With Rav Avigdor Miller ztz”l
Recognizing The Greatness of Our People
Part I. Different People
THE POISON TREE
We begin with a possuk in our parsha: אֽוֹ אִשָּׁה אוֹ מִשְׁפָּחָה אוֹ שֵׁבֶט אֲשֶׁר לְבָבוֹ פֹנֶה הַיּוֹם מֵעִם הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ – Perhaps there is someone among you, a man, a woman, or a family or tribe, whose thoughts stray from Hashem our G-d (Netzavim 29:18). It’s talking about someone who has an inclination to follow after his own thoughts, and he’s veering away from the ideals of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
שָׁלוֹם יִהְיֶה לִּי כִּי בִּשְׁרִירוּת לִבִּי אֵלֵךְ – “I’m going to go the way my mind sees,” he says. It means, he’s a ma’amin in Hakodosh Boruch Hu, he’s a shomer torah u’mitzvos, but his attitudes of the mind are straying. And in case you would think that it’s nothing at all, the Torah says: פֶּן יֵשׁ בָּכֶם שֹׁרֶשׁ פֹּרֶה רֹאשׁ וְלַעֲנָה – those wrong attitudes of the mind are a root producing gall and bitter fruit (ibid.) It means he’s מַפְרֶה וּמַרְבֶּה רֶשַׁע בְּקִרְבּוֹ – He’s planted bitter seeds in his mind and now there are poisonous plants growing there (Rashi, ibid.).
SOME ARE THIRSTY, SOME NOT
Now what does Hashem tell us as an example of this man who is straying away from Him and planting poisonous ideas in his head? Maybe it’s someone who’s dabbling in avodah zarah,or someone who is mivazeh talmidei chachomim? No. It’s a man who says בִּשְׁרִירוּת לִבִּי אֵלֵךְ – I’ll follow what my mind believes, לְמַעַן סְפוֹת הָרָוָה אֶת הַצְּמֵאָה – in order to join those whose thirst is quenched with those who are still thirsty.
Now these are mysterious words, “He’s joining the thirsty with the satiated.” We’ll try to understand what they mean;but whatever they do mean, whatever that man is thinking, it must be terrible because the Torah says:לֹא יֹאבֶה הַשֵּׁם סְלֹחַ לוֹ – Hashem will be unwilling to forgive him, כִּי אָז יֶעְשַׁן אַף הַשֵּׁם וְקִנְאָתוֹ בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא – the wrath of Hashem will fume and His vengeance will inflame that man, וְרָבְצָה בּוֹ כָּל הָאָלָה הַכְּתוּבָה בַּסֵּפֶר הַזֶּה וּמָחָה הַשֵּׁם אֶת שְׁמוֹ מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם – and there will come upon him all the curses written in the Torah and Hashem will wipe away his name from beneath the sky (ibid. 19).
All the curses written in the Torah?! Wrath and vengeance?! That means we’d better get busy understanding this terrible sin of “equating the thirsty with the satiated.”
BLOWING SHOFAR AT THE FRUIT STORE
So we’ll begin it by learning the peirush of these words as found in Mesichta Sanhedrin. Everyone knows about hashavas aveidah, the mitzvah to return a lost item to a fellow Jew. The Torah says וַהֲשֵׁבֹתוֹ לוֹ, you have to bring it back to him; it’s a mitzvah d’oraisah. And it also says there, לֹא תוּכַל לְהִתְעַלֵּם — You should not avert your eyes from the aveidah; it’s an aveirah to walk by and ignore it. The Torah is very interested that you should protect your fellowman’s property.
And so, when you walk by a fruit store on the street and you see that an apple fell from the bin onto the sidewalk, so if it’s a Jewish fruit store then it’s a mitzvah d’oraisa to pick up the apple and put it back before it gets ruined. Now, it’s just an apple – it’s not a matter of ten dollars. It costs thirty cents, forty cents, that’s all. But it makes no difference. Even one prutah – a penny, you have to return.
You hear that? You never thought about that before? Now you know why you should come here more often; you’ll learn something. If you pick up an apple outside of a Jewish fruit store and you put it back in the bin, you should know that you’re doing a mitzvah d’oraisa, just like blowing shofar.
SINNING AT THE FRUIT STORE
So now we can look at the gemara (Sanhedrin 76b) and see how Chazal describe the sin of this man who is planting poison seeds in his mind; the one who is “adding the satiated onto the thirsty.” And the gemara says like this: What did he do? He was walking, let’s say, past a Korean fruit store and he saw a fruit lying on the sidewalk. An apple fell off the bin and in another minute someone will pass by and kick the apple into the gutter. So this man bends over, picks up the apple and puts it back on the bin. That’s all he did. He has in his mind hashavas aveidah – to return a lost article.
