Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lessons For Life

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We are all familiar with the admonition of Chazal at the beginning of this week’s parsha that explains the posuk, “V’eileh…asher tosim lifneihem - And these are the rules you shall place before them.” Chazal teach that the laws commanding Jews to take their questions and disputes to bais din rather than a secular court flow from this posuk.

Rashi explains further that one who ignores this injunction and takes his case to a secular court is committing a chillul Hashem.

The fear of causing a chillul Hashem should influence our interactions with our fellow Jews. Yet, too often it seems as if we are impervious to this concern as we go about our private and public lives. We conduct ourselves as if it makes no difference how people view us and how they are influenced by our choices.

Asher tosim lifneihem.” We have to put more thought into how we present ourselves to others and the conclusions people are likely to draw from our actions and words.

The effort to prevent chillul Hashem at times requires us to take unpopular positions. It requires us to resist the temptation to veer from the truth, in accordance with the famous mandate in this week’s parsha (23:7), “Midvar sheker tirchok - You must distance yourselves from falsehood.”

Last week, I purchased the newly released second volume of the sefer entitled “Bemichitzosom” by Rabbi Shlomo Lorentz. The veteran Agudist writes of his trip to the Untied States in 1951 on behalf of Sdei Chemed, a project aimed at accommodating youngsters who had survived the Holocaust and settled in Israel.

Rabbi Lorentz stayed at the home of the Telzer rosh yeshiva, Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch zt”l. At night, the Rosh Yeshiva would make the rounds with him to solicit donations from the baalei batim of Cleveland. In those days, Cleveland was a fierce Mizrachi town. When approached by these two men and asked to support an Israeli Agudah leader, most of the locals gave a chilly response.

Rabbi Lorentz sized up the situation and, after a couple of days, turned to Rav Bloch and said, “This isn’t working. I’m not making much money and you are losing a lot. You are trying to build a yeshiva here, and by identifying yourself with me, you are hurting the yeshiva. The people aren’t giving me much because of their dislike of the Agudah, and the loss to the yeshiva will be great.”

Rav Bloch responded, “Let me tell you a story about my father, Rav Yosef Leib. The Telzer yeshiva, yet in Lithuania, was in dire financial straits. My father sent my brother, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok, and me to America to raise money. We weren’t too successful until we turned to our relative, Rav Meir Berlin, the head of the Mizrachi. He became very involved in our campaign and assisted us in raising a lot of money.

“One day, Rav Berlin told us that he received a letter from one of the kanno’im of Yerushalayim attacking Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook, the rav roshi. He showed us that the writer bolstered his position by claiming that it was based on our father’s words; he quoted our father denouncing Rav Kook in scathing terms.

“Rav Berlin gave us an ultimatum. If the quotes are true, he said, if your father did in fact say the reprehensible words that are ascribed to him, then I don’t wish to help you anymore. If they are false and he didn’t say them, I demand that he write a letter stating so.

“I asked my father if he had uttered the words that were written in his name. He told me as follows: ‘The way those thoughts were phrased is not my style; I don’t use such biting adjectives. However, I will not submit to Rav Berlin’s demand that I deny saying them, because in my heart I agree with the criticism expressed by the writer.’

“I complained to my father that if Rav Berlin refused to help us, we wouldn’t be able to succeed in reaching our fundraising goals. The yeshiva would have to declare bankruptcy and its existence would be seriously endangered.

“My father answered us, ‘I don’t know which occupation was determined for me in Heaven. I don’t know whether I was meant to be a rosh yeshiva or a shoemaker. If I was meant to be a rosh yeshiva, then the yeshiva will not be harmed no matter what we do now. The yeshiva will continue to exist. And if I was not meant to be a rosh yeshiva, I am prepared for the yeshiva to close and to be employed as a shoemaker. What I will not do is to deny the truth.’”

Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch turned to Rabbi Lorentz and said to him, “I try to follow in the ways of my father. If he was prepared to close down the yeshiva and not deny the truth even if that meant becoming a shoemaker, then I, too, am prepared to give up the yeshiva, rather than deny the truth. And since I believe that the Agudah represents the truth and we are all commanded to support it, I will continue to help you regardless of the financial consequences.”

The truth must be our benchmark. Fidelity to the truth is what defines us. We are bidden to remain loyal to the path forged by our fathers who would rather forsake their accomplishments than lie and cause chillul Hashem.

When we are tested, we are not to compromise the truth in order to protect our positions and our station in life. We must do what is correct al pi Torah without making cheshbonos. Wrong is wrong and we have no business trying to whitewash it or rationalize.

A man who decides to adjudicate his case before a secular court, rationalizing that the court will decide the same way a bais din would, is trying in vain to legitimize the illegitimate. He is guilty of chillul Hashem. The man may be living in Billings, Montana, or some other remote location, far from a Jewish community. No one will ever know that he went to the local court. Besides, the closest bais din is in Chicago, many hours away.

But here’s the clincher: One’s actions can be considered chillul Hashem even if no one witnesses the deviation from Torah and halacha.

Each generation draws its strength from its forbears who were moser nefesh to transmit the Torah in its entirety to their descendants. While each generation faces its own individual trials and tribulations, the admonition of midvar sheker tirchok - along with every single law in the Torah - is eternally applicable. There is no justification for the kind of lying and dishonesty in business that has become standard and habitual in some places.

The cardinal sin of causing chillul Hashem by misleading others and distorting the truth is incalculable.

Parshas Mishpatim follows the narrative of Kabbolas HaTorah on Har Sinai in Parshas Yisro to teach us that the laws governing our financial dealings with others are as sacrosanct as the laws of Yoreh Deah and Orach Chaim. If we want to be good Jews, we will make no distinction between any of the laws of the Torah, in terms of the time, effort and diligence we expend in fulfilling them. We must be as scrupulous in the laws pertaining to finances as we are in the laws of daled minim.

The test of our emunah and bitachon is whether we follow the laws of Mishpatim and Choshen Mishpat with the same care that we demonstrate regarding the other mitzvos handed down at Sinai.

One of the questions a Jew is asked by the Bais Din Shel Maalah is whether his financial dealings with fellow Jews were honest. Let us ensure that Heaven will testify for us in the affirmative. Let us make honesty our policy. It is the essence of the Jew for all ages.


Blogger BBB said...

Dear Rabbi Lipshutz

I read your article of November 28 2007 , with bitter tears.

Three shabbosim ago Parshas Ki Sisa at the shul I daven in Mincha Shabbos the gabbai who hates me and has been humiliating me called a Yisroel for the first aliyah as I was the only Kohain in the shul.
I was next to the bima as well. After my humiliation the gabbai winked and smiled to his buddies.
He tried to legitimize it by saying to to tzibbur that he had a psak that he could do it from a Rav I contacted the Rav and he said it was "sheker".

I collapsed at Havdalah on Motzei Shabbos in front of my wife children and guests.

I have not gone back to shul (any)since then Weekday nor Shabbos. For the first time since I am two years old I have missed Shabbos Davening in Shul. I developed a virus strain percipitated from stress and I am on heavy antibiotics and I have not been able to work normaly or sleep.

The words of the Gemmorah and meforshim are so true and not a metifore...public Humiliation is murder!

8:12 PM  

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