Since Bayis Sheini There Hasn’t Been a Generation of Bracha as Ours!
A Drashah Given by HaRav HaGaon R’ Moshe Hilman Shlit”a
Rav & Ram in Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY
Mechaber Sifrei “Omek Hakovod” & “Toras Haftorah”
Prepared for print by a listener
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The world has just experienced a series of shaking events, with Klal Yisrael in particular having been especially affected. Things that we’ve taken for granted until now, including the absence of mageifos from society for the most part since the World Wars, the continuous functioning of our yeshivos and shuls, even the ability to spend time with one another – are no longer as predictable as they always were. We feel unsteady, unsure. And there’s no one who hasn’t been affected at all… some more and some less, but everyone has been touched by it in some way. We all need to take a pause and ask ourselves why did Hakadosh Baruch Hu bring this mageifah… What is its purpose?
We are maaminim, bnei maaminim! We know that whatever happens here in this world – from the smallest personal story to the greatest of current events – is directly fromHashem, Who loves us and guides every occurrence.Of course, yad Hashem is even more starkly apparent when it comes to a situation of this magnitude, in which many people were, lo aleinu, niftar, and there were others who went through a lot of suffering until eventually recovering, b’chasdei Hashem.
There were thousands upon thousands of precious words of Torah learning and tefilah b’kavanah lost during this time… Tremendous financial loss… Many, many spiritual and physical ramifications to the entire world. And the presence of Hashem has been so obvious as we’ve witnessed these mighty acts.
What Can We Do?
The well-known words of the Rambam in the beginning of Hilchos Taanis powerfully explain a most critical point: If a tzarah comes upon a group of people, they must understand that tzaros are a result of wrongdoings, and therefore it’s crucial to engage in teshuvah!And with this awareness, the teshuvah can allow the tzaros to cease. Further, he writes that treating the event like a coincidence and just moving on is in essence cruelty, as it could chas veshalom cause additional tzaros. On a similar note, in Shulchan Aruch it says that if a taanis tzibur is called for a city due to tzaros, on that day, from morning until chatzos, a reckoning should be done on the deeds of the city’s inhabitants. Tzaros call for teshuvah.
These words of the Rambam are discussing when a hardshipcomes upon only one group of people – how much more so should we embrace teshuvah if a sorrow strikes the entire world!
Now, many might say that there’s no way we can know nowadays, when we have no nevi’im, exactly which cheit caused this catastrophe – so there’s no purpose in analyzing our maasim. But this idea is a tactic of the yetzer harah!…Because according to this reasoning, there is no way tofind reason to do teshuvah if a tzarah comes, because we can never know for sure what we need to do teshuvah for. It leaves us with no room to grow.
In any case, this approach is not correct, because according to the Rambam’s words, Hakadosh Baruch Hu brings tzarah so that people can return to Him in teshuvah – which means that it is possible to look into ourselves and find areas in which we could improve. This is in fact the whole purpose of the tzarah – so we can do teshuvah. Without the teshuvah, the purpose of the tzarah is lost.
So now… We all find ourselves responsible to contemplate, “What could Hashem want me to improve, as a result of this mageifah?” And this is a positive outlook – and not a discouraging one – because it will help us to move forward to better things, and know what to fix for the future – and that is the whole purpose, that we should know how to better ourselves. …So, this question has been weighing at me. What is it that we should correct? It would seem that it should be something inclusive of the whole world, as everyone was affected by the mageifah.
Outpouring of Chesed
One morning, when the mageifah was very strong, I was very, very, pained, and I began to think… What could it be? Why were so many people niftar? What does Hashem want from Klal Yisrael –from the whole world? And, b’siyata dishmaya, an idea dawned on me – an approach to understand the mageifah through new eyes.
Many years ago, at an asifa in Boro Park, I heard Harav Hagaon Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l describe our generation as one of enormous wealth – “dor ochlei mon!” There has not been a generation so showered with an abundance of blessings as ours since Bayis Sheini!
I recall the words of my mother, a”h, who used to describe her life in Europe before the war. She would recount how they would draw the water from the well in the backyard – as there was no running water! They warmed the house by fireplace, and, in place of electricity, lightened the house with kerosene lamps. And of course, they had no access to telephones, cars, or airplanes… We live the lifestyle of kings and princes!
