Thursday, May 23, 2024

Open Minds…Crooked Heads

From time to time, we hear of “institutions of higher learning” that invite speakers who are vehemently anti-Israel. This should come as no surprise to us. Of course we are upset by it, but we attribute it to being just another manifestation of golus. We are just one sheep surrounded by seventy wolves ready to devour us, which is our lot throughout the thousands of years in exile. And this will be our reality until the coming of Moshiach,may he be here soon.

What is surprising and quite disturbing, however, is an item that appeared in the news just recently. A student group at a prominent Modern Orthodox high school invited Professor Rashid Khalidi of Colombia University to speak to them about the Middle East. Mr. Khalidi is not known for his tremendous ahavas Yisroel. To the contrary. He has close ties to the PLO, which is responsible for the shedding of so much innocent Jewish blood. He is also known to have accused Israel of killing children and old people. To their credit, the school’s administration canceled the invitation, but this evoked protests from the student body, who collected many signatures in a petition to annul this “terrible decree” and allow them to imbibe the poison waters of this anti-Semite.


Both the school faculty and the parents of those students should be asking themselves some uncomfortable questions: What kind of chinuch are they inculcating in their students and children? It would seem that they have been taught to live by the spirit of the times to be open-minded, objective, and tolerant of other people’s views no matter how destructive and perverse they may be. These are the fruits of such a ruach: to invite the enemy into their own school to inject their hearts with his hatred.


We all make mistakes when we are young, and the more we age and mature, the more our attitudes change as we learn from life’s experiences. We look back at the follies of our youth with embarrassment. Hopefully, these young students will mature sooner than later and realize how they have erred. But this is not necessarily the case, for even mature adults can be so open-minded that their brains fall out.


In the English supplement of a well-known Yiddishnewspaper, one reads a lengthy article defending these students and criticizing the school for not allowing this professor to speak: “Thinking students need to hear these opinions, other arguments and other convictions,” the author opines. “Knowing what the other side’s arguments and emotions are, they can better make up their own minds about the issues of the day.”


Practically speaking, this writer is mistaken. Young students are very impressionable and do not yet have the tools to stand up to a seasoned professor and an experienced spokesman, who is perfectly capable of deluging them with talking points that can confuse them.


Furthermore, when one fills his brain with alien ideologies, he cools off the feeling of his heart. Where is this writer’s “Yiddishe hartz”? Can one tolerate hearing the views of those who have killed his own brothers and sisters? Apparently, this so-called “educator” can, for later in his piece, he boasts that in his years of education, he was always ready to invite controversial speakers, such as the Austrian neo-Nazi Jorg Haider and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu or an extreme left-wing Israeli opinion, which was often much worse.


In another article a while back, this same open-minded educator argues that women should not be discouraged from donning tefillin, as they are emulating Michal bas Shaul and Rashi’s daughters. Then he makes the audacious statement that rabbis who are against this only make themselves look like donkeys. So much for open-mindedness. If one follows the p’sak of the Rama (Orach Chaim 38) and otherposkim who forbid this for reasons both niglah and nistar, this “educator” declares him to be a donkey. By the way, the same school whose students invited the professor also allowed its female students to wear tefillin.


That there are people with crooked ideas out there is not a chiddush. But that it was printed in a publication run by upright Yidden is a chiddush. They should know better than to allow the public to be exposed to such nonsense.


– – – – –

The Vilna Gaon was one of our greatest scholars and thinkers. He was even adored by the Maskilim, who respected him for his knowledge of secular subjects. Once, his talmid muvhak, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, astounded at his rebbi’s brilliance, said to him, “If I only had the rebbi’s abilities.” To this, the Vilna Gaon answered, “May Hashem save you from having my abilities.”


“But why?” questioned Rav Chaim.


The Gaon answered, “Because the greater a person’s capacity for wisdom and thinking, the greater is his desire to probe and to search. And it is easier to stray off to pastures where we are forbidden to tread, like what preceded creation and what will happen afterwards.”


If the Gaon, who was a boki in all facets of Torah, both niglah and nistar, was afraid of treading in places where we shouldn’t be, how much more must we, of feeble mind, practice discipline in what we allow to enter our minds.


This week, we lain about the parah adumah, for as we approach Pesach, we must cleanse ourselves from impurities in order to perform the avodah of this great day. “Zos chukas haTorahThis is the decree of the Torah” (Bamidbar 19:2). Rabbeinu Bechaya says that the word chok means a boundary, as it says, “Asher samti chol gevul layom chok olam velo yaavrunhu – I have set sand as a boundary against the sea as a permanent law that cannot be broken” (Yirmiyahu 5:22).


The implication is that Hashem has set boundaries even in Torah. Anyone who learns Torah knows that Hashem wants us to probe, to challenge, and to question the laws of the Torah, for only in this manner can we hope to reach its true meaning. Yet, Hashem gave us the mitzvah of parah adumah to show us that there are facets of Torah that we cannot understand. Chok is a boundary, a limit, a line of demarcation that we cannot cross. We do certain things because that is what we were mekabel from Moshe at Har Sinai and it was passed down to us from generation to generation.


The posuk says about Shlomo Hamelech, “Veyechkam mikol ha’adam – He was wiser than all men” (Melachim I 5:11). The Medrash explains that he was wiser than Adam Harishon.


When Hashem wanted to create Adam, the malachim protested, saying, “What is frail man that you should remember him” (Tehillim 8:5). Hashem asked the malachim what the names of all his creations were and they could not answer. But then, when he created Adam, Hashem asked him the very same question and, with great wisdom and understanding of the nature of every creature, he gave each and every name.


Adam Harishon understood the essence of the entire briah and yet Shlomo Hamelech possessed more wisdom than Adam, and more than Avrohom Avinu, Moshe Rabbeinu, Yosef Hatzaddik, and the dor hamidbar. For every posuk in the Torah, he gave reasons and mesholim. He was able to logically explain the most complicated halachos with logic. And yet, when he came to the mitzvah of parah adumah, he said, “I thought I could become wise,but it is beyond me” (Koheles 7:23) (Tanchumah,Chukas). Even the wisest of men knows that there is chochmah in the Torah beyond his scope of understanding. Shlomo had the broadest of minds, yet he knew that even his mind had places where it could not go.


The same holds true for minhagim and mesorah. We do not understand all of the deep reasons behind certain hanhagos. How, then, can anyone dare say that they are not applicable nowadays? Certainly not someone who isn’t a prolific Torah authority. “You shall not move a boundary of your fellow which the early ones marked out” (Devorim 19:14). The Shach Al HaTorah explains this also to mean that we may not overstep the boundaries, the takanos, and the fences that the early chachomim established, for they are not meant to be changed, no matter what the time and place.


It has been said that those who fail to learn from mistakes throughout history are doomed to repeat them. We are weary of the open-minded attitude, for in the turbulent eighteenth century, the Jews of Western Europe turned to the outside world for meaning and purpose. This led to the Haskalah and Reform movements, which have caused immeasurable damage to our people. Those who turned inward to strengthen the weakened spirit of our people, like chassidus, yeshivos, the mussar movement and others, can share in the credit of the spiritual survival of our people after terrible devastation. There is much room for creativity within the boundaries of our mesorah with no need to overstep them. Staying within the boundaries is a key to maintaining a strong Jewish identity.



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