top of page

When In Doubt Seek Him Out

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Zachor - Purim
When In Doubt Seek Him Out

Yankele was too thin, pale, and weak to be drafted into the Russian army. That didn't stop the Communists from drafting him anyway. This was one of the worst horrors facing Jewish families at that time.

If the new Jewish "soldiers" were not killed by their fellow Russian "comrades", they would most certainly be killed by the enemy army, since the Jews were always placed in the front lines, even though they were never trained for such combat. Why risk your life for a country that hated you so much?

Yankele stood in line waiting for the Rebbe's berachah (blessing). The waiting room was packed with people. When the Sfas Emes finished helping one of the petitioners, he walked into the waiting room.

The Sfas Emes noticed the young boy instantly. He motioned for him to enter his study. Tears welled up in the Sfas Emes' eyes after hearing about this Jew's plight. He is so pure and innocent, the Sfas Emes thought to himself. How will he survive?

Yankele wanted a beracha that would prevent the Russians from drafting him. Instead, the Sfas Emes told him, "No matter what, never eat non-kosher food, and never desecrate the Shabbos. And here, take this book about Bris Milah (circumcision), and study it thoroughly."

"But Rebbe, I don't want to go to the army. Please bless me that they should forget about me." But, it was too late, the Sfas Emes was already out the door calling in the
next chassid that needed his assistance.

Yankele was saddened, but what could he do? Eventually, he was drafted, but he always tried his best. The other privates were Russian peasants who were coarse, filthy, and disorganized. Only Yankele's bed was made. Only Yankele's shoes were shined. Only Yankele's gun was clean.

The other soldiers spent their free time drinking, smoking, gambling, and cursing. Not Yankele. He would just sit on his bed reviewing the sefer given to him by the Sfas Emes. He read all about Bris Milah. There was a chapter in the book instructing the reader how to perform a circumcision practically. Yankele read it so many times that he felt he knew how to do a bris.

One day, the general of the army paid a visit to the army base that Yankele was in. He was told by the sergeant that most of the soldiers were sloppy disappointments, except for one, a religious Jew surprisingly, who was dedicated and who followed all of the rules down to the last detail.

The general told the sergeant to send the Jewish soldier to his quarters. When Yankele was informed that the general wanted to see him, he thought that this could only mean trouble.

As Yankele stood at attention, the general asked him if he ate all of the food provided by the Russian army. Yankele wanted to lie, but realized that it would just be better to tell him the truth. "I only eat the raw fruits and vegetables, sir."

"But you serve the Czar, and the Czar wants his soldiers to be strong. I demand that you eat the meat that we serve as well!"

Shaking, Yankele remembered what the Sfas Emes had told him, and said, "Sir, I only serve the One God, and He forbade me to eat food that is not kosher."

"You dare defy a direct order!?" The general rose, pulled out his gun, pointed it at Yankele, and said, "I am told that you do not fulfil all of your duties on Saturday. You serve the Czar, and he demands that his soldiers work for him every single day!"

Yankele, who was now perspiring, drew strength by thinking about the Sfas Emes, swallowed hard and said, "I am sorry sir, but I serve the One God, and He commanded me not to engage in certain activities on the Sabbath day."

The general pushed the gun into Yankele's chest and thundered, "You would dare defy the great Czar?!!"

Knowing that this would be his last moment alive, Yankele closed his eyes and said, "Yes, I will disobey the Czar so long as he goes against the word of my God."

Instead of hearing the shot of a gun, Yankele heard the general say, "At ease soldier." When Yankele opened his eyes, he saw the general smiling at him.

"Sir, I do not understand."

"You see Yankele, nobody else knows this but I am a Jew. My wife and I just had a baby boy. We may not be so religious, but we really want him to have a kosher circumcision. I cannot hire a mohel because if the powers to be found out about my true identity, I would lose my job and maybe my life.

When I heard about you, I thought that you might be able to help me. I do not know much about Jewish law, but I'm pretty certain that a mohel must keep Shabbos and kashrus. So, I tested you to see if you were sincere. Can you help me?"

Yankele could not believe his ears. He told the general that he had been studying circumcision for some time now, and that he could even perform the bris himself.

