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Uniting Through Torah

By Yochanan Gordon

Standing once again at the threshold of Sinai, eagerly anticipating Kabbalas HaTorah, it behooves us to look more deeply into our relationship to G‑d, Torah, and the Jewish people, which are inextricably bound.

We are taught that the Torah is the substratum of all creation. The Zohar says it most clearly: “G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world.” So we see that the Torah is something with which we build worlds, not destroy them. Torah is etymologically derived from the word ohr, light, which is known to spread its warmth, illuminating its environs as opposed to limiting its expanse and causing darkness and confusion.

Still on the heels of Lag B’Omer, we recall the incident of Rashbi and his son Elazar who hid in a cave on account of a death penalty that was issued against Rashbi for speaking against the Romans. The Gemara relates that after 12 years in the cave, the two emerged. When they set their sights on people involving themselves with the temporal pursuits of this world, they immediately burned them with their gaze, unable to tolerate physical matter because of their supreme sublimity. At that moment, a heavenly voice rang forth, “Did you emerge from the cave to destroy my world? Return to your cave.” After an additional 12 months, Rashbi proclaimed, “The judgment of the wicked in Gehinnom is 12 months,” and they once again emerged from the cave.

This time, they saw people running to and fro in preparation for Shabbos. They encountered a man with a hadas in each hand. They stopped and asked, “Excuse me, why two hadasim?” He answered, “One corresponding to ‘zachor’ and the other for ‘shamor.’”

We have to stop for a moment and reflect upon the irony presented by the two incidents that they set their eyes upon as they left the cave these two times. In their first foray in this world after 12 years of asceticism, all they could see was people wasting time. The intentions of those was irrelevant; all they saw was people not sitting and learning, and they could not bear it. Following the destruction that they caused the first time around, they were commanded to return to the cave. They knew during the second 12-month period what they were doing there. They understood that there was something inherently wrong with their perspective of the world despite the holiness that they achieved in seclusion. It became clear to them at that time that G‑d wishes for the Torah to be integrated into society and used to build, enrich, and create wholesome lives and a healthy world, and not the opposite. So they returned to the cave with that goal in mind.

Now, ironically, when they emerged once again, the Gemara tells us that they saw people enthusiastically preparing for the onset of Shabbos. It appears that there was nothing different about the people they saw—what changed was their perspective of the world around them. During the second 12-month period in the cave, they were forced to reassess the purpose of Torah and how it ought to relate to the world and society. Immediately that change became implemented because they saw everyone and everything in a different light.

The Gemara in Shabbos 88a states, “Blessed is the Merciful One who gave a threefold Torah to a threefold people, by the third, on the third day, in the third month.” Sefer Yetzirah too writes at length about the relationship between the giving of the Torah and the number three. One of the noted contributions that Matan Torah had on this world is that it bridged the divide between heaven and earth. Chazal tell us that the manner in which G‑d communicated with the prophets and the Jewish people after the giving of the Torah was in a more direct a fashion than prior to the giving of the Torah, even to the Avos.

Furthermore, the Midrash Tanchuma and Bereishis Rabba comment on the pasuk “Vayeired Havayah al Har Sinai”: “Bnei Romi lo yardu le’surya Ub’nei Surya lo yaalu le’Romi. Similarly, when G‑d created the world He said the heavens are G‑d’s domain and the earth He gave to us. When He sought to give the Torah to the Jews, that decree was lifted and He initiated by descending upon the mountain and allowing Moshe to ascend the mountain.”

This analogy underscores the unity that ensued from the giving of the Torah. The Torah succeeded in bridging the gap between heaven and earth and everything in between. The world was so unified and at one and at peace with itself at the giving of the Torah that Chazal tell us that when G‑d’s voice emanated with the first two dibros, there was no echo. All reality absorbed the message that G‑d had spoken. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt’l, asked a fundamental question: Why then was the Torah not given in the first month? What highlights oneness more than the number one? Why the third month?

