He Wants Us To Live

The great battle between the four kings and the five kings mentioned in last week’s parsha, took place in Emek Hasidim. The result was a clear victory for the four kings over the five kings. The King of Sodom, who led the five kings survived but was taken captive together with Lot, Avrohom Ovinu’s nephew. Avrohom Ovinu gathered three hundred and eighteen of his students and defeated the powerful armies of the four kings, saving Lot. We know this from a simple reading of the Chumash. (Bereishis 14:1-16)

But have we taken in what happened here? Avrohom Ovinu, an eighty-year old Rosh Hayeshiva, (Yuma 28b) took a few of his students and conquered the most powerful army of the day? Can we understand this? Of course it was a miracle but why should Hashem have performed such a miracle?

The Ramban (ibid) says that the four kings represent the four exiles Avrohom Ovinu’s descendants will have to endure, culminating in golus Edom which has still not ended. Avrohom Ovinu’s victory represents the ultimate victory over the forces of Eisov’s descendants and final redemption which we are hoping for very soon.

Perhaps there is, though, another explanation which has a connection with this week’s parsha of Vayera.

We all know the story of Yonah which we read on Yom Kippur. Hashem told him to go to Nineveh and rebuke the citizens for their sins. When he finally arrived, he prophesied that if they didn’t do teshuva within forty days, the city would be destroyed. The people heard Yonah’s warning and took it to heart. “They proclaimed a fast and all the people, from the most important to the least important, put on sackcloth. When the matter reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on ashes. He proclaimed that each man should call out mightily to G-d, do teshuva for his evil deeds and from the robbery which is in their hands. And Hashem saw their deeds that they repented from their evil way and He cancelled the destruction which He had threatened.” (Yonah 3:4-10).

Later we learn that Yonah made a hut and sat in its shade to see what would happen in the city. Hashem made a kikayon plant grow there to give more shade which Yonah enjoyed very much. Hashem then sent a worm to attack the kikayon and it dried out and died to Yonah’s distress. Hashem then said, “You took pity on the kikayon for which you did not labour or make it grow, which grew overnight and perished overnight. Should I not take pity upon Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right from their left plus many beasts?”(ibid 4;5-11).

In Neila we quote the Novi Yechezkel, (18:23), “Do I desire at all the death of the wicked man? Is it not rather his return from his ways that he may live? This is our encouragement, in the crucial final minutes of Yom Kippur, to sincerely regret our past mistakes and commit ourselves to improve our loyalty to the Torah. Hashem loves us and wants us to live. If we will just try harder and make a commitment to improve, Hashem will be only too pleased to accept our teshuva and bless us in the New Year. We see from Yonah that Hashem also loves the other nations and doesn’t want to destroy them. That is why He sent Yonah to Nineveh to persuade them to do teshuva so that He shouldn’t have to destroy them.

“The people of Sodom were very wicked and sinful to Hashem.” (Bereishis 13:13) Rashi says that they were immoral, knowing Hashem but rebelling against Him. Pirkei Ovos (5:13) tells us that their philosophy was “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.” Notices on the city gates said, “Visitors are not Welcome!” And what happened to any visitor who was too small or too big for the bed, we won’t elaborate. But, as we see from Yonah, Hashem loves His handiwork even if they are sinning. Does a parent ever not love his own child? The problem was that they were close to deserving complete destruction. How could they be persuaded to change before it was too late?

This could be a simple explanation of why Hashem made this enormous miracle of Avrohom Ovinu and his talmidim defeating the military superpower —the four powerful kings and saving the people of Sodom, including Lot. It was similar to sending Yonah to Nineveh, to give them a final chance. “You see how powerful Hashem is? How can you sin against Him? And your philosophy is “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours?” You see that Avrohom was prepared to risk his life to save his nephew! He could have just stayed at home. This is “Bein odom l’chaveiro!” “Change your behavior, people of Sodom, and I will not destroy you.” But unlike the people of Nineveh, the people of Sodom did not listen. Hence in this week’s parsha, the destruction of Sodom was all but inevitable. But they had just one more – very last – chance.

