A Time of War

asher arieli
Harav Asher Arieli, shlita.

Excerpts of a shmuess by Harav Asher Arieli, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Mirrer Yeshivah, Yerushalayim. Delivered at the behest of Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita.

With the permission of the Mara d’Asra, shlitaMoray V’rabbosay

It is very hard for me to speak at such a gathering. It is not my way to get up to speak before such a crowd on urgent issues. On the other hand, I have been appointed to carry out this mission by Maran Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, who said to me, “You are my representative in this matter.” So I have no choice. I asked him, “But it is supposed to take place in the middle of seder bein hazmanim?!” He answered me, “Even so, [you must speak.] I therefore ask Hakadosh Baruch Hu to put the right words into my mouth.

Man’s main purpose in this world is to keep mitzvos, serve Hashem and withstand trials.

Well known are the words of Mesillas Yesharim (ch. 1), that the main purpose of the creation of man is for the World to Come. That is the place of true bliss, where man will take pleasure with Hashem and derive benefit from the Glow of His Divine Presence. However, in order to reach that pleasure and goodness, one needs to pass through this world. Man must prepare himself with Torah and mitzvos and, by means of this preparation, he will merit true pleasure in the World to Come. However, not just by keeping the mitzvos [will he achieve this], but the more he toils in Torah and mitzvos, the more he will enjoy the fruits of his labors and gain more of this true pleasure.

Therefore Hakadosh Baruch Hu placed man in this world, a world that is full of trials — wealth on one hand and poverty on the other; tranquility on one hand and pain on the other. Every person has the task to go through the trials that Hakadosh Baruch Hu puts before him. There is no person in this world who does not have trials and tribulations, but if a person keeps strong, he will win the battle and pass the test. He will be the person who reaches perfection and he will merit true pleasure in the World to Come.

Nes l’hisnoses — The purpose of trials is to elevate us and bring us closer to Hashem.

It says in Tehillim (60:6): Nasata lirei’echa nes l’hisnosess — You have given those who fear You (nes) a banner to raise high.” Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 55:1) explain this to mean that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives those who revere Him a test (nisayon) by which to elevate themselves.

The trials that a person experiences in this world are to elevate him and raise his level of greatness. Every person is given trials so that he will withstand them and, if he passes the test, he becomes closer to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. He will then also merit to a greater degree: “Vaani, kirvas Elokim li tov” — “And as for me, the closeness of G-d is good for me” (Tehillim 73:28) — even in the World [to Come] that is entirely good.

This is true of every individual in his personal trials.

Through the trials the Jewish people experienced throughout the exile, they were reinforced.

“Golah v’surah — exiled and shunned” yet nevertheless “chavukah udevukah Bach — hugging and clinging to You”

This long exile that we are still enduring is actually made up of a number of exiles. Not only were we exiled from one country to another, but also the exile took on different forms: All the different persecutions that the nations decreed upon us, whether they were physical or financial, or greatest of all — the spiritual persecutions — the decrees of apostasy that we suffered throughout the generations.

The Jewish people withstood many great trials, the purpose of which was to purify us from our sins and to bring us closer to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The Jewish people withstood these trials like a fortified wall. Tens of thousands gave up their lives “al Kiddush Hashem” in different ways and in different situations.

For every individual, his trials are “a banner to elevate himself,” as Chazal explain in Mechilta, on the verse (Shemos 20:6): “L’ohavay ul’shomrei mitzvosay — to those who love Me and to those who keep My commandments.” This refers to the Jews who live in the Land of Israel and are willing to give up their lives to keep the mitzvos. [They say:] “I am being taken out to be killed because I circumcised my son; I am being taken out to be burned because I learned Torah. … These blows caused me to be beloved to my Father in Heaven.” So, too, is this true for the Jewish people as a whole. The trials of exile elevated them and brought them nearer to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

We generally consider that the Jewish people’s period of greatest glory was at the time when there was the Beis HaMikdash. However, to a certain extent, we may say that the periods of our exile showed an even greater glory, as is stated in Yalkut Shimoni, on the verse (Yeshayah 54:1): “Ki rabbim b’nei shomeimah mibnei v’ulah — for the sons of desolation are greater than the sons of the populous city” — Reb Levi said: “When [Yerushalayim] was standing it produced wicked people, but when it was destroyed it produced righteous people.

L’chah dodi, neitzei hasadeh — Come, my Beloved, let us go out to the fields” (Shir Hashirim 7:12). The Gemara (Eruvin 21a) comments on this verse: Knesses Yisrael says before Hakadosh Baruch Hu, “Let us go out to the fields — come, I will show You talmidei chachamim sitting and learning Torah in dire circumstances.”

