These are the recollections of HaRav Yechiel Michel
Shlesinger, founder of the yeshiva Kol Torah in Yerushalayim,
of HaRav Avrohom Elya Kaplan zt'l, head of the Berlin
Rabbinerseminar and a talmid of Slobodke yeshiva, under whom
he had learned. This essay was originally published in
Haderech, on the 11th Iyar 5704, for HaRav Kaplan's twentieth
From among the many talks he gave us and his
many typical sayings, there are two that remain engraved in
my memory and which I recall every day; which have taught me
and guided me.
In the course of a rancorous argument among talmidim
of the Rabbinerseminar in Berlin over certain internal
issues concerning Jewry, one student voiced his opinion that
even the good which Zionism had done -- by drawing nearer
some of those who had strayed away from Judaism -- could not
justify the movement's existence if at the same time it was
preventing the multitudes from following the path to complete
As a case in point, the student mentioned Christianity which,
according to the Rambam at the end of his writings, also
represents one of the steps towards Moshiach, through
its promulgation of monotheism. Yet the Rambam makes it clear
that for us, the religion's founder epitomizes the Jewish
Nonetheless even the sins of the wicked are instruments in
the workings of Divine providence. Just as that sinner
provided merit for many people by spreading the belief in
Hashem's unity, Zionism has also merited us with the return
of lost souls.
HaRav Kaplan zt'l, heard this discussion and called
the student to heed his rebuke. The rav first declared his
enthusiastic recognition of Agudism and its path that has
been charted for us by our gedolim. Then, he
absolutely contradicted the idea that it was the crime of
Christianity that was the cause of the merit of monotheism
spreading, as mentioned by the Rambam.
It is inconceivable that a sin can bring any good to the
world, just as it is inconceivable that anything but good can
result from a mitzvah. If Christianity brought blessing to
heathens it was not because its founder was a sinner but
because of the Jewish spark within him.
Had this talmid of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyoh not
scorned the task which Divine providence had prepared for
him, who knows whether, at a time when there was such a
strong trend towards converting to Judaism among the ruling
classes of the world, faith in Judaism might not have swept
people's hearts and truly brought Moshiach close even
That individual's movement away from Judaism precipitated the
most terrible curse in the world: two thousand years of
golus Edom. And nevertheless, because he was a Jew, a
ray of light went out to the world from the Jewish soul that
was within him, as the Rambam alludes.
We, small human beings who view the world in its present
state where, in our many sins, each day's curse is greater
than that of the day before, are liable to be misled by this.
And for the sake of the eternal truthfulness of the
Perpetrator of great deeds, it should be stated that a
slightly sinful outlook that has penetrated the world has
stolen from us the infinite light that lies deep within
Then, with his enthusiastic and persuasive words, our great
rebbe taught us the basis of Judaism's outlook
according to the Torah, namely, that even the slightest
aveiro, the smallest divergence from the will of
Hashem, must cause damage and bring a curse to the world,
just as every single mitzvo act brings blessing.
These words, accompanied by his cheerful expression and his
luminous and pure eyes, engraved themselves deeply in our
hearts and are with us every single day, whenever we express
an opinion or take any decision in life. They were a beacon
of light for me, preventing me from being drawn after a false
outlook -- as though the building of our errant brothers is
the construction of Eretz Yisroel.
No! It is not happening because of the sinners but
in spite of the sinners. Even in the circles that are
closest to us there is a need for us to transmit our
rebbe's teaching and to review it morning and evening.
Everything that is being built today in Eretz Yisroel is
being built because the workers are Jews, and not through
their aveiros but in spite of their aveiros.
The building would be better and greater without their
From now on, when we look at what is happening, will we know
and remember the lesson of this simple outlook on life, which
comes from our holy Torah? Every slight transgression of the
Torah's law, even if in our eyes it seems to bring great
blessing to Klal Yisroel for the fulfillment of Torah,
will only bring a curse to our lives and lessen the
strengthening of Torah's light in the world.
And any distance we put between ourselves and aveiro,
even the slightest one, and any small mitzvah, even if it
seems at the moment to damage Torah and its fulfillment,
influences the world for the good, increases happiness and
strengthens the Torah's light.
At this opportunity our rebbe said to us, "The Torah
says, `Do not favor them,' (Devorim) and it is
forbidden to say, `How beautiful this gentile is.' We must
not even praise the outward beauty of a sinner, so as not to
be attracted to them. How much greater is the obligation to
refrain from giving praise to a wicked man's good deeds lest
we be drawn after his mistaken and misleading outlook from
which his deeds drew their inspiration."
And what delicacy of recognition our rebbe had.
Despite his meticulous observance of this halocho and
his deep and correct understanding of it, he never broke off
his frequent practice of maintaining mutual relations with a
number of errant souls and others whose faith was weak. He
was inspired to this by a boundless love of Jews, which will
ultimately bring these people back to the path of good.