What Did It Help?

The question, “What did it help?” was repeatedly uttered in the past three days. It comes in various versions, and has at least three faces. There is the helpless cynic; the hopeless pessimist; and those  who ask it with a crease in the brow. They really want to understand how the atzeres tefillah, as impressive and powerful as it was, would affect the process. Does Yair Lapid even care? they ask. He only gets stronger among his voters, or at least that is the conventional wisdom of the spin doctors.

For those who reside outside Israel, it is hard to understand the Israeli political system or mentality. They don’t realize the fickleness of Israeli public opinion, where people’s views on serious, divisive matters change overnight, according to which way the wind of public opinion is blowing.

There are multiple answers to the above question, and all are correct. Here are three of them:

The Spiritual Factor

The first answer is in the spiritual realm. We believe that the shots are called in Heaven, not in the Knesset. We also believe that the Ribbono shel Olam is a Kol Yachol, and can turn events around in a moment, should that be His Will. The most powerful element of the atzeres was not the political meaning of the masses. There were no signs against any of the political figures. In fact, participants related that the political aspects of this crisis  didn’t even enter their minds during the 90 minutes of tefillah, Tehillim and Selichos.  It was a cry from the depths of our hearts to Hashem, and we believe wholeheartedly that He has the power and ability to effect any outcome He desires.

The Political Factor

Now that the atzeres is over, we can look in at the political scene. Even in this cynical field, a powerful change of narrative has taken hold since Sunday. The narrative in some circles in Israel over the last year was: Even the chareidim know that serving in the army is good for them, and they are more than willing to serve. It is only that the Rabbanim hold them “hostage,” and the government is doing them a favor by “freeing them from prison” (the yeshivos).  People who never sat a day in yeshivah and hadn’t had the merit to enjoy comprehending a complicated sugya believed — or led others to believe — that they were doing the chareidi community a favor. “If only we would give them the option to serve in a religious framework in the IDF, they would forsake the Rabbanim and follow us to integration in Israeli society.”

The speed with which multitudes of yeshivah bachurim and their families answered the call of Gedolei Yisrael proved what the reality is about.

Torah Jewry happily follows those who lead with daas Torah and yiras Shamayim, not political leaders guided by spin doctors and media advisors. We choose to follow  those who lead with humility, not bloated egos who act patronizingly against their “subjects.” We choose to listen to those who seek our good in this world and in the World to Come, instead of those who seek their own momentary political gain.

Whatever the secular media and the public thought for the last year, they now know they were fooled. Even Yair Lapid has changed his narrative. In fact, on the night of the atzeres, his entire thesis went down the tubes. Gone was the talk of doing the chareidi masses a favor. Suddenly he was playing defense. Using scare tactics was the way to go.

“This massive crowd proves how we cannot continue this way and how we must draft them into the army,” he said angrily on Channel 2.

But the interviewer wasn’t buying it. “There was a process in which chareidi participation in the army and workforce was growing, and you pushed them into the corner. Because of your divisive rhetoric, they retreated, and you know full well that they will not obey the law. You will not be able to arrest thousands of yeshivah students, and the law is practically toothless. So for what reason did you make this ruckus — so that your party should be able to claim that it passed a law?”

What was the media veteran’s response?

“I still believe I will succeed in drafting thousands of chareidim into the army.”

To be sure, Lapid can still do much damage and inflict pain on the chareidi public. There has been no indication that his coalition partners, namely Binyamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, intend to stop cooperating with his dangerous plans. Nevertheless, they now know that if the Gedolim will instruct their followers to ignore the law and not go to army recruitment centers, then they will not go, and will happily face the consequences. In the decisions read out at the historic joint Moetzes meeting held last Monday, they clearly hinted that should criminal sanctions be included in the final law, they will tell their talmidim not to cooperate with the army at all.

While Lapid presumably doesn’t mind such a development, it is posible that the prime minister may take stock of the situation and recalculate his gains and losses from this crisis.

The Internal Factor

All of the above notwithstanding, the most important achievement of all may be the internal factor. For those of us living in full chareidi communities — whether chassidishe or yeshivishe — the threat is frankly not that serious. The family and kehillah support system is strong, and the state knows that. But there is what we can call the “chareidi periphery,” and that is not a geographical term. These are precious families who have deep emunah peshutah, respect for shemiras Shabbos and a commitment to Torah and mitzvos. But they don’t necessarily identify themselves as chareidim in every aspect. They will sometimes have a doubt whether to send their children to yeshivos, and the stereotypes pushed by secular politicians about chareidim can seep into their minds and affect their attitudes.

These people and their families have become increasingly close to chareidi Jewry in recent years. The world of chessed that doesn’t exist elsewhere in Israeli society has resonated deeply in their consciousness. The chareidi education system, which is far superior to the violence-ridden state-run secular system, has brought their children through the doorways of the best yeshivos. Many children of these families have risen to the top of their classes and have emerged as great Torah leaders and teachers, built beautiful families, and given their once-reluctant parents much Yiddishe nachas.

This phenomenon is at the root of the entire Israeli kiruv scene. The ripple effect that these families have is immense. The brothers and sisters of the parents are not necessarily religious, but they see the derech eretz and the kibbud av v’eim of the yeshivah students at family simchos and get-togethers and cannot help but wish their children would look that way.

All this is threatened by the constant hammering of the chareidi public led by the government and its senior ministers. It is the children of these families that the government is likely to go after, where the family structure is not all chareidi, and the neighborhoods are mixed. That is where the social pressure can prove unbearable.

Furthermore, even within the “natural” chareidi community, there are thousands of people and their families who have been put into a tight spot. These are people who, after learning in yeshivos and kollelim, went out to work, and some have served in the army as well. The divisive rhetoric and actions of this government has put them at a crossroads they never dreamed they would face: Do you identify with your heart, and feel that you belong to the yeshivah world, or do you follow the influence of your current workplace/school and feel demonized by your family and friends? It is a heart-wrenching dilemma that nobody should have to face.

What does all this have to do with the rally? There is nothing more powerful than the atzeres to keep the weaker branches connected to the root of the tree. The togetherness, the common purpose — and last but not least, the sheer numbers of participants, impart to all the feeling that “I want to be a part of this.”

Attorney Yaakov Weinroth is one of the sharpest defense attorneys in Israel. He has represented such people as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and his legal brilliance has led former Supreme Court President Ahron Barak to offer him a seat on the highest bench in the country, which he declined. He is an alumnus of Yeshivas Ponevezh, and for years had a shiur with a leading Rosh Yeshivah. But he never identified himself as chareidi per se until fairly recently. What made him change his identity?

In numerous interviews with the media, he has been very open about it: The huge atzeres held 15 years ago against the High Court intervention in religious matters was the catalyst.

“The moment when hundreds of thousands of Jews stood and announced clearly, ‘Hashem Hu HaElokim,’ I knew that I want to be a part of them!”

Sunday’s atzeres saw more than 600,000 Jews make the proclamation Hashem Hu HaElokim. It gave immeasurable chizuk to any weak link, proudly proclaiming that despite all the troubles, the way of Torah will prevail. It brings out tremendous yearning: “I want to be a part of them!”

If only for this “internal factor,” dayeinu!