5753 - #7

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, in explaining why the book of Bereishit is referred to as Sefer HaYashar, states the following:

" This was the praise of the forefathers for aside from being righteous men and saints and lovers of G-d in the greatest possible way, they also were yashar. [Our forefathers] interacted with the nations of the world even the most despicable idolaters but always [our forefathers] connected with them with love and were concerned about their good, for this is the way to maintain the creation...and therefore this book was called sefer hayashar because of the acts of our forefathers." (HaEmek Davar, Introduction to Bereishit)

The Ntziv's words are most powerful, teaching us to be understanding of our fellow man. They echo the famous lesson of Beruryah, that we must be intolerant of sins but not of the person who transgresses (T.B. Brachot 10a). Yet perhaps the most forceful aspect of the Ntziv's statement arises in his comparison to those who did not act correctly, who were not yashar, and thereby brought about the destruction of the second Temple:

"they were righteous men, saints and deep in Torah, but they were not yesharim in the ways of the world therefore because of the wanton hatred in their hearts one to the other, they suspected one who did not act according to their perception in the fear of G-d [i.e. practice of Torah], that person was a Sadduccee or an Apikorus. And from this arose... eventually the destruction of the Temple and on this there was [Divine] justice, for G-d is yashar and has no patience for tzaddikim like these."

A close examination of the Ntziv's words reveal a depth to his presentation that may at first elude the reader. Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov treated everyone, even the idolater, with caring. This is the emotion of tolerance and understanding we should have towards people, even if we find their actions

problematic or repulsive. We must respond to another person's actions when necessary; however, when it comes to the person, there is only One Judge.

The Ntziv's critique of those who were not yashar, however, goes beyond this lack of emotion. They not only treated those outside the pale of Torah incorrectly but they also treated those within Torah's boundaries poorly -- calling all who disagree, even within Halacha, a Sadducce or an Apikorus. This is more than the lack of the emotion of tolerance; this is the lack of the necessary Torah concept of tolerance.

Tolerance is not only an emotion that is necessary in our relations with our fellow man. It is not just a factor of bein adam l'chaveiro, between man and man. It is an aspect of our relationship with G-d; part of our connection bein adam l'Makom, between man and G-d.

In his general Introduction to HaEmek Davar, the Ntziv discusses the fact that people have different understandings of Torah. This is not a weakness in the Divine transmission, but its very strength. Recognizing that Torah is beyond my own perceptions of values leads me to recognize my place in connection to others and to G-d. The halachic Zionist who knows that within Torah there is a place for the Satmar Rav will have a different perception of his/her position than the individual who believes his/her attitude towards Israel is the only path of Torah and all who disagree are "outside the pale". In the same vein, the member of Neturei Karta who recognizes that Rav Kuk's stand was also within Torah will act differently than the one who believes everyone else to be apikorsim. Knowledge of spectrum is not simply an academic exercise. It tells us that not to create G-d's values in our image, but rather that we are to derive, as best we can, direction from the Divine system which is beyond. When we recognize that Rav Kuk and the Satmar Rav are both within Torah even though we cannot fully comprehend how to unite the two, then we understand that we are not G-d and that His values direct us; not the other way around.

The egotistical perception that "I" am right can lead to judgemental attitudes that break down our ability to relate with others. Our forefathers were so great that even though they constantly upheld and struggled for the knowledge of G-d, they still knew how to treat another human being. Those whose behaviour eventually led to the destruction of the Temple, not only did not know how to treat another person; but their insistence on their own perceptions of values even led them to ignore G-d and the Divine values that we can only reach for but never truly understand.

This is an important lesson to keep in mind during these three weeks leading up to Tisha Ba Av.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail

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