Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Truth Will Prevail

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha provides us with a stark contrast. The parsha begins with the story of Balak’s attempts to entice Bilam to curse the Jewish nation. Without the commentary of Chazal, it would seem to a casual reader of the parsha that Bilam was not an entirely evil person.

By just reading the pesukim, it appears as if Bilam is seeking to follow the command of Hashem and is unwilling to follow Balak’s messengers to curse the Jews if that was not the will of Hashem.

In truth, Bilam was a phony. He mouthed the proper words to Balak, as he sought to convince G-d to permit him to engage in the mission to curse the Jewish people. In his heart, he lusted after the money and prestige that Balak was offering him for the commission of his odious mission.

Bilam was a gifted individual, but he sought public acclaim. He used his talents to enrich himself. He tried to twist his G-d-given abilities to win himself popularity and fame. Though he knew he was acting improperly, he sought to fool G-d, kevayachol, into going along with his plan. His words were those of a great man, but his heart was filled with malice.

As hard as he tried to conspire with Balak, the king of Moav, he was unable to fulfill the malicious desires of the depraved king. When he saw that he would never be able to curse the blessed nation, he devised a nefarious, satanic plan to annihilate those whom he could not curse. And though the pesukim don’t attribute the plan to him, Chazal, with their wisdom, teach us that it was Bilam who guided Balak and the Moavites in creating pernicious moral corruption with which to afflict the holy nation.

At the conclusion of Parshas Balak, we learn that following the episode with Balak and Bilam, the Bnei Yisroel began to sin with the daughters of Moav. A nesi bais av committed a sinful act with a daughter of the leader of Midyan before Moshe and all of the Bnei Yisroel.

The entire nation stood around weeping, at a complete loss. Hashem sent a plague as punishment for the crime and then Pinchos arose from the crowd.

He was the sole individual who was not confounded by the unprecedented outrage. He was the only one who remembered the halacha and knew what had to be done. Even as cynics mocked him and he himself was unsure of the outcome his act would produce, Pinchos ignored the scoffers and sprang forward, plunging a spear into the bodies of Zimri and his partner.

He thus stopped the already devastating plague and brought a swift end to yet another inglorious chapter in our people’s history.

Next week’s parsha, Pinchos, opens with Hashem telling Moshe Rabbeinu that “Pinchos, the son of Elozor, the son of Aharon the Kohein, turned back G-d’s wrath from the people of Israel with his act of kana’us, and He did not destroy the Bnei Yisroel in His anger. Therefore, say [the following]: Hashem is bestowing upon Pinchos his covenant of peace. He and his children who follow him shall be privileged with the covenant of kehunah forever.”

By following the dictates he had been taught by Moshe Rabbeinu and intervening in a machlokes, Pinchos merited the blessing of eternal peace. The man of peace is not necessarily the one who sits back passively and does nothing. The one who sits on the sidelines weeping as evil rears its ugly head and seems to triumph is not promoting peace; he is encouraging evil.

Pinchos is deemed worthy to bear the torch of kehunah and carry on the tradition of Aharon Hakohein, to be an oheiv shalom verodef shalom, because he put his own ambitions aside and rose to the challenge. Pinchos was given the eternal blessing of peace because he made peace possible amongst Klal Yisroel by exterminating evil.

Pinchos halted the plague which had already killed 24,000 Jews because he had the moral courage and clarity to act when others were confounded and immobilized. He wasn’t guided by a desire for fortune, fame or popularity.

He didn’t let popular opinion deter him from slaying those who brazenly defied the Torah authority. He knew that an oheiv shalom verodef shalom sometimes has to act courageously, even if his actions invite misunderstanding and recrimination.

This past week, we witnessed this lesson in dramatic fashion, as dozens of chareidi parents from the Israeli town of Emmanuel refused to cave in to an unprecedented ruling by the Israeli High Court to send their daughters to a school whose ideals run counter to their tradition. The court claimed that the Ashkenazic parents who pulled their daughters from the school had discriminated against their Sephardic counterparts at the institution.

The incredulity of the court’s claim could be seen in the simple fact that of the four dozen parents who were charged with contempt of court, over one quarter of them are Sephardim themselves. But that fact was ignored by the High Court justices, who were assisted in their effort to demonize the Emmanuel parents by a willing secular media, who had a field day reporting about the alleged racial discrimination. The media then went after chareidi officials, including Meir Porush, Uri Maklev and others, for their support of the Emmanuel parents and their outspoken criticism of the High Court.

The secular media in Israel and elsewhere misreported and misrepresented this entire affair as being one of discrimination, when the facts simply don’t support the claim.

