On that glorious and most momentous day in our history, as Bnei Yisrael prepared to finally leave Mitzrayim, Moshe Rabbeinu personally attended to a most crucial task: He retrieved the aron of Yosef Hatzaddik from the depths of the Nile River. A week later, as Bnei Yisrael entered the Yam Suf, the aron played a vital role in the splitting of the sea. In Hallel we recite, “The sea saw and fled.” Chazal teach us: “What did the sea see? It saw the bones of Yosef.”
For the next four decades, the aron of Yosef escorted Bnei Yisrael in their travels through the Midbar, and ultimately was laid to rest in Shechem, a city gifted to Yosef by Yaakov Avinu. This holy site has been known to Am Yisrael throughout the generations, and many have traveled there to daven, even under challenging circumstances. In recent years, much to the chagrin of many (including this writer), access has generally been limited to several times a year, and only in the wee hours of the morning, in close coordination with both the Israeli military and the Palestinian security forces.
Twelve days ago, the Jewish world was stunned and anguished to learn that a mob of Arab marauders had viciously set fire to the building that was erected over the kever, which itself is deep in the ground. The painful desecration of this makom kadosh sent shockwaves across the globe and elicited calls in some circles for Jews to regain control of Kever Yosef.
Certainly, were it only a matter of creating international pressure or organizing a massive fund-raising campaign, undertaking such efforts to secure Kever Yosef would not only be proper, but obligatory. However, the Palestinian Authority — although in desperate need of cash — will not consider handing over the area, and certainly the residents of Shechem — who seem to excel in staging violent riots — will not agree to sell their homes to Jews and move elsewhere. As neither of these possibilities seem to be viable anytime soon, the only remaining recourse would be for Israel to use military force to regain the kever, an act that would most likely cost Jewish lives, R”l, and therefore should not even be considered.
All that we know about Yosef Hatzaddik, even the fact that he existed, is from the Source of all truth, our holy Torah. This same Torah instructs us precisely as to when a Yid is permitted — and even obligated — to sacrifice his life.
While we have no inkling as to the greatness of Yosef Hatzaddik, we do know that he paved the way for all Jews to be able to resist temptation. Through his personal example, Yosef Hatzaddik continues to inspire our efforts to ensure that the eternal truth of Halachah and Torah-true hashkafah must guide every step of our lives.
Regardless of how passionate we feel — and justifiably so — about the desecration of Kever Yosef, there is no conceivable heter to place Jewish lives in danger in order to save this makom kadosh. The same applies to all the well-intentioned but sorely misguided individuals who attempt to visit the kever without previously coordinating it with the Palestinian Authority.
While we are obligated to undertake the requisite hishtadlus in regard to the security situation, it is imperative that we recall at all times that we remain Jews in exile — even in our own Land. Those whose reaction to the ongoing wave of terror in Eretz Yisrael is limited to issuing calls for a massive military crackdown are totally missing the point and shirking their personal responsibilities.
My rebbi, Harav Nesanel Quinn, zt”l, would often quote Reb Binyanim Wilhelm, z”l, as saying, “When Jews will make peace with Hashem, there will automatically be peace with the Arabs.”
An appropriate and carefully measured response by security officials is only a small part of the necessary hishtadlus. Every effort should also be made to convince the Israeli government to place a blanket ban on Jews ascending Har Habayis until the coming of Moshiach. Such a ban would prevent many Jews from most grievous transgression, which, in itself, will arouse much-needed zechuyos. It will also deprive the Arabs of one of their most potent fuels for inciting the masses to violence.
But the primary reaction to Arab violence must be tefillah, introspection and self-improvement.
On the day I learned of the terrible attack on Kever Yosef, I entered the large Satmar beis medrash on 52nd Street in Boro Park and saw large posters on the wall announcing a new rule in the shul. The use of any type of smartphone — even with a strong filter — was now strictly prohibited anywhere in the building. A similar rule already exists in the Satmar shul located a block away, the main Vizhnitzer shul in Monsey, and numerous other shuls and kollelim.
It occurred to me that this rule and all efforts like it are a most appropriate reaction to the attack on Kever Yosef. Every step we take to reclaim our lives and souls from the deadly plagues known as social media and inappropriate internet usage not only helps provide a shield of protection for all of Klal Yisrael, but also ensures that the glorious legacy of Yosef Hatzaddik, the symbol of middas hayesod, continues to help us cleave to Hashem in a generation of unprecedented challenges.