EDITORIAL COMMENT: Seeking Direction in Uncertain Times

NEW YORK -
Yeshiva boys get their temperature checked before entering the school building, before Sukkos. (Eli Wohl)

Although the intermediary days of Chol Hamoed precludes us from mundane writing, an exception is made for tzarchei harabim, communal needs. (Rama, O”C 545:1) The recent events occurring in Orthodox neighborhoods in New York, where restrictions were placed on gatherings in shuls and the like, coupled with the turbulent reaction of certain segments of the community, qualifies it as a davar ha’avud, a state of affairs which can bring about irreparable harm to our community, which permits and indeed necessitates a written response, despite its customary proscription.

The upcoming days are designed to be filled with romemus and kedushah — uplifting elevation and holiness. The tripartite begins with Hoshanah Rabbah, when we receive our piska tava, when the malachim receive their “instructions” to carry out the final verdict of the Heavenly Tribunal of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Shemini Atzeres follows, when we are “held back” an extra day to connect with the Ribono Shel Olam. And finally Simchas Torah, when we rejoice with the holy Torah, the precious gift given to us to impart the wisdom of Hashem, which guides us to lead the life as proscribed within. Yet these auspicious days are imperiled by the latest events.

In our turbulent times, we are faced with challenges unseen in recent history. For more than half a year, we lived with restrictions which turned our physical and spiritual worlds upside down. Yet somehow we managed to persevere, and many have grown immeasurably from their experiences. Others have struggled, trying to balance their emotional fatigue with the desire to forge ahead.

As the summer came to an end, it seemed like with the help of Hashem, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. COVID infections were down, new therapeutics were helping those who were ill, and talk of promising vaccines emerged. With a prayer, we let out a hopeful sigh of relief. Shuls were open for davening, yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs were filled with children learning, and toddlers were playing happily in their respective day care facilities.

The conclusion of our nesayon, however, the test we are being subjected to by Hakadosh Baruch Hu, seems to be elusive. As the days and weeks rolled on, our kehillos were once again stricken with cases of cholim. With great chasdei Hashem, the outbreak was less severe than the initial one, but the facts are that people are getting sick.

The authorities took notice and slapped us with renewed restrictions, and we are now faced with a different type of nesayon; combatting not only the virus, but indeed formulating a proper response to the circumstances. While the government has acted in a manner which is unfair and unconstitutional, and other parties have joined our community in opposing it, nevertheless our reaction must be in line with our teachings and traditions. Although we certainly would want to gather in our shuls for the Yomim Tovim, we must take into consideration the methods and techniques we utilize to achieve our goals.

From time immemorial, when faced with challenges, we turned to our Torah leaders to formulate our response. Sadly, our streets seem to be filled with makeshift leaders who thrive on inciting the masses to assert their “independence” and take matters into their own hands. Outside agitators, including some who are bored by the lack of venues to spend their off-time and seek some alternate thrill or entertainment, have poured onto the streets of our neighborhoods and enflamed an already volatile situation.

It is time do declare, “Go home! You do not represent us, you do not share our values, and you are certainly not the Torah leaders we look to for guidance! Have you contemplated the repercussions we may face after Yom Tov, when we want our children to return to their classrooms? Have you taken into consideration the enmity it is causing by those who see our neighborhoods descend into bedlam? Has it crossed your mind the anti-Semitism it can bring about?”

These factors and others deem it a davar ha’avud, a cause of irreparable harm, and mandate us to call for this behavior to end immediately. We are at a loss for words when the secular media look to us for an explanation as to why Jews are acting this way, and we cannot provide any rationale for the disorder we are experiencing.

It is time for the Yidden of New York to seek direction from Torah leaders as to how the Ribono Shel Olam wishes us to react. As the pasuk says in Malachi (3:24), “Veheishiv leiv avos al banim v’leiv banim al avosam — Moshiach will turn back the hearts of the fathers on their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” Only by adhering to true Torah principles of our heritage can we anticipate a piska tava for the entire Klal Yisrael.