A Matter of Influence

When Harav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, zt”l, still resided in Europe, one day, the mail arrived at the same time that a young shochet, a father of a large family, was visiting the Rav.

As Rav Yehoshua Leib read one of the letters, he informed the shochet that it was from a community in America that was bemoaning the fact that it had no shochet; this was causing great harm to their spiritual well-being.

Speaking aloud, Rav Yehoshua Leib exclaimed, “What should I answer them? Where should I get a shochet for them?”

The young shochet understood that the Rav was suggesting that he fill this void across the ocean. He did not even return home, but set off at once for the United States. When Rav Yehoshua Leib learned of the young shochet’s mysterious disappearance, he realized what had occurred, “Oy vey — I fear that he went to America!”

Rav Yehoshua Leib took the matter very much to heart, feeling that his carelessness in thinking aloud had caused this young shochet to go to a land that would put his Torah observance at risk. From that day on, Rav Yehoshua Leib would daven each day that this shochet should remain true to the Torah — even in America.

After a year went by, the shochet sent a letter to his wife and children, imploring them to join him. Enclosed were ship tickets.

His wife’s family was vehemently opposed to the idea and insisted that the husband should return to Europe instead. However, the shochet informed his wife that he had no intention of returning to Europe. If his wife would not agree to join him, they would have to get divorced.

The shochet’s wife turned to Rav Yehoshua Leib for advice. The Rav ruled that she had no choice but to travel with her children to America. From that day on, Rav Yehoshua Leib davened every single day for the wife and children as well.

Many years passed, and the shochet decided to move with his entire family — all of whom had stayed fully observant — to Eretz Yisrael. When they arrived, the shochet heard that Rav Yehoshua Leib too had moved to Eretz Yisrael, and had settled in the Batei Machse neighborhood of Yerushalayim. He made his way to the simple one-room apartment where the elderly Rav sat and studied Torah all day, behind a partition. When he arrived at the door, the Rebbetzin recognized him at once. She quickly made her way to the partition and knocked on it, exclaiming, “You are now patur (absolved) from your responsibility, Yehoshua Leib — they have arrived in Yerushalayim..”

***

Toward the end of this parashah, the Torah teaches us of the tragic story of a man whose mother was Jewish and father was Egyptian, who “went out” and engaged in a dispute with a member of Bnei Yisrael, and then proceeded to commit the terrible sin of blasphemy.

Rashi quotes a Chazal that explains this man “went out” from the beis din of Moshe Rabbeinu after having lost his case. The dispute started when the son of an Egyptian sought to erect his tent within the camp of shevet Dan. When the members of that shevet challenged his right to pitch his tent there, he asserted that since his mother came from this shevet, he was entitled to do so. They in turn quoted the passuk (Bamidbar 2:2) “Each man at his banner, by the signs, to their paternal house shall the Bnei Yisrael encamp,” and insisted that only paternal descendants of the shevet could reside in that area. The son of the Egyptain took his case to Moshe Rabbeinu’s beis din, but the beis din ruled against him.

Why indeed did the members of shevet Dan refuse to allow this fellow to reside among them? The Bnei Yisrael were still in the Midbar, and the area was halachically ownerless.

Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, explained that the dispute was not about space but about hashkafah.

The son of the Egyptain argued that the fact that he was the son of a Jewish mother, and therefore a member of the Jewish “nation,” sufficed for him to be included in shevet Dan even though, as far as beliefs and culture, he was affiliated with his Egyptian father. The members of the shevet rightfully feared that he would have a negative influence on them, and refused to allow him to reside among them.

If this was true of the dor deah, individuals who merited being in the generation of Moshe Rabbeinu, how much more so must later generations take every precaution to safeguard themselves against foreign influences.

***

In some situations, we can choose which neighborhoods to live, and whom to befriend. But in many circumstances, we are invariably exposed to negative influences. As Harav Yehoshua Leib Diskin taught us by example, in those situations, one primary and most effective hishtadlus is constant tefillah for Heavenly protection.