Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Elul 5759 - August 18, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Lifestyle of Bnei Torah: The Antithesis of Modern Concepts
by HaRav Y. D. Rosenberg

There is only a fine line dividing the efforts a person is permitted to make in his life from the faith in the aid of the Supreme Being that must guide his life. This line also separates those who tangibly feel such a Divine Power and see His intervention in their daily life, from those whose faith is a more general, cloudy realization.

The difficulty of discerning this keen difference eclipses our view of what is expected of man, and as a result many people fail to find their right direction in life. Unfortunately, they are utterly oblivious to where their chosen course is gradually leading them. An astute observer understands that what others view as simple and well delineated is really complex and ambiguous. Many people pass through life without even treading on the right path that would lead to a realization of their objectives.

Life's depths, its internal significance, has endless routes that lead to it. The human race is running, trying to grab what it can, to accomplish the maximum -- but only a few individuals actually succeed.

The gemora (Taanis 22a) tells us that R' Baroka Chazo'oh was accustomed to escort Eliyahu Hanovi through the marketplace of Dvei Lefet. One day R' Baroka asked Eliyahu which people in the marketplace would enter into Olom Haboh. Eliyahu's surprising answer was: No one!

A busy marketplace symbolizes the heartbeat of life, the place where efforts for a livelihood are most evident. Precisely there, R' Baroka asked man's most meaningful question, the question whose answer determines a man's destiny after this life: Will any of these people enter Olom Haboh? Eliyahu's frightening response was that no one among the numerous people found in the marketplace would have Olom Haboh.

Within the vibrant marketplace solid values are liable to be blurred. Is there any compass that can guide us so we will not deviate from the right path? Life's marketplace is everywhere. Wherever a person finds himself he can live as if in a marketplace: dashing to and fro, engaging in hasty undertakings and daring initiatives, trying his utmost to reach impressive achievements.

When Moshe Rabbenu sent the twelve meraglim to spy out Eretz Yisroel he chose the cream of the crop of bnei Yisroel -- only those who were real tzaddikim. Yehoshua, the Divinely-selected leader after Moshe Rabbenu, was only the fifth in stature among the meraglim, as the Ramban (in his commentary on Chumash) points out.

Why was it necessary to send such prominent people for this task? Would it not have been more fitting to send men well acquainted with life's ways, its heartbeat, and its many ins and outs? Would such worldly people not have been better able to evaluate the situation and to make better decisions about what should be done?

I believe the sending of the meraglim can be explained in an innovative way. These tzaddikim were sent to appraise the land's singular spiritual qualities and assets, to grasp Eretz Yisroel's special needs, so they could correlate them to the nature of am Yisroel and its unique characteristics. This knowledge was needed to find the balance between a person's own efforts and his faith in HaKodosh Boruch Hu's aid.

We are obligated to have such emunah, but we must also attempt to sustain ourselves. What exactly is the appropriate track to follow? Only elevated tzaddikim could be assigned the weighty responsibility of solving this question.

Even they, unfortunately, failed. The hubbub of life and its stormy waves -- all that they saw: giants, a land that devours its inhabitants, funerals, odd oversized fruits -- strengthened their feeling that this land would thwart the Jewish Nation from attaining its sublime goals.

The task of the meraglim was to decide how to act according to the Torah's principles and to coordinate between mortal efforts and faith. Renowned Tannaim (Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai who said that one should always learn Torah and Rabi Yishmoel who said that one should spend time pursuing a livelihood, in the sixth chapter of Brochos) seemingly argue about this very question, although that was actually no real disagreement and each Tanna guided the members of his generation according to a different level. R' Yishmoel directed his guidance to those who could only live according to the commonly accepted way of life (derech Eretz), while R' Shimon Bar Yochai spoke to those who possessed a loftier level and of whom more was demanded.

Now we can understand what the meraglim said: "For they are stronger than He" (Bamidbar 13:31). Chazal (cited in Rashi) write that the meraglim claimed that even Hashem could not help them conquer the nations living in the land. How is it possible that such tzaddikim could speak in that way?

