Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Kesivah Vachasimah Tovah

The kashrus scandal refuses to die down. It seems as if talking about it serves as a form of therapy for an agitated soul. Of course, idle conjecture generally leads to no good, but the fact that so many good Jews are unable to assimilate what happened and continue to feel haunted and distressed by it carries a certain redemptive quality.

Endless, senseless chest-beating has no place in the teshuva process, and thankfully there have been several asifos to help give grieving people the proper perspective on what took place. Rather than harp on the details of what transpired, the focus has been on the lessons we can derive from the debacle and what we can do to improve ourselves as individuals and as a tzibbur.

While regrettably there have been other scandals in Jewish life, we have not become jaded and desensitized, and the present calamity has shaken us to the core. We know that being human, people do, at times, sin for personal benefit, and when faced with the evidence, we wonder how they could sink so low. But when in recent memory has a betrayal of public trust taken place where a person led so many good ehrliche people to unknowingly take part in an aveirah they would have sacrificed so much to avoid?

So many of us find the affair unfathomable. People are lost as they seek answers. We look for clues to help explain the incomprehensible. We look to find causes for what could have led to such a tragic occurrence. Some thoughts expressed by Maran Harav Elazar Shach zt”l in 1988 may shed some light for us.

The setting was the opening of the summer Yarchei Kallah of the Ponovezh Yeshiva. His drasha there was an annual event and people would throng to the Ponovezh Bais Medrash to hear the words of the aged rosh yeshiva and gadol hador.

That year, he expressed some thoughts that he said caused the very walls of his apartment to shake. He quoted the Gemorah in Nedorim, 81a, in which Rav Yehuda expounds in the name of Rav to explain the pesukim in Yirmiyahu (9:11 – 12), “Mi ha’ish hachochom veyovein es zos… ahl mah ovdah haaretz nitzesah kamidbar mei’ein yoshev? Vayomer Hashem, al ozvom es Torasi asher nosati lifneihem… Who is the wise man who can understand this, why the land became lost, parched like a desert with no residents? And Hashem said, “Because they forsook my Torah and did not heed my voice…”

The Gemorah explains that no one was able to understand what caused the churban. They asked the chachomim, neviim, and malachei hashareis and no one could explain it. It was finally Hakadosh Boruch Hu Who enlightened them as to what specific sin led to the catastrophe. Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav that their sin was that they didn’t appreciate Torah enough to recite a bracha before studying it.

The Ran asks why the chachomim and neviim were unable to perceive this. Wouldn’t the lapse have been obvious?

He explains that the Jews at the time of the churban must surely have learned the Torah and kept the mitzvos and therefore no one could explain the destruction. It was only Hakadosh Boruch Hu, Who can see into a man’s heart, Who could provide the answer - that they didn’t make a brocha before learning. The Torah was not important enough in their eyes for them to make a brocha on it. They didn’t learn the Torah lishmah, and therefore didn’t appreciate it enough to make a brocha prior to its study.

Rav Shach expounded on this idea. If the sin would have been egregious, it would have been obvious to the chachomim and neviim, he pointed out. Had their transgression been that they learned Torah sheloh leshmah, the leaders of the generation would have perceived the reason for the punishment. But the sin the Jews were guilty of during that period was so fine that the chachomim could not sense it and the neviim had no clue what it was. Even the Heavenly angels were unable to fathom what the Jews had done that was so reprehensible that the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of it.

Can you imagine a sin so fine and minute that the holiest people and the very angels were unable to discern it? Do average rank-and-file Jews have the ability to understand something the chochom, novi and malach can’t? How, then, could Hashem have expected the people of that generation to be aware that they were sinning? Why, then, were they so severely punished with the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh and our dispersal into exile until the present day?

Rav Shach answered that no one - not even a chochom or novi - can know what is going on in the heart of his fellow man; even angels are not equipped to know what lies in a person’s heart. Only G-d can read a person’s mind and know what lies inside of him.

But since each man’s soul is chelek Eloka mimaal, a person can see into his own soul and heart and know what lies there. When it comes to the ability to understand his own personal motives, each person can see the inner truth more accurately than a chochom, novi or malach. G-d has given every person the ability to detect even the slightest defect in his own soul. When it comes to our own failings, we are wiser than the wisest wise man, can see deeper than the greatest seer, and can grasp truths that evade an angel.

We, too, are baffled as we try to figure out the cause and effect behind the communal downfall. We debate back and forth to try to figure out why something like this befell us. We seek out a chochom to explain it to us, and we are still in the dark.

When something like this happens, each one of us must look into our own hearts, and search the crevices of our souls for all possible flaws. We all know we are not perfect, we all know what we need to improve. We don’t need anyone to tell us. We need chachomim to arouse us and force us to perform this self-analysis, but it is up to us to do the heavy lifting and to rectify the weaknesses and lapses that are taking their toll on our spiritual lives.

It takes a level of emotional honesty so penetrating and excruciating to read one’s own soul. At a time like this, we must all try to get to that deep level of self-awareness. We shouldn’t be looking at the next guy, and looking for someone to blame.

Now, as we approach the Yom Hadin, is the hour to begin this process.

Let us all resolve to examine our souls and improve our ways. Let us take stock of all the good we do and the Torah we study, at the same time that we acknowledge how much farther we could reach, how much more we could accomplish if we truly wanted to live up to His expectations of us and bring Him nachas.

Tehei hasha’ah hazos shaas rachamim v’eis ratzon.
Kesivah vachasimah tovah.


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