Monday, June 22, 2009

Korach, Bamidbar 16:1. Achdus I: All You Need is Love, and Other Symptoms of Dementia

Korach incited his followers with the motto "Kol ha'eida kulam kedoshim! Madu'a tisnas'u ahl kehal Hashem?" All the people are holy, and the Shechina dwells within every man equally. What right, Moshe, do you have to create artificial distinctions among the people of God? What right do you have to claim elevated status for yourself and for your relatives?

Rav Kook
in his (posthumously printed in 1938 by what seems to be the predecessor of the Mossad HaRav Kook, edited by the Nazir, R’ David Kohen,) Oros Hakodesh, pages 453 and 454, that it is necessary for groups or individuals that have specific talents or roles to be separate in order to allow them to develop their peculiar talent, and that the claim that the mob-movements make that all people must be equal destroys the possibility for the development of spiritual or elevated characteristics: his words— “Sitra achra shari be'chibura ve'siyem be'piruda, ve'sitra dekedusha shari be'piruda ve'siyem be'chibura, ve'sham gufei ikri shalom.” Translation: The 'devil' begins with union and ends with division; holiness begins with division and ends with union, and in that itself is the essence of Shalom. (After years of not knowing the source, Bezalel Naor, an acquaintance from Ner Israel and a renowned scholar of Rav Kook's writings, kindly emailed me that it comes from Zohar II, 95a. This is in the Vilna/Mossad Kook edition. However, it is not used there for the purpose R’ Kook uses it– it just talks about some kind of nochosh and says that “shori b’chiburoh v’siyeim b’pirudoh.”) Applied to the context of Korach: Korach created pirud through what was, ostensibly, a demand for achdus (by saying that everyone is the same and nobody is entitled to a higher position or responsibility) while tzadikim create achdus through pirud, i.e., separation of individuals or groups that have specific talents.

This appears, at first glance, to be a rationalization, or an Orwellian twist of language; but recall the terror that followed the French Revolution (whose motto, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité," "Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood," has been retained by the modern French Republic), and the Maoist Cultural Revolution of 66-76, which persecuted Chinese teachers and intellectuals and “bourgeois values” and enforced Mao’s cult of personality, claiming that the only information necessary was the Red Book and party loyalty, and which had anyone with demonstrated intellectual or cultural achievement sent to re-indoctrination camps and then to manual labor. This quickly turned violent, and the purges that followed resulted in many deaths and economic disruption. Both the French and the Chinese violence asserted a philosophical basis of egalitarianism. On the other hand, the American Revolution also made the fundamental assertion that all men are created equal. The difference is that the evil lies in mandating and enforcing equality, as opposed to the philosophy of encouraging differences; because one man, and thus government as a whole which is only an expression of and for the benefit of men, lacks the authority to control men.

Another observation about Rav Kook's thought: We are constantly deluged with talk about Achdus. Achdus, Achdus, Achdus. Love your fellow Jew, invite him over, have you children play together, respect his way of life. This is baloney. Here's what I think.

Say your daughter goes out with boys to R rated movies, and your neighbor's daughter goes to Beis Yakov, they don't have a TV, and she would blush simply being in the same room as a boy. So, do you think they ought to hang around together? Your daughter would feel she is being belittled and disrespected, your neighbor would not want his daughter influenced by your daughter, and you would both be right. But what, you say, about children young enough to be sexually innocent? Well, would you like your child, in whom you have inculcated literal belief in the words of Chazal, to hear a playmate say that the story of Adam and Noach and the Mabul and the senescent motherhood of Sarah are just made-up stories, fairy tales chas veshalom? So, the kids shouldn't play together. How do you think the families are going to get along if parents keep their kids away from the neighbors? Antipathy is a concomitant of enforced separation.

As far as adults are concerned, let's focus on the facts, not the delusion, and the fact is that the Jews are hopelessly splintered. Does anyone really think that Satmar and Mercaz Harav have much in common? I'm not talking about Neturei Karta. Everyone hates them, and with good reason. Traitors earn hatred, no matter how well-meaning they might be. But Satmar is a functional group with a long history and a heritage of talmidei chachamim. Do members of the two sects/groups/camps have anything to do with each other? Would they feel comfortable walking into the others' shul to daven? And what about the Satmar Dayan in Antwerp who publicly and vociferously railed against a community-wide tehillim gathering for the safety of the soldiers of Tzahal during the Gaza war? And, speaking of the Satmarers, it is not easy to like a group that proclaims that Zionism and the movement to found the State of Israel was the proximate cause of the Holocaust. Did the endless cycle of Inquisitions and pogroms escape their attention?

