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25 Sivan 5763 - June 25, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Leitzonus Against Us and For Us

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

Part I

Parshas Korach is a fitting opportunity to clarify what leitzonus is, when it is forbidden, and when it is permitted and when it is even a mitzvah.

Of all the means the anti-religious have used against Torah observance, it seems to me that leitzonus was always the most dreadfully effective. When faced with any other means a person could protect himself in some way. But sarcasm is a deadly "non-conventional weapon" from which there is no escape. "Someone who drowns in [leitzonus] is as if he is drowning in the great ocean, and it is very difficult to escape" (Mesillas Yeshorim, chap. 5).

One cannot fight leitzonus with rational means, since its entire essence is contemptuous ridicule and superficiality. Logic is its antithesis. When improperly used, leitzonus takes man away from the Torah path and even prevents him from reasonable retrospection when he attempts to evaluate his acts and see if they were justified.

"Just as care about one's ways is totally dependent upon the attention devoted to them, so the entire nature of mockery is turning the heart away from logical and speculative thought. Such a person will never ponder about yir'oh at all. Mockery causes damage and great ruin, and it is like covering a shield with oil, from which arrows will then slide off and fall harmlessly to the ground, prevented from reaching man's body.

"The same is true when mockery is faced with rebuke and discipline. With one bit of leitzonus, one small joke, a person can discard much of the arousal and excitement that the heart experiences when it sees or hears of matters that [should] arouse man to reexamine his doings. The power of leitzonus can cause [that arousal] to glance off and fall to the ground so that it will completely fail to impress him. This is not because of its ineffectiveness, and not because of the heart's lack of understanding, but because of the power of mockery that destroys all matters of mussar and yirah" (Mesillas Yeshorim, ibid.).

This destructive force always served as an effective tool in the hands of the anti-religious who wanted to undermine our emunah and our spiritual leaders' authority over the Jewish Nation. They knew that with conventional means, those accepted as scrupulous, they will never succeed in persuading the masses to depart from the Torah's truth. They therefore adopted satire, mockery, and poisonous ridicule, since these are difficult to contend with.

Leitzonus is not an argument or an ideological theory; it is a sidestep, a distraction from the main issues. A joker need not explain his aberrant views, nor is he expected to answer any rebuke aimed at him. He simply frees himself from intellectual debate through his leitzonus and the humorous atmosphere he has created. He is undoubtedly like the shield covered with oil, from which arrows easily glance off.

Chazal teach us that this happened back in the times of Korach. He utilized the weapon of leitzonus when trying to convince bnei Yisroel to rebel against Moshe Rabbenu's leadership. Korach composed his own incisive satire. Poisonously and colorfully he described how the Jewish Nation suffered from Moshe's and Aharon's leadership.

"`Nor sit in the seat of mockers' (Tehillim 1:1) - - this is Korach, who mocked Moshe and Aharon. What did he do? He gathered the entire community against them, as is written `And Korach assembled all the congregation against them' (Bamidbar 16:19). He began talking leitzonus to them. He said to them: `There was a widow in our neighborhood with two orphan girls and a field. When they were about to plow, Moshe said to her: `You shall not plow with a ox and an ass together' (Devorim 22:10). She was about to sow the field, he said to her: `You shall not sow your field with kilayim' (Vayikra 19:19). She was about to reap and bind the sheaves, and Moshe said: `Leave over leket, shichechah, and pe'ah.' She was about to heap up the threshed wheat, and he said to her: `Give terumoh, ma'aser rishon, and ma'aser sheini.' She accepted her lot and gave it to him.

"What did she then do? She sold her field and bought two sheep, [intending] to make clothes from their shorn wool and profit from their offspring. After they gave birth, Aharon came and said to her: `Give me the firstborn, because HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to me, "All the firstborn that are born . . . you shall sanctify" (Devorim 15:19).' She accepted her lot and gave him the offspring. When the time came to shear their fleece she sheared them. Aharon said to her, `Give me the reishis hagez.' She said: `I am powerless against this man. I will slaughter the sheep and eat them.' After she slaughtered them he said to her, `Give me the zero'a, lechoyayim, and keivoh.' She said: `Even after I slaughter them I have not yet been delivered from him,' [and so] she said, `I declare them sanctified.' He then said to her: `Now they are entirely mine, for HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to me, "Everything sanctified in Israel will be yours" (Bamidbar 18:14).' He took them and went away, leaving her crying with her two girls. That is how [Moshe and Aharon] treat an unfortunate woman, and then pin the blame on HaKodosh Boruch Hu (Yalkut Shimoni, parshas Korach)."

