5754 - Number 1
WITH RABBI BENJAMIN HECHT
The importance of kiruv cannot be understated. Rabbi Moshe Newman and Rabbi Mordechai Becher, Avotot Ahavah (specifically 1:2) and Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Jewish Outreach discuss throughout their works the numerous mitzvot that support, and command, our involvement with kiruv.However, the importance of kiruv cannot mean that our involvement with these mitzvot cannot be scrutinized. In fact, it is because of its very importance that kiruv demands investigation - both on a practical and theoretical level.
Our modern involvement with kiruv is relatively new. When faced with adversity, one must respond and so we have. Sociologists in the 1950's were predicting the demise of Orthodoxy; instead Orthodoxy has grown, reached out thereby not only protecting its numbers but actually strengthening its population base through bringing others under the kanfei haShichina. This was done not simply to protect the group base but, I believe for most, with honest motivations of Torah, in the spirit of Avraham Avinu, with recognition of the ratzon Hashem and a love for others. But we still must question, have we met our task in the best possible way? Are we meeting our goals? Are our goals real - are they too high or too low? T.B. Sanhedrin 37a reminds us of the absolute value of each and every person - numbers do not count. Obviously, though, if we could have touched two people but only touched one, we cannot stand on our laurels of kol hamakayim nefesh achat but must accept responsibility for not meeting our potential.
These are practical questions that must come forth as we look at the efficiency and effectiveness of kiruv. Is there another way to approach kiruv that would achieve greater results? with less costs? We may also wish to stand back and analyze our motivations - G-d, people, individual benefit. What causes us to enter the lives of people? How do we understand these mitzvot and their teachings regarding us, as human beings, and Torah? What would the analysis of these issues yield to us in practical terms. Asking these questions, in no way, is meant as an attack on the many fine kiruv professionals and volunteers involved in this vital responsibility. We must recognize that the modern kiruv endeavour arose out of great necessity and the call of duty. There was little time to analyze methodology; battle had to be entered. Constant evaluation and re-evaluation, though, must now be part of the obligation at hand. We must now, as kiruv continues its day-by-day activities, contemplate the process, determine if we are achieving the maximum. In the same vein, we may also wonder about costs, both real and opportunity. The practical issue must now be further investigated. We must ask and determine, with a true cheshban hanefesh: How best to do kiruv?
The issue, at hand for me, though, is a more theoretical question. I see in kiruv, what I term, a paradox of hashkafa.Kiruv, ultimately is a marketing of Torah and Judaism. This is not stated in a vulgar way but as a reality - a necessary reality for how else do we attract people to Torah unless we market it, present beauty and meaning in order to create interest. We invite people to our Shabbat tables so that they may be touched by the specialness of this experience and wish to investigate further. Call it marketing or not, we are presenting Torah in such a way that another may become interested and desire more. I do not know of any other way to do kiruv - yet I wonder: what about na'aseh v'nishma?
We, as human beings, have interests, drives, that which attracts us and motivates us. They may lie in the physical realm or in the spiritual. These include the desire for the spiritual, for a closeness to G-d; a drive to connect to people, to family, community or nation; a simple longing for inner peace, tranquillity or meaning. It is, in fact, these very interests or drives, among others, that is the focus of kiruv as we show how the Torah lifestyle satisfies these longings in the human being, in the Jew, and is, in fact, the only way to meet these personal yearnings. By inviting someone for Shabbat, for example, we are presenting the Torah lifestyle, specifically Shabbat observance and wish to demonstrate the beauty of this way of life and how it meets our needs in so many ways - family, rest, G-dliness. These responses are, in deed, part of Shabbat; I do not deny this. And, in fact, we are to search out reasons for the commandments, find their meaning and apply them in our life. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Temurah 4:13 quoted, as well, in support of his search for ta'amei hamitzvot by Sefer HaChinnuch, mitzvah 352. In fact, the energy of meaning that has arisen from modern kiruv has been a powerful force, throughout the community, against the negativeness of rote observance. Yet the question remains: should our commitment to Torah arise in this way?
