Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Iyar 5759, May 5 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
Pareve Politics and Popularity
by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

In the current Israeli Knesset election campaign, some political party heads have hired public-relations specialists. Their job is to work out, together with the candidates, the party's official line and what image they should project to the public. Nothing is done haphazardly. Every message and remark to the nation has been professionally drafted.

Many politicians have adopted the PR approach, which prefers a "positive message." Do not say anything unpleasant to someone who will later be casting a ballot. Try to be liked by everyone, and frequently use clever expressions like, "I want to emphasize what unites the nation more than what divides it." In this way, the PR experts claim, persons running for office will gain public support.

This is especially the case with the new Center Party, a party that perfectly fits its name: It addresses itself to all voters and winks at every segment of the population: the right, the left, the religious, the irreligious, the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim. In a press conference convened by the heads of the Center Party when it was first established, this approach came across as so preposterous that even the reporters, who are used to almost anything, strongly criticized it.

In a Ma'ariv editorial entitled "This Isn't It!" the paper discussed the phrase used by Amnon Lipkin- Shachak, who was then the nascent party's nominee for prime minister. "Have you noticed that people on the street laugh less nowadays?" was Shachak's remark. Ma'ariv wrote the following: "After the press conference there were several people who in fact smiled more. They suddenly found out that the new candidate has nothing to offer -- except for himself. He had no new idea, not one original suggestion, nor any unconventional solution. What we did hear were several cliches of the sort that every politician airs on such a formal occasion. `Violence is taking control of our lives,' `We need an internal revolution,' and that an `abyss of hatred' divides the various sectors of the population. Amnon Lipkin-Shachak unquestionably evaded furnishing clear answers to delicate questions."

The feeling of political commentators after the press conference was that a party whose ideology can be easily condensed into "making everyone smile," or "decreasing hatred," and "it will eventually be good for everyone" is showing that it actually has nothing to propose. Ma'ariv commented, "If someone hoped that Amnon Lipkin- Shachak would bear good tidings that would change how the country looks, he was disappointed."

Even the reporter Amnon Dankener commented about Shachak's maiden speech in an article called "The Pareve Charm." It seems that Shachak had nothing new to say, nothing interesting, and nothing that aroused thought. "But this is actually the essence of the new movement of which he is the head. That is the brand of goods he wants to sell. In the jargon of food distributors, Amnon Shachak wants to distribute something pareve . . . Amnon Shachak yesterday addressed himself to `the masses who want things to be good,' . . . The dream that things will improve is, however, not a political platform, and Lipkin-Shachak surely has already heard about the distressing fact of human nature that the right way teems with harsh differences of opinion and diverse directions. . . the pareve charm. . . has a certain attraction for the public, tired after the last two and a half years brimming with quarrels, lies and filth. But even someone who appreciates this type of food will eventually ask: `One moment please, where is the meat?' "

The reporter Nachum Barnei'a remarked about Shachak's speech: "He wants to be the opposite of Rabin: Not to decide, but to agree. . . Rabin was the angry father and Shachak promises to be the merciful father . . . to make the Israeli nation smile. . . After he is elected, Arabs will laugh with Jews, religious Jews with secular Jews, the poor with the rich, Russians with Moroccans. This is charming. If he was running for president [of Israel] that would be acceptable, but Israel is a harsh country -- there are sharp corners, harsh decisions and only infrequent smiles."

Another article in the same newspaper, under the title "The Style is the Message," wrote: "Yesterday we could hear what Shachak wants. He wants to live in a country where there are no road accidents, no violence, no lack of patience or tolerance. Who doesn't? He wants to live pleasantly. Who doesn't? . . .. This was a simple speech, over simple, lacking news and surprises . . . Yesterday Shachak delineated the problems that the State of Israel faces: unemployment, education, health, peace and security. He promises to make brave and just decisions, but he did not give us any inkling what these decisions will be. When yesterday he announced his decision to run for prime minister, he said, `I am not a politician.' That in reality was Amnon Shachak: a person without any political experience, without a party, and still without a platform or slate . . . but being pleasant cannot build leadership."

