by M. Shotland
Putting the Election Results -- and Any Public Activity --
to the True Test
Although this piece was written with particular
application to the recent election campaign, the ideas are
relevant to every activity that the chareidi community
Never was there another election campaign so devoid of
content. In previous campaigns candidates tossed around
aggrandizing claims, this time they seemed to downplay the
significance of public office, making it clear to all that it
has only slight impact on day-to-day life.
The rhetoric portraying the central candidates as total
problem-solvers has diminished. The victor won without a
single demonstrable accomplishment to show for himself. On
the contrary: What led his supporters to vote for him was his
status as a man who has weathered many battles and as a
seasoned politician who is perceived to show prudence and
measured thinking in the face of change, and who strives
towards national unity as a guiding principle. His election
does not portend drastic changes but resembles a turtle
crawling into his shell in order to maintain the status quo
without rocking the boat any more than necessary.
His opponent, on the other hand, proposed abundant solutions,
yet none of them were accepted by the electorate. Thus the
Labor Party has been left with only its hard core
constituency, whose support is generally defined as "tribal
Neither "unity" nor "tribalism" is related to the realm of
deed, but to the obligation the citizen feels to carry out
his civic duty as a participant in a democracy--what we call
The sleight-of-hand practiced in the State of Israel for so
many years was broken by none other than Ehud Barak. Just
three-and-a-half years ago, Barak rose to power riding a wave
of public euphoria in the media, which raved about "a new
dawn," "dreams coming to fruition," etc.
Throughout his time in office, Barak maintained this
pretense, skirting all obstacles along the way under the
pretext he was only interested in "producing results." But
his vacuous approach yielded sour grapes when he pushed
forward the Camp David Summit, which everyone agrees led to
war, and war does not fit under the headline, "Prime Minister
is a Smashing Success."
Had Barak recognized this pitfall he may have been able to
maintain a certain level of public support. But what enraged
voters was the fact Barak presented this as success in terms
of "producing results." This was apparent in Barak's
subsequent remarks that his willingness to make extensive
concessions provided the nation the fortitude to survive the
war, for his unprecedented compromises helped forge a
consensus based on feelings we had truly tried every
conceivable path to peace.
Barak's insistence on being measured by "producing results,"
and results to the Messianic degree of success that he was
constantly promising and for which he was extended much more
credit than his predecessors, caused a tremendous
disappointment when suddenly the nation discovered its leader
habitually promised more than he could deliver.
Thus the very leader who was such a dismal failure was the
one who burst the bubble of kochi ve'otzem yodi that
had been over-inflated for many long years. Davka he
was the one who proved to everyone that not only do these
illusions not exist, but they also cannot ever be.
It goes without saying that as ma'aminim bnei
ma'aminim we do not place our faith in one set of results
or another, but in Mi She'omar vehoyo ho'olom. All of
our endeavors are of course merely hishtadlus and we
fulfill this obligation to do hishtadlus in one way by
voting according to directives of the rabbonim. We obviously
hope thereby to increase our sector's ability to influence
public policy for the sake of Torah and those who are
faithful to it.
By nature an election campaign stirs the inclination for
victory. But we must never degenerate to the level of
translating electoral achievements into practical hopes.
Zeh le'umas zeh osoh Elokim. Just as the masses'
political hopes proved to be totally vain, the situation has
evolved to the point that it appears that the number of
mandates the chareidim receive will have a negligible impact
in political terms.
Therefore we do not place any faith in achievements and it
remains as clear as can be to us that no matter how the
distribution of power in the Knesset turns out-- even if the
schemes of the nefarious chareidi-baiter were to succeed,
chas vesholom, and a purely secular government is
established--salvation could still come and perhaps even from
he himself, despite his worst intentions.
Yet this all depends on our fulfilling our own obligation of
hishtadlus and this is our litmus test of success.
Rav Yisroel Salanter zt'l, whose petiroh was
just over 120 years ago, shed light on this concept as
recalled by Maran HaRav Shach, zt'l, in his opening
address at the founding convention of Degel HaTorah, "There
is need for action.
"I recall from my youth a story that someone told Rav Yisroel
Salanter that there are 36 tzaddikim nistorim who
appear to be simple folk. One is a cobbler, another a
carpenter -- but really they are tzaddikim whom nobody
knows about. Said R' Yisroel, `I do not know how it is
possible to be a tzaddik nistar. Can someone who hides
off in his own corner and wraps himself up in his coat be
considered a tzaddik? Can someone who only watches out
for himself be a tzaddik?' "
What did Rav Salanter mean by saying there could be no such
thing as a tzaddik nistar? And why did he not make the
same argument regarding known tzaddikim who do not
conduct themselves as carpenters or cobblers? He could not
have meant that they do not need to act.
His remarks can be interpreted simply, that since he was
asked about those who were not apparent, he gave a response
in the terms that he was asked, but it really applies to both
types. But perhaps in speaking the way he did, he meant to
add that beyond the necessity to go out and act materially,
at a time when darkness shrouds the earth there is also a
necessity for a certain quality in the lives of those who are
truly G-d- fearers. They must make their own emunoh
and yiras Shomayim conspicuous to the masses, thereby
countering the tremendous chilul sheim Shomayim that
is all around.
In a letter he sent from Japan explaining why the members of
Yeshivas Mir practiced chumros they would not have
normally followed as individuals, Rav Aryeh Leib Mallin
writes, "A community needs their deeds to be purified . . .
as HaRav Yisroel Salanter used to say, `The masses have to
conduct themselves as if they were Rabban Shel Kol Bnei
Hagoloh [Rashkebahag]. . . '"
In today's day and age we cannot refer to ourselves as
tzaddikim and every individual knows well his own
sorry state. In this act of hishtadlus during the
elections we follow the directives of our own
tzaddikim, the rabbonim. But we must know that insofar
as we are functioning as units of the sector of G-d-fearers,
we carry on our shoulders the obligation outlined by Rav
Yisroel Salanter to act like a Rashkebahag. Any other
mode of conduct -- like a mode only befitting a carpenter or
a cobbler -- could sabotage our entire community and its role
as an expression of kiddush Sheim Shomayim.
This obligation also contains great potential for merit, for
the opportunity to act like a Rashkebahag, even for a
brief moment, is no trifling matter.
Therefore let us distance ourselves as much as possible from
any and every show of gloating or victory celebration so
common among the masses following elections, and let us
depart from every base victory cry which attributes all to
election results. By doing so we will demonstrate that to us
the main thing is the very act of carrying out the directives
of gedolei haTorah and no more, and thus we will
amplify the kiddush Sheim Shomayim in order to be
worthy as individuals of the tzibbur of the title
Rashkebahag who is not "nistar."
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