In the previous letter, “The Next Stage of Our Tikun,” we briefly reviewed one of the major causes of the spiritual breakdown of our people: the attempt by the World Zionist Organization to have Jewish nationalism replace the Torah as the guiding spirit of our people. As we mentioned, the first stage of our tikun for this spiritual breakdown is the awareness that we are the people of the Torah with a spiritual mission that will be completely fulfilled in the Land of Zion.
We then began to discuss the following second stage of our tikun: the awareness that we, a people with a spiritual mission, are to be guided by spiritual leaders. We therefore cited major examples of spiritual leadership which are mentioned in our Sacred Scriptures, such as the leadership of Moshe, Aharon, Miriam, Joshua, David, and the future Messiah
In this letter, we will discuss a mitzvah which stresses the importance of spiritual leadership, for an awareness and understanding of this mitzvah can lead us to the second stage of our tikun. And through this complete tikun, we will be able to fulfill our spiritual mission in the Land of Zion.
As we know through our own Torah study, the wisdom of the Torah relates to all areas of life. Our Torah study also revealed the following vision: Through fulfilling the Torah in all areas of life, we can develop a caring, just, and holy society in the Land of Zion which can serve as a universal spiritual model for all the nations. This is not a simple task, for through the process of developing a model Torah society, we can encounter complex questions and challenges. We therefore have a mitzvah to bring our difficult ethical and spiritual questions to the leading Torah sages of the generation and to listen to them, as it is written regarding these sages: “You shall do according to the word that they will tell you” (Deuteronomy 17:10). The “Sefer Ha-Chinuch” is a classical work on the Torah’s 613 mitzvos, and it explains that this mitzvah is not limited to the period when we had the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of leading Torah sages, for this mitzvah includes the obligation to listen to the great Torah sages “in each generation.” The Sefer Ha-Chinuch adds:
“If a person transgresses this and does not heed the counsel of the great ones in Torah wisdom who are in that generation – in all that they teach and rule – he disobeys this mitzvah of action.” (Mitzvah 495)
The Sefer Ha-Chinuch points out that a violation of this mitzvah leads to serious negative consequences, for we are the people of the Torah, and our willingness to be guided by the leading Torah sages “is the mighty pillar on which the Torah rests”; moreover, “the matter is known to anyone possessed of sense.” (Ibid)
As we discussed, the World Zionist Organization sought to have Jewish nationalism replace the Torah as the guiding spirit of our people; thus, this organization felt threatened by the spiritual leadership of the Torah sages – “the mighty pillar on which the Torah rests.” According to the ideology that began to dominate the W.Z.O., the secular political leaders of the W.Z.O. are to guide our people on all the major issues of the day, while the spiritual leadership of the sages should be limited to the temples and ritual-related matters. For example, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the World Zionist Organization, wrote a pamphlet – “The Jewish State” – which described the state that he envisioned, and regarding the role of rabbis in this state, he wrote: “We shall keep our priests within the confines of their temples.” The leadership role of the rabbis was to be limited to the temples, for Herzl and his followers defined our identity in secular terms; thus, they wanted a secular state with secular leaders.
One of Herzl’s followers was Jacob Klatzkin, a leading activist within the World Zionist Organization who also served for a period as the editor of its official organ, Die Welt, and then as the director of the main office of the Jewish National Fund. Klatzkin defended the secular vision of Herzl’s pamphlet, The Jewish State, for as Klatzkin wrote, “Zionism” has the following purpose:
“Its real beginning is The Jewish State and its basic intention, whether consciously or unconsciously, is to deny any conception of Jewish identity based on spiritual criteria.” (cited in “The Zionist Idea” by Arthur Hertzberg)
Klatzkin added: “Zionism began a new era, not only for the purpose of making an end to the Diaspora but also in order to establish a new definition of Jewish identity – a secular definition.” (Ibid)
The Chofetz Chaim was a leading and beloved sage of Herzl’s era, and he rejected Herzl’s view that the concerns of rabbis should be confined to the temples. For example, the Chofetz Chaim wrote a book titled, Ahavas Chesed – Loving Loving-kindness, and this book discusses various mitzvos which remind us that others are justly entitled to our love and concern. Among the practical mitzvos discussed in this book are interest-free loans, hospitality, helping people with their problems, treating workers fairly, and tzedakah – the sharing of one’s resources with those in need.