But that’s the koach of sheker, which can poison the public mind and warp the thinking of even rational people. The media planted seeds of sheker into the public consciousness, and those seeds sprouted and grew, corrupting even some in our communities, who believed the falsities being fed to them about why several hundred thousand people, led by the gedolei hador, took to the streets to support parents who are willing to endure imprisonment to protect their children’s chinuch, b’derech Yisroel saba.
Twenty-two mothers and 35 fathers were ordered to begin two-week jail terms for discriminating on the basis of race. The High Court refused to recognize that the issue at hand was the level of religious observance, and that an Ashkenazic family that does not keep to the standards is no more welcome than a family from any other ethnic group.
Rav Meir Elmaliach, one of the parents who was imprisoned, made that clear at last week’s massive rally in Yerushalayim. “For three years they have been saying false things,” he said. “I said this in court: Bring me even one girl who was not accepted to our school and I will close it down myself. The judge asked me where I had been up until then. I told him that they did not permit me to speak. Also, 30 percent of the girls in this group are Sephardim.”

We hear cries of “Why can’t we all get along?” and “Shouldn’t we be seeking shalom?” from those who miss the crux of the matter and, unwittingly, have digested the fabrications of the media regarding this regrettable affair.

But shalom doesn’t mean caving in to pressure or compromising on our ideals. And that eternal lesson was taught to us by no less a personage than Pinchos, who knew that the cause of peace is advanced through fidelity to halacha. Shalom is achieved by pursuing shleimus, even if that involves sacrificing sacred cows and jeopardizing a career.

Shalom is rooted in shleimus. When everything is proper, when everything is complete and whole, it is then possible to also have shalom. If you are lacking in shleimus, if everything is not absolutely intact, then you cannot have shalom. Torah is the absolute truth. With it, the world was created, and it serves as the ultimate yardstick in defining our behavior. If we stay true to it, we will be blessed with peace.

Pinchos passed this test and was therefore singled out as being worthy of following in the footsteps of Aharon Hakohein, who exemplified the pursuit of shalom through the service of G-d.

We need more people like Pinchos in order to stop the plague in its tracks. We need people whose loyalty to Torah compels them to arise from the mourners who sit weeping and demonstrate by action what needs to be done.

We all know that most things are not b’shleimus in our world. We are all aware of people who suffer and urgently need someone to rush to their aid. We must have the fortitude to stand up for the truth in the tradition of Pinchos. We must speak up when confronted with injustice.

And that brings us to the case of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, which we have been covering for the past two years. The judge’s memorandum of sentencing which she submitted on Monday sent shockwaves throughout the entire community. The injustice cries out to the heavens and begs for a remedy. Once again, a Jew has been scapegoated. Once again, facts have been ignored. A libel has been created and given credence by a court.

How do we react?

On Yom Kippur, we wear white clothing because we are betuchim badin. Bitachon is a word which is thrown around lightly these days when speaking and thinking of Sholom Mordechai, but bitachon is not a simple matter. Bitachon in Hakadosh Boruch Hu has the ability to change reality.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner writes in Nefesh Hachaim (3:12) that if one truly believes that “Hashem Hu Elokim” and “Ein Od Milvado,” and one really internalizes that there is no power in this world which is not controlled by Hashem, then there is nothing that can harm him.

We can understand this, perhaps, as Hashem set into motion a variety of sibos through which He exerts his power upon the world; one who recognizes this, and knows that the power of the sibos emanates from Hashem is removed from the control of the sibos and is controlled directly by Hashem, as the posuk states Vehbotei’ach baHashem chessed yesovevnhu.

The Kochvei Ohr, which is printed together with the sefer Ohr Yisroel, explains that the ultimate emunah is to believe in Hashem, even when it defies human understanding. Even if you have figured it out intellectually and it doesn’t add up, the true believer maintains his belief in Hashem.

The purpose of the briah is to see the gadlus of Hashem. Usually, this is brought about through tevah, by perceiving Hashem through the application of the way He set up the world to run, with the sibbah and mesoveiv, through the variety of shlichim and sibbos which carry out the will of Hashem according to the laws of nature that Hashem established in creation.

The true ma’amin who recognizes that all that happens in tevah is an extension of the gadlus haBorei is thus brought to a higher level and is not encumbered by tevah. Hashem will thus perform for him lemaalah miderech hatevah.

In last week’s parsha, we read of the mageifah which plagued Am Yisroel in the midbar. The Bnei Yisroel grumbled against Hashem and Moshe. They complained about the food, the heavenly monn which fell daily. They complained about the water which miraculously flowed from the rock. They complained that they were taken out of slavery in Mitzrayim to die in the desert.

Hashem sent snakes to bite them. Whoever got bitten by a snake died. They came crying to Moshe, saying that they realized that they had sinned for speaking against Hashem and Moshe, and asked for forgiveness. Hashem told Moshe to make a snake and place it on a pole. Whoever was bitten by one of the poisonous snakes and had done teshuvah looked up at Moshe Rabbeinu’s copper snake and lived.

The well-known Mishnah in Maseches Rosh Hashanah (29a) states that it was not the copper snake of Moshe which healed those who had been bitten. “Vechi nochosh meimis oh nochosh mechayeh? Elah b’zeman sheYisroel mistaklim klapei maalah umeshabdim es libom la’Avihem shebashomayim hayu misrapim.”

