Sunday, February 17, 2013

Reality Check: A frum Jew is supposed to be a nice person

In the course of researching the issue of emotionally abusing others in the course of chastising sinners or chinuch of our children, it has become clear that we have lost sight of the forest because of the trees.

 In the concern for the dangers and challenges of our time i.e., divorce, shidduchim, pedophiles, Internet, off the derech children, drafting of yeshiva bochrim, an Israeli society which is fed up with the Chareidim etc etc - one point is missing from the discussion. In focusing on avoiding problems  - we curiously have lost sight of the obvious truth  that the goal of life is not about surviving challenges to the status quo. It is not about fighting for preserving a way of life that is about 50 years old. It is not about getting a child to be a caricature in an Artscroll biography.

The primarily accomplishment the Torah demands of us during our lifetimes is not the fact that we ban the internet, smartphones, newspapers, concerts, books, mixed seating on buses, immodest clothing or speaking with apikorsim. Kiddush HaShem is not primarily about learning Daf Yomi or attending mass rallies in sports stadium regading banning the Internet or joining a secular Israeli government while wearing a kippah.

We need to be asking outselves what we want to accomplish - as Jews. What type of people we should be and what we want our educational and social institutions to help our children develop into.  We need to be asking ourself - what does G-d demand of our existence?

The answer which Chazal  have given to this question - is somehow ignored. They say it is to be perceived as a nice person by all men - including the irreligious and non-Jews.  This idea of being a light to the nations seems to have been forgotten in our rush to establish ghettos to protect us from "them". The reflex explanation that predictably is offered when we are criticized - that it is the result anti-religious or anti-Charedi bias - is simply embarrassing in its stupidity and moral blindness. 

Let me offer a few citations to reinforce my point.

Berachos (17a): Abaye liked to say, A man should always be intelligent in his fear of Heaven as it says in Mishlei (15:1), A soft answer turns away wrath. He should always try to increase peace with his brothers and his relatives and with all man – even with the non‑Jew in the street. That is so he may be be beloved above and well liked below and be acceptable to all men. They say about Rav Yochanon ben Zakkai that no man ever gave him a greeting first – not even a non‑Jew in the market.

Avos (3:10): HE [ALSO] USED TO SAY: ANYONE FROM WHOM THE SPIRIT OF [HIS FELLOW-] CREATURES DERIVES SATISFACTION, FROM HIM THE SPIRIT OF THE ALL-PRESENT [TOO] DERIVES SATISFACTION.64 BUT ANYONE FROM WHOM THE SPIRIT OF [HIS FELLOW-] CREATURES DERIVES NO SATISFACTION, FROM HIM THE SPIRIT OF THE ALL-PRESENT [TOO] DERIVES NO SATISFACTION. 
Avos (6:1): Rabbi Meir said, Whoever involves himself in Torah study purely for its own sake, merits many things. This includes the fact that the entire world’s existence is worth while just for his sake. He is called companion of G‑d, beloved of G‑d, lover of G‑d, one who loves mankind, one who causes G‑d to rejoice, one who causes mankind to rejoice. Torah clothes him with humility and fear of G‑d. Torah prepares him to be able to be righteous, pious, upright and faithful. Torah keeps him far from sin and brings him to meritorious behavior. People benefit from his advice, solid understanding and strength... Torah gives him rule and dominion over others as well as the ability to investigate the appropriate law and reveals to him the secrets of Torah. His energy is like a spring that is constantly renewed and like a river that never dries up. As a result of his Torah studies he becomes modest, long-suffering and forgiving of those who insult him. His Torah study brings out his greatness and elevates him above all the other works of G‑d.

Avos (1:12): Hillel said, Be one of the students of Aaron and therefore love peace and pursue peace, love mankind and bring them close to Torah.

Vayikra Rabba (1:16): A rotting animal carcass is better then a talmid chachom lacking in da'as i.e., commonsense and social sensitivity. 

Yofe To'ar (Vayikra Rabbah 1:16): The term da'as is referring to social sensitivity. Therefore the medrash tells us that a disgusting  carcass is better them someone lacking social skills who is despised and rejected by other people. In addition such a talmid chachom degrades the Torah. While the stench of a rotting animal can be avoided by not coming near it, a person without social sensitivities goes everywhere even though he is not wanted Consequently it is impossible to escape from him and he is an unpleasant burden….

