Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5759, April 28 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
The `Cheshbon' and the `Nefesh'
by Yisroel Spiegel

In many places throughout the country one day last week, explosions were heard during the night, and when people rushed to their windows or went out to their terraces, they saw fireworks, and knew what it was all about. They could not help watching the multicolored display of red and yellow, blue and purple, green and violet. They saw rockets climbing up into the sky and painting it with a splash of strange shapes, only to vanish as quickly as they had appeared.

This spectacle repeats itself annually. There is something symbolic about it: the yearly exercise serves to divert the attention of the public, if only for a day, from the pressing problems of the day-to-day, problems which are only becoming more acute and insoluble as time passes. Whereas the media is obsessed with them all year round, comes this day of Independence, and all is silenced. The public is fed a measure of illusion, with the fireworks serving as the symbol of the fantasy and ephemery of the deception that all is not only rosy, but beautiful. The flares are spectacular, impressive, entertaining, esthetically pleasing and exciting. But only for a passing moment, if not less. The lights quickly fade, leaving the dark night once again, covering and conquering.

The fifty-first, like the fiftieth year of Israeli statehood, leaves us with a big question mark, with great perplexity and confusion. They wrought much in founding the state, there is no denying it. But it seems that they did not even reach the starting point. Arab inflexibility and obstinacy and hostility, which has only increased in latter years, has made people ask the crucial question: Is a Jewish state truly the solution?

Why have they reached this point? Has not the rosiest of Zionist dreams been fulfilled? Don't `we' now have a sovereign state? Are `we' not an "am chofshi be'artzeinu -- a `free' people in our land"? What is it about our situation that seems to confound the Zionist vision and aspiration? Is today's state of affairs not exactly what the State was created for? Was this not the goal and direction for which they strove -- to establish a state regardless of Arab opposition? Why, then, are they surprised and frustrated if this selfsame problem remains the identical obstacle it always was?

Several years ago, a newspaperman said that all this stems from a switch in roles. If, in the past, we suffered from a persecution complex that the entire world was against us, today it is we who are against the entire world. And for this, he blamed the Right. Very true that accompanying the Jewish people throughout the ages is the fact that "they're all against us," as the Rambam noted, "It is an established rule that Eisov despises Yaakov" and that now it is us pitched against the world. But is the Right, alone, the address to blame? Does not historic justice behoove us to admit that this situation is, in fact, the most central `accomplishment' of all Zionism, in all of its streams and camps?


It all began with the fact that Zionism started out declaring war -- against the Jewish people. In the Second Zionist Congress, ninety-six years ago, this fact was established "constitutionally," through a central resolution stating that "religion is the private matter of the individual." It has, according to that, nothing to do with the Jewish public body. This declaration came to establish and strengthen the Zionist ideal of the Jew being like any other human being, "kechol hagoyim beis Yisroel." Just as one can be an American Catholic, Moslem or -- lehavdil -- a American Jew, so should the Israeli be nondenominational, and non- religious.

The goal was to assimilate to the rest of the world, but in reality, it was a declaration of war upon the soul of the Jewish people and its very essence. The Jewish people is, after all, the people of Hashem, the people of the Torah. Only because of its faith, by which it survived throughout history, did it succeed in outlasting mighty empires of yore. And when the Zionist Congress declared that the goal of Zionism was to establish a different essence and character to the Jewish people, one of conforming with other nations, this was, in effect, a cry to arms against the soul of the Jewish people proper.

This is no play of words or philosophizing. It is a real war, a challenge of Zionism against the very kernel and core of Jewishness, and to this, so many spiritual victims have succumbed. It is this very issue that widens the split within the nation to this day.

Our sages with their far-reaching vision foresaw the danger, even before, when the ideology was couched in less stark terms and was passed as an official decisive resolution of the Congress. But the Jewish masses, who could not intuit the danger of the direction, rallied towards Zionism and slowly veered away from their faith and their Jewish way of life, exchanging it for so-called "Jewish culture" and the imaginary "national identity." This has wrought a devastating spiritual destruction in the life of the Jew.