Bereishis (19:11) tells us that the two malochim who were sent to destroy Sodom and save Lot, pulled Lot inside his house and closed the door on the marauding mob outside. They then smote all the people outside with blindness “and the people groped to find the door but couldn’t find it.” The Steipler in Chayei Olom is baffled by the people’s response to sudden blindness. Instead of accepting that there must be a supernatural presence and going home to consider what was happening, they continued trying to break the door down. They had no thoughts of teshuva. Indeed they were ‘blind’ to their blindness. “We are certain that we are right.” There were no doubts in their minds. And when Lot told his sons-in-law to flee the city before it was too late, they treated it as a huge joke. (ibid 19:15). “Life is super here! Great fun! The poor are not allowed in! We do what we want! Our way!”

And so their very last chance was squandered. Lot and his two daughters survived in the merit of Avrohom Ovinu. Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt and the rest were lost. Today we do not merit personal visits from malachim, at least ones we can recognize. But harbe sheluchim l’Makom – Hashem has many messengers which come in many forms. The Chofetz Chaim used to respond to tragedies even in faraway countries, “What does the Tatte want from us?” If we pay attention to these messengers, like the people of Nineveh did, Hashem is delighted. After all; He wants us to live.

Why the Change?

Not long ago people living in one place did not know what was happening in another place. News from a nearby village might sometimes come in but would probably have been dismissed as “nothing to do with us.” However over the past years the world has changed dramatically. Now, every trivial thing a person does anywhere in the world can be known immediately by everybody else. Many people even feel entitled to know, give an opinion and pass on their often negative comments to thousands, if not millions of other people.

“We believe with perfect faith that the Creator is responsible for everything that has been, is and will be.” (Rambam) Obviously Hashem has seen fit that this societal earthquake should take place. Do we understand why? It appears to be a totally negative development with its massive potential for loshon horah and many other aveiros besides the loss of privacy involved. What was wrong when everyone lived in their own daled amos? Why the change?

After Avrohom Ovinu, who was then childless, asked Hashem about his future, Hashem took him outside, showed him the millions of stars that were in the sky and said, “Your seed will be as many as the stars in the sky.” But the posuk warned that Avrohom’s descendants would not have an easy life. “They will have to endure living in a land which is not theirs” — the exile in Egypt. Moshe Rabbeinu was also told of a future exile (Shemos 3:14, Rashi) and Yaakov Ovinu was told about four separate exiles during his dream on Har Hamoriah. (Bereishis 28:12, Medrash Rabboh). Why were the Jewish People destined to live “in a land which is not theirs” during so much of their history?

And what about the Chillul Hashem of us being almost constant strangers in other people’s lands? Almost every people has its own country where they have lived undisturbed for centuries if not millennia. Only the Jewish People, Hashem’s treasured nation, have the indignity of being scattered all over the world, repeatedly moving from place to place. We have been correctly labeled ‘The Wandering Jew.’ Surely this is an extreme Chillul Hashem. People doubt Hashem’s omnipotence if His People alone are scattered around the globe.

Avoda Zara 10b tells us that the Roman Caesar who hated the Jews asked his courtiers, “If a person has painful dead skin on his foot, should he cut it off and live or live and suffer?” They all understood that this referred to the Jews. All but one answered, “He should cut it off and live.” Only Ketiah bar Sholom, disagreed. “Firstly,” he said, “You cannot destroy the Jews because it is written “I have scattered them to the four corners of the world,” (Zechariah 2:10) so most of them are beyond your jurisdiction. And you would be accused of murdering your own citizens.” The Caesar acknowledged that Ketiah was right but pointed out that if someone is rash enough to prove the king wrong, he is punished by being buried alive.   On the way to his punishment, he accepted the Torah and gave all his money to Rebbe Akiva and his colleagues. The Gemara says that with this, Ketiah earned a place in the World to Come. Rebbe cried, explaining that while some people only earn their place in the World to Come after many years, some can earn it in one moment.

The Gemara itself and the Maharsha explain the deeper meaning of Zecharia’s words. Ruchos can mean ‘winds’ as well as ‘directions’. And the posuk actually says keruchos – like winds. The real meaning of the posuk is that the Jewish people are like the winds, without which the world cannot exist. The Maharsha brings the well-known posuk, Im lo brisi yomom volailoh, chukos shomayim vo’oretz lo samti – If it were not for my covenant of day and night, I would not have created the world.” He explains that if people do not have emuna in Hashem, the world does not have a zechus kiyum –the right to exist. And this connects with the simple meaning of the posuk that Hashem scattered us throughout the world in order to influence them and teach them about Hashem.