The simple explanation of the Mishnah is that when the Jews looked towards heaven and placed themselves in the care of Hashem, they were healed. But Rav Chaim Volozhiner (ibid., hagah] explains it differently. He says that when the Jews looked upwards at the snake which Moshe had fashioned and placed on the pole, and they pondered the power of a poisonous snake, they were meshabeid themselves to Hashem and they became healed.

In other words, when they recognized that Hashem is the one who heals, and they had complete faith in His ability to heal them, they became well.

When the jury returned with its verdict of not guilty in Sholom Mordechai’s state trial, we were all elated. This week, when we heard the news regarding the exaggerated sentence handed down at the federal sentencing, we were all devastated. At the same time, as Sholom Mordechai himself has taught us and modeled for us over the last two years, the test of true bitachon is when the going is tough and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We are mispallel that the fact that thousands of people have demonstrated with complete bitachon that Hashem is the One Who controls everything that transpires in the briah will be enough to eventually bring our brother home.

We must stand together and beg Hashem to please accept the tefillos of Am Yisroel. We say, “Look at the tzedakah we gave, look at the maasim tovim we did, look at the achdus we created in Sholom Mordechai’s zechus, and send him home free.”

One year, after Yom Kippur, the Baal Shem Tov stood outside during Kiddush Levana and watched how all the Yiddelach were saying shalom aleichem to each other. He remarked that only after the Yidden went out on Motzoei Yom Kippur to recite Kiddush Levana and said shalom aleichem to each other, and then held hands and danced a rekidah of tremendous achdus, only then did he feel assured that their tefillos on Yom Kippur were niskabeil.

The Soton went before the Kisei Hakavod and said, “Hakadosh Boruch Hu, Your children are divided; they can’t get along. Let me do my thing with them.” Hakadosh Boruch Hu responded, “No, it’s not true. Test them and you will see.”

So the Soton scouted around for a Yid to pick on. He stayed far away from any large city and landed on a small town which is not even a dot on the map. He said, “I will pluck a Yid, a Lubavitcher chossid from Postville. I will make up a libel about him. I will lock him up for life and no one will care. I will show that there is no achdus, I will show that they are like the chasidah and only care about those in their own dalet amos who look like them. I will go to the field grounds and have a field day.”

Boruch Hashem, we were omeid benisayon and proved him wrong.

Sholom Mordechai will be locked up for longer than we had hoped. But in the end, the truth will prevail. Six former attorneys general of the United States and eminent law professors wrote to the judge sharply criticizing the U.S. Attorney for urging the court to impose a life sentence, calling the action “outrageous” and “absurd.” So radical and extreme a punishment would violate the fundamental principles of American justice, the letter said.

Further evidence of prosecutorial overkill came to the fore at the sentencing hearings in April. Striking disclosures lifted the veil on a government scheme to run Agriprocessors into the ground after it filed for bankruptcy.

Coming from three potential buyers, the disclosures knocked out a key pillar of the government’s claim that Sholom Mordechai was guilty of defrauding a lender bank of $26 million - the amount of loss the bank incurred due to the bankruptcy of Agriprocessors which was, in fact, caused by the government.

The buyers showed who was really responsible for the massive loss of money. They told of their personal encounters with the Assistant Iowa Attorney General in connection with their efforts to purchase Agriprocessors post-bankruptcy, while it was still a going concern.

In fact, in the contract of sale and ancillary documents, drawn up by the government, it clearly indicates that the purchaser, under the penalty of perjury, may not employ or enter into consulting agreements with any immediate members of the Rubashkin family or their spouses.

Sworn affidavits by other interested purchasers were submitted to Judge Linda Reade after the hearing, attesting to identical claims of intimidation. Their offers ranged from $40 million to $22 million.

Though in her sentencing memorandum the judge chose to ignore all that, we have faith that the “$26 million fraud” used by the Iowa prosecutors to ramp up the recommended prison sentence will be exposed for what it is, a loss caused by government action.

A neutral judicial review of this case will blow the lid off the legal shenanigans responsible for the destruction of Agriprocessors and the ongoing scapegoating of Sholom Mordechai.

We need Yidden like Pinchos to rise to the fore and help defray the costs of the legal process which will have to be mounted to save this good Jew from the future that Judge Reade envisions for him. We are confident that Hashem will reward these Yidden and Sholom Mordechai with “brisi shalom,” the covenant of peace and sheleimus.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rationalizing Torah

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha begins with the words, “Zos chukas haTorah.” Rashi quotes Chazal who explain the use of the term chukas in describing the laws of parah adumah. He says that the word chok represents a Divine law, the reasons for which we are not privy to. The nations of the world scoff at us, asking why we observe these strange laws and customs. Instead of engaging in debates with them, offering up explanations and rationales, we are to state simply that we follow these laws because G-d commanded us to. End of conversation.