"Excellent! I will give you a pass to leave the army base. You'll come to my house. After the bris, I'll give you civilian clothing, and you can return home.

As Yankele grasped the general's hands to thank him, he cried out a thanks to Hashem, not just for being saved, but for providing the world with a Tzaddik such as Rebbi Yehudah Arye Leib of Ger, the Sfas Emes (1847-1905), who had such Divine inspiration that he was able to help, not only himself, but this hidden Jew as well. (Midlo, Tzoltana, Lamed Vov).

The importance placed on Torah authorities cannot be emphasized enough. We will see this after exploring the nature of Amalek who we will be reading about this Shabbos during Parshas Zachor (Dt. 25:17-19; Meggilah, chap. 2, "Hakorei L'mafreya", pg. 18a).

One of Amalek's powers is to plant seeds of doubt in the minds and hearts of the Jewish people with respect to the faith we are supposed to have in God. This is hinted to in the name "Amalek" which is numerically 240. The word "Safek" (doubt) is also numerically 240, teaching us that Amalek spreads doubt about God's existence and involvement in our world. Amalek's intention is that these doubts lead us to complete heresy (Notzer Chessed, Avos, 1:16; Maharid, vol. 2, pg. 141a).

The questions that enter our minds about Hashem come from Amalek's energy in the world. When we do nothing to resolve those questions, we fuel Amalek, empowering them to wage war against us.

Proof of this was when there was a shortage of water in the desert, the Jewish people asked, "Is God among us or not?" (Ex. 17:7). As soon as they asked that question, Amalek attacked (Ex. 17:8). This teaches us that they were negatively affected by Amalek and began to doubt God. When they did nothing about resolving our questions, we empowered them to attack (Rashi; Tanchumah 3; Shemos Rabba 26:2).

The way to battle against Amalek's spiritual assault is to accept a Rebbe upon oneself. Such a person can help us resolve any questions that we may have about God. This is implied by Rabban Gamliel who said, "Accept a Rav upon yourself, and remove yourself from uncertainties" (Avos,1:16).

Additionally, if the Jews in the wilderness questioned whether God was with them or not, it showed that they did not have such faith in their leader, Moshe Rabbenu, either. Had they fully accepted Moshe's authority, they would have listened to him when he tried to clarify their issues. Moshe's failure in removing their uncertainties reflected on the people's lack of Rabbinic trust.

But, Amalek struck again by convincing them to reject Torah authorities. Even today we can hear Amalek's poisonous whispers swimming around inside of our heads. We hear arguments such as, "If we had leaders like in previous generations we would follow them, but now we have nobody; besides, who even needs a Rabbi, we have books, and Google, and we can look up the answers to our questions by ourselves." These thoughts stem from Amalek's influence on our society.

We must remind ourselves that without our Sages transmitting the Torah to us with precision, we have nothing. Without the Oral Law, the Written Law has no meaning.

We must realize that the only person we cannot trust is ourselves, because we are too close to ourselves to be completely objective. We need a go to person to check in with to make sure that we do not make decisions that are antithetical to Torah (Yevamos, chap. 2, "Keitzad", pg. 25b, Rava; Avos 4:14; Nega-im, 2:5).

But, Amalek convinces us to reject Torah sages by injecting arrogance into our systems. Sometimes we feel too proud to accept another person's advice. This disease is also hinted to in the numerical value of "Amalek," 240. This number is the same numerical value as the word "Ram" (high-ness, haughtiness; Zera Kodesh Parshas Zachor).

Once we are filled with "Ram'ness", we reject authority which deprives us of the assistance needed in crystalizing the doubts that we sometimes harbor about God and His ways.

This explains why Moshe appointed specifically Yehoshua, and no other general, to wage the first war that we had against Amalek. Perhaps, one of Yehoshua's strongest points was that of accepting a Rav upon himself.

When Moshe went up Mount Sinai to speak with God, face to face, Yehoshua accompanied him. About half way up the mountain, Moshe told him that he was not allowed to ascend any further. Instead of Yehoshua returning to the Jewish camp, he pitched his tent right there on the mountain, and waited until Moshe came down. His Rebbe, Moshe, was so precious to him that he took advantage of every moment with him (Ex. 33:11).