And what does the Torah say about this good fellow, this well-mannered citizen? Maybe he should get a special commendation from the mayor? Could be. But listen to what the Torah says about him: לֹא יֹאבֶה הַשֵּׁם סְלֹחַ לוֹ – Hashem will not want to forgive him for what he did. Not only that He won’t forgive him; He won’t desire to forgive him. Hashem won’t even desire to forgive him?! What did this man do wrong already? He picked up the apple and put it back on the bin – that’s all he did.
THE THIRSTY NATION
And the answer to that puzzle is revealed to us in those words in the possuk: לְמַעַן סְפוֹת הָרָוָה אֶת הַצְּמֵאָה — it’s because he added those who are already satiated onto those who are still thirsty. It means like this: Jews are thirsty for mitzvos; they are a people whose desire for avodas Hashem is never quenched. It’s not the whole story of the Am Yisroel, but it’s one of the important differences between us and the nations of the world. Am Yisroel are tzmei’im l’avodas yotzro, they’re thirsty for mitzvos, while the gentiles are satiated; they’re not interested. And just because of that, just because we’re thirsty for mitzvos, we deserve tremendous honor.
The Am Yisroel is busy all day long with mitzvos. Shmiras halashon is a mitzvah of the Torah; all day he’s watching his mouth – at least he’s trying to keep his mouth closed. וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, to love your fellow Jew is a mitzvah, and וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֶיךָ is also not a small mitzvah. And when he walks in the street he’s thinking, וְלֹא תָתֻרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם – the men don’t look at women and women don’t look at men. All day long he’s serving Hashem.
Even today, pashute Jews are keeping the Torah everywhere. Everyone is preparing for Shabbos; women and young girls are laboring in the kitchen for hours l’kavod Shabbos – a very great mitzvah! The Jewish stores are crowded; long lines filled with people paying big sums of money – and for what? For the mitzvah of Shabbos!
All week long the Am Yisroel is busy with mitzvos. A frum Jew gets up early in the morning to go to shul and then a few hours later he’s back in shul again. Elderly men, bochurim and little children are going to shul. Back and forth, back and forth. Shachris, mincha, ma’ariv – he davens and he learns a little bit too. He puts a nickel in the pushka whenever he gets a chance.
WHAT ARE THEY THIRSTY FOR?
Are goyim busy with mitzvos all day long?! Ah nechtige tug! He sees the Jew walking back and forth to shul a few times a day; he doesn’t understand what’s happening. He goes to church once a month and the priest says, “All your sins are forgiven,” and finished.
Don’t think that the Catholics or the Protestants, even the religious ones, are the same as you, only that the religion is different. Don’t make any mistake about that! There is a very wide chasm between you and them. Goyim don’t desire mitzvos; maybe they accept a few commandments of the Torah, maybe they follow some of the Bible, but they don’t do it with any sort of cheshek, any desire. Even if they do some things, they’re zaht – they’re overfed; they’re not thirsty for mitzvos.
I’ll tell you what they’re thirsty for. You walk in the streets early in the morning in a Catholic neighborhood, a respectable upper class Catholic neighborhood, and lying stretched out on the ground is a good Catholic. He’s drunk and he’s been sleeping on the street all night. I walked in the Catholic neighborhoods forty years ago and I saw that many times. Drunk all night, fast asleep in the gutter; and then he gets up in the morning, staggers home, and tells everybody, “Ooh wah! What a time I had last night!” He’s proud of himself.
And did they expel him from their homes or from their churches? No! Never! It wasn’t even considered a chisaron. Many people admired him; they were jealous of him. It was an exploit! He would tell his friends about it: “Did I ever tell you about the time that I slept drunk in the gutter the whole night?!” A goy is satiated with drink! He wants mitzvos like he wants a hole in his shoe.
THE FIGHT FOR CHEDER EDUCATION
Did you ever see a Jew lying drunk in the street at night?! Maybe today you could, but forty years ago you couldn’t. Does a Jew go to the pub and drink after his day at the office?! He’s busy with better things; he’s learning with his children. He’s wiped out from a long day but he sits down to chazer over the gemara with his boys. The mother is sitting the girls, with the chumash, with the aleph beis. All day long you hear brachos in that house. There’s a tehillim on the table. The girls are davening shemonah esrei in the corner. It’s a house of mitzvos!
And what’s a Jew doing in the office anyhow? He’s there for mitzvos! It cost big money to raise a Jewish family today! People are spending tremendous sums to bring up their children b’derech haTorah! We’re trying very hard to get vouchers; at least the I.R.S. should recognize what we’re paying for tuition and give us a rebate on our income tax. But the I.R.S doesn’t care how much we spend – you can’t deduct that. And the Reform Jews are fighting against us – they don’t want us to get deductions because once we have an opportunity to get rebates on our school expenses, then maybe more and more Jews will send their children to yeshivos. And the Reform is afraid of that. But no matter what, rebate or no rebate, the Am Yisroel is paying the money anyhow; we’re spending tremendous sums on schar limud. Only a thirsty nation would do such a thing!
