By Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman
Story Number One
One day a young teacher in a Yeshiva Day School whose staff was Chareidi – although the student body was what we refer to as “Modern Orthodox’ and therefore positively inclined to The State of Israel- walked into the school office.
The young teacher was told by the secretary that tomorrow was Yom Yerushalayim and she should be prepared to teach accordingly.
The young teacher looked at the secretary and innocently asked. “What is Yom Yerushalayim?”
The secretary, a nominal Shomer Shabbos woman who was a holocaust survivor looked incredulously at the young woman.
“How could you not know what Yom Yerushalayim is?”
The young woman did not comprehend the older woman’s shock and older woman could not comprehend the younger woman’s ignorance.
As the younger woman left the office, she asked a more veteran colleague who had witnessed the exchange, “What is Yom Yerushalayim?”
The veteran Chareidi teacher looked at her and said dismissively, “Oh, it’s nothing, just some silly meaningless Zionist holiday.”
A Rebbe who observed the entire episode walked away disillusioned.
Story Number Two
A young Yeshiva man has been informed by his Religious Zionist relatives that the ‘place’ to be on Yom Yerushalayim is Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Yerushalayim.
He arrives in the night and the dancing is in full swing. The fervor and the enthusiasm on the faces of the young men are contagious.
Suddenly a black official looking car pulls up at the yeshiva.
The young men in the dancing circles break up and encircle the immerging visitor from the car.
The young yeshiva man imagines that a great and distinguished rabbi must be arriving to join the festivities.
The yeshiva man stands up to get a glimpse of the immerging dignitary.
As the dignitary emerges he is surrounded by the oldest and most fervent of the dancers.
The young yeshiva man sees how the first group of dancers who are four abreast in formation are singing the traditional, ‘Or zarua latzadik ul’yishrei leiv simchah: “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.”
This is a song traditionally reserved for true righteous and pious men.
As the young man observed the faces of the dancers, he noticed their faces were drenched in perspiration; their eyes were closed in sincere devotion and their entire faces indicated an ecstatic trance of exuberance.
Who was this larger than life figure who caused them to dance in ecstatic rapture?
Who was this reputable role-model?
Finally his face came into view.
The yeshiva boy’s face paled and he blanched.
The man, who was clean shaven, did not look rabbinic at all.
Indeed, on further investigation he was informed that although the dignitary had descended from a long line of prominent Sephardic Rabbis he himself went around bare-headed (that night he wore a Yarmulke) and from all accounts was not even a Shomer Shabbos!
Indeed, his entire claim to fame was that he was the President of the State of Israel, Yitzchak Navon.
Although it was noteworthy that he had come to ‘pay his respects’ to the yeshiva, however, the outpouring of messianic fervor as displayed by the euphoric and entranced dancers, was too much for the young man to observe and he left the ceremonies disillusioned.
I am the Rebbe in Story Number One and I am young man in Story Number Two.
Although as I have mentioned before, many of you will not agree with my conclusions and suggestions; and many will not be happy with my disillusionment with both of the stories; I am who I am and as I have stated in the past, even though I never contend that I speak for you, perhaps I can speak to you.
The problem as I see it is that no one and I mean no one, no matter how great your rebbe might be and no matter how many miracles he may have purported to fulfilled, no one knows the ways of Hashem.
The fact is that the establishment of The State of Israel and liberation of the Holy Places are the most vexing spiritual problems which have and continues to engage rabbinic leadership for the last 64 years; and it does not seem to be abating in the near future.
We find -if we are honest with each other- great and I mean great Rabbis on all sides of the debate.
Of course as is standard in religious debate, each side conveniently rejects and worse vilifies the other side’s rabbinic stance and dismisses them as being wrong at best and heretical at worse.
The only purpose this ‘sum-zero’ approach serves is to further facilitate a lack of unity and precludes any attempt at reconciliation and of working together in all the other issues which we ostensibly agree.
