Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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21 Cheshvan 5762 - November 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Steadfast Faith Vs. Temptation

by Maran HaRav Elozor Menachem Man Shach, zt"l

The following is based on the address of HaRav Shach, zt"l, given at the opening session of the Ponovezh Yarchei Kallah in 5752 (1992). In those days HaRav Shach often used this opportunity to give a public speech to address various current issues. However, he never strayed far from the basic issues that were near and dear to him. This report includes the remarks he made that year on basic issues that are always relevant and important, including some allusions to the political situation then. It was several months after the election of the Rabin government, and HaRav Shach explained why he was against joining that government.

Sholom to you, to all the important rabbonim, all the honorable people assembled here, may they all be blessed.

As every year, I feel compelled to recall that this entire project that so displays kovod haTorah is all in the merit of the Ponevezher Rov, zt"l, and his son, ylct"a who continues with mesirus nefesh. Their tremendous zechus is indescribable.

I want to say some simple, basic things. I will not say anything new, but simple things that everyone can understand. Still each one must pay attention to them and not just pass over them superficially but must stop a minute and contemplate the things that I will say.

Customarily, I quote the posuk that the Ponevezher Rav, zt"l, used to cite: "Sakosa leroshi beyom neshek." King David requests of Hashem that he protect his head on the "yom neshek." Chazal, in the Yalkut Shimoni, explain the posuk in various ways. One of these is that it refers to the time in which two worlds come together ("kiss"). The olom hazeh, this world, is on its way out, and olom haboh, the world to come, is on the way in. I want to explain this.

The Basic Mitzva of Emunah

The mitzvah of emunah is the first in the Torah. It applies to man, woman, young and old -- all are obligated to fulfill this positive mitzvah, to believe that Hashem created the world. It is something simple that everyone can grasp and in practice, it is impossible to think otherwise.

A person goes to sleep at night. While he sleeps, he does not hear, he does not see, he is not aware that he breathes and generally, he does not know what is being done to him.

When he opens his eyes in the morning, he feels that he breathes, he sees the light, he hears voices. He gets up from his bed and he can walk, but he should stand and ask himself: "Who gave me all this? How is it that I can see, hear, stand, walk?"

Does anyone imagine that he got such gifts by chance (from hefker)? Does anyone think that these things were just cast into the street by themselves, without a guiding hand? It is clear to anyone with a brain in his head that we are not dealing with chaos. Every intelligent observer must ask himself: "From whence do I have all this?"

Then he must reach the obvious conclusion that Someone gave him all this. Is that so hard to understand? Only a person totally without critical judgment can fail to reach such a conclusion. An intelligent person must consider: I breathe, why do I breathe? Who gave me the air to breathe? I see, who gave me the sun? Who gave me permission to enjoy its light?

Whosoever does not ask himself these questions, whoever takes these pleasures without giving any compensation, is a thief and a crook. Whoever is no thief or crook must know that for every pleasure that he receives, he must pay compensation. If he sees the many gifts he receives throughout his life, he must consider: Who gives him all this? Who is the owner of all this, who gives him these gifts, and what must he pay in return?

At the age of three, Avrohom Ovinu already recognized his Creator. His father sold idols but the young lad of three thought about it all. He saw the world, and understood that there is a Creator. Chazal said (Midrash Rabba, Lech Lecho):

"R' Yitzchok said: It is like someone who was going from place to place, and he saw a lit-up building. He said, `Can this building be without an operator?'

"The owner looked at him and said, `I am the owner of this building.'

"In the same way, Avrohom Ovinu used to say, `Can this world be without a Supervisor?'

"HaKadosh Boruch Hu looked at him and said, `I am the Owner of the world.' "

When he was only a small boy, Avrohom Ovinu looked around. He saw an orderly world, with a sun, moon and stars. A world that has air, water, bread, a world with all manner of good things. Avrohom Ovinu asked himself, "Where is the owner of the world? Can there be even a building, a palace without an owner?"

From this great question, Avrohom Ovinu realized that there is a Creator of the world.

