Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Tishrei 5760 - October 6, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
For the Sake of Torah and For the Sake of Yisroel

by Yisroel Spiegel

The cycle of the Jew's existence revolves around a very precise and marvelously exact orbit between "And for all the mighty hand and for all the great fear which Moshe did before the eyes of all Yisroel," which concludes the Torah, and "In the beginning Elokim created the heavens and the earth" at the beginning of the Torah. There is not even one moment's pause from "the mighty hand" -- which, notes Rashi, "received the Torah as the Tablets, in his hands" -- until "Bereishis boro . . . "

"For the sake of the Torah which is called reishis darko, and Yisroel, who are called reishis tevu'oso."

This is the unique structure of the Jewish life system, which is based on a cycle of completion and resumption. Each day is also a disparate spiritual unit, with beginning and end, an ongoing cycle, as is each week, each month and each year. All of these units are governed by laws bound up with completion and commencement. This is the vitality which emanates from the eternal world, which is beyond our understanding, but which was given to us to vitalize us in a continuous fashion, as we say, "And an eternal life did He implant in us."

Once a year we complete the reading of the Torah, and resume it immediately anew. We complete a tractate and immediately commence the first mishna of the succeeding one. Every beginning has its roots in its predecessor and every siyum is bound up with what follows it. There is a flowing, non-ending continuity, in the eternal aspect of the heavenly creatures which are in a constant state of rotzo voshov, as described in Yechezkel.

The Torah is by no means an appendix or addenda to our lives, but the very gist and core of our being. The entire creation exists "for the sake of Torah and Yisroel," both of which are reishis, prime. It was established according to this divine plan. "The Holy One looked into the Torah and created the world [from this blueprint]," says the Zohar. Yisroel is vested with the mission to uphold the world through the Torah. By studying it and fulfilling its precepts, man is upholding the world, as the Zohar elaborates. Without it, he has no justification, no purpose in this world. And without the fulfillment of this mission, the world has no existence, as well. "If you agree to accept the Torah," declared Hashem at Sinai, "fine. If not, there will be your burial place" (Shabbos 88a).

Numerous questions were asked how this ultimatum can be reconciled with Free Choice of man in this world. How could Hashem coerce Yisroel to accept the Torah unconditionally?

The classic answer is the reality of millennia of Jewish existence. History has borne out the truth that where there is Torah, there is Jewish survival. Wherever Torah has been shunted aside, Jewry has atrophied and disintegrated.

If so, of what meaning is the polemics of "religious coercion" at Mt. Sinai? It was not a threat, but rather a statement of fact. Indeed, history has proven that wherever Torah is lacking, Jewry has been buried. It is a realistic process of cause and effect; a result, not a punishment.

Throughout the millennia of history, Jews have roused themselves each year with the tidings of "Bereishis boro," knowing that this is the principle underlying the statement, "For the sake of the Torah and for the sake of Yisroel." This is the magic and unique formula of Jewish survival. "So that the entire creation be cleaved together, cohered by virtue of this primary, elemental and fundamental root which is the starting point from which Hashem gives life and existence to all creations" (Sfas Emes Bereishis 2). With our adherence to this reishis, we are invested with new vitality, new re- creation, new fusion with the source of our lifeblood, the revelation of an additional level in the marvelous, sublime and ineffable secret of the Eternity of Yisroel, which does not mislead.


One cannot argue with facts and figures. From all the statistics and studies carried on regarding the Jewish world population in various places, even the gloomiest studies, what emerges is one illuminating realization: despite the dismaying drop in the number of Jews and the most pessimistic predictions for the future that the overall number in the diaspora will, in the coming three decades, drop from 8.6 million to 4.4 million -- there is a constant rise in the numbers of the loyalist ranks, the Torah-true faithful.

Those who makes these surveys cannot hide this blatant fact. Side by side, the downward trend of the secular Jews who will eventually assimilate themselves into nothingness is matched by the constant upward spiral of those who pursue the traditional Torah-oriented life as lived by our ancestors all the way back in time. And for those who stand on the crossroads of oblivion and survival, there is only one guide post: a return to the roots, a rejoining of the Torah structure of life. Thank G-d, many read the writing on this signpost and make the choice of pursuing the right path, that of Torah and life.