All these vast chasodim that our generation is so blessed to receive deserve heartfelt thanks to the Eibershter… But there is one unique chesed that stands out above all. In previous generations, there were many illnesses for which the doctors simply had no cure, and sadly, many passed away even in their youth. But more recently, we have been granted the tremendous bracha of newly discovered remedies to many illnesses, and many people live to old age. And previous generations were not as fortunate as ours. My mother, for example, told me that a few years after World War I, her father fell ill with tuberculosis – for which, at that time, they had no cure… so he passed away, at the young age of twenty-five. Several years later, Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave the doctors the wisdom to discover its cure. And this is a priceless chesed to us.
The idea of a pandemic seems so very foreign to us – we forget that not so very long ago, before the World Wars, there were times when epidemics were common! There are many places in the sefarim of HaGaon R’ Akiva Eiger, the Chasam Sofer, the Chofetz Chaim, zecher tzadikim levracha, and others, where the cholera epidemic and other mageifos are mentioned. – Nowadays, baruch Hashem, we’ve been blessed with the development of medical advancements to prevent epidemics from occurring, and illness has been dramatically reduced. And there is no way to even begin thanking Hashem for this incredible chesed which outshines all!
However, most of the world doesn’t actively thank Hashem Yisbarach for the outpouring of chesed that’s been bestowed on our generation, even for the unbelievable chesed of the scarcity of epidemic illness. Now, Hakadosh Baruch Hu has held back just a little piece of this chesed, and sent a mageifah to our generation – an epidemic in our times! – just as they used to have in the olden days… Now, maybe the world will remember to thank Hashem for this kindness that was always there, but so easy to forget about. And this is not a punishment! Rather, we can see it as a call to connection, a communication, to inspire us out of our complacency, to open our eyes to see the magnificent, bountiful chesed in our world for what it always was – only we were blinded to its beauty. And maybe this can also wake us up to thank Hashem for all the other very many chasodim that exist in abundance in our generation.
The Mageifah in the Times of Dovid Hamelech
Afterwards, I felt great excitement to see that my thoughts were in line with the words of the Levush. He discusses the concept of meah brachos – saying the seder of 100 brachos each day, which was established by Chazal. He explains that the reason meah brachos was established was that in the times of Dovid Hamelech, there was a great mageifah which caused 100 people to die a day… And nobody knew what was causing this terrible plague… Until Dovid Hamelech realized with ruach hakodesh that it was because they had not been properly thanking Hashem Yisbarach for all of His abundance of goodness that He was giving them… So he established meah brachos, and… The plague stopped!
The words of the Levush could be explained, that since they didn’t properly thank Hashem for His great chesed, He took the chesed of life away from them. When they corrected this by beginning to thank Him with full hearts through the meah brachos, the mageifah was removed. So there is a great interconnection between the two.
It’s important to understand that the real approach to say the meah brachos is to say them with a full heart brimming with thanks to Hashem, and not merely to recite the words without emotion (even while understanding their literal meaning) – because without kavanah, the hoda’ah is not complete.
The question remains as to why this lacking brought on a plague during the generation of Dovid Hamelech, as generally, not doing a positive mitzvah is not deserving of misah.
Hashem Wants Our Hearts
I found an enlightening thought in Sefer Chasidim – the sefer of the famous rishon R’ Yehudah HaChassid – which brings great clarity to this question. There he says that when we say birchos hanehenin, we should have kavanah to bentch Hashem for His abundance of kindness in giving us the food. The same goes for birchas hamitzvos – we should have in mind to thank Hashem for giving us the commandment to do the mitzvah, in His great kindness. It shouldn’t only be by rote, or even only just with kavanah for the literal meaning of the words – but instead with a heart overflowing with joy and gratitude for Hashem’s gifts!
The Sefer Chasidim adds powerful words… He quotes Sefer Yeshaya,where Hashem said that Klal Yisrael hadhonored Him only with their mouths and lips, but their hearts were distant from Him… And the consequence, Hashem said, was that the wisdom of their wise men would be lost. Rashi explains this to refer to the removal of chachamim from their midst.
Now we can understand what caused the generation of Dovid Hamelech to experience a plague. However, these words of the Navi alsorequire further explanation, as it’s hard to understand the connection between their lip service without heart to misah. Generally, there is no consequence of misah for not doing a mitzvas asei – and having kavanah in brachos is not even a mitzvas asei!
