Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Was Mordechai a Yeshivish, Machmir Person Who Caused Trouble for the Rest of the Jews?

I recently saw a movie (gasp!) called Esther, about, you guessed it, the Purim Story. It was relatively accurate, though it had some embellishment, as Hollywood is wont to do.

It got me thinking about Mordechai. There is a Medrash about Mordechai and Haman travelling through the desert, Modechai's shoe and the contract Haman signed on it, stating he would be Mordechai's servant for a portion of Mordechai's water, which Haman needed since he had guzzled all of his own water. So we all know that from the get go, Haman had reason to hate Mordechai. When Haman came to power and started demanding that all bow to him, Mordechai was the only one who wouldn't bow.

Was Mordechai being obstinate? Was he taking on a needless chumra, as so many do today to the point where they can't even enjoy Orthodox Judaism to its fullest extent? What kind of an example was he setting? After all, the Jews were in exile. They weren't free to declare themselves independent of the laws of the land, any more than we are today!

No. Mordechai was not trying to stand out. Rather, he was trying to make a point to the Jewish people. Not too long ago, the Jews had partaken in Achashverosh's feast, falling into a Golus Mentality - a mentality of "let's make the best of a situation and just accept it, without really trying to change it in any way." The Jews sat at and partook from this feast as though they belonged there. Mordechai saw all this, saw the Jews were falling into a Golus life, no longer striving to go back to the Eretz Yisrael. Mordechai knew he needed to make a stand, to jolt the Jewish people back to reality, to remind them that no matter how good Golus is, it is still exile. He knew the only way to create this jolt was to do something so drastic that no one would be able to escape the situation Haman would create, that no Jew anywhere in the known world would be safe from the Amalekite's wrath.

And, of course, it worked. Brilliantly. Unlike many people today who take on chumra on top of chumra on top of chumra, making their Jewish experience miserable because they don't know any better, making things that are actually mutar (permitted) Assur (forbidden), Mordechai didn't take on a chumra knowing full well the result could be disastrous. He made a stand not in order to destroy the Jewish people or put them in mortal danger. He made a stand to save the Jewish people from their own complacency.

This complacency can also go in the other direction: Many people today, especially those on the right, follow their leaders blindly, unquestioningly. They have learned to stop thinking for themselves and let their leaders do the thinking for them. I personally know many such individuals who are no longer individual people. Rather, they are part of a group mind, and everything their leader says is emes from the Torah.

Next: Lo Sasur Yamin O Smol - do not veer right or left

Thursday, August 24, 2006

When Moshiach Will Come

There is a Memra (saying) that Moshiach will only come when Bnai Yisrael are all Chayavim or all Zakaim. One of my rabbeim in high school once told me a beautiful spin on this saying that is very relevant to the state of the Jewish people today. He said chayavim doesn't necessarily mean everyone is sinful and zakaim doesn't necessarily mean everyone only does Mitzvos. Rather, this is a state of mind.

Zakaim means that I can be Litvish, someone else Chasidish, another Mizrachi, and yet another Sefardi, any one of an infinite number of chasidish groups, Yeshivish, or any other kind of Halacha following Judaism and in this huge fray, everyone gets along, loves another, respects one another, and acknowledges that, while they each have different minhagim or even follow certain different Halachos, Shiv'im Panim LaTorah, there are many ways to be a Torah observant Jew. This would be a utopia, and the ultimate in what it means to be a Jew - B'lev Echad K'Ish Echad - One Nation - Hashem's Nation.

The other side of the coin is not so rosy and is, unfortunately, what we have today: chayavim. In this case it means - Reuvain is Yeshivish, Shimon is Mizrachi, Levi is Chasidish, etc. and each one says the others are not practicing the "Emes" (whatever that means), that the others are not only not practicing Halachic Judaism, but even worse, it's not even kosher to daven in the others' shuls.

I'm not going to sit here and write what group does what and how they act, though I could tell incidents that would shock and despair. Doing so would make me just as guilty as what I am accusing these groups of doing. Rather I would say - be careful when judging another type of Yiddishkeit. If they are following Halacha, then they are following Halacha. What gives anyone else the right to judge anyone else based on a different set of minhagim or a different opinion of what the halacha is. A good example: Ashkenazim do not eat kitniyos on Pesach, while Sefardim do. Does this mean, from the Ashkenazik point of view, that Sefardim eat Chametz on Pesach? I've heard it said yes. This also goes for the minhag of not eating Gebrokhts on Pesach.

