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20 Iyar 5762 - May 2, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Not An Overall Solution, Just Survival For The Moment: A Voice From the Past Addresses a Contemporary Crisis

By Rabbi N. Z. Grossman

Shattered Hopes

Many of our errant brethren are in the grip of hopelessness and depression these days. We seem to be caught in a blind alley that offers no prospect whatsoever of escape. With each passing day, it is becoming clearer and clearer that none of the political or security measures that have been taken have helped.

The truth is that the Jewish people has faced more difficult and more hopeless situations in the past. However, the roots of the present dejection lie deeper than ever before.

Many were convinced that the establishment of the State of Israel would put an end to outbreaks of antisemitism and to ongoing pogroms, like the ones we witnessed a few weeks ago, with low murderers treating the Jews of Eretz Yisroel like animals ready to lead to slaughter R'l.

It is the shattering of all hope that gives rise to this bitter disillusionment. Our community views all the political and security measures that were tried, over the last decade and before, as necessary efforts towards preventing bloodshed in the region, an objective of paramount importance to every Jew who has his sights focused on the sanctity which the Torah assigns to human life.

In contrast, our errant brethren saw these same measures as steps toward achieving an overall solution to the suffering and the troubles of the Jewish people. Recent events have shown that harsh reality is otherwise.

Faithful Jewry proceeds along the Torah's path, which teaches that there will be no remedy for our nation's physical and political ills until the future redemption. The yoke of gentile nations will not be removed until then and no action or scheming on our part will change this state of affairs. Our efforts can only be mediatory, and work on a temporary and makeshift basis. We aren't looking for an overall solution because there is no way in the world to achieve one. We just try to put out fires as and when necessary.

A believing Jew does not place his trust in either brawn or brain to help him in confronting our enemies. He knows that Heaven has decreed that we live subject to the threats and the animosity of the nations, like a sheep among seventy wolves.

Truly, we have no one to lean on save out Father in heaven. We have no means of bettering our situation save by strengthening our Torah study and our acts of kindness and by yearning for Hashem's salvation and for the future redemption.

We are well-acquainted with the bitter exile that has been decreed for us and we try to come to terms with it using the same methods that Jews have been doing for many generations. Until Moshiach arrives, there will be no permanent solution to the problem of the gentile yoke. Until "Hashem's great and fearsome day," we can only try to gain temporary concessions that will keep us afloat. When waves of troubles threaten us, we duck and try to weather them.

So it has been with wave after wave throughout our exile and so it will continue until the final redemption brings us to safe shores. We do not have the power to end the exile. We are merely obliged to do whatever we can to save lives, while we lift our eyes and pray for Heaven's mercy.

This is our approach to the enemies that rise against us and seek our destruction. It is also our approach to the decrees that are enacted against us from within, that threaten Torah's survival.

Awaiting Redemption

In the past, we have quoted the thoughts of HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin zt'l, av beis din of Chaslavitz, who was renowned as the foremost public speaker of his time. He addressed this problem eighty years ago, in an article that appears in his sefer, Medrash Shimoni.

He first quotes Chazal's comments about Eliyahu Hanovi and his conversation with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi about the future redemption (Sanhedrin 98), in which the former told the latter that Moshiach sits at the gates of Rome among the poor and sick. They all open, clean and rebandage all their wounds at once, whereas Moshiach "opens one and then rebandages it," dealing with each one separately [so that if he needs to come and redeem Klal Yisroel, he should not have a moment's delay].

HaRav Diskin then begins his original explanation with the following observation: "Our prophets have told us, every Jew's blood is suffused with the knowledge, and it is engraved upon our hearts and minds as a result of our difficult and troubled path in life, that our exile is no chance occurrence. It is unnecessary to speak about this at length; it is one of the clearest and most obvious axioms of our existence. Chance events do not go on and on. We were exiled after receiving numerous warnings from the prophets. This fact has been recognized and accepted by each and every Jew throughout our exile. "Our forefathers' sins destroyed [Hashem's] dwelling place and our [own] sins have lengthened the time [until its restoration]" (piyutim of Yom Kippur musaf).

