By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
When the Maskilim fought against frum Yidden, rabbonim and yeshivos, their professed intentions were to enhance Yiddishkeit, not hurt it. I have always wondered whether they really believed that if their advice were followed and their “tikkunim” implemented, Yiddishkeit would be improved. In fact, what they did accomplish was to weaken the Jewish people and religion.
The record shows that wherever they succeeded, destruction followed in their wake. Yeshivos were destroyed, communities were weakened, and the position of the rabbinate was seriously undermined. We are still paying the price – over a century later – for the “improvements” they instituted.
Parallels can be drawn between those tragic mistakes and the dire situation facing Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin today. The debacle began when a doctored-up PETA video, depicting so-called abuse of animals at Agriprocessors, was picked up by the secular Jewish media, who then seized upon it to mount a crusade against the company.
Though the Agriprocessors meat-packing plant was one of the cleanest and safest of its kind in the country, and upheld the most humane standards, the government observed that prominent Jewish voices had bought into the libelous reports and were questioning the plant’s commitment to Jewish law.
That spurred detractors to attack Agrirocessors without risk of a Jewish backlash. Federal investigators proceeded to do so with a vengeance. While Jewish fingers pointed and Jewish tongues wagged, the destruction of the slaughtering house that had brought so much benefit to American Jews from coast to coast was set in motion.
The battle, in reality, was over shechitah, but people were swept up with the rhetoric and fell for the ruse. Did they mean to do bad? Did they realize they were playing into the hands of evil forces by joining the chorus of denunciation against a facility wrongly maligned as a “jungle”?
When the government indicted Sholom Mordechai on over 9,000 counts of child labor, his detractors felt vindicated. That action supported the charges that he was a reckless lawbreaker. People felt justified in publicly disparaging him and calling for his ouster.
Where were those people when the 9,000 counts were reduced to 86? How do they explain their actions against Sholom Mordechai in light of the ongoing state trial? The government’s case rests on the unreliable testimony of illegal aliens whose self-evident lies, bought with the promise of work permits and visas, have brought disgrace to the state.
Where are all of Sholom Mordechai’s pious critics? Are they expressing public statements of remorse? Are they contrite about having contributed to the feeding frenzy of an impeccably good, charitable man and his family?
When people act without Torah guidance, the consequences of their actions are not always in sync with their intentions. Oftentimes, the result of what appeared to be well intentioned laudatory activity is in direct contradiction to the hoped-for result. One who acts outside of the parameters of halacha and mesorah can expect repercussions which are the antithesis of the stated objective.
When Moshe Rabbeinu sent the meraglim to scout out Eretz Yisroel and they came back badmouthing the Land of Israel, how many expressed regret for doing so? How many wept for telling the Bnei Yisroel that the Promised Land was anything but that? Did they cry as they told the people that Eretz Yisroel consumed its residents? How pained were they when they reported that the people who lived there were “anshei middos” whom they could never defeat in battle?
Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Moshe that if he was inclined to send spies to scout out the land of Canaan, he should send anoshim chashuvim, important people. Hashem didn’t tell him to send people versed in military strategy and agrarian technique. He told him to send the most choshuveh members of Klal Yisroel, for when you send small-minded people on a mission, they will always get sidetracked by their own petty negios. They will mislead people because of their delusions of grandeur and political ambition. Before you know it, the masses will be deluded into rebellion against their leaders and will cause a bechiyah ledoros.
Despite their stature, the distinguished individuals chosen as the meraglim could not rise above their own self-centered agendas.
Parshas Shelach comes after Parshas Beha’aloscha, Rashi explains from the Tanchumah, to teach that the meraglim failed to learn the lesson from the incident with Miriam, who was punished for wrongly accusing her bother Moshe of acting improperly. The meraglim did not learn to judge favorably and to avoid thinking and speaking derogatorily of others.
