Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Adar I 5765 - February 9, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Memoirs of HaRav Shlomo Lorincz, Shlita

Chapter Five

Without Compromise — Consistency in the Ways of the Torah

In this chapter, we will deal with one of the important fundamentals that Maran the Chazon Ish ztvk'l implanted within us and in the chareidi public as a whole: A steadfast and consistent stance on Jewish principles, even when those who are very distant from Torah and stand for democratic ideals and tolerance regard this consistency as unfathomable stubbornness.

In these matters, the option of compromise was inconceivable. The concept of "We don't have the strength to do" did not exist for him and therefore, there was no place for compromise. When the need arose to do anything, the Chazon Ish's approach and conduct was: no quarter, no concessions. This is what must be done and we will do it!

But this approach cannot succeed when one uses it indiscriminately. True zeal requires a constant awareness and decision making; it needs daas Torah which knows how to weigh things in the proper perspective and balance — when something is desirable and when it is counterproductive; when it will achieve its purpose and when it is ineffectual and will only cause damage.

How deep and profound are the words which Rabbenu the Ramchal wrote in Mesillas Yeshorim (20) regarding chassidus, "And know that this is hard work in chassidus because there are many worthwhile things which the yetzer can shunt aside and make us think they are undesirable, and many sins which it can present as if they were marvelous mitzvos."

And he continues, "And really, a person cannot succeed in this vein without three things: That his heart be extremely straightforward and honest; That he not have any motive other than causing pleasure to his Creator and nothing else whatsoever; and That he constantly and intensively review his deeds and try to align them according to that end goal: and in the end, he should cast his burden onto Hashem and trust in Him ultimately."

In Maran's personality, all the abovementioned conditions enumerated in Mesillas Yeshorim were fulfilled. He proved that there was no contradiction between genuine zeal and "its ways are pleasant ones." In both of these, there is a need for the right time and the right place, as this chapter hopes to illustrate. Maran paved for all coming generations that way of carrying out, "Truth and peace shall you love."

Those Who Love Torah Do Not Abhor Extremism

In the following letter, Maran deals with the obligation to educate children to strive completely and utterly for spiritual perfection, and to abhor spiritual shallowness which seeks to suffice with mediocrity and half-truth. He sharply rejects the approach of compromise and concession.

The letter was written to HaRav Yaakov Shneidman zt'l, rosh yeshivas Tiferes Zion, and was printed in its entirety in a compilation of his letters (simon 61). We shall quote selected excerpts from it:

"Extremism is the completion of the subject. One who upholds mediocrity and shuns extremism is consorting with counterfeiters or with the thickheaded. If there is no extremism, there is no perfection. If there is no perfection, there is no beginning, for the beginning entails constant questions and rebuttals. Perfection is the sophisticated solution finder who ensures that things are put in their proper place and with their correct understanding."

Whoever has embraced the goal of aspiring to [no more than] spiritual mediocrity, cannot possibly love Torah and mitzvos.

"We are accustomed to hearing of certain circles whose members declare themselves opposed to extremists, while still reserving for themselves the right to be called loyal Jews with enough allegiance to Torah and mitzvos. We permit ourselves to say, from a legal perspective: Just as there is none among those who love wisdom who loves just some small part of it and hates the majority of wisdom, so there is none among those who love Torah and mitzvos who loves just the middle (mediocre) part of it and despises the extremes."

One who is not capable of carrying out his ideological extremism in practice should, nevertheless, aspire to it to whatever degree possible.

"The mediocrity that has a right to exist is the beinonim who love extremism and aspire to it with all their hearts, and educate their children to the pinnacle of extremism. How pitiful is the mediocrity that heaps abuse upon extremism."

I also heard this expressed by Maran when I asked him why he fought so vehemently against the Mizrachi. Was his way not to befriend those who were distant? Are they any worse than those who are fully estranged from Judaism?

Maran replied that he befriended those who were estranged but who acknowledged that there were those who were better than they and who were able to appreciate a true Jew. But the Mizrachi people maintain that their mediocrity is the true path of Judaism; they despise the `extremists,' and that is why he distances them.