"This awareness leads to the logical conclusion that it is absolutely impossible to negate the exile and to free the Jewish nation from it in the same ways that other nations can liberate themselves. The exile can be eased; it can be made less bitter; some of its decrees can be rescinded and the burden of its yoke can be lessened -- but we can never escape from it and return our entire nation to renewed political independence through natural means."

In the Wake of False Hopes

"All the various movements that sought to redeem our nation were therefore liable to wreak two kinds of harm upon us. First, they endanger tens of thousands of Yidden by deluding them into believing that their redemption is at hand. We have seen from the experiences with the false Moshiach Aboulafiyeh and in the times of Shabsai Tzvi shr'y, that many lost their footing in their preparations for leaving for Eretz Yisroel. Tens of thousands of Jewish homes were wrecked as a consequence.

"Second, they endanger our spiritual well-being. Upon the failure of a messianic movement, which has absorbed the energies of generations and fed upon the hopes and yearning for which they literally gave their last drop of strength, it is inevitable that a period of terrible hopelessness and tremendous disillusionment sets in. This is why we saw Shabsai Tzvi's movement lead to apostasy and [give rise] the degenerate Frankist movement. Any mass movement that attracts the multitudes and promises immediate success and then collapses, leads to spiritual and moral devastation among those who were drawn after it."

HaRav Diskin adds that this is why gedolei Yisroel in all times fought selflessly against such movements, which threatened Klal Yisroel with these dangers. The Torah leaders of every generation devoted themselves to the welfare of the community and did everything in their power to ease the difficulty of our subjugation. They worked to arrange an orderly pattern of national life and to establish Torah centers wherever Jews were living, but they were always careful to avoid encouraging the people to attempt to leave the exile by force.

Balm for a Nation's Ills

"All the slogans about our nation being freed through its own efforts; the dazzling attraction of emancipation and of Israel's `autoemancipation,' were foreign imports. We did not originate such ideas. We had intercessors who shepherded the holy flock and labored to [try and] ease or cancel decrees that affected individuals or communities. But we never had any experts who were able to rid us of the exile entirely.

"Those who arose from among the people and who had dealings with the ordinary man who lived, ached and suffered, if they were imbued with a sense of communal responsibility then they did not aim for the skies and seek giant-sized, broad spectrum remedies for the whole situation. They simply tried their best to ease the burden of the individual's suffering. They shared his troubles in every way that they could. From the days of Rabbi Yosselman of Rosheim and the other intercessors [over the centuries] who concerned themselves with the communal good, down to Reb Itzele of Monstirshchineh, who saved the victims of the Velize and Amtsislav [libels], [as well as] that gaon [of Klal] Yisroel, HaRav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel zt'l [of Lodz], and Baron Dovid Ginsburg, each of them following his own approach and utilizing his own gifts -- none of them proffered a way of healing all of our nation's ills. They administered balm for each decree or other type of misfortune separately.

"In those days, the concepts of [the early political Zionists] `national genius,' `nationalistic ambitions' and `national demands,' were as yet unheard of. We were familiar with a stick that delivered a steady rain of decrees and other afflictions and knew that those who wished to protect themselves and others sought ways of dodging the blows. One didn't enter into arguments with the stick, or present it with a list of demands.

"Here though, a difference of opinion emerged between the elders, who shared the pain of the ordinary people and looked for solutions through the agency of intercessors, and those who belonged to the `smart' generation that embraced slogans like, `Beis Yisroel shall be like all the nations.' They embarked on the tragic and ridiculous game of politics, of Jewish ministers and Jewish parliamentarianism, trying to normalize our nation's situation easily, with a generalized solution that had been adopted from the experiences of other downtrodden nations. [However,] they did not help us in the least."