This is not a new problem. Our history tells us of men who were great scholars and talmidei chachamim whose behavior was horrifying. Think about what the Shvatim wanted to happen to Yosef. Think about Shimi ben Geira and Avner, about other tzadikim gemurim, as the Chassam Sofer says in Parshas Shmos, who murdered Jews because they paskened that this was the halacha, but who, we are told, were wrong. Of course, who are we to judge? We are not even chamorim compared to these great men. Even Korach, compared to us, was a malach. Remember what Menasheh said to Rav Ashi in a dream, as brought in Sanhedrin 102b?

But all that does not matter at all. The point I'm making is this; you can have a great talmid chacham, a great tzadik, even what the Chasam Sofer calls a tzadik gamur. And this person is capable of paskening that someone is chayav misah: he is capable of personally killing a person; and we, the rest of Klal Yisrael, the ones who follow other poskim, hold that they are wrong. That means that there can be a tzadik gamur on one side who holds that we should go out and kill a certain Jew, and other poskim hold that whoever kills that Jew is a Rotzei'ach and is chayav missah. So what you have is a tzadik gamur and talmid chacham who is, by the hashkafos of others, a rotzei'ach. Rotzei'ach is not a morally neutral term. He is a murderer.

So if being a talmid chacham is not proof against being a murderer, what kind of a farce is it to say that Klal Yisrael has to aspire to achdus. This is not an exercise. It is a very good question. When there is nothing in the sincere study of Torah and the honest adherence to our mesorah that prevents the rise of diametrically opposed and absolutely incompatible groups, what do we mean when we say we need achdus? What on earth does achdus mean when the numerous ambiguities of the Torah naturally and inevitably result such radical division that drive us at each others' throats? And these ambiguities do not stem from our failure to adequately study the Torah. The ambiguity is an inherent and intended characteristic of the Torah. See Bava Metzia 88b, where there was an argument between God and the Heavenly Academy regarding a certain halacha, and they decided to bring Rabbah bar Reb Channa to make the decision.

Don't tell me that such extreme polarization is rare. It isn't. It happens all the time and every day.

So what is this constant talk about achdus? Are we so naive that we think it's possible, or, as is more likely, are we just saying it even though we know, in our hearts, that it's impossible? Are we just going through the motions because we think that it's a religious obligation to hahk a tshainik about achdus? I think that when people talk about brotherhood, they mean that a Chaim Berlin family in Flatbush can learn to get along with a Chafetz Chaim family in the Five Towns! Yes, we can do it!

The only difference is that we have THREE National Brotherhood Weeks. See Chagiga 26a, Vayei'asef...chaverim, and the mishnayos there.

At best, we can stay as far away as possible but recognize that the other is nebach entitled to his opinion, criminally stupid as it may be, or level of observance, ridiculously lax/fanatic as it may be. If they need help, offer to help. Greet them with a show of respect, even if you think that their stubborn backwardness is the reason mashiach has not yet come. But social mixing and true respect? Absurd.

As far as I can tell, achdus, to the extent that it is possible at all, is only possible in a secular democracy with strict division between religion and the state. This bifurcation, hopefully, carries over to social interaction. Obviously, this is not a guarantee of peace. Conflict about the form and direction and purpose of government can be as bloody as religious wars, as evidenced by most of the wars of the twentieth century, both hot and cold. But it seems to me that this kind of arrangement holds the most promise, while religion is fundamentally exclusivist and incompatible with compromise and mutual respect.


  1. "Did the endless Inquisitions and pogroms escape their attention?"

    I would dare to venture that all of them put together wouldn't equal the holocaust.

    Satmar Rov z"l was really trying to "explain" or "justify" HaShem's actions. Since each punishment needs a crime, and there is very little doubt that, in those years all the "isms" were enemies of the Torah, and Zionism one of them. So it follows according to this rationale that the State of Israel, being a product of the Zionist ideology, belongs in the same category.

  2. Perhaps you are right, but I wonder if the broader scope of the Holocaust would console the children of Shu'm who were burned alive along with the last vestiges of those ancient communities.

