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26 Iyar 5766 - May 24, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Sefirah as Preparation for Jewish Unity: Preparing for "And Israel Camped There" — Kabbolas HaTorah

by HaRav Moshe Samsonowitz

The Sefirah days are preparation for the day when "Israel camped there, opposite the mountain [at Mount Sinai]" (Shemos 19:2). The people achieved total unity at that revelation, as Rashi explains, "Like one man with one heart."

Our task during Sefirah is similarly to achieve unity. This is all the more relevant during a year of elections, which inevitably brings conflict and controversy. Our people's disunity cannot only be laid at the door of the secularists who malign the Torah world and Jewish values. We must also accept our responsibility for the fragmentation and internal politics that plague religious society.

Let us therefore study the words of the Gaon HaRav Yitzchok Eizik Chover, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon's close student, Rav Menachem Mendel of Shklov. In his sefer Pischei Shearim (p. 54), he explains the meaning of collective unity:

"An orderly structure reveals the will [behind it] to obtain a specific outcome. After you see the final product, you can understand how each part made a necessary contribution leading to its perfect functioning. Similarly, the verse says, "G-d made a man straight (to know his responsibilities in this world) but they seek many schemes (their desires pull them into selfish directions)." (Koheles 7:29)

"This is the core of all controversies and unwarranted hatred, whose deleterious affect on the world is greater than all sins combined, as it says, "If Ephraim's nerves are connected, he will be fine." (Hoshei'a 4:17) (according to one interpretation of the Radak) but, "If the heart is divided, then they are doomed." (Hoshei'a 10:2)

"For the Jewish people is like one body and each Jew is responsible for all the others. They are like a body which has many limbs through which the blood circulates, and all share in the pain impulses sent from the brain. If one limb experiences pain, it affects all of them. Furthermore, the circulatory system not only connects all the limbs, but each limb contributes to the welfare of the others. For instance, the ability of the eye to see helps the entire body — and similarly for the ear and hand. Each limb individually contributes to the improved functionality of all the others, enabling a person to live a better life. The individual limbs all contribute to the same purpose, which is to enable a person's optimal existence."

Rav Chover continues, "So it is with every Jew. Each one was created to help rectify his friends. Each Jew has individual traits to help him rectify the entire world and the collective Jewish body. This can be seen in the gemora (end of Oktzin 3:12), `Hakodosh Boruch Hu found no vessel to contain blessing for Israel other than peace . . . ' The inverse is true: if Jews do not seek to perfect each other, then there will be no blessing among them."

Rav Chover's words give a clear picture of the meaning of "Israel camped there like one man with one heart." When each individual feels that he is a member of a united group, when all the limbs share the same goal of optimally maintaining the body, then they have achieved supreme perfection and unity. Similarly, when each Jew sees himself as a member of the Jewish collective and recognizes the necessity to serve the community and care for its well-being, then the Jewish people has reached a state where they are free of controversy, and blessing rests upon them.

"A Banished Person Will Not Remain Estranged from Him"

Rav Chover's idea of all Israel being one body has other implications. Just as no person would give up any of his limbs, we cannot give up on any Jew!

This applies not only to those limbs which are vital for the body's existence and without which it cannot exist — which correspond to the leaders of each generation without whom our people are totally lost. It also applies to even non- vital limbs — "simple Jews." We cannot give up on any Jew, no matter who he is or what is his present state.

If a person is missing a finger, he can still function with four fingers. Nevertheless, it is considered a blemish and his functioning is inevitably impaired. If he is a Cohen, this blemish will render him invalid for the Sanctuary service. Likewise, if a Jew leaves the Jewish people, the collective body of Jewry will remain flawed. We cannot give up on any Jew. Because every Jew, no matter who he is, is a part of the community and his absence cripples the entire community, the novi says (Shmuel II 14:14), "G- d . . . devises ways so that a banished person will not remain estranged from him." This is why G-d promises us that He will not banish any Jew.

These words are relevant in every generation, especially our own. We sometimes come across tragic cases of youths from good families who have gone off the way, some even reaching utter depravity. Their family's anguish is immense. However, even in such situations, there is always a ray of hope. One should never despair of a Jewish soul. We must continue to hope that the child will yet return home and unite with his family. There are more than a few cases where a caring attitude and intense prayer had the effect of returning a youth to his family.

As an instructive case, 20 years ago, the 12-year-old son of a distinguished Yerushalmi family left Judaism and was drawn into the world of crime. At the age of 15 he was working for criminals in New York. A wrong move left him in an extremely precarious situation. He called his father and wept that he was under surveillance and was threatened with death. He begged the father to come and save him.