Everyone who looks at the world, at the wonderful order that prevails, must perforce be bothered by the question: Who made it all? As the question becomes stronger and stronger, it becomes more and more clear that there is an Owner of the whole world. It is impossible that there be a building without an owner.

It was about this that our rabbis said, "The Owner looked at him," that from the force of the powerful question that rose inside him it became clear that there must be an Owner to the building. It is impossible otherwise. If a person does not see Him it is because He is so great and elevated that not everyone is able to see him. Man is so small that he cannot understand or see the Owner of the building.

Contemplation of the world leads to the unequivocal conclusion that it is impossible that the world be without a Leader. This is the mitzvah of emunah and it is, in fact, the simplest line of reasoning in the world. There is no more rational thought than emunah.

It is simply impossible otherwise. We see tens of thousands of living creatures: were they all made by themselves? It is enough to consider a small creature, like an ant. Did it make itself? Isn't it clear that Someone made the ant?

It is something that every small child can understand. Every child who sees a table realizes that a skilled person made it. Every child who sees a house realizes that the house did not make itself, but that someone must have built it. Is there anything more rational than this?

Even though basic emunah is simple, there are many levels. It also involves great wisdom, with tremendous depth. Even the holy forefathers did not reach the ultimate depths, and of Moshe Rabbenu it even says, "Because you did not have emunah in Me to sanctify Me before the Children of Israel." This origin of emunah is rational and simple, but its subsequent and ultimate aspects reach the heights of Heaven.

. . .

Emunah must be deeply-rooted in everyone, so that even the most difficult test will not budge him from it in the slightest. Avrohom Ovinu, that great believer, stuck with his faith against the whole world. He was called "HaIvri." [Note: the word means "the Hebrew" but it is related to the Hebrew word for "opposite."] All the world was on one side, and Avrohom on the opposite side.

Then, when his only child was 37, he was ordered by HaKadosh Boruch Hu, "Take, please, your son, who is special and that you love, namely, Yitzchok . . . and bring him up as a sacrifice." HaKadosh Boruch Hu commands him to go and slaughter his son.

How many questions and contradictions he must have had when hearing this commandment! This deed was a complete contradiction to his whole way of life, to the philosophy that he advocated and to the light that he spread during the many years of his life. Avrohom Ovinu used to convert the men and Sorah used to convert the women. What did they teach them? They used to teach them to stay far away from idol worship, to do good for people, to invite guests and generally to do chesed. Even when it was difficult, when he was sick, he persisted in acts of kindness.

Now Avrohom Ovinu was to take his only son, born to him at the age of a hundred, and to go to slaughter him. Could there be a greater contradiction than that? Could there be something more foreign to everything he lived for and stood for? Surely Avrohom Ovinu knew that other people would think he had taken leave of his senses. It was clear to him that they would say, "All your life you have taught people to be kind to others, to be good to people, and now you are going to slaughter your son!"

Chazal (Midrash Rabba Parshas Vayeiro) say that Avrohom Ovinu did encounter such questions. "Samael came to Avrohom Ovinu and said to him,`Old man, old man, have you lost your heart? A son was given to you at the age of a hundred, and you are going to slaughter him?'

"He (Avrohom Ovinu) answered, `Yes, I am going despite that.'

"He said to him, `And if you are tested an even greater test, can you withstand it?'

"He answered, `And even more than this.'

"He said to him, `Tomorrow I will say to you, "You are a killer. You killed your son." '

"He answered, `Despite that.'

"Samael asked Avrohom Ovinu, `Is it permissible to spill blood?' You have a "heter" of pikuach nefesh that overrides a commandment of Hashem. Maybe even tomorrow you will be held accountable for killing."

But Avrohom Ovinu understood correctly that this was all the advice of the yetzer hora. It was clear to him that if HaKadosh Boruch Hu commanded, then he must fulfill the command of Hashem without any questions. Without any lenient rulings. If HaKadosh Boruch Hu commands, then the command must be carried out without questions, without sophistry, and without succumbing to the seduction of the yetzer hora. One who has strong emunah knows clearly that he must heed the command of Hashem, and whatever HaKadosh Boruch Hu says to do, he must do, even if he does not understand it.

