Apologize for What?

Eliezer Stein -

Picture a yeshivah bachur getting on a plane to return home after a zman in Eretz Yisrael. As he settles into his seat, he is pleasantly surprised to see another yeshivah bachur, more or less his age, making himself comfortable in the next seat. He greets his neighbor and asks him his name. Interestingly, he has the same name as our protagonist. As the conversation turns to where they live, it surprises them both to learn that they both hail from the same town.

But things take a strange turn when the stranger gives his own home address as the place he lives. Wondering why this person, whom he had never met before this plane ride, would be playing a pointless practical joke on him, the bachur turns to the sefer he brought to occupy himself on the trip and pays him no further attention.

But envision his shock when, after disembarking and taking a taxi home, he finds that his key doesn’t fit in the lock of his front door. He knocks and his mother opens the door. She asks how she can help him, as if he were a stranger. His insistence that he is her son is met with a befuddled look, and the young man she insists is her son — the other boy from the plane — closes the door on him with a warning to leave his family alone or the authorities will be contacted.

One can only imagine the self-doubt this young man begins to experience. Faced with all he has just experienced, he begins to wonder if he isn’t really who he thinks he is. His sanity is in doubt; his entire reality has become a question.

This, explained Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky, is because a person’s grip on reality is so tenuous that he can begin to question his own identity. If it were actually strong, there would never be any doubt. The truth is what it is, and just because one is faced with external indicators to the contrary, there is no reason to doubt what one knows to be true.

The recent months have brought horrible gezeiros in Eretz Yisrael. Let there be no doubt about it: the intention of those in power in the Holy Land is to wipe out Torah. Harav Elchanan Wasserman, Hy”d (back of Kovetz He’aros, siman 10), drawing mostly from his rebbi, the Chofetz Chaim, explains that in every generation there is a war waged by the Satan and his allies to vanquish the ko’ach haTorah, but in times when we are lacking, this battle is waged by internal forces, members of our own nation.

In a piece that might well have been written in 5774/2013, he points out that while there are some who want the Torah to die a difficult death, and others who want it to die a “misas neshikah,” they are united in their desire to destroy the Torah and those who learn it.

While these odd allies wage their war on us, the misas neshikah crowd, in an effort to save face, tries painting its efforts in colorful terms, arguing that they are doing it for our own good. They cite poverty rates — in a community that cares for the poor like no other and champions integration — for a community that eschews integration into non-frum society. And perhaps because they realize that this alone is not convincing enough to give them cover for the policies they advocate, they engage in another form of propaganda that has unfortunately made some headway in our community.

Not unlike the Assad regime in Syria warning the U.S. against military strikes because they would cause civilian casualties as collateral damage, they also latch onto an issue that speaks to people’s hearts, and loudly and constantly accuse our community of the same.

Before Tishah B’Av, the RCA released a statement denouncing the “ominous intensification of inflammatory rhetoric … vile insults, offensive name-calling — including the inciteful invocation of the name ‘Amalek’ — and vicious personal attacks… have even witnessed physical violence.” Denunciations of the alleged violent behavior by members of the frum community have become more commonplace, as are the calls for our leaders to denounce it.

This is not surprising, as Reb Elchanan explains in an earlier siman (6:4). There is a direct parallel between how anti-Semites use the anomalous story of a Jewish person’s misdeed to smear all Jews, and how those who fight against Torah will use any actions committed by those who appear to be in our camp as a tool to paint us all with the same dirty brush.

The problem isn’t when our persecutors behave in the manner we expect them to. The issue is when members of our community start to believe them.

Recently, a letter was written to this paper that said, “Today, when outrage over the assaults on the chareidi community spills over into road rage, we have to take a step back and analyze our real motivation. Is it personal? Is it political? Is it self-serving?” Earlier, a comment accompanying a story about a person accused of attempting to spy for Iran called on the entire sect he apparently identifies with to “stop disguising themselves as chareidi Jews.”

Both writers are unwittingly heading down the slippery slope of condemning the many for the sins of the few.

If there was any incidence of “road rage” they were absolutely wrong, but in no way is this “problem” one of the magnitude that needs to be “addressed” by writing a letter to the editor. All this does is lend credence to the false claims that the Torah community is anything but a guiltless victim in this saga of ongoing persecution.

And the sect alluded to above, the Neturei Karta, suffers terribly from a tiny fringe subset who think they will rescue Klal Yisrael from the Zionists by cozying up to terrorist leaders. But the majority of this group disagrees with them. Are we to follow the ways of the Zionists and malign our brothers who have a more stringent approach to how they associate with the state of Israel than we do, and write them out of Klal Yisrael because of the meshugoyim who associate with them? Our adversaries to the left insist we must!

If we ourselves only had a stronger grip on who we really are — our reality — they wouldn’t be able to have this influence on us and cause us to start doubting ourselves. Torah Jewry has always looked toward our manhigim and Gedolim to point out our flaws and prescribe correction, not the other segments of the Jewish nation who don’t have our best interests at heart. Our Gedolim have told us what we need to do to respond to these awful gezeiros in Eretz Yisrael, but it doesn’t include apologizing for our behavior.

After all, we have nothing to apologize for.