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19 Adar 5761 - March 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Our Fire, Our Flame And Our Future

by HaRav Aviezer Piltz

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 4:4).

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 Yisroel.

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 of it!'"

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 world.

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 ruler.

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 withstood tests.

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 abduction.

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 Nozir."

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 family.

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 and family.

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 today."

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, Kislev 5761.

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