Rambam, before, declaring the importance of searching for reasons categorically states that we must first recognize that all the mitzvot are gezarot, edicts, of Hashem. In my Examining the Why, NISHMA III, I further develop the concepts behind this interaction between gezarah and ta'amei hamitzvah. While finding and applying the meaning behind the action of mitzvah, we are not to see in this meaning the actual reason for performing the mitzvah. The reason to keep Shabbat is not because it brings spirituality, family warmth, a break from the hectic world around us; the reason to keep Shabbat is because Hashem so commanded, regardless of what it may offer. The significance of this idea is further developed and enunciated as cardinal to Judaism in na'aseh v'nishma.
The Sifri, Devarim 33:2 recounts the famous midrash that Hashem went to all the nations of the world to offer them the Torah before He offered it to Israel. With each of the nations, the response was the same. The nation refused the Torah because therein was contained a law that went against the very nature of the particular nation, kol atzmo shel avihem. For example, the sons of Esav argued: how could they accept the Torah that contained the commandment not to murder when the very essence of Esav was to be a murderer? The answer of Bnei Yisrael, however, was na'aseh v'nishma. It was not simply that the Torah connected with the drives of the Jewish people, that their kol atzmo shel avihem connected with Torah. Their response was not to even analyze this issue. See also T.B. Shabbat 88a,b; Rashi, thereon, d.h. osei dibro l'shmo'ah; my NISHMA Study Materials on Kabbalat HaTorah. Simply na'aseh v'nishma means we will accept the obligation before knowing what this obligation will accomplish for us. We will accept the obligation of Shabbat before knowing what Shabbat is. By definition, showing someone the beauty of Shabbat in order to bring forth commitment is no longer a continuation of na'aseh v'nishma. Practically, I do not know how else to do kiruv. In the realm of hashkafa, though, I recognize that the very process of kiruv raises a fundamental issue - what about na'aseh v'nishma?
We may ask: how does this matter? While na'aseh v'nishma was an ideal reached at Sinai, does a lack of this exemplary level truly affect Torah and our every day observance. So the ba'al teshuva (in fact this problem extends beyond kiruv) is not on the madreiga of the dor de'ah, are any of us? Is that a problem in our essence of Torah? The answer is yes. Na'aseh v'nishma was not just an ideal but a declaration of a basic hashkafa principle. When an individual analyzes Torah to determine its value or worth to the individual, this person is placing parameters upon themselves and Torah. When the children of Esav decreed that a Torah that contained lo tirtzach was not applicable to them, they were limiting Torah - declaring that it did not speak to one who had the drive for murder - and they were limiting themselves - not challenging themselves to see how a son of Esav could respond to the Divine blueprint of Torah (which had to be possible). The famous gemara (T.B. Shabbat 156a) that tells us that one with a predisposition to murder (aggression?) should become a mohel or a shoichet tells us that Bnei Esav were wrong. But they faulted not simply in not finding the answer to how they could be within Torah but in the very asking of the question. We are not to evaluate Torah to see how it meets our needs. We are to accept the reality of Torah and accept the challenge of this reality - what it is teaching us about our needs.
If we say the Torah offers spirituality, then spirituality becomes a parameter to evaluate Torah. If we say Torah offers family warmth, then family warmth becomes a parameter to evaluate Torah. Na'aseh v'nishma was a declaration that Torah offers Torah, period. The meeting of Bnei Yisrael with Torah was to be dynamic, sometimes even confrontational in thought, as it was not only the issue of what Torah had to offer (which, post-commitment, is part of the world of ta'amei hamitzvot) but also what Torah demanded from the personality of the Torah nation. Do not state that Torah offers spirituality because there are times that it will not and, in fact, will demand from the one wishing spirituality to do the opposite. The same may be true with family warmth. Na'aseh v'nishma defines Torah in a totally different light.
