Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

People Who Despise Money

The year was 1950 and the Zeiri Agudas Yisroel movement established a youth town in Eretz Yisroel called Sdei Chemed, designed to save the neshamos of children of immigrants to the holy land. Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz, longtime Agudah askan and Knesset member, traveled to America to procure funds for this most worthy cause. One of his stops was in Cleveland, where he stayed at the home of the Telzer rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch zt”l. Rabbi Lorincz was overwhelmed by the rosh yeshiva's amazing display of hachnosas orchim, to the extent that he commented, “It is not becoming for the rosh yeshiva to serve me.” The rosh yeshiva answered, “Right now I am not a rosh yeshiva. I am a machnis orchim.” Rav Elya Meir went out of his way to personally accompany Rabbi Lorincz as he went collecting in the city from house to house. After a few days, Rabbi Lorincz sensed that the people didn't look favorably at the rosh yeshiva's identifying with Agudas Yisroel. At the time, Cleveland was known as a bastion for Mizrachi, and Agudah was not yet so well known in America. Those who did know of Agudah were very antagonistic towards it. Rabbi Lorincz therefore asked Rav Elya Meir to stop collecting with him, as he felt that it was not in the yeshiva's best interest. He expressed his concern that the yeshiva is not officially identified with any political group, and the rosh yeshiva's associating with Agudas Yisroel could be detrimental to the yeshiva's ability to acquire funds. To this, the rosh yeshiva answered with a story:

“Our yeshiva in Lita was suffering from a dire lack of funds. My father, Rav Yosef Yehudah Leib, the rov and rosh yeshiva, decided to send my brother, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok, and me to America to collect funds. We were having a rough go of it, and, in desperation, we turned to a relative of ours, Rabbi Meir Berlin, one of the heads of Mizrachi, to assist us. He graciously invested much effort and, through his contacts, succeeded in acquiring vast sums of money for us.


“One day, Rabbi Berlin was quite upset. He showed us a sefer written by a mekubal, one of the great kannaim of Yerushalyim, in which he used very sharp language in criticizing Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook, the chief rabbi of Eretz Yisroel. To corroborate his opinion, he quoted harsh and biting expressions supposedly used by the Telzer Rov against Rav Kook. Rabbi Berlin turned to us and said, ‘If those quotes are indeed from your father, then I am no longer willing to help support his yeshiva. And if the quotes are inaccurate, then I request that he write a letter publicly denying these remarks attributed to him.’


“When I spoke to my father, I told him what had happened and asked if these quotes were indeed accurate. Father answered that he had heard about the words written in his name and he added, ‘You know that this is not my style. It is not my nature to use offensive expressions. But as far as publicly objecting to these quotes, I am not willing to do that, because in substance I agree wholeheartedly with the criticism.’


“‘But without Rabbi Berlin’s help,’ I argued, ‘we won’t be able to continue with our collecting for the yeshiva, and this will imperil its very existence.’


“My father answered, ‘I don’t know what Heaven decreed that my role in this world should be. Was I meant to be a rosh yeshiva or perhaps a shoemaker? If I was destined to be a rosh yeshiva, then I am confident that the yeshiva will recover from its financial crises and continue to exist. And if not, then I am ready to face the yeshiva closing its doors and that I be a simple shoemaker, rather than compromise the truth.’


Rav Elya Meir continued: “I try hard to tread on the path that my father paved for me. If he said that he is ready to close the yeshiva and cling to the truth even if it means that he becomes a shoemaker, than I, too, am willing to concede the yeshiva, but I will not compromise the truth even one iota. For in my mindset, we are all obligated to support Agudas Yisroel without worrying about financial repercussions.” And the rosh yeshiva did exactly as he said.


Rabbi Moshe Sherer related: “Once, Rav Elya Meir showed me a letter that he had received from a wealthy manufacturer. In it, he wrote that he was about to donate a thousand dollars to the yeshiva (a hefty sum in those days). But when he found out that Rav Bloch also spreads the poison of Agudah, he backed out of the donation.”


“Nu,” said the rosh yeshiva to Rabbi Sherer, “will I become alarmed at even a hundred letters like this? There isn’t even enough money in the entire world that would allow me to sell my principles, my essence, my ani!” (from sefer Bemechitzosom).


– – – – –


From the earliest stages of our people’s existence, we stood as a brightly shining beacon of light for the other nations of the world. We taught them to refrain from pagan worship; to believe in one G-d, morality, and fiscal integrity; and how to live one’s life in general. Avrohom Avinu was called the “av hamon goyim,” the father of a multitude of nations, because he dedicated his life to this endeavor. Sadly, because of the many years that we have spent in golus, we tend to forget what a precious legacy we have been given and what our role as the “Chosen Nation” is. This manifests itself in many ways, but to this writer, it was quite evident in the most recent elections.


The right to vote is a cherished privilege that not every nation in the world enjoys. It is the personal right of the individual to cast his ballot for the candidates he feels represent the issues most important to him. For many, these interests are financial and the candidate who will benefit them monetarily is their preferred choice, and that is fine. All too often, however, the candidate who will “bring home the bacon” is not in sync with the Torahdike hashkofah on moral issues. While one would hope that a chareidishe Yid would choose principle over prudence, it is the citizen’s prerogative to privately vote for the representative who best suits his needs, whether physical or spiritual.