Matnas Kehuna(Vayikra Rabbah 1:16): Since this talmid chachom is lacking commonsense he contradicts and demeans G-d's Torah which is the foundation of the highest level of humanity can reach. Without Torah a person remains merely physical substance…He is worse than a dead animal…An alternative reading is found in Avos D'Rabbi Nossan where it says that a talmid chachom who has a high opinion of himself because of his Torah is like a dead animal lying on the roadside. Everyone passing by holds his nose and keeps his distance because of the stench.

Rav Chaim Vital (Sha'arei Kedusha fourth section): [explains how to attain prophesy]. The first requirement is to be a good person. He relates the following story, There was a man who was constantly fasting and also did many good deeds such as arranging for the weddings of many orphans. However he had a yearning for status and importance.  He went to a group of pious men who had reached the level of prophecy and said to their leader, "My master please show me favor by explaining why despite my many good deeds I have not attained prophecy as you have?" The leader replied, "Take a bag full of nuts and figs and hang it around your neck. Go to the main street of the city and gather a group of youths in the presence of the most distinguished citizens. You should say to the youths, 'Whoever wants to get the figs and nuts should come and slap me on the neck and face.' After you have done this many times you should return to me and I'll guide you to attaining Truth." The man replied, "How can such an important and distinguished person such as myself do such a thing?"  The leader replied, "You think I am asking such a big thing? This is the easiest path if you want to be able to comprehend the light of Truth." Immediately the man left feeling totally dejected.


Michtav M'Eliyahu(vol 3 page 291): Rav Chaim Vital said, "Torah without being a good person is comparable to a pig wearing a gold ring in its nose". Rav Simcha Zissel raises the question that since the Gra said that Torah is a cure for a bad personality so how could there a talmid chachom who is not a good person? Rav Simcha Zissel answers that only a person who learns Torah from a pure love of Torah has his personality perfected by Torah study.

Rambam(Hilchos De’os 5:7): A talmid chachom should not yell and scream like an animal when he is speaking. He should not even raise his voice more than necessary but rather should speak calmly with all people. But when he is speaking calmly he should not go to the extreme that he appears to be a conceited person. Furthermore he should greet everyone first so that people like him. He should give everyone the benefit of the doubt and praise others and not despise them at all. He should love peace and actively purse it. If he thinks that his comments will be  effective then he should speak but otherwise he remains silent. For example he should not try to placate a person when he is angry and won’t listen to him. He should not suggest that a person retract his oath when he makes it but should wait until the person has calmed down and will listen to reason. He should not try comforting a mourner while the dead is lying before him because he is too upset until the deceased is buried. He should not add or subtract from that which brings about peace or similar positive things. The general rule is that a person should only speak words of wisdom or kindness or similar things. In addition he should not speak with a woman in the market – even if it is his own wife or sister or daughter.

15 comments:

  1. Funny I just read this today in the daily Chok L'Yisrael, it is from Rav Chaim Vital's Shaarei Kedusha, 2:4
    The trait of being particular and exacting is a branch of pride and anger. Our Rabbis, of blessed memory said(Pesachim 110b), Whoever is particular, they are particular concerning him. And his sins are not forgiven, as it says;(Micah 7:18) "Who bears sin and passes over iniquity." For whom does He bear sin? For one who passes over iniquity and forgives insults.

    We've developed a culture of being particular. When a person can "lose their place in the world to come" because of the party they vote for, and we can call Jews Sheretz(again because of political affiliation) we have definitely become particular.

    It is not about getting a child to be a caricature in an Artscroll biography.
    The biggest problem is that Artscroll biographies themselves are caricatures. We've thrown off the teaching of our sages that says a Tzadik is made over many years of long hard work and self perfection, and now they are born. It started with Chassidim, who needed to develop a theology for why Tzadikut was suddenly hereditary, and it went from there. To the point that Making of a Gadol gets banned because it tells the story of how Gedolim struggled to overcome their negative character traits.

