Thursday, November 29, 2018



Rabbi Moshe Scheinerman[2] related:
When I was learning in the Ponovezh yeshiva in B’nei Brak, I once ate a Shabbos seudah at a fellow named Hershkowitz who lived on Rechov Chazon Ish. During that seudah he related the following personal anecdote:
“When I was a bochur, I learned in yeshiva Ohr Yisrael in Petach Tikva. One day during our lunch break, I went with a friend to visit the Chazon Ish[3] in B’nei Brak. Our mashgiach, Rav Yaakov Neiman zt’l, was very particular that we begin seder[4] on time. So, after our visit with the Chazon Ish, we were desperately looking for a “druske” (horse and buggy) to bring us back to Petach Tikva. After not seeing one anywhere, we noticed in the distance on top of a hill there was a lantern swinging back and forth. Every druskeh had a lantern on the front that swung freely, so we assumed it was a druskeh.
We ran to the top of the hill, but when we arrived we saw that it was actually the Ponovezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kaheneman zt’l, standing on top of the mountain, holding a lantern and looking around. When we saw that he was looking for something, we offered to help. The Rav replied that he was not looking for anything. Rather, he was looking at. We looked around but only saw stones. When we asked him what he was looking at, he replied “You don’t see the Bais Hamedrash over there that will house 650 students?[5] You don’t see the beautiful dining room which will allow the bochurim to eat well in yeshiva, and won’t have to embarrass themselves going into town to find meals?”
We were sure that the Rav who had gone through so much, and lost so much in the Holocaust had succumbed to his grief. We left feeling very sad for him.
A few years later, after the Ponovezher yeshiva was built in all its grandeur, I visited the yeshiva and approached the Ponovezher Rav. When I asked him if he remembered me from the top of the mountain, he looked at me excitedly, “You are that bochur? Of course I remember you!” Then he motioned for me to follow him. He began showing me the Bais Medrash, the dining room, the dorm rooms – each with a bed spread upon it[6]. After a few minutes I said, “Please stop! I don’t have money; I can’t give the Rav a check!”

His face turned pale. “Do you think this is a tour because I want your money? I remember you very well. I remember how you and your friend looked at me when I told you about the yeshiva when we were standing upon that mountain. You thought to yourself – how can an old man accomplish such feats? Indeed, it’s a good question, and I want you to realize that I could not and did not build this bastion of Torah. I want you to tell the next generation that if one puts his heart and soul into something, and yearns to accomplish for the honor of Hashem, Hashem will help him make it happen!”

As the story of Yosef began to unfold, as related in parshas Vayeshev, the situation looked abysmal at best. The Medrash[7] relates: “The tribes were busy with the sale of Yosef, Yosef was busy with sackcloth and fasting[8], Reuven was busy with sackcloth and fasting, and Yaakov was busy with sackcloth and fasting. Yehuda was busy trying to find a wife, and the Holy One, blessed is He was busy creating the light of Moshiach.”
This poignant Medrash contains the depth and beauty of the Jewish people’s unfaltering faith and hope. No matter how bleak a situation is a Jew always maintains a sense of sanguinity, because he knows that the darkness of today may very well be planting the seeds of tomorrow. The saga of Yosef seemed like the most hopeless situation. But G-d was majestically weaving and orchestrating the ultimate redemption.
The Kotzker Rebbe[9] notes that when Yehuda realized the catastrophic consequences of the advice he gave his brothers to sell Yosef, he felt he had as if he had forfeited his spiritual attainments. He felt like an abject failure who had done irreparable damage.
When a person reaches such a nadir, he is in grave danger of completely giving up. But Yehuda instead decided to begin anew. He searched for a wife and sought to fulfill the first mitzvah, to have children. His refusal to submit to his morbidity and his courage to begin again was so precious to G-d that Yehuda was chosen to be the ancestor of Moshiach.
The light of Moshiach is the light of hope that transcends despair. That light emanates from Yehuda who courageously embodied those characteristics. 
The Bais Yisroel of Ger[10] explains that the underlying message of parshas Vayeshev is that one must never allow himself to wallow in the morass of depression and hopelessness. Everyone encounters setbacks and challenges along the roads of life. One must always be able to strengthen himself to do his best to serve Hashem on whatever level he finds himself. Doing so will ensure that he continuously grow spiritually.
Rav Simcha Bunim of Pershischa[11] would comment that he constantly admiringly reflected upon the greatness of Yaakov Avinu for never losing an iota of his righteousness.  For twenty-two years when he was apart from Yosef and thought Yosef was dead, he deemed himself to be a failure in his mission to raise twelve righteous tribes. Because he was in a saddened state, throughout that time the Divine Presence did not rest upon him. Yet Yaakov maintained his devotion to Hashem, despite his inner brokenness and pain. That inner fortitude is incredible!