It seems that according to what they saw it was totally impossible for Am Yisroel to take over Eretz Yisroel. The material efforts that would apparently be required of them to live there, were above their abilities, far more than emunah obligated them. The meraglim saw only what was evident to their mortal senses and could not see Hashem's covert conduct, for example, in causing all the funerals so that the meraglim would not be discovered.

There is no logical explanation for the development of the Torah world over the last fifty years. The best minds, exceptionally talented scholars, and energetic people full of initiative, are immersing themselves in their Torah studies. These gifted people could easily succeed in business, management, sciences, and other white-collar vocations, but instead they opt to forego material prosperity.

The anti-religious are astonished. From where do these boys and men derive such unique inner strength? In their own schools, many students earn a high school diploma only with difficulty, and after they have completed their set curriculum of studies they do not have any interest in what they have studied. But in the yeshivos, the talmidim are diligently engaged in mastering and reviewing the Torah, and the few who study listlessly are pushed off to the sidelines. The yeshiva students' secret inner power, their indifference to temptations, is why life's maladies do not bother them.

This secret is revealing itself bit by bit, and even the general public is becoming aware of it. Bnei Torah are the most intellectual sector of the populace, since they devote the most years to studies and willingly choose to live lives of moderation. They have, Boruch Hashem, large families despite their limited material means. Among the secularists, as the intellectual level of a family rises, the size of the family declines. Among bnei Torah just the opposite is generally true.

In general, their lifestyle does not follow the conclusions of professional polls. There is no psychological or sociological explanation of why they do not aspire to a career in the wide world. Their lives go against the basic social principle that a career determines the size of the family, its development, the age of marriage, and other factors.

No academic research can explain this paradox, which shatters most modern social theories. A huge community has sprouted and developed, composed of people who are worthy to be the "cream of society" but instead humble themselves to the gedolei Torah. These Torah scholars "kill" themselves in the Torah's tent, and are not swept away by the ailments of modern Israeli society -- ills that are so depraved that we do not wish to even allude to them.

This is the real reason behind the reckless incitement against the Torah World. The IDF does not need bnei Torah as soldiers, but the truth is that the Israeli army is not only a military force fighting against its enemies. Ben Gurion advocated explicitly that the army be the Israeli melting pot, that Israeli society should absorb within it the characteristics of the army. The atmosphere of raw power, of "Let us take our fate in our hands," being the "spearhead," the "top of the heap," is an admission ticket to high society in Israel. A person who was not bred in such a milieu is considered to be missing something essential. In addition, that person was not "fortunate" enough to undergo an intensive brainwashing carried out almost entirely by Leftist "educators."

Israeli society considers someone who does not read the newspapers, who does not listen to radio, and who does not watch television, as not one of its members. He is not a proud Sabra who scorns his nation's past, but on the contrary he derives strength from our glorious past. The media broadcast at length and in great detail every soccer or basketball player and still more about movie or theater stars who have died, about their works, contribution, and influence on society. By contrast, gedolei Torah who are niftar are mentioned in just a few lines, and this is more in order to satisfy people's curiosity and feeling for folklore than to seriously report about them.

It is incontestable that the brainwashing in Israel by the media and various spokesmen have one identical objective, for the sake of which both act with full coordination: They are attempting to create an atmosphere of de-legitimization of the Torah-observant, and especially of the bnei Torah and yeshiva students.

The Torah is the antithesis of any theory of permissive living, of living without restraints. You will not find our children touring India or climbing the Tibetan mountains. Do not bother looking for them hiking in the jungles of South America either. A true ben Torah has no need or desire to be in such places. He strives to grasp a machlokes between the Rambam and the Ravad, to fully understand the commentaries of the Ramban, Rashba, and Ritva, to labor over a perplexing interpretation of Rashi and the Tosafos. His total desire is to stock his spiritual cargo with inestimable spiritual wares. This is what gives him the strength to withstand temptations and to loathe lowly, earthly endeavors.

When the anti-religious speak about "sharing the burden of national security equally" they are really aiming to corrupt the sublime lifestyle of bnei Torah so that they will conform to the standards of Israeli (Leftist) society.

