Under The Microscope
Another school year has ended, and I look back in retrospect and marvel at the wonderful chinuch my children received this past year. Their rebbeim, moros, teachers, and menahalim have all done exceptional jobs, and my children have learned a lot and have loved to learn. The job of chinuch might sometimes be thankless, but I hope that all those involved in the chinuch of our children know how appreciative we are.
Unfortunately, there is one aspect of the present state of chinuch that does not sit well with me. I am referring not to the heavy tuition burden on the parents, nor the almost unlivable salaries of the mechanchim. Both are troubling areas that need to be addressed in some way by our community, but neither is the topic bothering me as I reflect on our schools. What bothers me as a parent and as a community member are the institutions themselves. Permit me to explain by way of a d’var Torah.
In Sefer Bamidbar we learn of the story of Eldad and Meidad. They were not part of the group chosen to assist Moshe Rabbeinu, and yet they received prophecy, even though they remained “in the camp.” Yehoshua bin Nun objects to their prophecy and turns to Moshe Rabbeinu to “curse” them. Rashi teaches us that Yehoshua said to Moshe, “Place on them the burden of the community and they will wither away” (due to the burden). This “curse” strikes us as odd. Moshe, who carries the heavy burden of every aspect of Klal Yisrael, was told by Yehoshua to give that same burden to Eldad and Meidad as a curse. How can that be a curse? Isn’t that insulting to Moshe? And, if it didn’t affect Moshe, how did Yehoshua know that it would affect them?
I once heard an explanation from a prominent ba’al mussar. “Tzorchei tzibbur,” the burden of the community, is the only sure way to expose even the tiniest of blemishes. Yehoshua wanted to expose the source of Eldad and Meidad’s prophecy: Was it holiness or not? To find that little detail of evil, of wrongdoing or personal inclinations, one needs a magnifying glass. And the only magnifying glass that we have is working for the community.
Working for the community will magnify one’s weaknesses and sins and personal inclinations. And when it does, the person will be destroyed by his or her own hand. Yehoshua told Moshe that only someone with totally pure intentions and a pure heart and mind can work for the community. Anyone working on behalf of the community with the slightest bit of personal negios (self-interest) will eventually be destroyed.
We, as parents, hear about the horrible influences of the outside world that can, and do, affect the chinuch of our children, and we are rightly frightened. Every parent should make sure that modern technology does not bring these influences into our homes. Yet we have neglected to care about the negative influences that are found in the schools themselves. If the schools are run with negios, then they are not pure and can only lead on the path to destruction, both for those running the schools and for those being taught.
Lest you think that I am exaggerating or prone to hyperbole, be assured that I am not. Without giving specific examples of the egregious behavior of those “owning” community institutions, it is obvious that some community institutions are being run as if they were private entities. And when one turns the magnifying glass on them, it is clear that personal negios are involved, and the path to destruction is already laid.
I am not discounting the many acts of self-sacrifice necessary to establish or maintain a community institution. It is hard work and unrewarded. However, that does not justify the wrong attitude of those performing those acts of mesirus nefesh. Let those acts of mesirus nefesh be duly compensated with the salaries, benefits, and pensions that all executives get for their time and effort. But at no point can we sit back and let them view the institutions as “rightfully theirs” due to their hard work. There can be no worse type of personal negiah than viewing a community institution as one’s own.
Who knows if the reason so many children go “off the derech” is directly linked to the source of their chinuch being tainted by personal negios? And we are all guilty. We have developed a “Stockholm syndrome,” where we identify with our captors. Most of our children, mine included, enjoy a great chinuch, so we think, “Why rock the boat?” But it is only because we are captive to those who “own” the schools that we think this way. Let the community take back what is really theirs. Let them hire, with great salaries and benefits, those who are dedicated to work for the community. And let it be clear that we cannot tolerate this any longer.
Sanitation Department Kudos
I left my house on Harborview South this past Thursday just as the Sanitation Department was doing its weekly pickup. The truck backed into my neighbor’s driveway, and as it did, I noticed tzitzis hanging from a hook on the truck. I stopped my car and asked the driver why the tzitzis were there. He informed me that they were found in the garbage and being taken to the depot to give to the supervisor. I asked permission to have the tzitzis, explaining that they were holy and I would dispose of them properly.
I don’t know if I thanked the sanitation workers enough for their sensitivity in recognizing that this object was not something that is just thrown out with the rest of the garbage. Kudos to them! We are lucky inhabitants of this village that even the civic workers appreciate the subtle sensitivity of kodesh. Thank-you to the crew of the sanitation truck that services our area.
I am sure that the person who lost these tzitzis never meant for them to be in the garbage. So, I have a pair of woolen tzitzis with t’cheiles strings attached. If anyone would like to claim them, I can be reached at 516-322-4360. I guess if after a certain amount of time they are not claimed, they will go in the sheimos pile at Pesach time.
Politically Correct Halachah?
Although I reap much enjoyment and knowledge from Rabbi Hoffman’s weekly columns, I reject out of hand the opportunistic use of the tragic murders of the three Israeli bachurim to engage last week (“Seeking Out Murderers,” July 4) in what I consider “politically correct halachah.”
Had the murderers of these boys not sought flight, it is doubtful that we would be engaged in any discussions about the “go’el ha’dam” or dina d’malchusa with regard to these two Hamas fugitives. This is because without a much-needed death penalty in Israel, it would be an irrelevant discussion. It is difficult to fathom why it is seldom seen by halach-ists as an equally compelling task to launch a discussion about what halachos Israel does not follow with regard to murderers within its midst as about those decisions that the Jewish state in almost all cases will choose to make on the basis of strategic interests.
Moreover, it is quite easy to discuss halachic issues that will not come into conflict with the will of the Israeli populace, which would overwhelmingly support the targeted killings of the Hamas murderers of these bachurim but would at the same time reject a domestic death penalty for the same crimes. Nevertheless, the Torah compels a discussion of all the relevant halachah in these matters, which include those that can and cannot be followed.
In addition, it should not be considered politically incorrect for halach-ists and rabbis to venture opinions on the basis of halachah about why certain events (such as these kidnappings) may or not have happened. For example, in Parashas Masei, which speaks about the Cities of Refuge, the Torah tells the Bnei Yisrael, “You shall not disgrace the land in which you live, for blood disgraces the land, and it can have no expiation for blood shed on it, except by the blood of who shed it” (Bamidbar 35:33).
Ibn Ezra explains that this pasuk is referring to unintentional killers. Even one who killed by mistake is considered to have polluted the earth with blood. He is therefore forced to go to a place where the soil is not tilled and the land not blessed, until the death of the Kohen Gadol.
If this is what the Torah requires to be done (when there is a Sanhedrin) with unintentional killers, we can only imagine what the One Above might have thought about Israel’s release of 78 Arabs with Jewish blood on their hands pursuant to futile peace negotiations with entities whose joining together once again and recent act of murder of the weakest of the population (children) might cast upon them the halachic status of Amalek.
It is forthright halachic discussions such as these that will further the interests of the Jewish state at this critical juncture before the arrival of Mashiach, not discussions that merely seek to bypass the enmity of those who will never change.