Regarding the Chofetz Chaim’s concern for workers, the noted scholar of Jewish history, Rabbi Berel Wein, writes:
“He emphasized the rights of the laborer to fair and timely wages, and publicly denounced the excesses of the owners of factories, land, and capital” (Triumph of Survival).
The Chofetz Chaim was known as a master of “halacha” – the detailed requirements of the Torah path. Through his teachings and published works, he demonstrated that ethical behavior and a devotion to “mussar” – character development – were based on halacha. When the Chofetz Chaim began to publish halachic works, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, a leading sage who was the founder of the mussar movement, stated: “The Chofetz Chaim has proved that mussar and ethics are halacha.” (The Chafetz Chaim, page 438)
The Chofetz Chaim sought to fight the growing selfish materialism and decadence of the modern age through stressing mitzvos such as Torah study, prayer, and Shabbos – mitzvos which make us aware of the higher spiritual purpose of life. Rabbi Berel Wein writes:
“He fought for the retention of the sanctity of the Sabbath as the foundation of Jewish life. He placed the yeshivos (academies of Torah study) at the center of the Jewish world and described them as the only hope for the Jewish future. Indeed, he founded and directed one of the world’s major yeshivos in his own town of Radin.” (Triumph of Survival)
The Chofetz Chaim was concerned about the serious problems facing the Jewish people and the world; however, he felt that the ultimate solution to these problems is a spiritual one. He therefore wanted the Torah to once again become the dominant and unifying force in Jewish life, so that the wisdom of the Torah could be applied to the issues and problems of the day. This was why he helped to establish the new international Jewish organization, Agudath Israel, for this organization recognized and stressed that the fulfillment of the Torah is the raison d’etre of our people, and it was therefore willing to be guided by leading Torah sages of the era. He himself became a member of the council of leading Torah sages that guided Agudath Israel. This organization represented the majority of the Jewish men and women who were known as “chareidim” – a biblical term for those who are fervently loyal to the Divine word. (An example of this term appears in Isaiah 66:5.) Agudath Israel also encouraged and supported the renewal of Jewish life in Zion according to the spirit of the Torah. One of the major guides of Agudath Israel in Zion was Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, whose accomplishments we began to discuss in previous letters.
Agudath Israel also supported and expanded the new Beth Jacob movement – a network of Torah schools for girls. The founder and head of this network was Sarah Schenirer, a chassidic woman.
When the Sanhedrin was in existence, the leading sages on the court discussed and debated the issues, and a decision was reached through a majority vote. Today, we do not have a Sanhedrin, but even when leading Torah sages of our age may disagree on a particular issue or a particular strategy, they all agree that we are the people of the Torah. They therefore reject Herzl’s idea that their concerns should be limited to the temples, for the Torah is “a Tree of Life” (Proverbs 3:18), and its life-giving wisdom relates to all areas of our existence.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen – (See below)
In the above letter, we cited Torah-related information from the following books:
“The Chafetz Chaim” by Rabbi Moses Yoshor – This biography is published by ArtScroll, and the following is a direct link to information about this book: http://www.artscroll.com/Books/chsh.html
“Triumph of Survival – The Story of the Jews in the Modern Era 1650-1990” by Berel Wein (Shaar Press) – It is published by ArtScroll, and the following is a direct link to information about this book: http://artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/TRIU
“Loving Loving-kindness” (English edition) – It is published by Feldheim: www.feldheim.com