A further example that may illustrate this dilemma is niddah. The prohibition of marital contact between husband and wife for almost two weeks each month is primary to a Torah observant lifestyle. In attempting to convince individuals to consider performance of this mitzvah, many reasons are presented, (most with support within the world of ta'amei hamitzvah). One is that observance of niddah will improve romance within the marriage. What, though, if niddah, in fact, negatively affects this romance? Does the obligation of niddah change? More significantly, though, by presenting this as a reason for commitment, we now introduce romance as a parameter on Torah. What if there is another halacha that absolutely limits romance - will this individual observe niddah while ignoring the other law? The question is not even one of practice but in theory of Torah. The reason that someone commits to observance will become connected in essence with that individual's Torah. Torah is romance, spirituality, family warmth in this person's mind - and these matters become inherent to any subsequent evaluation of Torah. Correctly, though, Torah must supersede all other values - stand apart, unique and dominant.
Na'aseh v'nishma means we have a dialogue with Torah; it speaks to us without our preconceived notions of what it will tell us. And we speak to it - question it, attempt to understand it - using our own inherent values as the fuel for questioning and the dynamics of dialogue. A commitment that arises from demonstrating how Torah offers spirituality or tranquillity means that one will always see Torah through preconceived glasses of spirituality or tranquillity. Dialogue is not possible for one defines Torah by oneself. Without any pre-conceived ideas, though, we can have true dynamics of thought as Torah - separate and independent of any assumed values - can challenge us to think, evaluate our beings as we attempt to understand it. In turn, our inherent values can also give strength to our selves in dialogue leading to chiddush, new Torah ideas, as the breadth of the Torah lesson is not limited by other parameters.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Shiurei HaRav, The Dual Aspects of Jewish Morality speaks of niddah in terms of self-defeat and withdrawal. The Rav's concept, which he sees throughout Torah, that: "the Jew is required to march boldly on to victory, but he must retreat and withdraw just as victory is assumed. After this, he may resume his march forward," is a most powerful one. The Rav's words, though, would not assist in creating commitment - who would wish to be part of an experience that brings forth feelings of defeat. These words, though, have great meaning to the one already committed to Torah desiring a knowledge of the dynamics that exist in observance. These words, though, could only arise in the world of na'aseh v'nishma - I am bound to Torah, what is happening within this commitment - without any preconceived ideas of why one should be committed to these actions except the ratzon Hashem. (See my Examining the Why for an investigation of ratzon Hashem as a reason for commitment.)
In discussing this issue with others, especially those involved with kiruv, they see my dilemma. On a practical level, how can we interest people in entering the batei midrashim to learn about Torah while still maintain na'aseh v'nishma which seems to challenge or at least place strong parameters on the very process of developing interest? In the realm of hashkafa, how do we ensure that the Torah of na'aseh v'nishma is not incorrectly affected by the misapplication of preconceived notions, particularly in how it affects observance. I am especially troubled by individuals who insist on declaring what the Torah should be accomplishing and what the halacha should be, based on this original reason for commitment. No doubt, always, there seems to be one shittah in support - but they do not see that, sometimes, it is they who must be troubled, that the Torah sometimes wants to place their pre-conceived notion under the microscope, not itself under the evaluation of this other idea. Yet, for many of these individuals, their veryinvolvement with Torah arose because we presented it as fulfilling that notion.
One may argue that mitoch shelo l'shma ba l'shma, that observance for incorrect reasons will eventually lead to observance for correct reasons(T.B. Pesachim 50b). There is truth in this assertion but how many recognize the lo l'shma aspect of their observance. Do we tell an individual, for example, that his/her desire for spirituality is lo l'shma? It is not a simple lo l'shma. I do feel though that for everyone somewhere within Torah, what I call the personal "wall" is reached where, no matter what preconceived notions are brought to Torah, the Torah challenges our beliefs and parameters. This is similar to akeidat Yitzchak where Avraham was called upon to act in a way that challenged his very understanding of G-d and His involvement with human beings. In a way, I believe that the nature of Torah is such that we all face this challenge. There will be those who will "bounce off the wall", ignore the teaching resulting in the pre-conceived notion (that, true, brought them to Torah) reigning supreme. There will be others who "scale the wall", thereby entering the world of na'aseh v'nishma. And perhaps only then do I have an answer to my paradox.
