Starting Anew

“The Shevatim were occupied with the sale of Yosef, Yosef was occupied with his sackcloth and fasting, Reuven was occupied with his sackcloth and fasting, Yaakov was occupied with his sackcloth and fasting, Yehudah was occupied with the taking of a wife and Hakadosh Baruch Hu was occupied with creating the light of Moshiach.”

The following teaching attributed to the Rebbe Harav Bunim of Peschischa, zy”a, appears to shed some light on this Midrash:

Watching the pain his father was enduring over the disappearance of Yosef, and cognizant of his role in the sale, Yehudah felt that his cause was hopeless. Unable to bring Yosef back, he felt that it would be impossible for him to do teshuvah, to rectify the damage. Instead he decided to marry, hoping that through one of his children he would merit a tikkun.

When this teaching was repeated to the Kotzker Rebbe, zy”a, a close disciple of the Rebbe Harav Bunim, he firmly denied that his Rebbe ever said this. The Kotzker Rebbe insisted that it was unfathomable that a person of the stature of Yehudah would rely on an offspring to rectify his own error.

Rather, said the Kotzker Rebbe, what his Rebbe actually said was that Yehudah felt that with the sale of Yosef he had lost all that he had accomplished during his life until that point. Therefore he decided to start fresh, and began with the very first mitzvah in the Torah — the commandment of piryah v’rivyah (to multiply), to get married.

* * *

In Eretz Tzvi, the Kozhiglover Rav, Hy”d, wonders about the word Chanukah.”

Chinuch, usually meaning education, is a preparation for something to come, the process of training and molding children for what really matters: their future. Similarly, “chanukah” — as in Chanukas haMishkan — is usually an “inauguration,” a preparation for something of primary importance that is yet to come.

In contrast, the chag of Chanukah would seem to be an end in itself, rather than a means toward something else.

The Kozhiglover Rav, Hy”d, makes a bold and profound statement: Chanukah lights up the entire year with the power of hischadshus — renewal!

Regardless of where one has landed, regardless of what occurred in the past, a Yid always has the ability to start anew, to put the past behind him forever.

Among the main decrees the Greeks enacted in their efforts to tear the Jews of the time away from the Torah was a prohibition against celebrating Rosh Chodesh. For Rosh Chodesh heralds a new beginning. The moon wanes each month and finally disappears, only to appear again and then slowly grow larger and larger, casting ever-greater illumination. The Greeks were determined to take from us this power of hischadshus, so they banned Rosh Chodesh.

* * *

Most of us have a fear of failure. We often don’t even try to undertake things because we fear we may fail. When an effort goes awry and things don’t work out as we had wished, we feel burned and pull back rather than trying again.

In 1963, a thirty-three-year-old American Kollel yungerman living in Eretz Yisrael was determined to do something about assimilation and intermarriage in America. Horrified that the Jewish people were being decimated through ignorance and indifference, he started a kiruv organization named Echad.

It didn’t work out, and he returned to his Gemara. But devoted to his cause, he soon established a second organization. When he sensed that this one wasn’t accomplishing anything, he disbanded it — only to soon start a third organization, then a fourth, and a fifth.

In three years he founded five organizations. All of them failed. But he refused to give up.

In 1966 he opened a Yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael for secular Americans. He named it Mevaseret Yerushalayim, and managed to get the Israeli government to fund it. A year later he had seventy students — but then the government pulled the funding, and when the debts grew the yeshivah folded.

The yungerman traveled to America, where he took a job for a year to pay off his debts. His family stayed behind. When he returned he started another yeshivah, this time in Bnei Brak. It too grew nicely, but then for various reasons was forced to close. Undeterred, he started a third yeshivah, which also closed. He then established a fourth yeshivah together with a partner.

The yeshivah blossomed but the partnership didn’t work out, and the yungerman left the yeshivah.

After five failed organizations and four shuttered yeshivos one would have imagined that he would have finally raised his hands in surrender.

But he didn’t.

In 1974 he established a fifth yeshivah which he named Aish Hatorah. It started in a single apartment in the Old City of Yerushalayim. It has grown into a kiruv empire with 35 branches on five continents.

The lives of thousands of Jews were changed forever because, fortified by bitachon alone, Harav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, was undeterred by failure, and kept on trying anew.

May we all learn from his example.

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