July 16, 2024
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The Mesorah of Chesed

In keeping with our mission to provide our readers with food for thought, the editors felt this piece would stimulate discussion. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Five Towns—I attended an event in my neighborhood recently, where rabbis I used to study with were adamant about haredi boys never going into the IDF.  One of the speakers went so far as to declare that we are experiencing a war against Torah Judaism; that the chilonim and Zionists are aiming to destroy Torah and see the haredim as its symbol. This is simply false and  needlessly inflammatory (but an admittedly effective as a way to rally the troops) Another concluded that the Jewish people are in a state of emergency, and we all need to cry out for salvation.

While all of this may be true, it is beside the point. The problem that needs to be addressed is why chilonim have turned against haredim. As one who considers himself ha redi, I believe we are the problem.

Reb Aryeh Levine, who was a haredi leader in Israel, and yet the Knesset dedicated a special day in his honor and gave him a special plaque. They saw how he worked with all his might to help the fighters in the early days before the state. After davening, he walked tens of miles on Shabbos to the prisoners in jail to come back and report how their loved ones were doing. He cried on Rosh Hashanah, mentioning each man sentenced to the gallows by name. The chilonim recognized that he loved them with all of his pure heart and they returned that love.

But for the past 100 years, the haredi world has fought Zionism like it is poison. They made fiery statements like Zionists didn’t become frei in order to build a state; they built a state in order to become frei. You can become frei by going to McDonalds without going through the backbreaking effort of building a state.  It is insulting to the people who built Israel. After suffering 2,000 years of persecution, poverty, plagues, and pogroms at the hands of their host countries, which caused the spirits of many to break, is there no understanding why the status quo was unbearable? Many were converting and leaving Judaism in droves because they couldn’t take the anti-Semitism, discrimination, and misery. Many fled to America or wherever else they could get into.

Theodore Herzl warned that things would only get worse, and his prophecy was 100 percent correct. He knew the answer was for the Jews to get a place of their own, and he tried his best to help his suffering brethren. Despite personal failings, he did magnificent work. Think about how hard it is to organize a shul dinner, and then imagine how hard it is to organize a country. He had to rally the Jews, raise funds, meet with countless heads of state. The ha redim vilified Herzl and forbade any hazkarah in his honor within the city of Brisk after he passed away. The rav of the main shul in town locked the doors to prevent it. But the population was undeterred and broke the lock and held a massive service with thousands of people in attendance. To this day the vilification continues.

Haredim refuse to say the tefillah for the medinah or for the chayalim in their shuls, citing all kinds of Kaballistic reasons, or because we don’t have power to write new tefillos (despite that we say new kinnos on TishahB’Av for the Shoah). However, in the old siddur OtzarHaTefilos, written about 100 years ago, there is a tefillah for Czar Nikolai, his wife, his parents, and children, mentioning them all by name, with effusive praise for each, but to say the same for our brethren in the Israeli government, it would somehow ruin the davening.

When a Jew goes to Israel and is greeted with a big sign that says, Bruchim Habaim L’Eretz Yisrael, his heart soars. When he enters Yerushalayim and sees the beautiful floral arrangement spelling out Bruchim Habaim L’Yerushalayim, and sees the Old City and the Kotel, his heart is torn with emotion. When he sees young soldiers guarding the streets with dangerous weapons, the same age as our kids, who are often roaming the pizza shops, he is amazed at the level of responsibility and maturity they have achieved at such a young age. When he sees how advanced the country has become technologically, such that it exports its know-how all over the world, in areas such as military technology, water management, agriculture, medicine, electronics, software, and nanotechnology, his heart bursts with pride. When he realizes that there is freedom to set up as many shuls and yeshivos as one pleases, without any fear of pogroms or anti-Semitism, he is overjoyed and dumbfounded that for the first time in 2,000 years, this is possible. Medinas Yisrael is the biggest berachah the Jews have received since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

How can anyone say that daas Torah is opposed to this? How are we forbidden to say the tefillah for the Medinah, should not celebrate Yom HaAtzamaut, should not sing “Hatikvah,” and not stand for the memorial sirens on Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaShoah? The average Jew becomes confused and torn, his heart telling him one thing, and  the yeshivishe propaganda drummed into his head telling him another.

Jewish fathers died so Jews can enjoy the freedom and the shuls, yeshivos, and mekomos hakedoshim of Eretz Yisrael. Can ha redim their children respect for two minutes and stand still while he cries? How dare any leader not emphasize basic decency in his yeshiva? When a frum IDF soldier is stoned and rained with trash when he enters MeahShearim, the rest of the country is sickened. When verbal violence is preached at the top levels, physical violence results at the lower levels.

All the chesed that the haredim do, while certainly well appreciated it, doesn’t come to a drop in the ocean of the chesed that the Medinah does. The haredim may provide transportation, food, or advice to people in need of medical treatment, but who provides the hospitals, medical training, medicines, instruments, research, universities where training and innovation is carried out, and roads to transport the patients and medicines, etc.

How many Jewish poor does the government of Israel feed? Who ensures that the economy runs smoothly, that there is electricity, and engineering training to design a power grid, and water, and chemists who know how to test its safety? Who protects this vast infrastructure, and provides army personnel to stand watch day and night? The Medinah dwarfs all chesed organizations put together.

Where is the hakaras hatov? The klal craves achdus and warmth. But the constant anti-Zionist propaganda spewed forth by haredim is causing giyul nefesh (utter disgust) in me and many of my chaveirim who learned in haredi yeshivos, not to mention the chilonim themselves.

A few years ago, there was a major chinuch protest demonstration, with all haredim in Israel urging their followers to attend. The Israeli government was upset that a certain school was separating the Sephardic girls from the Ashkenazic girls by means of a fence in the middle of the school building, and down the middle of the playground. Personally, even if a thousand gedolim held a demonstration with a million followers urging people to be cruel to young Sephardic girls, I would follow my heart and simply ignore it, and instead welcome them with open arms. The hamon am is disgusted.

When Rebbe Akiva said that v’ahavtal’rei’acha kamocha is klal gadol ba Torah, he meant it. It supersedes all other considerations. Rabbi Ginzberg often mentions the importance of keeping  the mesorah of learning—by about 500 years. It is the mesorah of chesed. It was taught by Avraham Avinu. When three individuals who he actually thought were idol worshippers (see Rashi) showed up at his door, he did not spit, as some haredim now do, at priests of other religions. Rather, he served them a delicious meal and gave them a place to rest, before sending them on their way. Chesed comes before ideology.

For now we need to know that there is nothing more to Yiddishkeit than simple kindness and mutual love and respect. In the words of Hillel, idach perusha hi—all else is just commentary. Perhaps it is not the chilonim who have gone off the derech. Perhaps it is us. I am not rejecting daas Torah, rather I am relying on the daas Torah of Reb Aryeh Levine which goes straight back to Avraham Avinu.

If we acted like Reb Aryeh and gave the chilonim the slightest bit of hakaras hatov and appreciation for their amazing achievement (b’siyata deshmaya), with a sincere and full understanding of the miracle they created and the intense effort they put in; if we offered to move our yeshivos to the army bases to keep the defenders of Eretz Yisrael company in times of war and be mechazek them with kindness; and if we stopped our foolish and angry (and baseless) rhetoric, they would never think of drafting a single yeshiva bachur. We have only ourselves to blame for this miserable situation. Let us try to rectify it before things get worse.

Barry may be reached at bdj_alum.mit.edu

By Barry Jacobson (From 5Towns Jewish Times, reprinted with permission. Visit http://5tjt.com)

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