But some of us tend not to be content with this approach. We seek to understand the deeper wisdom behind the mitzvos and the reasons for the gezeiros derabonon. We believe that by attaching a reason to a mitzvah, we will enhance its observance. If we can explain the word of G-d in contemporary terms, the thinking is, we can bring more people into the tent of Torah and expand the popularity of its observance. Offering explanations for the mitzvos will not only make us more effective in kiruv, we presume, but it will strengthen our own observance.

One can’t deny that there may be some validity to this approach at times. Yet, when we fail to take Chazal’s advice seriously, we pay the price. We open the door to a form of Judaism a la carte, with people choosing to observe the mitzvos that “resonate” with them and suit their taste, while neglecting those that appeal less to their reasoning or emotions.

As an example, let’s take the mitzvah of shechitah. The reason we eat only animals whose necks were slit with a swift cut of a shochet’s sharpened blade is not because that is the humane method of killing animals. The reason we eat meat only from animals whose innards were checked and found to be blemish-free is not because those animals are healthier.

Why, then, do we scrupulously adhere to the smallest details of ritual slaughter? For the sole reason that we are required to follow the word of G-d as commanded in the Torah, as delineated in the Gemara, and as codified by the Shulchan Aruch. A mashgiach must attest that the shochet cut the majority of the two simanim, the koneh and the veshet. The difference between kosher and non-kosher, between something fit for consumption and neveilah, could be as small as a hair’s breadth, or “kechut hasa’arah” in Torah parlance.

Rashi states in Maseches Sanhedrin (90) that one who believes in techiyas hameisim because he came to that conclusion on his own and not because he believes the drashos of Chazal is a kofer, an apostate. We follow the commandments, chukim and mishpatim because we believe with our innermost fiber that G-d created us for that purpose. Once we inject our own human reasoning into the equation, we are no longer following the will of G-d.

Once we begin interpreting the will of G-d for the masses, we lose our footing. We lose perspective. We lose appreciation for the mitzvos as we bring them down to our superficial, fallible level.

And there is another way we lose. Witness the ongoing campaign by the Conservatives and Chovevei Torah-types, who consider themselves more advanced than we are, to involve themselves in the business of kashrus. Since they believe that the laws of shechitah were created to provide a humane form of animal slaughter, and the laws of kashrus were designed to provide us with healthy and clean meat, it follows that if a slaughterhouse does not conform to their perception of clean and humane, the meat is unfit for consumption.

We, who live in neighborhoods overflowing with religious Jews like ourselves, are deluded into thinking that there are millions of us out there. We fail to realize how small our numbers are in relation to the population of the United States. We don’t appreciate the kindness that G-d has showered upon us in providing such a wide array of kosher products for our use. When you think about it, it is a miracle that international food companies such as Coca-Cola and Proctor & Gamble permit rabbonim to snoop around in their facilities, and actually pay them to do so, all in order to sell an additional small amount of their product.

The same group which, since its founding, has wreaked havoc upon Jewish communities, misleading uninformed Jews into believing that it was comporting with Judaic law and tradition as it drove them away from authentic observance, now seeks to bring kashrus under its jurisdiction. The same group that permitted chillul Shabbos and estranged tens of thousands of fellow Jews from mitzvos now has the temerity to dictate to us the laws of kashrus. These same people are setting up an organization to operate as a ‘rabbinic’ kosher supervising agency.

As did mosrim of old, they are engaging in a massive propaganda campaign through a compliant Jewish and secular media, bashing Orthodoxy and its “archaic” standards. How ironic. The people who uphold the Torah, follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, and brought monotheism and a system of civil laws, jurisprudence and decency to a pagan and depraved world are being lectured by charlatans who have destroyed for their followers every vestige of the very religion they claim to promote.

These same leaders who have robbed their followers of every remnant of kedushas Yisroel by substituting Torah law with fictitious “halachot” and other innovations seek to undermine the system of kashrus which took so long to establish.

By parading the unproven allegations of PETA and other aberrant groups through the press that “kosher is not really clean,” and that Orthodoxy does not guarantee workers’ rights and respect for the individual, who knows how many people these “humanitarians” will cause to turn away in revulsion when they see a kosher symbol on a product?

How many will begin questioning our system of kashrus while swallowing the pop-propaganda of these arrogant groups?

Let us wake up and put a stop to this misguided and dangerous crusade before it is too late. We look to supervising agencies to announce a policy that will not tolerate a mockery of the laws of kashrus which Jews have fought so valiantly to adhere to.

By trying to make sense of the Torah and make it relevant to the modern age, it ends up becoming adulterated and poisoned of its true intent. Its laws are turned on their head and become viewed with disdain.

By debating these charlatans and granting them credence, we are allowing them to establish a beachhead and a foothold. We have to head them off and let it be known in no uncertain terms that the laws of the Torah are non-negotiable. We will not countenance the accreditation of Magen Tzedek or anything like it.

The error of seeking to modernize the Torah and have it speak a modern dialect, which has reared its ugly head in Chovevei Torah circles, is now being permitted to spread and encroach on traditional Orthodoxy. When a Young Israel in the Five Towns of Long Island can invite the infamous Rabbah Maharat to serve as a scholar-in-residence for a Shabbos without fear that its neighbors will ostracize it, we have begun to lose the battle.