HOLY PARENTS AND HOLY CHILDREN
Here’s a Jew who’s going around from house to house in his spare time. He works all day in a factory but he has ten children and he has to pay s’char limud. The Satmar Yeshiva tells him he must go and collect money to pay tuition. So after work he goes around asking for donations. He comes to your home and you give him something. Let’s say, you offer him a glass of milk. But he won’t take it; he doesn’t trust your milk. He’s thirsty, he’s weary, he’s eaten nothing all day long but he refuses to drink any milk that’s not chalav yisroel. That’s a hero! That’s a martyr! You should feel honored to have him in your home for a few minutes.
And not only him. Even the little children of the Am Yisroel are holy of holies. Our little children are צְמֵאִים לְמִצְווֹת, they’re thirsting for mitzvos. A little boy in Flatbush is more holy, l’havdil, than all the gentiles put together. I always tell you the same story, but it’s a good story to tell. There’s a little boy who ate a fleishigeh meal and now he wants some ice cream. There’s ice cream in the freezer. Nobody’s home – he’s all by himself. He looks at the clock. A little boy, he’s waiting for the clock to turn the six hours and then he’ll eat the ice cream. He keeps looking at the clock; he wants his ice cream already, but no matter what he’ll wait the six hours.
THE LITTLE BOY BREAKS THE SCALE
If you have a big scale, and you put on one side all of the nations — all the Englishmen, all the Americans, all the French, every other people on the face of the earth, all on one side of the scale. And on the other side is one little frum boy, or one little girl, they are machri’a es kulan – they outweigh all of the nations of the world.
Go out in the streets in the morning. You see boys and girls everywhere waiting for the buses. They’re going to the Beis Yaakovs, the yeshivos. And the little boys are in the cheder all day long sitting and learning Eilu Metzios, all kinds of dinim; when you have to return a lost article, when you don’t have to return it, how to return it. Little boys, not even bar mitzvah are learning the details of the mitzvos. They’re learning to love what it means to be part of the nation that is thirsty for mitzvos.
Does the Italian send his children to places where they learn the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah? No; he’s sending his children to public school or to the gentile private schools where they study kol davar ossur. What they study and practice in those schools, I don’t want to even say the words in a shul. That’s the thirst of a goy. There’s no comparison between the gentile and the Jew – no comparison at all!
HONORING THE HONORABLE
And so this man, when he picks up the Korean apple from the sidewalk and puts it back into the bin, he’s equating the overfed goyim with the Am Yisroel, the nation that is thirsty to serve its Creator.שֶׁהִשְׁוָה כְּבוֹדָן שֶׁל אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם לִכְבוֹדָן שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל — He equated the honor of the gentile to that of a Yisroel. When a person does that out of the generosity of his heart; when he thinks, “Since it’s a good thing to return a lost apple that belongs to a Jewish fruit man, I won’t be selfish just for us alone. I’ll be generous-hearted, and I’ll return it to the goy too,” so that man has to know that Hashem won’t forgive him. Hashem won’t even desire to forgive him for that poisonous thought in his head of equating the honor that belongs to the Jewish nation with that of the gentiles.
Now, if you tell me that you pick it up because you want to show that Jews are good people, darkei shalom, all right, maybe. Everyone knows that if the cashier in the 99 cent store accidentally gives you more than you deserve to get, so sometimes it pays to say, “You made a mistake. You gave me too much money.” Could be. If you have a beard and a black hat, it could be it’s a mitzvah to say that.
So if there are goyim standing around, if a policeman is standing there, all right, pick up the apple and put it back on the bin. Be a nice fellow so that the goyim will say, “You see that; the Jews aren’t so bad after all.” It’s a mitzvah to raise the honor of the Jewish people in the eyes of the goyim.
But otherwise pass by. Because what we’re learning here is that it’s even a bigger mitzvah to raise the honor of the Jewish people in your own eyes! And what that means is that when you pass by the fruit on the floor you keep going – and you remind yourself why you’re doing that. You don’t want to be a man who harbors poison in his mind, someone who is סְפוֹת הָרָוָה אֶת הַצְּמֵאָה, equating the honor of the over-satiated with the honor that belongs only to the thirsty nation. For a Yisroel, achicha, yes, you bend over and pick it up. אֲבֵדַת אָחִיךָ — the lost object of your brother in mitzvos you’re michuyav to return. A nation that does mitzvos, so we do mitzvos for them – it’s an honor they deserve! But the gentiles? They don’t want to do any mitzvos, so we don’t honor them with our mitzvos.
THE TERRIBLE CRIME OF HASHAVAS AVEIDAH
Now this I admit; let’s say you found a watch in the street and now you want to put it in your pocket. It could be you have to give it to the police. I don’t know; it could be there’s a law like that. Some places have a law that you have to bring it to the police station. So if it’s a law of the government, that’s something else. But you’re not doing it because of a mitzvah though; you’re only doing it because of the law.
