Monday, September 24, 2012

the zechus of being able to feel the pain of the community

Dirshu Hashem b’himatz’o, kira’u’hu b’hiyoso karov – Chazal darshen this pasuk as referring to the aseres y’mei teshuvah, when Hashem is closest. The irony of course is that it’s when Hashem is far away that you need to call out to him. When Hashem is close, you shouldn’t need to seek and cry out – He is right here with us.  So why does the pasuk tell us to cry out precisely at this time?

The answer is that davka if you feel Hashem is close – your life is A-OK and you don’t need to change too much during these aseres ymei teshuvah – then davka you need to call out and seek Hashem the most, because sadly you haven’t even gotten to step aleph which is to realize just how far from Him you are holding and how much work you have to do.

I know before Rosh haShana I said I would discuss a R’ Elchanan, but I’ve given up on it. Writing here is just a hobby, so if putting finger to keyboard seems like a chore instead of something I feel inspired to do, I just don't have time for it. When the world is in the condition it is, it seems like splitting hairs over fine points in a difficult Rambam or sugya is like fiddling while Rome burns. It’s not the right attitude to take, but I wouldn’t be intellectually honest if I told you I felt otherwise or I preached to you to feel otherwise while not being able to do so myself. So much is not A-OK, so much derisha and kri’ah to Hashem is needed that the task seems overwhelming.

Another week gone by, another few Jews attacked.  Molotov cocktails were thrown at a kosher supermarket in France. Swastikas and "kill the Jews" were spray painted on buildings in NJ.  Terrorism is ongoing in Israel.  What do you expect? When the response to rioting is apology and appeasement, when threats to our existence are described as just “noise” not worthy of serious consideration, this is the natural result. We should expect no sympathy from the world, no media coverage beyond a passing headline. It’s just Jews being threatened or killed. Yawn.

Where is the outrage in our community? Where is the sense of urgency? Where is our cry for the world to do something about Iran? Where is the call for justice for our brethren being killed and discriminated against? It may in the end not help, we may be ignored anyway, but to let things slide without even a whimper…. ?

Rav Kook writes in Orot Teshuvah (ch 13., loose translation by me):
It is impossible to truly empathize with the suffering of the community unless one sanctifies his ways, perfects his character, and does complete repentance. To feel in one’s heart the suffering of the community is itself a reward (schar mitzvah) which only those pure, innocent souls who walk in the ways of Toras Hashem merit.
On the one hand, Rav Kook’s words make me feel a little better. It’s a zechus, a madreiga, to fell the pain of others, and obviously not everyone can be zocheh. But on the other hand, I think it would be a mistake to read Rav Kook as giving us a pat on the back and telling us not to worry if we don’t feel outrage because we yet a bar hachi. Aderaba, Rav Kook is telling us that it is our lack of teshuvah that is preventing us from feeling that pain. We should aspire and strive and do the teshuvah necessary to have those feelings if we yet lack them.

We said in slichos this morning (and we will say again at Ne’ila) – “Ezkira Elokim v’ahemya, b’rosi kol ir al tilah benuya, v’ir haElokim mushpeles at she’ol tachtiya.” Translated literally, the slicha calls for us to cry over the difference between Yerushalayim, “Ir haElokim,” which remains in ruins, and all other cities, which flourish and grow. The Chozeh m’Lublin (quoted in Shem m’Shmuel), however, homiletically explained the word “ir” as stemming from the same root as “uru,” awaken. Every other “ir,” every other movement and –ism manages to arouse and awaken its followers to champion the cause. However, “ir haElokim,” to be awakened and aroused for the sake of avodas Hashem, this somehow remains “mushpeles,” degraded, ignored, and in ruins. There is no one willing to step forward to champion our cause, and even our own people remain silent.

We seem communally to have a sense of apathy and indifference toward the dangers that face us as well as the overall plight of mankind these days, which is none too cheery.  Why is that?  I would suggest that in a word, what is lacking is vision. There is no end of hand wringing over details.  People are writing seforim hundreds of pages long not over sugyos like rov and chazakah, but over things like netilas yadayim.  I'm not suggesting this is a bad thing -- all Torah is great -- but it is but a fine, fine brush stroke in the larger paining of yahadus.  The problem is that no one -- and I mean no one -- is presenting a vision of what the larger painting is.  There is no attempt to articulate a broader philosophical framework that can translate into solutions to the many challenges -- economic, intellectual, political -- of modern life.  

There is much more to say on that,  but I'll cut myself short here.  I've been rewriting this various ways for an hour and keep cutting chunks out and I still don't know if I succeeded in doing anything other than ranting.  I apologize for being a little depressing here and ask your mechila as well for all the other posts you may have had complaints about during the year and any comments you didn't like.  May we all be zocheh this Yom Kippur to a gmar chasima tova, may Hashem opens our hearts and minds so we have that broader vision of what Torah is all about, may there be an end to the tzaros facing our communities, and may we merit a geulah sheleima.


  1. Bob Miller9:41 AM

    I think many of us do feel the pain of the klal in these times. We're looking for a way out and don't see a "natural" one as being available. If that focuses us better on teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah, we might have the zchus to see a supernatural way out.

  2. chaim b.12:22 PM

    I don't see how you can say a natural way out is not available before exhausting every method of hishtadlus available. L'havdil, if there was a whiff of some incident involving a black, Jesse Jackson would be in front of every news camera crying for justice as if the world was coming to an end. I just don't see the same sense of alarm in our community or the same type response in response to the situation we are in. Where are the sitins, the civil disobedience arrests, the op-eds to the newspapers, the protests -- am I just missing it all?

  3. I remember reading, some years ago, in a very well read blog, that the author looked back at all the mass tefilla gatherings and found that they made not a whit of difference as far as he could see. I guess you could say "Ah, but in the hidden world...." or, "But you don't know what worse things were prevented...." but that would be like whistling in the dark. What I think is that to daven, you have to be a maamin, and not just a fair weather maamin, and davening means your mind is storming and your heart is burning. I don't know if it matters how loud you daven, or how aerobically you shukle. I do think that the real power of tefilla is the hardest of all to engage, because it requires deep, deep emuna and thought-out hashkafos. davka to the point where volume is a distraction.

  4. Very relevant:

  5. "The problem is that no one -- and I mean no one -- is presenting a vision of what the larger painting is. There is no attempt to articulate a broader philosophical framework that can translate into solutions to the many challenges -- economic, intellectual, political -- of modern life."

    This is something that I have been thinking but unable really to articulate clearly.