No, I didn’t attend the rally Sunday. Although I saw the buses, cars and heavy pedestrian traffic outside, I stayed at home. But while I followed the news from afar, I also didn’t consider myself one of the “anti-rally” contingent.
Was I ambivalent then? Disinterested? Quite the contrary. The thought of hundreds of thousands of Jews gathered together in prayer was quite profound, as in the following post:
“It was an experience of a lifetime. To be part of the biggest minyan since the Beit Hamikdash. To daven mincha with so many people…”
So why didn’t I attend? Whenever a difficult situation arises, I think back to the Chassidic festival of the 19th_of_Kislev and the recent day festival of Hei_Tevet. In the former, the arrest and imprisonment of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was viewed as a Heaven-sent case on the entire Chassidic movement. To be sure, it is told that the Ba’al Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch were together with Rabbi Schneur Zalman in the Peter-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.
The second event in some way is harder to digest as the situation came through a relative of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. But instead of viewing the removal of precious books from the Chabad Library a simple act of theft, The Rebbe approached these troubling events as a Heaven-sent call to increase our efforts in studying and publicizing these and other holy books, as in the following statement made after their return:
“…We must say that the reason for these problems was only to bring a greater level of ascent. The only reason for the troubling and uncertain situation was to accomplish greater things many times over, in the area of spreading Yiddishkeit.”
So what was my disinterest? Not that people shouldn’t be allowed to study Torah all day. But that when a law is issued (or proposed as in this case) it is an opportunity to further the way we relate to Torah study itself.
As explained with regard to journalism, something is called disruptive when we perceive it as coming from a higher world to a lower world. We don’t expect the realm of thought to come down into action. But when it does, when it becomes evident that some article or class began a revolution, or the momentum to overthrow a dictator, then we begin to take notice. Instead then of the abrogation of a proposed law, the message that I found most profound from this difficulty was the expansion of a concept we call “soldier.”
Some months ago I mentioned to a soldier that I too am a soldier. At first he wasn’t sure how to digest the remark, then he laughed when I explained that we are both soldiers in Hashem’s army. Just like he has a uniform, I too have a uniform (e.g., tzitzit, tefillin, etc..) and the weighty job to help bring Mashiach.
But before this call to enlist every eligible male in the land of Israel, a person could mistakenly think that someone who studies Torah all day is not enlisted in an army. But a good result that will hopefully come from this test is that there aren’t two inseparable worlds: the world of thought where people study Torah, and the world of action where people fight with guns, etc… If there is a proposed law to make everyone a soldier, then the Chassidic response is to promote the conceptual truth behind these words; to promote the real-world impact Torah study has in overcoming physical enemies. As explained in the article on disruptive_journalism, the ability for thoughts to descend into action comes from a sense of responsibility. Thus the best outcome of the proposed law is an increased fervor to enlist in the active duty of Torah study.
On the surface it may seem that Mordechai’s initiative to study Torah with 22,000 children, in the face of the terrible decrees, was passive compared to dressing in sackcloth, fasting, giving instructions to Queen Esther, and the other seemingly more active events that transpired during that difficult episode. But the opportunity in our present day is to rethink the way we view Torah study in combating physical enemies.
The moment we close the book, however, and begin to try to bring down thoughts by brute force, we run the risk of being seen as an inciter. This is not the case, however, when thoughts come straight down into action. While they may go unnoticed at first, later these people are labeled visionaries, people who lived way before their time, etc…
The secret behind this approach is that focused Torah study has a tangible, real-world effect in the present day; even more so than those other physical acts. While prayer and fasting are important when necessary, our call today is to begin a new revolution grounded in Torah thought.
About the Author: Yonatan Gordon has spent most of his past 13 professional years in the world of Jewish publishing. He was the Marketing Manager at Kehot Publication Society (publishing arm of Chabad) for the better part of six years. He is founder of the website Community of Readers.
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