By: Rav Yitzchok Fingerer
It is not a pleasant or easy subject to broach. However, no matter the controversy, I feel that it must be tackled and addressed. I will not prevaricate or mince words but cut to the chase. There is a deleterious phenomenon that seems to have hijacked our mosdos and Hashkofas HaChaim over the past few decades. I refer to a supercilious and pompous attitude that many espouse that some members of Klal Yisroel are better or holier than others.
Is Yiddishkeit an elitist and exclusionary religion? Should Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs be hypervigilant and super-selective when screening and scrutinizing prospective talmidim and talmidos? Should Kehillos and communities be built and predicated on such a stance?
Although there is a concept of preferential hierarchy and selectivity for Jewish civilization with regard to royalty (Malchus Beis Dovid and Moshiach) and service in the Beis HaMikdash (Kohanim and Leviim), the Torah in no way endorses or sanctions a caste system. With the exception of division of scarce resources and triage in severely extenuating circumstances, as delineated in Maseches Horayos, every Jew is mandated to love, respect and care for his fellow Jew, regardless of lineage, pedigree, knowledge or social status. The Mishna (Avos 4:17) teaches that there are three crowns. While two of the crowns (Malchus, kingship, and Kehunah, priesthood) are hereditary, the crown of Torah is acquired through hard work, toil, and character refinement. Every person is equally entitled to aspire to greatness in Torah. Any Jew, from any background, can become the Gadol Hador.
Living mutually exclusive of our fellow Yidden is very perilous to our survival as a people.
Purim is coming. We’re all aware of that fact that Haman and Achashverosh plotted a mass extinction of Klal Yisroel. It was the first attempted large scale genocide against our people. What precipitated this? Why were we so vulnerable to being almost decimated?
Rav Yonoson Eibushetz zt”l and the Vilna Gaon zt”l explain that while we were exiled in Persia we stood separate and apart from each other. There were different factions and sects of Klal Yisroel that did not respect one another. We weren’t inclusive, tolerant or unified.
The panacea for the Yidden of Persia was Esther’s immortal charge to Mordechai, “Lech Kenos Es Kol Hayehudim– Go gather all the Jews together.” In other words, they should be unified and stop discriminating. Let the Jews know that to Haman a Jew was a Jew. Haman, like Hitler, thousands of years later, didn’t discriminate between Jews. Neither should the Jews discriminate against each other. They need to stand in solidarity and respect one another, despite their differences.
Today, Persia, as embodied by modern day Iran is poised to strike again. We need to stop being insular and start looking beyond our bubble. We need to get our act together and start really caring and sharing with others who don’t necessarily fit our mold.
The Chofetz Chayim, zt”l, in his sefer Chomas Hadas published in the 1920s, brings a powerful example of Areivus. After 120 years, a person goes up to Shamayim and is asked why he didn’t keep Shabbos. He protests that he did keep Shabbos faithfully throughout his entire life, meticulously observing both the letter and spirit of its laws. But the heavenly Beis Din challenges him, questioning him about people who did not keep Shabbos. Did he reach out to them and try to draw them near to observance of Shabbos and the ways of Torah? If not, he is judged as having failed to keep Shabbos. I believe that the Chofetz Chayim conclusively and patently disproves and repudiates the myth that one can live in one’s own “daled amos” or that one’s ruchniyus supersedes the general needs of Klal Yisroel. This is precisely why it is so critical to either reach out to our fellow Yidden, Kerovim and Rechokim in need of chizuk, or to be a Zevulun and support the organizations that do.
Our communities are teeming with Jews on the fringe, who have no affiliation or connection to Yiddishkeit. We need to try harder to be mekarev Yidden and increase Ahavas Yisroel. You may just end up saving lives.
Rav Yitzchok Fingerer is the Morah D’Asra of BJX Beis HaMedrash and Kiruv Centers (www.helpbjx.com). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of Strengthen Your Emunah (Feldheim).