A Tu B’Av Message From The Kalever Rebbe
Translated by Rabbi Yitzchak Kolakowski
The Sages teach, “There were no greater Jewish holidays than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.” The Sages continue their narrative by telling us the reason for this joy: “On this day, the custom was that the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and say ‘Young man! Set your eyes to see what you choose! Do not look for beauty, but rather choose a marriage partner from a good family!’ and they would quote the pasuk, ‘Grace is false, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears Hashem deserves praise!’” (Mishlei 31 and Mishnah, Tractate Taanis ch. 4)
Why should this custom bring so much joy? In order to explain this, we first must contemplate the plague of assimilation that has been consuming our people throughout the world. In the period after the Holocaust, there were millions of Jews spread throughout the entire world, and there were many Jewish schools throughout the world that taught some Tanach and Jewish history and little more. As time passed, most of these schools closed, and even those schools of this type that still exist have many non-Jewish students today. Similarly, many synagogues throughout the world have closed, because the older generation passed away, and the grandchildren are totally assimilated into gentile culture, and many are actually gentiles themselves.
In the latest era, many Jews have been cut off from their roots, never having the opportunity to receive their heritage from the previous generations that lived before the Holocaust, already over 70 years ago. Assimilation has run rampant and has grown in a frighteningly staggering percentage, to the point where we can classify this scourge of assimilation as a spiritual Holocaust. The Jewish people never experienced a Holocaust like we find in our time period, and if drastic measures are not taken, it will take only a few years to lose millions of Jews to assimilation; their children will consider themselves to be gentiles, and many will not even know that they come from Jewish ancestry. In this spiritual Holocaust, chas v’shalom, it is possible to lose millions from Klal Yisrael. Even in the Holy Land, there are hundreds of thousands of young people who run away from Israel after completing their military service, and many of them marry non-Jews in various countries throughout the world.
The cause for this spiritual Holocaust is ignorance and lack of identity, affecting those who are removed from a life of Torah and mitzvos. Examples of Jewish ignorance can be found easily if people open their eyes and contemplate their surroundings, particularly if one visits smaller Jewish communities in more remote areas of the world. To my dismay, I have come across innumerable examples of ignorance of basic Judaism among young Jews over the years, and this situation continues to deteriorate from year to year.
A few years ago I visited a Jewish school in Hungary (where I was born), and I saw that most of the students in the Jewish school were non-Jews. I spoke to a Jewish girl there, and I asked her if she keeps Shabbos. She answered me angrily, “What is a Jew good for? Only to be thrown into the fire!” This was a Jewish girl! She had no knowledge of anything Jewish from her education in a so-called “Jewish school,” to the point where she had no idea what Shabbos was, since she grew up with non-Jews, eating non-kosher food, and following a non-Jewish lifestyle in every aspect of her life.
She had no understanding of the difference that exists between Jews and other nations. All she learned in her Jewish school was that Jews were thrown into the fire during the Holocaust and throughout Jewish history, because she was only taught the history of anti-Semitism. The teaching was focused on the negative aspects of Jewish history; therefore, she spoke with tremendous hatred and belittlement against Judaism—because she didn’t know anything about it! This lack of knowledge about Torah and mitzvos, together with the overemphasis of the negative aspects of Jewish history, has brought about a lack of understanding and a lack of appreciation for the high value of Judaism, and this causes assimilation.
The clearest proof can be found in this story, because this phenomenon of assimilation and intermarriage is not prevalent among Jews who keep Torah and mitzvos. In any part of the Diaspora where one finds a concentration of Torah scholars, one also finds a source of rescue. If only the wide resources of the Jewish people were dedicated to this cause, it would be possible to accomplish great things. It is clear that there is no other cure to stopping assimilation other than forming centers of authentic Jewish education, with authentic Torah study, on a wide scale for the Jewish masses throughout the Diaspora.
Over 20 years ago, the president of the Ashkenazic community in Argentina told me that there were about 15,000 students in Jewish schools throughout Argentina. That was then. Today there are only a few Jewish schools in Argentina, with very few students, and many of the students are not Jewish. The only Jewish schools that have seen any growth there are the authentic Torah institutions, which are gaining new students constantly. After completing their studies, these students go to Eretz Yisrael to study in holy yeshivos; most of them get married in Eretz Yisrael and many stay there. This is how the people of Hashem are indeed growing both in Eretz Yisrael and throughout the world!
