On Wednesday evening, February 12, community members gathered at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel to hear an uplifting shiur by Rabbi Yehoshua Landau of Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim in Beit Shemesh. He shared a number of powerful ideas on how to deal with anti-Semitism. First, he taught that, according to the Rambam, when tzaros occur, we need to cry out and take it personally, as if we can have an effect. “If people take it to heart, this can take away the tzaros. If there is no crying out and people say it’s just the way of the world that Eisav hates Yaakov and we don’t take it personally, that is cold-hearted and that won’t bring an end to the tzaros.” The Rambam is teaching us that we all need to introspect on how we can do t’shuvah and improve. “The process of this t’shuvah is more significant than any bottom line we can come up with.”
He then shared how the recent Siyum HaShas was one of the greatest events of kavod HaTorah and achdus. “The recent anti-Semitic events that are coming now serve as a reminder that we are still in galus and galus is lousy – even the sweetest galus.” The first step in the g’ulah from Egypt was that the Jews cried out because they felt how bitter the galus is.
He taught that “galus and g’ulah are a reality. It’s not a place on the map.” He shared an expression that his father used to say: that a worm that grows in a horseradish doesn’t know how bad he has it. The Siyum HaShas is like Hashem’s wedding. At every wedding, we break a glass to remind ourselves that there is still something missing.”
He noted that sometimes anti-Semitic attacks sidetrack us. Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler tells us that you have to look at attacks in a different way. From the first galus to the current galus, it is the same story replaying itself. We are Jews living in a foreign culture with the host culture trying to oppress, attack, and persecute us. This is a superficial way to look at it. Rav Dessler teaches that we need to look at galus through a spiritual lens. Tzaros don’t define galus. “The definition of galus is not persecution. The spiritual lens sees galus as a spiritual challenge. The definition of galus is the challenge that the culture brings. Tzaros and persecution come to increase and intensify how we handle the challenges. “They throw us. They jolt us. They make it harder to handle galus, but tzaros don’t define galus.” He taught that “the Sh’chinah is in galus. K’dushah and ruchniyus are in galus.” Certain forces in different countries and periods of time challenge our Torah values. We are being tested if we will remain loyal to our eternal values and not be drawn to our environment. “Those Jews who remain loyally steadfast to the Torah lifestyle have eternity. The values and hatzlachah of the world around us are just temporary. Our Torah values are eternal.”
He taught that with this spiritual lens, no two exiles are the same. There were different spiritual attacks in every period of time. Every host where Jews lived has posed a different threat to our Torah values. We have to detect what our current spiritual challenges are. That is the purpose of galus. The Kuzari introduces an important theme. The Torah doesn’t want us to afflict ourselves or neglect our physical needs. If we put too much focus on either the physical or the spiritual, we will diminish the other. He emphasized that everything in our lives has to be lived through the lens of Torah. The yeitzer ha’ra doesn’t let us look at life so simply.
Rabbi Landau then shared a teaching of a great rav in England on the following incident in the Chumash. When Moshe Rabbeinu saw the Egyptian beating a Jew, Moshe looked here and there and saw no one looking. Homiletically, Moshe was going through something internal. He was brought up in a palace as a prince, but he knew that his roots were from klal Yisrael. He looked inside himself and saw that one side tugged one way and one the other, and he couldn’t be a mentch like that; so then he chose greatness.
Rabbi Landau taught that there is no such thing as a life without problems. We have to ask Hashem for the ability to overcome the challenges He sends us. He taught that we need to ask Hashem to help us focus to be solely devoted to Him. For this, we need siyata diShmaya.
We also need self-awareness. We need introspection to discern what our personal challenge is. Next, we need to work on whatever area challenges us. We need more spirituality. We need to put in more effort and to take on something a little more. Our success in this challenge will bring the g’ulah.
Everyone left uplifted by this beautiful shiur, which can be viewed on the Congregation Ahavas Yisroel website.
By Susie Garber