The Rebbe explains that we recite daily the conclusion to the braisa of Rebbi Yishmael, “Two verses that contradict one another remain in contention until the third verse comes and arbitrates between them,” and then we conclude with a tefillah to have the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt. As we wind down the counting of sefirah, we will note that the third middah is that of tiferes, beauty. The characteristic of tiferes is the synthesis of chesed and gevurah. The Rebbe elsewhere explains that the third verse that succeeds in arbitrating between the two that are at odds does not side with one, the other, or both of them at once. Instead, it reveals a third, much higher layer that shows that at its core the two verses are not at odds.

We are now in the period of the year where we recite Pirkei Avos weekly. The Mishnah in Avos Chapter 5 Mishnah 20 states, “Any dispute which is for the sake of heaven will ultimately be resolved, and any dispute which is not for the sake of heaven will endure perpetually.” The Mishnah continues with examples of both sorts of arguments, with the appropriate dispute being between Hillel and Shammai and the unending dispute involving Korach and his congregation.

The Gemara in Kiddushin on the verse, “es oyvim bashaar” comments, “Even a father and a son, a rebbi and a student, who engage in Torah study together first become antagonists to one another but should not depart until they love each other, as it says, ‘es vahev besufah.’ Do not read it ‘besufah’ but rather ‘b’sofah’—at the end.” Rashi comments that all disputes founded upon Torah see their resolution.

In my Kuntres “Venahar yotzei mei’Eden,” I address this Gemara, specifically the nuanced difference between the words ohev and oyev. The Gemara foretells that it’s natural for two study partners to spar with each other as their means to arrive at the truth. Therefore, the Gemara instructs them not to depart until the love replaces the animosity. The difference between oyev and ohev is a yud and a hei. Yud in Chassidus represents chochmah and the hei, binah. Chochmah represents that first undeveloped flash of wisdom that is vulnerable to a dissenting view. Binah represents a more developed idea based on that initial vision. The message of the Gemara is that if we remain patient and focused on the goal of Torah, we will reach an understanding of each other and come to appreciate each other more than before we sat down to discuss things. It’s important to note, however, that this is only the case if the nature of the dispute is for the sake of heaven.

How do we distinguish who is acting in the name of heaven and who not? We might think that it would be elementary to distinguish between one who is altruistic and one who is driven by self-aggrandizement, but the following incident with the Yismach Moshe indicates that the lines between Korach and Moshe are almost indistinguishable.

It is related that the Yismach Moshe was learning with his son, the Yitav Lev, the parashah of Korach and his dispute with Moshe. The Yitav Lev made a backhanded comment about Korach, indicating that he did not think much of him. The Yismach Moshe then admonished his son, saying, “We have no understanding as to the righteousness of Korach,” adding in fact that he was a reincarnation from that generation and was not sure at the time with whom to side. The Yitav Lev then asked, “Father, if so, what did you do and how were you spared?” The Yismach Moshe replied, “In order not to get dragged into the dispute, I ran to my tent, closed the entrance tightly, and refused to emerge until it was all over.”

Coming back for a moment to the Mishnah in Avos, it’s interesting that in the examples of disputes it mentions Hillel and Shammai as well as Korach and his congregation. If Korach and his men were on the same side of the dispute, then it should have written Korach and Moshe. Perhaps the dispute of Korach and adaso was internal, meaning that their dispute was of an internal nature. Korach was driven by a lack of internal peace and oneness; the dispute was within his camp. In light of this, the message here is that the Torah looks for peace. If peace will not ultimately ensue, then the man of heaven withdraws from the struggle. We see that with Moshe, and that is apparent in the anecdote with the Yismach Moshe as well as in the conclusion of the braisa of Rebbi Yishmael which speaks of a third verse that arbitrates the two conflicting verses. Perhaps this is why we conclude there with a prayer for the rebuilding of the third Beis HaMikdash, which is dependent on a spirit of peace and calm amongst Klal Yisrael.

In the prayer that we recite in blessing the coming month, we say, “He who performed miracles for our fathers and redeemed them from bondage to freedom, He should soon redeem us and ingather the exiled from the four corners of the earth,” and conclude, “All of Israel are friends; let us say Amen.” The entire prayer is coherent and follows one common theme, which is redemption. However, a line inserted at the conclusion seems somewhat incongruous with the rest of the prayer, namely the conclusion, “All of Israel are friends . . .” But here again, the point is driven home that our redemption is contingent upon peace in our midst.