But no government has a law that you have to bend over to pick up the apple. There’s no such thing that when you pass by a fruit stand, you must pick up the apple and put it back – no. And so if you lean over and pick up that Korean’s apple it’s a terrible sin. And you’re also doing a tremendously dangerous thing for yourself. If you pick it up with the same emotion that you pick up an apple for the Jewish food store, so the Torah says,לֹא יֹאבֶה הַשֵּׁם סְלֹחַ לוֹ — Hashem will not want to forgive you. If you do it because you want to do a good deed – let’s say you’re not thinking and you have in mind the idea of hashavas aveidah – so you’ve committed a crime, a very great crime against the greatness of Am Yisroel.
A crime?! Yes, it’s a crime. The crime is that you don’t understand, you don’t appreciate the greatness of the Am Yisroel. And it’s a terrible corruption of character! A nation that loves mitzvos should be honored in such an exceptional way, that chas v’shalom if you do anything for a non-Jew to put him on par with a Yisroel, you’re committing such a terrible crime that Hashem won’t even have an interest in forgiving you. לֹא יֹאבֶה הַשֵּׁם סְלֹחַ לוֹ. “You’re making a fundamental error” says Hakodosh Boruch Hu. “You think you did a good deed but it’s an aveirah, a serious sin! Because one of the worst mistakes in life is to think that the honor and respect deserved by the most simple Jew is anywhere near what should be done for a non-Jew.”
THE ROSH HASHANA MEMBERSHIP DRIVE
Now some people, when they hear this, they want to walk out.I know that for some of you it hurts to hear such things. So we say goodbye to you. You can leave if you want but I won’t pull any punches. I know that many of you have American heads but I can’t help that – here we talk the Torah truth, like it or not.
In this place we’re not willing to yield anything to the ideals of democracy; we’re not willing to distort the Torah out of fealty to the Constitution. “All men are created equal;” that’s for gentiles to say. But the emunah that Hakodosh Boruch Hu requires of us is that we should know that we are the b’ni bechori Yisrael – “You are My firstborn son,” says Hashem. “You’re My only son.” And that’s so important that it’s something we’re expected to internalize every time we pass by the Korean fruit store.
I make it a point to pass by! I wouldn’t pick it up. I make it a point to keep on walking and I remind myself, “Only for a Yisroel there’s a mitzvah.” I hope you’ll try that out next time. Because to do otherwise means that you’re planting poisonous seeds in your mind.
We’re learning now that this is one of the great functions of our lives – among our many duties to Hashem is to understand and appreciate the greatness of the people that love mitzvos. You’re learning now how a pashuteh Jew should be treated. It’s a matter of respect, of esteem for those who deserve to be honored. And the mitzvah of hashavas aveida is just one example of how we do that. When you see his apple on the sidewalk, that’s an opportunity to demonstrate how greatly you value the importance of a Yisroel: you’re moichel on your time, on your kavod, on the tircha for him— you bend over and pick up the apple and put it on the bin, and you think, “I’m doing a mitzvah d’oraisah of returning lost object to a brother — a brother b’mitzvos.
Part II. The People of Hundred Tekios
THE SECRET OF THE HUNDRED TEKIOS
Now, once we begin to appreciate how significant it is that the Am Yisroel is the nation that is “thirsty for mitzvos,” so we’ll be able to understand now a gemara in Mesichta Rosh Hashana (16a-16b) that needs explanation. You know, tekias hashofar is really not complicated – to fulfill the mitzvah min hatorah doesn’t require so many tekios. How much do you have to blow already? Nine tekios, thirty tekios maybe, and that’s it; you’re finished.
But what do we do on Rosh Hashana? We have tekios before mussaf, tekios during mussaf, and then again another set of tekios after mussaf. We blow again and again and again. We’re hungry; we want to go home and eat already, but we stand in shul listening to the bal tokei’a blowing the shofar much more than is required by the Torah.
THE SATAN’S CONFUSION
What’s it all about? That’s the gemara’s question: לָמָּה תּוֹקְעִין וּמְרִיעִין כְּשֶׁהֵן יוֹשְׁבִין וְתוֹקְעִים וּמְרִיעִין כְּשֶׁהֵן עוֹמְדִים – Why do they make tekios so many times? It seems so superfluous! We’re not doing a new mitzvah. It doesn’t make sense. We already fulfilled the mitzvah before mussaf – you can’tdo a mitzvah twice! What’s this thing all about?
Now listen to what the gemara answers: כְּדֵי לְעַרְבֵּב הַשָּׂטָן – We do it in order to confuse the Satan. He’s standing ready to prosecute us and he has many claims against us. We’re human beings and human beings do very many things and we’re being judged now for those things. And the prosecutor comes to the courtroom with a lot of paperwork, a lot of evidence. There’s a lot he has written down about our past year. And that’s not good. So what saves us? How do we come away from the Yom Hadin safely? So the gemara says that we confuse the Satan by blowing more than we have to.
