An Exciting Moment
Whenever I encounter those precious Jews who engage in toil
and bear the burden of earning a livelihood, with all that
it entails, yet who still find time every day for Torah
study, it moves me. See, am Yisroel is still alive!
Every time, it affords fresh excitement to see that this
group is growing in both numbers and quality. Here we see
evidence that Am Yisroel lives, for only those who
cleave to Hashem are alive, and the only way of cleaving to
Hashem is by cleaving to the Torah: "And you who cleave to
Hashem your G-d, you are all alive today" (Devorim
What the world at large refers to as life is just a mirage,
a likeness of true life. There is no other life in existence
besides eternal life, as Chazal have said, "In their deaths,
tzaddikim are called `living,' while in their
lifetimes, reshoim are called `dead,' " for only
those who have a connection to `the Life giver of worlds,'
to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, have true life. This
connection is accomplished through His Torah. Here I stand,
ready to speak at a holy gathering of Jews who keep the coal
burning, who preserve the power that is hidden within Am
The Ultimate Hero
Rashi at the beginning of parshas Vayeishev brings
the parable of, "a flax dealer, whose camels went inside
laden with flax. The blacksmith wondered, `Where is there
room for all that flax?' One sharp witted fellow answered
him, `One spark can fly from your hammer, that will burn all
Chazal tell us that Yaakov saw all the alufim of
Eisov, who are listed at the end of the previous parshah,
Vayishlach, and he wondered, "Who can subdue all of
these?" The second posuk in Vayeishev
therefore tells us, "These are the offspring of Yaakov,
Yosef . . . " The posuk in Ovadyoh (1:18)
says, "And the house of Yaakov will be fire and the house of
Yosef, a flame and the house of Eisov, straw." A spark will
emanate from Yosef that will destroy and incinerate all of
the twelve alufim.
These words of Chazal's contain an important principle. The
word gibor, a hero, or man of might, does not just
signify a person who possesses strength. It signifies being
stronger than others, and overcoming them. Chazal tell us
that a hero who triumphs over a weak enemy, in a small war,
is not the same level of hero as the one who triumphs over a
strong foe in a major conflict. The greatest hero is one who
wins victory over the strongest and the worst enemy in the
The Chovos Halevovos' story of men returning from
battle, is well known. Someone said to them, "You have
returned from the small battle, prepare yourselves for the
big battle." You have returned from a war against an
external enemy, who fights with horses and chariots -- today
it is tanks, aircraft and a whole host of deadly weaponry --
but that foe pales beside the enemy that dwells inside the
heart of each and every person.
All other enemies are external and are easy for a person to
fight. The enemy inside a person's heart, his yetzer
hora, sometimes disguises himself as a friend, but is in
reality every person's very worst foe. A mortal enemy tries
to dispossess a person of his property or his land, or even
of his life, but of which life do we speak? Only the life of
this world, only a seventy-year lifespan. The yetzer
hora tries with all his strength and with tremendous
wisdom, to disposess a person of his eternal life. He is
cleverer than any general and shows a person two sides to
everything and while one is looking this way and that, one
comes within his power.
A hero is someone who manages to withstand the battle
against the yetzer, who is in his own heart, mingled
with his own blood and his own life, and to overcome it.
Such a person deserves the title, hero. "Who is a hero? One
who subdues his yetzer hora."
Chazal want to teach us that once a person has beaten that
fearsome and dreadful enemy in his own heart, all the other
natural powers in the world, become like flax. They have no
power over him. Someone who succeeds in leading his spirit
to victory over his material, physical being, receives power
over all the forces of nature.
Fire and Flame
We are taught the same lesson in parshas Vayeitzei,
where the three flocks crouched by the well, while a great
stone covered its opening. The stone's size and weight can
be guessed at from the fact that the three shepherds, who
were probably not weaklings, had to wait for all the other
shepherds to arrive before they could shift it. But Yaakov
came and moved the stone aside (Bereishis 29:10), on
which Rashi comments, " . . . to tell you that he was very
strong." One might think that Chazal only meant to point out
that Yaakov Ovinu possessed tremendous physical strength,
however, in the piyut which we say with the prayer
for rain, we see otherwise.