The Rambam writes in his peirush on Pirkei Avos (1:6) that if you see a righteous, upstanding individual perform an act which appears to be incorrect, you must try to be melamed zechus even if the only way to do so is through difficult reasoning that stretches the imagination.
All the more so when the person referenced is a leader or your rebbi. For, as Chazal say (Sanhedrin 110a), “One who argues with his rebbi is as if he argued with the Shechinah… Whoever causes a rift with his rebbi is as if he caused a rift with the Shechinah… One who complains about the actions of his rebbi is as if he complained about the Shechinah… Whoever thinks ill of his rebbi is as if he would be thinking ill of the Shechinah.”
The meraglim, in this week’s parsha, and Korach in next week’s, had no problem speaking against Moshe. They complained about him, acted against him, and sought to foment a rebellion against him. They thought they could publicly impugn the character of Moshe and not only escape Hashem’s wrath, but assume higher positions of leadership among the Jewish people.
They may have had the best of intentions, but the Torah calls them wicked people. For all time, they are derided for the negative spin they gave their experiences in the land flowing with milk and honey, and the way they killed the Jewish people’s desire for that land.
For making the nation feel rudderless and instigating them to rebel against their leadership, the meraglim caused the Jews to wander aimlessly in exile an additional forty years. They brought death upon themselves and the Jews who swallowed their propaganda.
The only survivors of the entire ordeal were Yehoshua and Kaleiv, who stubbornly clung to Moshe and the word of Hashem as transmitted through him. They earned the enmity of the enraged masses who sought to stone them for their fidelity to Hashem and Moshe, but they subsequently entered Eretz Yisroel and merited long life and eternal praise.
Quite often, the rabble-rousers sound convincing. Everyone rallies around them. The actions of leadership, of the Moshe Rabbeinus of the generation, can be difficult to fathom, and the masses are easily incited to oppose them. It takes men of the caliber of Yehoshua and Kaleiv to learn the lessons taught by Miriam and our righteous forbears to step into the lurch and warn us to review our actions and not fall prey to demagoguery, false interpretations and outright lies.
Yes, there is room for dissent and for people to advocate for change. Of course we should seek steady improvement and attempt to influence for the better. But it must be done according to halacha and in the proper forums. Attacking frum Yidden publicly is wrong. Attacking rabbonim, manhigim and roshei yeshivos for standing in your way is wrong. Employing personal attacks and vendettas, coupled by sinas chinom, lashon harah, rechilus and other aveiros, is inexcusable and can trigger dire consequences.
“Chachomim hizharu bedivreichem.” Advocates for change would do well to reexamine their motives and actions and ensure that they do not betray Jewish history and jurisprudence. Regardless of motivation, when you battle your rebbi, yeshiva or gedolim, when you undermine a Torah edifice, you are bringing destruction upon Am Yisroel.
Yes, there are problems. But we have to find better ways of solving them. Too often, we are our own worst enemies. We have to come together and, with mutual respect, find common ground. We have to choose our words and actions with care. More importantly, perhaps, we have to take heed of what not to say. We should not speak irresponsibly, act without thinking an issue through, or allow our emotions or frustrations to dictate our next move.
We have to seek productive and constructive solutions and not engage in actions which are divisive and combative. Serving and acting on behalf of the tzibbur be’emunah is not an easy task. It requires purity of character and ehrlichkeit of the highest level. Those are the ideals we must strive for as we seek to better our world and our communities.
Those who cause further polarizing of our community, who seek to weaken our leadership, who impugn the character of recognized anshei maalah, cannot advance anything good. They will not bring about their own advancement, either. Such actions merely strengthen the inclination for evil which lurks in the shadows of the human heart.
The character of those who foment machlokes is defined by the classic words of Rashi at the very beginning of this week’s parsha: “Resha’im halalu ra’uh velo lakchu mussar.”
Let us all utilize our G-d-given talents to spread truth, brotherly love, achdus and shalom, and thus hasten the end of this bitter golus and the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, bimeheirah beyomeinu.