Knesses Yisrael says to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, “Come, I will show You Your people, Yisrael, in exile in all types of difficult circumstances. With all the persecutions that came upon them in different forms, the Jewish people remained steadfast in its adherence to the Torah — sitting and learning Torah in dire circumstances — chavukah udevukah bach — hugging and clinging to You.”

During the period of Haskalah — a new dimension to our exile through trials that came from within.

About 200 years ago, a new development occurred in the trials and troubles of our exile. Until then, the troubles of our exile had come from without, from the nations of the world. Now, however, began a new kind of trial, a new depth to our exile, that the trials came from within. This period was known as the Haskalah period, and included all the different types and forms of diversion from authentic Judaism. It began with their denial of that which is written in the Torah: “Ki hi chachmas’chem uvinas’chem l’einei ha’amim — for it is your wisdom and intelligence in the eyes of the nations” (Devarim 4:6). And they sought foreign cultures and thought that the studies of these cultures would elevate them.

The Navi says: “The House of Yisrael is not like all the nations.” However, they left out the “not” and they tried to copy the other nations. At the beginning, they said that one can still remain an observant Jew, but in addition, one could add from the culture of the nations. However, this constituted a denial of the rule and supremacy of the Torah and, indeed, with time it led to a tremendous decline in observance of the mitzvos and adherence to the Torah among the Jewish people.

We are still witness to the effects of this part of our exile today, when we see all the millions of Jews who are far from traditional Judaism — a result of that terrible Heaven-sent decree that was placed upon the Jewish people.

‘A yeshivah bachur who withstands the trials of his generation is comparable to Harav Akiva Eiger in his generation.’

The trial of Haskalah was not a trial just for the layman and common folk. It was also a trial for bnei Torah. It was a trial to lure them away from the beis medrash to secular studies, and it indeed had a strong effect among them.

This effect was to such a degree that Hagaon Harav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zt”l, quoted in the name of Hagaon Harav Baruch Ber, zt”l, that during his time it could be said undoubtedly about a yeshivah bachur who stood firm and kept learning in yeshivah. And these were his words: “He is considered before Hakadosh Baruch Hu like Reb Akiva Eiger in his generation.”

These were the words of Rav Baruch Ber. We have no idea how great Reb Akiva Eiger was. What we do know, however, that if someone tried to tell Reb Baruch Ber an answer to one of Reb Akiva Eiger’s questions, his reaction was: “So what then was Reb Akiva Eiger asking?! You think you have given an answer? You’re really asking a question!” For Reb Baruch Ber, Reb Akiva Eiger was considered “Holy of Holies.” Indeed, we have absolutely no idea how great Reb Akiva Eiger was.

Yet Reb Baruch Ber stated that any yeshivah bachur in his generation who remained learning in yeshivah and was not enticed by the bait of the maskilim was considered in the eyes of Hakadosh Baruch Hu like Reb Akiva Eiger in his generation!

Every person is judged based on his own trials and his own situation. This was the situation of the trials of that generation, and anyone who managed to withstand those trials and remained “hugging and clinging to You” reached a tremendously high level of closeness to Hakadosh Baruch Hu and his greatness in Heaven is unimaginable.

In our times, the trial of “treife” devices is a further drop in the depths of our exile, to defile the holiness from within — remain “frum” but “treif.

What we are witness to in recent times is a new stage in our exile, a further drop in the depths of our exile, and no less than that which was at the time of Haskalah. What I am saying here is very exact and precise and what I am referring to is the new “decree” of the treife devices, without going into further details. This decree has not been imposed upon us from outside, but it is much deeper than that of the previous generation. There, the trial was to draw bnei Torah out of the beis medrash to seek foreign pastures. However, what we are seeing now in our present-day trial is that the yetzer hara says: “Stay in yeshivah, stay frum, but with my tumah!” That is what the sitra achra is saying.

We are not discussing a trial on an individual level and, as stated before, life is full of trials and tribulations — tranquility and pain; wealth and poverty. We are discussing an issue that is affecting the entire Jewish people, an issue that has penetrated even into the Torah world. And we are not talking about a few individual cases, or just about those on the fringe, but as I have heard from reliable sources, we are talking about numbers on a far larger scale. I cannot go into details, but the figures are mindboggling.

The present issue is trying to bring tumah into the beis medrash. We must fight against it and maintain the separation between kedushah and its antithesis.

There was a precedent to infiltration of the yetzer hara into the yeshivah system, in the 1800s. That was the attempt of the Czarist authorities to introduce secular studies into the curriculum of the Volozhiner Yeshiva. The then-Rosh Yeshivah, the Netziv, decided, together with the other leaders of his generation, that Torah must be preserved with its full kedushah and purity. And if that is not possible, we just have to return the “keys” to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The Netziv closed the yeshivah and, as we know, as a result of this he became ill and passed away.

