and American apple pie democracy. Everything else is window dressing.
For now, nobody knows if the people are acquiescing to the anti-police, anti-white orthodoxy that is said to be sweeping the nation. Nobody knows whether people understand what the democrat agenda is when they tell pollsters that they will vote for Joe Biden. Maybe the poll numbers are a result of people’s fear to let it be known that they do not agree with those who seek to erase the country’s history and philosophy.
What we do know is that if the leftists win and take hold of the reins of power, the country and especially its Jews will be in for very trying times. The past four months will continue for four years. The noose of golus can chas veshalom tighten once again.
So, as we mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we need to concentrate on what we must do in order to facilitate its return. With small gestures, we seek to impress upon ourselves the great loss as we aspire to reach the levels of our forefathers with a home for the Shechinah in our world. But it is not sufficient to merely abstain from music, haircuts and weddings. We must also engage in greater behavior changes that require deeper thought.
THE JOURNEY OF OUR LIVES
The parshiyos we lain this week recount the voyage of the Jewish people throughout the desert and the stops they made along the way to the Promised Land.
Sifrei Kabbolah and drush are replete with deeper meanings and the significance of each station along Klal Yisroel’s journey through the midbar. They teach that the 42 masa’os correspond to the 42-letter name of Hashem, the holy “Sheim Mem Bais.”
The journey, with its forks, turns, hills and valleys, was necessary to prepare the nation for acquiring Hashem’s land, Eretz Yisroel. As we study the parshiyos and the journey, we follow along attuned to the mussar and chizuk encoded in them. As we recount the difficult times and the exalted moments, we find direction for the masa’os of our own lives as well.
We know that whatever happens to us is a sentence in an unfolding autobiography. Chapters have been completed and many more remain to be written. We must forge ahead to our destiny, neither tiring nor being satisfied with past accomplishments, nor becoming bogged down by failure.
None of us knows which of our acts will be the one that earns us eternal life. Something we say to someone today can have an impact in later years and bring the person around to a life of Torah. We can’t expect instant success and we must not be deterred by temporary failure.
We have many opportunities to act positively and put things in motion. We never know how they will turn out, but if we work lesheim Shomayim and give it all we have, we will have written yet another chapter in our book, made the world a better place, and brought us all one step closer to Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.
Adam le’amal yulad. Man was created with the purpose of working hard towards a goal. Each of us has masa’os, trips, toward a destination. Some are smooth rides, while others are bumpier. There are many that are filled with “construction sites” and detours. Whichever masa we are on, we must do what we can to ensure that we never stop moving forward.
Following the tragic experience of the Eigel, Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Moshe of His displeasure with Klal Yisroel and His plan to wipe them out, as they are an am keshei oref, a stiff-necked people (Shemos 32:9). Moshe begged and pleaded on behalf of the people and received forgiveness. He asked Hashem, “Please go in our midst, as they are an am keshei oref” (34:9). The same characteristic that was cited as the reason for their punishment was used as the reason for mercy.
An explanation is given that Moshe was arguing that the very middah that led them to sin would be a catalyst for their success. Stubbornness will be necessary, he was saying, for the nation that pledged to follow the Torah and mitzvos to carry faith in their hearts through a long and bitter golus, serving as ambassadors of kevod Shomayim in a dark world.
They were forgiven and have been stubbornly seeking perfection ever since.
THE SPIRIT OF THE JEW
Most writers and historians play up the image of the Jew in the ghettos and concentration camps as feeble and pathetic, submitting to their Nazi oppressors like sheep. Books by religious writers depicting the Holocaust era leave the reader astonished by the indomitable spirit of these Jews. You are amazed, knowing that the Jews were stronger than any Nazi beast. Part of that strength was an acceptance of Hashem’s will, plan and design.
When you read the stories religious survivors tell of their experiences during the awful Holocaust period, you become overwhelmed with dual feelings of sadness and of the majesty of the Jewish people. When you read their tales, you begin to gain a perspective of the tragedy of the entire Jewish exile since the churban. But the greatness of the eternal people is evident as well.
The words of the people fighting for their lives are infused with spirit, blood and tears in an elegy of death and of life. They died with the name of the L-rd on their lips as they paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to the Creator.
