Friday, May 28, 2010

Even Great People Can Err

HaGaon HaRav Yosef Soloveichik is a brilliant Talmid Chacham. That is not arguable. He may in fact be a genius. Together with his two older brothers, Rav Yosef and I attended their father, Rav Ahron Soloveichik’s Shiur at HTC for four straight years. We all received Semicha at the same time – along with the rest of our class.

But I freely admit my knowledge in comparison to his is practically negligible. Compared to him I am an Am Ha’aretz. I recall that whenever I had a question about something we learned in Shiur from his father, no matter how difficult it was, I would ask him for Peshat. He casually and nonchalantly explained it immediately in the clearest of fashion. I was in awe of his brilliance - and still am.

Later in life, after he had gotten married his Eherlchkeit led him to make a decision in life that few others would make in a similar position. While registering in the University of Chicago Law School he asked himself the question “What am I doing here?” He dropped out immediately and made Aliyah to become a Rebbe in a Yeshiva in Jerusalem, where he still lives today and continues to disseminate Torah. His Ehrilchkeit is thus closely matched to his father’s Ehrlichkeit.

He is a man who - like his father - is not afraid to tell it like it is. One can count on his views to be untainted by personal bias. Unless he is fed lies and distortions by those with their own personal biases. When that happens to anyone – even people of high caliber - tragic mistakes can be made.

I firmly believe that one such mistake was made by him in an unbelievably egregious way. Based on some bad information he has besmirched two of his father’s closest Talmidim in print several times. I have personal knowledge of how devoted and close these two individuals were to our Rebbe. In the case of one Rav Ahron told me this himself. And I have absolutely no doubt the same is true about the other.

I believe their devotion to our Rebbe is matched by very few others, including me. They have continued to be loyal to his memory and his legacy to this very day in too many ways to mention including tremendous financial support to his Yeshiva - Yeshivas Brisk - over the entire course of its existence. These two men were tremendously hurt by the words of Rav Yosef and I would urge him to re-examine the facts, re-evaluate his position, and apologize to these two Talmidim. They deserve al lot better than what he has given them. I personally do not believe that his father would have approved of Rav Yosef’s attitude at all, nor do I believe the rest of his family does.

As much as I respect and honor him, I cannot stand idly by and allow this to go un-protested. Ever since I saw his condemning words in print for the first time it has not left my consciousness. I can only guess at the pain this has caused these two individuals and their wonderful families. Nonetheless I had originally decided not to address this issue because I am always reluctant to publicly criticize anyone in my Rebbe’s family – especially someone whom I so admire.

But I have finally decided to do it now. It is long past time that I did. His views on issues of the day which he expresses on a weekly basis on a Parsha sheet called Kol Brisk are very similar to mine. In fact he is even stronger in them than I am. I have in the past wanted to quote from him but could not do so in good conscience without addressing this issue first. I have done so now.

What follows is from this week’s Kol Brisk Parsha sheet and although I agree - he puts things in a lot stronger fashion than I did. The difference is that he is a much bigger Talmid Chacham than I am. Here is the pertinent unedited excerpt:

The litvishe community today is navigated largely by the jealousies and the concerted quest for power of rabbonim and askanim and wealthy baalei batim who are in control. The result of this is chaos that gets expressed at all levels.

The leadership pretends to always be involved in advancing Torah and Yiddishkeit in the community. But in many critical and crucial issues they are viciously and insidiously beaming ayin ra’ah at different groups (baalei teshuva , working people, sefardim etc.) and distinguished individuals (rabbonim and lomdim who are greater in Torah and Yiras Shamayim than the rabbonim in power) in the community because these groups and individuals threaten their quest for power.

It is very difficult to contend with such corruption because they always conceal their jealousies and their hunger for power with the claim that they are battling with great mesiras nefesh to protect and preserve Torah and Yiddishkeit. And they declare pretentiously with great arrogance and characteristic ayin ra’ah that only they are the authentic representatives of Torah and Yiddishkeit in the world.

How does one deal with such ludicrous and nonsensical claims of a corrupt leadership that for reasons of self-interest and in a very hypocritical fashion acquiesces to problems that rack the community? Problems of child abuse, sexual abuse, the deliberate breaking-up of families, outright stealing and fraud and deception, permissive life styles and adulterous relationships etc.

But this leadership declares so pretentiously that only they – to the exclusion of great rabbonim and great talmidei chachamim - are the authentic representatives of Torah and Yiddishkeit in the world. How does one deal with such illusions and fantasies of ayin ra’ah and negativity that acquire their own vitality but are energized by concealed jealousies and a concerted clandestine quest for power?