Thursday, June 08, 2017

As a Child Runs Away from School

By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

“‘And they journeyed from the Mountain of G-d’... He would give them mitzvot every day. When Moshe told them to move from there on a journey for one day they went on a journey for three days and one night, like a child who leaves school and runs away” [Torah Sheleima, Bamidbar 10:33].

And then, immediately, we are told, “And the people started to complain, doing evil in the eyes of G-d... and the rabble among them developed a lust... who will feed us meat?” [Bamidbar 11:1,4]. The link between fleeing from Mount Sinai and the fear of receiving more mitzvot and the difficulty to withstand lustful desires is clear, and this phenomenon is repeated in other events. The question is how to relate to this event – calmly or with worry? Just look at the difference between authors of today and those of the previous generation.

In today’s literature, one who is considered by many to be the greatest Hebrew author wrote, “We will have to decide what we came here to do... More and more this will become a Middle Eastern land, just like Barcelona and Marseille... and it will be fundamentally nonreligious. Hedonistic, very much material... This futuristic picture is the present, it is Tel Aviv. I think that the coastal plain has won, and Jerusalem will become a city which people visit, like going from Israel on a trip abroad... In the war between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I am completely on the side of Tel Aviv.”

However, here is what was written by the “genius of Hebrew poetry,” as Rabbi Avramsky called Chaim Nachman Bialik: “I feel that even our Tel Aviv, and the settlement movement as a whole, are sick at this point. The signs of the malady have appeared first of all in the attitude of our brothers towards refugees... We raised rents, stealing from them their last small change... The shameful profiteering, the glow of gold, has blinded us... But the main sign of this sickness and terrible internal disintegration is the multitude of political parties, hate among brothers which devours us completely... The settlements are sick, and our very own Tel Aviv is ill...”

Bialik felt that the source of this malady was the fact that the people fled from traditional schools. The educators “are making the very same mistake that our authors made with respect to our literature. The grave error is that they want to begin everything from scratch. The new education will not succeed very well, it will not teach good Jews like the ‘cheder’ and the traditional Beit Midrash did. Why should we hide the truth? The traditional education was not bad either for our Judaism or for our humanitarianism. Just the opposite – it made us into good Jews with good character.”

Bialik wrote, “The Torah was the center of the openly trampled aspirations and yearnings of our nation during the exile. The declaration, ‘Yisrael and the Torah are one’ was not a mere statement. A foreigner can never really understand... The Torah is not only a religion and a belief... The Torah is the handiwork of the Creator of the World, the tool with which he created the world, and it is the purpose for which the world was created... Without Torah nothing can exist, and there is no merit to physical existence.”

When students came to greet Bialik in 5984 (1924), he told them that they should not cancel Torah studies, even in order to rebuild the Temple. He said, “Return to your labors and your Torah, this is the strongest and most eternal edifice. Without it our labors have no value at all. Return to the study of Torah, it has the same value as everything else combined.”

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