Beshalach: The Power of the Individual

My son’s school takes good care of him.


Yesterday, with a 12-hour warning to the parents, the school took all the kids up to the Golan to play in the snow since where we live never gets it.  Needless to say, a great cry of “OOOOOFFFF” rose from my other children.


They went to Meron, Tzfas, across the Golan. He told me that wherever they went, cars were pulled over on the side of the roads, with their passengers out in the snow.  Even by an Arab village, they saw a group of Gur Chassidim.  Two members of the kollel went as well to help out.  They taught the kids about making snowmen and snowball fights.  It was a day of non-planned fun in northern Israel.  We were very happy for him.  And as a reward for good behavior, his class, and another, were taken on a special trip: To the Syrian border!  How very...Israeli.


Okay, on to Torah!


Everybody has heard of Nachshon ben Aminadav.  He was the first to jump into the Red Sea, and only when the water nearly covered his face, did the sea finally split.  It was his initiative, his knowledge that Hashem would split the sea, that gave him the power to move forward, despite overwhelming evidence that the sea was not going anywhere.


This year marks the tenth yartzeit of Rav Noah Weinberg, the famed founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah.  I was recently listening to a talk my Rosh Yeshiva gave the day after Rav Weinberg’s death, ten years ago.  He said that Rav Weinberg was this generation’s Nachshon ben Aminadav.


My Rosh Yeshiva knew Rav Weinberg before he became Rav Weinberg.  He testified that Rav Weinberg was a very timid and quiet person.  When his wife, who came from a known background, agreed to marry him, people didn’t know what to make of it.  He didn’t seem special in any way.  Of course, they did not know of his power of learning (he knew all of Shas (Talmud) and Rambam, before starting kiruv), nor did they know that he knew the “ba’al tshuva movement” was going to be a big thing.


Once, he called my Rosh Yeshivah to see him.  Being one of the few people who knew his "hiding place" to learn, Rav Asher joined him and spoke to him in learning.  He finally turned to my Rosh Yeshiva and said, “Asher!  Soon this world is going to be filled with hundreds of thousands of ba'alei tshuvah!”  My Rosh Yeshiva thought it was a bit of a weird thing to say, and didn’t want to question him on such a strange idea, but still, “did he really believe THAT?”


And look what became of that shy, timid kollel member!


We received a gift from somebody recently, a book on the life of Rav Ovadia Yosef.  I try to steal time here and there to read it.  It’s a good book and has helped give me insight to the one who raised Sphardic Jewry around the world, and especially here in Israel.


Rav Yosef was known for being outspoken and “saying it like it is."  For example, he was very much against Sphardim going to Ashkanazi schools, since in the end, the Sphardim will lose out and become “Ashkanazisized." Once, when giving his famous Motzei Shabbos talks, he yelled, “Why do you want to send your children to Ashkanazi schools?! Do you want them to come out with Ashkanazi brains?!”  He was good.  Vicious.  But good.


He also caused waves within the Sphardic world.  Many Sphardi Rabbanim were against his mission to unite all Sphardim to follow the Shulchan Oruch, even if it went contrary to their own community customs.  The pros and cons of such an argument are not important here, however, he believed in what he set out to do, and despite those who battled against him (for the sake of Heaven, of course), he accomplished what he set out to do.  Whether or not you agree with his goals, it cannot be argued that in the end, he single-handedly raised Sphardi Jewry.


But was he like this naturally?  No, he wasn’t.  Like Rav Weinberg, he was also timid and shy.  He did not want to teach to the masses and when he first came under attack for his views, he wanted to step down.  But, he had a goal and intended to see it through.


What of Sarah Schenirer?  A hundred years ago this woman saw that young, Jewish women were not receiving the proper education they once had from their mothers.  So, what did she do? She started the Beis Yaakov movement.  Was it easy?  Of course not.  While it had supporters amongst the rabbeim, there were those who were not so supportive, worried that this would be another form of reformation in Judaism.  Nonetheless, she persevered.    And today, there are thousands of Beis Yaakov schools around the world, providing the backbone education of Jewish girls for generations.


The power of the individual has very few limits.  When a person decides on a spiritual path for the sake of Heaven, he gets “help from Above."  Of course, you might come back and say, “True, but these three examples are exceptions.  Not everybody is cut out to be some huge Rabbi or Rebbetzin.  What can the ‘regular person’ do?”


It’s known that when Jews were coming to America in the beginning of the twentieth century, they essentially had one big test: either work on Shabbos or don’t have a job.  It was a terrible situation to be in.  We cannot judge those who decided to give up on Shabbos, but we can see the results.  I have met many people who credited their great-grandparents for keeping Shabbos despite everything which, in the end, resulted in generations of Torah-observant Jews.  I have yet to meet one person whose grandparents did not keep Shabbos and produced the same results.


Do you think that they thought of themselves as big people?  Do we, the Jewish public, know their names and stories?  No.  Nor will we ever.  However, these "regular" people sacrificed greatly of themselves, and it was THEY who produced GENERATIONS of frum Jews.


Are they really any different from Rav Weinberg, Rav Yosef, or Sarah Schenirer?


And in the end, are we?


Have an amazing Shabbos!