Now we have some understanding of why only the Jewish People have been destined to live scattered throughout the world. It is precisely because we are Hashem’s treasure nation, that we have been destined to live in “a land which is not theirs” for so much of our existence to give the whole world the merits needed for it to exist.

We have, however, a new problem. It wasn’t long ago that we were davening with great kavana, “Vekoreiv pezureinu mibein hagoyim unefutzoseinu kaneis miyarkesei oretz.” We asked Hashem to bring back our scattered ones from amongst the nations. Indeed we say it three times a day, “Tekah b’shofar godol …Raise up a banner in order to bring together those who are exiled.” If it is Hashem’s plan that we be scattered amongst the nations to give spread emuna which gives the whole world its zechus kiyum, how can we daven that we should all be brought back to Eretz Yisroel? Aren’t we working at cross-purposes with Hashem? We want to be there in Yerusholayim with a Beis Hamikdash, but He wants us to here in golus being a “light unto the nations.” Can both desires to be fulfilled?

Meforshim bring from the Zohar that technological advances were prophesied to accelerate in the mid-nineteenth century and this was fulfilled with new discoveries which changed society. An important game-changer was the invention of the telephone in 1876. Also, according to the Vilna Gaon, the world was to come to its final stages before the Geula at the same time. There seems to be a connection between the two. Perhaps we can suggest that Hashem was planning a grand solution to the conundrum of before. On the one hand this golus has been long enough. Through the bitter exile all our sins have been atoned for. Don’t we deserve to come home to Eretz Yisroel? But what about people all around the world who still need the good influence of the Jews? For them Hashem super-managed a technological revolution which will obviate the need for the Jews to be physically close to other people. He arranged a sea change in our society. He made sure that the printing press, the telephone, cameras, computers etc would be invented which would enable people, wherever they are, to hear about the Jews and to learn about their Torah from a distance. We can be serving Hashem in Yerusholayim and they can use their devices to see us, to learn about emuna in Hashem and thus keep the seven mitzvos bnei Noach which will give them the zechus to remain alive. Of course technology can be misused. There are many things that ‘The righteous walk in them and the wicked stumble in them.” (Tehilim 1:6). On the other hand, it can be the very mechanism by which the Geula can become a reality. We no longer have to be “strangers in a land which isn’t ours.” So now we can whole-heartedly daven and sing, “Vekarev pezureinu….

Questions Asked on Chol Hamoed

1.               Q. We cover our tablecloths on Shabbos and Yom Tov with plastic, which we normally cut from a roll before Shabbos. Do we have to do this before Yom Tov so that we don’t have to do it on Chol Hamoed?

A.               This question is based on the halacha quoted in Shulchan Aruch 538:6 that, even if a melacha may be done on Chol Hamoed according to the general halachos of Chol Hamoed, we may not deliberately delay doing it until Chol Hamoed if we could have done it before Yom Tov. Cutting plastic to the right size is a melacha min haTorah of mechatech, according to many opinions, but if we need to do it, it should be permitted, since even a non-professional person can do it. In this case it could be prepared before Yom Tov. Do we have an obligation to do so and not cut the plastic on Chol Hamoed?

The Chut Shoni, Hilchos Chol Hamoed, Perek 4, discusses this halacha. He says that the prohibition of delaying doing a melacha until Chol Hamoed only applies to a melacha which is normally done in advance. However a melacha which is normally not done in advance, but just before use, such as putting on a light to see by, is permitted on Chol Hamoed if there is a need. He says that, for this reason, we are not obliged to cut toilet paper before Yom Tov, since it is usually done just before use. This would appear to apply to plastic table coverings as well. We usually cut it just before use both because it is more convenient to keep the plastic on the roll until we need it and because we often cut it to different sizes depending on our needs at the time. Therefore the answer is that there is no need to cut the plastic in advance.

