Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues

Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Ki Savo

Yidden, Do Teshuva!

We read in this week's portion the parsha of the tochacha, Hashem's terrible reprimand warning us of the consequences of lack of loyalty to the Torah. The gemara (Megila 31b) tells us that Ezra made a takanah that the parsha of tochacha be read before Rosh haShana so that "tichleh shana v'kililoseha", the year and its curses should come to completion. Unfortunately, the Jewish people have been witness to the reality of this terrifying prophecy more than once. We ourselves are the generation after the Holocaust, when European Jewry experienced the tochacha.

One of the most important principles for every Yid, is to attain a clear awareness of Hashem's hand in everything transpiring around him. Jewish faith tells us that everything depends upon us, each one of us. So it is incumbent upon us to contemplate what is happening around us and what its message is. The takana of reading this parsha before Rosh Hashana, is definitely a message to us.

Rav Shimson Dovid Pincus, zt"l, remarked in his shmuezen that if we were to try to define what our generation is he would render a guess with the following moshol.

There was a young boy who was very wild and undisciplined. He refused to listen to anything he was told. He pranced around the whole day and did whatever randomly popped up in his mind. One day he was playing with a ball and it bounced into the street. Without a second thought he ran after it, straight in front of an oncoming car. What wasn't broken? Hands, legs, ribs, he was in critical condition. His parents hovered over him, worried and grief stricken, as he lay in the ICU of the hospital.

The common scenario is that during the stay in the hospital and for some time afterwards, he is pampered galore. Whatever he asks, he gets. His parents forgive him for everything, just come home healthy. This isn't the time for reprimand; just TLC.

But as time passes and he's out of the hospital and well on his way to recovery, his parents start speaking a different tune. Once he has passed the pampering stage, comes the time to start disciplining. Once in a while he has to get slapped and told, in no uncertain terms, he can't continue acting like this.

The lesson? 70 years ago the Jewish people experienced a terrible "accident" - the terrible and horrifying Holocaust. We barely came out alive. Most of Klal Yisroel, the best and the most beautiful of our nation, all the European yeshivos, everything was destroyed. The very foundation of the edifice of Judaism was wiped off the face of the earth.

Rav Pincus remarked that he once heard an upsetting incident involving the great gaon Rav Michoel Ber Weismandel, zt"l. He was a very great Torah giant who escaped the inferno of the Holocaust where he had lost his entire family. One of his congregants once heard in a drasha that in the Holocaust a million children were murdered! He was thoroughly shaken by this piece of information. He went to Rav Michoel Ber and told him, "Rebbe, until now you were broken and I had to encourage you. Today, I am shaken up and broken in spirit from what I heard. Please, Rebbe, give me some words of encouragement."

"What did you hear?"

"I heard that in the Holocaust the Nazis murdered a million innocent little children!"

Rav Michoel Ber became furious. "That's what's bothering you!? That they killed a million children? True, that's a terrible tragedy. But that's not THE worst tragedy. Even when a child is killed, Heaven forbid, but another child will be born in his place. But what about all those talmidei chachomim, rabbonim, and roshei yeshivos who were murdered in the Holocaust! There will never be Gedolei Yisroel like them. They were irreplaceable. That is the loss that makes me cry!"

Yes. The Jewish Nation took a heavy and terrible blow. And so naturally Hakadosh Baruch Hu pampers them for some time thereafter. Immediately after the War, He brought many Yidden to Eretz Yisroel. Another large portion He sent to America. Until recently, we have been blessed with basic tranquility and peace, both in gashmius and ruchnius in an unprecedented amount. Baruch Hashem, each one of us has plenty to eat. We enjoy affluence and have sufficient material wellbeing. We all have clothes on our backs and a comfortable roof over our heads. Each one of us sees the bounty pouring down from Heaven everywhere. However, the child who was hurt in an accident cannot be pampered forever. And as each one of us sees, today the winds are changing, Hakadosh Baruch Hu is beginning to speak in a different tone of voice. Thing are not what they used to be. Hashem is stopping pampering His children.

We have all heard of children 10 or 11 years old, who in difficult times acted with the maturity of a 50 year old. They lived up to the responsibilities put on them. Rabbosai! We have to recognize the responsibility being put on us in these difficult times! Responsibility to our families, to our communities, to Klal Yisroel. Hashem is sending us a very clear message. It's a wakeup call. Yidden, do Teshuvah!

* * *

There is another very important point Rav Pincus elaborated upon. Many of us make a common mistake.

Let's take for an example a Yid, a baal teshuva. Once, he used to desecrate Shabbos, publically, privately, Shabbos didn't exist for him. He ate treif and had no clue about kashrus. He was steeped in the 49 levels of tumah. Baruch Hashem, Hakadosh Baruch Hu helped him and he did teshuva. He doesn't keep everything yet, but he's definitely on his way up. He keeps Shabbos and doesn't eat treif.