The invitation by this shul was clearly an attempt to make a statement supporting the granting of semicha to the woman, who calls herself Orthodox. While many had felt that the Rabbah Maharat debate was over, apparently they were in error and the urge to undo centuries of halachic custom is alive and well in our midst. The attempt to legitimatize the free-thinkers of today’s society was given the red carpet in Long Island no matter what title they introduced her with.

We wait for the parent organization to ensure that this aberration does not become the norm. We wait for local leaders to stand up for their convictions and lay down the rule of law, declaring that this behavior cannot be tolerated. For if not, we will be faced with yet another rupture in our midst, which we can ill afford.

There are many fragmentations in our society. There are many different ways to look at many different ideas. But when certain unalterable principles are toyed with, we must all stand together to protest the breach.

Many of the improvisers have good intentions as they endeavor to improve Judaism. Throughout the generations, there have been countless people who thought that they knew better, that Judaism had to be tailored to conform to modern social norms, and that Yiddishkeit had to be viewed by the surrounding society as “proper” and “socially acceptable.” These misguided people, who left the Torah weltanschauung behind, are remembered in infamy. They are gone, while authentic Judaism lives. They assimilated and there is no zeicher of them. We have an obligation to try to help save today’s innovators from meeting the same fate. We have to do all we can to prevent them from doing more damage to themselves and to Klal Yisroel.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Their Waterloo

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The Israeli people are very proud of their nascent country’s many accomplishments. A sheep among seventy wolves, it perseveres despite all obstacles placed in its path. Its enemies have fought valiantly to destroy it, yet the Jewish state carries on with valor.

Age-old anti-Semitic tendencies of the nations of the world die hard, and as hard as little Israel tries, it rarely enjoys much worldly support. Its leaders are educated, well-spoken, hard-working people, who have set as their life mission the well-being of the state. Believing that once the Jews would have a country of their own anti-Semitism will cease to exist, the Zionists have poured everything they have into the enterprise.

Prior to the country’s founding, Jews were vilified because they were stateless, Zionists claimed, and the prevailing Zionist notion was that once they would have a country of their own, the hatred of the world toward the offspring of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov would vanish.

Once again, the Jewish state has been set upon by bloodthirsty terrorists. Only this time they didn’t have to kill anyone to score a major victory. They didn’t have to issue any press releases. They didn’t have to summon the media to their dens. In fact, they didn’t have to say a word. All they had to do was pull a simple stunt, tricking the vaunted Israeli navy into a clever trap. The world’s leaders and media did the rest.

Using peace activists and humanitarian do-gooders as foil, the terrorists armed themselves with guns, knives, metal rods and other assorted implements of death. They filmed suicide messages pledging their fidelity to Allah, and sat back in waiting. When the well-trained Israeli navy commandoes rappelled down onto their ship, the Jewish soldiers were beaten, robbed of their weapons, and shot at.

The state had invested a fortune training these skilled soldiers for combat, yet they sent them into a trap armed with a pistol and paintball gun. Though they sought to stop a ship from running a blockade and intended to prevent the delivery of weapons to a sworn enemy, it seems that the Israelis fell for the ruse that the boat was occupied entirely by peaceful people.

Once again, Israel was labeled the aggressor by the entire world. The country which fights each and every day for its security against men who have no compunction about blowing up innocent people in pursuit of its stated goal of driving the Jewish people into the sea is the subject of international derision for sticking up for its rights.

A little history is in order. The Israeli government was convinced by world pressure that were the Jewish state to dismantle the towns it built in Gaza and clear out all Jewish residents and soldiers from there, a new day would dawn in the Middle East. Peace would reign and prosperity would be showered upon Jew and Arab alike. In 2005, Ariel Sharon spat in the face of everything his party stood for. The world praised his great “courage” for turning his back on the very principles he lived his life by. Peace was about to spread across the region, everyone said.

Israelis supported Sharon in his venture. He formed a new party, Kadima, surrounding himself with members of Likud and Labor who supported his plan.
In truth, what happened was that the withdrawal granted terrorists bent on Israel’s destruction a new permanent platform from which to launch a jihad against Israel.
Adding further insult to great injury, upon the instructions of then-President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, democratic elections were held in “Palestine.” Strangely, Hamas was permitted to run, even though it had not forsworn violence and refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Israel didn’t think Hamas would win anyway - another intelligence failure - and Rice posited that even if the terrorist faction did win, governing would force them to act responsibly and come around to the American position.Needless to say, these predictions were wrong. Thousands of rockets were shot from the newly vacated territory, aimed at inflicting damage upon innocent people going about their daily lives. In fact, it was in an effort to prevent the Hamas terrorists who rule Gaza from stocking up on more powerful weapons that Israel established the blockade which the “humanitarians” attempted to break through last week.