Jews died alone and together, lined up at forest pits and in ghettos, saying Shema Yisroel and singing Hallel.
The chevlei Moshiach swallowed them up. In their merit, we live and prosper in freedom.
Sunday was the 20th day of Tammuz, the day upon which the Jews of Telz, led by their great rabbonim and roshei yeshiva, were led to be killed. The story of how the golus in Telz ended is blood-curdling, reflective of the best and worst of humanity.
Yet, people who survived the killing fields and camps picked themselves up with measures of faith and hope. If ever anyone had a reason for despair, it was they, yet they found a will to live and recreate what was destroyed, and if they became despondent, they never let it show. They knew that they had departed one pre-ordained golus stop and were establishing another.
FROM POTENTIAL REDEMPTION TO DESTRUCTION
On Tisha B’Av, we mourn the tragedy of the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh. We also mourn the loss of Beitar. While we commonly understand that the tragedy of Beitar was that tens of thousands of Jews were killed in that city by the Romans after the churban, the Rambam (Hilchos Taanis 5) describes it a little differently:
“A great city by the name of Beitar was captured. Inside it were many tens of thousands of Jewish people. They had a great king whom all of Yisroel and the rabbis believed was the king Moshiach. He fell into the hands of the gentiles and they were all killed. It was a great tragedy, as great as the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh.”
Rav Moshe Schapiro explained that the tragedy was that their king, Bar Kochva, who could have been Moshiach, was killed. What could have been a period of redemption instead became one of destruction. Through their sins, an era that could have returned the Jews to the state they have awaited for since the chet hameraglim turned into tragedy. That is what we mourn on Tisha B’Av.
We have come so close to the redemption that we can hear the footsteps of Moshiach and suffer from the chevlei Moshiach. Before Moshiach’s arrival, the tumah of the world increases, as the Soton fights to prevent his arrival. When the world will assume the state that Hashem intended, the koach hatumah will wilt. Amaleik will cease to exist after the geulah. So, in the period leading up to Moshiach, tumah rises and becomes strengthened, as the forces of evil do their best to prevent the Jewish nation from reaching the levels that Hashem intended.
This is not just a drosha. It is a reality and we see it all around us. Activities that all civilized nations viewed as abominations are now commonplace; they are publicly accepted, codified into law, and protected by Supreme Court decisions. Morality is old-fashioned, increasingly disappearing from streets, homes and schools. The tumah chases after us wherever we are and seeks to entrap and overtake us. We must endeavor to prevent it from sucking us into its vortex. We have to strengthen ourselves and seek to raise our levels of kedusha so that it can overcome the forces of tumah and allow Moshiach to reveal himself.
The Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, would say that following the awful tragedies of the Holocaust, Hashem was about to bring Moshiach. To provide the Jewish people with a flavor of the impending redemption, Hashem gave the Jewish people possession of the Land of Israel. It wasn’t a complete ownership, though. It was controlled by people who didn’t believe in Torah and formed governing laws without Torah. The Bais Hamikdosh wasn’t returned; halacha did not rule. It was merely a taste of things to come.
However, because the Jewish people were satisfied with the little bit, Hashem determined that we weren’t deserving of the redemption and therefore we were left with a semblance of what could be.
SO CLOSE, WE COULD TASTE IT
Two thousand years ago in Beitar, we were so close to redemption, but we transgressed. The blood that could have been the fuel of geulah was spilled in yet another churban.
Seventy years ago, we were so close to the geulah that we tasted it.
Who knows if we lost out over the past decades by acquiescing to the comforts of the Western golus and not pining enough for the return of the Bais Hamikdosh.
The stir created by current events has reawakened an awareness of our precarious state. In this period, let us resolve to do what we can to end the golus once and for all. Let’s not settle this time for anything less.
Let us not despair. This week, when we read of the travels of the Jewish people from one place to the next, we will think about all that transpires in exile on the way to Eretz Yisroel. And when we conclude, a resounding cry will rise from the congregation, proclaiming, “Chazak, chazak, venischazeik – Be strong and may we all be strengthened.”
We proclaim that our belief is strong, our resolution is unwavering, and we are tough, stubborn and persistent.
We will get this done. Let’s go.