However in the case of toilet paper, the situation today is very often different. In our age of convenience, pre-cut toilet paper is available for Shabbos and Yom Tov. Some people use ordinary tissues so there is no need to cut paper at all. Unless the slightly higher cost is an issue or we prefer the uncut paper for some reason, tearing toilet paper is no longer a tzorech hamoed and is not allowed.  The same will apply if we have pre-cut plastic tablecloths which we are happy to use. However if we don’t like to use those pre-cut cloths because of cost or quality, we are not obliged to buy them to avoid cutting on Chol Hamoed.

2.                     Q. We have always ironed on Chol Hamoed according to the specific leniency in the Shulchan Aruch (541:3) and by all the Poskim. Since we are not allowed to doing laundry on Chol Hamoed and we may not delay a melacha to do it on Chol Hamoed, why should ironing be allowed?

A.               You are right that it is often not allowed. There are, of course, certain exceptions to the prohibition of washing clothes on Chol Hamoed, notably for young children, if the clothes are needed during Yom Tov and they might need ironing. Also, if a person does laundry shortly before Yom Tov, and there was no opportunity to iron before Yom Tov, it will also be permitted on Chol Hamoed to iron those clothes which are needed for Yom Tov. Just leaving ironing until Chol Hamoed, because “it’s allowed” is incorrect.

3.               Q. Our washing machine broke down before Yom Tov and the repairman had a look at it. He needed a spare part which he would not have until Chol Hamoed. We have several small children and I need to wash their clothes which, I understand, is allowed. Can he repair the washing machine on Chol Hamoed?

A.               The issue here is doing a skilled job which is necessary for Yom Tov. This is not normally allowed. However it is allowed for cooking even at a preparatory stage, according to Mishna Berura 540:18. Therefore if one’s oven needs a professional repair, it is permitted, as long as the repair was not possible before Yom Tov. Important personal needs may also be done in the usual way according to the Biur Halacha 546:5. This includes medical requirements and other vital needs like repairing a heating system in cold weather. Repairing an air-conditioning system when it is very hot is allowed by some Poskim. Repairing a shower if there is no other way of washing is also allowed by some Poskim. Although wearing clean clothes is very important, it is difficult to extend the leniency to repairing a washing machine. There is not the same degree of need as in these other examples and even they are not allowed by all Poskim, as we have mentioned. Although it is not as convenient, it is possible to wash clothes by hand, or one could ask to use a neighbour’s washing machine or perhaps one could buy new clothes. Treating Chol Hamoed disrespectfully is a very serious matter and in this case one should not be lenient.

4.                Q. I am a builder and am in the middle of a building project in a totally non-Jewish area of a large English city. A non-Jewish sub-contractor wants to fit the kitchen during Chol Hamoed. I am paying him for the job, not by the hour. Do I have to tell him not to come this week?

A.               This appears to be a straightforward example of what is forbidden by the Shulchan Aruch 543:2. We are may not allow a non-Jew to build a house for us on Chol Hamoed even if it is outside the techum and even if the non-Jew is being paid for the job, and not by per hour or per day. Mishna Berura explains that people might think that I am paying him by the day and not for the job. On Chol Hamoed we are allowed to travel outside the techum and therefore Jewish people might see the sub-contractor working and come to an erroneous conclusion. Mishna Berura writes that if all workers in a town are paid by the job (kablonus), some opinions are lenient and Rav Moshe Feinstein said that it is usually the case nowadays. However this is when a Jew has asked a non-Jew to build a house for him when we pay for the job, not per hour or day. But here we have a Jewish builder employing non-Jewish staff and some of them are definitely paid by the hour, so the concern of the Shulchan Aruch definitely applies.

The only question here is that it is a totally non-Jewish part of town; how would anyone know that that a Jewish builder is involved? But this will not help us because every building site displays a sign saying which firm is responsible for the building.  Therefore anyone who has heard of this firm will immediately be aware that it has a Jewish owner.