In the end of his letter, Maran predicts that the mediocre approach to education which decries extremism will eventually go bankrupt.

"Those average-type schools will never succeed because of the deceit they incorporate. A knowing heart cannot bear the counterfeit and seeks the genuine article. Their education justifies turning its back upon the laws that are cast upon it against its will, and rebels against the oppressive beliefs that are counter to its stream of life. It is robbed of the secret of extremism by parents and teachers which have abused it."

His Steadfast Battle Against Compromise and Compromisers

Maran fought against everything that appeared to him as contrary to the pure Torah outlook. He did not hesitate to defy the spirit of the times but went forth to grapple even against ideas that had become entrenched, and denied the most accepted conventions of the establishment.

He declared war against Zionism in general and against Mizrachi in particular. Today, when we have a large and solidly established chareidi public, the opposition to Zionism seems self-explanatory. But in those times the Zionist ideology, especially amongst the new Yishuv, was considered sacrosanct to the highest degree. It was an ideal that swept everyone along with it. No one dared to even second-guess Zionism, to say nothing of actually coming out and saying openly that Zionism is posul.

In those days, even the most prestigious rabbis did not dare question or defy the word of the Mizrachi secretary. They saw Mizrachi as a ruler that cannot be questioned. Whereas Maran stood up and expressed his opinion against Zionism, and he said in public that the holiest ideal to them — is the greatest idol.

The Poalei Aguda people, who were at first very close to Maran, were distanced by him and he severed all contact with them when they embraced a conciliatory attitude in the very fundamental and critical matter of Sherut Leumi.

He drew around himself a concentrated public of bnei Torah to whom he aired his hashkofos, according to his daas Torah, and instructed them to publicize his views at large. This was one of the tasks which he assigned to Zeirei Agudath Israel.

Genuine Kano'us and Not Fake Zeal

Maran was very sensitive to the demarcations between true kano'us which stemmed from a pure source — kano'us whose goal was to build and not destroy — and fake fanaticism whose ultimate results are disastrous.

On the practical plane, he would weigh every single question that was placed before him according to its specific merits, knowing that even good deeds and good intentions can result in undesirable things or be totally counterproductive when they are done at the wrong time or the wrong place.

We shall bring several examples that illustrate this approach:

Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzma'ut) occupied a very central place in the battle against the Zionist ideology. We must remember that in the early years of the State, the Yom Ha'atzma'ut celebrations were still widely accepted in large sectors of the religious population.

Maran was very meticulous in the recital of tachanun in his beis medrash on Yom Ha'atzma'ut. And if he was asked to be sandak at a bris on that day, he would announce out loud that this was the reason why tachanun was being omitted on that day, to avoid any possible misunderstanding.

In later years, he did not wish to rely upon the verbal announcement and ordered that tachanun be said even though a sandak was present, lest anyone tell over that it had not been said, without attaching the reason why. In this way, he hoped to deeply implant in his public the severity of his opposition to anything smacking of Zionism, and the obligation to distance oneself from treif ideology as far as possible.

"I Permit Getting Married Any Day — Except on Yom Ha'atzma'ut"

Maran, it was known, vehemently opposed the Chief Rabbinate. Upon one occasion, I told him that the chief rabbi in a major city boasted that he was very close to the Chazon Ish and that the latter held him in high esteem. I asked Maran if, indeed, he received frequent visits from this rabbi. And if so why, indeed, did he encourage them?

Maran replied that he was frequently visited by that rabbi and that he did receive him. He explained, "He thinks that he comes here to deceive me, but the truth is that I deceive him, so to speak. He comes to me to show me that he respects me greatly, and in this manner he believes he will win my support. For my part, I forgo my own honor and give him the honor of receiving him. And in this way, I am actually winning him over to my side and gaining his support. I exert my influence over him to the extent that he refrains from doing certain things that he would do if I didn't befriend him as I do. I give him the feeling that he is a close confidant so that this will obligate him to me and in this way, I truly prevent him from doing certain things that he should not do — and would otherwise do."