The world neither remembers nor cares why the blockade is in place. The world neither remembers nor cares that Israel is entitled to do all it can to protect its citizens from constant bombardment. The hypocritical world never mentions that were its own cities under terror attack, it would act in the same fashion. Israel is held to a different standard. Israel is expected to suffer all blows for the sake of peace. Israel is expected to vacate territory for peace. Israel is expected to allow its citizens to be slaughtered for the sake of peace.

The current American administration has let it be known that Israel is ignoring the security concerns of its major ally and benefactor and is engaging in activity which is endangering the US. The administration is looking at Israel as if it is a strategic liability and is increasingly looking to Israel to cease actions which threaten American interests. Never mind that those actions are vital to an ally’s security. Never mind that those actions are ones which any nation in a state of war would engage in to defend itself.

America now blames Israel for ruining its relations with a key Muslim ally, Turkey. Yes, that same Turkey which is drawing closer to Iran. The same Turkey which is eschewing its democratic traditions and rapidly spiraling into an Islamic state. The same Turkey which has turned from Israel in its bid to gain preeminence in the Islamic world. The same Turkey which was complicit in sending a ship laden with terrorists to clash with Israel in international waters. Yes, that same Turkey. Yes, its Israel’s fault that Turkey is angry at America because the Israelis had the nerve to fight back. And now, America is upset with Israel for causing a rift with Turkey. The truth of America’s already deteriorating relationship with Turkey is not important.

The New York Times reports that America is also angry at Israel because “the Gaza fight also makes it difficult for America to rally a coalition that includes Arab and Muslim states against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” Until “the Gaza fight,” the New York Times would have you believe, Barack Hussein Obama’s attempts to organize a coalition against Iran were seeing much progress and he almost forced Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. It was Israel that upended his plans.

And if you believe that, there are even more reasons to be angry at Israel. The Times reports further: “Mr. Netanyahu’s refusal to stop Jewish housing construction in Arab East Jerusalem also strains American ties with Arab allies. It makes reaching an eventual peace deal, which many administration officials believe is critical to America’s broader interests in the Muslim world, even more difficult.”

What does that mean? The Times explains: “During a press conference in April, Mr. Obama drew an explicit tie between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. General Petraeus sounded a similar theme in Congressional testimony earlier this year, when he said that the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for America.”

When American soldiers get killed in Iraq, it is Israel’s fault. When American soldiers are blown up battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, it is Israel’s fault. It is Netanyahu’s fault that Obama’s war in Afghanistan isn’t going according to plan. It’s because frum Jews are building apartments in Ramat Shlomo.

So, as Israel sits on the front lines of the worldwide battle of militant Islam against the West, Israel is faulted for battling the radical enemies of everything the civilized world holds dear. As long as this administration remains in power, expect more of the same to continue. As long as Jews are in exile, expect the world to judge us differently than they judge anyone else. Expect rational judgment to take a vacation when it comes to the way they view Jews and the Jewish state.

What are we to do? How are we to battle them? How are we to survive? It is only by remaining loyal to our heritage and our convictions that we can triumph in the end. We dare not sink to the level of our oppressors. We dare not succumb to the urge to adopt their tactics.

The Gemara in Maseches Avodah Zara teaches that when Moshiach comes, the nations of the world will stand up and protest the punishment they are about to receive for their treatment of the Jews. They will all proclaim that everything they did was only to benefit the Jews and their service of G-d and Torah.

The Gemara says that Poras, Persia, will claim that everything they did was to help the Jews. “We built many bridges, conquered many towns and waged war,” they will say, “to enable the Jews to learn Torah.”

It is easy to understand that they will claim that they built bridges and other infrastructure to enable the study of Torah, but how does waging war help the Jews learn Torah? Perhaps it can be understood to mean that they waged war in order to scare the Jews into doing teshuvah and returning to Torah study.

Poras, Persia, is the present day state of Iran. When the ruler of that country rises up and repeatedly proclaims publicly to the entire world that he intends to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, who in their right mind would doubt that he means to do just that? When he continues his maniacally feverish race to arm himself with nuclear weapons to carry out his bloody intentions, we must raise our voices in passionate prayer that Hashem spare us from his evil intents.

But we also must utilize every opportunity we have to study and support Torah and thus create more zechuyos for ourselves and our people.

And there is more. This week, finally being allowed to present a defense to the charges leveled against him, our dear friend Sholom Mordechai ben Rivkah Rubashkin triumphed in a court of law. Until now, everything has been stacked against him. For the past two years, he has been the object of pubic loathing and contempt; he's been tried and convicted for trumped up charges that paint him as a monster.

Indicative of this was the statement from no less an authority than President Barack Obama, who, according to the WCF Courier, said while campaigning in Davenport, Iowa, on August 25, 2008, “We've got to crack down on employers who are taking advantage of undocumented workers. When you read about a meatpacking plant hiring 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds, that is some of the most dangerous, difficult work there is. They have kids in there wielding buzz saws and cleavers - it's ridiculous. And the only reason they are hiring these folks is because they want to avoid paying decent wages and providing decent benefits.”