What if the non-Jewish sub-contractor could somehow access the work area without being seen? Maybe there is one entrance which leads to both the building site and somewhere else and nobody will see that he working on the building site. This brings to mind the statement in Beitza 12a brought in the Shulchan Aruch 301:45, “Whatever is forbidden because of Maris Ayin is also forbidden bechadrei chadorim.” “Anything which Chazal forbade because it merely appears to be forbidden, is also forbidden even if it is done in a totally private place.” However the Mishna Berura (165) says that this applies only if we would suspect that the person is doing something forbidden min haTorah, like washing clothes on Shabbos, which is the Shulchan Aruch’s subject there. If the suspicion could be only that the person is transgressing a rabbinic law, it is permitted in a private place. In our case the suspicion is that a Jew might have employed a non-Jewish worker to work on Chol Hamoed which is only a rabbinic prohibition. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe 5:18) says that this leniency applies only if a person will suffer a financial loss. However this could be the case here if the non-Jew charges more because he couldn’t finish this job and move on to another. Some poskim do not allow it even the case of a loss. So we have opinions which would allow this especially where a loss would be incurred. Therefore in the case of a significant loss, there might be room to be lenient but it would only be if the workman could enter the Jewish builder’s site without being noticed from the outside.

If you have other practical questions on Hilchos Chol Hamoed which could be in included in future editions of Do You Know Hilchos Chol Hamoed? or questions on Hilchos Yom Tov which could be included in my forthcoming sefer Do You Know Hilchos Yom Tov?, please write to me at rabbimfletcher @gmail.com

Toras Chessed Al Leshona

“The Torah has at its beginning chessed and at its end chessed. At the beginning Hashem gave clothes to Odom and Chava and at the end He buried Moshe Rabbeinu.” (Sotah 14a). Chazal’s statement not only connects the end of the Torah with its beginning, which is always a theme of darshanim at this time of the year, but also indicates the theme of the whole Torah – chessed.

Although clothing Odom and Chava is the example which Chazal gave for chessed at the beginning of the Torah, it is not the earliest example. The first posuk of the Torah is already an act of chessed. Bereishis bara Elokim eis hashomayim v’eis ho’oretz.” Why did Hashem create the Heaven and Earth? Did He need them – or us? But as the Mesilas Yesharim says, “Man was created to enjoy being close to Hashem and to benefit from the lustre of His Shechina. He created this world which has all that we require to gain entry, after our lives, to the World to Come which is the place of the greatest pleasure which can possibly exist.” We see that the creation of the world was pure chessed by Hashem.

Every detail of the creation was and is an act of chessed. Water and air are in plentiful supply; vegetation has both nutritional and medicinal value and is pleasing to look at. The sun provides us with sufficient heat and light and helps create oxygen for us to breathe, through photosynthesis. The moon stabilizes the Earths’s axis, controlling the climate and, through its gravitational pull, prevents catastrophic flooding in the North and South of the globe. (Scientific American). The division of time into periods of twenty-four hours makes it much easier to manage our lives. According to Rosh Hashana 31a, birds and fish are for us to admire and enjoy. The animal kingdom contributes in many ways to our ability to live productively and successfully in the world.

Arguably the greatest chessed is mentioned in perek 2, posuk 7. “Vayipach b’apov nishmas chaim.” Hashem gave us a neshama. Without our neshama we would be totally controlled by our natural instincts. Our sole pre-occupation would be finding food to eat and satisfying our natural drives. Our “philosophy” would be “survival of the fittest” with no aspirations to share with others and certainly not to put ourselves out for them. We would have no ambition to improve ourselves spiritually. No thoughts of “walking in the ways of Hashem” would enter our minds. And our end would be somebody else’s hand bag or leather shoes, if not his supper. As we say in ‘Modim’, “We thank You Hashem for our lives and our neshamos which are totally dependent on You. (Iyun Tefila).

Avrohom Ovinu, later, noticed all this. He saw the constant chassdei Hashem and felt that the correct way to honor such a Creator would be to emulate His ways, particularly in doing chessed with other people. And we, as Hashem’s creatures as well as talmidim of Avrohom Ovinu also try to lead a life in which we consider the needs of others.

Chessed as a way of life should not be thought of as “basic” or “natural” morality – the obvious way to live. It is a chiddush taught through our Torah to mankind. An African leader once confessed to a rabbi that before religious influences reached his country, the different tribes would be regularly at war with each other, the winners eating the losers!

