This past week, on Monday, the 13th of Teves, my wife’s uncle, Meir Singer, passed away in Eretz Yisrael. I had visited him almost exactly a year ago, on the 12th of Teves. The experience of my visiting him was quite delightful.
My wife and I went to Eretz Yisrael for a nine-day trip. That was our first time back there together in 15 years, since we lived there for our first six years of marriage. Visiting 90-year-old Uncle Meir was primary on our list, even though it meant dedicating almost an entire day, as he was living with his children in Yerucham, a two-hour drive south of Yerushalayim. While we had scheduled a particular day as a fun day with our daughters “jeeping” by the Dead Sea, torrential rains hit and the roads in the Dead Sea were closed with major flooding. Our fun day seemed to be rained out! But the roads to Yerucham were clear and free of flooding. Clearly, Hashem was sending us to Yerucham for a fun day with Uncle Meir instead! In fact, an hour into the drive the sun was shining, and the scenery was amazing. Yerucham was gorgeous that day! We sat and talked with Uncle Meir and it gave him such simcha. We had such a great time reconnecting and it turned out to be a truly fun day.
I also used my trip as an opportunity to speak with my rebbeim and great talmidei chachamim from the Mir Yeshiva. At this time last year there was a big rise in anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish people in the U.S. and around the world. I asked them what Hashem wants us to learn from these attacks. Once COVID-19 hit, we forgot all about it. But I think it is very telling to compare the messages I received, to the situation we have experienced once the pandemic struck us.
To gain easier access to the Mir Roshei Yeshiva, Rav Yitzchak Ezrachi and Rav Yisrael Glustein, I went to the yeshiva on Friday morning to daven Shacharis and approached them afterward. I asked the rebbeim, “What should I tell people who are afraid of anti-Semitic attacks?” Rav Ezrachi replied, “The Gemara tells us Torah study protects and saves. Our security lies in diligent and sincere Torah study. The commentators say that this protection is gained only through genuine, sincere and dedicated Torah study. ” Rav Glustein added, “I cannot minimize the reason for people’s worry and fright. It’s true, it’s scary! People thought they were secure and safe. But Hashem wants to show us that our sense of security is imagined. Hashem is the one in control. We need to place our reliance on Hashem.”
I also spoke with Rabbi Ahron Sklar, a rebbe of mine, who showed me an essay from Rav Elchonon Wasserman that discusses the intermingling of Jews and non-Jews and its possible negative effects. Rav Naftoli Tzvi Berlin also lists this behavior as something very harmful, based on a pasuk in Parshas Shemos: “The land was filled with them [the Jews].” This indicates the Jews had moved out of Goshen and were now intermingling with the Egyptians. The Midrash says the Jews were frequenting the Egyptian theaters and circuses. The result: “Vayakutzu”—the Egyptians became disgusted with the Jews. Rav Wasserman adds that non-Jews in general don’t want Jews hanging out in their places of entertainment. That’s their turf! If we don’t stay out willingly, they will ensure we remain out. The Egyptians felt the same way.
Rav Wasserman also outlines another sensitive area: being careful not to flaunt our prosperity in front of the other nations. The Kli Yakar speaks very strongly against building lavish homes and displaying wealth, as it arouses incredible jealousy among the nations. This lesson is taught by Yaakov during the famine. Yaakov’s family still had food, but he nevertheless instructed his sons to go to Egypt to purchase food so as not to make others in their area jealous. We need to maintain a low profile.
Hashem sent us some powerful lessons in the last year. All places of entertainment were closed. The closing of shuls and yeshivos forced us to reach inside ourselves and daven with more sincerity. The extra effort needed to learn Torah created an environment ensuring our Torah learning was genuine. Additionally, the closing of so many places forced us to keep a low profile. The harsh reality that everything was out of human control drove the central lesson home. We have no true security; we have no control. Everything is in the hands of Hashem.
Even our leisure time and “chance” encounters are designed by Hashem, from seeing our uncle to the great rabbeim I met with. The messages they shared are timely. Let us take these lessons and apply them close to our homes and close to our hearts.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate Rosh Yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.