Maran provided an example: Once this rabbi came to him with a question. Was it permissible to allow soldiers serving in the army to get married during Sefiras HaOmer? His plea for this dispensation was that soldiers could only get married on their leaves, and since these were infrequent it was likely that they would fall during the Sefirah period. Perhaps, therefore, they could be permitted to get married then.

"I told him," Maran related, "that I ruled that they could get married throughout the whole Sefirah period." That rabbi thought that this ruling was far too broad. He did not mean for the Chazon Ish to be lenient to such a degree. He felt that one day during the Sefirah would be sufficient. Of course, he was referring to Yom Ha'atzma'ut. "He wanted to extort from me a psak that it was permissible to get married on the Day of Independence, and that this day was special and worthy of celebration.

"I told him," continued Maran, "that he would probably suffice with just one day and that he, undoubtedly, had Yom Ha'atzma'ut in mind."

The rabbi admitted it. "It is not such a drastic thing. This particular day is significant for another reason as well, since that is when many soldiers get their leaves."

"I told him that I was allowing soldiers to get married throughout the Sefirah period — excluding Yom Ha'atzma'ut," retorted the Chazon Ish. And he laughed when he told over this tale, adding, "To be sure, he did not dare permit marriage on Yom Ha'atzma'ut, since he considered himself close to me, and if he had come to ask me a halachic question he was bound to obey my ruling. Had I not dealt with him courteously and related to him in seriousness, he would not have come to me in the first place, and never asked me anything. And he would have permitted soldiers to get married on Yom Ha'atzma'ut."

One Does Not Refuse a Distinguished Person

Maran the Ponovezher Rov zt"l, who was always in dire need of donations to construct and maintain the yeshiva, wanted to invite the President of Israel to participate in a dinner which he was holding for donors from abroad. It must be remembered that in those early years, the big money was concentrated among philanthropists who termed themselves "traditional." There were no chareidi magnates around.

The Rov asked me to exert my influence upon the President to accept his invitation. My reaction to his request was negative, but since it was difficult for me to refuse I turned to the Chazon Ish to ask him what to do.

Maran said that he, too, was against inviting a secular figure in order to impress donors from abroad to make them give more, but since this is what HaGaon the Ponovezher Rov wanted, one was duty-bound to honor his request. "You can express your reservations and doubts and tell him that you are fulfilling his request on the grounds that `one does not refuse a great man.' "

An Alarm Clock

When people from Neturei Karta came to him from Jerusalem and asked him to protest against the Ponovezher Rov, he castigated them and said, "So you come from Yerushalayim and presume to teach us what to do?"

His famous disciples tell that one of the younger members of this delegation who spoke arrogantly to the Chazon Ish did not live out the year.

Maran voiced his opinion of Neturei Karta; "They are Jews from before the Giving of the Torah . . . " What he meant to say was that their zeal was not guided by the ways of the Torah.

He further stated: "They are like an alarm clock. It's fine that they are aroused, but in practical terms, one must decide if it is really time to get up or if one can sleep a little longer."

His Attitude Towards the Knesset

As is known, Maran maintained that chareidi Jewry should send representatives to the Knesset and should participate in national elections. Maran himself was active in this area and urged his confidants to sanctify Hashem's Name by getting as many votes as they could for Agudath Israel. He added that even if they did not gain a seat in the Knesset, at least their act of voting for a religious party would have served the purpose of being a kiddush Hashem. When the tempo of activity for Agudath Israel fell below his expectations, he remarked that perhaps before going out and electioneering, the political activists should study the chapter in Mesillas Yeshorim on zerizus.

The mobilization for gaining more votes and participating in the elections did not, however, change his negative attitude towards the secular government. He continued to regard it with strong reservations and would interest himself to find out when the Knesset sessions would be over. When I voiced my surprise at his question, he replied, "In the intersession of the Knesset I have a little respite, knowing that during this period, at least, there is no danger of new harmful decrees."

"It is Not a `Chumra,' But a `Kula'"

Maran knew that sometimes, behind a veil of fanaticism there hides a desire to compromise, and the extremism only serves to `prove' that this approach is not viable.