Without Torah knowledge and without the study of Torah she’ba’al peh, there is no power to stand up against the temptations of the street and the winds of foreign influences that are blowing throughout the world. The only one who can withstand these temptations is one who studies Torah. The more Torah knowledge one gains, the more one is strengthened in mitzvos and good deeds, and then he will, of course, not fall into assimilation. Through Torah study, one understands the difference between the Jewish people and other nations, because Torah “is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the nations.”
About ten years ago, a Jew in his forties approached me, requesting a berachah for a shidduch. He told me he used to be a pastor in a church in Los Angeles, which boasted about 20,000 parishioners, and he sent missionaries from his church to Israel, often spending his own money to travel to entice Jews to adopt Christianity. He said that at one point, with hopes of having a stronger effect and influence on Jews, he began studying the Talmud. When he saw the wisdom of the Torah, he turned himself around and converted to Judaism! He told me incidentally that this ministry sent about 5,000 missionaries to Israel, and they put most of their efforts into infiltrating the secular schools, because they knew that the easiest places for them to have an influence would be among the secular who lack Torah knowledge and can easily be fooled by their ploys.
This is why the yetzer ha’ra is putting all of his energy into destroying the new generation of Torah scholars; these young scholars will be able to use their scholarship to later become rabbis and Jewish leaders who will teach and guide the next generation to Torah. Also, through their spiritual merits, they will help the Jewish people, saving them from assimilation and rescuing Jewish souls. This is what we see clearly throughout the world—any place where there are yeshivos, and particularly kollelim, Judaism and the Jewish people gets stronger and grow in numbers. Even Jews who are far from Judaism grow stronger in Judaism, because Torah study is the only guarantee for the future of Hashem’s nation, and the only quality that our national identity has any basis upon is Torah!
Because of this, the yetzer ha’ra works very strongly to prevent any monetary support for Torah study; therefore, to our sorrow, the kollelim are lacking tremendously. Everyone has to make a spiritual calculation to see if he is doing everything he can to support Torah study and to save Hashem’s people from falling into the pit of destruction.
We can now understand the reason for the great joy on the 15th of Av, because this was the day that the people went out to demonstrate against the ideology of assimilation, which causes ignorance and superficiality, and which blurs the distinction between the Jewish people and other nations, causing Jews to act like all of the other nations. This opens the doors to a culture of materialism, which only applies worth to superficiality and shallowness and does not value spirituality. This is the reason that there were no greater Jewish holidays than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur, because on the 15th of Av the call went out in the city streets: “Grace is false, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears Hashem deserves praise!”
This is what we said in the haftarah of Shabbos Nachamu, where the navi tells the Jewish people, “‘Comfort you, comfort you, My people,’ says your G‑d,” meaning that the only consolation that we can have in exile is that our G‑d calls us His people. For the only way that we are called the people of Hashem, and the only way that we are considered to be children to our Father in Heaven, is through study of Torah and Torah observance, and through this we are worthy of consolation and rest in the exile. Through financial support of Torah scholars, we are worthy of all good things—every individual Jew’s Torah study helps the entire Jewish people, because the entire Jewish people is like one body. Even if one is not able to study Torah on his own, his financial support of those who do study gives him a portion in their study, and the Torah helps him and brings him peace, prosperity, and satisfaction. And peace is the vessel that holds all of the blessings!
This is what we see openly in the pasuk, “Hashem gives strength to His people, Hashem blesses His people with peace,” about which the Sages teach, “There is no strength other than Torah,” as if to say that the strength of the Jewish people is Torah, and only in this merit are they worthy to be called “the people of Hashem,” and then Hashem will bless “His people” with peace. Then there will be a downfall for all of the haters of the Jewish people, and the scripture will be fulfilled in us: “The praises of G‑d are in their throats, and the swords of their mouths are in their hands, to perform vengeance against the nations and rebuke against the peoples” (Tehillim 149), and we will be worthy to see the fulfillment of the promise openly stated in our Holy Torah—“If you walk in My laws . . . I will give peace in the Land.” ϖ