ESCAPING A GUILTY VERDICT
Now, the Satan is not a foolish man. He’s a malach – a very wise malach. And he’s not easily confused; you’re not going to confuse him by repeating some tekios. The exact number of tekios won’t confuse him, you can be sure about that.
The answer is like this: It’s not the mitzvah that saves us;it’s the chiba of the mitzvah; it’s the love of the mitzvah that “confuses” the Satan. שֶׁהֵם מְחַבְּבִים אֶת הַמִּצְווֹת – Because they love mitzvos; they love mitzvos very much. That’s the one thing that knocks him out entirely. When he sees that we’re standing up now to blow shofar again – “What’s going on?! They blew already!” – then all of his claims become muted; they’re made quiet. When he sees that the Am Yisroel just can’t get enough of mitzvos – they did the mitzvah already but they’re thirsty for more – that knocks him over. He still has claims against us, but he does it with a different niggun. He says it with respect now; the Satan has a newfound respect for us.
And therefore, even though the Satan will not yield his duty – he has to carry out his mission to be melamed chov on Am Yisroel – but when he sees that we’re חוֹזְרִין וְתוֹקְעִין, that we’re blowing shofar again, that causes him to be quiet. לְעַרְבֵּב – he gets confused. He knows exactly what he wanted to say, but all of a sudden his arguments fall apart. The foundation of his whole argument against us becomes confused.
GREATNESS IN A CAVE
There’s a tale – a story in the gemara (Shabbos 33b) about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon was once sentenced to death by the Romans because he had criticized the Roman government. Now, when the Romans pronounced a death sentence on a person it wasn’t like in New York; it was serious business. So when Rabbi Shimon heard about this he did the smartest thing; he ran away with his son and hid in a cave. And for twelve years they sat in the cave hiding from the Romans.
Now, you have to know that it was during those twelve years that Rabbi Shimon and his son became exceedingly great. What went on in that cave was tremendous. They didn’t want to wear out their clothing, so they dug a hole in the ground and they sat in the sand up to their necks all day long and they learnt Torah. When they had to daven, so they climbed out of the hole and put on their clothing and davened. Then they took off their clothing and went back in the hole again. That’s how they spent twelve years.
It wasn’t an easy life – their bodies were full of sores from the sand. But they became very great! Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar b’Reb Shimon became very great men as a result. These twelve years elevated them immensely.
DESTROYING THE WORLD
Finally at the end of twelve years a message was sent to them m’shamayim: “The danger is over; you can go out now.” So they went back out to civilization and what did they see? They saw people, poshuteh Jews. They saw people who were farmers, people raising cattle, and they said, “What’s this? Milking cows?! You’re wasting your life with milking cows planting fields?!” They didn’t understand! That people should give their time for anything but perfection, shleimus of avodas Hashem?! You don’t share the heart with anything else except for serving Hashem – that was their idea. They had just lived it for twelve years.
So wherever they looked they were dissatisfied with what they saw. And because of their kedusha, wherever they looked with their holy eyes, it was destroyed. They took a look, they disapproved of what they saw and מִיָּד נִשְׂרַף, it was destroyed. They destroyed this field, they destroyed that field. They couldn’t tolerate what they were seeing.
So Hashem said, “You think I let you come out of your cave to destroy My world?! Is that how you look at My people?! Go back to the cave again! Go back and stay there!” And so, Rabbi Shimon and his son returned to living in the cave.
After one more year in the cave they finally came out again. It was erev Shabbos andthey saw an old man running. Now, old men don’t run. For an old man it’s hard sometimes just to tie his shoes, but here was an old man who was running. And in his hands he was carrying two branches of hadasim. So they say to him, “What are you running for?” He said, “I’m going home to bring flowers for Shabbos – l’kovod Shabbos.” So Rabbi Shimon said, “So why do you need two?” He said, אֶחָד כְּנֶגֶד זָכוֹר וְאֶחָד כְּנֶגֶד שָׁמוֹר. “L’kovod Shabbos, one sprig for the word zachor and one for the word shamor.”
When Rabbi Shimon saw that, ehr iz arois fun di keilim, he became so excited! “Oooh,” said Rabbi Shimon. “I change my mind now about the pashute Jews.” חֲזִי כַּמָּה חֲבִיבִין מִצְווֹת עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל – “Look how cherished the mitzvos are to the Jewish people. The pashute Jews are kodesh kadoshim,” said Rabbi Shimon.“They’re thirsty for mitzvos. An old man running l’kovod Shabbos!”
And so nisyashev da’ato, the mind of Rabbi Shimon was appeased. Now he was satisfied with the Am Yisroel – not only satisfied; he appreciated them, he respected them. And now he didn’t cause any more trouble where he looked; he didn’t make anything charuv anymore. Because wherever he looked,what he saw was a nation that thirsted for mitzvos. They’re milking cows, they’re planting crops, they’re in their homes; whatever they’re doing, they’re living lives of mitzvos!
