In this season, when we gather around the Seder table to celebrate the birth of our nation, it behooves us to take a few moments to consider what we have learned – what we are taking with us to guide us throughout the year. Among the many priorities we should consider, surely shalom and achdus – unity – must be in the forefront. Sadly, today these pillars of our faith are missing from our families, from our communities and from the world at large. While we may not be able to influence the world, our communities or even our families, we can and must impact upon ourselves – we must emerge from this Pesach – different.
There is a well-known chassidic story about a man who was intent on changing the world – so he went to his Rebbe to ask for a brachah. The Rebbe readily gave his blessing, but after a few months of frustration, the man concluded that the task was beyond him. He returned to the Rebbe, who suggested that he scale down – the man quickly agreed and decided to concentrate on his community. But after a few weeks of trying, he came up against the same stone wall, so this time he decided to limit his efforts to his family, but here too he failed. Once again, he returned to the Rebbe, who with a piercing gaze said, Has it ever occurred to you that if you start changing, your family, your community, and yes, even the world, will change?”
So how do we change ourselves? How do we avoid the pitfalls of the past – the odious sin of sinas chinam – unwarranted jealousy and hatred that launched us into the bitter exile of Egypt and continues to enchain us in the darkness of our own exile? What must we do to be zocheh – to merit the geulah shlaimah – the redemption of our people, speedily in our own day?
The generation that lost its way in the dark galus of Mitzrayim merited redemption so that they might come to Sinai and they merited that awesome gift because at Sinai they became one B totally unified – They were as one man with one heart. It was a magic moment, but tragically, that splendid, majestic unity has been painfully absent throughout the millennia. Instead of Ahavas Yisrael, our nation has been splintered by bitter controversies, jealousies, and hatred. This toxic poison has been eating away at our people throughout the ages and is largely responsible for our first exile and for our contemporary familial and national catastrophes.
On Thursday evenings I give a shiur at our Hineni Center in Manhattan. Following the class, I see people in my office who come with all sorts of personal problems. Their backgrounds range from haredi, heimish/frum – yeshivish – Modern Orthodox,to totally secular; from young to old, from singles to married, and sadly, they all relate stories of personal pain. In addition to shidduch problems (which is a constant), I have found that the controversies that destroy families most often center on money, greed, pettiness, jealousy and kavod. To be sure, these conflicts are as old as humankind itself, but it is our mission to overcome our baser instincts and banish this poison from our hearts.
When animosity invades a family, communication all but ceases and in many instances, the hatred can be so ugly that spouses and relatives take measures to have their nearest and dearest imprisoned. When husbands and wives fight, their hatred can become so intense that, they become totally blinded to the deep and damaging scars that they inflict on their children.
This same blindness prevails when, consumed by greed, siblings sue one another, all the while remaining oblivious to the pain and shame they inflict on their parents here or in the Heavens above. Our sages teach that during the period of Chevlei Mashiach, chutzpah will abound and a man=s enemies will be among his own family. How well we know it! Alas, we are living it!
As I mentioned, I deal with these problems following my parshah shiur. Very often, I do not return home before 3:00 a.m. I do this, not because I enjoy staying up late into the night, but because, early on, I discovered that, Torah study prior to a meeting is a prerequisite to effectively reach people. Just the same, after each session I am left with a huge question – how could this happen among Jews? And an even greater question – how can heimish Yidden, who are knowledgeable and well versed, be a part of this? Have we not suffered enough at the hands of the Hitlers of every generation? Why can’t we follow the teachings of our Torah and forgive and fargin each other?
I hear the words of my dear, revered Tatty, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l. With tears in his eyes, he would say in Yiddish, “After such a Holocaust, we have to embrace every Jew with love. And every Yom Kippur, he would come before his congregation with the same plea: There are people among us who are not talking to their parents, to their brothers, to their sisters, to their relatives, neighbors and former friends… Heint iz Yom Kippur B today is Yom Kippur, we cannot come before Hashem unless we forgive one another, do chesed for one another… But somehow we still fail to absorb the message. Why?”
Most Jewish Press readers are, Baruch Hashem, familiar with the genesis of our history B the jealousy and the hatred of the brothers for Joseph that launched us into a long, dark exile. But it is one thing to cerebrally understand, and something else again to absorb that knowledge into our hearts. Not in vain does the Torah warn us, And you shall know today and you shall absorb it into your heart. There are just a few inches from the mind to the heart, but it is a gap that is very difficult to bridge. So it is that a man may know something intellectually, but if his heart fails to comprehend, it’s all to no avail.
Thus, even though we know our history, and even though we know that sibling rivalry and hatred were at the root of our Egyptian enslavement, we have yet to internalize that lesson and place it into our hearts. The hatred that enveloped Yosef continues to fragmentize us. Its toxic fumes continue to infiltrate our homes. The distinguished and the learned, the simple and unschooled, the rich as well as the poor, have all fallen victim to it. Since the Holocaust, we have witnessed a phenomenal and miraculous resurgence of Jewish life – the ba’al teshuvah movement, the proliferation of yeshivot, Torah study and observance of mitzvot – but this progress has yet to be paralleled by ahavas Yisrael and shalom bayis in our families. Why? And what can we do to once and for all neutralize this venom that continues to eat away at the moral fiber of our people?
(Continued Next Week)