This week, just in time for Chodesh Av — a historically dark time for the Jewish nation — the Israeli cabinet approved a bill to forcibly conscript yeshivah students into the IDF. Our brothers in the Holy Land who are behind this terrible gezeirah can be split into two categories. There is the “MeYad Achi” group and the “MeYad Esav” group. Some harbor a real hatred for Torah Jews with our large families and our happily insular Torah-centric lifestyles, and thus champion the divisive rhetoric of the need to “share the burden.” They extend this need to the extreme, even proposing cutting government subsidies specifically earmarked for starving children — amounting to an added tax on large families. There are also those, however, in Israel as well as in the U.S., who claim that their motivation is the need for societal changes “for the sake of the chareidi population.” They say that “integration into Israeli society” is needed in order to combat the problem of the poverty affecting chareidi society.
In this week’s parashah, Moshe Rabbeinu recounts how Hashem forbade Bnei Yisrael to start a war with Moav, and so they had to move on from Moav’s land to the land of Sichon Melech HaEmori, with whom they were allowed to wage war. In recounting that the captured land included “Cheshbon,” a city Sichon built when he conquered the land from Moav, the passuk (Bamidbar 21:27) says, “Al kein yomru hamoshlim ‘bo’u Cheshbon’ — On this, poets would say, ‘come to [the city of] Cheshbon.’”
On this passuk, the Gemara (Bava Basra 78b) quotes Rabi Yochanan as having said that the moshlim, those who rule over their yetzer hara, say, “Let us make the accounting (cheshbon) of the world.” They compare the worldly gain of doing an aveirah with its punishment and the loss incurred when doing a mitzvah with its reward. The obvious question is: what is the connection between this interpretation and the simple meaning of the passuk?
The sefer Beis Av explains that the seven nations of Eretz Canaan had brought about the conquering of Moav by the Emori by hiring Bilam to ensure Moav’s defeat at the hands of Sichon. These nations were trying to replace Moav, which was on their border, with the stronger nation of Sichon, in order to serve as a buffer against Bnei Yisrael’s eventual conquering of Canaan. This was a very good strategy, as the armies of Sichon were indeed stronger than those of Moav. There was, however, something that they didn’t take into their calculations. That was the fact that Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael not to start a war with Moav. Had they not made this cheshbon, they would have had a nation between them and Bnei Yisrael with whom war could not be waged.
While it really was a good cheshbon, it failed to take into account a prohibition of the Torah, and the cheshbon itself was the reason for their downfall — the very thing they were planning to prevent.
So too, he explains, there are situations when one is faced with a mitzvah, and its apparent costs, or an aveirah, and its apparent benefits. The “moshlim” however, know that just like the calculation made to replace Moav with Sichon was a faulty one, because it didn’t take into account what the Torah said, these apparently justified calculations in our own lives are also faulty, if only because we don’t take that into account as well.
Here, too, those who are making cheshbonos, ostensibly because they care about Torah Jewry, and want to save us from ourselves, fail to take a crucial variable into their calculations.
Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, (Darash Moshe) in last week’s parashah, uses the story of the Bnos Tzelafchad to bring out an important point. Being that Hashem wants to give the greatest reward possible, he told Tzelafchad’s daughters to marry within their own shevet, not as a commandment, but as “advice.” Reb Moshe explains that not listening to the recommendation of Hashem is like saying that it’s possible to know better. Therefore, it is worse to disregard this recommendation than to violate a commandment. We know that the more severe the transgression, the harder the yetzer hara works on the person to sin. The harder the yetzer hara works to cause a person to sin, the bigger the reward is for not sinning, as Chazal say: L’fum tzaarah agrah. Therefore, by telling it to the Bnos Tzelafchad in this way, Hashem assured them of the greatest reward possible when they listened.
Reb Moshe goes on to explain that this applies to the counsel of the Chachamim as well. This applies, says Reb Moshe, not just to the Gedolim of previous generations, but in every single generation; just as one understands that we must listen to the piskei halachah of the Gedolei Hador, one has to heed their direction as well. The direction of Gedolei Yisrael is that of the Torah, and not believing in that, says Reb Moshe, is a tremendous lack of emunah.
Many of the people who are backing these terrible gezeiros, and who, of course, are only working with the best of intentions, point to the fact that they are religious as well; they even value the study of Torah — just like us. But the truth is, they aren’t like us at all.
Those who claim they are only looking out for us make cheshbonos and calculations which they see as the only way to save Torah Jewry from itself. Naftali Bennett claims that these laws are “the exact opposite” of persecution. He claims that this law actually recognizes the study of Torah, and thus is a net positive for the Torah world. Having the government be in charge of the curriculum of our yeshivos is needed, they tell us, to ensure that our children not grow up as handicapped and backward as we are.
But much like the mistake made by the nations of Canaan, there is something crucial they are neglecting to include in their computation. That is, what is the right thing to do? The Gedolei Yisrael have been clear as to what their position is regarding these terrible gezeiros. And that is the fatal flaw of all these cheshbonos. Whatever problems may exist, they won’t be solved by disregarding the positions of the Gedolim — which Reb Moshe equates to disregarding the Torah itself. Nothing good can come of that.