2nd of Adar, 5778 | February 17, 2018
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik
Rabbi Paysach Krohn Ascending the Mountain
It was just last year on my birthday, Tu B’shvat, that someone told me something which left me so inspired and invigorated. “You should know that the day you were born years ago was the day that G-d decided the world could no longer exist without you.” I have personally found this message so touching and empowering. The same is true of each and every one of us. When you were born, it was because G-d decided that the world needs you. I don’t have to be like you and you don’t have to be like me, and both of us don’t need to be like him or her. But each of us was put into this world because we specifically are needed.
What then is important in our lives? If we would like to develop into that person we were created to become who has their priorities straight and understands what life is about, what would that look like?
Mitch and Steve Barnett, two friends of mine, who are today known as Michoel and Simcha, came a long way. Having grown up irreligious, their dedication towards growing in Judaism and becoming more and more identified as Torah Jews is a sure sense of inspiration. Besides being identical twins, their interests and hobbies are almost identical too. On one occasion, Simcha shared an incident with me that left him with a profound message.
For one, he and his brother love bike riding. They have joined various bike clubs over the years and traveled to numerous places. On one occasion, they decided to take a trip to New Zealand. After traversing through the North Island and taking a ferry, they arrived at the South Island and began biking up the mountainous terrains there. As it turned out, the first mountain they encountered was extremely steep and difficult to ride up. All the bikers struggled to pedal and maneuver their way around, and they didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.
Finally, though, one of the bikers stopped and dismounted his bike. Removing his backpack, he took out a heavy book and threw it down. He then took out a crowbar along with some other tools, and also dropped them to the ground. With his load now lightened, he got back on his bike and started peddling back up the mountain, which he did with much greater ease. The rest of the riders quickly noticed what this one biker did. Without thinking twice, everyone else followed suit and also began emptying heavy or unnecessary items from their backpack and lessening their load.
“Rabbi,” Simcha said, “after I became religious, I realized something phenomenal. This bike ride represented my journey in becoming a Torah observant Jew.” Unsure what he meant by this statement, I asked him to please explain. “I realized that if I wanted to climb to the top of the spiritual mountain, there was a lot of baggage I needed to get rid of. There were many things which I needed to change, readjust and give up for the sake of achieving my journey in becoming the person I wished to become.”
I was taken aback to hear such profound words. But I was even more shocked when my son, Avraham, returned home an hour later. “Did you hear what Simcha said?” I asked him. “It’s a Pasuk!” he said. “What do you mean?” I asked in confusion. “The idea which Simcha shared with you comes from a Pasuk in Tehillim! Dovid Hamelech says, “Who is the one who will the ascend the mountain of G-d, and who will stand in the holy place? The one who has clean hands” (Tehillim 24:3). It is the one who is not carrying a heavy, burdensome load who will be able to make it to the top of the mountain. That is exactly what Simcha was referring to.
Shortly thereafter, I located on my bookshelf a book of mine called Mikdash Me’et, a commentary on Tehillim. I wanted to see if the author had anything to say in relation to this verse. Sure enough, he cites the Olelos Ephraim, a commentary authored by the Kli Yakar, who interprets this phrase beautifully. Dovid Hamelech wishes to teach us that if we wish to ascend to the top of the mountain in spirituality and Torah, we cannot carry a heavy burden. What does this heavy burden consist of? In Hebrew, the word for load or burden is maasah (comprised of the letters mem, sin, aleph). The word maasah is an acronym for mammon (money), s’malos (clothing), ochel (food). If all a person pursues in life is making money, dressing in the fanciest clothing and eating only the best and most delectable foods, it is will be very difficult to make it up the mountain.
We all certainly need money, clothes and food, but that is not meant to be the priority of our lives. If it becomes our focus, it weighs us down and makes it that much harder to continually grow spiritually and wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of Torah and mitzvos. We are all here in this world for a purpose and are meant to direct our efforts and energy in attaining that end. What will propel us forward is focusing our vision on what will bring us closer and ease the process and ensuring that we remove any extra luggage which holds us down and pulls us back.
But there is more to the picture.