We all try to follow the ways of the Torah in considering the needs of others, but some people excel and invest heroic efforts on behalf of others. These people inspire us to do more in our own lives. One example is the late Mrs Recha Sternbuch whose bravery is described in the recent biography of Rav Aaron Leib Steinman[1] which I have just read, who lived for a time in Switzerland at the same time as Mrs Sternbuch. Mrs Sternbuch was heavily involved in rescue efforts during World War II.

“One night, Mrs Sternbuch was waiting near a forested area by the Swiss-German border for twelve refugees she was supposed to meet. Unfortunately all twelve refugees were captured by the Nazis. Fearlessly and without her guide who refused to go, she entered the no-man’s land between Germany and Switzerland to negotiate their release. She came face to face with German guards who had ferocious dogs straining at their leashes. With unbelievable bravery she stood there and argued with the commander that she had twelve passports for the twelve refugees, (which was not true), rendering them Swiss citizens. The commander threatened to behead her for her audacity. However she continued and threatened that if the refugees were not released, the commander would be in violation of international law. Despite the ferocious dogs barking and threatening her, she maintained her calm and convinced the commander to release the refugees whom she managed to bring back with her to Switzerland.”

The late Rav Yisroel Belsky was once taken to a hospital for an emergency operation and a senior surgeon was called in. However news came through that a more senior surgeon in another hospitable was available and perhaps Rav Belski would like to move to that hospital so that he could have the best possible care. He would not hear of it. “Whether I live or not is in the hands of Hashem. How can I cause any embarrassment to the surgeon who is already here by suddenly going to someone else?”

Also in the biography of Reb Aaron Leib, the following question that he was asked, is quoted. A father of a bride had managed to find an apartment in Bnei Brak at a cheaper than average price for the young couple. However, despite the apparent lack of alternative accommodation and despite the fact the wedding was shortly to take place, the bride did not want that apartment. Her reason was that she knew that in that building a friend of hers lived and she had an elder sister who was not yet married. She felt that this elder unmarried sister might feel uncomfortable seeing her younger sister’s friend, married and living in the same building. “What should I do?” asked the father of the bride. Reb Aaron Leib was very impressed by the bride’s sensitivity and blessed her that she should merit to build a beautiful Jewish home. As to the question, with his classic down-to-earth wisdom, Reb Aaron Leib told the father to buy this apartment for his daughter but rent it out first to someone else until the older girl married – which indeed happened a few months later.

The Torah begins with chessed and ends with chessed as we quoted before. We learn that “Olom chessed yiboneh” – the very foundation of the world is chessed. (Tehilim 89:3). “Toras chessed al leshona – The teaching of kindness is on her (the Torah’s) tongue” (Mishlei 31:26). How sad and self-destructive the world would be without it. How beautiful it is with it and how inspiring are those who practice it.

[1] Reb Aharon Leib. Mesorah Publications Ltd. There is also an older book, by Mesorah Publications, all about Mrs Sternbuch called The Heroine of Rescue

Jewish Oxygen

Both Shevuos and Simchas Hatorah celebrate our connection with, or better, love, for the Torah. Two explanations differentiate between them. One is the Dubner Maggid’s well-known mashal of the young man who agreed to marry the king’s daughter without having seen her. Once he found out how beautiful and intelligent the princess was, he asked the king to make a second party. Similarly, we accepted the Torah on Shevuos without knowing what was in it. Within a few months we came to appreciate how much wisdom is in it. Therefore we celebrate a second time on Simchas Torah. Another explanation is based on the two reasons we appreciate a gift. One is its value; the other is the importance of the giver. On Shevuos we celebrate because we have received the most wonderful gift of the Torah. Then on Simchas Torah we celebrate because of the Giver of the Torah is the Creator of the World, Himself. That He gave us the Torah is a very great honor and source of great simcha for us. All this, coming after the beautiful festival of Sukkos, makes it truly a zman simchaseinu – a time of great spiritual and physical elation.

