Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Prioritizing the Trivial

Guest Contribution by Rabbi Baruch Turkieltaub*

One among similar portraits once available at Walmart
A few days ago, I discussed a deplorable facet of Satmar Chinuch with respect to the State of Israel.

In short I condemned the indoctrination of their very young children to hate the State of Israel and its leaders. I also condemned how in their summer camps - they taught them to act on that animus by setting up a mock scenario of the Israeli Prime Minister being driven in a car though a crowd - and giving campers eggs with which to pelt his vehicle while shouting, ‘Bibi Netanyahu, shame on you!’

That generated the following communication from a prominent Charedi personality who shared some misgivings about the broader Charedi community. For obvious reasons he prefers to remain anonymous. I have featured his thoughts here before. I truly value his opinion even when we disagree.  In this instance as in many instances before, I thought them worthy of sharing with my readers.  So I asked for - and received - permission to post it as a guest contribution. His thoughts follow:

I agree with you about the horrific legacy that contemporary Satmar displays as if it is the will of Reb Yoelish.  We might fault him for leaving that impression, if it is for us to have such opinions. Personally, I shudder at the nastiness with the ensuing chilul Hashem that are dominant features in present day Satmar. 

However, I am one that does not see this as (only) a Satmar problem, though they certainly have their unique portrayal of a much larger issue.  The real problem flaunts itself in every frum community, and each specific community has its own flavor.

Frum Yidden have flipped around the missions and goals, affording far more significance to trivia, and trivializing the real ones. 

Our Ani Maamins order things properly,  We make no mention of neviim until after we have made it thoroughly clear about Hashem’s dominance, His Torah, etc.  HKB”H (God) has never had a problem with Yidden having a leader.  After all, He created them.  He designated Moshe Rabbeinu, set up Aharon to be Kohen Gadol, nesiim, 70 zekeinim, etc.  Each leader has a specific task list and responsibility.  None of them was to approach the importance of HKB”H Himself. 

As a community, we have watched this wither away.  We glorify, almost worship photos of all of these leaders.  Every event has become the subject of numerous photographers, from nichum aveilim, to simchos, Chanukah licht, hatoras nedarim, Kinos on Tish’a B’Av, etc.  

This has come at the steep price of shrinking the respect given to HKB”H.  I recently commented to a good friend  that a quick walk though the buildings of their mosdos reveals a substantial number of large, framed photos of their rebbe (estimate anywhere between 25-40).  In all of those buildings, just how many Shivisis are found? (The signs that say שויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד.  They can glorify their rebbe.  But do their yeshivas push the agenda of Emunoh in Hashem?)  

We have regressed to a childish “hero worship” that has extended far beyond the concepts of Kavod HaTorah, Emunas Tzaddikim, or any of the great maamorim about the role of the tzaddik that are found in the many sifrei chassidus (in particular the Noam Elimelech).  The secular teenager who adorns the walls of his room with posters of various celebrities, whether actors, sports figures, etc., is quite similar to the obsession with photos of Gedolim.

Reb Yoelish had his shittah about Zionism.  I have followed others with different shittos, and I can respect his.  But the nonsense we view today is not truly his shittah at all.  It is an obsession, one that makes the vilifying Zionism the most important mitzvah, which is a grave distortion of the true shittah. 

Neturei Karta that began with a mission to safeguard the kedusha has turned into a hate group, which has flipped over Torah values on its head. 

Some years ago, I heard a story that a Satmar chossid informed the rebbe (Reb Yoelish) that he had a nephew who was in IDF and was killed in battle.  Reb Yoelish began to cry.  This chossid then told the rebbe that he thought he would make him happy with the news.  The Rebbe was enraged.  A Yid was killed and I should be happy!?  The Chassidim seem to have failed miserably in getting the message.

I have been personally embarrassed at what the Litvishe velt has done to their Gedolim.  Almost none of them ever say shiurim anymore.  Very, very little of their wisdom or learning is shared with us.  All they are busy with is “photo-ops”.  Appearances at simchos, where they are given (often well deserved) kibudim, visits to everywhere where they are followed by teams of cameramen, and other events where their appearances involve less from them than candidates seeking election.  The chitzoniyus is all there.  And we are addicted to viewing all the photos in virtually every single publication, from print, to digital.  I question whether all this is contributing anything positive to our existence.  I fear that we have violated the Torah prohibition of לא תעשה לך פסל וכל תמונה.

The “pomp and glamour” of many events, particularly weddings of celebrity families is inciting.  I am apt to recall the wedding of Prince Charles, and the extravagance that ended in divorce and pain for all.  There is an air of competition that has no place in Klal Yisroel.  Does anyone really believe that this fulfills Ratzon Hashem?

Satmar misplaces their energy into this anti-Zionism nonsense.  Others divert their energies into other things of dubious value. 

This is one of the challenging nisyonos of today’s generation.  Everything must look good for the pictures.  Have you noticed the many photos of people of stature dancing at weddings?  When was the last one that exhibited a smile?  I always see them scowling, as if they are busy in dveikus with HKB”H by doing the mitzvah of being mesameyach a chosson. 

How ‘terrible’ it might be if they were happy for the simcha and indicated this with a facial expression of joy!  It would be awful for the pictures.  Is this where we have fallen?  Just what chinuch do we give our children?  Is it about Torah, or have we shrunk to the “hero worship” like the sports stars?

* Not his real name