One of the greatest things we can do in life is learn to live not only for ourselves, but for others. Rav Chaim Volozhiner, in fact, told his son that the few most important words to always live by are, “A person was not created to merely help himself, but to help others.” Hashem puts us into this world to develop certain talents with which to serve Him and inspire others. With our capabilities, we are to ask ourselves, “What can I do to contribute to the world?” We can choose to lead self-centered lives wherein we overly focus and indulge in the luxuries of money, clothes and food, or we can turn our attention towards loftier and more important matters. We most certainly require these needs in life, but we can never let them overtake and consume our days, weeks and years.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis a”h, who survived as a child during the war years, rebuilt herself, her family and so many others to become dedicated and committed Jews despite all odds. Founding the Hineni organization, she successfully brought countless Jews back to their roots. I had the unique opportunity of speaking to her several times throughout the last years of her life, during which she told me something I will never forget.
“For years after my husband passed away, it was difficult for me to open his books and look at them. Every time, I would inevitably see his handwritten notes on the side and cry. His handwriting was something which touched me and was so special. One night, my daughter opened one of his books and found a note inside. When I read it, it touched me profoundly. As I wrote in my own book Life is a Test, I felt that this note was meant for me to read. He wrote, ‘A long life is not good enough, but a good life is long enough.’ Those words will always remain with me.” Such powerful and penetrating words need no elaborate commentary. Use your days to grow spiritually yourself, help others grow, and together, everyone will ascend the mountain.
On one of my touring trips to Poland, I led a group to the cemetery of the second Gerrer Rebbe, the Sfas Emes. Passing away in 1905, the Sfas Emes only lived to be fifty-eight years old. When he passed away, one of his sons turned to the other and said, “Well, at least our father had arichus yamim (length of days).” “What do you mean?” the other brother replied. “He only lived to be fifty-eight!” “I didn’t say he had arichus shanim (length of years); I said he had arichus yamim (length of days).” No one can guarantee longevity for no one knows what tomorrow will bring. But every one of us can guarantee arichus yamim. We all can make each day meaningful and use it to accomplish so much.
That is the motto by which Rabbi and Rebbetzin Jungreis lived and so must we. A good life, full of accomplished days is a real life.
What can we realistically do on a daily basis to live with this attitude?
The Chofetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed, ch. 12) writes that not a day should go by without a person performing an act of kindness. Practically speaking, keep a notebook where you can write down what act of kindness you did each day. In a short time, that notebook will become of your most treasured possessions. It need not be something of major consequence; just something small, where you think of another and extend yourself for them.
Let me share with you a couple of examples.
Rita Slamowitz related to me how she once went to pay a shiva call to a woman in her nineties living in New York whose husband had passed away. Unfortunately, this elderly couple never had any children, and here was this woman mourning for her husband all alone. One afternoon, Mrs. Slamowitz told me, a young couple walked into this ninety-year-old woman’s home to comfort her over the loss of her beloved husband. Nobody knew who they were. They took a seat and sat quietly, until amid the woman talking, they began asking her some questions about her late husband.
At one point, the woman turned to the young couple and said, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but did you know my husband? I don’t recognize you.” The couple smiled and said, “No, we did not.” “So what are you doing here?” she asked. “Well, we receive the Hamodia newspaper, and every week the organization Mis’askim, which helps attend to people who have passed away, lists all the people in various communities who are sitting shiva. If we notice that someone is sitting shiva alone, without any children or relatives, we go and pay them a visit.”
Just imagine. Here is a couple who is completely unaware of these individuals and families who have passed away, yet they make an effort to travel there and comfort them. They realize that when a Jew is down and out, and they can do something to help and alleviate the situation, they will do so. That is what it means to live for others.
Let me give you another small example.
In the shul where I daven in Kew Gardens, New York, there is what is called the ‘Beis Midrash of Mordechai HaTzaddik’ every year on the day of Purim. Fathers, sons, uncles and grandparents all gather together an hour before Mincha in the afternoon to learn. Following Mincha, all the young children line up wearing their costumes in front of the rabbi and receive a small Purim gift of gelt (money). It is something all the children look forward to.
A friend of mine, Nigel Collins, lives in Manchester, England. He is a wonderful fellow who is a great photographer. One year, he was visiting me for Purim and he decided, all by himself, to take a picture of each child as they stood next to the rabbi and received their special Purim gift. No one asked him to do so.
The amazing part was that within a few hours, he had gotten every picture developed and had it distributed to every family in the neighborhood. Each family received a picture of their child smiling in their costume next to the rabbi. Nigel was in no way obligated to do this, but out of the goodness of his heart, he brought much joy to many children and their families.