You should know that in our day we also have such tests. There is a din Torah and we must follow that din even if it contradicts common sense. We have our way and our approach and we must follow it without turning to the right or the left. They say that we can save something, if we turn just a little; that if we approach the reshoim we can save a lot. They say to us: If you compromise just a little, you can, as it were, benefit from it in many ways. But you should know that it is an enticement of the yetzer hora! It is a bribe offered us to get us to become close to the reshoim, and thereby, cholila, we would come to hold like them.

Avrohom Ovinu understood that, when it comes to the tzivuy Hashem, then the din can even cleave a mountain and one may not budge from it in the slightest, even if it seems that there is a "heter." HaKadosh Boruch Hu, as it were, also knows the "heter" and he commands us nonetheless. If we have a question, HaKadosh Boruch Hu will eventually answer it.

Whoever is worried that we may lose because of this, he is mistaken. We should know that we will lack nothing. We will get back everything that it appears that we would lose. If we stand strong on our position, then we will lack nothing.

Some fool themselves and think that if we give in a little and go close to them, we will get more. Oy va'avoi to such gains. We must be strong in our position and not give in on the slightest thing. When they see that we are faithful to our way, they will eventually be the ones to give in.

Any benefit that we get from them, any job, is only a bribe to entice us to come close to them. But it is forbidden to go close to reshoim, al pi din. What will we tell our children when they ask us how we could have associated with such reshoim, whose only goal is to uproot our religion? Indeed, if they could, they certainly would uproot it all. If we give them the power, if, cholila, we give them a hechsher, who knows what they will do to us in the future.

It is osur to give in to any enticements! We must not give up any ground! Avrohom Ovinu also did not give in to the enticements of the yetzer hora and in the end he lost nothing! If anyone thinks that there is a difficulty, that this is a test for us, he is mistaken. If we stand up for our position we will lack nothing. In the end we will get everything. If not from them, then salvation will come to the Yehudim from another source.

You should know that we really need not worry about what everyone thinks. We are as distant from the world as East is from West. Need we worry about a world that is full of murder and killing? Look how the world goes about making a peace policy. Is that peace? They are making war! Peace agreements provide that each side will get more arms. Saudi Arabia gets billions worth of arms. The Jews get arms. What are all these arms for, if not for war. Should we rush to such a peace? Can such a peace bring us security?

Our only security is that we are Jews, and that is the secret of how we persist. The State does not guarantee our survival, nor the arms. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and the other Arab states have much more weaponry than we. And where there are weapons, there will be war, if not today then tomorrow or the day after.

In what is our security? The State has no importance. The important thing is that we are Jews and that we will remain Jews. We have suffered periods much more difficult than today, and we withstood them. Avrohom Ovinu rooted in us the trait and showed us how to stand up against the most difficult trial that he had in binding his son Yitzhak, despite all the wiles of the yetzer hora, without any compromise.

These are fundamental things, that every Jew must know. A Jew is dependent on nothing save the Torah! If we keep the Torah, then Am Yisroel will survive. Without Torah, we will cholila, not survive.

Even if there is a State and it survives for five years or ten years, can anyone be sure that it will continue to exist forever? We are already used to such situations: we have had a state and then gone into exile. That is not what guarantees our survival; only through our closeness to Torah have we survived and will we survive.

It is about this that Chazal say of the posuk Sakosa leroshi beyom neshek, that it refers to the time in which two worlds come together (kiss). When honest, chareidi Jews "kiss" olom hazeh, then olom hazeh is not, for them, far from olom haboh. And if it is not far, it is close! If they are not careful about the distance that separates olom hazeh from olom haboh, then one must pray that HaKadosh Boruch Hu protect us so that we will not be damaged by this, so that olom haboh will not be damaged from this. Whoever comes with an argument that by a link with reshoim we will get something, should know that everything that we get is insubstantial. Indeed we give up much more than we get. We are asked to give up our whole way of life, our whole philosophy, and we get back only a job here or there. So, at a time like this we should pray to HaKadosh Boruch Hu that He protect us and save us from this.

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