There is a principle of yeridot ha’dorot, the decline of the generations. Each generation is a little weaker spiritually than the previous generation. How then can we be expected to merit the Mashiach if those great people who preceded us couldn’t? This question is tackled by Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu, Vol. IV, pp. 301–2), where he gives us a rather reassuring answer. He writes that although it’s true that previous generations of Torah scholars were superior to us in terms of their Torah learning and mitzvah observance, that doesn’t mean their merit was any greater than ours. As he puts it:
“What is the benefit of our exile; our generations grow increasingly out of touch with spirituality, how can the rectification of the world be possible? The truth is that as the generations become distanced from Torah, any involvement with Torah study and mitzvot tremendously sanctifies the Name of God . . . now, the force of the Sitra Achra, evil, is great, and whatever little is achieved now is considered by God on par with the great deeds that were accomplished by the earlier generations.”
So although we are far from the spiritual achievements of our ancestors, Hashem looks at the environment each generation finds itself in. Hashem is looking for quality of service, not necessarily the quantity of it. Each person is required to improve themselves in relation to the circumstances they find themselves in. Though we live in spiritually challenging times, we shouldn’t be despondent because, as the Chafetz Chaim (Zechor L’Miriam, Ch. 18) reminds us:
“God does not expect from us great accomplishments and things that are impossible for us to achieve. Rather each person should strive to accomplish what is within his capability. “
We all have our areas to work on and improvements to make in our spiritual service bein adam laMakom (Mitzvot between man and God )and bein adam lachaveiro (mitzvot involving interpersonal relations). Bein adam lachaveiro and bein adam laMakom are represented by the way we treat others and the importance we give toward Shabbat. If we can invest our energies toward these two areas of spiritual life, then God willing, this will be our final Tisha B’av and we’ll see the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Third and final Beit Hamikdash speedily in our days.
By Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff
Taking Revenge and Bearing Grudges
Two areas of bein adam lachaveiro mitzvot that we can sometimes overlook are lo tikom, not taking revenge, and lo titor, not bearing a grudge. Not taking revenge or bearing a grudge seem to play a central role in the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, and therefore apply to Tisha B’Av. On Tisha B’Av, these are areas we need to work on. The Chafetz Chaim in his concise list of mitzvot, which are mitzvot we are able to perform today, lists these two negative commandments as their own separate prohibitions. He defines revenge as repaying a person who has harmed you in the same way they treated you. If you asked to borrow an item from someone, and he refuses, and then he wishes to borrow one of your items that normally you would have lent, but you don’t in order to exact revenge, you have violated a Torah prohibition.
Bearing a grudge is connected to taking revenge, but potentially could be much worse. If, in the above example, after not lending you an item, your friend asks you for something, and unlike in the “revenge” scenario you do lend them, but you keep hatred in your heart by saying or maybe even thinking, “I am not like you, I am kind and caring, and I lend things,” you have transgressed the prohibition against bearing a grudge. The challenge with bearing a grudge is that unlike revenge, the hate is less evident and may only remain in your heart. This is exactly what the Torah wanted to avoid.
The Chafetz Chaim refers to these two character defects as raot meod, extremely bad. He then gives a short piece of advice on how to overcome them: “all matters and concerns of this world are ‘hevel’ (vapid) nonsense and triviality, and it is not worth taking revenge over them.” His use of the word “hevel” is I’m sure deliberate, and reminds us of the words of Shlomo HaMelech at the start of Kohelet, when he calls all of existence “hevel havalim,” vanity of vanities. The word hevel also means steam. Steam looks and feels real, it can even burn you, but it is just air that will soon dissipate.
Had the players in the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza story been caring to all of these ideas, and given up on their desire for revenge, bearing a grudge, and holding anger in their hearts, and been careful with their words of lashon harah, perhaps the Beit Hamikdash would still be standing today. Of course to rebuild it, maybe these are a few areas of bein adam lachaveiro we can all work on. Let’s examine another area of Jewish life that Chazal tell us can also bring the present exile to an end: Shabbat.
Just One Shabbat and We’ll All Be Free
The Gemara in Shabbat 10b, states that Shabbat is the only mitzvah that Hashem refers to as a matana tova, a great gift. The commentators have different opinions as to what exactly is the nature of the gift of Shabbat. One opinion is that the gift is the great reward we receive for keeping Shabbat. Another opinion is that the great gift that comes with observing Shabbat is the speedy redemption of the Jewish people from their exile. The Talmud (Shabbat 118b) quotes Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who said:
“If the Jewish people keep two Shabbat, they would be immediately redeemed.