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  2. Just added this quote:

    Rav Chaim Vital(Sha'arei Kedusha fourth section): [explains how to attain prophesy]. The first requirement is to be a good person.He relates the following story, There was a man who was constantly fasting and also did many good deeds such as arranging for the weddings of many orphans. However he had a yearning for status and importance. He went to a group of pious men who had reached the level of prophecy and said to their leader, "My master please show me favor by explaining why despite my many good deeds I have not attained prophecy as you have?" The leader replied, "Take a bag full of nuts and figs and hang it around your neck. Go to the main street of the city and gather a group of youths in the presence of the most distinguished citizens. You should say to the youths, 'Whoever wants to get the figs and nuts should come and slap me on the neck and face.' After you have done this many times you should return to me and I'll guide you to attaining Truth." The man replied, "How can such an important and distinguished person such as myself do such a thing?" The leader replied, "You think I am asking such a big thing? This is the easiest path if you want to be able to comprehend the light of Truth." Immediately the man left feeling totally dejected.

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  3. DT, Thank you.

    Re. the "the concern for the dangers and challenges of our time" vs. "the goal of life", I recalled a talk given by Rav Yehuda Amital, זצ"ל, in the early years of his yeshiva (Kislev 5741/1980): "Selective Confrontation: The Role of the Modern Jewish Leader".

    Excerpt:

    <<

    Of course, there is always the danger that one will be influenced by that which one is attempting to change. By identifying with the problems, faults and needs of the people, one becomes sympathetic and even empathetic to their plight. However, the best defense against such a reaction is not to sever ties but always to strive to maintain perspective. If one understands that identification does not mean mimicry; that understanding does not necessitate confirming; that empathy does not entail total acceptance - then offering help will not lead to needing it, and one can become and remain the source of influence and not its object. The process of selective confrontation will allow through its sieve only that which has been refined and made palatable to Judaism. The danger, though still present, remains minimal, while the achievement, of returning many of our people to a life guided by the Torah, through a process of sanctification and holiness, is a great one indeed.

    A total denial and ignorance of the capacity of the gentile world to wield its influence upon Judaism can only yield disastrous results. It will serve to alienate permanently those who might want to try to return to the religion of their forefathers. Separation and severance of all ties to the gentile world, where it must be remembered that a majority of our people identify with and function within, can only serve to divide and cut one off from most of the Nation of Israel. As was the case with Noach, cutting onself off from one's contemporaries causes an inability to help them and instill hope in them. We must always retain a certain degree of sympathy, understanding and identification for our generation, no matter how detestable their life-style might be to us, for this is the only way to face and to help them overcome these problems.

    >>

    In 2 parts:
    http://vbm-torah.org/archive/sichot/shonot/rya-confront1.htm
    http://vbm-torah.org/archive/sichot/shonot/rya-confront2.htm

    Also ... I wonder whether Rav Amital partly had in mind the end of MT Yesodei ha-Tora perek 5 (http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/1105.htm#15). Possibly a source for your argument?

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  4. One of my favorite posts since I started following your blog a couple of years ago. Thank you!

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  5. Excellent post. Kol ha'kavod.

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  6. Personally I find most charedim quite pleasant. But as they say in Yiddish, be too sweet and you'll be eaten.

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  7. Rabbi Eidonsohn

    An absolutely essential piece. I think the lomdus of Torah, the focus on little details that have almost no relevance to life as a whole or specifically and the abandonment of Nach and the bigger picture of what Yiddishkeit is about is the root cause of all the confusion. It would be great if you could expand further on this. I think Chareidim (of which I identify with) have learnt to define themselves in the negative, by "they are not what anyone else is" and that the lack of a positive definition is really problematic. It would also be interesting if you could run this past Rav Sternbuch and see his response - whether he agrees or opposes this post.

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  8. "In addition he should not speak with a woman in the market – even if it is his own wife or sister or daughter."

    Does this still apply nowadays?

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  9. An interesting aside - if you look through Shemonei Esreh, it doesn't seem that Torah makes up a large part of davening. We do daven for daas (which is consistent with the quotes you brought in your blog about the importance of daas)but Torah knowledge itself has a surprisingly rare appearance in the requests. This is certainly surprising given the emphasis it is given in every mussar schmooze and hashkafic talk that one is exposed to today.

