By HaRav Yaakov Ariel
Chief Rabbi, Ramat Gan
In the confrontation between the Torah, on the one hand, and external negative
influences, on the other, there are two possible approaches. One approach chiefly involves
banishing the negative, struggling against it, condemning it, declaring it illegitimate,
forbidding it and rendering it taboo. Following this approach, it often happens that even
positive and essential things as well are swept away, when their whole crime consists of their
juxtaposition to those negative things.
For some people this approach might be essential. Otherwise they are liable to
succumb to sin. Without a doubt there are situations and age-groups for whom this approach
Yet there is another approach which instead focuses on the positive. This involves
increasing Torah study, learning in greater depth and with such great quality and quantity
that negative influences can gain no foothold. There, to a certain extent, even the negative
things themselves become good. The positive components within are annexed to the Torah
and assist it in its work.
In the struggle between Torah and Greek Culture, there were two approaches, that of
Bet Shammai and that of Bet Hillel. Bet Shammai said, “Light one less candle each night”
(starting the first night with eight), In the same way, with the seventy bulls offered over the
course of Succot, representing the seventy nations of the world and their negative culture,
one less was sacrificed each day.
Bet Hillel, by contrast, “light one more candle each night” (starting the first night with
one). They “ascend in holiness.” The more a person ascends in holiness, the more the
negative influences are dwarfed. When such a person reaches the pinnacle of holiness, then
evil, which is found far below, not only cannot harm him, but portions of that evil join
together to assist him in his spiritual ascent.
In halachic terms, some say that in this debate there has been no decision in favor of
Bet Hillel over Bet Shammai (see Biur Halachah 675), because both approaches have their
time and place. Practically speaking, however, Bet Hillel’s approach has been accepted. Yet
those who apply this approach in our spiritual and cultural lives as well have to realize that
only diligence in Torah learning, increased Torah learning, delving deeply in Torah learning,
expanding the tents of Torah in both quantity and quality, can guarantee that indeed the inner
positive content will not be harmed by negative influences, but will, in fact, influence and
radiate outward as well.
Those engaged in science, in secular fields, in culture and the arts, must be rooted in
Torah. In fact, it is more important for those people to study Torah in depth than it is for
those who have cut themselves off from all outside influences. The number of people
studying Torah, their quality and their level, has to be many times greater among the public
that has decided to follow this path, than amongst those who have cut themselves off from
mundane activities and from the general life of the community. The former group have to be
exceedingly careful not to be attracted by every new style and every negative phenomenon
which secular life produces in such abundance. There is just one piece of advice for them:
They must magnify the Torah and make it glorious. Darkness cannot be chased away with
sticks, nor can evil be banished just by talking bad about it. Only by increasing light can we
banish the darkness. As Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook said (Erpalei Tohar 39):
Do not complain about wickedness, but increase righteousness.
Do not complain about heresy, but increase faith.
Do not complain about ignorance, but increase wisdom.”