Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Zionist Chassidism: The Task of the Tzadik

By Rafi Ostroff 
Head of the Religious Council of Gush Etzion

In the year 5698 (1938) the Rebbi of Husiatyn gave the following Torah insight in a sermon:

“Come now and let us have a discussion, God says” (Yeshayahu 1:18). The current topic of discussion is Eretz Yisrael.

The nation of Yisrael claims: We are going to Eretz Yisrael. Or, it would be more correct to say, we are being evicted from the lands to which we have been dispersed, and we turn towards Eretz Yisrael. (The people also emigrate to other lands, but only as private people. In response to a general national goal, we go only to Eretz Yisrael. The proof is the offer of Uganda. Even irreligious people wept when they heard this proposal, although they did not yet know if the land that was offered was good or not.) We go to the land based on the promise: “I will give it to you as a heritage, I am G-d” [Shemot 6:8]. And based on this promise in the Torah portion, “I will oppress your oppressors and I will make enemies of your enemies” [Shemot 23:22].

And now, the Jews are coming here, but the British stand at the gate and do not let them in. And those who already came in and built up the land with their blood (or their money – a pun) have encountered a wild breed of men, natives of the desert, who uproot the trees they planted and murder innocent souls. The economic foundations have been destroyed, and all roads are dangerous. (This sermon was delivered at the height of the Arab riots, during the years 5696-99 - 1936-39.)

What is it that G-d claims? He says, the promise I gave you depends on a condition: “Observe everything that I commanded you to do” [Shemot 23:13]. The reply to this condition is that Bnei Yisrael have a special privilege, as noted by Rashi: “‘Observe everything that I commanded you to do, and do not mention the names of other gods’ – This teaches us that idol worship carries the same weight as all the other mitzvot, and one who observes this mitzva is treated as if he had observed them all.” And as for Yisrael, no matter what else has happened, they do not violate the laws of idol worship, heaven forbid.

And I saw the following in Daat Zekeinim at the end of the Torah portion of Behar: “‘For Bnei Yisrael are slaves to Me, they are My slaves whom I took out of the Land of Egypt’ [Vayikra 25:55]. And then, ‘Do not make gods for you’ [26:1]. Why is this relevant here, when the passage is concerned with the laws of Yovel? I say to you, this comes to explain why we will be redeemed even though we do not observe all the mitzvot, because in any case we did observe the mitzva, ‘Do not have for you other gods’ [Shemot 20:3].

* * * * * *

The Rebbe of Husiatyn wrote this in 1938, before the great Holocaust took place, but he already saw how the Jews were being expelled from their lands. (If only more had been expelled perhaps they could have been rescued, but who could predict what was about to happen to them?)

What is the Difference between My Son and My Father-in-law’s Son?

The required condition for possession of the land is to observe the mitzvot, because this area of land is the entranceway to the King’s palace. However, the Rebbe saw the task of the great men of his generation as a need to emphasize the merits of Yisrael, in spite of what he could plainly see – that most of the people in Eretz Yisrael did not observe the mitzvot. He therefore wrote:

“It is the will of G-d that the righteous men and the leaders of the nation in every generation should awaken mercy for the people in this way and find ways to sweeten the harsh punishments that overcome them, heaven forbid. The best way to do this is to mention the other nations and to compare them to Yisrael. Then we can see the difference between “my son” and “my father-in-law’s son” – and this is the path followed by the Rebbe of Berdichev.

(According to the Talmud, Leah noted that her father-in-law’s son Eisav hated Yaacov to whom he sold the birthright, while her own son Reuven did not hate his brother Yosef who was given the birthright against Reuven’s will. See Berachot 7b.)

And here the Rebbe tells a wonderful story about Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev. He went out into the market late at night and offered some food to the people there. The Gentiles took the food and gobbled it down, while the Jews said that they must first wash their hands.

The Rebbe of Husiatyn emphasizes: The task of the rabbis is to reveal the merits of Yisrael. And in his generation he was able to say that the Jews did not worship idols and were not ready to do so (even though they did not observe the laws of Shabbat and kashrut). Today we sorely miss having such rabbis, who see their main role as a search for the merits of the people, even if the only merit that they can find is that they are not involved in idol worship...

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