Shortly before he passed away, he said to his son, “It is written: ‘Ulehavdil bein hakodesh uvein hachol — And to separate between the holy and the profane’ (Vayikra 10:10). This means that anything secular that is mixed in to holy [studies], not only will the secular studies not receive any kedushah thereby, but even the Torah studies will become tainted by the secular studies. Therefore, my son, do not feel bad that this issue has caused me to close the yeshivah and to leave this world, because for such a great thing it is worth giving up one’s life.”

The Netziv sacrificed his life by closing the Volozhiner Yeshiva, because it was an issue for which one should give up one’s life. But that sacrifice paid dividends and the Russian authorities rescinded their decree. Although the Volozhiner Yeshiva closed, many other yeshivos opened. In fact, all the yeshivos that exist today all over the world are really the fruits of that great sacrifice of the Netziv.

However, the “decree” that we are experiencing in our times may come under the category of a “time of persecution,” that tumah is trying to infiltrate into the batei medrash and into our yeshivos. It is a new type of trial and a new decree that the Jewish People has never experienced before.

Falling to the depths with just one click.

As it appears, this seems to be the last level of exile before the coming of Moshiach. So the sitra achra is using its strongest weapon. It began by being used by the nations, where one can find all the filth and abominations that exist in this world, and by means of this little device, it is penetrating into the Jewish people, into the frum world — and even into the Torah world. The yetzer hara says: “Remain a ben Torah, learn regular sedarim, but just take a little click here and a little click there. Relax a little bit; release the tension.” And with just one kvetch — Heaven forbid, how far we can go!

With these devices, the damage that can be caused by just one exposure is unimaginable. He loses even all his olam hazeh; he gets so easily addicted. So I have been told by chashuve people who have unfortunately fallen prey to this yetzer hara, whether knowingly or unknowingly — by mistake. How much Heavenly mercy is required to free oneself from this addiction?! And this is besides the fact that through this yetzer hara they are losing their Olam Haba, and sometimes even that of their future generations!

This is not a situation where we can remain indifferent by saying, “What difference does it make to us?” No! The sitra achra has declared open war against us, and we have to fight back! Now is a time of war. The yetzer hara has already claimed many victims — but where are we?!

We are now at the height of this war. Now is the time to fight. The sitra achra has climbed onto the stage and he is claiming victims every day! He does not force anyone; rather, with a little enticement he achieves everything. And in order that we do not reach a situation as expressed by the Chovos Halevavos — “You are dormant to [his actions], but he is awake to yours” — we too must climb onto the stage and cry out! We must not surrender to him but fight back!

How can a person like this pray: “Do not bring me to a situation of a test”?

The mere fact that a person keeps this device in close proximity is drawing him to the test, for the distance between having the device and being pulled under is merely a click away. One click — and in the blink of an eye — one can already be falling into the “deep abyss.” This is the opposite of “And you shall carry out all My commandments”; the opposite of “And you shall be holy [before] your God.”

Click … and he is already in the hands of tumah. The defiling syndrome has already begun.

When the force of tumah spreads, tefillah is not enough. Self-sacrifice is needed.

This war against the yetzer hara is formidable. So what is the solution?

Of course the first thing is tefillah. We have an accepted tradition that at any time of distress we need to daven and arouse Heavenly mercy. So too now, we must daven that we do not succumb to this tumah. But tefillah is not enough.

In the Krias HaTorah of the seventh day of Pesach we read that Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to Moshe, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the Children of Yisrael that they should travel” (Shemos 14:15). The Ohr Hachaim asks: Why does Hakadosh Baruch Hu ask: “Why are you crying out to Me?” It was surely a time of distress, so what else does a Jew do other than daven?

Ohr Hachaim answers that there are certain situations where tefillah is not enough. At that time there was a great accusation against the Jewish people — “Both these [the Egyptians] are idol worshippers and these [the Jewish people]…” Here one needs good deeds! The good deeds will create a means for Hashem’s mercy to connect with us. And the good deeds that are required are those done with self-sacrifice.ּ “Tell the Children of Yisrael” that they should go into the sea.

And so it was. Nachshon ben Aminadav and the Shevet of Yehudah, followed by the rest of Bnei Yisrael, jumped into the sea. Then their tefillah could have an effect.

Self-sacrifice — to overcome the difficulties of breaking away from bad company.

Right now we are experiencing a terrible decree from Heaven. For sure we need to daven; for sure we need to open the gates of tears that are never locked, and to bring in our tears through the gates. But that is not enough. We need deeds of self-sacrifice. In this battle against the yetzer hara we must show self-sacrifice.