It is true that Zionism is not the only movement that caused the masses of Jewry to deviate from their traditional faith and lifestyle of Torah and mitzvos. There were many ideologies that attracted Jews. But these never pretended nor presumed to be a Jewish substitute, besides which they quickly evaporated into nothingness and were exposed as futile. Zionism had a longer life, and continued to deceive the people with its national illusion as a substitute for belief in the Creator and observance of His will through His commandments.

Rabbenu R' Elchonon Wassermann Hy'd wrote his famous treatise, Ikveso deMeshicho shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Already then, he enumerated a long list of "isms," of false ideologies to which Jews had latched on to the point of idolatry, as it were. These include: Berlin-type Haskalah, Liberalism, Socialism, Communism, "but all of these `isms' died a quick death and passed suddenly away."

He dwells on two which were still extant in his time: "They still cling to the hems of the dying democracy," and "nationalism which presumes to bequeath to the Jewish people a material deliverance as well as a spiritual one. Its goal is to establish a Hebrew nation anew which will succeed in shaking off the dust of previous generations and will make anathema the very mention of Hashem's Name. Their plan of action is very simple: to oust and eject the Master of the World from the House of Israel and the hearts of the Jewish people" (pp. 13-14).

That gaon vetzaddik predicted -- and knew what he was prophesying. "Democracy is dying . . . It, too, is of no avail, for it has no real substance." Over the period of many years, while the Left was in a government coalition with the Right, and during the four years following, when the Left had sole power, there was an intensive campaign of "injecting democracy" into all the strata of society, something that has carried on to this day [even though, as it has been noted, there is no mention of democracy in the State's charter of independence], especially by the court system. They hoped, and still hope, to find some resolution to the existing problem. If we appear to be devout democrats in the eyes of the world, it will accept us, but in reality, everyone sees that none of this helps.

The One on High mocks them all. "For if your estranged ones will be at the end of heaven, from there shall He gather you and from there shall He take you" (Devorim 30:4). No matter how far a Jew distances himself from his Creator, from his faith and Torah, from the remotest place will he be dragged, by the fringe of his hair, to be brought back to the cognizance of his Jewish origin."

Hagaon R' Wassermann writes in a realistic manner, as if it were relevant in his days. " . . . imagine that nothing will stand in their way of ejecting Hashem from our midst, as if it were not difficult. But Hashem's power is mightier than theirs and we are like fools who were beaten up. Not simple fools, but outright idiots who were taught a lesson, who were chastised, but whose ears persist in being plugged up" (p. 14).

There is no difference between religious Zionism and the various other streams within it, with regard to the pitched battle against the Jewish people. War has been declared against Heaven, and it matters not if you call it socialism or revisionism, Left or Right or "religious," for all are partners in that movement which signed the resolution at the Second Zionist Congress declaring that "religion is a private matter." Any "religious" person who is a member/collaborator of this Zionism, may be religious in private, on an individual basis, but by subscribing to the movement that ejected the Torah from the general sphere of the Jewish people he is, consequently, a member of that, "We versus the Jewish nation."

This concern which is part of the phenomenon of "We against the world," is especially compromising with regard to our relationship to the U.S., which has remained Israel's last friend. This is especially exploited by the leftist camp, mainly for political, self-serving interests. But we must not ignore it. It raises the real threat that perhaps the entire world will truly be against us and press us against the wall, and this is not only a danger for the Jewish state and its residents, but one for the entire Jewish nation, a threat of antisemitism erupting in countries which had previously not known of this curse, or, at least, not in an overt manner.


Zionism purported to find the solution to the scourge of antisemitism, both by establishing a state-like-all-states and by transforming the image and essence of the Jewish people. Anyone studying that phenomenon of "the entire world against us" will find that not only has the State become a country like all the goyim, but it has developed into the central focus par excellence of world antisemitism, and even raises these dark sentiments against Jews living throughout the world. And this can be readily demonstrated.

If we study this reality, we must conclude that "us against the world" is a long story. Zionism began by antagonizing the Arab world and bequeathed this feud to the Jewish State, and with this background it has been in constant, if covert, confrontation with almost every single country in the world.

The writer of these lines cannot forget to this day the sight of the gloomy, anxious expression of the Agudath Israel leader, R' Yitzchok Meir Levine z'l, when the Knesset was on the verge of imposing Israeli rule over East Jerusalem, right after the Six Day War. "What do they think, the leaders of the country -- that they will be able to defy the entire world?"

