Friday, May 14, 2021

Secular Chareidim

Last week, I perused a local “heimishe” weekly magazine, which of course focused on the recent elections. Although this magazine’s circulation is assuredly far smaller than that of the Yated and the other major frum publications, I came away, to be blunt, pretty disgusted.

Aside from the token Torah columns, I would characterize this heimishe magazine as basically secular. Its analysis of the elections, featuring a mix of Orthodox and irreligious Jewish pundits, and plenty of non-Jewish contributors, consisted of all types of calculations and prognostications about who should win and why, evaluating every factor out there – except one: ratzon Hashem. In fact, the words “Hashem,” “G-d,” “Hashgocha Protis” and the like were nowhere to be found. Everything that occurred and that was predicted to transpire as a result of the elections was presented as a function of campaign strategies and political maneuvering, media influence and public perception, Covid-19 and the courts. Obviously, these are indeed these mechanisms at play, but, ultimately, Hashem is mamlich melochim and is the G-d of history. If we, as frum Jews, take a totally secular approach to world events, we are abandoning our raison d’être.

Election Fraud

This is particularly relevant as we read about what appear to be substantive allegations of election fraud on every level: hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ballots discarded; election observers illegally barred from monitoring ballot counting; innumerable fraudulent ballots being filed; ballots sent in by people no longer residing in a state and even no longer alive; ballot numbers exceeding the number of eligible voters; and ballots being accepted with late postmarks or with no postmarks at all. If ,at the end of the day, lawsuits with these allegations are dismissed and Joe Biden is sworn in as president, such is the ratzon Hashem. Those who may have perpetrated lies and stolen the election will have to answer to the Ribono Shel Olam, but in the end, it is He Who determines the course of events.

(Please note that I voted for Donald Trump. I felt it was a no-brainer. Issues of national security, law and order, the economy/employment, energy, and of course Eretz Yisroel, religious values/religious freedom, and the simple need for hakoras hatov were clear as day. When liberals would counter, “Don’t personal example, middos tovos and integrity matter?” I would point to the 42nd president and his wife, whose countless acts of immorality and deception, and whose commission of nearly every crime in the book, made them more corrupt than the most heinous mafia kingpins, yet Democrats still revere this felonious couple, and those who criticize Trump for his demeanor and sense of ethics hypocritically support the corrupt 42nd president and his wife, whose commission of acts of moral turpitude is almost unchallenged in American political history. We vote for a commander-in-chief, not a mashgiach ruchani-in-chief, as nice an ideal as it might be, but one to which no candidate from any party can come close to aspiring. I thus do not write this article as someone who is pro-Democrat in the slightest, and I would love for Trump to succeed in his legal challenges to the election; such is proper hishtadlus. But we speak here of the broader perspective.)

Many contend that JFK stole the 1960 election and that Al Franken did the same thing in Minnesota in 2008, when he was elected to the US Senate. Perhaps so, and perhaps we will never know. While those who perpetrated corruption will ultimately be held accountable by the Aibishter for their crooked and evil actions, the end result of having these people elected was Hashem’s Will. But unfortunately, there are some members of acheinu Bnei Yisroel who otherwise come across as fine frum Yidden who are so preoccupied and obsessed with politics and current events that they no longer view things from a Torah perspective and naturally believe that major world occurrences are the result of political strategies, persuasive lobbying, good timing, partisan interests, clever scheming and cover-ups on the part of fraudsters, and perhaps “luck.” Oy meh hayah lonu that some “bnei Torah” and “heimishe Yidden” have unwittingly embraced such a belief system, not realizing how it undermines and totally contravenes hashkofas haTorah.

Yosef’s Perplexing Trip to Shechem

What better example do we have than the narrative of Yosef being sent by Yaakov Avinu to Shechem in search of Yosef’s brothers?

Yaakov and Yosef realized that dispatching Yosef by himself to a distant, isolated area in order to find his brothers and report back, in the context of their great animosity toward him, was quite risky, to put it mildly. Yosef could have replied to his father Yaakov, “I am happy to do what my father asks, but my father should please consider the danger into which I am being placed.” Yet, the Hashgocha decided otherwise, as Yaakov and Yosef, who were holy, clairvoyant and brilliant men, went full speed ahead into a mission of extreme doom, which from a practical perspective any ordinary person of far lesser intelligence would have naturally shunned. Yosef, the wise visionary, later understood and explained why things occurred as they did and how this intricately-planned web of events miraculously unfolded, leading to the yeshuah of Klal Yisroel and the future geulah, and that it was all of course from Hashem, from A to Z. Yosef is the rebbi for all future generations in teaching Hashgocha Protis.

