Guest Post by Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
Orthodoxy across its entire spectrum is in upheaval. One must go back to the triple pincer challenge of Reform, Haskalah and the Emancipation to find similar turmoil. Then, however, because of the state of civilization at the time, cataclysmic catalysts took longer to have an impact and the responses could be formulated and implemented over a longer period of time, affording some measure of the leisure of contemplation and analysis. Today’s civilization compacts, and therefore devastates all the more. We are all reeling.
But we are in a crucible, at high, rolling boil. It will take time – I do not know, of course, how long, but I suspect much less than the seventy-five or so years it took us to successfully adapt to those challenges of the early 19th century.
I do not foresee, at this point in time, that my generation – those of us who came of age in the 70’s through the 90’s or so – will be the heroes who successfully contend with the elemental forces at work. We were not brought up to be heroes.
The two generations that preceded us were heroic – in maintaining Torah through tribulation and tragedy, in fighting off the new challenges of secularism and Conservative Judaism, in establishing yeshivos and kollelim as axiomatic and widespread institutions.
When we came on the scene, there was – and is, to be sure – more of the same to accomplish. But it takes the form of another community Kollel in Chicago, another yeshiva in New Jersey, another Bais Yaakov in Monsey, an alternative community in Atlanta, another program to get Ba’alei Battim to learn, another lomdishe sefer on Bava Basra, etc.
We were also rendered timid – sometimes indirectly, sometimes directly – by the pioneers who preceded us, who were our Rabbeim and Roshei Yeshiva, our Rabbonim and the pillars of our community. They were men and women of vision and idealism, and we were along for the ride, and were given to understand – again, implicitly and explicitly – that we were to follow. They had more than enough creativity and leadership, and those were not our jobs.
There are so many clear manifestations and ramifications of our failure to overcome that timidity and passivity, the real and imagined limits and limitations in intellect, in spirit and in accomplishment.
The Internet has given us – somewhat belatedly – the ability to gripe and snipe together, to grumble and complain – but social media will not help us in the long run, but hinder us, as we mistake blog postings and Facebook comments for agents of growth that require the concrete rather than the ephemeral, the interaction of souls rather than their typed statements, the power of conclave rather than the curious notion of virtual reality.
We are outstanding at kvetching. We are utterly incompetent at doing.
Rather, in the absence of some major metamorphosis in my generation’s collective heart-and-mindset, we are relegated to the role of any sandwich generation. We can and must maintain streams of thought, perspectives and influences of earlier times, to serve as a resources for the generation that inevitably will arise someday to bring redemption to Orthodoxy.
I, personally, try to keep figures and writings that have moved me, at the disposal of our society, lest they be forgotten, compelling some future culturally primitive generation to reinvent a more deficient and imperfect wheel. This keeping of the flame is, in itself, an important mission. Especially when the seething cauldron might, at any moment, boil over and extinguish the flame. And thus we too will have played a role in bringing that redemptive time to pass, howsoever long this period of epic turmoil persists.