Not Knowing Better

There really are no words to describe it. The incredible zechus to be part of an event as important to the future of the Jewish nation as was the one this past Sunday cannot be understated. All one can really convey are hergeshim, emotions that were felt at the time, and that continue to be felt at the time of this writing.

Driving in from New Jersey (where I live) with a few others allowed us the time to mentally prepare for the event we were going to attend. We discussed what, exactly, the Shaked committee was proposing and what about it was so objectionable that many of our Gedolim, who had been against previous expressions of public protest, had decided to change course at this point. And we talked about the massive Asifah in Yerushalayim that had taken place one week previous.

Coming to the area of the Staten Island Ferry and walking the streets to the terminal gave us a preview of the feeling of achdus that would come to be one of the defining words of the day. We boarded the boat to lower Manhattan together with thousands of other like-minded Jews — all with no other purpose than to cry out to our Father in Heaven, and publicly register our protest against the law.

Although the venue was chosen to be as little of an inconvenience as possible (with the Financial District being the one place in the city that is a virtual ghost town on Sundays), it seemed quite appropriate that the Atzeres would take place in the world’s financial center. The proponents of this bill know that it calls for the jailing of the lomdei Torah who exceed the arbitrary number decided upon by the government of Israel. Yet while they insist on criminal sanctions (something that Israeli politicians like Shimon Peres have denounced), they continually repeat the falsehood that their only concern is the financial well-being of their chareidi counterparts.

While those who insist on having only the noblest of intentions reiterate that they want to “help” the Israeli avreichim become financially solvent, it is not they who are helping them toward that end. We who occupied the place from where the world’s finances flow are the ones making sure that this does actually happen. Organizations such as Adopt-a-Kollel were formed to combat this new reality, wherein everyone, including the less-than-affluent, join together to support our brothers in the Holy Land. (The audacity of the claim that the intended outcome of “shivyon b’netel” is one of positivity for all parties involved was exposed when Finance Minister Yair Lapid cynically cut funding to yeshivos retroactively for the month of Febuary — undoubtedly because he and his allies care about their futures so much.)

But after davening Minchah, saying Tehillim, Avinu Malkeinu, Selichos and Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim, and hearing a closing statement, it was time to take all that we had absorbed and head back home. This meant another trip on the ferry, but that trip would be delayed because the boat (capacity 4,500) was already full.

It was at that point that my trip-mate asked me if I had seen the email he’d sent me a week earlier. It contained a speech by a well-known layperson, at an event held to collect funds for a project he was involved in. I had not, so he gave me the “Cliffs Notes” version of what was said. What he told me was disturbing. In short, a different view on exactly how existential a threat is the Shaked Law was advanced during this meeting, a view that does not align itself with that of our Gedolim.

This is not the forum to get into those details, nor is the focus to pile criticism on a well-intentioned individual. But it is a perfect issue to attend to right before Purim.

How does one come to the point of criticizing Gedolei Yisrael for anything that they do? The answer as to why it is happening is quite simple. As the Gemara says in Sanhedrin (97a) “Dor she’Ben Dovid ba bo, ne’arim yalbinu pnei zekeinim.” But how can the ne’arim themselves come to such a level of chutzpah? Apparently, because they think that they know better.

But in the time of the Megillah things were different.

Imagine if, in the present, a country had a ruler who made a feast to which all people were invited. All the high-profile people were there, except for one high-profile Gadol, whose absence was undoubtedly noted. Later, the prime minister made a decree that everyone bow down to him — a decree that everyone acceded to with the very notable exception of this same Gadol. If there were later a terrible decree aimed at the Jewish nation, dreamed up by this ruler together with his prime minister, there is no doubt that many of the same well-intentioned people who attended the feast, and bowed down, would blame the Gadol. After all, wasn’t it his intransigence that caused the decree?

But not in Shushan.

When faced with evil decrees, it has always been the middah of Klal Yisrael to “double down” on heeding the words of the only guiding light we have — the words of our Gedolei Torah. That has been what has kept us in line, and what has helped us shake off the cobwebs and regain the clarity we need to face our challenges and ultimately to do the teshuvah we need to do to save us from these gezeiros. In Shushan, they did not blame Mordechai — nor did they dismiss the decree as being less than it was being presented. They listened to his words unquestioningly, and thus they were able to be saved.

We should do the same. And, baruch Hashem, for the most part, we are.