Wave After Wave, Wound by Wound

HaRav Diskin quotes another well-known story told by Chazal: We have learned in a beraissa: Rabbon Gamliel said, "I was once travelling on a boat and I saw a boat that had broken up and I was distressed over [the fate of] the talmid chochom who had been on board, Rabbi Akiva. When I reached dry land, he came and debated before me in halochoh. I said to him, `My son, who pulled you up?' He said, `I came across a board from a boat [and I grabbed it] and I bowed my head towards every wave that went over me' " (Yevomos 121).

HaRav Diskin describes at length how the boat of Klal Yisroel was rocked by ferocious waves during the difficult times of Rabbon Gamliel and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva's great yeshiva of twenty-four thousand students was disbanded and the Emperor Hadrian enacted unbearable decrees. Rabbon Gamliel was greatly distressed over the bitter fate of the boat which Rabbi Akiva was navigating through this sea of troubles.

"However," he continues, "Rabbi Akiva saved our boat with a few boards. A single talmid, a single board, like Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai -- and the other talmidim were the same -- saved entire generations from drowning in the sea. When Rabbon Gamliel asked how he was saved, Rabbi Akiva told him, `I didn't try to find an overall solution to the stormy sea. All I did was to try to weather each wave safely. I lowered my head until it had passed over me while holding onto the board that remained mine. Hashem yisborach brought me through the billowing waves to where I am now.'

"We do not have a general solution to our nation's ills and the troubles of exile, as other peoples do. We seek balm for each individual wound and decree. The overall solution is the arrival of Moshiach tzidkeinu."

This is how HaRav Diskin explains the first gemora which he quoted, about the signs of Moshiach's coming. "All other nations have only one way of surviving. Either they impose their rule over other peoples and maintain themselves independently in their countries, or they disappear, being submerged and losing their identity among the conquered nations. All the other sick individuals amongst whom Moshiach sits, open and rebandage all their wounds together. One bandage heals all of their wounds. Our nation, which persists until the end of days, opens and reties one at a time, "in case Moshiach comes," the day of Hashem's salvation and then every wound will be bound.

"We protect our nation from extinction, so that they will be prepared for redemption. We don't have one general remedy for all our ills."

When Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked Moshiach "When will you come?" the latter replied, "Today," meaning if you fathom the reason for your exile, and "if you listen to His voice," meaning and if you return to Hashem wholeheartedly.

Golus from Within

This is the time-honored approach that has guided us through all the years of our exile. This is the "golus policy" that the great men of each generation have transmitted to us.

Until the time arrives for the true cure to all our troubles with the future redemption, we try to extinguish the conflagrations one by one and to avoid the attempts to exterminate us. We have no illusions of being able to achieve a "new world order" through force or by political means, under which the nations would officially recognize Am Yisroel's right to live in peace, free of any outside threats.

"It is an halochoh that Eisov hates Yaakov" and there is no way to alter this heavenly decree, save through yearning for Hashem's rescue and strengthening ourselves in Torah and in fear of Heaven. As far as national efforts go, all we can do is bend our heads towards each wave and try to mediate a solution to each crisis, without being deluded into imagining that we can solve the situation once and for all.

This is also the approach which our leaders, zt'l and ylct'a, have bade us adopt in dealing with other features of the period immediately preceding Moshiach's arrival, the time of ikvese demeshicha. Specifically, we refer to the battle against our enemies from within, Jews who seek to uproot Torah and to harm the foundations of Torah's survival. In this respect, our approach is drastically different from that of the National Religious camp, which has granted legitimacy to the nationalist movement and entered into a proper partnership with it.

We were taught to oppose Zionism and all its kindred secular ideas with determination and to maintain complete isolation from those who throw off the yoke of Torah's authority. We hardly consider the State, with all its legislation, as being the ideal situation for our nation. Neither do we have any interest in artificially placing a kipah atop such a state, which is and which would still remain essentially secular.