And when I expressed surprise at his fears, precisely after the blazing Israeli victory and the crushing defeat of the Arabs, he replied, "You are still young and don't understand. This is a world of enemies, of those who despise us, especially against an outspoken religious background; it is the Moslem and Christian worlds of billions of people against us."

The cheshbon and the nefesh is the clarification we must make in these days of post-jubilee Independence celebrations and politicians' attempts to divert attention from the main issues, beginning with the ceremonies of the Day of Remembrance and concluding with the Day of Independence. The atmosphere is laden with empty boasting, with vapid phrases like "the existence of the State is our guarantee that Jews will no longer be helpless victims" reverberating in the air, with everyone capable of enumerating more than one incident of Jewish murder, in places not as remote as Kazakhistan or the African plains, but here in Israel, itself, with the "state- guarantee" helpless to do anything.

In its two millennia of exile, the Jewish nation has experienced much persecution and many pogroms and bloodbaths, with not even a day of respite. The biggest tragedy of all took place in the Second World War, when six million of our people were exterminated in the demonic genocide campaign of the Nazi fiend. He was determined to destroy, wipe out, annihilate every last Jew in the world, total destruction of a scope never dreamed of before. This occurred fifty years after the Zionist movement pretentiously presumed to solve the Jewish problem and bring redemption to the people.

R' Moshe Sheinfeld z'l wrote what the Klausenberger Rebbe zt'l had once said to Levi Eshkol, a former prime minister: "For two thousand years, the leadership of the Jewish people was deposited in the hands of gedolei Yisroel, and as trusty captains, they steered the nation through stormy seas and treacherous waters. Danger hacked away from our numbers, evil forces gnawed away and devoured us, but the core always remained intact and the body of the nation was able to recoup. In this past century, the secularists have usurped the power, and what has happened to the people? East European Jewry is lost and gone. Western European Jewry along with Jews in North and South America are doomed to a spiritual holocaust. Russian Jewry is still within the crushing embrace of the Red Bear, while the Yishuv in Eretz Yisroel is besieged by eighty million hostile enemies out for their blood. Were it not for heavenly mercy, we would all be doomed" (Digleinu Av, 5334).


How true is this terror balance sheet and how it shatters the arrogant boasting of the State as a "safe haven." And when we hear the echoes of doubt within the Zionist camp itself, now, fifty years later, as they ask themselves how even after fifty years of statehood, we still find ourselves back at the original starting point, at the threat of our very existence, we can verily hear the verse in the Torah, "And he shall say, where are their gods? The rock in whom they trusted?" Or, as Hagaon R' Wassermann wrote, "Hashem shall ask: where are their idols to whom they sacrificed their choice offerings? Let them rise up and help you." And he quotes the verse in Yeshaya, "And he saw that there was no man . . . " There was not even someone who could pray for them.

Rosh Yeshivas Ruzhin, Hagaon R' Yehoshua Brim zt'l, once directed this columnist to the words in Maseches Sotah: "And there is no one to inquire, to seek, to ask. Upon whom can we rely? [Only] upon our Father in Heaven." There, the Maharsha writes: "Three terms are enumerated, corresponding to three worlds. Of all the nations upon this nether world, no one inquires after their welfare. No one seeks their interests in the middle world, for all of the constellations are opposed to them, as it is written, `Israel does not fall under any mazel' [it is not governed by any natural heavenly law]. And no one asks after them, not even the defenders of the heavenly hosts, for the angels have turned prosecutors. All they have left to rely upon is their Heavenly Father, Who is the Master of them all and Whose mercies are plentiful. He was precise in stating `our Father' because our ancestral merit of the three Ovos has already been used up and we have nothing else to fall back upon, except for Hashem."

This is how Hagaon R' Wassermann interprets the verse, "For Hashem shall judge His people and repent Himself for His servants": After Hashem judges [and punishes] Israel with deserved suffering, He will fulfill the second half, and show remorse towards His servants. Then will come the ultimate Redemption. When? "When He sees that we are helpless . . . " When He sees our strength dissipating, with no one to come to our aid, then will He send Moshiach."

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