Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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3 Adar I 5763 - February 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Putting the Election Results -- and Any Public Activity -- to the True Test

by M. Shotland

Although this piece was written with particular application to the recent election campaign, the ideas are relevant to every activity that the chareidi community undertakes.

Never was there another election campaign so devoid of content. In previous campaigns candidates tossed around aggrandizing claims, this time they seemed to downplay the significance of public office, making it clear to all that it has only slight impact on day-to-day life.

The rhetoric portraying the central candidates as total problem-solvers has diminished. The victor won without a single demonstrable accomplishment to show for himself. On the contrary: What led his supporters to vote for him was his status as a man who has weathered many battles and as a seasoned politician who is perceived to show prudence and measured thinking in the face of change, and who strives towards national unity as a guiding principle. His election does not portend drastic changes but resembles a turtle crawling into his shell in order to maintain the status quo without rocking the boat any more than necessary.

His opponent, on the other hand, proposed abundant solutions, yet none of them were accepted by the electorate. Thus the Labor Party has been left with only its hard core constituency, whose support is generally defined as "tribal voting."

Neither "unity" nor "tribalism" is related to the realm of deed, but to the obligation the citizen feels to carry out his civic duty as a participant in a democracy--what we call "hishtadlus."


The sleight-of-hand practiced in the State of Israel for so many years was broken by none other than Ehud Barak. Just three-and-a-half years ago, Barak rose to power riding a wave of public euphoria in the media, which raved about "a new dawn," "dreams coming to fruition," etc.

Throughout his time in office, Barak maintained this pretense, skirting all obstacles along the way under the pretext he was only interested in "producing results." But his vacuous approach yielded sour grapes when he pushed forward the Camp David Summit, which everyone agrees led to war, and war does not fit under the headline, "Prime Minister is a Smashing Success."

Had Barak recognized this pitfall he may have been able to maintain a certain level of public support. But what enraged voters was the fact Barak presented this as success in terms of "producing results." This was apparent in Barak's subsequent remarks that his willingness to make extensive concessions provided the nation the fortitude to survive the war, for his unprecedented compromises helped forge a consensus based on feelings we had truly tried every conceivable path to peace.

Barak's insistence on being measured by "producing results," and results to the Messianic degree of success that he was constantly promising and for which he was extended much more credit than his predecessors, caused a tremendous disappointment when suddenly the nation discovered its leader habitually promised more than he could deliver.

Thus the very leader who was such a dismal failure was the one who burst the bubble of kochi ve'otzem yodi that had been over-inflated for many long years. Davka he was the one who proved to everyone that not only do these illusions not exist, but they also cannot ever be.


It goes without saying that as ma'aminim bnei ma'aminim we do not place our faith in one set of results or another, but in Mi She'omar vehoyo ho'olom. All of our endeavors are of course merely hishtadlus and we fulfill this obligation to do hishtadlus in one way by voting according to directives of the rabbonim. We obviously hope thereby to increase our sector's ability to influence public policy for the sake of Torah and those who are faithful to it.

By nature an election campaign stirs the inclination for victory. But we must never degenerate to the level of translating electoral achievements into practical hopes. Zeh le'umas zeh osoh Elokim. Just as the masses' political hopes proved to be totally vain, the situation has evolved to the point that it appears that the number of mandates the chareidim receive will have a negligible impact in political terms.

Therefore we do not place any faith in achievements and it remains as clear as can be to us that no matter how the distribution of power in the Knesset turns out-- even if the schemes of the nefarious chareidi-baiter were to succeed, chas vesholom, and a purely secular government is established--salvation could still come and perhaps even from he himself, despite his worst intentions.

Yet this all depends on our fulfilling our own obligation of hishtadlus and this is our litmus test of success.

Rav Yisroel Salanter zt'l, whose petiroh was just over 120 years ago, shed light on this concept as recalled by Maran HaRav Shach, zt'l, in his opening address at the founding convention of Degel HaTorah, "There is need for action.

"I recall from my youth a story that someone told Rav Yisroel Salanter that there are 36 tzaddikim nistorim who appear to be simple folk. One is a cobbler, another a carpenter -- but really they are tzaddikim whom nobody knows about. Said R' Yisroel, `I do not know how it is possible to be a tzaddik nistar. Can someone who hides off in his own corner and wraps himself up in his coat be considered a tzaddik? Can someone who only watches out for himself be a tzaddik?' "

What did Rav Salanter mean by saying there could be no such thing as a tzaddik nistar? And why did he not make the same argument regarding known tzaddikim who do not conduct themselves as carpenters or cobblers? He could not have meant that they do not need to act.

His remarks can be interpreted simply, that since he was asked about those who were not apparent, he gave a response in the terms that he was asked, but it really applies to both types. But perhaps in speaking the way he did, he meant to add that beyond the necessity to go out and act materially, at a time when darkness shrouds the earth there is also a necessity for a certain quality in the lives of those who are truly G-d- fearers. They must make their own emunoh and yiras Shomayim conspicuous to the masses, thereby countering the tremendous chilul sheim Shomayim that is all around.


In a letter he sent from Japan explaining why the members of Yeshivas Mir practiced chumros they would not have normally followed as individuals, Rav Aryeh Leib Mallin writes, "A community needs their deeds to be purified . . . as HaRav Yisroel Salanter used to say, `The masses have to conduct themselves as if they were Rabban Shel Kol Bnei Hagoloh [Rashkebahag]. . . '"

In today's day and age we cannot refer to ourselves as tzaddikim and every individual knows well his own sorry state. In this act of hishtadlus during the elections we follow the directives of our own tzaddikim, the rabbonim. But we must know that insofar as we are functioning as units of the sector of G-d-fearers, we carry on our shoulders the obligation outlined by Rav Yisroel Salanter to act like a Rashkebahag. Any other mode of conduct -- like a mode only befitting a carpenter or a cobbler -- could sabotage our entire community and its role as an expression of kiddush Sheim Shomayim.

This obligation also contains great potential for merit, for the opportunity to act like a Rashkebahag, even for a brief moment, is no trifling matter.

Therefore let us distance ourselves as much as possible from any and every show of gloating or victory celebration so common among the masses following elections, and let us depart from every base victory cry which attributes all to election results. By doing so we will demonstrate that to us the main thing is the very act of carrying out the directives of gedolei haTorah and no more, and thus we will amplify the kiddush Sheim Shomayim in order to be worthy as individuals of the tzibbur of the title Rashkebahag who is not "nistar."

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