THE APEX OF PERFECTION
What we see from this story is that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, despite all of the shleimus that he achieved in that cave during those twelve years, nevertheless, he needed one more madreigah of perfection. And that was to recognize the gadlus of the frum Jew, even the pashute frum Jew. Rabbi Shimon was already very great from his years in the cave but it wasn’t enough – he had to achieve one more thing, one more attitude of the mind. The apex, the crown of his shleimus – was to be impressed with the stature of the most simple Jew; to respect and admire the nation that is thirsty for mitzvos.
So we begin to see that even though you’re a shaleim; even though you’re moiser nefesh for avodas Hashem like Rabbi Shimon and his son; you’re succeeding in learning Torah — you’re even learning the deepest secrets of the Torah – nevertheless, there’s one more secret that you still have to learn. You must add to the list of your achievements, the very great perfection of recognizing the gedulas Am Yisroel – the nation that loves mitzvos. No matter how great you are in avodas Hashem, and how great you are in Torah knowledge, you must add this attitude of mind to your store of knowledge.
Part III. The Honored People
ROSH HASHANA DAVENING
And that’s why there are a few words that we repeat over and over again on the Yomim Nora’im. In all of the tefillos we say the following words: וּבְכֵן תֵּן כָּבוֹד הַשֵּׁם לְעַמֶּךָ תְּהִלָּה לִירֵאֶיךָ – “Hashem, give honor to Your people, let there be praise for those who fear You.” It means that we’re praying to Hakodosh Boruch Hu that the time should come when the nations of the world should honor the Jewish people. You know that right now they’re busy doing the opposite. From the beginning of our history nobody is as vilified and insulted and blackened as the Jew. And therefore we ask Hashem again and again: וּבְכֵן תֵּן כָּבוֹד הַשֵּׁם לְעַמֶּךָ. We pray that the gentiles should give honor to Jews. תְּהִלָּה לִירֵאֶיךָ – May the time come when they should give praise to those who fear You. That’s our fervent wish
Now, the first thing Hakodosh Boruch Hu says when He hears that is, “What about you? You’re so interested in the honor of your nation? Are you honoring your fellow Jews? When you see a Jew, do you feel a surge of emotion, an outpouring of admiration toward him?”
Did you ever say to yourself, when you see a stranger in the street: “That man walking towards me on the street is an aristocrat! Even if the king of England would be walking past me, that would be nothing compared to this Jew, the one who is tzamei la’mitzvos.”
If you’re not thinking that way, then you’re not thinking. And it’s a requirement — otherwise you’re not speaking to Hashem in truth. “Hashem should honor the Am Yisroel”?! You’re just saying words; it’s in the machzor so you have no choice, you can’t skip it after all. But do you really care about their honor? Are you doing something about it?!
LET’S TALK L’MAISAH
I’m talking halacha l’maisah now – practical things, not just d’varim b’alma. Suppose you’re sitting on a bus – it’s a bus that runs through the Italian neighborhood and it’s packed with anti-Semites. They don’t say anything – they’re not telling you what they really think about kikes, but they’re anti-Semites; you can trust me about this.
And suddenly there comes up on the bus a Jew with a beard, a big conspicuous beard; it’s already gray or white. And of course, nobody gives him a seat. He’s standing there, one Jew with a white beard, standing all alone on a bus full of goyim. Everybody has seats; he happens to be the only one without a seat. And he’s swaying with every lurch of the bus and nobody even bothers to offer him their seat. What do they care for an elderly Jew – let him stand, let him collapse, they don’t care.
Here’s where you come in. You remember now what you said on Rosh Hashana, “Hashem, give honor to your people.” And so you get up and you offer him your seat. But you don’t just mumble something to him; you don’t make some motion. Instead you make a big scene; a public demonstration of תֵּן כָּבוֹד לְעַמֶּךָ. First you shake hands with him – with respect, with kavod. That’s number one; you get up, you shake his hand and show that he’s an honored man.
THE HERRING MAN DESERVES YOUR RESPECT
Now it could be he sells herring in the grocery store. He’s not a great rabbi; maybe he’s not even a little rabbi, but it makes no difference. He’s a Jew; he’s from the יְרֵאֶיךָ, those who fear Hashem; he’s from the צְמֵאִים לְמִצְווֹת – the nation that thirsts for mitzvos.
And that’s why you go out of your way to honor him. That’s enough of a reason. You don’t care if he’s a herring salesman or a rosh yeshiva; he’s a thirsty Jew and he deserves all the honor in the world! And that’s why you have to get up and make a public demonstration. He sits down in your seat and you stand over him and talk kindly and respectfully to him. It’s a public demonstration; you don’t care about everybody else in the car. Let them grit their teeth in anger; let them get cancer from watching that. You’re just doing our job. That’s our job – to demonstrate that we have the highest respect for frum Jews. תְּהִלָּה לִירֵאֶיךָ, we have to show praise to those who fear Hashem.