Referring to this act of Yaakov Ovinu's it says, "He unified
his heart and rolled away the stone." The power which he
used was not the physical might of muscle and brawn but that
of unity of heart. Yaakov understood that the significance
of his meeting with Rochel was nothing less than the laying
of the foundation for the future building of Klal
Yisroel. Unity of heart is the heart's realization of
the greatness of the occasion. That gave him the strength to
move the stone aside as though it were a bottle stopper.
This [bringing of both physical and spiritual powers into
alignment, rather than conflict] is the meaning of "unity of
heart." If a person merits bringing his heart under his
control, in other words, he gains victory over the yetzer
hora, then he gains mastery over all natural powers.
Once he has managed to make his spiritual attributes
dominant over his physical ones, he becomes a world
This is said about Yosef who, as a youth of seventeen,
withstood the test of being sold to Yishmo'elim by his
brothers and of being taken down to Egypt, undergoing all
that he did there, including imprisonment under a false
accusation. Chazal tell us (quoted by Rashi Shemos
1:5), that from beginning to end, Yosef remained
consistently righteous, both in his father's house and
during his years of degradation.
It was before such a person that the sea split. "The sea saw
and fled" (Tehillim 114:3), What did it see that it
fled? Chazal tell us that, "It saw Yosef's bier." It was to
Yosef, who had managed to withstand tests of poverty, of
desire and also of wealth, who had remained righteous
throughout and had emerged victorious over his
yetzer, that power over all natural phenomenon was
handed. The sea, an immutable natural body, fled before
someone who had gained mastery over the natural impulses
within himself, ruling through yiras Shomayim, over
all natural phenomena.
This is the meaning of Chazal's parable which we quoted
earlier. If the flax manages to get inside the shop, it will
fill it entirely, leaving over no room whatsoever. However,
the sharp witted observer -- it does not say that he was
pious, because it takes sharp wits to understand this --
realized that one spark from the blacksmith's hammer, could
burn it all. This is the spark of Yaakov and Yosef, who both
Yaakov withstood the test of living with Lovon while keeping
all the mitzvos, of remaining honest while living with a
swindler and of retaining his faith in every situation.
Yosef withstood the tests of the idolatry and the impurity
of Egypt and remained righteous, as the posuk tells
us, "And he saw the wagons that Yosef sent" (Bereishis
45:27). These wagons were a message to his father that
he had not forgotten the Torah they learned before his
When Yaakov saw that Yosef still remembered a sugyo
after so many years, that after being afflicted and
downtrodden he had not taken his mind off Torah, or away
from the way of life that he had seen in his father's house,
then he understood that, "My son Yosef is still alive" and
"the spirit of Yaakov revived."
The fellow with sharp wits says: "Why are you afraid of
Eisov's alufim? You have sparks of fire! True, from a
natural viewpoint the twelve alufim of Eisov have
colossal power. But why are you afraid of them? You possess
the fire of Yaakov, who withstood tests! You have the flame
of Yosef, who withstood tests!"
We need the same sharp wits to understand that with our
powers of fire and flame, we have nothing to fear from
Eisov's alufim, whose strength is material, like
flax. When pitted against the fire and flame of Yaakov and
Yosef, it burns like straw.
A Lesson for all Times
Rashi here is teaching us more than just a way to understand
Chumash. This principle has accompanied Am
Yisroel throughout its two thousand years of exile. When
the State was founded in Eretz Yisrael, the prevalent
feeling was that, "From today onwards, Am Yisroel
will be a nation like all others. The reason that we have
been slaughtered, have suffered and have endured all kinds
of troubles, is because we didn't have an army. We had no
fighters because we used to sit in the beis
hamedrash. Now though, we have a top notch army. Now,
the goyim will be afraid of us."