    It doesn't matter what the Satmerer held. His opinion, and that of, e.g., Rav Rudderman, (that if the malachei hashares couldn't fathom, or WERE UNWILLING TO PERCEIVE the reason for churban bayis rishon, it is bizarre (respectfully, and only from R'R's perspective,) for contemporaries to proclaim reasons for a worse disaster) are very different, no?

    And even if the two opinions are amenable to Eilu ve'Eilu, (which I HIGHLY DOUBT,) they are mutually EXCLUSIVE in the real world. You can't feel overflowing gratitude for a gift while agreeing that the gift may have been tendered maliciously and in order to poison you.

  3. On the one hand we have Bais Hillel and Shammai somehow coexisting despite the fact that one held the other was being marie mamzerim. Then there was Eliahu And Achav who each accused the other of being an omer Yisroel

  4. Excuse the typos I meant marbe mamzerim and oker Yisroel

  5. For the best opinion on the Holocaust see the aish Kodesh who says Hashem went to far (somthing along those lines!!!

  6. Why does achdus have to mean social mixing and true respect? When the old yerushalmi yid trying to buy a dirah for his youngest daughter knocks on my door and I listen to his problems and give him a few dollars, I feel some degree of achdus with him even though we have little shared interests and diametrically opposed ideas. When I see an MO couple, stuck with a child in Mount Sinai hospital for shabbos, enjoying the kugals and cakes provided by satmar bikkur cholim I have a sense of seeing true achdus.

    Achdus, as cliche as it sounds, means treating every Jew as I would my brother. I can (and do) disagree with almost everything my brother says but I would do anything for him and vice versa. [Just wanted to see if that would be automatically deleted]

  7. Very funny. No, vice versa doesn't get deleted. The one's that have no good equivalent are legit. One of my favorites is cucullus non facit monachum, the hood does not make the monk. Until I find a Chazal that says that wearing your tzitzis out does not make you a ben torah.

    Anyway, I will be very happy to conclude that the post is not only wrong, but myopic and wrong headed as well. Thanks for beginning the process.

  8. I hope this helped you reduce your high blood pressure.

    One of the most commented-upon cases of achdus was the chever atzabim in the time of Achav - which, applying your hypothesis, was made possible by the avodah zarah attitude of tolerance. That tolerance even embraced Ovadiah hiding the true nevi'im. Imagine the converse: how much tolerance a chareidi society would show for someone protecting nevi'ei haba'al.

    I once heard in the name of the Chasam Sofer that the gematria of Sholom Rav is the same as Machlokes. It actually works out precisely.
    Sholom Rav le'Ohavei Torasecha, indeed.

    I seem to recall that you recently criticized the tznius gangs circulating in Yerushalaim. It seems that they are simply taking this philosophy to the next level. After all, Chazal cites a case of stoning for [otherwise not prohibited] extreme pritzus.

    Are we really willing to face what the coming of the Moshiach will bring?

  9. 1. Posting is always therapeutic; reading thoughtful comments is invigorating.

    2. So you agree that bromidic promulgation of achdus is essentially fallacious.

    3. What on earth did the CS mean with that? Was he saying pshat in Shalom Rav le'ohavei Torasecha? Or in Talmidei Chachamim marbim shalom ba'olam?

    4. There's a difference between shunning and battering.

    5. It's sure to take getting used to. Alevai we should face such challanges.

  10. 1. bromidic (or iodinic, or chlorinic...) promulgation of anything is essentially fallacious. Mitzvos Anashim Melumada, while apparently the goal of the current "Jewish" "Education" "System", was declared anathema to Hashem's version of yiddishkeit twenty-five hundred years ago.

    2. The CSZ"l conducted a no-holds barred, extremely aggressive campaign against haskalah and maskilim. His statement was in response to a criticism based on gadol hashalom.

    3. Chazal, as indicated, seemed to feel that if battering was the most [or perhaps only] efficacious method, then battering it is. The tznius clubs (clubbers?) are after all working at the direction of their Rabbanim and Batei Dinim.

    4. Whatever happened to the politically-incorrect halachot of moridin, or at least ein ma'alin?

    5. The previous ignores the various arguments regarding tinok shenishba.

  11. Oh, CSZ'L stands from Chasam Sofer Z'l. I wonder if it is in print: if anything, it is likely in his sefer on the Torah.