The Purpose of All the Mitzvos of the Torah
There’s a Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo that can help us better understand the words of the Navi. There, the Ramban writes that the purpose of all mitzvosin the Torah – is for a person to have emunah in the Ribono Shel Olam, and to thank He Who created us – and this is the purpose of the entire creation!
Where is a source for this Ramban found in Chazal?
It says in the Gemara that the Navi Chavakuk describes all the 613 mitzvos as based on one foundation: Emunah! In Sefer Chavakuk it says, “…vetzadik be’emunaso yichyeh” – A tzadik will live through his emunah. The Ritva explains that “emunah k’raoi” – “‘proper’ emunah” – leads a person to accepton himself ol malchus shamayim to fulfill the whole Torah. What exactly is “‘proper’ emunah?” Emunah k’raoi is not only believing that there is a Ribono Shel Olam, but also the understanding that our entire lives are completely dependent on yad Hashem! When we live our lives with real emunah, every mitzvah that we do expresses our recognition and thanks for our Creator, because we are dependent on Him every moment! So we see that all the 613 mitzvos are many different ways of recognizing and thanking the Ribono Shel Olam – and so, here is a source for the Ramban’s words. Now we understand the central point – that the very purpose of our being is to have emunah and give thanks to Hashem.
The Essence of Humanity
However, a question remains to be asked – Why did this mageifah affect the entire world? A ben Noach is only obligated in 7 mitzvos, so seemingly he would not be obligated in thanking Hashem, which is not one of the 7 mitzvos. So why was the rest of the world, too, affected by the virus?
It may be surprising, but a ben Noach, too, is obligated to recognize the Ribono Shel Olam and thank Him for His kindnesses! The Ramban writes that Hashem created a person in order to recognize his Creator – this is his purpose, and this is what distinguishes him as a human. If he doesn’t recognize Hashem, then he is in essence losing his human qualities.
The Ramban explains that people were created in order to recognize and thank their Creator, and when the nations denied Hashem, the only one left to fulfill this was Klal Yisrael! Through the wonders that Hashem did for Klal Yisrael, the nations saw clearly that the whole world was created by Hashem. Without Klal Yisrael, no one would recognize the Ribono Shel Olam, and the very purpose of creation would be left unfulfilled!
We see from the Ramban that when people don’t thank the Creator for His kindnesses, they are not fulfilling the purpose of their existence. The whole underlying purpose of why they were created is not being fulfilled!
Now we can understand the words of the Navi that chachamim could chas veshalom be lost as a result of not honoring Hashem with a full heart – It’s not a penalty! It’s only that the entire purpose of humanity’s existence is to be in connection and gratitude to Hashem – and if this is lacking, it is negating that purpose.
Imagine a worker that was hired to build a house – and just sat there without building anything! If the owner of the house sent him off – it’s not because he wanted to punish him. It’s just that he was no longer a builder; the whole reason he was hired in the first place was no longer relevant.
In Shabbos shacharis davening it says, “Shekein chovas kol hayetzurim… lehodos lehallel leshabeiach…” – the obligation of all mankindis to thank and praise the Ribono Shel Olam! The Rokeach brings a source for this tefilah from Tehillim, “Hallelu es Hashem kol goyim…!” – all the nations should praise Hashem! But, concludes the Rokeach, more than any other nation, Klal Yisrael should praise Hashem,“Ki gavar aleinu chasdo…!” – because we are the recipients of the greatest overflowing chesed from Hashem!
It’s Not Our Power
There are 2 things that stand out in this mageifah, which we’ve never quite experienced this way before. One of these, is that the doctors have never seen this illness before, and so they were mystified by the virus – they didn’t have the clarity to know how to cure or prevent it. And the second is the staggering loss of millions and billions of dollars over society.
Prior to the mageifah, many people were so sure and proud of our control over our medical advancements and the wealth of today’s society. The call of, “kochi v’otzem yadi asah li es hachayil hazeh” – the mistaken belief that it was our strength and our own hands that brought about our success – was so tempting. We have no control over our possessions and wealth, or the wisdom of medicine, which many were previously so confident were a result of our efforts – but they were mistaken!
And now we have seen so clearly with our own eyes that all is from HASHEM – all the health and all the money, and everything else – and we must thank Him for this unbelievable chesed… always!
In recent years, there has been much movement towards kfirah and inappropriate behavior, to levels that haven’t been reached previously, and this mighty act of Hashem awakens the world.