A dilemma I had this year was based on a halocho in the first section of Shulchan Aruch (1:3). “It is correct for all G-d-fearing people to be distressed by the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.Mishna Berura (1:9) discusses the importance of saying Tikun Chatzos, the special supplications for the speedy rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. Pious Jews wake up shortly before midnight to bewail the Churban HaBayis. We break a glass at every chuppa in memory of the Beis Hamikdash in fulfillment of the promise of Tehilim (137:6) that we shall never forget Yerusholayim, even and especially at our most joyous moments. Simchas Torah is so joyful with apparently unrestrained dancing and celebrations that I wondered how to fulfill this contrasting obligation at the same time – mourning over the destroyed Beis Hamikdash. Am I supposed to be thinking about Galus as I’m dancing with a Sefer Torah?

We have a parallel, if contrasting, conundrum at another time of the year. Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning devoted to pleading with Hashem to bring us out of Golus and to rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash. If we can’t cry on Tisha B’Av because of the Churban Habayis and our long painful exile, we should cry that we are not crying. About our two most serious days of fasting, Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, it was once said that on Yom Kippur “We haven’t got time to eat” and on Tisha B’Av, “Who wants to eat?” And yet we have a mitzva to be b’simcha, every day. “Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha“ makes no mention of Tisha B’Av being an exception. The famous statement of Chazal is that “From the beginning of Av we have to reduce our simcha.” It does not say that we should have no simcha at all. But what room is there for simcha on such a day of mourning?

Kiddushin 31b helps us in this second conundrum in. There we learn that while Avimi was waiting for his elderly father Rav Abohu to wake up so he could give him the drink he had requested, he had an insight into Tehilim: “A song of Asaf. G-d, the nations have come into Your inheritance. They have impurified Your holy Temple.” [79:1] How can this be a song? Surely it was a great tragedy. A dirge of Asaf would seem to be more appropriate. In the merit of the mitzva of honoring his father, Avimi suddenly realized the answer to this question which Rashi explains. Hashem poured out his wrath on wood and stones. The Jewish People were not worthy of the Beis Hamikdash. Had Hashem not destroyed it, He would have had to destroy them. Hashem, in His mercy, decided to keep the Jewish People alive and give them a chance to improve their behavior. Therefore the Beis Hamikdash had to be destroyed instead. Asaf thought of this positive aspect of the destruction when he wrote, “A song of Asaf.” This can also be in our minds even as we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash on Tisha B’Av. We can be b’simcha even as we mourn. “He poured out His wrath on wood and stones.”

But our first conundrum remains. How can we remember the destroyed Beis Hamikdash as we dance on Simchas Torah?

My colleague and co-writer Rabbi Yitzchok Rubin of Manchester once wrote about a tiny Sefer Torah in a small shtiebel in Brooklyn. What was the history of this Sefer Torah and how did it end up in this particular stiebel? An elderly Jew, a Holocaust survivor, would explain to anyone who asked, that he was amongst thousands of barely living Jews in a concentration camp. He heard that a fellow inmate who had a trade was allowed to return to his town from time to time. He implored him to do a great favor and rescue a tiny Sefer Torah which he hoped was still in his home. Amazingly this Jew risked his life and hid the minuscule Sefer Torah under his clothes when he returned to the camp and secretly gave it to the first Jew. Equally miraculously, the Sefer Torah was never discovered and it brought comfort, hope and strength to its owner and all others who were aware of its existence. This Jew survived and came to live in Brooklyn, bringing the Sefer Torah with him. He donated it to the stiebel where he davened. This Sefer Torah, now in the Aron Hakodesh of the stiebel, literally gave many Jews in the camp the will to survive and with it, life itself.

Not just during the Holocaust but throughout our long exile, the Sefer Torah and what it represents have given us life, both spiritually and physically. Even if, on occasions, our enemies managed to destroy scrolls of our Torah, “the letters flew in the sky.” It was our ‘oxygen’ whenever we were forced to flee. There were rings on the sides of the Aron Hakodesh in the Mishkan, with poles placed through them for easy transport. These poles were never allowed to be removed,(Shemos 25:15) symbolizing that even if we have to flee, we must take the Sefer Torah with us to ensure our survival.

Therefore, in the midst of the celebration of Simchas Torah, holding a Sefer Torah adds greatly to our simcha because we grasp its wisdom and beauty and that it was given to us by the Creator of the World. At the same time, however, we remember the destroyed Beis Hamikdash because it is precisely the Sefer Torah and what it represents which has enabled us to survive our long Galus.