This Shabbat marks the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Meir Kahane, may Hashem avenge his murder. To honor his memory, our next two blogs will feature essays he wrote for The Jewish Press, which appear in the incomparably thought-provoking collection of his articles, “Beyond Words.” May his memory be for a blessing.
Cleverer Than God
By Rabbi Meir Kahane
December 1, 1978
It has been three weeks now since I left Israel to speak to the Jews of the American Galut. My most profound impression has clearly been the attempt of American Jews — especially the practitioners of ritual — to be clever; to be cleverer, cleverer than our Maker. The words of the prophet Isaiah (45:9) ring out across the ages, saying: “Woe to him who argues with his Maker! . . . Shall the clay say to Him who forms it: ‘What are you doing?’”
In every generation this would appear to have been so. The created striving to be cleverer than the Creator. And in every generation, forgetting the words of that Creator: “I made the earth, and created mankind upon it . . . !” (Isaiah, 45:12).
A mere cursory look at the Torah reveals an unmistakable fact: Amidst any and all of the punishments and warnings issued by the Creator, one continually stands out as the ultimate national one: Galut, exile. Whatever else it may be considered: sin, impurity, akin to idol worship — the Galut is, first and foremost, primarily a curse and a punishment. Here are just a few examples:
“And you will perish quickly from off the good Land that the Lord gives you” (Deuteronomy 11:17).
“I call heaven and earth this day to bear witness against you, that you will soon be utterly removed from off the Land, into which you are crossing theJordanto inherit.” (ibid., 4:26)
“That the Land not vomit you out, when you defile it.” (Leviticus 18:28).
And, of course, the two classical Tochachot, admonitions, the first in Leviticus and the other in Deuteronomy. In both, a long series of punishments, and tribulations. In both, curses taking the place of blessings. In both, an escalating warning: “And if you continue to refuse to listen to me . . . ” followed by yet another punishment, worse than those that preceded it.
And in both, the final, ultimate, most dreaded of all punishments: “And the Lord will scatter you among all the nations, from one end of the earth to the other . . . ” (Deuteronomy 28:64).
Galut. Exile. The worst of the punishments, the most dreaded of the curses. To be driven out of our Land. Thus did the Almighty decide to show His wrath and teach the Jew the magnitude and enormity of his sins.
I have seen the Jew of America. Non-observant and observer, both. And they are clever. Cleverer by far than their Maker. For the Almighty planned to “scatter the Jew among all the nations,” and the Jew of Los Angeles and Chicago and Monsey and Boro Park and Monroe and a hundred other fleshpots, winks and sighs: “Very well, then, I suppose I will have to suffer in Los Angeles, Chicago, Monsey, Boro Park and Monroe . . . ”
Really, dear Jew, give the Almighty a little credit for cleverness. Do, indeed, consider that He conceived of your “cleverness” and prepared for it. Are we really so contemptuous of the Creator that we believe that He drives us out of our Land so that we can enjoy a better material life in that Exile that he conceived of as a punishment? Are we, indeed, so irreverent that we truly think that the words of the Torah become a game and a plaything to be outwitted so easily? Ah, what a difficult time we will have in the Galut of Great Neck . . .
No, dear Jew, the G-d of Israel is not as simple and foolish as we think. He did not conceive of the ultimate punishment of a Jewish people driven from their Land, merely to have them enjoy a fabulously better material life in the Exile. For that very same chapter that booms forth: “And the Lord will scatter you among all the nations” continues and decrees: “And among those nations you will find no tranquility, neither will the sole of your foot have rest . . . ”
I watch as the comfortable American Orthodoxy unfolds in Flatbush and Flattest bush. We buy our houses and discuss the inflated price. We furnish them with delectable possessions, above our heads the sheitel, and above that the chandelier. We plan our vacations. We buy our women their expensive garments (lest they be shamed by those that have them). We build a comfortable and relaxed Judaism that mockingly proclaims our clever victory over the plans of our Maker. There is not the slightest serious thought to life inIsrael. There is not the slightest qualm of conscience as we luxuriate in the fleshpots of idol worship. The clay figure basks in the American sun, turns to its Maker and sighs: “And because of our sins we were exiled from our Land.” And having paid the obligatory obeisance, the clay then turns on its color television set to watch the football game, or goes off to purchase a sheitel that will clearly make every male’s eye turn.
Ribono shel Olam, Sovereign of the Universe, what a bitter exile . . .
I offer an urgent suggestion. Let us understand that we are not as clever as we think. Let us understand that the Almighty is a bit wiser than we give Him credit for. If the Galut was conceived by the God of Israel as a curse, then there is nothing that can turn it into a blessing. If it was designed to be a punishment, it can never become a reward. Rationalize away, dear Jew, in the 150 ways that you think you are able to purify the impurity. It is to no avail. Your political science (“But America is different! It is a democracy!”) will not help you. Your religiosity (“But we must stay here to build Yiddishkeit!”) will avail you naught. Be not cleverer than your Creator. “Be not overly wise — why should you destroy yourself?” (Ecclesiastes 7:16).
That which is crooked cannot be made straight and that which is impure cannot be made holy, and that which was designed as a curse, punishment and tribulation cannot ever, ever be turned into enjoyment, pleasure and permanent safety. For a while, the Almighty may allow us to delude ourselves, hoping we will regain our sanity. He gives us time to do the right thing.
Invariably, we mistake His kindness for our cleverness, but the day of reckoning must come, and does. The lights of the chandeliers dim and then are extinguished. The sheitel withers away, and the impure crawling insect that we “purified” proves to be impure indeed. That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is Exile can never be anything but tragedy. Jew, stop listening to those who cannot see. Do not repeat the tragedy of 40 and 50 years ago. Clay, know your place. The Maker is cleverer by far. Go home before it is too late.