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3 Nissan 5764 - March 25, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Everyone Must Make His Contribution Towards Building the Future: An Approach to the Suffering of the European Churban

by HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l, Mashgiach Of Mir And Ponovezh

On erev Shabbos parshas Vayakheil, the twenty-eighth of Adar 5703 (1943), just about 61 years ago, dreadful news reached Shanghai about the catastrophic events that had befallen Lithuanian Jewry. The parents and families of the bnei hayeshiva who had remained in their homes in Lithuania after their sons escaped, had been butchered in the most brutal and savage ways by the German invaders and the Lithuanian country folk who willingly assisted them. Hitherto, Shanghai had been almost cut off from the rest of the world and no word of what had taken place long before had arrived.

The cries and wails of the bochurim, many of whom were now the sole survivors of their families, pierced the heavens. They went up to the ezras noshim, tore their clothes, turned the benches over and sat for a short time on the floor, as halochoh requires upon hearing of a bereavement that took place more than thirty days previously.

The mashgiach HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l, eulogized the martyrs. His remarks appear in the newly republished book, Mimizrach Shemesh:

I am incapable of moving my lips in eulogy. Chazal said, "Someone who is present at the death of an ordinary Jew must rend his garment because it is akin to witnessing the burning of a sefer Torah," for there isn't a Jew who isn't as full of Torah and mitzvos, as a pomegranate is of seeds (Shabbos 105). In this churban we have lost everything -- geonim, chassidim, tzaddikim and men of deeds. What can we say?

All I can do is ask the question that Bnei Yisroel asked Hakodosh Boruch Hu at the time of the Churban: "You wrote in Your Torah, `You shall not take the mother [bird] with the offspring' (Devorim 22:6) -- and here both mothers and children have been crushed. You wrote in Your Torah, `You shall not slaughter it and its offspring on the same day' (Vayikra 22:28) - - yet what do we see here? Youths [fall] outside, young men in the streets, wound about with their holy books."

And I will add another question. Chazal say that in putting a criminal to death, beis din are required to "choose a humane death for him." If they were obliged to be burned, why did they suffocate on gas? And what kind of death is burial alive?! [The Lithuanian massacres were into open pits.] What is the answer?

The answer is that there are two different types of reckoning. There is the individual's reckoning and there is collective reckoning. These questions can be asked when looking at individual reckoning, but collective reckoning is completely different; not every period is the same.

We must be aware that Klal Yisroel is quite literally one entity. The head also has to suffer on account of the feet. Though Am Yisroel is a scattered flock, it is as wicked Homon y"sh argued -- "There is a unified people!" (Esther 3:8). They are all a single entity! Even though there were great rabbonim and tzaddikim among those who were murdered, "they are all a single entity" and some suffer on account of others.

And [this is] especially [apparent] when Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants to build the future. Then, everyone must make his contribution to the royal treasury. The head must pay with his head and the foot, with his foot.

This is a time when the ultimate good should be revealed. There is no individual reckoning -- it is a completely different type of reckoning. Over there, in the eternal world, Hakodosh Boruch Hu has ample means of rewarding those who fulfill His will. Everything is so fearsome!

A Eulogy for the Murdered Inhabitants of Mir

The nineteenth of Marcheshvon was designated as the memorial day for the massacre of the Jews of Mir. At their head was the great gaon HaRav Avrohom Tzvi Kamai zt'l, Hy'd, who served as rov and as rosh yeshiva, who would not desert his community. The Mashgiach delivered a eulogy on this day in 5707 (1946), and some of his remarks concerned the fate of the martyrs. He said:

And this should lead us to think about our own times. There is no doubt that every Jew who was killed under the regime of Hitler ym"sh will merit eternal immortality, for they were killed for being Jews and it is impossible that being Jewish and belonging to Hashem's People should bring harm to them.

Here we see the staggering extent of Hashem's Providence over every single Jew, that not one should be lost -- they will merit eternal immortality for having been murdered because they were Jewish. This all goes for those who were simply killed. How much greater is the portion of those who were murdered while they were fulfilling mitzvos -- "And you shall love Hashem . . . with all your heart and all your soul" (Devorim 6:5) -- even if He takes away your soul.

We have heard that before he was killed, the Rov and Av Beis Din of Mir . . . HaRav Kamai . . . asked those members of his community who were with him, to accept Heaven's decree lovingly. On the posuk, "I said in My heart . . ." (Koheles 3:18), Chazal say, "Whoever does a mitzvah close to the time of his death, it is as though his righteousness lacked nothing but that mitzvah and he completed it. Whoever does an aveiroh close to the time his death, it is as though his wickedness lacked nothing except for that aveiroh and he completed it" (Medrash Koheles).