According to the Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 25:12), the power of Shabbat is such that even one Shabbat would suffice to redeem the Jewish people. What is it about Shabbat that gives it this ability of shortening the exile? The midrash explains that since Shabbat is equal to all of the mitzvot in the Torah, by keeping Shabbat we are effectively keeping all of the mitzvot, even those that we are incapable of keeping today. The merit of all Jews keeping Shabbat is enough to bring the redemption and end our current state of exile.
The redemptive quality of Shabbat was historically recognized not only by the Jews, but even by enemies of the Jews. The Gemara in Megillah (12b) tells us that Vashti would humiliate the Jewish women by making them violate Shabbat. What did Vashti hope to achieve by tormenting her Jewish subjects in this way? Rav Yonatan Eibshitz (Yaarot Dvash 2:2) says that this testifies to the incredible power of Shabbat that even an evil person like Vashti felt the importance of that special day, and by making the Jewish women break Shabbat, she could keep them in exile and prevent their redemption. [Her plan did not work as these women were forced to break Shabbat and were not held liable for their actions. Hashem acted mida keneged mida, measure for measure, against Vashti, and that’s why the Megillah itself tells us she met her demise “on the seventh day,” which was Shabbat.]
Only a minority of Jews observe Shabbat. Is it realistic to assume that all Jews will become observant of Shabbat? We might respond: Who knows the value of every Jew? Maybe one new shomer Shabbat person is considered an entire world? We can take it upon ourselves if possible to invite a non-observant Jew to our home for Shabbat so they can taste the beauty of a real Shabbat. Or perhaps the Gemara is intended for those who are already shomer Shabbat. The Gemara is asking us all to improve our observance by reviewing the halachot of Shabbat and spending our precious time on Shabbat more wisely. What are we discussing at the Shabbat table? How are we acting toward others on this special and holy day? We all can get more out of Shabbat, which Hashem Himself called an oneg, delight.
By Lawrence Hajioff
‘Apologize to the Girl You Dated’
Having grown up in Detroit, I flew there this week with my sister Dina Borenstein to comfort the family of veteran educator, Rabbi Shmuel Kaufman zt”l, the beloved teacher in Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in Detroit.
Sitting there, I was given additional details to the incredible Yechidus he had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe resulting in the bracha to him and his wife to have children. I also heard another amazing story that is equally mind-blowing.
This story was originally printed in the Kfar Chabad magazine a while back, but some details were not verified.
Reb Shmuel came to Detroit as a single bochur to teach at Yeshiva Bais Yehudah, a Jewish day school consisting of two campuses at Southfield and Oak Park, Michigan. It serves boys and girls from pre-kindergarten to grade 12.
Thursday nights and Shabbosim, Reb Shmuel would spend at the home of my parents Rabbi Meir and Cheyena Avtzon. He remained close after he got married to his wife Risha and their return to Detroit.
After several years of being married and not being blessed with children, my father suggested that they travel together to New York and see the Rebbe for a bracha.
Initially, he refused, but after visiting all the other Gedolim of the time and still no yeshua, Reb Shmuel finally relented and came with my father to 770 Eastern Parkway.
After detailing his situation and asking the Rebbe for a bracha, the Rebbe turned to him and asked whether he ever unintentionally hurt a girl’s feelings to the point she might have a ‘kpaida’ (grudge) against him.
Reb Shmuel answered, “No, to the best of my recollection.”
The Rebbe then asked again, “Is it possible you dated a girl and led her to believe you were interested in her and then broke up without asking Mechila (forgiveness)?”
Again, he said he does not recall.
My father, who was present at the Yechidus, intervened at that point. “If the Rebbe is asking you twice, you should think hard and remember, because there has to be something!”
After further thought, Reb Shmuel remembered being on a date and loaning the girl a sweater to warm her from the cold. He later decided it was not meant to be and merely informed the Shadchan that it was over.
The Rebbe replied, “You must ask Mechila with a full heart.”
“How do I even find her?”
The Rebbe replied, “If you really try, you will see how easy it is.”
The Rebbe then blessed him and said, “Once you ask Mechila and she truly forgives you, you will be blessed with children.”
“And what if she doesn’t want to forgive me”? he asked.
The Rebbe replied, tell her that if she forgives you with a full heart, she will soon find her bashert (her own match).
The Yechidus then turned to another subject with the Rebbe asking him what he does and learning that he is a teacher.
The Rebbe asked, “Do you tell stories of Tzadikim?” and he replied that he does not because he considers it Bitul Torah( wasting free time on useless means).