This affirmation that Hashem is the G-d of history is what the Torah teaches and what we of course proudly espouse, but it appears to now be softly challenged, without even realizing it, by some Torah Jews who are steeped and submerged in politics and have been sucked in by the belief system of the secular political arena.

Professional Wrestling

I confess that as a boy, my friends and I were, for a time, fans of professional wrestling. Whereas Jewish boys in New York often follow baseball, for better or for worse, pre-teen Jewish boys in the South, where I spent most of my childhood and where there were previously very few sports teams, often followed wrestling. For those who are not familiar with it, professional wrestling is a show. It is fake. That’s why the participants rarely get injured, despite (as it would seem) being subjected to the most extreme types of bodily blows imaginable, including one’s ribcage being robustly crushed by a 300-pound opponent who lands on one’s upper body at the climax of a 15-foot downward leap, or having one’s head mercilessly slammed by the opponent’s fist, elbow and boot, or being slammed over the head with a heavy chair or poked in the eyes with a sharp metal object. The wrestling matches are planned out and rehearsed. Each one is a staged performance that only the uneducated and naive think is for real, for if one looks closely, he will see that there is very minimal contact during the apparently rough parts of each fight, and that it is all empty drama. (Also, can truly bright and mature people believe that these wrestlers are able to survive unscathed after receiving an onslaught of violent mortal injuries week after week?)

I recall that there were times when the referee was inexplicably distracted during a match, whereupon one wrestler would quickly take a cloth soaked in an unknown substance, show it gleefully to the audience, and apply it to his opponent’s face so as to anesthetize or seemingly kill him, such that the opponent would immediately collapse in the ring, at which point the referee would suddenly no longer be distracted, turn around, notice the fallen wrestler unable to rise and declare the wrestler who applied the illegal substance to the downed wrestler as the winner. This would happen all the time, as a wrestler, his coach or an unknown person in the audience would distract the referee for just enough time for another wrestler to render his opponent unconscious or bruise him bloodily by piercing him in the face with a steel bar “hidden” in his pants or by breaking a heavy object on his head, after which the referee would suddenly turn back around and award the offender with a victory, for the opponent assumedly lost in a fair fight, the end of which the referee conveniently happened to miss while distracted. (For some reason, paramedics were never called in, and the loser always got up and walked back to his locker room as he angrily mumbled, “Next time!”)

I remember how the fans were so incredibly frustrated, as the referee was oblivious to the obvious injustice that occurred moments ago. It happened every week, and each time, the winner “stole” the match by cheating. Or so it appeared.

The exasperated fans failed to realize that it was all orchestrated to occur that way. It was part of a master plan, carefully schemed and rehearsed to yield the desired result.

And so is it in life, lehavdil, that matters that might seem unjust to the average person and which determine major events in the global annals of humanity are in fact under the full and unmitigated control of Hashem. We must accept what happens and not be frustrated by the seeming injustices, as we view the picture from a Torah perspective of Hashgocha Protis and not from the perspective of ignorant and unrefined professional wrestling fans.

As the Ramban essentially explains, there are two levels to such situations: Hashem’s master plan for Klal Yisroel and the world is fulfilled, while those who chose to act wrongly will be punished by Hashem in the time to come. We need not and should not get upset, attributing that which happens to people’s corrupt actions, cheating and lies. They will be held accountable for sure, but the emes is that Hashem’s Hashgocha is at work, and it is often inscrutable and unable to be understood by the finite human mind.

Secular Chareidim

I discussed the topic of political obsession and lack of inspiration on the part of some frum Jews with a family member last week and was told in response that this person’s rosh yeshiva blames the internet and social media for people going off the derech. I initially wondered how to interpret this, as the rosh yeshiva did not refer to people reading kefirah online or being exposed to inappropriate material, which of course can really damage a person’s ruchniyus. It then struck me that the rosh yeshiva was referring to the above phenomenon, in which people become infatuated with political or social endeavors, due to the ease of immersion therein through electronic media, and come to accept the values presented there, which they unknowingly absorb over time. Eventually, Torah commitment and belief become mere formalities that “get in the way” of what these people feel is really important. The result after a while might be a person who is off the derech totally, or might be the emergence of “secular chareidim” – people who look like bnei Torah and fully adhere to the Torah’s “rituals,” but whose belief system is thoroughly foreign to the Torah, as they attribute world events to political strategies, economics, media manipulation and perhaps “luck.”

Let us take a step back and realize that just like Yosef’s trip to Shechem might have seemed absurd from a secular perspective, but was in fact Hashgochas Hashem, so too is all that transpires the work of the G-d of history, and that the apparently unholy mechanisms at play are indeed geared to ultimately fulfill His Will.

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