HaRav Zalman Sorotzkin zt'l explains that Korach decided to use this tool of leitzonus because he knew that this was the only weapon he possessed to fight against Moshe Rabbenu's rebuke. "Why did Korach choose leitzonus? We see in the Torah that Korach did not answer Moshe's rebuke at all. Neither did Dosson and Avirom want to meet Moshe; instead they said, `We will not come up' (v. 12), because they feared they could not withstand his rebuke. Korach therefore prepared himself, and throughout the whole night went to the tribes and enticed them with leitzonus. It is said that one leitzonus defers a hundred rebukes'" (Oznayim LeTorah, parshas Korach).

Leitzonus is not grappling with a problem but evading it. It prevents direct argument and obviates any necessity of choosing an alternate ideology. It is an effective distraction and places a smooth shield before man when he is faced with truth and scathing rebuke.

The anti-religious used this destructive tool throughout history, and especially in the past few generations, when the Enlightenment Movement began to make havoc of Klal Yisroel by persuading the masses to cast off the Torah's yoke. The majority of Enlightenment literature, which specialized in warfare against the Torah-loyal, used various devices of leitzonus and mockery. They wrote books and plays that ridiculed Torah scholars and rabbonim, and belittled the Torah way of life through sarcasm and scorn. Unfortunately, this weapon ravaged our nation and many fell victim to it. The spoiled fruits of their success we can see to this very day.


Leitzonus is indeed a lethal weapon, and is enumerated among the adverse character traits from which a person should distance himself. Nevertheless, Chazal ruled that although leitzonus is ordinarily forbidden, leitzonus aimed against avodoh zora is permitted. The gemora (Megilloh 25b) proves that this is the halocho, and cites pesukim from the prophets who used leitzonus to rebuke the masses and distance them from the intense yetzer hora of idol worship.

Maran HaRav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt'l explained that Chazal wanted to teach us that all middos -- even adverse ones -- can be used for kedushoh too. We find that the Torah permits even what it has forbidden when, "It is a time to act for Hashem [because] they have abrogated your Torah" (Tehillim 119:126). Similarly the Torah permits the use of bad middos for a good purpose in certain cases. "Damaging another person's standing is a result of the middoh of pride and the middoh of trying to gain honor by disgracing another person -- both being the worst of middos. Nevertheless, sometimes this very middoh is needed when one is living among other nations, so that the sacred spark will not drown in the ocean of materialism and atheism. This was what Chazal meant by `Every leitzonus is forbidden except for leitzonus of avodoh zora.' Also, someone who is in danger of feeling, `And we were in our own sight as grasshoppers' (Bamidbar 13:33) -- loss of his self-esteem -- needs to pride himself with the fact that, `You have chosen us from among the nations' (Musaf Yom Tov). This is an example of `It is a time to act for Hashem, they have abrogated your Torah'" (Michtav MeEliyahu, III, nitzotzei nogah).

This is the way the Torah-faithful have acted throughout history. When, a hundred and sixty years ago, someone wanted to "repeal" the observance of yom tov sheini in golus and published his arguments in the newspapers, HaRav Shmuel Segal Landau zt'l (the son of the Noda BiYehudah) wrote, "I believe the advisable way is `Answer not a fool according to his folly' (Mishlei 26:4). Let him remain with his ideas. He came from filth and will return there. Who will listen, anyway, to the bark of this mad dog? He barks and his voice is not heard. Why should we run after this flea, this rampaging wild beast, whose every act is worthless? Even in his own town he does not impress anyone with what he says, and all his acquaintances, who know his worth, mock him. Why should we answer his meaningless arguments? By relating to them it would seem as if we are fearful of his claims and for that reason are forced to argue with him. How fitting is what [a certain] wise man. . . advised: not to respond to this person who is attempting to make breaches in the Torah. Choliloh for us to help the present leitzonim claim that if there were nothing substantial in what he was saying the Torah leaders would not have fought against him. I mocked his view in front of the people of my city, who read what he wrote in a newspaper. The preferred way is to laugh at such things, as Chazal wrote `Leitzonus of avodoh zora is permitted'" (Igros Sofrim, 64).

End of Part I

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