5779 – Devarim – Chazon
A number of years ago, Rabbi Dr. Twerski shared the following story:
Like any normal human being, I have good days, and I have lousy days. One summer day I was standing in front of my home in Pittsburgh watering the lawn, and it turned out that it was a very lousy day. I was in a bad, bad mood. Then a car drove by and two men jumped out. It turned out they were former patients of mine who had graduated treatment (for alcoholism). So they jumped out of the car and ran over to me and shouted, “Hey. How yeh doin’ Doc?”
I said to them, “You know, under normal circumstances one would answer such a question politely with, ‘I’m fine!’ But I’ve made it my principle that I do not lie to people on the Recovery Program. I expect them to be honest with me, so I don’t lie to them. You asked me how I feel. Lousy. It’s a bad day.”
“Oh. Oh. Doc, you should come to an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting.” I said, “No thank you.”
8 PM that evening the doorbell rings and these 2 jokers are there. “We’re here to take you to a meeting Doc.”
I didn’t want to turn them down, so I went to the meeting with them. Still feeling very depressed.
In my mazal it happened to be a Gratitude meeting. At an AA Gratitude Meeting everyone gets up and says, “I’ve been sober for 6 years, and my life has been so much better etc. etc. And everything is so great.” So one person after another gets up to give his shpiel why he’s so happy how their lives turned out. This was not what I needed to hear.
Finally the last guy gets up and he says, “I’ve been sober for 4 years. And I wish I could tell you that they’ve been good. But my company downsized and I lost my job and I couldn’t find another one. I fell behind on my mortgage payments, so they foreclosed on my house. And my wife divorced me and she took the custody of the kids. And last week the finance company repossessed my car. But I can’t believe that G-d brought me all this way, only to walk out on me now.” And then I knew why I was at that meeting. That’s why I was here.
The next Shabbos as I was reciting Nishmas I read, You redeemed us from Egypt, O Lord our G-d, and You released us from the house of bondage; during famine You fed us, and You sustained us in plenty; from the sword You rescued us, from pestilence You saved us, and from sore and lasting diseases You delivered us. Until now Your tender mercies have helped us, and Your loving kindnesses have not left us: You will never forsake us, O Lord our G-d, forever.
I had been saying that prayer for over 55 years and I never heard that before. I never had understood what I was saying. You will never forsake us, O Lord our G-d, forever. G-d brought me all this way, He will not walk out on me now.
Believing in Geulah
Indeed, the Smak (Rav Yitzchak of Korbil) codifies this emotion on a national level as part of the very first Halacha – the mitzvah of emuna in Hashem:
מה שאמרו חכמים ששואלין לאדם לאחר מיתה בשעת דינו צפית לישועה והיכן כתיב מצוה זו. אלא ש”מ בזה תלוי שכשם שיש לנו להאמין שהוציאנו ממצרים דכתיב אנכי ה’ אלהיך אשר הוצאתיך וגו’. ועל כרחין מאחר שהוא דיבור הכי קאמר כשם שאני רוצה שתאמינו בי שאני הוצאתי אתכם כך אני רוצה שתאמינו בי שאני ה’ אלהיכם ואני עתיד לקבץ אתכם ולהושיעכם: וכן יושיענו ברחמיו שנית. כדכתיב (דברים ל׳:ג׳) ושב וקבצך מכל העמים וגומר
That which the sages taught as, that a person is asked after they pass from this world “Did you anticipate redemption?” Where does the Torah obligate one in such a commandment? It is part of the obligation to believe in Hashem who took us out of Egypt… Hashem is saying “In the same way that I took you out of Egypt, I want you to believe in me that I am your God, and I will eventually redeem you once again.”
Today is Tisha B’av. But it’s also Shabbos. It’s the day the Beis HaMikdash was burned, and we are eating meat, drinking wine, singing and celebrating. This Shabbos experience extends even until Shaloshudis, where the Shulchan Aruch quotes from the Gemara (שבת מא ע”א):
ומעלה על שולחנו אפילו כסעודת שלמה בשעתו
The table can be laden even as much as King Solomon in his time.
It’s strange to find hyperbole in the Shulchan Aruch, and as such, many have commented on the comparison between Shaloshudis today and the Kingdom of Shlomo.
The Chozeh of Lublin would explain that Chazal tell us that Shlomo was not always king. There were a few years of his life when he was deposed and wandered. By referencing that our pre Tisha-b’av meal is like that of Shlomo HaMelech, we are acknowledging that we, like Shlomo, are only temporarily in exile.
In essence, this Shabbos is a taste of what will be when Geulah comes, as the Navi (זכריה ח יט) explains:
כֹּֽה־אָמַ֞ר י״י֣ צְבָא֗וֹת צ֣וֹם הָרְבִיעִ֡י וְצ֣וֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי֩ וְצ֨וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜י וְצ֣וֹם הָעֲשִׂירִ֗י יִהְיֶ֤ה לְבֵית־יְהוּדָה֙ לְשָׂשׂ֣וֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָ֔ה וּֽלְמֹעֲדִ֖ים טוֹבִ֑ים וְהָאֱמֶ֥ת וְהַשָּׁל֖וֹם אֱהָֽבוּ׃
‘Thus saith the Lord of hosts. The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love ye truth and peace.