They are cleaving to the life force of reishis, the prime and source. They realize that their only hope for survival is to continue moving along the eternal unending circle of end-and-beginning. Nonstop Judaism. For the only alternative is, "There shall be your burial place."

How can it be that close to nine million Jews will be reduced to half that number in a mere thirty years? This is a shocking statistic by any standard! The Jewish people is in danger of losing four and a half million of its members? This is because they loosen the ties that bind them to reishis, and because their birth rate stands at a minus Zero Population Growth that cannot even fill in the ranks of those who naturally die. Worst, however, is that those who do remain are plagued by the cancer of mixed marriages and assimilation. Must we seek other explanations for the explicit rule of "if you accept the Torah, fine, but if not . . . "

There is a vivid example of this: the very famous four generation table drawn up by Anthony Gordon and Richard Horowitz which is based on an extensive study carried out over a period of three years on American Jewry. The table presents five groups of Jews, beginning with one hundred apiece, according to these classifications: ultra-orthodox, modern orthodox, conservative, reform and secular. It follows this initial hundred through three consecutive generations with a total result in the fourth generation of 2588 chareidi Jews, 346 modern orthodox, 24 conservative, 13 reform, and only 5 Jews remaining from the initial 100 non- religious, secular Jews.


The positive figure is the saving grace of this gloomy and shocking prognosis, that is, the blessed increase of those who are nurtured by the life-giving force of reishis, the initial starting point which is the gift from Hashem Who gives life and existence to all of Creation, as the Sfas Emes noted in the previous quote.

Here lies the deep significance in our annual return to the starting point of Bereishis. A new commencement, not because this is the routine cycle which begins with this first portion, but because through this return to the starting point we rejuvenate ourselves with the divine power that is inherent in Creation, in this world. "He created the heavens and bends them, anchors down the earth and its offsprings. He gives soul to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk with Hashem" (Yeshaya 42 -- Haftoras Bereishis).

When we return to the point of origin, to "Bereishis boro Elokim" and a belief in the constant renewal of Creation, we focus our will to carry out the initial design of the Creator "Who gives soul to the nation upon it." Thanks to this, we merit the gift of life and the unbroken continuity to this very day, despite all that overtook our nation throughout all the periods of our difficult, often terrible, exile. This is the greatest marvel of all, that "A nation, despoiled and persecuted" survives. Not by virtue of any might or power, but because Hashem "gives soul to the nation upon it, and spirit to those who walk with Hashem." Those who pursue His path survive and merit, as history and statistics bear out: "For even if you cross the waters, I am with you, and the rivers shall not overwhelm you. If you walk in fire, you will not be burnt, and flame shall not consume you" (ibid.), while those who go astray have no hope save for a return to the source of spiritual vitality of Judaism, else they will disappear.

Some fifty years ago, the Chazon Ish predicted that chareidi Jewry would eventually become the majority of the Jewish people, since the secular Jews are cutting off their very tree limb. They decree their own annihilation. He said this long before any studies were made by sociologists and statisticians; he did not need any demographic projections to know the truth that is anchored in the eternity of the Torah, in the promise of "And you who adhere to Hashem your G-d are all alive today." Conversely, those who do not cleave to the Torah must perish.

Actually, we don't need these charts, either; each one of us can infer the same just by looking around and studying his extended family and neighbors. Compare the single Torah Jews of two generations back and their progeny and numbers of today, to those beyond our circles who were not affiliated with the Torah world, or those few who went astray, and how many Jewish offspring they produced -- to what numbers they have shrunk.


The most amazing phenomenon is that even in Eretz Yisroel, many of those who were distant and ignorant are beginning to feel a stirring for Yiddishkeit. They have come to a realization that the only hope for our future existence lies in the tents of the faithful, those who adhere to Hashem, study Torah and keep its mitzvos. This is most remarkable since it is precisely here, in the past century and more profoundly so since the establishment of the State, where the battle of the anti-religious forces vs. the few faithful has taken center stage. It is precisely here that the spotlight has shone upon the clash, with the Zionist streams determined to oust Hashem and His Torah, as it were, from the domain of Jewry and to create a new type of Jew tailored after the Western model of the goy.

