By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center
Wherever I go—the local bagel store, simchas, and even the neitz minyan at the Kotel—people ask, “Rabbi Ginzberg, how come you haven’t written in a while?” To each request, I respond by thanking the person for showing an interest in my articles, but I never explain why I haven’t written.
Deep down I know why. I have always tried hard to write uplifting articles that offer chizuk to others (and myself as well). These days, I struggle to find the words to address the current status in Klal Yisrael. Put simply, Klal Yisrael as well as “Reb Yisrael” is experiencing great pain in so many facets of our lives.
While there have always been divisions in Klal Yisrael, and will remain so until the coming of Mashiach, it seems that division and machlokes have overwhelmed us. Today, every individual (worthy or not) has an opinion on everything, and in the age of the Internet can share that opinion with the rest of the world, without giving a thought that this may hurt others. This is the age of blogs, when even those that can only see the world with “negative lenses” can share their bitterness and hatred for our Torah and mesorah, and many read these words daily.
Case in point is one of the first comments on a popular Jewish news website that featured the tragic and horrific story of the Gross family. The story of that family, which lost two daughters and had two sons critically hurt in the hospital with little hope for their recovery, due to an accidental mixture of chemicals by an exterminator, tore at the heart for most. Most, but not all. One comment forwarded to me was a brief sentence: “Oh boy, I would love to have some of that to send to certain people I know.”
How cruel and indifferent have we become! How do we tolerate these types of things in our community? And it is only getting worse. How many future leaders in Klal Yisrael are going to be lost because people are afraid of taking a stand for what is right because they might fodder for the blogs and commentators in cyberspace?
Over the last few years, we’ve grown accustomed to the “pushing of the envelope” by the extreme left-wing Modern Orthodox camp and have even become used to the deafening silence from the rabbinic organizations where some of these people are still members, in not taking a stand on behalf of our mesorah. Slowly (it’s always slowly) they have worked their way out of Orthodoxy completely.
What I find quite baffling, though, is that we always hear that they are motivated by ahavas Yisrael and are concerned for the underdog. What an untruthful statement to make. When they come up with their new ideas that have always been rejected by the followers of mesorah (including their own rebbeim), do they even think for a moment that it will result in a deeper division with the bulk of Orthodox Jewry? Is it worth the machlokes? Why isn’t ahavas Yisrael taken into account then as well? The answer is, it’s not about ahavas Yisrael, it’s about pushing an agenda to blur the differences between Modern Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism. Would a dog lover who abuses cats be called an “animal lover”? I would say not.
• • •
The recent controversy regarding women wearing tefillin made headlines around the Jewish world. The proponents of this innovation (at least the public ones) defended their position with a dual argument. The first being that it is halachically based. That needs no response, because anyone with the most basic familiarity with halachic reasoning understands full well that it is absurd. The other being that it’s out of our concern for those women that would feel more connected to Torah and mitzvos by being allowed to participate in this mitzvah. It is ahavas Yisrael at the highest level to make accommodations for every person to have his or her religious expression. Even granted that it would benefit them (and that is a discussion in itself), why is this “ahavas Yisrael” more valuable than the split and division that this engendered in the greater Orthodox community? I guess, once again, ahavas Yisrael is a one-way street.
Recently there was an announcement, greeted with great fanfare in the feminist community, about a new beis din specifically to free agunos from their husbands who are holding back their gittin. There is no greater responsibility upon all of us to do whatever we have to, to ensure that not one agunah exists in our community. That is, up to a point. Several years ago, a similar beis din was put together that accomplished two things. One, it purportedly freed several dozen women from their agunah status. And two, it pitted the entire Orthodox rabbinate (both in Eretz Yisrael and in the States) against them. The method used then was a halachic process that all the poskim rejected.
A painful result of that beis din came across my desk last year. A young chassan and kallah were eagerly looking forward to getting married and planning their lives together. They had gone to the chassan’s rebbe to request of him to be their mesader kiddushin. He readily agreed and began to gather the necessary information from them to prepare the marriage documents. To his dismay, he found that the kallah’s mother had received her get from that beis din, prior to marrying her father. The rebbe (a prominent rosh yeshiva in a Modern Orthodox institution), called in his beloved student, the chassan, and painfully informed him that he could not marry his kallah. The brokenhearted chassan came to me a few days later to see if there was any option for him at that point.
What a painful tragedy, the result of a beis din that did not focus their “ahavas Yisrael” on the rest of the Orthodox community and on the ramifications for future generations. Now, we are about to do this all over again.
• • •
Moving on to Eretz Yisrael, even thousands of miles of ocean did nothing to prevent the feeling that I felt of “pain abounds.” There is a terrible feeling that the chareidi community is under siege by a government that has in a matter of months reversed more than a half century of laws that protect their traditional way of life. The financial cutbacks have affected not only yeshivas, but tens of thousands of children who go to bed hungry. Do not think for a moment that this is limited to Bnei Brak or Kiryat Sefer. I visited with a prominent hesder rosh yeshiva who said that for the first time since the formation of the state, he personally knows families whose children are suffering from malnutrition.
