Monday, January 27, 2014

A Bad Attitude

A Mehudar Esrog
One of the biggest flaws in the thinking of the Charedi world was demonstrated in letter published in Hamodia. It was noted by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein in a post on Cross Currents  where he ‘agreed’ with that letter while his tongue was firmly implanted in his cheek.

I have noticed this myself many times.  The focus of this segment of the Torah world is almost exclusively on Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Makom… otherwise known as ritual. What that letter writer did was write a critical letter to Hamodia about their addition of ZL at the end of Ariel Sharon’s name.  ZL is a Hebrew acronym for Zichrono L’Vracha roughly meaning ‘of blessed memory’. This honorific is usually added to someone’s name when mentioned posthumously.

The letter writer took umbrage at that. How dare a religious newspaper bless the memory of an irreligious Jew. Sharon was not ‘observant’ and therefore – even as a proud Jew did not practice what he was proud of.

Rabbi Adlerstein correctly points out that he did in fact practice his Judaism even though he was not observant in the traditional sense of the word.  And that Sharon deserved that honorific for all the great things he had done for his people. They were in fact Mitzvos called Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chavero.  And many of them were done at great personal sacrifice.

I would posit that anyone who served in the Israeli military in any of kind of conflict is on a very high level of Mitzvah observance. That is what putting one’s life on the line for their people gets you. I wonder if that letter writer had ever put his line on the life that way. I tend to doubt it. And yet he had the nerve to reject the notion that Sharon deserved to have his memory honored in this way.

I do not see this as an isolated case of one letter writer. Hamodia ended up apologizing for their ‘error’. Never again will they deign to say that the memory of a non Shomer Shabbos Jew’s name should be blessed.

This is the mindset of the Charedi world, unfortunately. I know they will protest and claim to be as observant of the Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro (BALC) as they are of Miztvos Bein Adam L’Makom (BALM). That may be true. But I am equally sure that they do not value them the same way. That is obvious by the letter and Hamodia’s apology.

For the Charedi world, piety is seen in ritual terms. The more Mehudar (being careful in performing the ritual in the best way possible) one is - the more pious they are.  So that when it comes to buying an Esrog, they go to great lengths and expense to find the ‘perfect’ Esrog.  Or they may spend copious amounts of time in prayer. Or obsess about matters of Tznius in male female relationships or interaction of any sort.

But when it comes to things like saving a Jewish life or putting your life on the line for your people, this, it seems is not a religious matter to them… and undeserving of a posthumous honor like blessing his memory.

Now I am of course not saying that we should not be Mehudar in doing Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Makom.  There is nothing wrong and everything right about being as meticulous as one can about ritual observance. I know many Modern Orthodox Jews who are as careful about these Miztvos as any Charedi. But God does not want only those Mitzvos to be observed with fervor. He wants the Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro to be just as valued, if not more so. In fact it is harder to do Teshuva for violations of  BALC than it is to do Teshuva for violations of BALM. God will accept sincere Tesuva in ritual matters. But in matters between man and his fellow sincerity to God is not enough. He will not accept Teshuva until the issue is first resolved with one’s fellow.

The Bikur Cholim Society of a Satmar is seen as a wonderful fulfillment of BALC. I agree that it is. But an irreligious solider that dedicates his life to serving his people and that saved countless lives via his military service gets no credit at all for that as Mitzvah fulfillment. When it comes to extolling piety, it is the man who is most attentive to ritual that is described that way. A man who is most attentive to the well being of his fellow is not really seen as pious unless he is pious in his ritual behavior. If he does not observe ritual at all, then he is undeserving of any praise religiously. This is wrong.

A non observant Jew is able to be Koneh Olam HaBah B’Shah Achas - achieve their eternal reward – in a single moment.  A reward that is equal to those of us who have been ritually observant all of our lives.   And that moment usually involves sacrifice in the area of BALC. I’ve heard countless stories like this that happened during the Holocaust.

Judaism would be far better served if the Charedi world would recognize that being meticulous in ritual alone is not what makes a Jew pious. As the Kotzker Rebbe points out in last week’s Torah portion on the words, Anshei Kodesh Tehiyun Li - And you should be Men of Holiness to Me  (Shemos 22:30). God wants His people to be ‘men’ first. Because only when you are first men, can you then be holy.