The government accused him of 9,311 counts of child labor. Mr. Rubashkin was roundly condemned and threatened by gentiles and Jews alike. There was no doubt as to his culpability. In the end, the government couldn’t try him on more than 67 counts. The jury, when presented with the facts, cleared him.

The trial was held in Waterloo, Iowa. Just as Napoleon was stopped 195 years ago in June, 1815, in Waterloo, so too, we pray that the results of the trial handed down June 7th in Waterloo will be the beginning of the end of Sholom Mordechai’s torment.

We pray that the judge in the federal trial will exercise judicial restraint and intelligence when she finally hands down her sentence, bearing in mind that when Sholom Mordechai was finally permitted to present a defense, the prosecution crumbled.

We pray that just as the truth was finally revealed about the child labor charges, so will the truth emerge regarding the bank fraud charges.

The lesson here is that through it all, Sholom Mordechai has maintained his faith in Hashem. He hasn’t lost an iota of his integrity and dignity. Klal Yisroel rallied to his side, davened for him, and contributed funds to enable him to present his defense. Klal Yisroel united with much achdus and proved once again that when we are united, there is no force that can break us.

Let that be a lesson for us everywhere in golus. All those who set out to destroy us will have their date in Waterloo if we can remain united, honest and with hearts full of bitachon in Hakadosh Boruch Hu.

The Gemara in Maseches Brachos (7a) states that Rabi Yishmoel ben Elisha retold that once, as kohein gadol, when he went lifnai velifnim on Yom Kippur to offer the ketores, he saw Achteriel Kah Hashem Tzevakos sitting on a high and mighty throne. Hashem asked him for a blessing. He said the following: “May it be Your will that Your mercy will conquer Your anger and that Your mercy will cover over Your more stern middos, and that You behave with your children with the middah of mercy, and behave with them beyond the letter of the law.”
The Gemara goes on to state, “Veniyana lee berosho - He nodded to me with His Head,” signaling His approval.

The yahrtzeit of Rabi Yishmoel Kohein Gadol was on 25 Sivan, the day Sholom Mordechai’s verdict was delivered. May it signal that Hashem was menanaya lonu berosho and that we will all see yeshuos gedolos, leklal uleprat, bekarov.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Emes and Shalom

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

When the Maskilim fought against frum Yidden, rabbonim and yeshivos, their professed intentions were to enhance Yiddishkeit, not hurt it. I have always wondered whether they really believed that if their advice were followed and their “tikkunim” implemented, Yiddishkeit would be improved. In fact, what they did accomplish was to weaken the Jewish people and religion.

The record shows that wherever they succeeded, destruction followed in their wake. Yeshivos were destroyed, communities were weakened, and the position of the rabbinate was seriously undermined. We are still paying the price - over a century later - for the “improvements” they instituted.

Parallels can be drawn between those tragic mistakes and the dire situation facing Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin today. The debacle began when a doctored-up PETA video, depicting so-called abuse of animals at Agriprocessors, was picked up by the secular Jewish media, who then seized upon it to mount a crusade against the company.

Though the Agriprocessors meat-packing plant was one of the cleanest and safest of its kind in the country, and upheld the most humane standards, the government observed that prominent Jewish voices had bought into the libelous reports and were questioning the plant’s commitment to Jewish law.

That spurred detractors to attack Agrirocessors without risk of a Jewish backlash. Federal investigators proceeded to do so with a vengeance. While Jewish fingers pointed and Jewish tongues wagged, the destruction of the slaughtering house that had brought so much benefit to American Jews from coast to coast was set in motion.

The battle, in reality, was over shechitah, but people were swept up with the rhetoric and fell for the ruse. Did they mean to do bad? Did they realize they were playing into the hands of evil forces by joining the chorus of denunciation against a facility wrongly maligned as a “jungle”?

When the government indicted Sholom Mordechai on over 9,000 counts of child labor, his detractors felt vindicated. That action supported the charges that he was a reckless lawbreaker. People felt justified in publicly disparaging him and calling for his ouster.

Where were those people when the 9,000 counts were reduced to 86? How do they explain their actions against Sholom Mordechai in light of the ongoing state trial? The government’s case rests on the unreliable testimony of illegal aliens whose self-evident lies, bought with the promise of work permits and visas, have brought disgrace to the state.

Where are all of Sholom Mordechai’s pious critics? Are they expressing public statements of remorse? Are they contrite about having contributed to the feeding frenzy of an impeccably good, charitable man and his family?

When people act without Torah guidance, the consequences of their actions are not always in sync with their intentions. Oftentimes, the result of what appeared to be well intentioned laudatory activity is in direct contradiction to the hoped-for result. One who acts outside of the parameters of halacha and mesorah can expect repercussions which are the antithesis of the stated objective.

When Moshe Rabbeinu sent the meraglim to scout out Eretz Yisroel and they came back badmouthing the Land of Israel, how many expressed regret for doing so? How many wept for telling the Bnei Yisroel that the Promised Land was anything but that? Did they cry as they told the people that Eretz Yisroel consumed its residents? How pained were they when they reported that the people who lived there were “anshei middos” whom they could never defeat in battle?

Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Moshe that if he was inclined to send spies to scout out the land of Canaan, he should send anoshim chashuvim, important people. Hashem didn’t tell him to send people versed in military strategy and agrarian technique. He told him to send the most choshuveh members of Klal Yisroel, for when you send small-minded people on a mission, they will always get sidetracked by their own petty negios. They will mislead people because of their delusions of grandeur and political ambition. Before you know it, the masses will be deluded into rebellion against their leaders and will cause a bechiyah ledoros.

Despite their stature, the distinguished individuals chosen as the meraglim could not rise above their own self-centered agendas.

Parshas Shelach comes after Parshas Beha’aloscha, Rashi explains from the Tanchumah, to teach that the meraglim failed to learn the lesson from the incident with Miriam, who was punished for wrongly accusing her bother Moshe of acting improperly. The meraglim did not learn to judge favorably and to avoid thinking and speaking derogatorily of others.

The Rambam writes in his peirush on Pirkei Avos (1:6) that if you see a righteous, upstanding individual perform an act which appears to be incorrect, you must try to be melamed zechus even if the only way to do so is through difficult reasoning that stretches the imagination.

All the more so when the person referenced is a leader or your rebbi. For, as Chazal say (Sanhedrin 110a), “One who argues with his rebbi is as if he argued with the Shechinah… Whoever causes a rift with his rebbi is as if he caused a rift with the Shechinah… One who complains about the actions of his rebbi is as if he complained about the Shechinah… Whoever thinks ill of his rebbi is as if he would be thinking ill of the Shechinah.”

The meraglim, in this week’s parsha, and Korach in next week’s, had no problem speaking against Moshe. They complained about him, acted against him, and sought to foment a rebellion against him. They thought they could publicly impugn the character of Moshe and not only escape Hashem’s wrath, but assume higher positions of leadership among the Jewish people.

They may have had the best of intentions, but the Torah calls them wicked people. For all time, they are derided for the negative spin they gave their experiences in the land flowing with milk and honey, and the way they killed the Jewish people’s desire for that land.

For making the nation feel rudderless and instigating them to rebel against their leadership, the meraglim caused the Jews to wander aimlessly in exile an additional forty years. They brought death upon themselves and the Jews who swallowed their propaganda.

The only survivors of the entire ordeal were Yehoshua and Kaleiv, who stubbornly clung to Moshe and the word of Hashem as transmitted through him. They earned the enmity of the enraged masses who sought to stone them for their fidelity to Hashem and Moshe, but they subsequently entered Eretz Yisroel and merited long life and eternal praise.

Quite often, the rabble-rousers sound convincing. Everyone rallies around them. The actions of leadership, of the Moshe Rabbeinus of the generation, can be difficult to fathom, and the masses are easily incited to oppose them. It takes men of the caliber of Yehoshua and Kaleiv to learn the lessons taught by Miriam and our righteous forbears to step into the lurch and warn us to review our actions and not fall prey to demagoguery, false interpretations and outright lies.

Yes, there is room for dissent and for people to advocate for change. Of course we should seek steady improvement and attempt to influence for the better. But it must be done according to halacha and in the proper forums. Attacking frum Yidden publicly is wrong. Attacking rabbonim, manhigim and roshei yeshivos for standing in your way is wrong. Employing personal attacks and vendettas, coupled by sinas chinom, lashon harah, rechilus and other aveiros, is inexcusable and can trigger dire consequences.

Chachomim hizharu bedivreichem.” Advocates for change would do well to reexamine their motives and actions and ensure that they do not betray Jewish history and jurisprudence. Regardless of motivation, when you battle your rebbi, yeshiva or gedolim, when you undermine a Torah edifice, you are bringing destruction upon Am Yisroel.

Yes, there are problems. But we have to find better ways of solving them. Too often, we are our own worst enemies. We have to come together and, with mutual respect, find common ground. We have to choose our words and actions with care. More importantly, perhaps, we have to take heed of what not to say. We should not speak irresponsibly, act without thinking an issue through, or allow our emotions or frustrations to dictate our next move.

We have to seek productive and constructive solutions and not engage in actions which are divisive and combative. Serving and acting on behalf of the tzibbur be'emunah is not an easy task. It requires purity of character and ehrlichkeit of the highest level. Those are the ideals we must strive for as we seek to better our world and our communities.

Those who cause further polarizing of our community, who seek to weaken our leadership, who impugn the character of recognized anshei maalah, cannot advance anything good. They will not bring about their own advancement, either. Such actions merely strengthen the inclination for evil which lurks in the shadows of the human heart.

The character of those who foment machlokes is defined by the classic words of Rashi at the very beginning of this week’s parsha: “Resha’im halalu ra’uh velo lakchu mussar.”

Let us all utilize our G-d-given talents to spread truth, brotherly love, achdus and shalom, and thus hasten the end of this bitter golus and the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, bimeheirah beyomeinu.