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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Devorim/Shabbos Chazon 5777 "Our Generation"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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The Kedushas Tzion[1] related the following fabled story:

The Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) once appeared before the Heavenly Court and complained that he was unable to fulfill his mission. “How am I expected to convince people to listen to me when my name is “Evil”? Whenever I approach someone and try to seduce him to sin he counters that he will have no connection with an evil being. How can I do my bidding with such a bad reputation?”

The court hearkened to his complaint. “From hereon we will change your name. No longer will you be known as the “Evil Inclination”, but as the “Ba’al Davar”[2].”

Sometime later the Evil Inclination returned to the celestial courts dejected and disheartened. “My new title is not good enough,” he cried. “Now wherever I try to prey upon someone he argues, ‘lav ba’al devroim didi at[3]’.”

The heavenly court pondered the issue and then replied. “We have a new title for you. But this one is practically guaranteed to work. From now on you will be called ‘Hayntige Dor’ (Today’s Generation). When people try to resist your temptations, you will be able to convince them to sigh and think “Oiy hayntige dor! What can be expected from us already; we live in such a lowly generation!” You will be able to approach people and convince them that in such times we can no longer afford to be old-fashioned. They will think that they must be liberal and progressive in order to keep afloat with the times. With this new name you will be very successful in ensnaring many souls to iniquity and sin.”

The Kedushas Tzion concluded that, with this in mind, we can appreciate a novel understanding of the words of the prayer (Psalms 12:8), “Atah Hashem tishmirem, titzrenu min hador zu liolam – You, G-d, will guard them; You will preserve each one from this generation forever.” Dovid Hamelech was praying that G-d protect us from the detrimental feeling of “this generation”, i.e. the feeling that we cannot live up to the levels of our forbearers because we live in such a lowly generation.

There is a well-known thought attributed to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Barditchev. Although we refer to the holiday of Pesach by that name, the Torah refers to the holiday as “Chag hamatzos”. The Barditchiver explained that we refer to the holiday as Pesach[4] to recall the kindness G-d performed when he ‘skipped over our homes’ on the eve of the final plague, the slaying of the Egyptian firstborns. However the Torah refers to the holiday as “the Festival of Matzos” to recall our selfless dedication and faith in G-d when we marched forth from Egypt en masse into the barren desert, with no provisions for our families other than the matzoh which was baking on our shoulders in the intense desert heat.

Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l noted[5] that it is our responsibility to imitate the Ways of G-d. Just as G-d titled the holiday to reflect the merits of Klal Yisroel, so too must every Jew constantly seek and espouse the merits and greatness of the Jewish people.

The Tanna D’vei Eliyahu speaks glowingly about the intense pleasure G-d has, as it were, when we speak kindly of our fellow Jews.

Rabbi Pam notes that it is common to hear people, even people of stature, bemoaning the spiritual degeneration of our time. They bemoan the fact that our generation is lowly relative to previous generations. But it must be realized that G-d has no pleasure from such negative speech.

Rabbi Pam explained that he was not referring to one who is rebuking or admonishing others. In such a case it is surely fitting to explain to someone (in a genial and gentle fashion) what he has done wrong.

In fact, Chumash Devorim is chiefly Moshe’s rebuke in which he admonished Klal Yisroel prior to his death. Moshe did not mince words as he explicitly delineated their mishaps and errors throughout their forty year sojourns in the desert. “How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?[6]” But, at the same time, Moshe constantly conveyed to the nation their innumerable value and greatness, and that G-d values and loves them. His words also contained great encouragement and emotional support. “You shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d – He shall wage war for you.[7]” Such rebuke is vital for growth.

Rather, Rabbi Pam explains, he is referring to those who are standing together and ‘conversing about things’. While speaking they begin to discuss people and events that transpire and they mention the spiritual erosion of our time.

One who wants to find fault with Jews, “Iz duh vos tzu g’foonin- There is what to find.” However, when the purpose of one’s words is nothing more than to speak negatively, he is doing a great disservice to the entire world. Rabbi Pam states that, “Perhaps this malady is one of the causes for the delaying of Moshiach!”

It is analogous to a father who has a wayward son, G-d forbid, who causes him much heartache and grief. If a person approaches the father and tells him about some pranks or shenanigan that his son pulled, it will cause him much inner pain – even though the father is aware of his son’s rambunctious behavior. However, if a person would approach the father to tell him how his son helped him and acted nobly, the father would be extremely appreciative. In fact, that comment may very well give the father more pleasure than hearing something nice about another child who has a better reputation, because it is so rare.

