In Israel, divisions rage. In America, they whisper.
In Israel, the choices of one segment of the population regarding matters such as army service, economic engagement and public observance of religion profoundly impact the others, hence the rage. In America, we are less interdependent and can do our own thing, thus the whisper. Yet, while those divisions are less pronounced and raucous, they are there and represent a painfully significant lost opportunity for Klal Yisrael.
Jews pray copiously for peace. The nightly request for shalom rav, abundant peace, is a muted and modest hope for a lack of conflict, while the daytime plea of sim shalom ambitiously asks G-d to bless us kulanu k’echad, together as one unified whole. The gap between them is the difference between night and day, between the isolation of darkness and the brilliantly encompassing illumination cast b’or panecha, by the light of G-d’s countenance. It is the difference between coexistence and unity.
Light enables vision, and vision is essential to unity. As expressed in Mishlei, “B’ein chazon yipara am, v’shomer Torah—ashreihu, in the absence of vision, the nation disintegrates. Fortunate is the one who observes Torah.”1 Individual Torah observance guides our personal lives—“fortunate is the one who observes Torah”—but we need a Torah-guided real-world vision, a chazon illuminated b’or panecha, to bring the nation together. As a broader community we are missing that unifying clear vision and are functioning instead in the darkness, thankfully without raging conflict, but with the inherent incoherence of shalom rav, a fractured peace.
While this expresses itself on many fronts, we will focus on three: Fear, Alienation and Competition.
Growth is a blessing, but it generates fear.
That is what happened in Egypt. “The Children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed, they increased and grew very strong, and the land became filled with them.”2 That phenomenal growth scared the Egyptians, leading them to plot and scheme and ultimately implement bondage and oppression to contain and suppress our growth. That was their reaction to our blessing, and it is perhaps why the Book of Shemot is known—start to finish—as Sefer HaGeulah, the Book of Redemption, Exodus. While the Book dedicates many chapters to the story of our bondage and suffering, that suffering was a product of the blessing of our growth, a critical component of our maturation and redemption.
Orthodoxy across the world is growing both objectively and relatively. Its numbers are swelling due to a combination of high birth rates and strong retention, and it now constitutes an increasing percentage of the Jewish population. While some smaller Orthodox communities with limited Jewish infrastructure are struggling to survive, those that have crossed the threshold and offer day schools and kosher pizza are—as a rule—experiencing substantial growth. This growth is even more dramatic in Israel, where the current and anticipated demographic shifts in the country indicate a dramatically growing Chareidi and Religious Zionist population.
This is generating fear.
While it was fitting for the Egyptians to be fearful of what could easily become a growing fifth column of foreigners, Jews should not need to fear other Jews. But they do. Orthodox Jews can be scary. We look different, live differently, and have different expectations of ourselves and sometimes of others. We build shuls everywhere to speed to during the week and to walk in crowds to—rarely on the sidewalk—on Shabbat and yom tov. We build communities and neighborhoods so that we can be close to each other, but inadvertently, we make others feel out of place. It is easy to understand how people can feel that wherever we are, we are taking over. And that is just in America. (See “Can’t We Just Get Along?” on page 23 in this issue.)
And so we end up with Jews fearing other Jews.
In the winter of 1913, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook and Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld led a delegation of rabbis on a tour of the new settlements in the Shomron and the Galil. At that time, the demographics were shifting in the opposite direction as the new and more secular Yishuv was growing in numbers and influence, and it was the religious who were fearful. The mission’s purpose was to bridge the growing divide between the old and the new Yishuvim.
In his introduction to the chronicle3 of the trip, Rav Kook writes of what led to that gap. After stating how some of the leaders of the new Yishuv were exclusively focused on the secular aspects of developing the land and its communities, he notes how the old Yishuv had created their own distance in their interest to build the most rarified atmosphere possible within their holy cities. “That innocent and wholesome desire created an ideological and geographic divide between brothers who genuinely needed partnership in every venture and task.”
During the trip, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop, a student and colleague of Rav Kook, had a conversation late into the night with a watchman in the Emek Yizre’el community of Merchavya. The guard expressed how religiously beneficial it would be for Merchavya if a group of yeshivah students from Yerushalayim would establish a neighboring settlement. Rabbi Charlop responded that those students stay away as they fear being caught in the settlements’ atmosphere of contempt for religion. “Had you had the foresight to relate more warmly to those dedicated to Torah and mitzvot, we would achieve resolution and a blending of our strengths. The yeshivah students’ feelings of faith and holiness would influence you, and your courageous and vigorous spirit would enter the hearts of the yeshivah students.”
Jews fear other Jews and keep their distance. At this time of Orthodox growth, we need to facilitate the vision, the chazon, where the Orthodox community is perceived not as a threat but as a growing resource of passionately committed Jews who prioritize both their Judaism and their absolute and unconditional love for each and every other Jew. We will facilitate that vision in others when we build it within Orthodoxy, but thus far we have not.
In the celebrated prophetic vision described as Chazon Yeshayahu, the prophet Yeshayahu describes the failed society destined for Churban. In the spirit of Mishlei, he expresses on G-d’s behalf how our routine observances—our mitzvot, our offerings, our Shabbatot and festivals—are insufficient to maintain the nation in the absence of a broader vision that includes an encompassing commitment to the pursuit of security and justice for the most vulnerable.