The words of the Ramban urge us to thank Hashem for creating us, and for all the many, many kindnesses that each of us personally receives from Him each and every day! Besides for all this, we should also thank Him for the chasodim that our generation specifically has been blessed with – including our lives of wealth and abundance. Even more importantly, we should thank Hashem for the medical advancements that have allowed for remedies to various illnesses and prevention of epidemics, as we’ve been blessed with long life spans, much more so than in previous generations.
After so many years that we have been granted these extraordinary chasodim, Hashem has withdrawn a piece from that kindness, inspiring us to see the beauty of the tremendous chasodim that were there all along. Epidemic illness belonged to the past; nothing that we ever thought we’d have to think about! Now that the world has seen a pandemic – we can understand what we have to be grateful for… Now, Hashem has inspired us to thank Him for all that chesed, to rebuild that connection – which is the very purpose and the whole joy of our existence. This is not a punishment, but a wake-up call from our spiritual slumber, to connect again to Hashem in hoda’ah.
What’s a mashal to this concept? A father was supporting his son, to whom it never occurred to thank his father for his support. The father wanted his son to thank him, so he stopped supporting him for some time, so that the son would finally recognize his kindness which was there all along. The father’s holding back his kindness wasn’t a punishment – but rather to teach the son to thank him.
Of course we could never say, chas veshalom, that those who died in the mageifah didn’t thank Hashem! Many of them were tzadikim who did thank Hashem, and their deaths could have been mechaper for many others. There is no way for us to understand the ways of Shamayim – why some people were niftar and others were not. And whoever was niftar has a great zechus, because they have caused those who are still living to wake up from their complacency, to be inspired to thank Hashem, and to look into their maasim and see what there is to improve. And Hashem chose the people who were niftar for this zechus.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The Rambam that we discussed earlier explained that tzaros are a call for teshuvah, and that it is essential to use them as an opportunity to change. It’s important to take these events as an opportunity to better ourselves.
How can we learn to improve ourselves from this experience?
With Every Breath
One of the most essential takeaways of gratitude from this experience, is that many people who were niftar were not able to breathe – a gift that we receive each moment of life! This is a fundamental point to remember, to thank Hashem for every breath He gives us anew – “al kol neshimah uneshimah!”That is how Chazal explain another way to understand the pasuk, “Kol haneshamah tehallel Kah…” – that for each and every breath, each “neshimah,” we should praise Hashem. And when we say this pasuk in davening, we can also have in mind our gratitude to Hashem for each breath!
There was a story of a man who was having trouble breathing and had to be admitted to the hospital. After some time, he recovered, and as he was leaving the hospital, they presented him with the bill. He began to cry. They tried to comfort him and said, “Don’t worry about the bill – We’ll work it out! We’ll figure out an installment plan…” The man replied, “No, that’s not it – I’m not crying because of the bill! I’m a wealthy man, the money doesn’t faze me… The reason I’m crying is because I feel so emotional – Because all the money in the world cannot buy a breath of life-giving air!! And I’m eighty years old, and all my life Hashem has been giving me the strength to breathe for free – No charge! I am so overwhelmed with gratitude to Hashem – and that’s why I’m crying.”
The truth is that breathing is far from the only chesed – every functioning part of our body is a magnificent kindness that we should thank Hashemfor, as it says in Tehilim: “Kol atzmosai tomarnah, Hashem mi chamocha…!” What is so special about breathing, however, is that the neshamah is directly connected to and dependent on breathing. It is the life force of our neshamos! Many people who were struck by the mageifah struggled very much with breathing… Now we should appreciate it with extra gratitude, and thank Hashem for the wondrous gift of breathing – of life itself! – that He grants us anew each moment.
We discussed the Sefer Chasidim, who says that a birchas hanehenin should be said with a heart overflowing with happiness that Hashem gave us the food to eat. We might explain this further, to recognize that food is an essential life source – we require food to survive. It’s a way Hashem grants us the gift of life! When we say a bracha on the foods that we eat – we are thanking Hashem for giving us life and strength with this food! The Kuzari says that when we say a bracha, we should think – how would we be without this food? This can help us to feel how very great a kindness Hashem is bestowing on us with the food.
