Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Purim Pride

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Purim came, Purim went, but what did it do to us? A day spent in prayer, study, and mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro brings joy to Jews of all ages. From the delivery and receipt of mishloach manos to the raising and contributing of matanos la’evyonim, Purim brings out the best in everyone. People spend hours on end writing checks, distributing much-needed funds to impoverished brothers, who are grateful for the donation. Music blares, feet fly high in the air, costumes elicit smiles, and the seudas Purim brings the sometimes hidden joy to the fore.

And then it comes to a halt. The food is gone, the bottles are empty, the music stops playing, and daily life returns. We go back to fighting our old battles, more motivated than ever to slay our dragons. Newly ambitious and charged to excel in what we do, we aim to be better people and better Yidden.

On Purim, we noted that there were many obvious differences between Haman and the Jews he despised. The Gemara (Megillah 13b) quotes Rava as saying that there was no one as expert as Haman in “lishna bisha,” which would appear to be the Aramaic term for lashon hara. Rava’s intention is not to intone that Haman was proficient in lashon hara. Rather, he is stating that Haman excelled in utilizing words of spite and derision to express his contempt for and to undermine the Jewish people. He was the ultimate demagogue.

The Chasam Sofer explains that the victory of Purim was rooted in the fact that Haman was a hate-monger. He employed scornful words to advance his evil cause. His opponents, Mordechai and Esther, were descendants of Binyomin, whose expertise could be found in his ability to remain silent. The stone of Binyomin on the Choshen was known as the “yoshpeh.” Chazal interpret the stone’s name as referring to Binyomin’s special attribute: “Yesh peh, v’eino medaber.” Literally, this means that he had a mouth, but chose to remain silent. Binyomin’s silence allowed him to advance.

After Shmuel Hanovi anointed Shaul as king, the progeny of Binyomin, he didn’t brag to anyone about his new position. Esther, as well, heeded the command of Mordechai and did not divulge her birthplace and nationality to Achashveirosh.

Each month of the year corresponds to one of the twelve shevotim. Adar corresponds to the last of the shevotim, Binyomin. His middah of silence conquered and vanquished Haman’s rhetoric of hate.

One of the oft-repeated canards of the apologist movement comprised of the Jews who wish to save us from ourselves is that the silent chareidi majority agrees with them but is afraid to express their true feelings, lest they be ostracized for disagreeing with the position of gedolim. Those who claim to really care about us paint a picture of a ruling class that terrorizes the rest of the community into submission and fear of retribution if they step out of line.

In their progressive circles, they claim, there is freedom of expression and tolerance for opposing views. Every person is entitled to his own opinion and there is respect - one of their buzzwords - even in disagreement. Broad-mindedness and intellectual honesty are their property, they say. We, they claim, cower in fear of expressing what is really in our hearts.

The yarmulka-wearing Yesh Atid MK who learned in American yeshivos and is determined to impede Torah study in the Holy Land justifies his actions by stating that thousands of anonymous chareidim send him emails and leave him messages with expressions of support for his agenda. He claims that the faceless mass of unhappy chareidim are scared to publicly support him, but manage to communicate messages of encouragement to their fearless champion. He says that they are begging him to save them from their leaders, and he is doing everything in his power to oblige them, because he cares so deeply about them and about the State of Israel.

Meet Yoni Chetboun. A bright, affable young man, a father of six, who joined the Bayit Yehudi party with dreams of bringing about positive change. Born to French parents and raised in Nahariya, he is a product of the military and deeply sincere, and he seemed to have what it takes to make a difference. He was appointed deputy speaker in this Knesset, a prominent position for a thirty-four-year-old fellow. The future seemed bright for the young politician.

Until last week. That’s when Chetboun did the unthinkable sin of voting according to his conscience. He broke with his party on the bill to draft yeshiva students. The punishment came quickly. Party leader Naftali Bennett removed him from the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and Chetboun was banned from introducing any private bill in the Knesset during the first six weeks of the summer session.

Banned for speaking his mind? Isn’t that what they say about us? Retribution for being gutsy? Lack of respect because he opposed the party bosses?

Chetboun was soundly disciplined for following the path he thinks is right - or, more accurately, for rejecting a path he thinks is wrong. And for that he was castigated, attacked, vilified and scorned by his open-minded, progressive coalition partners. It would seem that their agenda of hate is fueled by the very narrow-mindedness they love to accuse us of possessing.

For one day, for one person, the word Yehudi belonged in the name of the party. Ish Yehudi is expounded by Chazal to mean ish yechidi. Mordechai Hatzaddik stood alone, firm in his original beliefs.

Chetboun showed his independence, his yechidus, and is being treated as a pariah and shunned like a leper.

What was it that changed inside Yoni Chetboun? What stirred him to rethink his party’s position and get in touch with his own internal compass?

I don’t profess to know, but I imagine that the sentiment was something like this.