During the time that he fought for the practice of shemittah according to strict halochoh, there were several rabbis in Israel who objected to a particular leniency and did so publicly, even though as a rule they were not known as machmirim. There was reason to believe that perhaps they were promoting this position in order to ultimately show that in the reality of modern life, the mitzva of shemittah was impossible to keep and that there was no alternative but the hetter mechirah.

Rabbenu expressed himself very severely when he objected to their approach, saying, "In the vidui of Rabbenu Nissim Gaon it states, ` . . . that in what You were strict I was lenient, and in what You permitted I was strict.' This is puzzling, for what sin can there be if a person takes upon himself extra stringencies beyond the letter of the law? The answer is that it applies precisely to such a circumstance: A rabbi who wishes to completely permit the issurim of shemittah through the sale of the land to a goy, and at the same time he strongly opposes every leniency that one gives to those who want to keep shemittah. In truth he does so because in his heart of hearts, he wishes to prove that keeping this commandment properly is not possible and viable so one has no recourse but to `sell' the land. A rabbi of this sort must certainly include that aspect of confession on Yom Kippur and seek atonement for having made stringent what was halachically permissible" (from R' Moshe Sheinfeld zt'l).

The Fourth Stream and Chinuch Atzmai

His uncompromising stand found expression also in the matter of chareidi education. With the establishment of the State, the chareidi educational institutions received government status alongside secular educational establishments. They were called `the fourth stream.'

After the establishment of this fourth stream of Agudath Israel, I went in to the Chazon Ish and told him the good news that we had succeeded in gaining recognition for our independent schooling. The government had recognized the Agudath Israel network of schools alongside the three other streams, which included full government funding.

Maran, however, did not consider this good news. With tearful eyes, he explained the dangers inherent in this recognition. I asked him why, if so, our public did consider it a substantial gain to be formally recognized and to have full autonomy over our education.

Maran replied: "I am very afraid that the teachers of our young children will be turned into government clerks, and government clerks will never succeed in educating our children."

The Day that Chinuch Atzmai was Established — Was a Day of Kiddush Hashem

On the other hand, when the fourth network was dissolved and the Chinuch Atzmai was founded, Maran approved highly. When I told him about its establishment, he was genuinely happy and promised his assistance in every way he could.

In the first year of Chinuch Atzmai's existence, Maran's brother HaGaon R' Meir Karelitz zt'l, who had just turned eighty, made plans to travel to England on its behalf. He asked R' Yehuda Meir Abramowitz to accompany him.

R' Abramowitz told me the following:

"I was very hesitant about his traveling at such an advanced age and went to the Chazon Ish to ask his opinion. It happened to be three days before his passing away.

"Maran said to me, `It is good that he go. His trip will obligate others to follow his example. Yes, you must accompany him.'

"Maran then added, `Baalebatim were skeptical about the establishment of Chinuch Atzmai while the Torah leaders said that it must be founded. The very day that this endeavor came into being was one of great Kiddush Hashem and great honor for the Torah. Thousands of teachers left secure and well-paying positions in government schools to teach in the Chinuch Atzmai network. It was a demonstration for emunas chachomim. If, G-d forbid, we do not succeed in assuring the viability and success of Chinuch Atzmai, we are gambling on the prestige of gedolei Yisroel who ordered that it be established and who stand at its helm. We are actually jeopardizing the integrity of our sages. Therefore, in my opinion, my brother should definitely travel on behalf of Chinuch Atzmai, and you must go with him.'

"Maran then added, `There has not yet been an enterprise like this where the best known Torah personalities are its heads. This generation is not yet capable of appreciating this but the coming generations will know to properly value it.' "

Might Makes Right — the Stronger Shall Prevail

The Chazon Ish once expressed himself regarding Chinuch Atzmai: "A Jew once asked the Chofetz Chaim for a blessing that he succeed in the education of his children. The Chofetz Chaim rejoined, `One does not educate one's children through blessings but by selling the pillow from under one's head to pay his tuition.'"