Yom Yerushalayim and Yom HaAtzmaut have boiled down to people asking each other:
“Did you say Hallel?” If you answer “Yes” and the inquisitor is from the Hareidi camp you have lost any semblance of authenticity and you are branded a ‘Tziyoni“; which is not far from being a total heretic.
If you answer “No” and the inquisitor is from the Religious Zionist camp you have lost any semblance of authenticity and you are branded a ‘Chareidi- Zealot“; which is not far from being a total heretic.
And although I am of course exaggerating for dramatic effect; the reality is not too distant from the drama.
With the exception of perhaps 10% of our people who are die-hard Satanists who believe the State is a satanic plot; and perhaps another 10% die-hard messianists who believe that everything and anything associated with The State is messianic and good; irrespective of it’s anti-religious nature; the remaining 80% majority of religious Jews fall somewhere in the middle.
Meaning, they appreciate and recognize G-d’s benevolence towards His people by creating the State and by allowing and enabling us to go to the Kosel and live and visit all over Yerushalayim; while simultaneously recognizing the shortcomings of The State.
However, they disagree ‘slightly’ on how to express this appreciation.
There are those who say ‘Thank You’ quietly and those that say it publicly with Hallel.
However, as long as the debate revolves around the ‘all or nothing’ approach, meaning: either you are totally with me and fly the flag or either you are with me and do not fly the flag, no cooperation and unity can be achieved.
Therefore, perhaps a new approach should be considered; namely the following.
Let us respect all the opinions.
However, at the same time let the 80% of world religious Jews who accept and ‘want’ to thank Hashem for His benevolence be allowed to do so in the manner they see fit.
Let us cease to judge either other by considering solely our standards and instead respect them for that they do and realize that although I would hope they would express their thanks the way I do, I recognize their feelings and embrace them for being much closer to me than further from me.
Indeed, by recognizing the possibility of the authenticity of someone else’s opinion you stand the chance of having them recognize your opinion much more than if you vilify and totally discount their opinions!
We have to begin to cease stressing that which divides us specifically in this issue.
By ceasing to criticize that which people do and/or do not do we actually have a better chance of bringing unity among us than by constantly arguing and attempting to persuade them of our opinions!
What Does Rabbi Eisenman ‘hold’?
My feelings can be best summed by quoting the story of Rav Shimon Schwab Zt”l when he was a student in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Europe.
At the end of the semester, the Mashgiach, Rav Yeruchem Levovitz Zt”l lent him money for the trip home.
Rav Shimon said, “Thank you.”
Rav Levovitz was incensed. “How can you say ‘thank you’? That is ribis (usury) and by answering “Thank you”, you are paying me ‘back’ more than I gave you. This is halachickally wrong!”
When Rav Schwab returned to the yeshiva after the summer break he returned the money to Rav Levovitz. He gave him the money and said nothing.
The Mashgiach looked at him and screamed, “That’s it? You just give me the money? Where are you manners? You do not say ‘Thank you’?”
Rav Schwab did not know where to turn.
The Mashgiach explained.
The Halacha is that a Jew does not say ‘thank you’ to another Jew for lending him money. Therefore I had to tell you that it was improper for you to say ‘thank you’.
However, when you returned the money and I observed on your face that you were not even struggling with the basic human need to say ‘thank you’ for my lending you the money; I had to tell you that that was also wrong. Meaning, a human being must want to say ‘thank you’ when they are the beneficiaries of goodness. The fact that I failed to see that you ‘wanted’ to say ‘thank you’ but were precluded to do so because of the Halacha against usury- that caused me to rebuke you.”
Friends, whether and if and how one says Hallel today is a halachik dispute involving much greater people than me. I would never dare to wade into the murky and potentially dangerous halachik waters of such a dispute.
However, one thing I can say- (and I have heard from very reliable sources that this is the opinion of Rav Elyashiv Shlitta!)-
To just jump in and decide that ‘you’ want to say Hallel today, that may (or may not) be precluded by the Halacha and you may want to revisit your halachik opinions.
However, if you do not even want to say Hallel today, you may want to revisit your Jewish heart.