Supporting a candidate as a community, however, is a totally different issue. When the frum community as a whole aligns itself with a particular candidate, it can be interpreted as a statement of who we are and what we stand for. Thus, we have to be very cautious and judicious in openly endorsing someone. When we campaign publicly for someone who supports immorality because in the process our pockets will get fuller, we debase our slates as the Am Hanivchar, the children of Avrohom who inherited the role of teaching the world proper values.


It is one thing if an organization bases its support for someone on daas Torah. As Rabbi Shmuel Bloom wrote recently in these pages, there were times when Agudas Yisroel of America honored politicians who weren’t aligned with Torah values. This was done based on the advice of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. “According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgment that they will say to you shall you do: you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you right or left” (Devorim 17:11). Rashi comments on this: “Even if they tell you that right is left and left is right, and surely if they tell you right is right and left is left.”


Even then, I cannot recall a time that they openly endorsed a particular candidate. Rather, in a discreet manner, they backed certain politicians. This is pure shtadlonus al pi daas Torah and it has many precedents throughout our history in golus.


Of late, however, one hears foreign voices, opinions that are alien to our Torah mindset. Recently, an advertisement touting a particular candidate appeared in a local publication here in Monsey, NY, that this writer found repulsive. It had a picture of a wallet with a declaration in Yiddish, “Vote your pocketbook!” Now, to be perfectly fair, I don’t even remember if the pocketbook choice was necessarily against family values. Nor must we get bent out of shape if an advertisement is not in the best of taste. But it does leave an impression of a general attitude of what is important.


Worse than this is when one reads articles written by heimishe Yidden that openly espouse voting your pocketbook even when it means compromising your values. In an op-ed piece, a writer, a frum Yid who does public relations for politicians, stated brazenly and unequivocally that one should vote for the candidate who will bring voters some money, even if he has shortcomings in his stances on moral values.


The writer acknowledges that, in the long run, this is not a good thing for our community. (He doesn’t say why, but this, in and of itself, could fill another whole article.) However, for the moment, because of our tenuous fiscal situation, we have no other choice but to vote dollar bill and ignore family values. So now, from a personal choice of compromising one’s values for money, it is morphing into a shitah. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the writer happened to work for liberal candidates in the last campaign and made his skewed opinion known in two publications.


Such a stance should be repugnant to any American citizen and surely to a Yid who lives al pi haTorah. Openly declaring that we should ignore the deterioration of the spiritual climate for the greener pastures of financial gain is irresponsible, damaging to our cause, and most certainly counter to daas Torah. Have we sunk to such a low that the sole criterion for choosing a government is based on the almighty dollar? It reminds one of the Medrash which states that the choshech in Mitzrayim was as thick as the dinar. The pursuit of gold coins totally darkens a person’s vision.


When depravity is taken lightly and even encouraged, the entire world suffers. Rav Meir Shapiro once visited the elderly Chofetz Chaim, and the tzaddik hador bemoaned the fact that the level of tznius was going downhill. At the same time, the Chofetz Chaim, because of his frail health, was confined to his house. Rav Meir asked him, “How does the rebbe know that there is a laxity in tznius when he is in the house the entire day and doesn’t see how people dress in the streets?”


“What are you talking about?” said the Chofetz Chaim. “You can literally feel the tumah in the air.”


Anyone in tune with his spiritual sensors can feel the tumah. And for those who aren’t, rest assured that there is poison in the atmosphere. “Wherever you find depravity, reprisal comes to the world and kills the good people with the bad” (Rashi,Noach 6:12). Are we believers or do we just talk? We wonder why we see innocent, upright people suffering and dying young. While we cannot understand the ways of Hashem, here is one explanation in Rashi right before our eyes. That is, of course, if you don’t cover them with a dollar bill.


And what about surrendering our role as a guide to the nations of the world? Are we willing to yield our essence, our ani, for dinarim? And what about breeding anti-Semitism? “Halacha hee beyoduah she’Eisav sonei leYaakov,” even for no reason at all. But do we have to provide him with reasons by allowing him to parrot his age-old mantra that Jews are money-hungry?


And what about plain old chillul Hashem? In today’s day and age, even without publicly supporting a candidate, the results of the various districts and demographics are known to all. If you don’t think that the non-Jewish populace is aware of how we vote even in the local election, read on.


A few years ago, a non-Jewish teacher who I worked together with in the secular department of one of the local yeshiva high schools approached me. We would often have friendly chats and he respected my opinion. It was the day after the elections and he was none too pleased with the results in his town. The community in which he lived had a large block of chareidi Jews.


The desirable candidate running for office represented straight-thinking ideals and family values. He appeared to have a lock on winning the election. But a week before the vote, the opposing candidate, a diehard liberal, who openly professed views inconsonant with Torah and family values, campaigned in the frum community and promised all sorts of financial incentives. They singlehandedly swept him into office.


The teacher questioned me on this and I had no valid answer. Although he was smiling, I could sense his disappointment and antagonistic feeling towards that group. One of the things that Hashem made us swear to when he exiled us was that we will not rile up the goyim (Kesubos 111a). This vote certainly did not endear the Jews of that community to their non-Jewish neighbors. Need we say more?


How great is the chasm between this way of thinking and the inspiring way of life of Rav Elya Meir Bloch and many other gedolim like him. We must strengthen ourselves to follow in the ways of our leaders and ancestors who were sonei botzah, men who despised money.



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