I think that I should ask mechilah from Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l. Why? I have never written anything that would have remotely been misconstrued as negative or criticism about the great gaon who almost singlehandedly accomplished what may be the greatest Torah revolution in modern times by returning the crown of Torah to Sefardic Jewry. The reason is because, in my heart, I remember doubting something he said and thinking that perhaps he was too extreme in his public pronouncement.
Let me preface by saying that this column does not usually focus on politics, especially Israeli politics, unless there is a lesson that can be learned beyond politics. I think that today’s column, although political in some ways, has a number of important lessons. The first is emunas chachomim.
The words from Rav Ovadiah were comments he made some eight years ago about the party led by MK Naftali Bennett, which was then called Habayit HaYehudi. That party was purported to represent the various sectors of the National Religious population. Tragically, however, they, with Bennett leading them, teamed up with the openly and rabidly anti-religious politician Yair Lapid to form a government that did tremendous damage to the Torah-observant public. During his famed Motzoei Shabbos shiur at the Yazdim Shul in Yerushalayim, Rav Ovadiah said, “There are certain people who many mistakenly [think of] as religious Jews. They call themselves ‘Habayit HaYehudi.’ [I hereby tell you that] they are not representing a bayit shel Yehudim. They are representing a bayit shel goyim! They want to uproot the Torah! They want to permit civil marriages. They want to permit public desecration of Shabbos in Eretz Yisroel... They are sonei Torah umitzvos and are chotei umachti es harabbim who cause assimilation… How can anyone mistake them as [being] religious, G-d-fearing Jews?”
At the time, I thought to myself that although he is probably right, I wonder why he went after Bennett and his party in such a strong, uncompromising manner in public.
During that period, Rav Ovadiah was extremely concerned about the future of the Torah community and the wholesale sellout of many foundational areas of Judaism by the Bennett-led party, which was supposedly representing “religious Jews.” He then said something pithy about Bennett, but more than being pithy, it was prophetic. He said, “Bennett’s eyes are far bigger than the kippah he wears on his head…”
What did he mean? Rav Ovadiah, who did so much to save Yiddishkeit in Eretz Yisroel, meant that Bennett’s ambition was far greater than his fidelity to Judaism. His ambition to be a major player in the government, regardless of the cost, even if it meant selling out basic Jewish values, like standards for conversion, marriage and gittin in Eretz Yisroel and so many other non-negotiable issues, was far greater than his fidelity to the most basic foundational areas of Judaism that would ensure that Israel remained a Jewish state. In other words, when it came to his ambition, Bennett had no red lines.
We saw that this past week. We saw how he was even willing to sell out the very public who voted for him. His voters, virtually all right-wing, even more right than the Likud, relied on him as a heretofore unabashed representative of the right, of not selling out to those leftists who want to make “peace” with the Palestinians at any cost, not selling out to Lieberman who wants a completely secular country, and not including unreliable Arab parties who might be closet members of the Muslim Brotherhood. He repeatedly promised that he wouldn’t during the previous election…but he did! He sold out.
Why? Ambition trumps all. As Rav Ovadiah prophetically saw, “his eyes are bigger than his kippah.”
Not to Insult Korach…
This week’s parsha is Parshas Korach. I would not want to insult Korach by comparing Bennett to him. Korach was a great man who made a terrible mistake that led him to the she’ol tachtis. Bennett was never a great man.
But there is one thing that we can see. When someone has delusions of grandeur, feeling that he deserves to be the leader, he can stray very far from even his most deeply held values. That is the shochad, the bribery, of “big eyes” and uncontrolled ambition.
Bennett has always been a “real man of the right.” Yes, perhaps in the past his adherence to religious values has already come into question, but his right-wing credentials have always been impeccable. He has been a very eloquent defender of the State of Israel to world media when it has come under fire for “disproportionate” responses to Palestinian war crimes of intentionally firing on innocent civilians. But now, he is ready to join a government comprised of ultra-leftists with Arab incarnations of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The only common denominator is the “big eyes,” the desire to be prime minister, even with a minuscule six seats, less than both Shas and United Torah Judaism.
Indeed, Chazal tell us regarding Korach that “eino hita’aso,” his eyes fooled him.
Who Will Suffer the Long-Term Damage?
What we are seeing now is Naftali Bennett’s large eyes that so covet the premiership that he is blind to everything else, even selling out his seeming sacred values and certainly the values of those who chose him.
Although Bennett’s deception is painful and will almost certainly cause pain to the chareidi community, the truth is that the long-term damage will not be done to the chareidim, but rather to the Jewish character of the entire State of Israel as a whole.
Yes, the chareidim may experience budget cuts. Yes, yeshivos and kollelim may have a hard time with this hateful government comprised of the rabidly chareidi-hating Avigdor Lieberman with the likes of Yair Lapid and the ultra-leftists of Meretz together with the Arab Mansour Abbas. But they will survive. Hashem promised that Torah will not be forgotten from among us. Certainly, what appears to be a very temporary government comprised of players who have nothing in common other than unmatched ambition, arrogance and a deep animosity of Prime Minister Netanyahu will not derail the Torah community in Eretz Yisroel.
The question is whether the little bit left of the Jewish character of the State of Israel will survive.
Let me explain. The chareidim will have it tough, but they will figure it out. Just like during the last Lapid-led government, when new ideas such as Adopt-a-Kollel were established and the Torah community in Eretz Yisroel continued to thrive and still continues to thrive, so too, the Torah community will figure out how to make things work, even with such a government in power.
The question is what the state institutions will look like. Bennett and his voters ascribe actual religious value to the State of Israel. We don’t. According to them, will a state led by a hodgepodge of competing interests be able to withstand compromising on things that define its Jewish character? Of course not.
The standards of geirus will immediately be compromised. Don’t think for a second that the “religious” Bennett will stand up for the halachic definition of geirus. In fact, he will probably welcome a more liberal definition of geirus. Who will suffer? Not the chareidim. They will check the yichus of any prospective spouse. It will be the rest of the country, including Bennett’s voters, who will suffer. They will bring scores of goyim into Eretz Yisroel who will consider themselves Jews. That will wreak havoc with yichus.
What about gittin? There will be many more mamzeirim as a result of leniency in gittin and personal status issues that the government will welcome. Who will suffer? Not us, but the many unwitting Jews who believe that the Jewish state can somehow guarantee that its inhabitants will remain Jewish and not suffer the spiritual holocaust of assimilation that has transpired in Europe and America.
What about the ultra-left parties that champion the redefinition of marriage and gender choices? All these matters will be fully negotiable to satiate Bennett’s large eyes and his hunger for power as prime minister.
What about Bennett’s own voters who realize that we don’t have a “partner” with whom to make peace and either way are advocates of keeping “all of Israel under Jewish rule”? Do they think Mansour Abbas will help them reach that goal?
Perhaps, United Torah Judaism’s Yitzchok Pindrus put it best in an interview with the New York Times when he said, “What worries us is not what will happen to the haredi sector, but what will happen to Israel as a Jewish state.”
The lesson for us Yidden is clear. Those who are willing to let personal ambition trump their own values, religious or otherwise, will ultimately and tragically not only be lost themselves, but will take down with them all the constituents who join them…just like Korach.
I guess the only thing in which we can take comfort is that, to quote Moshe Gafni, “the most religious member of the entire new government would be Mansour Abbas, the Arab member of the coalition.”