Surviving an Insane World


Devorah Talia Gordon.

Ohr Somayach International completed its weeklong tour of North America Tuesday night, May 5th, at the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center. “Surviving an Insane World: The Torah’s Sane Approach to our Unique Times,” was elucidated by Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Breitowitz, Rabbi Dovid Kaplan, and Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb.

Rabbi Breitowitz explained that although Chazal teach there will be four exiles, midrashim say there will be a fifth. The fifth and current exile, the Yishmaelite exile, is not a separate exile in itself, but an amplification of the Roman exile, coming at the tail end and creating a union of the power of Yishmael and Esav (Edom).

Ohr Sameach - Rabbi Breitowitz addressing the crowd

This terrifying combination leads to the most difficult exile. The Vilna Gaon teaches that of the seventy nations that persecute the Jews, thirty-five get their spiritual power from Edom, while the other thirty-five get their strength from Yishmael. Edom is epitomized by materialism and the denial of Hashem, while Yishmael taps into dark, spiritual forces and uses them for unparalleled cruelty. Most dangerous, Breitowitz explained, is the fact that the Yishmaelim do not care to die, or blow up the entire world.

Since Malchus Yishmael is acting out of a (distorted) spiritual ideal, Rabbi Breitowitz maintained that Yishmael can be fought only by spiritual means. Also, since there is nothing we can do to stop Yishmael, the illusion that we have any control is removed. “When this happens, new vistas of emunah and bitachon can be accessed.”

The next speaker, Rabbi Dovid Kaplan, addressed the topic of raising well-adjusted children. The greater ‘insane’ society focuses on the “I,” while the Jewish goal is to be focused on our relationships, and particularly our children, “our life’s mission.”

Firstly, Kaplan spoke about the need to lead by example, which is always more powerful than the words a parent says. For instance, Kaplan recounted the story of a family who, although living somewhere with no Jews, left an empty chair and setting at the Shabbos table. The mother wanted the family to remember that they would eventually have guests again, and be prepared for them. “That was how she communicated values. That empty place is something her children will never forget.”

Another way to survive in our insane society is by creating a home that’s a “warm bird’s nest;” in particular, Kaplan emphasized the need for a father to show affection to his children. Kaplan described the Shabbos table as a place for communication, not education. “It’s not a classroom or a lecture.” Divrei Torah should be woven naturally into the conversation; it’s part and parcel of our speech and our communication, but not presented as a formal lecture.

Kaplan concluded his talk by emphasizing the primary need for tefillah, not as an afterthought (“well, it couldn’t hurt”), but that we always need to daven for success with our children.

The final speaker, Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb, addressed the topic of creating a successful marriage. Citing the fact that the first man was both male and female, Gottlieb said, “We need an integrated identity.” This identity is epitomized in the story of Rabbi Aryeh Levin going with his wife to the doctor and saying, “Our foot hurts.”

A tool to get to this point, Gottlieb explained, is based on the central idea in Rav Dessler’s pivotal essay, “On Loving Kindness.” Dessler teaches that in order to, ‘love your friend as yourself,’ you have to give to that person. Then, a part of you is in that person. This investment leads to love. In an ideal relationship, with each partner giving and receiving, each one feels invested. Gottlieb posed the question, “When was the last time you said ‘I need you’ to someone? If I can’t say it, the other person doesn’t have a sense of value and importance.”

Rabbi Gottlieb summed up his presentation with a story of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l. At his wife’s levaya, Rav Auerbach did not ask forgiveness from his wife, as is the custom, because in over fifty years of marriage he had nothing to ask forgiveness for.

Although we are not on the level of creating such a gan eden as the Auerbachs, Gottlieb said, “We have to use that as a beacon of what can be accomplished by basser v’dam and try to make a little improvement in that direction.”