By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
There is something called the Jewish way. It has nothing to do with one’s head covering or levush, beard,peyos or affiliation. It has to do solely with DNA, with being a ben Avrohom, Yitzchok veYaakov.
Chazal define it for us. Utilizing none of the usual stereotypes that come to mind, they tell us the siman, the way, to tell a Jew apart. They explain that to verify if a person is a fitting offspring of Avrohom Avinu, he must bear the attributes of rachmonim, bayshonim and gomlei chassodim.
Yidden have often been stereotyped as being bashful and timid. And it is true. Jews are soft, gentle, compassionate, kind and benevolent.
But what makes us unique is not only what we are, but also what we aren’t. There are some things that Yidden simply don’t do. We are familiar with the halachos dictating how a Jewish master deals with his slave. The Rambam tells us (Hilchos Avadim, 9), “The master may not abuse him, neither with hand nor speech, le’avdus mosron hakasuv velo lebushah – he is given to him for servitude, not humiliation.”
Just because people are under your thumb and power and you are able to control them, embarrass them, and banish them if they don’t do things your way doesn’t mean you should.
The Rambam continues and says: Don’t scream and yell at them. Talk to them nicely, with kindness and love. Speak softly. “Veyishma taanosov…,” he says “For cruelty and brazenness are found elsewhere… but the descendants of Avrohom Avinu, the bnei Yisroel, who received the gift of Torah, are merciful to everyone, emulating the middos of Hakadosh Boruch Hu, Whose mercy extends to every creature.”
Strong-arm tactics and toughness aren’t in our collective toolbox. They are not among the means we use to achieve our goals.
When we witness or hear of a chillul Hashem, we are disturbed, and witnessing another Yid who has fallen is always distressing. We hope that they will do teshuvah and find a way back. But when we hear of violence and aggression among Yidden, we are more than distressed. It is jarring and unnerving, and it should make no sense to us.
We know with certainty that it is not the Yiddishe way. It never was.
Our ultimate leader was Moshe Rabbeinu. His very first words to us, as he is quoted in the Torah, were: “Rasha, lamah sakeh rei’echa?” Just as they taught us back in cheder, Yidden don’t raise their hands to each other.
It’s nothing new to say that Jews are an “am keshei oref” and don’t always agree on everything. Opinions are varied, and there are many streams within legitimate Torah living. Differing viewpoints have created a beautiful mosaic, and even as we disagreed, and though there were exceptions, we did not as a rule resort to altercations and threats. There were other ways of settling our disputes. We turned to the fair and flawless halachos in Choshet Mishpat to guide us, much the same as Orach Chaim leads us through our daily activities.
There should be no reason to fight and quarrel; disagree perhaps, but not to fight.
So when we hear of violence or coercion or threats as a means to achieve something – victory in a machlokes, success in accomplishing this or that goal – we shudder. What happened to following the way of Avrohom Avinu?
The Rambam in Hilchos Deios (1:7) tells of the chiyuv to follow in the ways of the Creator, to incorporate His holy middos into our lives. He teaches that the derech Hashem is the path that Avrohom Avinu transmitted to his children, as the posuk says, “Lemaan asher yetzaveh ess bonov acharov.”
The Rambam concludes by assuring us that following this path is a means to bring “tova uvracha” into our lives, once again learned from Avrohom Avinu.
The Rambam tells us in Hilchos Avodah Zarah that the same Avrohom Avinu who embodied those hallowed traits, had a yeshiva where he taught Torah to the masses. He worked assiduously with compassion and love, to convince people of the truth of the Torah and its Giver.
Avrohom Avinu succeeded not with threats and anger, but with a persuasion fueled by intellect and warmth.
Our challenge today is to live like Avrohom. To think like him and to show concern for fellow man as he did.
The parshiyos of Bereishis we are currently studying, represent an opportunity for us to reaffirm who we are and who we come from. These stories, the maasei avos, aren’t mere tales or biographies. The story of Avrohom was recorded by Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai for posterity to improve man and to show us the way to live and interact with others. Not with terror, not through intimidation, but by employing sound reason and love.
Somehow, the message has become garbled of late and, more frequently, our people are resorting to physical and verbal violence in a bid to enforce their perception of our hallowed way of life. Mafia tactics and bullying may seem to work in the short term, but for long-term gain it is only the methods of the avos that succeed.
Building and working on behalf of even the best of causes can only be accomplished if done the way the first Torah builder did it. Each decision should be held up to one litmus test: What would Avrohom say? How would he react?
Avrohom Avinu combined love with determination, belief, trust, hard work and perseverance, despite what everyone around him thought. With his emunah, which he arrived at through contemplation and his thirst for truth, he analyzed the world. Once he made his discovery, no amount of intimidation could deter him from pursuing what he discovered to be the emes and the purpose of life.
We, his children, have gone from a persecuted group constantly on the run, fighting for our lives, to feeling firmly established and comfortable enough wherever we are that we are beginning to exhibit indications of behavior that we have not known since the days of the churban.
Rav Elchonon Wasserman, as is well-known, would leave his yeshiva and talmidim in Baranovitch each year for the duration of the month of Elul, to spend that time with his own rebbi, the Chofetz Chaim, in Radin.
After the Chofetz Chaim‘s passing, Rav Elchonon began to travel to the yeshiva in Kelm for the Yomim Noraim. The Sefer Zikaron Bais Kelm recounts that when asked why he left the yeshiva and headed to Kelm, he would respond that he had a kabbolah from the Chofetz Chaim that the gates of tefillah in this world were in Kelm.
The Sefer Zikaron states that on his way back to Baranovitch after the Yomim Noraim, Rav Elchonon would stop in nearby Telshe to visit the yeshiva where he had learned as a young man. One year, he was asked, “Why do you run after Rav Doniel (the Kelmer rosh yeshiva) so much?”
Rav Elchonon replied with the words of the novi Yeshaya (65:1): “Ko amar Hashem, Hashomayim kisi – The Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. What house could you build for Me and what place could be My resting place? My Hand created all these things and thus all these things came into being through the word of Hashem, but it is to this that I look, el oni unechei ruach vechareid al devori – to the poor and humble-spirited person who is zealous regarding My word.”
Rav Elchonon explained that the entire Heavenly order and cosmos are considered His chair. The earth in its entirety is merely His stool. What, then, does impress the Ribbono Shel Olam? If the vastness of the earth is nothing before Him, with what does He reckon?
With a humble-spirited, lowly person who is attached to His word. Just as the Ramban explains the great love Hakadosh Boruch Hu had for Avrohom Avinu, since he attached himself to the words of Torah, so does Hashem delight in all tzaddikim.
“And so,” concluded Rav Elchonon, “if the Ribbono Shel Olam delights in Reb Doniel, who is exactly the person the novi describes, I choose to travel there to be in his presence too, as that is the place to find Hashem!”
Throughout the ages, Jews were firm and principled, but they were nechei ruach. They coupled their great determination with humble spirit, an ability to listen and hear.
We just spent weeks dipping our challah in honey, zealously avoiding foods that are bitter and sharp during the yemei hadin. Perhaps another idea behind this minhag is that in this period of din, when we are more open to accept tochacha in preparation of the Divine judgment; the rapprochement needs to be delivered with a dose of honey. Sweetness is never a luxury.
If we are to succeed in passing on the derech of our father, Avrohom Avinu, to future generations, we must commit to using his tools of love, empathy, respect and warmth, and shunning Nimrod’s tools of coercion, force and threats.
Because the ones who demonstrate the utmost love, warmth and concern will ultimately emerge victorious.
Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz is the publisher of Yated Ne’eman, where this article first appeared.