The father spent many months in the U.S. until he found a place where his son could rehabilitate himself with a change of name and identity, and find honest work. The son straightened out and today, he is chareidi and has a beautiful family. A father doesn't despair or give up on any of his children.

Even Though They Sinned, They Are Still Israel

Delving deeper into the concept of Jewish unity, the Ramchal writes in Daas Tevunos (#160, page 181), that there are two ways that G-d deals with each Jew. One way is according to his deeds, as Chazal say (Eduyos 5:7), "Your deeds will bring you close or your deeds will distance you."

However, there is a second way G-d deals with a person, which is not contingent on his actions. This is explained by Chazal on the phrase "Israel has sinned" (Yehoshua 7:11): "Even though they have sinned, they are still Israel." (Sanhedrin 44a)

The Ramchal infers awesome matters from this (Ibid.): Israel is lofty, for their soul is derived from the divine, as the verse says (Eichoh 3:24), `My soul says, "My portion is G-d." therefore, I shall hope to Him.' Nevertheless, G-d manages the world for both good and bad not according to the Jews' G-dly roots but according to each Jew's deeds. As such, although the Jewish people's reality is that we are derived from G-d, it is not concretely manifest in our temporal world.

According to the Ramchal, we have to view each Jew from two viewpoints. The first viewpoint is determined by his deeds — and this is the viewpoint that determines most of our attitude to him. If he is righteous, we will treat him with the utmost reverence. If he is a Torah observant Jew, we will treat him like a brother.

However, if he cast aside Torah observance for convenience's sake or to rebel, then he partly has the status of an idol worshiper. His wine is therefore considered the wine of idolaters (Yoreh Deah 124:8) because his behavior is not befitting a fellow Jew. However, if he married a Jewish woman, his wedding is considered valid (Shulchan Oruch Even Haezer 44:9) because he remains a Jew and will always retain his Jewish soul.

He cannot extinguish it even though externally his behavior is like that of a non-Jew in every way. He is still connected to his soul's source. Therefore, every Jew, no matter how much he has fallen, is connected to his divine spark of G- dliness. "My soul says, 'My portion is G-d'" and therefore, "a banished person will not remain estranged from Him." We do no give up on any Jew!

What Is "Knesses Yisroel"?

Pachad Yitzchok — Letters (by HaRav Yitzchok Hutner; Letter #18) asks what is the meaning of the expression "Knesses Yisroel"?

He explains that there are two concepts which depict the Jewish people. We will call one "the Jewish collective" and the second, "the Jewish community." "The Jewish collective" is a term which subsumes as one indivisible unit the entire Jewish people from its founding to its end, including all generations and individuals. In contrast, "the Jewish community" depicts a calculable number of Jewish individuals. While there can be a large community and a small community, the collective body of Jewry is uncountable and unmeasurable because it is one indivisible and incalculable unit.

Rav Hutner applies these separate definitions to explain the following words of the Vilna Gaon (Aderes Eliahu, Devorim 29:18; and see Pachad Yitzchok Chanukah, 10:6). Every place in the Torah where the Jewish people are referred to in the singular, implies the collective body of Jewry. And every place where they are referred to in the plural, it implies Jews as individuals grouped together. Both embodiments are true since a people is comprised of both aspects — a complete, indivisible unit, and many individuals.

Rav Hutner makes this eye-opening remark: The first section of Krias Shema commends the Jewish collective by implying they are capable of achieving the lofty level of love of G-d ("You shall love the L-rd your G-d"), whereas the second section warns of negative developments taking place among them ("Beware, lest your heart be swayed" etc.).

The way the Jewish people are referred to in each section is telling: the first section is written in the singular, implying that it is addressed to the collective Jewish body. A collective never loses its way. Each Jew retains his spark of divinity which causes him to cleave to G-d.

The second section, however, appears in the plural because it is addressed to each Jew individually. Since individuals have failings, they have to be warned of the consequences of sin.

Rav Hutner's words add depth to the words of the Ramban (Shemos 20:2) that the Ten Commandments were said in singular. The Torah specifically used this form to teach that no Jew should think that he can worship idols and still remain in the collective Jewish body. Once he has separated himself from the rest of Jewry by worshiping idols, the Torah promises (Devorim 29:20), "And G-d will single him out for evil from among all the tribes of Israel."

Achieving Unity With Observant Jews and Sinners

Practically speaking, our efforts to achieve unity must take place on two different planes:

The first is with every religious Jew who is different from us, whether due to his origin, community or customs.

Sometimes we feel the differences between us are very great. A Litvak may find the chassidic dress, interests, concept of rebbe, and the rebbe's court and tish strange in comparison to his lifestyle and experiences in his yeshiva. Nevertheless, each of us belongs to the combined camp of "Knesses Yisroel."