RESPECT, NOT RACHMANUS
We’re not talking now only about having rachmanus on an old man who gets on a crowded bus – it’s much more than that. It means we have such a respect for the nation that is hungry for mitzvos that we want to honor them. We want to give him a seat because we want to honor the nation that is thirsty for mitzvos. We want to lean over into the gutter to pick up his lost apple because we want to honor the holy nation. We want to hold open the door for a fellow Jew because we want to honor every member of the nation that fears Hashem; we want to add praise to the יְרֵאֶיךָ, those who fear Him.
And therefore, it’s not only a lonely Jew on the bus who you should honor; that’s when it’s more important of course, but we’re speaking now about all the frum men and women, all the frum boys and girls. We should be giving them great honor; we have to praise them with all good words because no matter what you’ll say, it won’t be an exaggeration. You’ll say that they’re children of the Keil Chai, it’s absolutely true. You’ll say kol Yisroel yesh lahem chelek l’olam haba, that’s also true. And so when you see a frum Jew on the street you’re looking at someone who Hashem is thinking about; you’re looking at someone who will one day be with Hakodosh Boruch Hu in the Next World.
And it’s not a guzmah; an exaggeration or a form of speech. The nation that is doing mitzvos – not only doing, but they’re thirsty for mitzvos – that makes them holy. That’s what we say all day long:בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הַשֵּׁם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְווֹתָיו – Thank You Hashem for making us kadosh by means of the mitzvos. A mitzvah changes you! We become more holy when we do mitzvos.
Every mitzvah will makes you more and more kadosh. Even if you sit all Shabbos long and do nothing, you become more of a kadosh at the end of Shabbos. קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתֶיךָ you say on Shabbos. Shabbos makes you kadosh. You’re clothed in a beged of kedusha. And next Shabbos, another beged. The older you are, the more kedushas Shabbos you have.
MORE AND MORE HOLINESS
Not only a mitzvah d’oraisa. The chachomim came along and added more mitzvos – and that means we’re busy with kedusha all day long. You wash your hands for bread and you make a bracha, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְווֹתָיו עַל נְטִילַת יָדַיִם. What a privilege that is! “Oy! What a good fortune it is, Hashem, that You gave me another mitzvah that makes me more kadosh.”
The Am Yisroel is an am kadosh, a holy nation – no question about it. And therefore, it’s not only the non-Jews on the buses should learn to respect us; most important is that we have to learn to respect frum Jews. We have to always understand that Hakodosh Boruch Hu says: “Don’t make any comparison! לְמַעַן סְפוֹת הָרָוָה אֶת הַצְּמֵאָה – “Don’t add the satisfied, the overfed goy, onto the holy Jews.” The tzme’ah, the nation thirstyfor mitzvos, is an entirely different category by itself.
YERUSHALAYIM AND GOLDERS GREEN
Now, that’s something that needs a great deal of practice; to train yourself to think, “Every Jew is kodesh; he’s miles above anyone else in the world!” Your wife is kodesh, your children are kedoshim, your neighbor is a kadosh. The people in the street, your customers, your employers, everybody in the beis haknesses – all the shomrei mitzvos are kodesh.
And there’s such a kedushah that the Shechinah is on them. וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – You have to believe b’emunah shleima that the Shechina is found in no other place in the universe! It’s found in Yerushalayim. It’s found in Bnei Brak and in Flatbush and in Lakewood. It’s found in Golders Green in England. And as you walk through those streets, you walk with the greatest derech eretz because in those places the Shechina resides. When you walk through these places, you should know that you’re walking in the streets of the most noble people, the aristocrats of the world.
THE HOLY AND THE MUNDANE
Not just the neighborhood – every family, every individual is worthy of the greatest honor. Let’s say you pass by a home, a Jewish home. And one house over, there’s another Jewish home. But in between there’s a gentile home with an Italian flag outside – it’s a neat home, with neat garden. Very nice, very nice. But you should understand there’s a hefsek in between the two Jewish homes. Here’s kedusha, then there’s nothing, then there’s kedusha again. A Jewish home is without measure superior to the non-Jewish home.
You have to have the greatest derech eretz for a frum Jewish home. Because who’s living in those homes? It’s not the overfed Italians living there – it’s thirsty Jews! Jewish children! Jewish grandmothers! Jewish mothers and fathers! It’s a nation that is beloved by Hashem because they love mitzvos! Of course, in ancient times it was much more intense. But even today, the frum Jews are kodesh kadoshim.
