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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Vayigash, Breishis 45:28. Rav! Ohd Yosef Beni Chai.

On the word Rav: See Medrash here- Yakov said "When I suffered, I sinned by saying that I was out of Hashem’s vision, but my son Yosef is greater than I, and had never said any such thing."

How did Yakov know that Yosef never said such a thing? The Sheim Mishmuel says (5672) that Yakov held that if Yosef had even a tiny flaw in emunah, his sufferings would have taken him off the path; Yosef's sufferings were so terrible that if there were any imperfection in his faith, he would have rejected Judaism entirely.

In what sense is that true? What sufferings of Yosef were worse than those of Yakov, who said "me'aht ve'ra'im" to Pharaoh? And how did Yaakov know that these experiences would have destroyed anything less than a perfect faith?

Here’s what I think.
Yaakov's tribulations pit him against enemies of his faith. Yosef, on the other hand, had to survive the hatred of his fellow Jews, his brothers, who believed in all the same things he believed in. One can remain faithful despite feeling that God has turned His back on His people. It is far more traumatic when your own faith has created antagonists who attempt to destroy you because of what you believe. Yaakov knew that if Yosef had ever had a crisis of faith, or even a small flaw in his faith, then if he were faced with this challenge, he couldn't have survived it.

Or to put it in Yeshivish, once the roiv of the Shvotim paskened that he was chayev misseh, that became the halocheh. But Yosef knew it was wrong, and the greatest beis din cannot make what’s wrong right (see the first mishneh in Hoiryois, not like Rebbi Eliezer). So the bottom line was that the halocheh of Klal Yisroel, the psak of Sanhedrin, was wrong, and Yoisef was right. He would be justified in withdrawing from Klal Yisroyel, deciding there was an essential flaw in the religious beliefs of the Shvotim, and that his job was to create an alternative and better Klal Yisroel. Either he was disenfranchised from Klal Yisroel, or Klal Yisroel was disenfranchised from him. The great gevura of Yoisef was accepting in his heart and in his mind that despite the behavior and beliefs of the Jews, Judaism, the mesoireh of Yaakov, is absolutely true.

The private wound is deepest. O time most accurst, 'Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst!
-William Shakespeare The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Sometimes we see fellow Jews doing, in the name of our religion, things that are abhorrent to us. This was Yosef's experience as well. And it is hurtful and confusing to us. But the proper response is to accept that we are human, and humans make mistakes. This is why Chazal say in the beginning of Bava Kamma that Mav'eh is Man, because to avoid errors, one must pray to Hashem to help us. The Diplomat and Writer George Kennan wrote an article in 1968, in which he makes the following point:
....it lies within the power as well as the duty of all of us to recognize not only the possibility that we might be wrong but the virtual certainty that on some occasions we are bound to be. The fact that this is so does not absolve us from the duty of having views and putting them forward. But it does make it incumbent upon us to recognize the element of doubt that still surrounds the correctness of these views. And if we do that, we will not be able to lose ourselves in the transports of moral indignation against those who are of opposite opinion and follow a different line, we will put our views forward only with a prayer for forgiveness for the event that we prove to be mistaken."

The only thing I would add to Mr. Kennan's thoughts is this: One must bear in mind that he may be mistaken, and additionally, one must bear in mind that his opponent may be right, that even if I am right, my opponent may be right as well. That I am right does not necessarily mean that my opponent is wrong. There are many ways of looking at life, and of making complex decisions. Truth is admissive of variety. As Chazal say, Shivim panim laTorah, all of which are emes. Sometimes, Reuven's emes is that Yosef is Chayav Missah, while Yosef's emes is that Reuven is a Rodef who is attempting murder.

Have you ever thought about the difference between Rav Kook and the Satmerer Rov? How one felt that the creation of Medinas Yisrael was a tanchumin for the Holocaust, which was Chevlei Mashiach, while the other felt that the Holocaust was caused by the Zionist movement, that the creation of the Medinah was the cause of the Holocaust? That is a big difference of opinion, and it tends to make all of our talk of ACHDUS! and AHAVAS CHINAM! kind of foolish, doesn't it? Each side accuses the other of either aiding and abetting murder or of spitting at the great gift given by the Ribono shel Olam to His people.

The fact, not the hope, is that the Jews are hopelessly splintered. Does anyone really think that Satmar and Mercaz Harav have much in common? I'm not talking about Neturei Karta. Everyone hates them, and with good reason. A traitor deserves contempt and earns hatred, no matter how well-meaning he might be. But Satmar is a functional group with a heritage of talmidei chachamim and long history. Do members of the two sects/groups/camps have anything to do with each other? Would they feel comfortable walking in to the other's shul to daven? And what about the Satmar Dayan in Antwerp who publicly and vociferously railed against a community-wide tehillim gathering for the safety of the soldiers of Tzahal during the Gaza war? And, speaking of the Satmarers, it is not easy to like a group that proclaims that Zionism and the movement to found the State of Israel was the proximate cause of the Holocaust. Did the endless Inquisitions and pogroms escape their attention?

This is not a new problem. Our history tells us of men who were great scholars and talmidei chachamim whose behavior was horrifying. Think about what the Shvatim wanted to happen to Yosef. Think about Shimi ben Geira and Avner, about other tzadikim gemurim, as the Chassam Sofer says in Parshas Shmos, who murdered Jews because they paskened that this was the halacha, but who, we are told, were wrong. Of course, who are we to judge? We are not even chamorim compared to these great men. Even Korach, compared to us, was a malach. Remember what Menasheh said to Rav Ashi in a dream, as brought in Sanhedrin 102b?
But all that does not matter at all. The point I'm making is this; you can have a great talmid chacham, a great tzadik, even what the Chasam Sofer calls a tzadik gamur. And this person is capable of paskening that someone is chayav misah: he is capable of personally killing a person; and we, the rest of Klal Yisrael, the ones who follow other poskim, hold that they are wrong. That means that there can be a tzadik gamur on one side who holds that we should go out and kill a certain Jew, and other poskim hold that whoever kills that Jew is a Rotzei'ach and is chayav missah. So what you have is a tzadik gamur and talmid chacham who is a rotzei'ach.

So if being a talmid chacham is not proof against being a murderer, what kind of a farce is it to say that Klal Yisrael has to aspire to achdus. This is not an exercise. It is a very good question. When there is nothing in the sincere study of Torah and the honest adherence to our mesorah that prevents the rise of absolutely incompatible groups, what do we mean when we say we need achdus? What on earth does achdus mean when we are at each other's throats?

Don't tell me that such extreme polarization is rare. It isn't. It happens all the time and every day.

As far as I can tell, achdus is only possible in a secular democracy with strict division between religion and the state. Obviously, this is not a guarantee of peace. Conflict about the form and direction and purpose of government can be as bloody as religious wars, as evidenced by most of the wars of the twentieth century, both hot and cold. But it seems to me that this kind of arrangement holds the most promise, while religion is fundamentally incompatible with compromise and mutual respect.

So what is this constant talk about achdus? Are we so naive that we think it's possible, or, as is more likely, are we just saying it when we know, in our hears, that it's impossible? Are we just going through the motions because we think that it's a religious obligation to hahk a tchainik about achdus?

To accept that eilu ve'eilu applies even when the two sides are diametrically opposed is hard to do, and this was  indeed the great achievement of Yosef.

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