Photo Credit: Orthodox Union
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

On November 4th, Motzei Shabbos, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb spoke at the Elmora Hills Minyan in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He addressed the topic: The 3 Greatest Problems Facing Ameican Orthodoxy and What You Can Do About Them.

Rabbi Weinreb is the Executive Vice President Emeritus of the Orthodox Union and the Editor-in-Chief of the Koren Talmud Bavli, as well as the author of many seforim and a former psychologist.

photo
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb (left) with Rabbi Michael Bleicher,

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Rabbi of Elmora Hills Minyan (photo courtesy of Rabbi Bleicher)

When considering the many problems we face today, we may perhaps think of Hezbollah and Hamas. More likely, our thoughts may turn to problems closer to home such as Antisemitism, the shidduch crisis or mental health.

Instead, Rabbi Weinreb talked about the internal problems we in the Jewish community face as individuals. These problems are not getting any better.

Rabbi Weinreb describes 3 problems in particular that confront us

Discord

Jews fail to get along well with each other, exhibiting Sinas Chinom (baseless hatred) and Machlokes (dispute).

Rabbi Weinreb quoted from Midrash Yalkut, which asks why in Parshas Vayera the Torah tells us about Abraham (18:2):

And he lifted up his eyes and he looked and behold three men were standing towards him, and he looked and he ran to meet them…

We were taught as children that Avraham had a tent that was open on all sides, so that he would be able to spot anyone coming by and invite them in, in fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim. However  the Medrash suggests that Avraham did not let just anyone in.

First Avraham looked to Hashem for guidance on whether he should bring these men into his tent, and Hashem gave His approval.

But Hashem’s permission was not enough for Avraham. He also had to look these men over himself, to see if they in fact qualified to come in.

And what was his criteria?

According to the Medrash, the single qualification was: HaIm Cholkim Kavod zeh l’zeh? How did these men treat each other? Did they give each other honor and courtesy? He checked to make sure there was no hatred among them. Only then did he invite them in.

Avraham was not concerned with ideology, background, theology or appearance — and HaShem’s assurance alone is not enough. First he must make sure they are “Cholkim Kavod zeh l’zeh” and only then can he let them in.

This ability, to get along with each other, is an area in which we obviously continue to fall short. We argue with each other and have disputes.

Throughout our history we have had arguments and disputes among different sects —

  • Perushim vs. Zadukim
  • Chassidim vs. Misnagdim
  • Right wing vs. left wing

There are always different sects and we cannot seem to get along.

Moshiach can solve the problem and make Shalom — but there is a Catch 22: He won’t be able to come and tell us the answer until we make Shalom.

Where to begin?

Chafetz Chaim saw the key problem as Lashon Harah.

photo
Israel Meir Kagan, The Chofetz Chaim. Public Domain

Today, things are even worse. Lashon Harah can be spread even more easily, instantly. According to a UN report, there are more people with cellphones than with access to plumbing. More people have the ability to ruin the reputation of someone else than have access to modern plumbing.

You cannot undo malicious gossip. It is compared to the feathers of a feather bed that when thrown in the air spread far and wide and cannot be recovered. But that metaphor is laughable compared with the power of today’s communication and social media.

The problem is that people don’t understand Lashon Harah. Everyone sees themselves as a religious person, but belief in G_d does not always carry over from spiritual relations to interpersonal relations.

Why not?

According to Rabbeinu Yonah in his Shaarei Teshuva, the problem is we think Lashon Harah is only a social sin. The truth is that it is a spiritual , theological sin directed against Hashem.

According to chapter 3, paragraphs 200-201 Kol HaOmer Lashon Harah KoIlu Kofer BaIkkar–whoever spreads malicious gossip, it is as if he denies G_d.

You cannot spread malicious gossip and say you believe in G_d

Usually when we do things we shouldn’t do, it is for profit: for pleasure or for money. But in Lashon Harah there is no profit. HaShem forgives us for other sins because he understands the weakness. However when someone spreads Lashon Harah, he gains nothing from the actual act itself. Instead, it is an act of defiance against HaShem.

Absent of pleasure, that person believes there is an area of his life free of Divine Hashgacha, that a person has autonomy, there is an area in his life where he is free to do whatever he wants.

We need to use self-control

Disdain

Disdain is cynicism — a leitz in Hebrew.

In his Pachad Yitzchak on Purim, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner Tz’l writes in one of the first Maamarim that the ultimate Leitz is Amalek.

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Rav Yitzchak Hutner ZT”L. Credit: IZAK, Wikipedia

Usually we translate Leitz as a clown, joker — someone not serious. But Rav Hutner explains there is more to it.

Someone comes with what he thinks is a great accomplishment and tells you about it. But you reply that it is “No Big Deal” – you rain on his parade, puncture his enthusiasm.

Am Yisrael was a boiling cauldron filled with enthusiasm when they left Mitzrayim.

Then along came Amalek, “asher korcha badereh.” They cooled off that enthusiasm.

That is a most destructive moral force.

It is the power of Amalek.

It is the power of cynicism.

Today there is a tendency to belittle those to your left or to your right, to deride Ultra-Orthodox or the Modern Orthodox, those more Chareidi or those more liberal.

We must resist that temptation.

Do not knock what is part of that person’s growth.

Despair

Rabbi Nachman of Bretslov used to say “Yidden, yidden, zeit zich nisht miyaesh — “Jews, Jews – don’t despair.

Today, the State of Israel is the only one with an anthem about hope.

The very name of the anthem is “The Hope”.

Other anthems are about war, the king or the landscape.

Many have no anthem at all, like the Palestinian Arabs.

Consider.

R. Jonathan Sacks wrote his book “Celebrating Life” during the Aveilus for his father. In the chapter “Sifting Hope from the Ashes,” he writes about meeting survivors of the Holocaust:

I am struck by their passion for life, by their tenacious hold on it. Some kept their faith in G-d, others lost it. But Most kept their faith in life itself. They did not give up or give in to resentment and bitterness…Nowhere do I find more clearly than in these survivors the difference between optimism and hope.

 

 

Optimism is the belief that things are going to get better.

Hope is the belief that we can make things better.

Optimism is a passive person. Hope, an active one.

It takes no courage to be an optimistic, but it does need courage to hope.

Photo
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of England.

Credit: Wikipeda

Rabbi Weinreb added to Rabbi Sacks’ words.

In Hebrew, we translate hope as Tikvah.

But in theology, mussar and in everyday language there is another word for hope: Bitachon.

Tikvah is hope in one’s self

Bitachon is hope in Hashem.

Because I have this belief in HaShem, that is why I have hope.

There is a psychological view of actively hoping instead of passively believing. Not just hoping, but actively doing something active to make things better.

In Judaism there is a theological value that goes one step further —  not believing but rather hoping based in a belief in Hashem. I hope with a belief in Hashem who has the power to enable us to make our hopes come true.

And with this hope, we can do things in our lives to make progress.

Progress against discord.

Progress against disdain.

Progress against despair.

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