Yitzchak Mordechai, the former Defense Minister and the candidate who replaced Shachak, also used the same method of not expressing any stand. He uses "nice words" and wants everyone to like him. Ha'aretz writes, after an interview with Mordechai, that the impression they gained was that he is trying to display himself as "the real midpoint between the right and left." "Perhaps it is characteristic that during the entire broadcast interview we did not hear from him even one word expressing himself about essential political matters -- not security, not foreign affairs, and surely not economy or society. Only Itzik, Itzik, and again Itzik."

@BIG LET BODY = The "positive approach," the method of overlooking fundamental problems and trying to round out and smooth corners even when key issues are at stake, is not the private possession of PR professionals and politicians before elections. Many try to use this as a way of life. Man has an inborn trait of wanting to be popular and accepted by everyone. No one wants to be hated or even controversial.

But this cannot work in reality. It is impossible to please everyone. In an attempt to please people who possess differing beliefs and to avoid wrestling with contrasting opinions, a person will have to forgo his independence and forsake the principles that he contends are sacred.

The gedolei Torah of previous generations have therefore written that a Jew must take care not to adopt this way, a way liable to create difficulties for him in fulfilling his obligation in Olom Hazeh and to prevent him from observing the Torah uncompromisingly.

The Chovos Halevovos (Sha'ar Yichud HaMa'aseh, ch. 5) writes that one of the ways that the yetzer tries to mislead people is to persuade them to want to be liked by everyone. The yetzer depicts the advantages of a person who is popular in glowing colors. The yetzer likewise warns man about the possible harm that might occur to someone who stands up for his principles and does not satisfy others.

"It is fitting," says the yetzer, "for you to discharge some of your obligations to other people. You are aware that they can be of use to you or can hurt you. It is clear to you that when they are pleased with you they praise you, and when they are angry at you, you will lose out. You should therefore try to do as they want so that they will like you." When the yetzer comes with such arguments the Chovos Halevovos advises us to respond, "How can I please everyone who is now living when I cannot please even my household members? Still less can I please all others." In connection to this he mentioned what a chochom wrote in his will to his son: "My son, you cannot please everyone, but try to please the Creator and He will make you acceptable to others."

@BIG LET BODY = The slogans of "behaving in a pleasant way," "emphasizing what unites us and not what divides us," "preventing friction in religious matters," were cliches used for decades by various compromisers in matters of religion who always preferred compromising values or standing on the sidelines during campaigns for sacred values, because they wanted approval and popularity.

Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l once sent the head of a group which broke away from Agudas Yisroel a sharply-worded letter criticizing their conduct. You, he wrote, profess to prefer a "positive approach" and do not believe that the Torah-true prospective endlessly emphasizes attacking the negative, always "against, against, against." This balebatisheh approach disregards what the Mishnah Berurah rules (1,1): occasionally, when there is a need to deal with apikorsim "it is a mitzvah to hate them, quarrel with them, and spoil their designs as much as one can." In such cases a Jew is obligated to despise them to the utmost. By not acting aggressively against evil, a person creates an atmosphere of indifference and weakness, and moreover casts a stain on those who do protest and protect the pure Jewish outlook, making them look like mere quarrelers, ba'alei machlokes.

R' Moshe Sheinfeld zt'l used to mention to these people the vort attributed to the Kotsker Rebbe zt'l: When the Torah warns Am Yisroel after they arrive in Eretz Yisroel not to be tempted to follow alien, spurious beliefs, the Torah concludes: "Lo kein (nothing like this) has Hashem, your Elokim given you" (Devorim 18:14). Said the Kotsker: The key is to remember lo kein: the Creator has given a Jew the power and courage to say "lo" to any improper "kein." A person should be accustomed always to say kein, to agree regularly to every proposal, but sometimes a person must utter an explicit lo and select the "negative style."