The recent victory of the Yesh Atid Party in Israel and the disappointing newfound reality of the chareidi sector, with its defeat at the hands of the left-leaning party within the prime minister’s coalition, has accentuated the rift that exists between the left and the right in Israel. It seems like the olam haTorah knew what it was in for with finance minister Yair Lapid, who, like his father Tommy Lapid, has at times vocally expressed resentment towards a Torah-observant lifestyle, but was unsure as to the true colors of Rabbi Dov Lipman.

Lipman recently spoke here in the Five Towns, resulting in a mini-uproar between the yeshiva and secular factions here as well, which played out in part in the pages of this and other Jewish weeklies and across the blogosphere. I don’t wish to enter the argument, but rather to analyze and perhaps portray the back-and-forth in the context of sefirah and Matan Torah.

A week or two ago I received an e-mail in my inbox, a video of Rav Aharon Feldman, shlita, lending his thoughts about Rabbi Lipman’s attempt to implement basic secular courses of math in the chareidi school system in response to many who have confronted him, asking him to address the abject poverty that has been rampant within their circles. It seems that the severity of the names that Lipman was called came as a result of other remarks that were attributed to Rabbi Lipman which gave the impression that these implementations were a scheme to undermine the sacredness of the full-day learning regimen that has long been a mainstay in chareidi society.

Rabbi Lipman then issued a clarification that he never called for the closing of yeshivos ketanos that did not implement secular studies into their schedules, and that he was acting altruistically to help positively change the status quo and enable members of chareidi society to get jobs and provide for their families if they so wish. After this clarification, Rav Feldman attempted to tone down his remarks, categorizing Lipman as misguided and a “shogeg,” which removes him from the status of “rasha” that he was initially called.

Prior to that video, I saw a video in which MK Yaakov Asher of Yahadut HaTorah is shown lambasting Rabbi Dov Lipman in a Knesset plenum over not objecting to women donning tallis and tefillin at the Kotel. Looking away for the moment from those matters that are being debated, it’s disheartening to see time and again the aggressiveness and condescending attitude that the chareidi fight back with when provoked. Lipman, in his response to Asher, made some very compelling points, namely, a chareidi is one who fears the word of G‑d and not one who instills fear within others. He said, as well, that we should let G‑d judge who is chareidi and who is not, instead of judging others.

We have seen all too often lately chareidim portrayed in the media as an angry, aggressive, and condescending group. I know that by and large it may be a fringe element, but the truth is it continues to occur and serves as fodder for the anti-religious and the world at large. In light of what has been written, as a people who live moment to moment by Torah and follow the lead of our sages, we have to use Torah as a tool to build and not destroy.

Dovid HaMelech could not merit building the Beis HaMikdash because he had blood on his hands—regardless of what that blood represented. Notwithstanding any permissiveness in areas of halachah, as Torah Jews we should distance ourselves from machlokes and talking negatively of our brethren, regardless of the divide that might separate us.

The Gemara instructs in all situations, “Push away with the left and draw closer with the right.” This means that the efforts to engender an atmosphere of peace and understanding should far exceed any gestures that would widen the rift that may exist. The Torah, in its infinitude, succeeded in bridging heaven and earth, the soul and the body, the angels Michael and Gavriel, and could bind all of us as one if we look at one another with love, patience, and the will to work together towards building future generations of Torah and Yiddishkeit in Eretz Yisrael.

We say in tefillah, “He who makes peace in the heavens should make peace among us and all of Israel.” Perhaps we could ask, if we said “He should make peace among us,” and everyone is saying this prayer, why must we add “and upon Israel”? Perhaps, similar to what was said regarding Adas Korach, if we are at peace with ourselves we won’t allow ourselves to get dragged into the mud. If an opportunity exists to work with the seeming opposition, that is our call of duty; if they don’t want to work with us and arrive at a common understanding, then we have to withdraw, not fight. Fighting is not the way of the Torah, it is not the way of G‑d, and it is not what Yiddishkeit is all about. v

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Posted by on May 16, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.