And as we have mentioned from the Netziv, in order to maintain “the separation between that which is holy and that which is profane” it is worth giving up one’s life.

The passuk says we must “ separate between the holy and the profane, and between the impure and the pure” (Vayikra 10:10). From this we can infer a kal vachomer: If already in a situation where there is a lack of separation between holiness and profane, where the mixture of the profane harms and damages the holiness, it is worth giving up one’s life to maintain the separation, all the more where there is a lack of separation between purity and tumah, where the mixture does not merely cause harm but the very moment there is an element of tumah it is all-encompassing and there is no purity at all, then for sure, without a doubt, one must and is obliged to give up one’s life to preserve the purity.

A practical example: If a bachur has a roommate who has or uses one of these devices — he must leave that room as fast as he can! If there were snakes in his room, he certainly would not sleep there, even though most snakes do not bite. But the same cannot be said about these devices! There is no need to get into an argument with the roommate. Who knows who will win the argument? Just run from that room as fast as you can!

Right now, Klal Yisrael is divided in two. Using the terms of Chazal, there are those who are “the protectors of the city” and those who are “the destroyers of the city.” Anyone who has one of the devices of the enemy is himself considered an enemy, because that is what the enemy wants. That is what the Satan wants!

“Are you one of ours or of our enemies?”

There is no exaggeration here. There is really a war going on, and it is to infiltrate into our midst the devices of the enemy. If he succeeds in this infiltration, it is his victory. When Yehoshua met someone whom he did not know, he asked: “Are you one of ours or of our enemies?” (Yehoshua 5:13). At a time of war the lines must be drawn clearly. It is not possible to remain in the middle. You are either “ours” or chas v’shalom “of our enemies.” The Satan says: “Don’t leave the yeshivos. Just keep these devices with you.” He is coming to destroy the yeshivos from the inside, and it seems to me there was almost never such a decree upon the Jewish people! Until now the yeshivos were the guardians of the Jewish people, as the Chazon Ish expressed it: “The yeshivos are the Teivas Noach of our generation.” Now, however, the Satan wants to breach even this protection.

This decree is right now hovering upon us and it is already daily claiming new victims. The decree is to infiltrate into the yeshivos and to wreak havoc there.

These devices are like snakes. They are lethal weapons. It is forbidden to have anything to do with those people who have such devices. This may sometimes lead to a certain unpleasantness or self-sacrifice, that he may therefore not have where to sleep. Or it will cause him to have to break away from friends, but this is what Hakadosh Baruch Hu requires of us. This is our task at this time.

Self-sacrifice — to believe that parnassah comes from Heaven and not through any forbidden use of the enemy’s devices.

Those things which we have said are forbidden applies even to those people who say that they need it for parnassah, for if such a device is kept or used not according to the directives of the Gedolim, it is treif! Is it possible to think that this is what is to be part of our hishtadlus for parnassah?!

We all believe that our parnassah is decreed upon us from one Rosh Hashanah to the next, and therefore our hishtadlus must be in a way that Hakadosh Baruch Hu approves of. But to do hishtadlus in a way that is forbidden, in a way that is treif and weakens the Jewish People — that will bring parnassah?! That is impossible!

(We are obviously referring here only to that which the Gedolim, shlita, have forbidden.)

True, it requires self-sacrifice. One has to get rid of this device — finished! Hakadosh Baruch Hu is waiting for our self-sacrifice. Together with our tefillos we also need actions of self-sacrifice. I’m not saying anything new here, but just that we need to heighten people’s awareness that we are now in the midst of a war situation — a war of kedushah against its antithesis. Maybe this is the final war? But the question is: Who will win?

May Hakadosh Baruch Hu help us merit that the words that Reb Baruch Ber, zt”l, said regarding those of his generation who withstood the test of Haskalah may also be said in reference to us. In our generation, too, any yeshivah bachur who indeed controls himself from being drawn by the enticements of the outside world, one who guards himself with a protective wall and says: “I have absolutely no association with these devices” — he is praiseworthy.

May Hakadosh Baruch Hu help us indeed merit to pass this test, and He will rejoice with us and say: “Look! Look at My beloved children, who leave all the enticements of the nations of the world and are attached and rejoicing with the Shechinah, and rejoicing with the Torah.” And may it be His will that we shall merit to see the complete Redemption speedily in our days. Amein.

Adapted from a transcript which was shown to Harav Asher Arielli, shlita, who gave his approval for its printing. The transcript was also shown to Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, and after reading it he commented, “This is very good. It is worth publishing for the benefit of the public.”