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

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    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:

    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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