The Chasam Sofer’s Advice For a City Under Fire

With much of Eretz Yisrael within range of Hamas missiles, with men, women and children forced to live their lives within running distance of the nearest bomb shelter, many defensive strategies have emerged. Don’t go out. Don’t go far. Don’t let your children out of your sight. Head to the stairwell. Run to the basement. Duck under the table. Yet despite the omnipresent danger, the damage has thus far, baruch Hashem, been miraculously minimal.

That was also the situation in the summer of 5569 (1809), when French forces pounded the city of Pressburg with cannon fire. The large Jewish community, led by the Chasam Sofer, Hagaon Harav Moshe Sofer, zt”l, spent their days and nights living in fear for their lives, and yet, for the most part, they remained unharmed. For the most part, even their property escaped major damage.

On 9 Tammuz, the very same date on which the current war in Israel began, the Chasam Sofer emerged from his study, where he had confined himself, to deliver words of mussar to his community. Despite the dangers, the masses gathered in the Beis Knesses Hakedoshah V’hagedolah to hear the sage’s words. Later, recording the occasion in writing, the Chasam Sofer reported that his words brought many to tears of remorse and to sincere teshuvah, and that there was an outcry of “naaseh v’nishma” at the conclusion of his speech.

In his address, the Chasam Sofer quoted Chazal, who refer to three different aveiros as chitzim (arrows), concluding that these aveiros were therefore alluded to by the constant onslaught of cannon fire they were facing. The second of those aveiros was lashon hara, based on the passuk in Yirmiyah 9 that compares words of lashon hara to a chetz (arrow), which inflicts its damage by flying forth from it source to its target far away.

The Chasam Sofer posed a question: If Hashem, in His kindness, was protecting the Jews of the city from the impact of the cannon fire, why send the danger in the first place? He explained that Hashem intended the looming disaster to serve as a warning, as if to say, “Look, my children, it is I Who launches these missiles and it is I Who is protecting you from them. Return to Me with prayer and pre-empt the pain that could follow. If, G-d forbid, you remain stubborn in your ways, prepare yourselves for suffering that will be far more severe than that which you have seen to this point.”

In expounding on the severity of lashon hara, the Chasam Sofer quoted the Rambam who says that although a person may begin by “merely” speaking lashon hara about his friend, he will eventually become so accustomed to speaking negatively that he is bound to speak about Torah scholars, and then Chazal, and then perhaps nevi’ei Hashem and, eventually, even Hashem!

The ChasamSofer concluded his address to the frightened residents of Pressburg by urging them to stand strong against chitzim of aveiros such as lashon hara so that Hashem would, in turn, protect them against the chitzim — the cannon fire — that raged around them. “It will serve as a shield and protection,” he assured them. (Drashos Chasam Sofer, Chelek Beis, Drush L’Ches Tammuz)