In the inception of the State, when chareidi Jews were at first prevented from establishing their own schools and even from registering their children in existing chareidi establishments, and when permission was only granted to create new government secular or government religious (Mamlachti Dati) schools, the question arose whether to fight the issue or accept the lesser of the two evils and make peace with the situation, that is, to send one's children to the State Religious schools.

When people came to ask this question of the Chazon Ish, he said, "Chazal have already ruled upon this question and stated, `Kol de'alim gvar,' in other words, `The stronger shall prevail.'" They mistakenly understood that he was telling them that since the power and the clout lay in the hands of the government, they should submit to the situation.

When they turned to go, he called them back and clarified his statement: "I was referring to the words of the Rosh (Bovo Basra, perek gimmel, simon 22), where he writes that it could not possibly be that Chazal intended that we be in a constant state of strife and controversy. They meant that one who is really in the right will naturally make a greater effort to prove his side. And thus, he will hold out and eventually win.

"And you too, who are in the right, should sacrifice your very lives. Whoever is prepared to do so, shall be in the right. You shall ultimately prevail!" (From HaRav Malkiel Kotler, who heard it firsthand from the one involved)

"We Must Bring them Back With Cords of Love"

Maran differentiated between his approach towards heretical, distorted ideological views maintained by the government representatives who embraced them, and the relationship to the individuals who had veered from the path, whom he felt one must befriend separately through love.

This principle found expression in what he wrote regarding the halochoh of moridin velo ma'alin (Yoreh Deah, siman 2:16). "It seems that the law of moridin only applies when Hashem's Providence is overt, like when there were open miracles extant and when a Heavenly bas kol was heard, and the righteous of the generation were under a very personal Providence that was evident to all . . . But at a time when this is not apparent, and faith is lacking in the masses, moridin is not sealing a breach, but rather, adding a breach, since they will think that it is an act of depravity and violence, G-d forbid. And since all that we wanted to do was to uphold the law, this law does not apply doing so will not uphold the law. And so we must bring the errant ones back with cords of love and place them in the light to the best of our ability."

Not only mustn't we punish those who erred and caused to err. Chazal have even seen fit to look away from the prohibition of, "Before a blind man you shall not place a stumbling block," in order to prevent the creation of a deep schism between us and them. This is what the Chazon Ish writes in his work (Shevi'is 12:9):

"And it seems that where Chazal were lenient when there was a doubt (regarding buying shemittah fruits from an am ho'oretz who may have transgressed the law and guarded/tended them), even though generally even a possible stumbling block should not be placed before anyone, and it would be correct to be more stringent in the case of such doubts. But if we come to be more stringent in the case of these doubts, this will also, in itself, be a stumbling block, for we will withhold kindness and amity between them and us. And they are just am ha'aretzim and we are obligated to help them survive and even to be good to them — and all the more not to increase hatred and competition between us and them. Here we would transgress the prohibition of, `You shall not hate your brother in your heart' and several other prohibitions which are not lesser than this prohibition which we seek to rescue them from transgressing . . . And therefore, Chazal weighed the matter in a delicate balance to determine to what degree one must conduct ourselves with them regarding shunning them and fining them, so as not to create greater stumbling blocks to them and to us."

To Restore the Hearts of Fathers to Sons

When the question of relations between parents and children who went off the path, G-d forbid, came up, it was Rabbenu's opinion that they try to draw them back through love and not estrange them, choliloh.

There was the story of a father whose son deteriorated to the point of chillul Shabbos in public. The son came to his father one day and asked that he buy him a car. The father said that he was willing to do so on condition that he not drive on Shabbos. The son refused to promise and the tension between them grew. When the Chazon Ish learned of this, he summoned the father to him. He advised him, knowing the full background of the case, that he buy the car for his son without any conditions attached, for precisely through this way, his influence over the young man would be all the stronger (heard from R' Y. Edelstein and R' Aharon Roter).

One must know that in those days, many young people were undergoing crises and if the parents did not push them away with both their hands they did, eventually, return to the fold.