It is an understatement to say that we currently find ourselves in a difficult period. People who proclaim an all- out war against the Torah and its supporters have gained power. Maran HaRav Shach shlita writes in one of his letters that when the atmosphere outside is foul it is difficult to protect the pure atmosphere within the beis midrash. We must be aware of this and prepare ourselves.

@BIG LET BODY = All the development and "spiritual depth" of a former Chief of Staff who became Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. and later Prime Minister, was acquired around the bonfires of the Palmach (the Leftist Haganah pre- State striking forces) and in the course of his formal military career. He had no training or background that prepared him to meet the masses of American Jewry. His attitude -- as was reported at that time -- was cold and condescending towards them. He had never before met a living Jewish community that did not evaluate Judaism through a gun sight.

His background was altogether lacking the factors that could connect him with those elements of the Jewish Nation that did not take part in surprise attacks, bloody battles, and acts of retaliation. He could not relate to Judaism through a daf gemora, through performing mitzvos, through attachment to past traditions -- or through the Jewish future awaiting him and his children.

Just as Berlin was the capital of Reform and Yerushalayim meant nothing to them, so a generation has grown up in Israel for whom New York is its capital and Yerushalayim does not speak to them. The possibilities of entertainment in Yerushalayim do not satisfy them, and they only know about the Galilean hills because of the political problems involved in them. The Tibetan mountains are more treasured for them; Brazil and Chile inflame their imagination.

The culmination of this type of education is like that of the Reform Movement -- assimilation and disappearance from the Jewish map. The presence of hundreds of thousands of non-Jews in Eretz Yisroel creates extensive possibilities for assimilation and, chas vesholom vanishing from the ranks of the Jewish People. Israeli parents, grandfathers, and grandmothers should have a prime interest in the future of their descendants, which is currently in grave danger. Not offering solid Jewish education, overlooking our glorious past, only viewing present difficulties without paying attention to all of the miraculous, astonishing occurrences that have happened to the Jewish Nation, not stressing Am Yisroel's Divine promised future -- these are abominable crimes by any historical criterion.

@BIG LET BODY = We must take an additional point into consideration. Those who had the zechus to do teshuvah and emerge from darkness to brilliance, cry out in pain over how the so-obvious truth was hidden from them. This pertains to Jews who were born and bred in a non- religious atmosphere, persons who possess a profound realization of their new way's soundness, intellectuals whose powers of reasoning are not to be questioned.

Let us not forget that those ba'alei teshuvah have driven away darkness with the candle of mitzvos and the torch of the Torah. These are people who, with their bold decision to return to Torah, relinquished a lifestyle whose entire aim is to convey pleasures to man, to make his life more delightful and gratifying. Instead they willingly entered a system requiring endless sacrifices and concessions from them, and placing them in constant battle with their yetzer. They are the ones who point an accusing finger at the system that originally thrust them into a disgraceful way of life.

This can be well illustrated by imagining what would happen if a chareidi person walked into the Israel Museum and burnt the Dead Sea Scrolls, whose worth today is more emotional than actual. Surely he would be denounced by everyone. Not only would he be blamed, but all his mentors and any person or group who had anything to do with him would be condemned.

But what is happening with the other findings in archaeological diggings? Children are not told at all about the evidence the archaeologists have revealed that there were always people who meticulously observed the Torah. They are not told of the mikvo'os in the heights of Masada, of the botei knesses, of the tefillin in the Qumran caves, the letters from Bar Kochva about supplying his soldiers with arba'as haminim, and the other remains that tangibly prove the Jewish Nation's devotion to lives of Torah and mitzvos and of the halochos of tumah vetaharoh. Where is their intellectual honesty if they do not explain this to their children?

It is astounding. Mikvo'os were found in Masada, in Lublin, in Lithuanian Vilna, in Tzan'a in Yemen, in Fez in Morocco, all separated by many generations and a span of continents. However, in Eretz Yisroel, where nevi'im once walked, where halocho was laid down for all generations, children are not told about all this. How great a crime is this!

Perhaps we have strayed from our starting point, but it is actually all one topic. It is the overall view we are required to contemplate.

HaRav Y. D. Rosenberg is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Me'or Yisroel in Netanya.

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