We invite you to submit your thoughts and comments, on the issues presented in INQUIRY, for possible inclusion in future NISHMA UPDATES.Your suggestions for INQUIRY topics and questions are also most welcome. Your involvement is a necessary part of our combined learning objective.
Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky , Jerusalem, Israel
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, NISHMA Update Sept/93, Inquiry - Israel: Miracles and Derech HaTevah wrote: "With Israel, we expect to experience the supernatural yet this peace treaty ignores the supernatural." If he meant that the secular leaders ignored the supernatural, that has been true with every decision made, including the ones not to respond to the scuds. If he meant that we, as believing Jews, can't see the supernatural at work in the recent events, I beg to differ with him. I believe that the hand of Divine guidance is present and "obvious". We are just looking in the wrong direction. We have certain expectations of how G-d should act - like saving us from Iraq's missiles. When He behaves differently, yet no less supernaturally, we miss it. Here is how I see the events of the past few months.
We are all human beings, and at times each of us makes mistakes in judgement. It is natural. But something very different has happened here, a very different kind of mistake. Without getting in to the political or Halachic questions of the treaty, the things Rabin agreed to, the unbelievable haste in which he agreed to them, and the critical life-and-death issues that he left wide open, are all simply beyond the realm of natural human error. The stupidity was supernatural, "michutz l'derech hateva," if you like. Expecting the PLO to be willing or able to control extremist elements who are committed to the continuation of terror. Expecting the Arabs to honor agreements with Israel with more integrity than they have ever honored any agreement made with their fellow Arabs. Putting them in control of most of the West Bank BEFORE discussions begin on the final status of the territories, so that when we sit down at those discussions the Palestinians are the "muchzak" instead of the Israelis. All of this went way beyond Camp David, and beyond anything any responsible leader, as hungry as he was for peace, would or should agree to. Saying that we need to give the Arabs a chance, to see if they can handle peace, is one thing. Doing it in a way that creates irreversible facts (at least in any natural way they are irreversible) is quite another. The fact that some leaders are suggesting that if it doesn't work, we will just go in and "turn back the clock" is itself unbelievable naivete. Tolerating the fact that the Arabs themselves are declaring loudly and publicly that this is only the first step to a Palestinian state; Jerusalem as its capital; the right of return to hundreds of thousands of Arabs; excusing every terrorist murder as being done by the Hamas trying to derail the peace process: All of the above says in essence that NOTHING will stop Rabin and Peres from moving ahead with this process. This is simply NOT NATURAL.
Lev melech b'yad Hashem. The hearts of leaders are in the hands of G-d. (Mishlei 21:1. See also, as an example of this concept, Ramban, Shemot 7:3 who quotes this verse in regard to the hardening of Pharaoh's heart by G-d.) It seems clear to this writer that what has happened over the past three months is once again G-d controlling history, no less so than the overnight fall of the Berlin Wall or the miraculous and speedy disintegration of Russia. It is G-d intervening and controlling our destiny, no less so than in the establishment of the State of Israel, which was given to us stripped of all Holy places. Intervening as He did in the Six Day War, giving the Jewish people a miraculous victory, along with instant control over the previously inaccessible Holy places. The difference is that we were overjoyed by His previous interventions - and we should be terrified by the present ones.
I believe G-d was sending the Jews a message in 1948. And again in 1967. And in 1973. It's possible, as they say in the United States these days, we "just don't get it." So once again, in 1987, a message was sent. With the unexpected, overnight eruption of the Intifada, Jews began to lose control over Eretz Yisrael. This process has continued, reaching a more extreme stage with the "unnatural" history that Jews seem to willingly be giving away part of Eretz Yisrael.