That is what it means to think outside of yourself and lead a life where your priorities are in order. It is a mindset which places others at the height of importance and constantly thinks of what can be done to bring oneself and others to a higher point on the mountaintop. And then, sooner than later, we will all find ourselves together at the peak of the mountain, with our hands free of heavy and burdensome loads, and instead full of eternal spiritual reward.
Rabbi Yoel Gold In A Heartbeat
It was 3:30 am and Rabbi Mordechai Solten awoke with chest pains. He wasn’t sure if he was experiencing some indigestion problems or something more serious. Just to be on the safe side, though, he woke up his wife who called Hatzolah. Within seconds, the Hatzolah volunteers were at the door.
“We pulled up to the house within thirty seconds of being called,” the Hatzolah members reported, “and met the gentlemen at the front door. We could see that he was in distress and uncomfortable.” Hatzolah had brought along with them a special high-tech machine called a Lifepak 12, a defibrillator, pacing device which runs tests on the heart. The Hatzolah members figured that they would hook him up to the cardiac monitor as they were right there and it wouldn’t hurt to double check if anything was going on.
Rabbi Solten immediately said that he was not feeling well. Within seconds, his eyes rolled back and he began to have a seizure.
The Hatzolah members looked at the cardiac monitor and noticed that he was in cardiac arrest. He had just died in front of them.
“We shocked him to jumpstart his heart and bring him back to life,” the Hatzolah members said. Within thirty seconds, he was speaking with us again, knew where he was, knew his name and wanted to know what had happened. “I feel tremendous gratitude to Hatzolah,” Rabbi Solten said. “My wife’s gratitude, my children’s gratitude and my entire family’s gratitude doesn’t end.”
Hatzolah vehicles are generally equipped with defibrillators, but never with a Lifepak 12. Why then did the Hatzolah volunteers have this machine? And why were there paramedics there? Moreover, why was Hatzolah seconds away from the house at 3:30 in the morning?
Here is the amazing story.
“I received a phone call on Tisha B’av from a relative of mine up in the Catskills mountains,” one Hatzolah member said, “and they told me that their son hadn’t been feeling well for a few days. They called Hatzolah, as the boy felt very weak. As was discovered, his heart rate was very slow and the Hatzolah team felt that it would be best to bring him to the local hospital. His parents were insistent on calling their son’s pediatrician, who felt that it would be best if the boy were brought to the children’s hospital in Philadelphia. We gathered a Lakewood Hatzolah crew together and began heading out to Philadelphia. Due to the nature of the boy’s symptoms, we decided to bring along some advanced life support equipment including a Lifepak 12. We met up with paramedics on our way and continued on to Philadelphia.”
By the time we reached Philadelphia and were done with the entire trip, it was four hours later during the wee hours of the morning. The crewmember who was driving was extremely exhausted and missed the first exit. The driver also missed the second exit, which would have gotten us to Lakewood a few minutes later, except that it was also missed. We ended up taking the next exit, in Freehold, New Jersey, which put us an extra fifteen minutes out of the way.
“As we pulled into Lakewood, we all looked at each other and noticed how we could barely keep our eyes open. It was then, as we drove down Countyline Road, that we received the call. It was a wife calling regarding her husband who was complaining about chest pains and was very nervous. We figured that instead of having other Hatzolah members get out of bed, we were just a couple of blocks away, and we might as well head over there and see what is going on.”
And so, as it turned out, a Lakewood Hatzolah vehicle and a team of paramedics with the exact equipment needed were on their way to Rabbi Solten’s doorstep at 3:30 in the morning even before he woke up. Every second counted to get them exactly where they needed to be at the right second. “The world stopped for me,” Rabbi Solten later recounted. “Everybody was there for me when I needed them to be.”
Many times in life we feel as if we are up against a brick wall. Whether it be difficulties finding a job or a shidduch, or the struggle of raising children, we must remind ourselves that long before we even know there is a problem, Hashem has already prepared the solution. All that Hashem wishes is for us to turn to Him, trust in Him and ultimately come closer to Him. Every day is another gift and every day is another reason to say thank you.
A Short Message From Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff
Rav Avigdor Miller’s grandson once observed how Rabbi Miller filled up a basin with water and plunged his head under the water for a certain number of seconds. He then lifted his head and took a deep breath of fresh air. “Zaidy,” the young boy asked, “what are you doing?” “On every breath I take I ought to thank Hashem. I just did this because I want to experience what it really means to appreciate the ability to breathe.” The small blessings of life are so ever great. Appreciate them, think about them and use them to spur you to make the most of every breath given to you.
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