21 August 2009


From Roy S. Neuberger

Dear Friends:

Elul is here, the month of teshuva.

I had the privilege recently of visiting the Gadol, Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch in Yerushalayim. He said the following: "What is in the newspapers is of no importance, and what is of importance is not in the newspapers. We have nothing to fear from the president of Iran; G-d watches over His children. THE ONLY MATTER OF IMPORTANCE, THE ONLY THING THAT AFFECTS US IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE RIBONO SHEL OLAM AND THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL." [1]

My friends, I believe that every thinking person understands that Moshiach ben Dovid cannot be far away. Every thinking person also knows that the Jewish People are surrounded today on every side by problems. Even seventy years ago, when the Nazi dictator, may his name be ground to dust, was about to launch his war against the world, there were still places where a Jew could run. It wasn't easy, but the places existed where a Jew was not in danger.

Today, there is no such place. Even our Homeland, which was supposed to be the ultimate safety net for the Children of Israel, is under threat of attack, in fact more so than any other place in the world! In general, every Jewish neighborhood is surrounded by enemies, and the world is becoming more dangerous and unstable with each passing moment.

Several weeks ago, there was a terrible story in the news about religious Jews who were arrested. Pictures were featured prominently in the media.

I know a twelve-year-old boy in Lakewood, New Jersey, who is a tzaddik. I do not use the term lightly. It just amazes me how, in this polluted world, there could be such holy children. This boy taught me an incredible thing. We were discussing the quality of "dimyon," imagination. He told me that his rebbe had taught him that one reason G-d instilled the quality of imagination in mankind is so that we should be able to use it to find a way to "dan l'kaf zchus," to judge someone else favorably.

I personally find it very difficult to give someone else the benefit of the doubt. I think to myself, "How could that person possibly be innocent?" I have a very easy time blaming other people. This boy in Lakewood taught me something of great value: he made me realize that we have to work hard at trying to judge someone favorably and that G-d even gave us a specific character trait, imagination, to enable us to do it when it seems that there are no exonerating circumstances. I don't mean that we should indulge in fantasy to judge someone favorably; I mean that we should exert ourselves to understand just how that person could in fact really be innocent when in fact he or she seems obviously guilty.

I do not know the facts behind the news story, but I do know that the media is full of lies. I also know that any excuse to portray Jews, especially religious Jews, in a negative light is seized upon with delight by a world that wants to believe that we are worthy of their hatred.

In the month of Elul, my friends, we should be learning to look critically not at others but at ourselves. That is the only place where our efforts can have any effect. We can speak about the faults of others until eternity, but it will only create poison and darkness. Sinas chinom, unwarranted hatred among Jews is, according to our sages, the only reason we are in this seemingly interminable exile. Sinas chinom and its "children," loshon hara and rechilus, are the reasons that we do not have a Bais Hamikdosh today, that we are not all together in peace, harmony and safety in our Holy Land!

When are we going to stop?

When are we going to take this seriously?

When are we going to point the finger at ourselves instead of others?

On Yom Kippur we say, "Chattasi, I have sinned"! We do not say, "YOU have sinned"!

No one else is responsible for my problems! It's not the rabbi, the gabbai, the synagogue, the yeshiva, the economy, the president of Iran! It's not my wife and it's not my husband and it's not my parents!

I am responsible!

My friends, unless we stop blaming others, we will not be able to heal the world.

Let us all look in the mirror.

Tatti, my Father in Heaven, please let me see my faults! Please let me cry over my inadequacies! Please heal me! I have so much work to do! It seems endless, but I know that You will help me if I beg You with all my heart and all my soul!

Just remember, my friends: even if we don't deserve Moshiach, G-d deserves Moshiach! He is suffering so much at the quarrels of His children, at our terrible exile and His own "exile," because He is with us! He is waiting to save us! He has promised again and again, and He always fulfills His promises. Even if we don't deserve it, He will bring our Redeemer, "l'ma'an shmo b'ahava," for His Name's sake, with love. [2]

Let's give Him nachas! All the signs are in place. This is the month. This is the year! This is the time! "For G-d will comfort Zion. He shall comfort all her ruins. He shall make her wilderness like Eden and her wasteland like a garden.... Joy and gladness shall be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music." [3]

Roy S. Neuberger

[1] This is my paraphrase of the conversation as I remember it.

[2] Shemoneh Esreh, first blessing

[3] Isaiah 51:3, Haftaras Eikev