THE WOMAN HIGH-PRIEST
When the lady of the house tells you, “Don’t take this, it’s fleishig. Take a different spoon, a pareve spoon,” she’s like a Kohen Gadol in the Beis Hamikdash giving directions. She’s guarding the kedusha of the house. It’s a very important function. A Jewish mother that supervises the kashrus of the house is a tremendous thing! And if you don’t appreciate that, then it’s a danger because, לֹא יֹאבֶה הַשֵּׁם סְלֹחַ לוֹ, Hashem won’t want to forgive you if you equate the Jewish homes with those of the gentiles.
It’s something you have to practice; you won’t believe it unless you think about it often. It takes training. When you see a Jew, any Jew, practice. You see a Yisroel coming toward you, you should think, “Here comes a tzamei la’mitzvos. And that means that the Shechinah is coming toward me.” It’s mamish the truth. It’s a yesod haTorah to gain a feeling that when you see a Jew: “There goes the Shechinah; the Shechinah goes withhim.” You have to work on that until it gets into your bones! Some people live their entire lives and never gain this attitude – and it’s a tremendous loss because it’s one of the yesodos of being a Jew.
It’s one of our functions in this world – it’s a principle of the Torah to realize the greatness of the nation that appreciates avodas Hashem, absolutely. Not only on the nation as a whole but b’prat on each Jew. It makes no difference if it’s an old man, or a little girl or little boy—all of them are endowed with this great blessing, that the Shechinah rests on them on them.
RESPECT A JEW
Here’s a customer coming into your store; or let’s say your wife’s cousin is coming over to visit. Now, I’m not saying you have to waste time with him; sometimes you might waste time and it’s d’varim bateilim, it’s a waste of a life. But here is an opportunity for you to become great, by learning to respect the kedushah that hovers over his head. While he’s talking, maybe he’s not saying anything important, so you’re nodding your head and you’re thinking, “This man is so holy. I admire him and respect him. There’s nothing in the world as dignified, as honorable, as my wife’s cousin.”
That’s what you have to do. From time to time, choose one person, any person, any shomer mitzvos—it doesn’t have to be a gadol or a special chosid—and say, “That man is kodesh and I respect him because he’s a frum Jew who is thirsty for mitzvos. And that thirst is so immense, it’s so tremendous, that no matter what I do to honor him it won’t be enough.”
IT’S EASIER THAN LOVE!
It’s not easy to love every Yisroel; but to train yourself little by little to have a respect for him because he’s kadosh, that’s something you can do. He’s a tzamei la’mitzvos and you have to deal with him like he’s kodesh kadashim. It is completely impossible to think of being mivazeh him. Even though you are angry at him, you can’t scorn, you can’t speak impolitely to a Yisroel.
I know it’s a very, very big demand: “How can I live that way?” you’ll say. But it’s a yesod of emunah to understand how valuable, how precious every single Jew is. And so be very careful not to do anything against a frum Jew. You shouldn’t do anything against anybody, but frum Jews who are doing mitzvos are something different altogether, and it’s something that you have to feel in your bones.
And one day you’ll begin to feel it a little bit! And then you’ll know that you’ve accomplished something by coming into this world. You accomplished something great – you’re living now with one of the great truths of the Torah; you understand what it means the kedushah of a Yisroel.
COMMITMENT FOR ROSH HASHANA
And there’s no better time than now, as we begin the new year, to make a commitment to yourself: “Hakodosh Boruch Hu, this year is going to be a year of raising the banner of the greatness of Your people. This year I’m going to respect and honor the Am Yisroel – all of them! I’m going to take the tremendous lessons of Parshas Netzavim and the tefillos of the Yomim No’ra’im and make it a principle all year round, to give honor to Your people.”
And then you get busy doing it. Honor every Jew; at least in your mind you should look at a fellow Jew with great respect. It’s not only picking up lost apples from the sidewalk; it’s an attitude of the mind – it’s a tremendous perfection of the mind to think this way. A mother of a frum family deserves honor; the bigger the family, the bigger the honor. How greatly you respect a mother who raises a family of little tzaddikim, boys and girls who will someday be big tzaddikim! What a tremendous achievement! We honor such a mother. We honor Jews who sit by the gemara. We honor the young boys and girls who give away their days in the yeshivos and Beis Yaakovs. We honor the pashuteh Jew on the street – because he’s not pashut at all! We make sure to honor all people who are proud to show they’re frum Jews; they look like Jews and talk like Jews and are thirsty for mitzvos like Jews. We honor the thirsty nation to no end. And by means of always honoring the shomrei Torah u’mitzvos, we’ll continue to fulfill our function in this world of not “joining the satiated to the thirsty,” of not equating the Jews with the nations of the world. And we’ll continue fulfilling this function of ours until the time comes when Hakodosh Boruch Hu will come and demonstrate to the whole world that we, the ones who are loyal to Him, are the ones who truly deserve the great reward of eternal honor. And then we’ll witness with our own eyes the fulfillment of וְתֵן כָּבוֹד לְעַמֶּךָ – Hakodosh Boruch Hu, give honor to your nation; and the people that truly thirsted for Hashem and His mitzvos will forever bask in their well deserved glory.