On Sunday night, September 5, Rabbi Benzion Twerski, founding member of the Milwaukee Kollel and rav at Congregation Beth Jehudah in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his father Rav Michel Twerski, spoke on behalf of Let’s Get Real with Coach Menachem, program #72. This program was dedicated in memory of a 19-year-old yeshivah bachur, Shmuel Silverberg, who was killed in front of Denver’s Yeshiva Toras Chaim, recently. In the beginning of the program, his aunt spoke about her nephew who was a very special young man and how he would make a siyum every year on Purim on Maseches Megillah.
A charity was set up in his memory, with donations going to Yeshiva Toras Chaim.
Rabbi Twerski then spoke about challenges we face today during this time of the year. We are accustomed to do and say what we are supposed to do and say, but he taught that we need a destination. What is our destination? Where are we going?
The second Lubavitcher Rebbe had a chasid who was a genius, named Rav Hillel. On Erev Yom Kippur, Rav Hillel was coming to daven, and he met a woman outside collecting money. She told Rav Hillel that she was a widow and that she and her children were going to be evicted from their apartment if she didn’t come up with rent money.
Rav Hillel went around collecting but it was clear that he would not be able to collect the large amount of rubles she needed. People were just too poor to donate that much. He decided to walk into a tavern where he knew there was a group of estranged Jews. There, the Jews saw him and they were surprised to see him there. He sat with them, and they asked what brought him to a tavern on Erev Yom Kippur. He told them that he was collecting money for a widow, and then one of the men said he would donate one quarter of the money if the rav drank a full glass of strong liquor. The rabbi agreed. Then another man dared the rav to drink another glass in exchange for another quarter of the amount of money, and again he agreed. In the end, the rav drank four full glasses of strong liquor in exchange for the full amount of the rent money. He arrived at shul very drunk, and he opened the aron ha’kodesh and yelled the pasuk you say on Simchas Torah: “You have been shown to know that Hashem, He is G-d. There is none beside Him.”
Rabbi Twerski explained that all the avodah of Tishrei: S’lichos, shofar, s’udos, t’filah, etc. – all of it is there for us to bring us to the above pasuk – that Hashem is G-d and there is no one beside Him. This is our destination. Each of these components fits into our ultimate destination. All of these days enable us to be able to say this pasuk on Simchas Torah.
Rabbi Twerski then answered questions. Someone asked, ”How do I make this year different, so that the things I take on will actually stick?”
Rabbi Twerski responded with a story. The Saadiah Gaon once traveled to a place to speak. He booked a room in an inn. The innkeeper thought he was just a plain ordinary person and gave him a room that wasn’t that nice. Later, when the innkeeper saw him ascend the platform to speak and he realized who he was, he fell at his feet and begged for forgiveness.
He said, “Had I known yesterday what I know now, I would not have treated you the way I did.”
Rabbi Twerski taught that we say this about Hashem. One of the challenges – and at the same time, opportunities – of Rosh HaShanah is that we are trying to get to know Whom we are serving. Who is commanding us?
The Rambam’s knees would tremble when he blew shofar. He thought of who was commanding this mitzvah and who was carrying it out. We need to think about whom we are serving. If we utilize the t’filos of Rosh HaShanah and the rest of the Yamim Tovim to ponder and spend time, we will appreciate Who is commanding us.
He noted that Hashem is trying to procure our attention. He is showing off with a tornado in New Jersey, with flooding, with His sheer power in the physical sense. He wants us to understand the control He has over every single moment. We have to say: If I only knew yesterday what I knew today, I would have served You differently. Hashem is trying to get our attention. We have to appreciate the gift of all the holy books in English that allow us to have deeper insights and programs like Coach Menachem, TorahAnytime, Chazaq, etc. “If you want a deeper relationship to Hashem and to any given mitzvah, you have so many resources today. There is such a velt available to us today. We need to take the time to deepen our relationship to each mitzvah.”
Hashem’s mitzvos are infinite. We have to change our relationship to Hashem and to the mitzvos we are performing. In our prayers, we are asking Hashem that if we take care of each other’s needs for Your sake, for kiddush Hashem, then please give us life, parnasah, etc. so that we can serve You. We are Hashem’s firstborn.
Someone asked Rabbi Twerski to explain the purpose of human suffering, and he shared a few answers. One opinion is that it lessens the intensity of our body’s desires. Another answer is that when a person is suffering, he blocks out everything else so he can focus with concentration. This helps him to look at what is really important.
He shared that we need to take a step back and recalibrate and get an intense look at what is really important. Difficulties and challenges give us this opportunity to develop a grip on what is important and what is not.
We need to tell Hashem that we want to live to fulfill His will and to give Him nachas. So, we need long life and all the components needed to be free to serve Him.
Rosh HaShanah – and all of this time of year – is an incredible privilege. Hashem is giving us another year to serve Him. May you and your family and our community and klal Yisrael be blessed with a good, sweet, healthy new year.
By Susie Garber