The Way It Is Done

Klal Yisrael faces many different challenges to our way of life. In Eretz Yisrael, there are those who would like to remake the way we educate our children and the centrality that Torah study occupies in our lives. Here, in America, there are those who want to disallow us to do bris milah the way we have practiced it until now and will, iy”H, continue to practice it in the future.

I am sure that some of the people who are part of these efforts — which, at the end of the day, amount to nothing less than an attack on our way of life — are individuals who mean well. These people look at what the Holy Land’s anti-religious propagandists are selling, and genuinely believe that the only way to save us from ourselves and the lives of poverty to which we are condemning ourselves and our children is by instituting a mandated core curriculum and army service for everyone. Likewise, there are people who look at what the Bloomberg Health Department and their anti-chareidi allies were saying about milah and wonder aloud why we don’t discontinue the practices of our holy mesorah. After all, don’t we want to take every necessary medical precaution?

But what they fail to understand is that we operate in a different world, a world where we rely on the einei ha’eidah to decide whether something should or should not be done; a world where mesorah and minhag occupy a more central place than the concerns of well-meaning individuals.

Our approach to these, as with any of the challenges we face, should be to engage in introspection. By this I do not mean to say that we should try to figure out why these things are happening; that is for the Yodei’a Nistaros. But when anything takes place, there are layers upon layers of lessons we can learn to better ourselves as Avdei Hashem, and each of us, at our own level, is supposed to look for as many things as we can use as a vehicle for our own growth. We know that the greater one is, the closer to perfection one is required to be. As such, we need to see if our imperfections exist even in the most minuscule way.

I was thinking of this after an exchange I had with one of my rebbeim. Some time ago I had an exchange with an individual regarding a certain practice which is accepted in the world of the yeshivos, which he felt was wrong. I sought to defend that what which was done, and we ended up having a difference in what we thought halachah mandated.

I asked my rebbi, a well-known posek, if he thought my halachic position was the correct one. He responded in the affirmative, and added something that ended up being the impetus for this column. He said, “You want to know if [you are right]? Of course. ‘Puk chazi mai amma dabar — Go out and see what the people say.’”

Rashi (Brachos 45a and Eiruvin 14b) explains that when the Gemara says this in response to a question as to what the halachah is in certain cases, it means that if there is a way things are done, you can see that it is the halachah.

Our yeshivos are run by Gedolei Yisrael. We are prepared to entrust our most prized and precious possessions to them, and we ask them to do what ends up being the lion’s share of the work in helping form our children into the ovdei Hashem we want them to be. But too often, when faced with things that are done in yeshivos that run counter to our personal sensitivities, or matters which we might perceive to be bigger problems than they are because we deal solely with people who are afflicted with those issues, there is a feeling that lay people are within their rights to demand changes.

The problem with that attitude is that we don’t have as broad a perspective as the Gedolim to know whether something is a problem or not, nor do we even understand why it is that things are done the way they are. And despite the fact that we are nothing like them, on a much more minute level we end up being not unlike those who “demand changes” vis-à-vis bris milah and army service when we try to deal with issues that are far beyond our pay grade.

This applies to many different issues, from a simple issue like what the proper solution is to the phenomenon known as the “Shidduch Crisis.” It extends to those who feel we should change the way we teach our youth emunah and hashkafah to a more “kiruv-oriented” curriculum, or make general changes in the yeshivah program of study, and those who feel that  Roshei Yeshivah need to be advised what the proper qualifications are for someone who is to be a melamed tinokos shel bais raban.

Let me be clear. I see nothing wrong with someone voicing a concern and offering an idea for a solution to Gedolei Yisrael and allowing them to decide what course of action (if any) to take. But lay people should never approach Roshei Yeshivah to pressure them with what the lay person thinks is a solution, or tell the Roshei Yeshivah that they don’t grasp the problem. If that does happen, something is wrong.

There is more to this than just the hashkafic ideal that we are best served subjugating ourselves to daas Torah. At times those offering up what they see as a solution don’t even have the breadth of understanding and experience necessary to know if the idea they have is a net positive, or if it carries with it ramifications that they hadn’t even considered that would make it a net negative. It brings to mind the time a fellow approached Rav Pam, zt”l, and put forth the idea to stop having photographers at weddings. The amount of time all the guests spend waiting as the photographer tries to get the “perfect shot” of the young couple, not to mention the costs involved, led this fellow to put forth the solution that would lead to not having them at weddings at all.

Rav Pam smiled, but quickly disabused him of the notion that his idea was without any downside. “Sometimes,” said the Rosh Yeshivah, “a young couple can go through a period of marital difficulty that can lead them to wonder why they ever got married to each other. It is a fact, that at times like those, looking at the pictures from the chasunah, when they were floating on air and overjoyed to be getting married to each other, can have the effect of reminding them why they got married.”

So when we see challenges that we feel are institutional in nature, we should deal with them by voicing our concerns in the appropriate venues and looking to our leaders for guidance. The “issues” we see might be only symptoms of greater issues that are being addressed. Oftentimes we might be contributors to the underlying problem.

But if we don’t recognize that it is up to our leaders to lead us, we can’t expect anything to change.