During World War Two, the Mirrer Yeshiva was the only yeshiva that was able to escape the Nazi inferno with the majority of its student body. Through the efforts of heroic individuals and incredible miracles, the yeshiva escaped east and was able to wait out the war in Shanghai, China.
In Shanghai the talmidim began receiving reports that their entire families and communities were wiped out in Europe, and they were the only survivors. It was a time of incredible anguish and pain.
In an effort to give the students some encouragement, the Mashgiach, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein zt’l,[12] delivered a schmooze:
Rav Chatzkel noted that the time prior to the Chanukah miracle was a period of tremendous pain and darkness. For 52 years the evil decrees of Antiochus were law, including that every bride had to submit to the general prior to her wedding, the most egregious breach of the holiness of the Jewish people. There was a sense of complete deflation, and that all was lost.
And yet, what became an incredible movement, began with the actions of one individual.  
"תסתכל - כיון שהיה בוער בו וכואב לו – כל הנס חנוכה מתחיל באחד. כשאחד מרגיש האחריות אין לו מגדלות!"
See how because it burned within them and pained them, what they were able to accomplish! The entire Chanukah miracle began with a lone individual. When one person feels a sense of responsibility, there are no boundaries to what he can accomplish.
Rav Chatzkel conveyed to the students that although they felt alone, and surely needed time to grieve their unimaginable losses, they shouldn’t lose sight of what they could accomplish. Each individual student had the ability to rebuild and accomplish incredible things.
That is the message of Chanukah! One individual can initiate a rebellion and overcome forces far greater and stronger than are humanly possible to beat.
The holiday of Chanukah is a celebration of hope in times of darkness and hopelessness. When the Chashmonaim set out for war they didn’t think they would be coming back. They knew they had no chance against the far superior well-trained Syrian-Greek armies. But they refused to succumb to the spiritual hopelessness of their situation, and were willing to die fighting for the honor of G-d.
The result was the great celebration of Chanukah, when darkness yielded to light.
Chanukah is a time of rededication of our selves. On Chanukah we remind ourselves that we can accomplish incredible things, if we feels a sense of mission and have the courage to pursue it.

“See how because it burned within them what they were able to accomplish!”
“And the Holy One, blessed is He, was busy creating the light of Moshiach”

 Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Vayishlach 5772
[2] Author of Ohel Moshe on Torah, and Rav in K’hal B’nei Hayeshivos in Brooklyn
[3] Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz zt’l (1878-1953)
[4] Learning sessions in yeshivos are referred to as ‘seder’
[5] At that time, in all of Eretz Yisroel there were only around 100 students – 40 in Chevron, 40 in Petach Tikva, and 20 in Eitz Chaim.
[6] Rebbitzin Kaheneman z’l was particular about that
[7] Bereishis Rabbah 85:1
[8] Over the pain of being separated from his father
[9] Ohel Torah
[10] בית ישראל תשי"ח - "וזאת הלמוד לכל אדם לכל הדורות אף שיש בעבודתו מניעות וממשש באפילה יתחזק לעבוד את השם באיזה מדריגה שהוא, ואח''כ יוכל לעלות"
[11] Quoted in Chidushei Harim al haTorah
[12] Recorded in Kuntrus ממזרח השמש


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