May 29, 2024
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Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, zt”l, the righteous “Guardian of Jerusalem”, was the revered leader of the Yishuv haYashan. One of the founders of the Eidah HaChareidis, he embodied fervent observance and encouraged uncompromising dedication to kedushah and tzniyus, “modesty.” As a central rabbinic figure in the Holy City in the days of pre-state British Mandate Palestine, Rav Zonnenfeld’s unwavering traditionalism was also expressed as staunch anti-Zionism.

Another influential personality in the Torah community of the Old Yishuv in the early 20th century was Rav Moshe Blau, a lifelong activist, politician and editor of the newspaper of Agudas Yisroel. A pragmatist and moderate political figure, he acted as a bridge between various factions within the Jewish community, and worked toward cooperation. Anecdotally, Rav Moshe’s brother was the colorful and controversial Rav Amram Blau, a founder of Neturei Karta.

Rav Moshe Blau detailed his life’s work in his autobiography, “Al Chomosaich Yerushalayim.” There, he includes a full chapter on his interactions and relationship with the great Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld—including the following episode, which took place on Tu B’Shevat, a day the young, Zionist chalutzim celebrated agricultural accomplishments and return to the land of Israel:

“As Rav Blau and Rav Yosef Chaim were leaving the old Shaarei Tzedek hospital building, they saw that ahead a large group of boys and girls were raucously singing, cheering and waving Zionist flags.

Knowing that the sight of a mixed group of immodestly dressed teenagers parading through the streets might cause Rav Zonnenfeld discomfort and pain, Rav Blau suggested that, perhaps, they should go back inside the hospital and wait until the crowd passed. Rav Zonnenfeld shook his head, and replied firmly, ‘No.’

Looking into Rav Blau’s eyes, he asked, “Are these not Jewish children?”

As the crowd passed by, girls and boys singing their workmen’s songs, everyone—including the elderly rav—were forced to the side of the road. Rav Blau noticed Rav Yosef Chaim murmuring something, whispering to himself. Bending his ear toward Jerusalem’s elder sage, he heard Rav Yosef Chaim reciting pesukim from Tehillim (115), repeating over and over until the entire parade passed:

יֹסֵף ה׳ עֲלֵיכֶם; עַלֵיכֶם וְעַל־בְּנֵיכֶם, בְּרוּכִים אַתֶּם לַה׳ עֹשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ

‘May Hashem add to you; to you and to your children. Blessed are you to Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth (Tehillim, 115; 14-15)’”

~

פִּֽינְחָס בֶּן־אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן־אַֽהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן הֵשִׁיב אֶת־חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת־קִנְאָתִי בְּתוֹכָם וְלֹא־כִלִּיתִי אֶת־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּקִנְאָתִי

“Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon Hakohen, has turned My anger away from Bnei Yisrael by zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy Bnei Yisrael because of My zeal.” (Bamidbar, 25:11)

After the public desecration of the Mishkan by Zimri and Kozbi and the ensuing gezeira against the nation, Torah credits Pinchas with restoring Divine favor and saving Am Yisrael. This “hamlatza” provided validation for the purity of Pinchas motives; the act was rooted in a healthy love of Israel, and without personal negios.

True kanaus, zealotry, demands purity of motive, personal closeness with Hashem, humility and selflessness. With great potential for holiness, zealotry is also a risky business with great downside. To attempt to speak or act on behalf of God, one must not only be absolutely certain of the righteousness of the perspective or cause, but free of any impure motivations, ego, anger or other negative character traits. False or immature kanaus only leads to violence and ugliness, far from a bris shalom or a kiddush Hashem.

Nonetheless—the Netziv writes—even when rooted in holiness and sanctity, a violent act can cause immense spiritual damage. Refined kanaus is an act of mesirus nefesh; as reward for mending the tear in the spiritual state of the community of Israel, the Ribbono Shel Olam restored the neshamah of Pinchas to its original state of peace and wholeness.

In outlining the laws of charitable giving and discussing our obligations to individuals and our fellows, Rambam states:

וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהַנִּלְוֶה עֲלֵיהֶם כְּאַחִים הֵם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים, יד א) בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה׳ אֱלֹקֵיכֶם וְאִם לֹא יְרַחֵם הָאָח עַל הָאָח מִי יְרַחֵם עָלָיו. וּלְמִי עֲנִיֵּי יִשְׂרָאֵל נוֹשְׂאִין עֵינֵיהֶן? … הָא אֵין עֵינֵיהֶן תְּלוּיוֹת אֶלָּא לַאֲחֵיהֶן:

“The entire Jewish people and all those who attach themselves to them are as brothers, as the Torah states: ‘You are children unto Hashem, your God’ (Devarim, 14:1). And if a brother will not show mercy to a brother, who will show mercy to them? To whom do the poor of Israel lift up their eyes? … Their eyes are pointed to their brethren alone.” (Matanos Aniyim, 10:2)

Notably, the concept of Jewish brotherhood and mutual responsibility is sourced in the pasuk בנים אתם לה׳, “You are children of Hashem,” as opposed to numerous other verses and commandments that directly refer to all Jews as brothers. This shows that our kesher—the defining aspect of our relationship with one another—reflects the relationship we have with Hashem. True kanaus is, therefore, rooted in the deep recognition that our common Father is the one who makes us brothers.

The Ramchal (Mesillas Yesharim, chapter 19) identifies our love for one another as the practical key to divine love: “HaKadosh Baruch Hu loves only those who love Am Yisrael. To the extent that our love for Israel grows, so does His love for us grow … This is analogous to a father who loves no one more than the one whom he sees has a genuine love for his children. Human nature attests to this … ” Thus, the Chasidic saying: “Az a bruder iz a bruder, iz a Tatteh a Tatteh—When the brother is a brother then the Father is a Father.”

Parshas Pinchas invites us to consider our zealous and passionate commitment to Torah ideals and ideas, and awaken fiery dedication to the Ribbono Shel Olam and His mitzvos.

May we also always ask ourselves, “Are we not all Jewish children?” And may we rededicate ourselves to ahavas Yisrael, only “adding” blessing in the way we speak about, relate to and behave toward everyone of Bnei Yisrael, children of one Father.


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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