@BIG LET BODY = In the famous address by Maran HaRav Eliezer Shach shlita at the Degel HaTorah Movement Founding Convention more than ten years ago, the Rosh Yeshiva chose to focus on this point: We must guard the Torah and the genuine hashkofo transmitted to us from Sinai, even when doing so requires forgoing aspirations for popularity and specious "unity."

In response to all those who maintain that fighting for the truth and only the truth generates a machlokes, the Rosh Yeshiva cited what the Maharil Diskin zt'l once said: When Moshe Rabbenu was niftar, the Torah writes, "Bnei Yisroel wept for Moshe" (Devorim 34:8). Chazal (Ovos DeR'Nosson 12:4) explain that the posuk is emphasizing that not all of bnei Yisroel wept over Moshe's departure, as is written explicitly about Aharon Hacohen: "When all the congregation saw that Aharon was dead, they mourned for Aharon, thirty days, all the house of Yisroel" (Bamidbar 20:29). This needs to be better understood. These pesukim are apparently coming to praise Moshe Rabbenu, but what praise is there in that not everyone cried when he died?

Chazal are teaching us that since Moshe Rabbenu was a leader of the Jewish Nation he needed to make decisions concerning the public in general, and "of necessity there would be complaints against him. He was forced to be a `person who makes a machlokes.'" The Torah commends Moshe Rabbenu for the fact that not all of bnei Yisroel wept after his death, since "of necessity there would be complaints against him" (VeZorach HaShemesh, pg. 138).

Maran shlita recommended this approach to us for constant use. We are living in a generation when many have deviated from the Torah's way and have adopted bogus ideologies. We must stand firm to protect the true Torah outlook and the stature of the Torah World. There is no other way. The Chovos Halevovos writes about the yetzer and its agents that "you are oblivious to them but they are conscious of you."

If a person does not attack all contemporary trends that are improper they will instead overwhelm him. There is sometimes no choice. We must occasionally employ the "negative approach and style" to say "No" and to protest against what is unbefitting the Holy Nation. This must be done, even though we will be looked upon as people who start machlokes.

Maran shlita has often emphasized that the most prominent title to be awarded a communal activist in our generation is that of a fighter. Maran used this concept often when he praised the precious young people who are working with great dedication for the klal wherever they are. He wanted to implant within those who are fighting in the front for Yiddishkeit, and within the entire public, the concept campaigning for the principles of our religion and to elevate the Torah's honor is not a "negative approach" but an obligatory goal. This is true even though we may be stuck with a distorted image of being persons making machlokes. Being a fighter for such sublime matters is not a disgrace but rather a badge of honor.

More than a hundred years ago the chareidi writer and thinker R' Yaakov HaLevi Lipshitz zt'l (author of Zichron Yaakov and the right hand of Maran HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector zt'l) wrote an incisive article in which he rebuked all those who complained and asked why today we lack communal activists. In this article (Dor VeSoferov, printed in HaKerem, 5648) he points out the difficulties activists face.

"People do not function in midair or in the desert. Everything that can be done is done among people. Even the best thing a person can do will always have some adverse effect or cause some criticism. Even the sun, which is "tzedokoh and refu'ah," will hurt those who gaze at it and derange those disturbed by its heat. Surely an act of tzedokoh from a mere human will harm someone. Nothing virtuous exists that will not hurt someone. Jealousy, sinas chinom, the pursuit of honor, will spread out like vipers and cause many deaths. Experience and our history reliably teach us that prominent people active for our nation were all harassed by jealousy and hatred.

"It is superfluous to cite proofs for what is well known. The idealistic and the energetic suffer from the ridicule of the apathetic. Only the idealistic and energetic are harmed and persecuted by sinas chinom. This is as Abaye remarked to Rovo: "Like you, whom everyone in Pumbedisa hates." Rashi explains: "[People hated him] since [Rovo] would rebuke them about Heavenly concerns." Nonetheless those active [in spreading Yiddishkeit] pay no attention to all the criticisms and honestly sacrifice themselves for the love of good that fills their essence.