They did call it "Eretz Yisroel," but they veered completely off the path we have followed since the dawn of our existence as a nation, when Eretz Yisroel was promised to us only on condition that we keep the Torah faithfully. "Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people to inherit the land which I promised your forefathers to give to them," Hashem said to Yehoshua as he was about to cross the Jordan and conquer the land. But this promise was immediately followed by a condition and reminder, "But -- be strong and courageous indeed to heed and keep the entire Torah . . . This sefer Torah shall not budge from your mouth, and you shall pore over it day and night." Metzudos Dovid comments, "For without this, you shall not avail in anything."

After half a century of the State's existence, it has become apparent that something went wrong with regard to the central point of the promise of Jewish survival. Not only did the State not solve the Jewish problem, but it actually aggravated it and caused our situation to deteriorate. At this point, they can no longer bluff their way through or distort the truth by flaunting the material success of the State. The process of dissociation that has gripped world Jewry as a whole is also plaguing the secular society in Israel. Many feel that they have no ties to the land. The secularists succeeded in uprooting the past, as they wished, but they failed to replace this with a different set of roots. There is no [moral, cultural or social] foundation for the State at all, and the typical Israeli youth is still far from returning to his true roots. He does realize that he has been gypped, robbed of something important, as is evident from the following excerpt that appeared in a secular newspaper:

"For years we have felt a sensation of detachment, of life without a past. I am an Ashkenazi, son of an Ashkenazic family, descendant of all those who left everything behind at the turn of the century in order to create something new in this land of Israel. They voluntarily cut off their own roots and willingly severed themselves from every vestige of our glorious culture . . . I had the actual problem of identity, of self-definition, of attaching myself to a framework of time and place. I felt that those Ashkenazic pioneers who came here in order to establish a state, eradicated too many roots. The best example of this is the relationship towards a subject like the Holocaust: instead of talking about the outstanding Jewish culture that was destroyed and that vanished completely, they tried to sell us stories about rebellion [the Warsaw ghetto] and partisan warfare . . . We Ashkenazim demanded total, absolute assimilation in the model of the new Israeli. Today, they already realize that it simply doesn't work."


Those who are latched on to the yearly Jewish cycle which begins with Bereishis boro may also, at some period during the year, succumb to the lure of the yetzer hora which works full time and is alert to all possible prey. This is why we return to the starting point and repeat to ourselves that it is for the sake of Israel, which is called reishis, that the world was created. "This nation which I created for Me, shall relate My praises" (Yeshaya 43:21). And it is this nation which Hashem created, comments the Abarbanel, that is the very raison d'etre of the world; this is their mission on earth.

This only holds true when the beginning of the circle links on to the end, when there is no break. Those who severed themselves, even if partially, by joining the holy with the secular, deceiving themselves that Jewish survival is possible even without the dividing partition between holy and profane (or who reversed their priorities and put Torah in second place) disappointed us, and were disappointed in turn. This is what happens over the years in circles that created the national-religious stream, and this is what is happening lately, according to the media, in these religious Zionist settlements, when the youth remove their kippas and abandon the religious lifestyle as an emotional reaction to the explosion of the dream that a ruling right wing would prevent the return of the territories and would be able to withstand the pressures of foreign powers.

There is an ideological crisis amongst the people who were educated to regard Eretz Yisroel as the supreme value, the be- all end-all of Judaism which even superseded the Torah itself. They suddenly discover that they are standing before a broken trough. Regarding this, HaRav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz zt'l, pioneer founder of Torah institutions in America, once said:

"They (the Mizrachi) seem to have a wonderful motto: `Eretz Yisroel le'Am Yisroel al pi Toras Yisroel.' Who can question the validity of such a fine motto? But here lies the error: they transposed the priorities. Instead, they should have formulated it as `Toras Yisroel le'Am Yisroel be'Eretz Yisroel.' You may ask what the difference is.

"The answer is that the difference is the whole crux of the matter. It is a question of priorities, of primary vs. secondary, of what is shunted aside because of what, and what must be withheld at all cost. The Zionists maintain, for example, that a sovereign country can only be achieved at the cost of bloodshed, and this is a means that justifies the end . . . In other words, Eretz Yisroel supersedes Am Yisroel in importance, and Am Yisroel supersedes the Torah. Consequently, they feel justified in making all kinds of compromises at the expense of the Torah!

Our outlook differs: Torah was not created for the sake of Yisroel, but the very opposite: Yisroel for the Torah, for the Ribono Shel Olom, as the prophet says, `This nation which I created for me, shall retell My praises'" (Shlucha deRachmono p. 283).

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