By Yehoshua leading the men into battle, Moshe hoped that his quality of accepting a Rav would rub off on the rest of the Jews. Then, they could get their questions answered and truly defeat what Amalek stood for (Shvilei Pinchas).

Perhaps we could suggest that Moshe and Yehoshua, as a team, could repel the forces of Amalek. We mentioned above that "Amalek's" numerical value is 240. The two words that share that same numerical value were "Ram" and "Safek." This teaches us about the order in which Amalek operates.

First, they try to inject "Ram'ness" into us which causes us to reject Torah authority. Only after we abandoned our spiritual guides do they inject "Safeks" into us about Hashem which leads to heresy.

Therefore, we needed two heroes to counteract Amalek, Moshe and Yehoshua. Moshe's humility was meant to reverse the "Ram'ness" and Yehoshua's acceptance of Torah leaders was intended to offset the "Safek."

Moreover, Moshe stood on top of Mount Sinai, the humblest of mountains, during the battle against Amalek (Ibn Ezra, Ex. 17:9). In this way, the humblest man (Nu. 12:3) on the humblest of mountains (Sota, chap. 1, "Hamekaneh", pg. 5a, Rav Yoseph) would have a positive humbling effect on the Jews. Once haughtiness would be removed, they would be open to Da'as Torah represented by Yehoshua. This would topple what Amalek stood for (Shvilei Pinchas).

Generations later, the Jews had difficulty accepting the authority of Mordechai. Achashveirosh invited everybody to his party. Mordechai told the Jews that they are not allowed to go. Some of the Jews must have thought that Mordechai was nuts. If no Jews attended, Achashveirosh will probably get insulted, thinking that the Jews did not accept him. This could result in a pogrom.

But, "Mordechai knew ALL that had been done" (Est. 4:1). The Master of Dreams told him that in Heaven all agreed to have the Jews annihilated because they bowed down to idolatry and because they partook of Achashveirosh's filthy party (Rashi ibid). Mordechai taught us that politicians do not decide the fate of the Jewish people, God does. Had they not gone to the party, Achashveirosh would have respected them and their customs. He would have even protected them.

The Jews were influenced by Haman, a descendant of Amalek, and doubted their leader. By falling prey to his influence, they empowered Haman, who almost destroyed the Jewish people. Only after the Jews obeyed the authority of Mordechai and Esther by fasting for three days were they able to defeat Haman (Shvilei Pinchas).

Years earlier, Shaul Hamelech did not fully accept the authority of Shmuel Hanavi who commanded him, in the Name of God, to destroy Amalek completely (Sam. 1, 15:3; Haftaras Zachor). Shaul questioned this. How can I mass murder them? Don't people have rights? And what about the animals? They did not sin. Don't they have rights? And what about the children? They're innocent. Why should they be slaughtered? (Yoma, chap. 2, "Barishonah", pg. 22b).

Suddenly, a Heavenly voice boomed out of the sky and said, "Don't be such a Tzaddik!" Misplaced mercy leads to misplaced cruelty. Tolerating terrorists in your borders results in kicking law abiding Jews from their homes.

As a result, his kingship was given over to the better man, Dovid Hamelech, who always asked his Rebbe, Mefiboshes, about all of his decisions (Sam. 1, 15:28; Berachos, chap. 1, "Mei-aymasai", pg. 4a).

Practically speaking, if we do not yet have a Rav, Rebbe, Rebbetzin, mentor, or some sort of go to person, let us try to find one for ourselves. This will help us clarify our doubts. This is an especially propitious undertaking to adopt at this time of year, because it says that we are supposed to increase our happiness in the month of Adar, and there is no happiness like the removal of uncertainties.

For many of our questions, we do not need the Gadol Hador. An erlicher yid (sincere Jew) will suffice. But, when the big questions arise, ask him who to go to. If we already have a Rav, let's make sure that we are using him.

So, may we all be blessed with humility to ask someone else for advice and thereby remove all doubts about Hashem and His representatives, so that we, in our generation, can rid the world of Amalek once and for all.

bottom of page