Now let's imagine this person on a trip. He finds himself far from his home and he's famished! He goes into the supermarket and hunts for something to eat. He finds something, it's not treif, but he's not sure if it's kosher. He goes ahead and decides to eat it.

What is going through his mind at that moment?

In his deep subconscious he makes the following calculation. "Ribono Shel Olam, G-d Almighty. I used to be secular. I lived like a goy. You wrote in Your Torah that when someone repeats an aveira again and again it becomes second nature and permitted in his eyes. I could have remained a goy. Look at my family. All my siblings are secular! But me? In my good-heartedness and generosity I left everything behind and became a baal teshuva. I gave up desecrating Shabbos, I gave up treif. But not to eat this!? Let's not exaggerate."

Let's take another example. Imagine a frum business-man. Every night he takes time out to go to his gemara shiur. After the shiur he comes home, plops himself down on the couch and takes out a newspaper. Opposite him in the living room is a bookcase full of seforim. What is he saying to himself? "Ribono Shel Olam, I'm not a kollel man, I'm a businessman. With a generous heart I gave up of my precious time to go to a shiur in gemara. Please, don't exaggerate! Don't tell me that it's assur for me to read a newspaper!"


Let's now take a yeshiva bochur. He's been learning hard and trying his best to be at all the sedorim of the yeshiva. Finally Bein Hazmanim comes. He goes home. What does he tell himself?

"Ribono Shel Olam. I'm not the biggest masmid. I was very generous in going to yeshiva and learning so hard. So many hours each day, day in, day out. I came home for Bein Hazmanim and even though it's vacation I learned this morning for a good few hours. And now You tell me to also learn a few more hours at night? Ribono Shel Olam, what do You want from my life? Was I obligated to learn on my vacation time? Don't You remember last year and two years ago when I didn't learn at all Bein Hazmanim? The day will come when I'll be a masmid. But I think that today the few hours I learned this morning in the Beis Medrash were enough. Ribono Shel Olam, please, let's not exaggerate!"

* * *

Rebbe Yaakov Yosef HaCohen (the Toldos) was standing together with the Baal Shem Tov discussing various thoughts in Torah (according to this version of the story, there are other versions involving other personalities). The Baal Shem expressed the belief that everything that happens and you notice it, is a message relevant to you. If something occurs in the world, and you become aware of it, that means that you are being sent a message from Heaven. The Baal Shem Tov added that this is true even if it seems to be very insignificant, and even if it seems entirely natural, still, since everything that happens in the world is ordained by Hashem, even your becoming aware of this event is also ordained by Hashem, so it means that it contains some message. As they were discussing this concept, a gentile worker passed by and peeked through the open window and said, "Good Morning Rebbe, is there anything that needs fixing today?" He was a worker looking for a job.

"No, not today; everything seems to be in order," the Baal Shem replied.

The workman could not accept the answer, he needed work. So he blurted out, "Rebbe, if you look hard enough you'll always find something that needs repair." The Baal Shem turned to Rav Yaakov Yosef and said, "Do you realize that we have just been sent a message from the Ribono Shel Olam. If you look hard enough, you can always find something that can be fixed up. Never think you're perfect."

Rav Yaakov Yosef was not ready to accept this idea. "If Hashem has such a lofty message, is He going to send it through a goyishe laborer? I can't accept that."

The Baal Shem Tov looked at him and retorted, "You can, you just don't want to."

Rav Yaakov Yosef left the Baal Shem Tov's house, reflecting upon the conversation. As he was standing there, a goyishe farmer passed by with a wagon load of hay. (Other versions relate this story happening to Rav Zusha.) As he drove by, a few bales of hay became loose and fell off the wagon. The goy stopped his wagon and got off and looked at Rav Yaakov Yosef and asked, "Can you help me lift these bales of hay back on the wagon? They're too heavy for me to lift."

Rav Yaakov Yosef replied, "I'm sorry, but they're too heavy for me too."

The goy looked at him and said, "You can. You just don't want to!"

That did it. He was convinced. A Heavenly message can come even through a goyishe wagon driver.

We have the minhag that during Elul every morning after Shacharis, we blow the shofar. The Tur (581) remarks that this is to wake you up, "Yidden, do Teshuvah!" When a shofar is blown in the city, it is an air raid siren, and everyone becomes gripped with fear. So writes the Tur.

The shofar is a moshol. Everything that happens to a Yid is a message, it's a wakeup call. One trained in seeing hashgacha pratis will start seeing everything as a Heaven sent message. Our job in these turbulent times is to hear the wakeup call. Especially today, everything happening around us contains a message. Now, during Elul, and on Rosh Hashanah, when we hear the shofar we should realize that it is not just a musical instrument. It is not just a nice minhag. Hashem is talking to us, "Yidden, do Teshuvah!"

Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff, or change your subscription, please contact:

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel