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Our Job on Rosh Hashana
Be happy You're a Jew.
Adapted from part of a speech by Rav Ezriel Tauber to Avreichim in outreach program in Bridgeport, Conn.
I remember Bridgeport from many years ago. There used to be Shomer Shabbos Jews here. I learned in the Nitra Yeshiva in Mt. Kisco almost 50 years ago. Then there was a Shomer Shabbos bakery in Bridgeport who donated bread and challos to the Yeshiva. I used to drive in a van from the Yeshiva to pick up the challos. Now, you came here and you have to bring Hashem back into the world again. Your job is to make Hashem's name loved on everyone's lips. You have to make sure that everyone who comes into contact with you should be so impressed with you. They should say about you: he davens differently, he brings sholom, cleanliness, respect, joy.
I want to tell you a story. Before WWII there was a Ger in Nitra. He became a very pious Jew, a talmid chochom. He raised a beautiful family. Then the Nazis came to power and started rounding up the Jews. His family contacted him and told him they wanted to save him from the Nazis. They would vouch that he was 100% a goy and he could escape their clutches. His answer to them was, nothing doing. I joined the Jewish nation, I am a Jew, and I'm willing to suffer like a Jew, and die a Jew. The Nazis eventually caught up with him and sent him to Auschwitz. I once spoke to someone, Rav Tauber related, who witnessed how he was standing in line to go into the gas chambers. He was dancing and singing, אשרינו מה טוב חלקנו "How happy we are, how good is our lot."
What made him decide to become a Ger? Today it's more common but in those days it was absolutely not done. What made him decided to convert? Rav Tauber once asked this question to a chashuva Yid who was a close friend of this Ger Tzeddek. This individual retold that he himself personally asked the Ger, What made you convert?
He answered, you wouldn't believe me. It happened I was walking through the streets of Nitra one motzei Yom Kippur. Nitra was a little town in Czechoslovakia. I knew everyone by his first name. I happened to walk past the shul just as the services ended and everyone was coming out to go home. I observed everyone walking out of shul in their white kittels, and noticed that their faces were radiating like angels. I said to myself, such a religion that can take simple craftsmen, tailors, shoemakers, butchers, shop keepers, carpenters, and turn them all into angels, that's a religion I want to belong to.
So I ask you: now do you know what your job is as a Jew? You don't have to talk so much. All you need is your face radiating joy שלא עשני גוי.
Chazal tell us that Elul is the roshei teivos of אני לדודי ודודי לי Ani ledodi. "I am to my beloved." Your job is to make Hashem's name loved by everyone who comes into contact with you. Radiate joy! So that everyone who comes in contact with you says, what wonderful joy! With whom are you having a love affair? And you answer, I love Hakadosh Baruch Hu. You don't have to speak too much. Your joy will naturally turn people on.
One day, in Nitra in Czechoslovakia on a motzei Yom Kippur, just walking out of shul was enough to convert a goy. Now do you know what your job is?
But we're not talking about making converts. We're talking about influencing other Jews and making them more committed to Yiddishkeit. Now if you're going to become a nervous wreck about your Yiddishkeit, it's not so impressive. He doesn't want to also become a nervous wreck. But if you're going to be a happy Jew, you can be the most successful outreach person around.
I want to tell you another story. What is the function of a Jew? We are about to go into Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when we spend so much time davening. Look at the davening. It hardly talks about us at all. It talks about spreading the Kingship of Hashem on the entire world. "And everyone should know that Hashem Created them, and they should all proclaim him as King!" "Anyone with a breath in their nostrils…" and that means everyone. Even the bum in the worst part of the city, should proclaim, "The G-d of the Jews is the King and He rules over the entire world!"
Yosef Friedenson was one of the editors of the Yiddishe Vort, a periodical put out by Agudas Yisroel. He was in Auschwitz and he told over the following story.
In the barracks of Auschwitz they didn't sleep on beds, and not on cots. They slept on shelves. Yosef Friedenson slept on the top shelf, and underneath him slept a Hungarian Jew named Reb Binyomin. The Hungarians only came to Auschwitz the last year. The Polish Jews had already suffered for 4 or 5 years, and they were nothing more than skeletons. Then the last year of the war the Germans captured Hungary and started sending the Hungarians to the camp. They were still very healthy and strong.
This Reb Binyomin was a very pious Jew. He used to sing every morning מה טוב חלקינו מה נועם גורלינו and he said Birchas Hashachar with deep feeling and gave a new life into the broken spirits of the Polisher Jews. He revived them and gave them back their Jewish pride.
Once the Nazis ordered everyone out of the barracks except for Yosef Friedenson and Reb Binyomin. They were ordered to clean up the barracks. It had to be spotless. Everyone left and they were left alone in the barracks. As they were cleaning they found a whole loaf of bread. Everyone in Auschwitz was on a starvation diet. Can you imagine a whole loaf of bread? If you would find today $10,000,000 you wouldn't be as happy as someone who found a whole loaf of bread in Auschwitz.
Reb Binyomin said to Yosef Friedenson, "I know who owns this loaf of bread. It belongs to the Polish Kapo Ivan, that Jew hating sheigetz who hits us all day long. (The Kapos lived in the same barracks with the Jews.) We're going to give it back to him so this Kapo shouldn't say the Jews are ganovim (thieves)! We're going to make a Kiddush Hashem!"
Let's think into this. According to Halacha were they obligated to give it back to him? He probably stole it from the kitchen, so he didn't have any more right to it than they. And now it was an aveidas goy, and you don't have to give it back. There were many reasons why there was absolutely no problem in their keeping it. Especially since he was an anti-Semite, he deserved to lose it. And they were starving, it was pikuach nefesh.
But it occurred to Reb Binyomin for one moment to think, why are we here? Why were we singled out to clean the barracks and find the bread, and not someone else? It must be that this Kapo was supposed to know that Hashem, the God of the Jews, is King and rules over the entire world!
If they would have taken the bread it would not have been an aveira, it wasn't a sin. The issue is not mitzvos and aveiros. The issue is not my account with Hashem. The issue is Hashem is king over the entire world. Ivan should say, "The God of the Jews is king!"
Baruch Hashem we don't live under such terrible circumstances. But one thing is certain, we're not sensitive to making a Kiddush Hashem publically, to advertise Hashem is King. But that's the focus of Elul and Rosh Hashana. Ani ledodi. My job is to make everyone know that Hashem is my loved one, and everyone should come to love Hashem too.
I'm happy to be a Yid!
A Gut Gebensht Yahr!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network