Seeking Clarity in Troubled Times

Excerpted from an address given by Harav Mattisyahu Salomon, shlita, Mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, in the home of Reb Yonasan Strasser. These remarks were made during the 2006 Second Lebanese War, and is applicable to the current situation in Eretz Yisrael.


Hakol kol Yaakov v’hayadayim yedei Esav.” Esav accomplishes with yadayim, Yaakov with his kol — the voice of Torah, the voice of tefillah. If we must make use of yadayim, it is only as hishtadlus and no more. Success comes only from the Borei Olam. Sheker hasus lis’shua uv’rov cheilo lo yimalet. Hinei ein Hashem el yerei’av lam’yachalim l’chasdo.”

Chazal explain: Hakol kol Yaakov, so long as the voice of Yaakov resounds in the houses of prayer and Torah study, ein hayadayim yedei Esav — the physical might of Esav is neutralized.

These are not just words. The key is to earnestlymean and understand that our “voice” — our Torah and our tefillah — is truly the only protection we have against the “hand” and the might of Esav. Only this can achieve for us success and deliverance. The only way to merit the protection of the Ribbono shel Olam is by the kol Yaakov.

This concept concerns a deeper level of emunah.

In the days of the malachim, Klal Yisrael was surrounded by enemy nations — Amon, Moav, Aram, et al. — all of them warring against the Jewish people. We see in the pesukim in Navi that when Klal Yisrael acted righteously, the Ribbono shel Olam granted them victory, and when they didn’t, they could not succeed.

A king of Yehudah named Asa did not conduct himself fittingly, and therefore his reign was filled with major wars. When he died, “Yehoshafat, his son, became king in his place. And Hashem was with Yehoshafat, because he went in the early ways of Dovid, his ancestor, and he did not follow the be’alim. For he sought the G-d of his fathers and followed His mitzvos; he differed from the misdeeds of Yisrael. Hashem established the kingdom in his hand” … “He removed the bamos,” the unlawful altars that had been built earlier.

“In the third year of his reign” — that reign in which he transformed the nation’s way of life to one of avodas Hashem — “he sent his officers to teach [Torah] in the cities of Yehudah. With them [he sent] Leviim … and with them Kohanim. They taught in Yehudah; they had with them the sefer Torah of Hashem. They circulated in all the cities of Yehudah and taught there” (Divrei Hayamim).

The Kohanim and Leviim went to teach; the officers came to compel the people to learn — even those who didn’t want to. They went from city to city in Yehudah, forcing all the people to learn Torah. Fascinating! This was the way Yehoshafat ruled his kingdom (Rashi and Metzudos).

As a result, “And the fear of Hashem was upon all the kingdoms of the lands around Yehudah, and they did not wage war with Yehoshafat. From Plishtim to Yehoshafat came tribute [minchah], and loads of silver; the Arabs too brought him 7,700 rams, 7,700 goats…” Rashi explains, “In the merit of their Torah study.”

It’s a matter of historical fact. Whenever we believed in “kochi v’otzem yadi,” ultimately we suffered. But when we put our faith in the Borei Olam and attached ourselves to His Torah, and knew that in times of trouble our protection from the nations lies in the Torah, then we had peace and tranquility.

In the past, everybody knew this. It was a mesorah dating back to Yetzias Mitzrayim. It holds true in any war, even when we must go and fight. When Klal Yisrael fought and conquered nations, it was not them fighting, but angels who were sent to fight for them. They had to sit and learn. But if it happened that they became somewhat lax in their learning, then the natural order prevailed and they had to fight their own wars.

“When Yehoshua was in Yericho, he lifted his eyes and beheld a man standing opposite him, a drawn sword in his hand. Yehoshua approached and asked, ‘Are you from ours, or have you come for our enemies?’” Yehoshua couldn’t identify him since — typically for a general of the time — he was covered with armor.

“‘No,’ he replied; ‘I am a general of Hashem’s army, and now I have come.’ Yehoshua fell on his face, and bowed… And the angel told Yehoshua, ‘Take your shoes off your feet, for this is a holy place,’ and Yehoshua did so.” The pesukim do not tell us what the malach told Yehoshua, except for the statement that “I am a general of Hashem’s army, and now I have come.”

The Gemara in Megillah explains these pesukim.

The malach came with an accusation. He said to Yehoshua, “Yesterday you suspended the evening korban Tamid” — it was wartime, after all. “And now you’re neglecting the study of Torah!”

Yehoshua asked him, “For which of these have you come?” You come with a sword, carrying out some shelichus. Why have you come — what’s the object of your mission?

Now I have come,” he replied — al shel achshav (Rashi), concerning the current matter. At once Yehoshua went “and lay down in the valley” — “he ‘lay down’ [immersed himself] in the depth of halachah.”

The malach was taking Yehoshua to task for bitul Torah — in the middle of a battle! Yes, for that’s how Klal Yisrael fought its battles. They knew what is ikar and what is tafel!

My rebbi Reb Elya Lopian, asks a kushya. It’s well known in Chazal that when malachim appear to humans, they take on an appearance according to the mission they’ve come to fulfill. For example, when malachim came to Avraham Avinu, they came in the heat of the day, in the form ofcommon street Arabs. Avraham Avinu had to take them into the house to have them wash, as if they were ordinary people off the street. For their shelichus was to fit in with Avraham Avinu’s hospitality.

When a malach is sent from Heaven to give mussar concerning bitul Torah, how would you expect him to look? Why, like an elderly Yid, with a long white beard, declaring, “Now I have come.” But a gibbor, a sword-wielding general, whom one can’t even identify as a Yid or a gentile? What does that have to do with his shelichus if the whole idea of his shelichus is to reprove them for bitul Torah?

The explanation is enlightening. The malach Yehoshua saw was the malach who had been sent to fight the war for Klal Yisrael. And he was dressed for that task — the task of bringing about the downfall of Yericho so that the Yidden could enter Eretz Yisrael.

He came to Yehoshua and said, “You’ve taken away my ammunition! I can’t work when there is bitul Torah!” This is a malach of war, sent for the mission of fighting the war, but “how can I fight when I have no weapons? I can’t fight when you are mevatel the Torah!” He wasn’t coming for the purpose of protesting bitul Torah; he was here to wage war, and came to protest, “You’re not letting me carry out this war!” For it was the Torah that fought the war.

We must instill this in ourselves — that this is the metzius, this is the truth. Our rebbeim did, in fact, live this way. It was naturally understood that all depends on the koach haTorah.

I came to Eretz Yisrael as a bachur, in 5717, just after the Sinai campaign. The victory in the Sinai campaign was a considerable michshol in the notion that kochi v’otzem yadi, physical might, had won this victory. It awakened a great animosity toward religious Jews, particularly toward yeshivah bachurim who had not gone to the front.

A young yeshivah bachur, I got on a bus one day and sat down next to a secular Jew. A big fellow, wearing shorts, his head uncovered, he looked to me like a kibbutznik; later it turned out he was a professor at a university. He turned to me and said, “Atta boged!”

I thought he might have more derech eretz for an English-speaker — the Israelis depended on American dollars. “Excuse me, do you speak English?”

Yes, he spoke it very well.

“What does ‘boged’ mean?”

“‘Boged’ means you are a traitor.”

“What do you mean, I’m a traitor?”

“Our boys were dying at the front, giving away their lives to save everybody. And you, you’re sitting there, not doing anything, wasting your time. None of you came and joined us. You’re a traitor!”

The Ribbono shel Olam put a thought in my head. (You always need siyatta diShmaya.) I said to the man, “I don’t understand. Why do you call me a traitor? If I would come with you to the front, you with your tank, and I on a bicycle with a bow and arrow, what would you say? That I’m a traitor, or that I’m crazy?”

He said, “I’d tell you you’re crazy.”

“Why not a traitor?”

“Well, you know, you came.” Those were his words.

“I’ll tell you something,” I said. “I wasn’t even in Eretz Yisrael at the time of the war. I was in a little town in northeastern England. And my Rosh Yeshivah said, ‘Rabosai, Klal Yisrael are in danger in Eretz Yisrael. We have to mobilize.’

“He said, ‘Soldiers are up early in the morning — so we have to get up at five in the morning. We have to have a whole seder. We want you to learn with all your might. Fall asleep over your Gemaros, and then wake up and start again. We must learn, because that’s what’s going to save Klal Yisrael.’ And he told me — my rebbi told me — that I’m driving a tank. So don’t call me a traitor — just say I’m crazy.”