The machlokes in the Litvishe yeshiva community that has pitted brother against brother and has already broken up many prospective shidduchim just tears away at the heart. Two recent statements made by world Jewish leaders, that could never have been made in earlier days, underscore for us just how resigned we are to our situation never changing. First, President Shimon Peres announced at a world peace conference that “Israel does not need the Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of our existence before we agree to signing a peace agreement with them.” (Huh?) And in a different vein, the newly installed leader of the Reform movement commented at their recent annual convention, “I still hear Jewish leaders talk about intermarriage as if it were a disease. It is not. . . . Being against intermarriage is like being against gravity.” What is there to say in response to such a statement? Do we even exist in the same “Jewish universe”?
• • •
As far as the pain that abounds for “Reb Yisrael,” is it just me (and the rabbanim that I have spoken to), or is there any “bayis asher ein sham meis”? Look to your right and then to your left in shul, and most likely your eyes will set upon someone who is having difficulty in parnassah, shalom bayis, finding a shidduch for a child, or who has a child off the derech, difficulty in having children, etc. Our wonderful tzedakah, shidduch, fertility, and kids-at-risk organizations are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people that rush to their doorsteps every day.
Recently I was invited to speak at the ten-year reunion of a Bais Yaakov high-school class in the New York area. They were expecting all 35 students to attend, many seeing each other for the first time since graduation. Several days before the event, the organizer called me to confirm my attendance. I asked her for her thoughts on what I should speak about.
After several moments of silence, she shared the following. In preparation for this reunion, all of the 35 girls (now women) were asked to fill out a profile of their lives, careers, families, etc. To her complete shock, only 11 of these women could be described as their lives being complete. The others were either still single, divorced, childless, or burdened with a sick child; two of them were very ill themselves. She burst out crying and repeated to me, “Rabbi Ginzberg, that’s only 11 out of 35!” I had no words to respond then, and none to respond with now.
• • •
We all have become hardened by all that we see, and some have even become indifferent. When members of the community, at times in leadership positions, make huge mistakes with significant consequences, do we abandon them and forget all that they have done and join the chorus of condemnation?
Not long ago, a major political community leader who had dedicated decades to helping Yidden of all stripes with support, financial and otherwise, was forced to face a severe punishment for some financial indiscretion. When I called upon him recently to offer some words of chizuk, he painfully shared with me that more than the prison sentence awaiting him, or the public humiliation for him and his family, what gives him the most pain of all is that almost no one has reached out to him via phone, e-mail, or text to offer words of chizuk or concern. This is despite the thousands of people he has helped financially over the years.
Why can’t we pull ourselves away from the condemning blogs and the very angry commentators to offer a fellow Yid some much-needed words of chizuk? We are bnei Avraham Avinu, a nation of “Rachmanim, baishanim, and gomlei chasadim.”
• • •
While so much pain abounds, it has been indeed hard to find the proper words of chizuk, hence the difficulty in writing. However, despite that, or maybe because of it, I would like to make a brief attempt at some words of chizuk.
The existence of tzaros in Klal Yisrael, though painful to bear, has a special purpose to it. The Yaivitz comments that the reason HaKadosh Baruch Hu gives Klal Yisrael tzaros in this world is so that when the final geulah comes, the other nations will ask Hashem, “Why have You chosen the Yidden for all this great reward over us?” HaKadosh Baruch Hu will then respond that when he gave Klal Yisrael tzaros over the years, they didn’t become despondent; on the contrary, they increased their devotion and avodas Hashem, something that no other nation is capable of doing.
The Klausenberger Rebbe, zt’l, lost everything dear to him in the Shoah and yet found in himself the strength to not only move on, but even to rebuild his family and chassidus. He was asked what is the secret of his success of being able to rebuild. He responded, “While I indeed have lost everything, there is one thing that I did not lose. I did not lose HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”
The famed mashgiach Rav Yerucham Levovitz, zt’l, used to say, “We are always in Hashem’s hands—a mul di rechter hant, sometimes the right hand, un a mul di linke hant, and sometimes the left hand, but He is always carrying us.”
I personally received great chizuk from my visit with HaGaon Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shlita, last month, not from what he said, but from what he did. When I walked into his room, instead of the usual warm greeting I have always received from him, he said “Reb Aryeh, mir leibt in zer shverer tzeiten (we live in difficult times),” and then he gave a deep sigh. I was shook up, as I had never seen the rosh yeshiva so overwhelmed at the colossal burden he carries on his shoulders. Yet my chizuk came from what happened immediately after our conversation ended. A group of approximately 25 teenagers (13–14 years old) shuffled quickly into his room, took seats around the table, opened their Gemaras, and began to shout questions on the Gemara Bava Metzia at the 100-year-old manhig ha’dor seated at the head. To see the smile on his face and the intensity of his concentration on their questions (at their weekly shiur), made me realize that despite the pain that abounds and the great burden that he carries, our connection to Torah, mitzvos, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu never wanes. That is the secret of our survival and the source of all the chizuk that we need in these painful times.
Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zt’l, famously commented on the pasuk that describes the magnitude of the destruction of Klal Yisrael during makkas choshech, when only one-fifth of Klal Yisrael survived and merited to leave Mitzrayim. That translated into four-fifths of Klal Yisrael, over two million Yidden dying. What a colossal tragedy to contemplate. Yet this culminated in “aschalta d’geulah,” the beginning of their long-awaited salvation from slavery in Mitzrayim.
This, explained Rav Yaakov, zt’l, is our greatest comfort, that when Klal Yisrael is beset by tzaros of such terrible magnitude, indeed when pain abounds, it becomes aschalta d’geulah, the beginning of our redemption.
May it happen speedily in our days. v