One young man once told the Chazon Ish offhandedly that when he recited bircas hamozone, he turned his head away from his mother who did not cover her hair. Rabbenu scolded him and said that halachically, it was sufficient to close one's eyes to avoid seeing the hair of a married woman. He must not be over-strict with himself in this area at the expense of antagonizing his mother, whom he was duty bound to respect, since turning his head away was an overt sign of disrespect.

May One Embrace the Approach of Creating a Fence (Migdar Milsa) in These Times?

In this matter, I will quote an incident that I found in the diary of HaGaon R' Eliyohu Drabkin zt'l, rabbi of Ramat Hasharon and alumnus of Yeshivos Novardok and Chevron, who was one of the greatest rabbis and a courageous fighter against the desecraters of the Shabbos and breeders of treif animals.

"One Friday night, one of the worshipers of the central synagogue [in Ramat Hasharon] told me that a certain local Jew named Mr. S., who raised rabbits for sale [Note: In those days rabbits were raised for their meat], would be celebrating the bar mitzva of his son on the following day with the approval of the gabboim. The latter excused themselves with the fact that they had been ignorant of Mr. S's occupation and now, it being Friday night, it was too late to go to him to retract their permission since he lived outside of the city.

"Having no choice in the matter, I asked the gabboim that on the morrow when Mr. S. arrived, they should send him to me for a talk in my house regarding this matter. When he came to me the next morning, I explained that we could not allow making a bar mitzva in our synagogue of a person who raised rabbits. I suggested, however, that he promise that henceforth, he would stop raising them and I would rely on his word.

"He told me that he had no intention of stopping and he saw no difference between eating chicken and eating rabbit. I begged him not to embarrass his son and his guests and to agree henceforth to stop raising the rabbits, but he refused again. When I told him that I would not allow him to celebrate the bar mitzva in our synagogue, he went there and told his son and his guests that there would be no ceremony. The whole company left and the rest of the congregation was in a turmoil. Many of the worshipers were opposed to my adamant stand, maintaining that I should not have insulted Mr. S.

"On the sixth of Nisan, 5703, I presented this situation to the Chazon Ish, asking if I had done the right thing. He replied that this was an age-old controversy between extremists and temperate people. His opinion was that according to the halochoh, there was no prohibition to call up Jews who eat rabbits or desecrate the Shabbos to read from the Torah. As far as the law that we must have seven people called up to the Torah on Shabbos and that sinners do not count, it was possible to divide up the reading and call up more than seven so that there will be seven upright Jews in any event.

" `The entire matter of not calling up sinners is considered migdar milsa, a protective fence around the Torah, so to speak. In my opinion this only applied in the past,' explained the Chazon Ish, `when those who violated the Torah were just a few individuals and by estranging them one could bring them to repent. But today where sinners are in the majority, this estrangement will not cause them to repent but will only estrange them even more and arouse their hatred. Therefore, one should allow them to be called up to the Torah, especially since both the father and the son are in the category of tinokos shenishbu [that is, they never had a proper Jewish education].'

"I added that my conduct had aroused a tumult among the chareidim in the congregation who were upset that a Jew was embarrassed, but I announced very strongly that no one should interfere in my handling of religious issues. I also told him that there was the fear that if I did not react as I did, it would set a bad precedent in the way of condoning the presence of rabbit-eaters as regular members of the congregation.

"Maran told me that it depended upon the rabbi. If he was a strong, consistent and powerful man, then he could act thus. And if I feel that I have the strength for it, I should have no regrets about the past and in the future, should also not allow rabbit breeders to celebrate their bar mitzvas in the synagogue. He advised that the gabboim post a sign in the shul stating explicitly that rabbit breeders would not be allowed to hold bar mitzvos in that synagogue unless they promised to stop breeding them henceforth.

"I asked him what about mechallelei Shabbos? He said that one should not make an issue about it, that one should not forbid them from holding their bar mitzvos in the synagogue, for breeding rabbits is different in that it was a new breach of the Torah.

"And the Chazon Ish then concluded with the quote, `Go forth with your koach . . . '"


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