All we want is to survive as a community of believers and Torah observers, that keeps itself inside the botei medrash and engages in the vocation of its ancestors, without following new ideas.

Clearly then, when decrees against religion are in the offing, our efforts are purely mediatory, attempting to avoid the threatening edict. Here too, we are not deluded into thinking that it is possible to achieve a consensus about the right of religion to exist under the yoke of a secular state. We know -- as our teachers have taught us and as we [ourselves] have seen from the speeches and writings of national figures -- that the ambition of Zionism is to uproot religion. This was the sole purpose of the national ideal, the institutionalization of the "National Home" and all the rest. It is obvious that we cannot come to any agreement or find any common purpose with them, unless we start agreeing choliloh, to compromises, which amounts to striking at the foundations of our faith and which courts the dangerous notion that Torah lies within our jurisdiction, to tear parts of it out and agree to its being observed in halves or in smaller fractions.

Agreement Impossible

This in fact is the path that the Mizrachi movement has always followed. There was a concrete example of this idea a few months ago, when a representative of the National Religious Party proposed a new law about Shabbos. This legislation was intended to provide "an overall solution" to free us from the continual wrangling between the religious and secular communities over such issues. The law's proponent suggested arranging a "deal," according to which the irreligious sector would agree to close factories and businesses on Shabbos in "exchange" for the religious community's "consent" to allow entertainment and recreation involving chilul Shabbos to take place. This "agreement" would put an end to the interminable struggles around this issue, or so he claimed.

In the past, when such ideas were suggested, HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira -- may Hashem heal him completely together with all of Klal Yisroel's sick -- commented that such ideas arise from the gaping chasm separating the G-d-fearing community from the Mizrachi party. We don't seek general solutions because we don't regard the situation that has been forced upon us, in which our nation's path is charted by heretics, as an ideal, or even as a starting point. All we want is to buy time, to bow towards each wave and to survive with our spirit intact and without surrendering even the slightest nuance of our outlook.

By contrast, the Mizrachi party do not view themselves as "servants" of the Giver of Torah but as His "partners." They want to "assist" His management, whether through self redemption born of nationalist ideals, or with innovative programs and arrangements for coexistence with heretics and uprooters of religion. They see the current situation as being eminently acceptable and are therefore looking for ways of institutionalizing it for the long term through solutions that will supposedly be universally accepted. In the process, they agree to all kinds of compromises, so long as a consensus ultimately emerges, which they view as being the ideal modus vivendi, worthy of being fixed and propagated for good.

We on the other hand, know that the current situation is temporary. This is not the way that Klal Yisroel is supposed to be. Our duty therefore lies in trying to prevent the enactment of further decrees against us, so that we survive and can continue cleaving to Torah, with Heaven's kindness, even under the rule of powers that view our devotion to tradition with animosity. Our aim is not to attain an ideal but to survive, weathering crises with temporary measures, wave after wave, bandage by bandage, until Hashem has mercy on us and the decree of exile is rescinded.

We have no intention whatsoever of passing legislation such as the aforementioned "Shabbos law" which, though it is a well-meaning initiative to try and solve the problems of state and religion, creates a dangerous precedent for the utilization of strange and unusual compromises. We will not assist any attempt to deliberately give way or to compromise on issues that affect our most cherished ideals.

Those who seek compromises, see the ongoing tension over issues of state and religion as a troublesome headache that needs to be removed from the public agenda once and for all. This, they claim, would allow the ideal situation to exist, in which everyone shares a friction-free collective existence, all living together in harmony and tranquility.

We know otherwise. The national ideal, whose purpose is to uproot religion, will anyway not be satisfied by these -- or any other -- compromises, which in fact will only serve to fire its proponents' ambitions for abolishing Torah. We are therefore satisfied if we can survive -- each time temporarily -- as long as we do not have to compromise the fundamentals of our beliefs or of our faith in the slightest degree.

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