A tourist visiting Yerushalayim was staying at a prominent hotel and noticed a particular collector hanging around the lobby and soliciting hotel guests for donations. The American knew the persistent collector and doubted that the money he was hounding the guests for ended up in the coffers of the legitimate charity the man claimed to represent. The visitor decided to notify the hotel management about the solicitor. After all, it was against hotel policy to solicit guests in the lobby as they came and went. The manager appeared on the scene and instructed the collector to leave.

The man was later wondering if he was justified in having the collector evicted from the hotel. When he returned home, he asked his rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Svei zt”l, if what he did was proper. He had protected guests from a collector who wasn’t totally truthful, but for some reason his conscience nagged at him. He felt that perhaps he shouldn’t have gotten involved.

Rav Elya replied by quoting a Gemara in Maseches Shabbos that lists a series of lessons taught by Rebbi Yosi using the words “yehei chelki, meaning “may my portion be” with those who engage in various positive actions. One of the groups Rebbi Yosi expressed a wish to be among was the moshivei bais medrash, those who seat talmidim in the bais medrash, rather than the ma’amidei bais medrash, those who remind the talmidim when to go home from the bais medrash. Rashi explains that the function of the ma’amidei bais medrash was to remind the talmidim when mealtime approached.

The rosh yeshiva commented: “The ma’amidei bais medrash weren’t reminding the talmidim to go home to relax, but to eat, perhaps spend time with their families, and engage in other holy pursuits. What, then, was the misfortune of being a ma’amid, rather than a moshiv? Both groups were engaged in helping talmidim do mitzvos.”

Explained Rav Elya, “Veist doch ois, it would seem, az ess iz duh mitzvos vos men ken zei lozzen fahr andere, there are mitzvos that you can leave for someone else to do.”

The wise answer was that Rebbi Yosi taught that even though reminding talmidim when it is time to go home and eat is important, it doesn’t approach the merit of being the one to remind talmidim that it is time to learn.

Perhaps Yoni Chetboun made that calculation. Perhaps he considered that he should leave the mitzvah of chasing people out of the bais medrash for others. Maybe he decided that it would be more meritorious to help usher people into the bais medrash, rather than force them to leave.

Last week tens of thousands flooded the streets of Lower Manhattan to daven on behalf of Eretz Yisroel’s lomdei Torah. They were peaceful and respectful. There were no speeches, no signs, and nothing any haters could mockingly point to. But that didn’t stop them. The same gang who is always ready to pounce on our community responded to the rally in force. One pounced and sent out a Twitter breaking news alert, stating that “50 Thousand Haredim March So Only Other Jews Die in War.”

The same group who refers to us as hate-filled displayed once again what drives them in their campaign against yeshiva bochurim. Some things are expected and others are outrageous and beyond the pale. People can disagree, but to call 50,000 frum, peaceful people murderers because they gathered to daven is abhorrent.

The fellow who wrote that brilliant headline summed up his argument against the vilified chareidim like this: “That, essentially, is the main argument being advanced by the deans of Haredi yeshivos: We have no trust in the Torah we’ve taught our students. We know better. This is why the only means we have of keeping them in line are extreme social pressure and intimidation. You take those away and Joe will spring the trap and become a normal man, availing himself freely of the gifts of a modern society. We can’t afford that.

“The post-Holocaust Haredi world is all about fear. Fear of new things. Fear of books. Fear of voices. And above all, fear that the education a young man receives during his 20 years in a Haredi yeshiva is worthless, because as soon as he encounters the outside world, those 20 years would vanish, melt away like cholov Yisroel butter on a skillet.”

There you have it. It is obvious that a war is being waged on the chareidi community in Israel. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. A government that takes milk and bread out of the mouths of its poorest infants to further any goal cannot be considered to be working for their benefit.

A government and parliament that says it will jail yeshiva bochurim who refuse to be drafted is all about political expediency. If Shas would have received three more seats in the Knesset, its members would be prominent ministers, chareidim would be praised, yeshivos would be funded, and Bibi would be the savior. But because Mr. Netanyahu needed the Religious-Zionist Bayit Yehudi party of Yoni Chetboun to form his coalition, and because that group sealed an unbreakable bond with the ultra-anti-religious party of Yair Lapid, all of a sudden, Bibi’s natural partners became muktzah machmas mius. All of Israel’s problems were caused by the hated chareidim who, apparently, want everyone to die for them to live. Because of the way the coalition was formed, yeshiva bochurim must go to jail, poor children must starve, goyim must be recorded as Yidden, irreligious tallis-and-tefillin-clad women must be given a spot to pray at Judaism’s most holy site, and brother must be turned against brother.

A government that was conceived in sin, brought about through creating a coalition between left-wing and right-wing brothers with one common interest, cutting the chareidi community down to size, cannot be excused as being interested in the pursuit of some higher goal. Torah has been the lifeblood of our people since the beginning, and those who refuse to recognize what it is that creates our identity and sets us apart as a nation are fooling themselves and denying history and fact.