In describing our failure to properly constitute as a nation, Yeshayahu compares us to the leaders of Sodom and the people of Amorah. While in the vernacular the names of these cities are emblematic of gross immorality, what truly did them in was their utter apathy and complete failure to be caring and charitable. “Behold this was the failure of Sodom, your sister: pride, abundance of bread, and careless ease were hers and her daughters’, and yet she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”4 This matches the characterization by our Sages of the attitude of Sodom, “what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours.”5 The people of Sodom wanted to be left alone; the needs of others simply did not register with them. But it did not stop there.
The Talmud6 famously describes how the Sodomites made guests unwelcome, most notably via the “Sodom bed” that needed to fit all, that forced those shorter to stretch to size and those too tall to be cut short. This was not just a medieval torture chamber. It tells the common story of a community that would not welcome those who did not fit their image of what a resident of their town should look like.
This is a narrow perspective that stubbornly persists, especially as Orthodox numerical and financial strength have lessened the intra-Orthodox need for allies and partners. Our community is highly segmented, with an utter lack of identification with or even mutual awareness between those segments. Tensions are low since we each go about our business as if the others simply do not exist. Each segment has its own world, its Sodom bed, its comfort zone of who it knows, recognizes and invites to the seats at their communal tables.
As we consider our own generational shifts in both religious directions, we ought to ask ourselves what the likelihood is that we would have established a relationship with our own parents, grandparents or great-grandparents had they been our contemporaries. Would we have greeted someone like them in the street or the supermarket? Would we have shared coffee or Shabbat meals or otherwise created a relationship with them? Would they feel comfortable in our shul or minyan that is designed for one specific age or religious micro-demographic? The answer will often be “no.”
Our lack of a national vision, b’ein chazon, is leaving us alienated from those to our right and to our left such that we are missing the chance to benefit from their energies and to have them benefit from ours. This is an epic lost opportunity for Klal Yisrael.
V’ra’acha v’samach b’libo.7 Those three Hebrew words should be posted on the walls of all our communal offices. They were communicated to Moshe by G-d after a week of Moshe resisting assumption of the Divine mission of leading the Jews out of Egypt. Our Sages taught that Moshe’s resistance derived from his concern of displacing and overshadowing his older brother Aharon who was then leading the Jews in Egypt.8 G-d became angry with Moshe, noting that rather than Aharon feeling hurt, “he will see you and rejoice in his heart.” Instead of expressing appreciation for Moshe’s humility and sensitivity, Hashem was frustrated that he inserted politics into the dynamics of Jewish leadership, that he assumed that Aharon would be anything other than thrilled that help for the Jewish people was on the way, whomever the messenger.
I received a call from the leader of a campus educational program asking permission to hire away someone who had just joined our team. “Excuse me for what may be a chutzpah, but we both work for the Ribbono Shel Olam, the One Above, and I really think she is more needed in the role I would have for her here.” The direct request was incredibly refreshing, and we were game to entertain it and try to consider objectively where the sought-after employee could uniquely do more for G-d and for Klal Yisrael, if she would be interested in the other opportunity (she was not.)
That request should not be a chutzpah; it should be a norm. It was inspiringly reminiscent of when Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz sent some of his best and brightest students in Mesivta Torah Vodaath to serve as the initial core of Rabbi Aaron Kotler’s new yeshivah in Lakewood. It is not about us, about growing our institution, claiming organizational credit or seeking personal success. We are all on the same team. We need to rejoice at the efforts and the successes of others. The Jewish people should not be enslaved in Egypt for another week while we work out the politics of who will be the one to lead them out.
The Jewish people are spending a lot of time waiting for us to work out our politics. B’ein chazon, in our limited communal vision, we are all competing for credit, for market share, for prominence, and for fundraising dollars. Potential partners are viewed as competitors whose success we sometimes see as diminishing our own.9 We need to adopt the kind of vision that sees past that, that understands, appreciates and applauds the added value of being teammates with all those working for the Ribbono Shel Olam.
We are divided, within Orthodoxy and beyond. Division has us view each other as strangers, competitors and monsters. A bit of vision, of chazon, can bring us closer to thinking as a nation, as brothers and sisters, as teammates and partners, and as treasured resources for each other.
Rabbi Simcha Zissel Broyde of Kelm, the master teacher of the Musar movement, posted the following note for his students in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah.
On this day, we have the task of declaring G-d as our King. But when we consider any human kingdom, we understand that it can only be maintained to the extent that the king’s subjects are bound together like one in their service of the king. It is therefore incumbent upon us, as we declare G-d as our King, to make ourselves one and to commit with all our being to the mitzvah of loving our fellow man as ourselves. How can we pray to G-d that all the world bond together as one in His service when we ourselves are not bound together? Each of us can and should look around at our immediate circle, as well as at our neighbors and community, and see ourselves as pieces of a single whole.
We can, we should—and so far we don’t. We can do better, and we will.
1. Mishlei 29:18.
2. Shemot 1:7.
3. Eileh Massei, originally published in 1916, republished by Keren RE”M in 2011.
4. Yechezkel 19:49; see Ramban to Bereishit 19:5.
5. Pirkei Avot 5:10.
6. Sanhedrin 109b.
7. Shemot 4:14.
8. See Rashi to Shemot 4:10.
9. Mori v’Rabi Rabbi Naftali Neuberger was fond of quoting President Eisenhower, who said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.