They both leave the world perfect -- the former leave it perfectly righteous and the latter, perfectly wicked. We see this in the parsha [Vayeiro]. Before Hashem destroyed Sodom, He provided the townspeople with an aveiroh. All of them, young and old, surrounded Lot's house, demanding that he send his guests out to them. Hashem smote them with blindness and they tired of finding the door (Bereishis 19:4-11). They should have thought about what was happening to them but they did not and they died in complete wickedness.

On the other hand, when the mal'ochim wanted to rescue Lot, they gave him the opportunity to do a mitzvah, as the Ramban writes on the posuk (19:3) "And he pressed them greatly": It was meritorious of Lot to press them and he had a worthy desire in wanting to welcome visitors. They refused in order to give him merit. This is why they accepted in the end for, to begin with, they didn't want to come to his house because he wasn't a perfect tzaddik. A mitzvah is like wearing a shield that protects the bearer from arrows.

Chazal say, "What can a person do in order to be saved from the pangs of Moshiach['s arrival]? He should occupy himself with Torah and with doing kindness." This means that he should be involved with them without interruption, for Torah and mitzvos are armor against the enemy's bullets.

Armor is only effective while it is being worn. If a person possesses it but does not wear it, it won't help him. The gemora (Shabbos 30) says that Hakodosh Boruch Hu told Dovid Hamelech that he would die on a Shabbos. Every Shabbos, Dovid Hamelech sat and learned throughout the day. On the day that he was supposed to die, the angel of death stood before him but could not overpower him because he was learning. Eventually, the angel caused a noise outside and when Dovid fell silent, he died. This demonstrates that the armor only helps while one wears it.


The Mashgiach continued, explaining, "Prior to his death, the Rov too, fulfilled the mitzvah of, `You shall love Hashem . . . with all your soul'! The posuk says, `Hashem, remember Your mercy and Your kindness for they have always existed' (Tehillim 25:6). This means that Hashem's kindness has been with us ever since Creation, as the posuk (89:3) says, `The world is built through kindness.' It is certain that whatever befalls us collectively, is part of Hashem yisborach's kindness."

Rav Shlomo Burstein related that when the dreadful news of the massacre and the kiddush Hashem reached Shanghai, the Mashgiach was at home and he wept, "This neighbor of mine merited kiddush Hashem, that other neighbor of mine and that friend merited kiddush Hashem and I did not!"

He cried and bemoaned not having attained that merit.

What is a Baal Mussar?

(Not about the Holocaust.)

To answer this question, the Mashgiach cited the comments of the Ramban on Yaakov's sojourn with Lovon. Lovon asked Yaakov, "Should you work for me for nothing just because you are my relative?" (Bereishis 29:15). The Ramban says, "Because you are a man of mussar, you will not [want to] be supported by others."

As a baal mussar, Yaakov recognized the power of bias and how it can topple a person from a high level. We can see how far we are from being on the level of baal mussar. For decades now, I have heard it said and have seen that there are no longer any baalei mussar!" (Yad Yechezkel 101).

"There were baalei mussar," says HaRav Wolbe, "who were great educators. Rav Yechezkel was not an educator in that sense. He lived within himself and did not step out of the circle of his immediate experience. [However,] he spoke about what he was experiencing at any given time. He allowed us to enter his own territory. When we came to him, he would start speaking about whatever arousal had come to him that day. He continued living inside his own circle but he brought us inside so that we could receive [instruction] from him."

The Mashgiach once said, "People quote the Chazon Ish as having said that there is no need to learn mussar. First, it's not true and second, if the Chazon Ish himself was not in the habit of learning a lot of mussar, that is because he was holy from the very beginning of his life. We, however, are ordinary folk, who yearn only for what this world offers. We must therefore wage war on our great enemy. The Chazon Ish had a very special soul . . . "

He also quoted the Alter of Kelm as having said that the Torah of someone who doesn't learn mussar is superficial, not deeply rooted; it is external.

Once, speaking on Shabbos at a bochur's aufruf he said, "The Alter of Novardok said that a person needs three triangular fingers: one [to hold] against the world, one against his family and a third against himself, so that he should be utterly subservient to the Creator yisborach and pay no attention to any other opinions, if they run counter to his serving Hashem."

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