Moshiach will only come when we are all Zakai or all Chayav. We are an Am Kshe Oref, aren't we? In 2500 years, we've refused to change our ways, to show Ahavas Chinam, even in a place where Ahava isn't necessarily warranted. The question is, how does one feel any kind of Ahava toward someone who makes you pasul just because you don't do as they do?

Next up: Mordechai: Yeshivish?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Am Kshe Oref - Good or Bad?

Shmos (Exodus) 31:9: Hashem said to Moshe "I have seen this nation and it is a stiff-necked people." In this case, Hashem was obviously referring to Bnai Yisrael as a stubborn people bent (pun intended) on doing the opposite of Hashem's bidding and unwilling to change.

For the Jewish people, this has been both a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, it has, with lots of help from the One above, helpled the nation to survive thousands of years of persecution. no matter how downtrodden we have become, we have ALWAYS persevered. As a curse, this stubborness has kept us in Golus, in exile for nearly two thousand years, or more if one accepts that the return to Erezt Yisrael after Golus Bavel, the Exile of Babylon was not a true return since so many opted to stay in Golus and the face of the Jewish people truly changed after the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash (Holy Temple) and the subsequent exile.

As with any other attribute a person or people may have, stiff-neckedness may either be used for the betterment of a person or to a person's detriment. Take, for example, the attribute of being humble. Moshe was the humblest man who ever lived. He never wanted leadership, never wanted to be the head of a nation. In his argument with Hashem, we see this exemplified, almost to a fault when Hashem finally becomes angry with him and tells Moshe to just get on with his mission and accept his destiny. Moshe goes, reluctantly. Not too soon after this, after Moshe asks Pharaoh to "let my people go," and Pharaoh instead makes things much worse for the Jewish people, Moshe again asks Hashem why he had to be the instrument through which things would become so much worse for the Children of Israel. At this point (Exodus 6:1-8), Hashem basically tells Moshe "Trust Me." He tells Moshe that he should trust in Hashem and not question, just as our forefathers had trusted and not questioned even though they, unlike Moshe, did not know Hashem Divine Name. From this point on, Moshe becomes a true leader. And while he remained humble all his life, when it came to standing up for what was right he did so, whether it was standing up to the Almighty Himself and preventing the destruction of the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf, or whether it was leading an army and killing the giant, Og. And when Moshe makes a mistake, like when he hits the rock instead of talking to it (Numbers 20:11-12), he acknowledges his mistake and accepts his punishment. Moshe understands that Anivus is a constant state of mind of which one must always be aware, and when one slips out of that state of mind, one can make mistakes.

So, being stiff-necked can be a good thing. I've heard hundreds of stories that have taken place throughout the last 3300 years of Jews standing up for what is right and suffering or dying, but in that suffering preserving the integrity of what it means to be a Jew and in dying, spreading that lesson across the world. These stories go from Avraham all the way down to the Holocaust and beyond.

But here's the trick. We have to know when to be stubborn and when not to be. When do we let things continue as they are and when do we stand up and say "Enough!" When do we continue a road where no other form of halacha following Judaism is kosher except for the one to which we belong, and when do we stand up against this kind of small thinking. When do we continue to think that any other form of Halacha following Judaism isn't "emes" and when do we object and say "that's just ridiculous!"

Hashem sent us into Golus not as individuals or small groups, but as an entire nation, all of us, because of two reasons.
1. Sinas Chinam - senseless, pointless, just for the heck of hating hatred.
2. Because we left Hashem's Torah - al asher azvu Torasi.
We are still in Golus because of these two reasons. In nearly two thousand years not only have things not gotten better, they've become far worse.

In this blog, I would like to examine our stiff-neckedness, the reasons for our still being in Golus, and what we, as a nation, can do about it. There will be times when I rail against Yeshivish, others against Chasidish, ands till others against Modern Orthodox and still others against Religious Zionism. If you want to try to niche me, I promise you won't be able to do so. Someone once tried and failed miserably. The best answer I will ever give is "I am a Halacha following Jew." Please feel free to comment. I will be moderating, and I probably won't be posting some comments. I will try to post at least once a week. I hope you enjoy this blog and look forward to constructive discussions.