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5 Iyar 5760 - May 10, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Lessons for Life

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 yahrtzeit.

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 teshuvah.

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 renegade.

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 then?

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 Yisroel.

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 sins.

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.

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