As Rav Chover says, we are all limbs of one body with one objective, which is the optimal existence and vitality of the body. When each group does its own part in serving G-d and increasing His glory, it has fulfilled its purpose. Just as a body has a hand, eye, and foot, and no limb can boast that it is superior to another because they are all needed to faithfully serve the person, so does each community have its own unique role in serving G-d.

[A group of his senior students once differed with the late Mirrer rosh yeshiva, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt"l, concerning how to run the yeshiva. They claimed that he is only one and they are many, and the law stipulates that the majority should be followed. The Rosh Yeshiva replied, "You are mistaken. Each one of you thinks about himself and therefore even though you are many, you have the status of individuals. In contrast, my viewpoint encompasses all of you and what is best for your joint welfare. I therefore have the status of a 'majority' and the law goes according to me!"]


The second plane is our attitude to Jewish sinners. As cited in the Marganiso Tovoh (brought at the end of Ahavas Chesed by the Chofetz Chaim; Hanhagosov #17), our gedolim decided that the majority of the non-religious public today does not have the status of a wicked person, and one may not hate them or curse them. The Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah, end of #2) avers that they have the status of a Jewish child that was taken into captivity. However, even those who rebel intentionally and whose lifestyle and attitude to G-d we severely criticize, must still be viewed through the prism of "even though he sinned, he is still a Jew." We must not despair of them.

Chazal tell us (Zohar Hakodosh, Vol. 3, pg. 155): "Come and see how much the Holy One loves Israel. Even when they leave the straight path, the Holy One doesn't forsake them. At all times, He turns His Face to them. Were it not for that, there would no hope of rejuvenation in the world."

The interior of every Jew is pure, and he forever retains the distinguished name of "Israel." We must realize that the pure spark in every Jew's heart has only been covered with thick layers of sin. Rav Noach Weinberg, the rosh yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, was one of the founders of the Teshuvoh movement. He plunged into kiruv work in 1967, during the very years when the throwing off of all restraints in the Western world had reached its peak. Jewish youths grew their hair long, didn't bathe, went barefoot and wore tattered clothes. But Rav Weinberg knew how to talk to these youths and bring their divine spark to the fore.

He said that no matter how a Jew looks on the outside, it is possible to change him within a short time. A haircut, a bath and new clothes will quickly follow the inner changeover. If one is convinced that we cannot give up on any Jew, the way is open to bring every Jew back. Just as our Creator doesn't forsake us and is always turning His Face to us.

We too quickly fall into despair of our fellow Jews, and even of ourselves. The midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabboh 1:35) says on the verse (Shir Hashirim 1:5), "I am black but beautiful": The Jewish people says, "I am black to myself, but beautiful to my Creator." Our Creator's view of us is that the dirt is just on the surface but on the inside we are beautiful. That's why Tana Devei Eliahu Rabboh (Chapter 18) states, "The Holy One's compassion for Israel is always bountiful, both for the wicked among them as well as the righteous."

Knesses Yisroel — An Improper Question

How Heaven treats us is determined by whether our actions are wicked or righteous, as the Ramchal says. However, as Rav Hutner explains, the Jewish people's collective body, of which we are all a part, always remains pure and unblemished. Therefore, those Jews who accuse other Jews of sinning are in effect accusing themselves. We should view all of Jewry with pure and benevolent eyes.

We find that Chazal criticized the Jewish collective over this very point (Taanis 4a): "Knesses Yisroel asked improperly, yet the Holy One answered properly, as it says (Hoshea 6:3), `We shall know G-d; we shall search to know Him. His coming is as sure as the morning, He will come to us like the rain.' The Holy One replied to them, `My daughter, you asked for a thing that people sometimes want and sometimes don't. But I will be to you as something that everyone always wants, as it says (Ibid. 14:6), "I will be like dew to Israel." ' "

Israel looks at itself like rain — sometimes it deserves reward for its behavior and sometimes it doesn't. But the Holy One revealed to them that when relating to the entire Jewish collective, the outlook must be one of dew, which revives but doesn't inconvenience or damage. It is only beneficial. Every Jew, whether he keeps mitzvos or not, has an inner spiritual vitality because he never loses his status of "Israel." A Jew always has an inner dew of revival. Our Creator Himself taught us this.

At the Revelation on Mount Sinai, G-d displayed a love without restraints towards the collective Jewish people. As we say in our Yom Tov prayers — "You loved us." We must act on this love for Knesses Yisroel in two ways: By loving our brothers in the Torah observant community despite the differences that divide us, and by loving those Jews who are distant from the Torah community, because they too are "Israel."

HaRav Moshe Samsonowitz is the mashgiach of Beis Abba Kollel and Yeshiva in Kiryat Sefer.

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