It Could Be…
There’s a real challenge, however, in believing this truth. Because even in as much as we believe that Hashem could bring Moshiach, and that when we turn on our phones after Shabbos, the world will be ablaze with the news that the Beis HaMikdash has descended from shamayim, we don’t believe that He will.
The problem with our Emunah is not that we don’t think Hashem can, or wants to. We simply don’t think that our generation is deserving. If we’re being honest, then truthfully we’re not and we all know why. It’s all because of the chilonim. Or the Chareidim. Or the Chassidim. Or the reform. Or the liberals. Or the conservatives. Or the self hating Jews. And of course, it’s because of the anti-semites. And the Palestinians. And the Knesset that doesn’t do the things that I think they should do.
But if we grow up a little. We realize and understand that it’s really because of us. Because we’re not the Jews that Hashem wants us to be. All the sifrei Mussar speak about it. And if we’re really being honest, we should acknowledge that Moshiach isn’t coming because of me, and my flaws and my inadequacies.
So of course Hashem won’t bring Moshiach. Because we just don’t deserve it. And so we don’t expect it, even though we wish for it. And we don’t anticipate it, as much as we sing Ani Maamin.
And this is the deepest the Yetzer Hara in the world. The one that says “I believe in Hashem with all my heart. I don’t believe in myself and my friends and my generation.”
It’s a Yetzer Hara that tells us that the world is irreparably broken and that there is no way of crawling out to redemption. It’s a voice that screams out “Maybe one day… but certainly not us, certainly not now!”
But the awful truth is that this Yezter Hara is ultimately just another version of lack of faith in Hashem. It convinces us to stop dreaming, learning, growing and believing. And we think it’s frumkeit, realism and humility.
When Hashem asks us “Did you anticipate redemption?” He’s not asking if we think He could do it. Hashem is asking if we live our lives believing that we can do it.
The Greatest Generation
The Chafetz Chaim would travel from village to village selling his seforim. He was once in Vilna where he noticed a man enter a restaurant and in a gruff, insolent voice demand a piece of roast duck and a glass of whiskey. When the waitress served him, he quickly grabbed the portion. Without reciting a berachah, he gulped down his food and washed it down with his glass of whiskey. No thank you, no berachah, no menshlichkeit – whatsoever. The Chafetz Chaim was shocked at this display of uncouth, beastly behavior.
The innkeeper, seeing the Chafetz Chaim’s shock, dissuaded him from saying anything to the man, claiming that he was a veteran of Czar Nikolai’s Army. He had been taken from his home as a child and conscripted to Siberia and other miserable outposts for forty years. It was no wonder that he acted like such an untamed animal. He had not been in a civilized environment for most of his life. He never saw a Jew, let alone a tzaddik, such as the Chafetz Chaim. “Please Rebbe,” the innkeeper begged, “ignore him. It is not befitting the Rebbe’s dignity to speak to him. He will only act with disrespect and impudence towards the Rebbe.”
“Do not worry about me,” the Chafetz Chaim smiled. “I know how to speak to such a Jew. Trust me, good will yet emerge from our encounter.”
The Chafetz Chaim approached the soldier, stuck out his hand and – in a friendly voice – said, “Shalom Aleichem, Is it true what I just heard about you: that as a young boy you were forcibly taken from your home and sent together with other youngsters to Siberia? You were raised among the gentiles, who many times had sought to estrange you from your religion. You never had the opportunity to study one word of Torah. You underwent many painful trials and tribulations. You were forced to eat non-kosher food. Indeed, you suffered the vicissitudes of Gehinom, Purgatory, on this world. Yet, you did not renege your religion. Despite all of your sufferings, you still remained a Jew. You are indeed fortunate. If I could only be worthy of your portion in Olam Habah, the World to Come. Your mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, for Judaism is unparalleled. To have suffered for almost forty years and to still identify with the religion of your ancestors is nothing short of incredible.”
The Chafetz Chaim finished speaking. He looked into the eyes of the soldier who was shedding bitter tears – tears that emanated from a pure heart. When he was notified who it was that was speaking to him, he grabbed hold of the saintly Chafetz Chaim and kissed him, as he wailed bitterly for forgiveness for a life that was empty of religion, ethics and morals.
The Chafetz Chaim turned to him and said, “Someone such as you, who has sustained so much and remained a Jew – if you would only accept upon yourself from here on to observe the Torah and mitzvos, your eternal reward would be boundless.”
Rav Kook writes:
שואלים במה זכה דורנו לגאולה. התשובה פשוטה היא, הוא זכה מפני שעסק במצוה היותר גדולה שבכל המצוות, במצווה השקולה ככל התורה כולה, מפני שהוא עסק בגאולת ישראל
People ask me, how will our generation merit Geulah? It’s simple, our generation busies themselves with the greatest mitzvah in the world. The Mitzvah of redeeming the Jewish people.
Hashem should help us, us unrefined, uncouth, lowly people, to believe in ourselves, that we can bring this Geulah. That just by being a Yid who still holds on, we can catapult ourselves to the world of redemption. We should turn on our phones this motzei Shabbos to book our flights to Yerushalayim.