With a little honest analysis, we may be able to get some insight into where it came from, what Am Yisrael did, or did not do, to bring about this situation. Without prophecy, we can't know where it is headed. But the source for G-d intervening to corrupt the natural judgement of leaders is in fact found in the section of T.B. Gittin 56b Rabbi Hecht quoted. "Meishiv chachamim achor v'daatam yikaseil," G-d turns wise people backwards, and their intelligence becomes foolish. This is how Rabbi Akiva explained why Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai made only a limited request from Asposyanus, rather than doing the more logical thing and asking that Jerusalem be saved. While an explanation is provided of why Rabbi Yochanan made the limited request, the clear implication of the Gemara is that he made a mistake. This is one of the ways that G-d works, distorting the judgement of people empowered to make decisions.
I think it is clear that as we have done throughout Israel's 45 miraculous years of existence, we must continue to "read within all its events a supernatural plan." G-d may be modifying the implementation of the plan, based on choices made by the Jewish people. But the miraculous ways the plan unfolds are noticeable at every step of the way. We just need to keep our eyes sharply focused. And try to understand what G-d expects from us.
Study Thoughts - Rabbi Hecht's matter-of-fact reference to the present peace treaty as operating within the realm of derech hatevah evoked Rabbi Kralinsky's above response which argues forcefully that this plan is actually operating within the world of the supernatural. This must force us to consider the distinction between these two realms. How are we to truly identify and perceive each of them? More significantly, what is the difference between the Hand of G-d operating through derech hatevah and the Hand of G-d acting michutz l'derech hatevah? Rabbi Karlinsky in declaring the peace process as supernatural also states that there is a message involved. This would seem to be reasonable - that Hashem acts michutz l'derech hatevah to make a point. The question is: how do we determine G-d's message without a navi's assistance? What is the message of this peace plan? Our own personal bias, which also motivates us to only see the supernatural when it is positive, must always be considered.
Dr. Shoshana Zolty, Toronto, Ontario
The relationship between Torah study and family dynamics is one significant aspect of women's Torah study that merits further investigation. T.B. Berachot 17a states that one of the central roles of a woman as wife and mother is to further the Torah study of her husband and children. "Whereby do women earn merit? By making their children go to the synagogue to learn Scripture and their husbands to the Beth Hamidrash to learn Mishnah, and waiting for their husbands till they return from the Beth Hamidrash (translation from Soncino Edition)." The family relationship is perceived to be a contributing force in fostering Torah study. The dynamics of this relationship that yield these positive returns in Torah, however, have never been fully explored. How does a positive relationship between husband and wife effect Torah study within the family? What function, in turn, does Torah study play in fostering a positive relationship?
In "And All Your Children Shall Be Learned": Women and the Study of Torah in Jewish Law and History, I present the following: It may well be argued that women are seeking more learned husbands and that husbands are seeking more learned women than in the past generations. As such, we see that the forces of history that animated past generations have changed - for better or for worse (p.308).
One may contend, in defense of an argument that the changes are positive, that the greater a woman's proficiency in Torah study, the closer and more interactive the relationship between husband and wife, and between mother and children will be. The story of Pearl Reich Loew offers an important historical paradigm in this regard.
Pearl Reich Loew was the wife of the renowned Talmudist, moralist, and mathematician Rabbi Judah ben Bezalel Loew (Maharal, l5l2 -l609) of Prague. When but a child of six, she became engaged to a brilliant young lad of ten, Judah ben Bezalel Loew. Recognizing his great genius, she decided to study assiduously, so that he would never have cause to be ashamed of her. She studied in secret until the age of fourteen, when Judah returned from studying at the yeshiva. He was so amazed and delighted to discover the depth of his fiancee's Torah scholarship that he prepared a special curriculum for her to study during the next four or five years, during which time he studied at another yeshiva.
