25 Kislev 5778 / Wednesday, December 13, 2017 | Torah Reading: Mikeitz
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Heroism: Choose Life    

Heroism: Choose Life

For us to become heroes it doesn’t necessarily require being in a front line commando unit. It has more to deal with our day to day moment to moment decision making…


Many of us myself included view heroism only in terms of life or death situations. But recently I’ve had some things happen to me which have altered my view on bravery. I started to contemplate the idea of being in a position to give my life for a heroic cause, for example in war or in stopping a terrorist, to be ready to put it all on the line for God or another person.


My own personal hero Michael Levin was a lone soldier in the Israeli Amy who heroically returned in the middle of vacation with his family in America to fight Hizbulla during the Second Lebanon War. He was killed in action but his influence on young Jewish people today is strong in ways we can’t fully appreciate (See My Article:  The Humble Hero). His heroism has triggered thousands of young Jews to move to Israel, become more religious and in some cases serve as soldiers.


As I was thinking about this, suddenly it occurred to me, “Maybe I could put it all on the line for a good cause.” Then I thought… “But could I really live for one?” Then my mind started racing…


We all have our favorite stories about people who gave it all for a movement. But somewhere along the line we self-diminish our own heroism and see our own decision making and actions as “not good enough” or “not really important.” A “So what if I do or don’t” attitude manifests. I’m not saying that we need to carry a sign declaring how great we are, but we do need to carry such beliefs in our hearts about ourselves.


Have you ever had a thought like, I’d give up my life for the Jewish people? Many if not most of us would. In such a case I’d like to recall what Aish HaTorah founder, Rabbi Noach Weinberg of blessed memory once said: “If you know what you’re willing to die for, you know what you’re willing to live for!”  And this is the secret of all heroes: They only have the courage to die, because they really know why they want to live!


Rabbi Lazer Brody once told me personally after an evening lecture, that his hero is Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam of blessed memory, also known as the Klausenberger Rebbe. In the furnace hell of Auschwitz, Rabbi Halberstam maintained an unbreakable resolve to keep as much Torah and mitzvoth as he could. There are endless stories about his determination to keep the laws of Torah under any circumstance, from minor to major laws, even if it meant being beaten or tortured viciously. More than once did he meet the angel of death eye to eye only to be saved miraculously time and time again.


All of us certainly have great respect for this but at the same time very it’s difficult to relate to. After all would you have secretly baked matzah in your prison barracks in Auschwitz under the noses of blood thirsty Nazis just to keep kosher during Passover? Maybe or maybe not, but after learning more about the Rav, one can see that he displayed just as much heroism in his decision making after the war as he did during, perhaps even more so…


As a prisoner in Auschwitz, the Rebbe conducted himself with mind boggling super human holiness. He ate kosher, kept all the laws of Shabbat, secretly wore and shared his hidden tefillin and never complained about his situation, accepting all the pain with love for God. He also organized secret prayer quorums amongst the prisoners for the High Holidays as well as held the traditional seder meal during Passover in prison barracks. This is how he lived with the threat of being sent to the crematoria at any second.


The war ended and Jewish survivors piled into DP camps. Many lost their ability to cope emotionally and spiritually. They now without any threat to their own lives could reflect on their tremendous personal loss which can’t adequately be put into words. It was at this precise moment that Rabbi Halberstam became a leader and spokesman for his brethren who had nothing more than their own broken skeletons and withered souls. The Rebbe would declare repeatedly, “We are alive because we are Jews and we are commanded by God to choose life.”


From that point on the Rebbe took personal responsibility for the rebirth of Jewry. He established kosher kitchens in the displaced persons camps, an almost impossible task; gave proper burials to those who didn’t have a grave, set up Torah learning centers, and assisted in building Beis Yaakov religious schools for girls throughout the world. He courageously fought the anti-religious Jews who tried unceasingly to convince the survivors to leave God in Auschwitz. Later in his life, he even built a hospital in Netanya which operates fully according to Torah law (fulfilling a vow he made after surviving being shot during a Death March in which he promised that if he were to survive, he’d make every effort to build a hospital for Jews).


He could have chosen to immerse himself only in his own spiritual growth. He could have focused only on learning Torah and praying but instead he took that love for God and His Torah and concerned himself with rebuilding the lives of Holocaust survivors. Due to his heroism, thousands upon thousands of people began to observe Torah law which they passed on to their children.  We have to stop and consider this and think how we can help others as well.


For us to become heroes it doesn’t necessarily require being in a front line commando unit. It has more to do with our day to day moment to moment decision making. We as a nation consist of less than 1% of the entire world population. Being a hero means looking at the remaining 99% of the world and declaring through our actions that we love God and the Torah.


By taking small steps in achieving a greater connection to God, we are truly affecting the world on a large scale. Teens addicted to drugs, lewd sites, cyber bullying, anti-Jewish demonstrations; the list is too long and affects nearly all of us.  But if we start making better decisions today despite what seems cool in the “Hollywood eye”, we start correcting mankind and help it reach it’s intended destination. Better decisions equal more happiness. More happiness equals feeling God in our lives. May we all merit personal holiness and see that our efforts carry great merit for the world. (For more on this see: Women’s Wisdom, and books for men: Garden of Peace, Garden of Purity)


Choose Life! Take whatever you are doing to the next level with happiness and determination. Help others by strengthening their ability to make heroic decisions. Be a role model of heroism and may we all together with Moshiach heroically choose life.

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