But what do we see? We see that nothing helps. We have a top
notch army, equipped with deadly weaponry and the most up-to-
date missiles, yet day after day, we live in fear of going
out into the streets. During the Arab riots in the years
before the State, people were afraid to travel on buses.
They thought that when there'd be a State, that fear
would disappear. Yet here we are today, afraid to travel on
the buses. Nothing helps us.
This is something we find in parshas Ha'azinu. The
Torah tells us that a time will come -- and I think that
that time has now arrived -- when we shall, "See now, that
I, I am He and that there is no god with Me. I kill and
bring to life. I have crushed and I shall heal, and there is
no savior from My hand" (Devorim 32:39).
There have been times when it was possible to be misled into
thinking that Am Yisroel were good-for-nothing. Jews
went from the ghettos to be slaughtered like sheep.
We though, have an army. We are all witnesses today,
that ten years ago, despite our army and all our aircraft,
Scud missiles kept on falling and we fought them with
plastic. So much for our much vaunted army! Plastic bags
against Scud missiles! What was Hakodosh Boruch Hu
showing us? One missile that fell, killed many tens
of American soldiers. Here, tens of missiles fell yet no
one, boruch Hashem, was killed. The ones who died
were those who looked for ways to escape the Scuds. Those
who sat and did nothing weren't harmed in the slightest. Not
one person was killed. Rabbosai, let's open our eyes
to what happened -- not one person was killed! Is this not a
fulfillment of, "See now, that I, I am He.."?
And it is the same today. On one hand, there is pain over
the loss of every Jew that is killed. Yet on the other,
rounds of ammunition are being shot into the neighborhoods
of Yerushalayim every night and boruch Hashem, no one
has been killed. Who protected those who were being shot
at? Planes? Tanks? Certainly not.
Who protected them? "See now, that I, I am He. I will kill
and bring to life, I have crushed and I will heal . . . "
The six million who were slaughtered, were not victims of
the Germans. What happened was that "I have crushed .
. . " An army and tanks wouldn't have helped. Who saved
Eretz Yisroel from Hitler's troops? When the Germans were
stationed in the desert, all the leaders of the [Zionist]
yishuv wanted to gather on Mount Carmel and fight
down to the last bullet. Who stopped Rommel's forces? The
Jews of Yerushalayim gathered in the Churvah of Rabbi
Yehudah Hechosid in prayer and supplication to Hashem.
Suddenly, the German retreated, and nobody understood why
they did it.
Our True Defenders
Where are our fire and our flame? They are those groups of
Jews who, after a tiring day's work, set aside time for
Torah. Not once [in a while] but every single day. They have
families, children who ask, "But where is Abba? He's already
finished work." The children are told, "He's in the beis
hamedrash, learning a sugya in Kesuvos, or
Throughout the ages, it has been a difficult trial to
maintain such a program. It is even more so today, when the
winds of heresy, of the philosophy of "my strength and the
might of my hand," that are diametrically opposed to Torah
and yiras Shomayim, blow upon us from every corner.
Yet Abba [still] goes to the beis hamedrash,
leaving the vanities of the world behind, and he sits down
to learn a daf of gemora.
I see heroes before my eyes, each with his own [individual]
set of trials, of wealth, of poverty and of all the other
kinds of problems that beset every person in the world. Yet
each sets all his problems aside, in order to make a fixed
time for Torah study, to affirm the idea that Am
Yisroel is a nation only through its Torah.
There have been times when people thought that Am
Yisroel had undergone a transformation. There were those
who had the insight even then to see things differently, but
today everyone can see it: "See now, that I, I am He . . .
"! There is nothing that can save us. None of our efforts or
intrigues will help, just those pages of gemora.
Before me sit people whose every daf is a missile,
whose every Tosafos is a tank. This is the power with
which we can smash Eisov's alufim. We need not fear
any power in the world, as long as we have such Jews.