Due to economic and other factors, the couple did not marry until Judah was thirty-two and Pearl was twenty-eight. Judah was astonished to discover the extent of Pearl's progress in Torah study during the twelve years since he had last met with her. She had become an accomplished Torah scholar. After a period of economic hardship, during which Pearl was the breadwinner in order to allow her husband the opportunity to study undisturbed, their livelihood improved, and Pearl could feel free to sit and study. Every day she had a lesson with her husband, who considered her his equal in scholarship. They studied Talmud together, as well as ethics and metaphysics. Pearl used to say that since she was eight years old, never a day passed when she did not spend at least five hours studying Torah. When Rabbi Judah became renowned and would receive halakhic queries from many communities, Pearl would read these letters to him and write out his replies. She arranged and redacted all twenty-four of her husband's literary works. It is told that in no fewer than eight places, she found errors in her husband's writings, where he had misquoted the talmudic sages, Rashi, or the Tosafists. As a result, the Maharal held his wife in high esteem, applying to her the verse from Proverbs 3l:30: "Many women have done valiantly, but you have surpassed them all."
Pearl Loew's life is the story of a woman who was determined to prove that the intensive Torah education of a woman can only enhance the relationship between husband and wife and add a dimension of mutual respect and support to the marriage. The Lubavitcher Rebbi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Likutei Sichot (Hebrew version) 5750, p. 174, extends this benefit to the parental relationship. The increase in Torah study for women can generate greater spiritual and intellectual interaction between mother and child. Furthermore, a favourable effect on the Torah study of the members of the family can be expected. Rabbi Schneerson asserts:
As a result of [women's further Torah study, including Torah she'be'al peh], another benefit accrues with enabling women to continually involve themselves in the learning of their children and husbands. [Traditionally] women received merit for "helping their children learn Scripture in the synagogue, and helping their husbands learn Oral Law in the Yeshivah, and waiting for their husbands until they returned." Beyond this, women are now able to actively encourage them by participating in the actual study.
While the subject of the relationship between Torah study and the family requires further investigation, the above presents an opening for inquiry.
Dr. Zolty's recently published work "And All Your Children Shall Be Learned": Women and the Study of Torah in Jewish Law and History (Jason Aronson Publishers) was featured as the November book-of-the-month by the Jewish Book Club. Material adapted from this fine work on the subject was provided courtesy of Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, N.J. 07647.
Study Thoughts - While Rabbi Schneerson states that women's Torah study will enhance the entire family's involvement with Torah learning, the Talmud's directive does not include this specific suggestion. Why? The Rebbe's full discussion, from which the above quote was extracted, involved the change in Torah study for women within our time. Was the Talmud simply responding to a different time period, stating what women can do given that they did not learn - thus, as Rabbi Schneerson would seem to indicate the extended directive for today? Or is the gemara's directive to be understood more precisely - challenging the Rebbe's kal v'chomer? The relationship between the Maharal and his wife further raises the issue of what constitutes the ideal in the husband-wife relationship. It would seem obvious that a relationship would be strengthened through the sharing of a significant, important common interest such as Torah study and knowledge. Yet, in that Pearl Loew's behaviour was unique, we must also recognize that it was not the norm. What can we say about those relationships where there is a differentiation in Torah knowledge and Torah study? What do they indicate regarding the husband-wife relationship ideal? To simply ignore the lesson of the unique would be incorrect but to ignore the fact that it is unique would also be inappropriate. Yet was Pearl Loew truly unique or was the flow of Torah between the Maharal and his wife simply more known? What does eshet chaver k'chaver (T.B. Shavuot 30b; Avodah Zarah 39a) truly mean? What is the significance, in this regard, of the p'tur of women from the obligation of limud haTorah? For a further investigation of these and other issues regarding women and Torah study, we direct you to Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, Women and Judaism: The Question of Learning, NISHMA Update, September 1992 and, of course, Dr. Zolty's own extensive new work on the subject which has drawn strong praise from a wide spectrum of Torah scholars.
The NISHMA UPDATE DVAR TORAH section offers a platform for the presentation of original Torah lessons or ideas. Study Thoughts follow each DVAR TORAH, raising issues and questions for further investigation. We invite you to participate.
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