A Burning Desire and Excitement
Much Torah learning was lost as a result of the mageifah… schools, chadarim, yeshivos, batei midrashim, and kollelim closed. Chazal say that talmud Torah needs chizuk – and Rashi explains this to mean that a person should strengthen himself in Torah always with all his might! And in these times, we need extra chizuk… We should engrave on our hearts the words of the Arizal, that a person should immerse himself in Torah learning with a burning desire and his heart aflame with excitement, more than if he would have found thousands of gold coins! And he should feel similar enthusiasm towards every mitzvah as well.
This is how one should feel with every mitzvah, and how much more so with talmud Torah, where every single word that he learns is a mitzvas asei, and is considered equal to all the mitzvos in the Torah… So it’s with the deepest and most immense joy that he should rejoice when he’s learning Torah!
This is all the more so in our generation, where most people have the added simcha of being able to learn with more tranquility and peace of mind than previous generations, who often learned under poverty and distress. So our Torah learning should have extra joy!
Many people also had a loss of kavanah in davening. Hashem has inspired us to say the birchos hoda’ah with hearts full of gratitude, as we explained earlier with the words of the Sefer Chasidim and the Levush.
Birchos hamitzvos are also an opportunity to thank Hashem with a heart full of joy for Him giving us this precious mitzvah, as is also explained by the Sefer Chasidim.
The birchos bakashos, too, we should say with our whole hearts, knowing that all our needs are dependent only on Hakadosh Baruch Hu! And the great mitzvah of tefilah shouldn’t be like a burden to us that we do just because we have to, but instead we should daven with joy, because davening is an awe-inspiring privilege; we are so lucky to be able to do it!
How Can We Give Back to Hashem?
The Ramban that we discussed previously states that the purpose of all the mitzvos and all of Creation – is to have emunah and thank Hashem for creating us! This appreciation obligates us to keep the entire Torah, as the Ramban explains elsewhere in reference to yetzias Mitzrayim. He writes that Hashem taking us out of Mitzrayim from slavery to freedom, obligates us to be His servants. At that time, bnei Yisrael accepted ol malchus shamayim to be the servants of Hashem. This appreciation brings us to fulfill all of the Torah properly! If there are areas in which we are lacking – it leads us to work on resolving those shortcomings. Our gratitude inspires us to improve our maasim.
Especially in our generation that is so blessed, we can recognize the kindness of Hashem in gifting us with many priceless chasodim, more than previous generations. We experience enormous wealth; we’re a “dor ochlei mon!” We are indebted even more in our avodas Hashem than earlier generations were – because those who receive more should give that much more back! And we should always remember that everything is from Hashem Yisbarach – money, health – and everything! – and continuously thank Him and give back to Him for it.
How can we give back more? We can invest in self-improvement and betterment. We should look into ourselves and see what we could improve – and each person knows himself and what he’s ready for at his level, and he should keep striving ever higher. And every small way that we can better ourselves is priceless!
Hashem should always help us to keep on reaching higher and higher levels of Torah and yiras Shamayim, and He should remove sickness and mageifah from Klal Yisrael, and we should merit the geulah sheleimah speedily, in our days.
 או”ח סוף סי’ תקע”ו
 או”ח סי’ מ”ו
 מדרש במדבר רבה פ’ קרח פרשה יח סימן כא; תנחומא פ’ קרח סימן יב
 טור או”ח סי’ מ”ו
 סי’ מ”ו
– יד כט יג
 כדאיתא במדרש איכה רבה פרשה א לז
 מסכת מכות כד
 חבקוק ב ד
 בדרשתו ”תורה תמימה”
 האזינו לב, כו
 סדר רב עמרם גאון שחרית של שבת
 פירושי סידור התפילה
 תהלים קיז, א–ב
 פ’ עקב ח יז
 כעין המדרש שרש”י מביא בסוף פ’ בשלח עה”פ היש ד’ בקרבנו
 כשאחז”ל בראשית רבה בראשית פרשה יד סימן ט עה”פ כל הנשמה תהלל יק
 תהלים ק”נ
 תהלים ל”ה, י’
 מאמר ג אות יז
 מס’ ברכות לב, ב
 בהקדמה לשער המצות, ובשער רוח הקודש דרוש ג
משנה ברכות פ”ד
מדרש תהלים מזמור ק’
כ’, ב’ רמב”ן פ’ יתרו
 חובת הלבבות שער עבודת האלקים פרק ו’