There is no way that anyone who knows anything about Yair Lapid and his agenda can view what is transpiring in Eretz Yisroel any differently. The man’s stated goal is the marginalization of religion in the Jewish state, and he has set out to punish chareidim in every way governmentally possible. Besides seeking to destroy the chareidim, he also has his sights set on other aspects of Jewish life in that country, from the rabbinate, to Shabbos, to kashrus, to geirus, and everything in-between. It is ridiculous to accept that anyone who proudly works with him, praises him, stands alongside him, and agitates for him can be anything but an enemy of religion, no matter how much they smile or in which words and language they couch their rhetoric.

Every gadol, every rov, every rosh yeshiva, every frum politician, every frum person in Israel, and anybody in this country who is aware of anything that is going on knows full well what the Yesh Atid party is all about. Yet, our enemies have the nerve to call us murderers and lecture us about ahavat Yisrael and other good things.

How dare they!

Those who stoke fires, create diversions, and fuel division in the pursuit of any goal expose themselves as guilty of hypocrisy and a refusal to examine the real facts the way they are. Throughout the ages, we have been victimized by blood libels. It is shameful that religious people are now utilizing the methods of Eisov and tactics of Haman to further their agendas.

The people who give those speeches, write those articles, and post and publish them are using their words to further their battle against the much despised lomdei Torah.

While Yoni Chetboun was suffering for standing by an age-old principle, happiness flowed through the community where people are supposedly scared to be honest.

I would have loved to invite the Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi leadership and their fawning pundits to the house of any rosh yeshiva, rov or rebbe on Purim. The scene is similar. They would have seen a Purim seudah where a leader sits at the head of the table. All around are talmidim, chassidim, children and friends. Everywhere, lechaims are being poured, and with the “nichnas yayin,” words come forth freely, emotions unchecked. In every home, Purim brings forth the feelings and ideas that are dormant throughout the year. Purim is a day when people say what they mean and express their true feelings unencumbered.

One would imagine that such an exercise would spawn all sorts of negative speech, giving expression to all the frustration and fear latent in the chareidi heart. Yet, what we heard, saw and experienced in our own communities was the very opposite. We saw a burning desire for more. More Torah, more yiras Shomayim, a purer heart, and a deeper connection with the Ribbono Shel Olam.

Standing at Oorah’s mesibas Purim in Lakewood, a young bochur came over to me. “Do you know where the next gedolim are going to come from?” he asked me. Not waiting for my response, he answered his own question. “It’s going to be from the bochurim you see dancing here with you. We are the future.”

He’s right.

“But listen,” he continued. “It’s hard for us. We need to be motivated. We look to people like you to keep us motivated. You always write about how hard gedolim work and how important they are to our people. That’s all true and it is important to drive that point home. But people have to also appreciate bochurim and know how hard we work and know that our success is integral for Klal Yisroel’s future.”

He finished with an appeal: “We need chizuk. We need people to be mechazeik us.”

The next generation needs to know that we have faith in them. And we do. Speaking to a bochur like that on a night like Purim makes us proud and demonstrates what is great about our people.

Roshei yeshivos and rebbes confidently refill cups, knowing that the words they are inviting will make them proud and that the overwhelming aspiration of the day will be al taster ponecha mimeni. The only question asked will be, “Mah ashiv loch, vehakol sheloch.

Might it be that the secular camp and their Orthodox enablers are the inciters? Might it be that those who so vehemently decry the chareidi leadership are guilty of far worse?

It is interesting that last week, they were exposed. The Israeli Supreme Court bought into the provocation and nullified the results of the Beit Shemesh elections earlier this winter. They ruled that since there was fraud involved in the election in which Mayor Moshe Abutbul was reelected, it could be assumed that the mayor was voted in fraudulently and illegally. Therefore, the city would have to hold new elections. At great cost to the government and taxpayers, and ignoring the tremendous waste of time, energy and limited resources, new elections were held. The secularists were ecstatic at this Supreme Court-sanctioned opportunity to expose the chareidim. They would embarrass them and show the whole country, once and for all, just how underhanded the chareidim and their operatives really are.

But a funny thing happened. Despite mountains of vitriolic words heaped against them, the chareidim won again. With the eyes of the country and its lawmen upon the city, Abutbul triumphed for a second time. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman received word of the victory and expressed satisfaction, saying, “May this kiddush Hashem be mesakein for the chillul Hashem incurred by the draft law.”

Rav Shteinman perceived the win as a kiddush Hashem because of the message it sent: Chareidim are good, honest citizens, and your government-approved witch-hunt and attempt to undermine them has failed.

It’s Adar. The mandate to rejoice continues after Purim, as we are in the period between one geulah and the other, a season of Divine favor and grace.

May our simcha increase as we witness the steady triumph of ovdei Hashem and the sweet, sincere, holy community who reveres their words and ideals.

Let us do what we can to motivate those, both young and old, whose dedication makes the difference in our growth. Let us daven for those dear to us who are in need of refuos and yeshuos.

Let us make sure that we are on the correct path, doing what is really important, finding fulfillment through positive actions and growth, and adhering to the code of Binyomin in the way of Mordechai and Esther, the heroes of the Purim story.

Let us have nachas from our families, and from ourselves, a whole year round.


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