In heaven, they await to hear words of defense and merit on behalf of Jews, especially by other Jews. It is not a matter of being blind to the truth of our faults, but a matter of focus and perspective. What does one choose to see? Unless one has the ability to correct and rectify evils that are committed, he should not speak negatively about other Jews, but should seek out their positive traits and focus upon them.

There are undoubtedly many challenges that the Torah world is confronted with, and many of those challenges are very serious. However, there is no dearth of merits that we possess either. The fact that the Torah world has rebuilt itself as it has after the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis is the greatest testament to our resiliency and eternal greatness. It all depends on what we focus on.

The Tur notes that Tisha B’av and Seder night (the first night of Pesach) always fall out on the same day of the week. Although, prima facie, it would seem that these two nights are polar opposites, in truth there is an underlying bond that connects them. Seder night represents the zenith of our greatness, while Tisha B’av symbolizes our nadir. But on Pesach we also recall the servitude and bitterness that preceded our ascent to greatness and redemption. The marror plays an integral role at the Seder and must be eaten before the festival meal.

Tisha B’av falls on the same day of the week as Pesach to remind us that the mourning and pain of Tisha B’av is temporary. Like Pesach, there will yet come a time when the pain of Tisha B’av will be reduced to a memory which precedes the festive meal which celebrates the coming of Moshiach. The only difference is that we are still eating the marror of Tisha B’av – which has been brutally bitter - and have not yet gotten to the festive meal.

But for us to finally enjoy that festive meal we need to believe, not only in G-d, but also in ourselves!

The Arizal noted that Pesach is a conjunction of the words, “peh sach – a soft mouth.” While we are shackled under Egyptian bondage not only were we physically and emotionally in exile, but our ‘speech’ was in exile as well. This not only refers to our ability to pray and cry out to G-d, but also our ability to see the good of our brethren and to speak about our merits as a nation/family.

We have to see the good of others and have optimism in ourselves! We must believe that we can be the catalysts for the coming of Moshiach, despite the fact that our generation has degenerated to a level far lower than our ancestors. Although that is indeed true, it is for that very reason the merits of our action are far more powerful and valuable.

In the words of the great scholar and pedagogue, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l[8]:

“Our problem is not that we don’t have the opportunities to grow. It is that we don’t have the proper will and desire to grow. In all circumstances, there are always excuses. The kids were sick. The boiler broke. I had to work overtime. I was so tired when I came home and I had to spend time with the family. We know the excuses and they’re all valid excuses. But they don’t really explain our failures.

“We fail because we despair of being successful. We fail because we do not believe that we have it within us to succeed. It is not the interposition of obstacles that prevents us from succeeding but our own lack of confidence and determination and sheer will.

“We fail because we are making a mistake. Because the truth is that we do have it within us to succeed. Because the truth is that each of us possesses the most incredible divinely-empowered instrument that can help us smash all obstacles and scale all peaks. It is called the human will. And when there is an honest will, we can transport a stone to Yerushalayim.”

The Shabbos prior to Tisha B’av is titled, “Shabbos Chazon – The Shabbos of vision”. The name is derived from the opening words of the haftorah which recount the bitter prophecy of Isaiah when he chastised the nation, exhorting them to repent from their iniquitous sins. But it also represents a vision of the future. It is a vision of hope and optimism of what can, and will, be. It is vision of a utopian world which allows us to see beyond out faults and foibles, so that we recognize the true greatness we and every Jew possesses. It is a vision which we pray every day that we will witness[9], “May our eyes envision Your return to Zion in compassion.”

If we are compelled to sit on the floor and mourn this Tisha B’av let us realize that although the night has been long and ominous the festive meal is right after the marror.

“You will preserve each one from this generation forever”

“You shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d – He shall wage war for you”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1] Bobover Rebbe, Harav Benzion Halberstam zt’l hy’d, yahrtzeit is 4 Av

[2] A Talmudic title for a litigant/person with whom to reckon

[3] A Talmudic expression which loosely translates into, ‘I have nothing to do with you.’

[4] literally ‘passed/skipped over’

[5] Haggadas Mareh Cohain, p. 136

[6] 1:12

[7] 3:22

[8]“Rabbi Freifeld Speaks”, by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Reinman, Artscroll, p. 25

[9] “V’sechezenah aynaynu” recited before Modim in Shmoneh Esrei

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