The truth is that not everyone is subjected to the trial of
having to grapple with one's environment on a daily basis,
with seeing the streets, with seeing the world, with seeing
the alufim, who are capable of steering a person onto
a different path. If a person can utilize this power to
withstand it all and to say "No" to all the enticements that
wink to him from every street corner, then he says no to all
the needs that can sometimes come at the expense of his
At this point, we must not forget to mention beis
Yaakov. Although the principle sacrifice is that made by
the man who leaves the world behind and sits down in the
beis hamedrash to learn, we mustn't forget the wife
who waits at home. She too, has had a hard day caring for
her family and she awaits her husband's return home. Yet she
wholeheartedly agrees that her husband should "steal" some
of her time in order to devote himself to learning Torah.
The posuk tells us that, "Every woman with wisdom of
the heart spun the goats' wool with her hands" (Shemos
35:25 -- in connection with the construction of the
Mishkan). Goat's wool that is spun while on the goat has
a certain special beauty. It is a special skill that
requires that, "wisdom of the heart," that [same] "unity of
heart" that rolled away the stone. [This wisdom is possessed
by] someone who recognizes Torah's worth, who realizes the
implications of having a home where there is a fixed time
for learning the daf yomi every day. Such a home is a
different type of home. Those who live in there are a
different level of Jew. A woman who possesses this wisdom is
"wise of heart." Hakodosh Boruch Hu gives her
superhuman energy to bear the burden of caring for her home
Joy, Pain and Hope
Whenever I stand in front of you, men of truth, men of faith
and of Torah, who realize what lies before them, who
recognize Torah's value and who are prepared to make
sacrifices in order to learn Torah, I experience a holy
rejoicing. Here is "Am Yisroel chai!" This is our
vitality. Salvation and rescue from all our enemies will
come forth from you!
It still pains our hearts though, to see how Am
Yisroel's streets look. Anyone who thinks about it a
little, is upset and distressed. For two thousand years in
exile, Jews lived all over the world, among brazen
goyim, among cruel and bloodthirsty Arabs, yet the
Jews kept the coals burning. They clung to their Torah and
their faith despite all the trials and the decrees. Jews
came from Yemen and from Morocco, from Poland and from
Russia, all with the same sefer Torah, with the same
gemora and the same mishnayos. Yet here in
Eretz Yisroel, where we have seen how Hakodosh Boruch
Hu fulfills His word, "If your exiled ones will be at
the edge of the heaven, He will gather you from there"
(Devorim 30:4), it pains us to see what is now
happening to Am Yisroel, after we looked after the
Torah with all our might for two thousand years.
What gives us a little comfort and encouragement is seeing
you, dear Jews, who learn daf yomi, one
masechteh after another, ever onward. This is Am
Yisroel's life force. This is the "beginning of the
redemption." This is the start of that great day when, "All
your sons shall be disciples of Hashem and there will be
much peace for your sons" (Yeshayah 54:13).
Our thanks are extended to all those who take part in the
shiurim, to all the rabbonim who sacrifice themselves
to keep this great endeavor of Torah and yiras
Shomayim running. They are the ones who are supporting
Am Yisroel and protecting the entire city. We live by
virtue of those precious Jews who set their time aside for
Torah and for serving Hashem, whom the posuk says
are, "cleaving to Hashem your G-d, you are all alive
This is our blessing and our prayer to all of you, and to
ourselves as well: that we soon merit seeing the fulfillment
of the prophecy, when Hashem leads back the captives among
His people, the captivity of Yerushalayim and of the Torah
and that we soon merit seeing the building of the Beis
Hamikdosh, the ingathering of the exiles and that great
day about which the posuk says, "and the land will be
filled with the knowledge of G-d, like water covering the
sea" (Yeshayah 11:90.
This shmuess was delivered by HaRav Aviezer Piltz,
rosh yeshivas Tifrach, at a special gathering held to mark
the visit of HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman to Be'er Sheva,