And he looked at me, and he said, “You know — you’re not crazy.”

That was how it was for us; that’s how we were brought up; and that’s emes! But we have to live in awareness of that truth. In these circumstances, everybody has to know this. It’s not just something to tell kollel yungeleit and yeshivah students. It’s something everyone has to be conscious of. This is what the times demand — stepping up talmud Torah!

Certainly this must be accompanied by tefillah. Nothing happens without tefillah; the hashpa’os won’t come down. Talmud Torah comes up to the very heavens and k’veyachol gives the Borei Olam the substance to be mashpia. This ability, so to speak, is utilized only through tefillah. Hakol kol Yaakov!

Every deed of ours in these times should be something to sustain ourselves, to sustain Klal Yisrael, to merit to be protected in the final moments before Moshiach comes and be among those who can endure all the trials of the time.

* * *

What is demanded of us in these times, as Yidden?

Every day we hear of people falling — mothers losing children, children losing their fathers. One, two, more, fewer… from day to day it seems, Rachmana litzlan, to be getting worse. But we have become cold, hardened; we don’t feel the pain. We aren’t nosei be’ol; we don’t identify with the many Yidden who are suffering.

All the wildfires that have been burning this hot summer are only to show us that once there’s a fire burning, it keeps going, and there is no way to control it.

What Hashem wants at this time, from us as Klal Yisrael, is to feel more for each other, to be nosei be’ol. Nosei be’ol im chaveiro is an amazingly great middah.

The word ul’Yosef appears twice in the Torah. Once is in Miketz: “And to Yosef, two sons were born”; the other is in Vezos Habrachah, where Moshe Rabbeinu began Yosef’s brachah the same way, “And to Yosef he said, his land is blessed by Hashem.”

The Baal Haturim explains the connection between the two occurrences of “u’leYosef.” “U’leYosef, two sons were born, prior to the famine years” — and not during the famine years. Although Yosef did not personally suffer from the famine, nevertheless he was nosei b’ol im chaveiro by restricting himself in his ordinary life in those years (Gemara Taanis).

In return for his middah of being nosei b’ol im chaveiro, he merited the abundant blessings of “U’leYosef”: of all the brachos of Moshe Rabbeinu, the most profuse abundance of brachah and hatzlachah, physical and spiritual, went to Yosef Hatzaddik.

“Anyone who participates in the distress of the community in its time of hardship will merit witnessing its consolation.” Because of the particularly refined sensitivity of one who is nosei b’ol im chaveiro, feeling the pain of the tzibbur, he will merit witnessing the consolation of the tzibbur. This is actually middah k’neged middah, for the Borei Olam is also nosei be’ol:Imo Anochi b’tzarah.

The way we conduct ourselves down here is the way the Borei Olam will conduct Himself in return. In fact, He purposely constructs situations in which we can learn to be nosei b’ol, so that He can then bestow the shefa of His own practice of nosei b’ol. It’s nora v’ayom.

In the brachah ofMoshe Rabbeinu to Yosef, he refers to Hashem as Shochen sneh. Hashem appeared to Moshe Rabbeinu in a blazing thornbush, a sneh;yet this is the only time in the whole of Torah that Hashem is called Shochen sneh — it’s a new name for the Ribbono shel Olam.

I believe that this elucidates the meaning of the Baal Haturim. The Ribbono shel Olam appeared in a thornbush as an expression of “Imo Anochi b’tzarah.” The brachah pours from Moshe Rabbeinu in such profusion davkah on Yosef, because Hashem is a Shochen sneh — His middah is to be nosei b’ol.

“And to Yosef he said: You also possessed this middah of being nosei b’ol, you felt the pain of the tzibbur to the point where you restricted your normal life. Thus it is fitting that you receive the bountiful brachah of nechamas tzibbur, for I, the Ribbono shel Olam, giving the brachah, am Shochen sneh.”

Hashem revealed Himself to Moshe Rabbeinu with this middah, because He wanted Klal Yisrael to conduct itself with this middah and thereby merit the geulah from Mitzrayim.

Let us feel for and daven for the complete recovery of those who are suffering pain and tribulation, and for consolation for the bereaved. Hakol kol Yaakov — may our Torah, our tefillah, and our nesius b’ol arouse rachamei Shamayim and bring the footfalls of Moshiach resounding in the land, and with it the Geulah sheleimah.