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    1. "Torah umitzvos", "chukim umishpatim", osanu limad'ta, AL KEN... b'shakhveinu uvkumeineu nosiach BCHUKECHA, VNISMACH bdivrei SORASECHA... ki HEM CHAYYEINU vORECH YAMEINU, etc. That is also from the anshei knesses hagedolah. V'ain tzarich lifnim......

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  10. Absolutely spot on! The truth of this post is so blindingly obvious that I hope no-one needs the sources quoted to be convinced.

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  11. Good post, good comments - but Avrohom, this post need not be run past Rav Sternbuch. That's just the point.

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  12. Excellent post!

    The point about being defensive and blaming problems on anti-charedism is very important, I think, because that's a characteristic of modern vitriolic nationalism, in which people refuse to criticize their own nation and blame all their problems on outsiders, as opposed to the Torah approach, which is do teshuvah when something bad happens and humbly assume it was because of our sins.

    Derech eretz [being a good person] precedes the Torah. (I believe this quote is from the Midrash). Only if Torah makes us better people than the average secular "good person" will people have any regard for Torah or Torah scholars.

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    1. Vayikra Rabba (9:3):Derech Eretz precedes the Torah. It is not clear what this term means. It seems primarily to indicate manners or normal actions in the world or parnossa. It does not typically mean a good person or a likeable person - but rather someone who is not irritating by their lack of manners


      ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשת צו פרשה ט

      דא"ר ישמעאל בר רב נחמן עשרים וששה דורות קדמה דרך ארץ את התורה הה"ד (בראשית ג) לשמור את דרך עץ החיים דרך זו דרך ארץ ואח"כ עץ החיים זו תורה

      The medrash seems to be describing chronology but obviously others understand it as a precondition

      עירובין (ק:) אמר רבי יוחנן: אילמלא לא ניתנה תורה היינו למידין צניעות מחתול, וגזל מנמלה, ועריות מיונה. דרך ארץ מתרנגול שמפייס ואחר כך בועל. ומאי מפייס לה? אמר רב יהודה אמר רב, הכי קאמר לה: זביננא ליך זיגא דמטו ליך עד כרעיך. לבתר הכי אמר לה: לישמטתיה לכרבלתיה דההוא תרנגולא, אי אית ליה ולא זביננא ליך


      Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky (Emes l’Yaakov): According to the halacha, Avraham was not oblligated to risk his life to save his nephew Lot…. Avraham risked his life because the Patriarchs were yeshorim (upright) [Avoda Zara 25a]. That means that their actions were not governed only by the strict letter of Torah law – but by straight thinking. G d made man inherently yoshor (upright). According to uprightness there was an obligation to try and save Lot… Avraham felt responsible for Lot’s welfare because Lot’s father had died in a furnace because of his belief in the G d of Avraham. Therefore according to upsrightness (menshlikeit) Avraham had to organize his men and pursue after Lot’s captors. In truth the lives of the Patriarchs - which was before the giving of the Torah – was conducted on the basis of uprightness. This is the meaning of the expression [Vayikra Rabbah 9:3] that derech eretz (civility) preceded the Torah… Therefore this civility and menshlikeit can be expected even from non Jews. Even though they weren’t given all the mitzvos, but everyone can live in accordance with the inherent uprightness - if he wantsRav Tzadok says that the civility which goyim are more careful about than Jews is in fact not Derech Eretz. He defines derech eretz as a recognition of that all worldly things are from G-d. He also says that derech eretz is Fear of G-d. He also uses it in its more conventional meaning as that which human intelligence requires as opposed to Torah which is above human intelligence.

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  13. I wonder how these sources admonishing us to be nice and liked by all people should apply to the situation of agunot. Refusing to give a get (even if there is an argument that one is not technically required to give the get in that particular circumstance) is not "nice" because it restricts another person's life (see R' S.R. Hirch, Horeb in the paragraph on oppression), thus causing them to suffer, and of course it also causes many people to hate the get refuser.

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