The Rebbe answered, “Telling stories of Tzadikim is in itself Torah! Tell stories!”
* * *
After leaving Yechidus, he searched and searched and ultimately found the phone number of a brother of the girl. He called and spoke to the brother and asked if there was any way for him to get in touch with his sister.
“Why would you want to speak to her now after all these years and after breaking her heart?” he answered.
Unbeknownst to Reb Shmuel, the girl had felt strongly that by his loaning of the sweater during the date that he really liked her. She was so grief-stricken from being left cold-turkey that she bore a tremendous resentment towards him.
Her brother then said, “She’s actually here visiting me now but she doesn’t want to talk to you!”
Reb Shmuel begged and said, “I just came from Yechidus with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and was told that the reason my wife and I were still not blessed with children is because I hurt your sister and must ask Mechila. Trust me, I had no idea and am terribly sorry.”
A meeting was arranged, the girl initially did not agree to forgive him. When he told her that the Rebbe said that if she forgives him it will open the doors of blessing for her as well, she agreed and said I forgive you with a full heart.
Some 3 months later, my mother called Reb Shmuel at 6:00 AM and wakes him to share the great news that the girl he had dated was now engaged to be married.
One month later, his wife became pregnant with their eldest sonYona. Over the years, they were blessed with another six children.
But even more amazing than this story is the fact that Rabbi Kaufman is remembered as a devoted and beloved teacher and the one who inspired thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of students to live lives of Yiras Shamayim.
What was his secret ingredient? Stories.
Throughout his career in chinuch, Reb Shmuel told stories like you never heard. When he told a story, you felt you were there witnessing and a part of it. He brought to life the characters, the setting and the pure faith they exuded.
The Rebbe told him to tell stories and assured him that not only is it not Bitul Torah, but that it’s Torah itself. From that day onward, he never ceased to tell stories.
By Rabbi Lazer Avtzon
First aliya: The Israelites are situated on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, on the verge of entering the land of Canaan, and Moshe’ death is imminent. This is the setting for Moshe’ final statements to the nation he lovingly tended for four decades. After delivering a veiled rebuke to the nation for their many past misdeeds, Moshe revisits the period, some 39 years earlier, before the Israelites left Mount Sinai at G‑d’s behest, with the intention of immediately invading and entering Canaan. At that time, Moshe expressed to the Jews his inability to single-handedly bear the burden of leadership, because “G‑d, has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as the stars of the heavens in abundance.”
Second Aliyah: After the Israelites consented to the idea, Moshe appointed a chain of command of judges to preside over the nation. Moshe recalls instructing them the basics of judicial integrity. Moshe then recounts how the Jews traveled through the desert and quickly reached Kadesh Barnea, on the southern border of the Holy Land.
Third Aliyah: But at that time the Israelites approached Moshe and demanded the right to send out scouts to reconnoiter the land. Moshe recounts the tragic episode in detail, how the scouts delivered a frightening report, claiming that the land was unconquerable. Despite Moshe’ protests, the Israelites adopted the scouts’ attitude and decided not to enter Canaan. This caused G‑d to bar that entire generation from entering the Promised Land.
Fourth Aliyah: Moshe continues: At that time G‑d instructed the Israelites to reverse course and head back to the desert. Realizing their dreadful error, a group of Israelites proceeded to advance toward Israel — in the face of Moshe’ objections. Lacking divine protection, they were immediately attacked and massacred by the Emorites. At this point, the Israelites heeded G‑d’s command, and headed back to the Sinai Desert.
Fifth Aliyah: Moshe fast-forwards 38 years. The generation which left Egypt had perished. Now their children were ready to enter Canaan. But first G‑d instructs the Israelites regarding three nations whose land was off-limits for them: Seir (Edom), Moab and Amon. These lands were the rightful inheritance of the descendants of Esau and Lot. Instead, the Israelites circled these lands and approached the land of Sichon, king of the Emorites, and requested passageway through his land. Sichon refused the Israelites’ request.
Sixth Aliyah: Moshe recalls how Sichon led his nation in battle against the Israelites. The Israelites were victorious and took possession of his land. When the Bashanites then attacked, they meet a similar fate. The lands of the Emorites and the Bashanites were given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh.
Seventh Aliyah: Moshe delineates the borders of the lands allotted to the aforementioned tribes. He then repeats the instructions he gave to these tribes to cross the Jordan together with their brethren and participate in the battle against the Canaanites before returning to their land on the eastern bank of the Jordan. Joshua, who will lead the nation into Israel, is enjoined not to be fearful of the battles which he will face, because “it is the L-rd, your G‑d, who is fighting for you.”