"There is, nonetheless, another evil almost worse than all we have mentioned, something that even patience cannot tolerate: That is the false motto of the masses [that those who stay out of all controversy are praiseworthy, since, in the end, who is it] that ultimately spends their lives well and pleasantly, and lives a life of tranquility and peace, and are even counted among the prestigious? It is none other than they who are entirely indifferent. They lack all emotion, and do absolutely nothing, not even the slightest thing. As far as they are concerned even if the world were to turn over they would not budge an inch to worry about anyone but themselves. These people even take pride in the fact that they do not get involved in anything. The public honors them and points to them as symbols of honesty and justice.

"Even when they pass away they are lauded as never harming anyone, of never even chasing away a fly. Actually, these praises are more fitting for a block of wood, a lump of soil, an inanimate stone, than for someone alive, someone considered a microcosmos, someone who is inherently social. These are people who can only be defined as being husbands for their wives. If bikur cholim is needed in their city, this will not stir them at all. If an old age home, a tzedokoh fund, clothing for the poor, or a talmud Torah is lacking, even if there is hunger, plague, Rachmono litzlan, or any general dilemma, Rachmono litzlan, they will not move in the least.

They only labor for themselves, . . . They never do good for the general public. Nevertheless, the masses applaud them as virtuous and upright. The eulogies praise them and arouse grief for their departure. They managed to enjoy their lives and even after death were honored by the public.

"However, those who instead cast away their honor, their strength and their time, and during their whole life labor for others just as much as they do for themselves, are a target for all the verbal arrows thrown by the jealous, those full of sinas chinom, those who criticize incisively, who ridicule, who are the reckless, the jokers, and the envious. They are the ones who interfere with the work of these activists and sometimes even slander them. Their families embitter the lives of the activists and gripe that everyone complains of their dominating others. If, after much toil and forbearance, the askonim manage to make a worthy contribution to society, the critics, the indifferent, and the devoted challengers of those who work for the klal, will totally embitter their lives. Jealousy causes others to look at them suspiciously and prevents those possessing that trait from considering that the time might come when they will need a good turn from these activists. Jealousy reigns supreme over any future considerations."

Indeed, anyone who is active, and especially in religious matters, should expect virulent criticism. Someone who criticizes others, like Rovo in Pumbedisa, will in the future be hated "since [Rovo] would rebuke them about Heavenly concerns." Someone who fights for Torah observance and bequeathing the pure Torah ideology to others cannot escape losing popularity. In a short time he will become a "baal machlokes" and a quarreler.

Those who work for the public and need to make difficult decisions become thereby controversial and lose approval. This was therefore the praise of Moshe Rabbenu, that not all of bnei Yisroel cried when he was niftar.

We have seen throughout history, and in our own generation too, that gedolei Yisroel who were active in buttressing Torah observance and making decisions for the public, who did not refrain from ruling even about sensitive matters that aroused a reaction, suffered from denunciation.

Even askonim who fight for strengthening the Torah are accustomed to being victimized and plotted against, and are prey to vile mudslinging for their "sin" of not adopting the "positive approach" and for their "extremism." It is no surprise that this happens, since their activities tread on the toes of those who have false hashkofos and make compromises about Yiddishkeit.

The askonim, however, have always rejected all of the followers of alleged unity, have dismissed the superficial view that a peaceful life must be our primary aim, and have preferred to fight for the truth.

Our Torah teaches us that this is the right way and that there is no other way. A man must proceed only according to the truth, without taking public opinion into consideration. If instead he prefers to please everyone he will see no end to his efforts in this direction and will deviate from the way of truth, as the Chovos Halevovos writes: "How can I please everyone who is now living when I cannot please even my household members? Still less can I please all others. You cannot please everyone, but you should try to find favor before the Creator, and He will make you accepted by people."

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