New York – OpEd: Imparting “Galus 101” To Our Children And Grandchildren


    New York – There is more than a bit of gallows humor in the following Torah thought, which has been attributed to several gedolim over the years:

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    Question: Why is it that our children ask “The Four Questions” on Pesach and not on Sukkos? After all, things are far from ordinary when we sit down to our first Yom Tov meal outdoors in the Sukkah.

    Answer: Throughout our two-thousand-year galus (exile), it was not at all unusual for children to see their families leaving the comfort of their homes and sleeping outdoors. However, when they saw them sitting peacefully at a beautifully set table with a royal aura, it was strange enough to cause them to question the adults around them.

    I suggest we consider using the opportunity Pesach presents to share this thought with our children and grandchildren who, baruch Hashem, will need introductory remarks from us to comprehend it. We should speak to them about our history in galus and share with them what we ought to glean from our collective experiences of living as a minority among the nations of the world – lessons we learned from our parents but seem to have forgotten over time.

    Most members of our parents’ “Charedi Classic” generation, ever mindful of history’s painful lessons, were always careful to live under the radar screen, eschewing conspicuous consumption and avoiding anything considered high profile. I vividly recall the time my father sent me into a Jewish-owned store to “change” a hundred dollar bill into five twenties before embarking on a road trip because he didn’t want to walk into a roadside convenience store later in the day and pay for an inexpensive item with a large-denomination bill.

    It is well known that Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt’l, during his years living in Monsey, discouraged his talmidim from wearing their talesim in the street on Shabbos since he felt that Orthodox Jews should live modestly and not attract undue attention. Our parents, though they treasured and valued their freedom, never took it for granted or assumed it was something that would last forever.

    Rabbi Berel Wein relates that when his shul in Monsey was being built, and the main beam supporting the structure was purchased, the contractor suggested the shul invest in a more expensive model, one with a 150-year guarantee. Rabbi Wein remarked that as a student of history he was painfully aware that throughout our years in exile, Jews never planned to live in one place for that long a period of time.

    We would be well served to take a refresher course in the “Galus 101” imparted to us by previous generations. Too many of us are ignoring these sage teachings and needlessly exuding the kind of negative energy in very public venues that threatens to undermine the unprecedented tranquility we have enjoyed over the past seventy years.

    During this time period we have evolved from “Please allow us to live in peace” to “I’m glad to be living in peace” to “I have every right to live in peace” to “We will always live in peace no matter what we do.”

    In recent years, our community has endured a seemingly endless barrage of negative publicity which in the aggregate represents an existential threat to the menuchas hanefesh we currently enjoy.

    The fifth perek of Bava Basra relates a number of stories told by Rabba Bar Bar Chana about extraordinarily large ships and animals. As such, some of our gedolim throughout the ages, among them the M’harsha, the Vilna Gaon and Reb Nachman of Breslov, interpreted these tales as allegorical in nature and offered a variety of lessons to explain their hidden meaning. One of these stories relates the following episode:

    “Once, while on a ship, we came to [what we assumed was] a large island, which was covered with sand and vegetation. We disembarked [onto the island], began building a fire, and cooking our meal. However, we soon discovered that the ‘island’ was really a fish and when it felt the heat [of our cooking], it rolled over and we were plunged into the water. Had the ship not been nearby, we would have drowned” (Bava Basra 73b).

    A number of years ago, at an Agudath Israel convention, I heard a haunting interpretation of this story from Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller shlit’a, who related that the ship on the seas refers to our travels and travails throughout our period in galus.

    From time to time, Rabbi Keller explained, we find “dry land” – a place to rest and establish our roots in a more permanent manner. However, we then become complacent and begin “cooking” (generating the heat of resentment among the non-Jews surrounding us), and eventually discover that what we thought was terra firma was in fact only a temporary respite from our travels. After a period of time, we are thrown overboard back into the raging sea of galus once more.

    Sadly and inexplicably, teaching history overall, and Jewish history in particular, seems to have fallen out of favor in many communities. How can our children and grandchildren appreciate the incredible gift of freedom they have without the historical background to put it in perspective?

    The Yom Tov of Pesach does offer, though, a profound Teachable Moment to reflect upon these matters. Let’s properly utilize it and speak to our children and grandchildren about the importance of “lowering the flames” and reverting to the personal examples of ne’imus and tznius that we had the zechus to observe in the lives of our parents.

    Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and founder and Director of Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services).

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    11 years ago

    The purpose of wearing tzizus, and tefilin is that ‘that all should see it’ also the menorah! Now in times of persecution its A danger, but in todays Monsey !?

    11 years ago

    That is Berel Whine has gleaned from history?? That we will be kicked out within the next 150 years??

    How about some Jewish strength and pride? Build your synagogue nice and strong, build it on the highest hill in the city like Halacha says.

    The Whine attitude is shameful.

    Rabbi Horowitz you do a lot of wonderful work. I am not sure what the point of this article is however. You want us to be weak and behind the scenes? Our job is to be a light unto the nations. Jews need to be proud and strong. Not in your face but not timid in the face of the nations. The world wants to be taught by us. The world doesn’t want us to hide who we are.

    11 years ago

    Is this rabbi horowitz from monsey?

    11 years ago

    As usual by Rabbi Horowitz,an excellent piece.Jews must live modest and we must live like guest as long we are in exile.
    Jews must live modest so we should not be talked about in the secular press.
    We should not inform on each others to the secular authorities without a heter of geonim like Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt’l,

    Having said,most chasidishe gedolim encouraged Jews to wear beard and payos with sthrimelch and becuase of it orthodoxy is flourishing.

    11 years ago

    Willow trees never realize their magnificence. Israel is always the key to human understanding and dignity in a street filled with impolite pilgrims.

    Israel essentially is in exile, but while this is a solid placement of our own dignity today, we are reminded that our ancestors were many times in galus and only recently when the Temples were built were anything resembling geulah.

    Ideally, Israel will continue its common sense mission of dignifying humanity and teaching honorific values to the unfortunate.

    But of course, if you ask me, we are neither in galus or geulah but doing exactly what Hashem wants. And if you ask Hashem, I think he might take your word for it that we do indeed have to watch out step. The world is watching.

    11 years ago

    Sad statement about our matzav that people need to be taught as adults what they should have learned as toddlers.

    Sadder still is what percentage of us will think he is a lunatic.

    11 years ago

    Why is it that Chinese aren’t ashamed of their heritage neither are Italians and mexicans but the chosen nation tries to hide their jewishness in public. Jewish pride is the foundation of being a true servant of hashem (R Avigdor Miller zt”l)