Only L’Shem Shamayim

Does Hakadosh Baruch Hu enjoy the spectacle of Jews arguing with each other acrimoniously? The Gemara in Bava Metzia tells us that after a particularly vehement dispute that took place between the chachamim and Rabi Eliezer, where the chachamim went to the extreme of ignoring Divine signs that Rabi Eliezer was correct, Eliyahu Hanavi was asked about G-d’s reaction. He responded by saying that G-d was smiling at the time. Does this mean that as Hakadosh Baruch Hu surveys the scene today, and sees all the disagreements between the various camps in our midst, He is happy with our behavior?

Harav Yonasan Eibschutz, in his Yaaros Dvash, puzzles over the Mishnah in Avos that speaks of a machlokes l’shem Shamayim as opposed to one that is not l’shem Shamayim. He tries to understand how we are to identify the category into which any given argument falls. After all, he asks, everyone always views his own fight as being for Heavenly purposes. Harav Yonasan explains that one must observe the behavior of the participants. If they are friendly and respectful towards each other, then even though they vociferously differ over the issues, we can conclude that their dispute is indeed l’shem Shamayim. But if they demean each other personally, it is clear that there is a personal agenda at play as well, one which is decidedly not l’shem Shamayim.

I write these lines as we emerge from what has been a particularly trying Tishah B’Av period. We have recently witnessed in Eretz Yisrael acts and words of sinas chinam that lead us to wonder if indeed we are able to learn from the errors of the past in order to improve ourselves as a nation. And just as the silence of great rabbis in the face of sinas chinam during the time of Bayis Sheini was implicitly criticized by Chazal, today the silence of many leaders in the face of gross excesses lends itself to criticism as well. I fear to say it, but I would venture to suggest that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is not smiling when observing the current situation.

It is true that in the beis medrash there is often vociferous disagreement that may involve harsh language and invective, but nonetheless, the participants emerge at the end of the day as friends. What we have witnessed recently is far from the disagreement of the beis medrash.

I therefore offer the following plea: Let us continue to disagree with our fellow Jews over various issues, but let us not personally disparage one another or impugn other people’s motives. We have every right to defend our opinions. We have every right to express our disagreement with other views. However, our words must start and end with the issues, and never degenerate to personal accusations or attacks. And we must all, Rabbanim and laymen alike, raise our voices in protest against violations of this principle.

Might I be so bold as to offer another plea as well? Even with regard to statements by acheinu bnei Yisrael who are unfortunately not (yet) Torah observant, let our reaction be not criticism, but rather a sincere attempt to understand their mindset. Granted that our differences with them cannot be categorized as “Elu va’elu” — they are far too fundamental. However, the secularist ideology no longer represents the threat to Torah Jewry that it once did. Torah Jewry today is flourishing and need not fear secularism. We must, however, fear the negative impression that many of our statements and actions can make on others.

It is unreasonable for us to expect one who was not raised on a diet of Torah and mitzvos to appreciate the premium that the Torah world places on Torah learning. It is perfectly understandable for them to feel that chareidim, even those who are truly dedicated to Torah study, should not be exempt en masse from military service. We must accept these feelings as unfortunate but nonetheless actual, and deal with them from a perspective of understanding and patience.

Should we compromise our principles? Absolutely not. But we must bear in mind that our greatest principle is to be mekadesh shem Shamayim in all that we do — “sheyeheh shem Shamayim mis’ahev al yadecha.”

May we try to use these seven weeks of nechamah leading up to the Yamim Nora’im, seven weeks when we are inspired by the magnificent words of Yeshayah Hanavi depicting our glorious future, to bring glory to our lives by bringing glory to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.


Rabbi Kenneth Auman is the Rav of Young Israel of Flatbush.

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