People have many questions and don’t know where to go for answers. In truth, the answers are ever-present in the words of the Torah. So many of our questions are answered in the parshiyos of Bereishis, which we are currently studying. If we study them properly, it can help us navigate our daily lives. When we are at a loss as to which way to proceed, the Torah provides us direction.
The Ponovezher Rov, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, was on his first fundraising trip to the United States. He was riding alone on the New York City subway, going to an evening appointment, when he noticed a group of people who were up to no good. They were eying him as an easy target and drawing closer. He stood no chance against them and began to think of an escape plan.
He took out a piece of paper with the address of his destination scrawled on it and showed it to the group. “Which stop do I get off to go here?” he asked them.
The ruffians were thrilled to be of help. It would be much easier to hold the man outside on a dark street than in the lighted, occupied subway train.
“Get off with us,” they responded. “We are also going there.”
The train stopped and the rov let them exit first. He moved as if he was going to follow them off the train, but he was purposely too slow and the doors closed. He was safe.
When the rov recounted his tale of salvation, the person he was talking to marveled at his on-the-spot brilliance.
“Please,” said the rov, who was known for his genius. “I got the idea from the pesukim in Parshas Vayishlach (33:12-14), which state that when Eisov suggested to Yaakov that they travel together, ‘nisah veneileicha,’ Yaakov responded, ‘No, it’s fine. Yaavor na adoni lifnei avdo.’
“Yaakov told Eisov to go before him with his gang and he would slowly follow. It’s a befeirushe posuk!”
The answers to the questions are in the Torah.
In 1933, when Hitler became Germany’s chancellor, one of the roshei yeshiva in Radin asked the Chofetz Chaim whether the madman would succeed in his stated mission to wipe the Jewish people off the map.
The Chofetz Chaim responded with a posuk from this week’s parsha. He said that no one will ever be able to kill all the Jews, as the posuk (32:9) states, “Im yavo Eisov el hamachaneh ha’achas vehikohu vehaya hamachaneh hanishor lifleitah – Were Eisov to succeed in wiping out one camp, there will be another that will survive.”
“Nobody was ever able to kill all the Jews, and no one will ever be able to,” said the Chofetz Chaim.
The man asking the question was frightened by the response. “And if this murderer will be able to destroy European Jewry, who will remain?” he asked.
The Chofetz Chaim responded again with a posuk (Ovadiah 1:17): “Ubehar Tzion tihiyeh pleitah vehaya kodesh – Eretz Yisroel will be a place of refuge.”
The answers to the questions are in the Torah.
The immortal words of the parsha (32:25), “Vayivoseir Yaakov levado vayei’aveik ish imo,” ring with special urgency in our own times. “Yaakov was left alone and a man came to do battle with him.”
Chazal explain that “the man” referred to in the posuk was the angel of Eisov. Unable to defeat Yaakov, the malach struck Yaakov and hurt him. The angel left, but not before blessing Yaakov, saying, “Your name will no longer be Yaakov. It will be Yisroel, for you were able to do battle with angels and man and prevailed.”
Levado. Our legacy, handed down by Yaakov, is to be alone. Halacha hi beyodua she’Eisov sonei l’Yaakov. It is an irrevocable force built into the natural order that the Jewish people are hated. The nations of the world and the forces of evil will be forever locked in battle with us.
All through the ages, wherever Jews have found themselves, they have been hounded. Through the merit of our forefather Yaakov, as long as we were true to the mission of Yisroel, we were spared. Though battered and bruised, as was Yaakov, we have remained standing long after those who fought Eisov’s battles in each generation disappeared from the scene.
In the darkness of golus, men of faith stand out as lonely beacons of light and hope. Remaining loyal to the Torah in a degenerate world is not easy. We are always on the defensive. Sometimes Eisov appears in the guise of a well-meaning brother trying to help us. He tells us to make compromises so that we can advance our causes. He tells us to sacrifice our principles and bend the rules in order to get ahead.
We have to be prepared to do battle with him and his ilk. This means being prepared to be lonely, unpopular and unloved. They speak of love and paint us as creatures of hate. They speak of peace and acceptance, and define us as spiteful non-progressives.
Take the example of the promoters of Open Orthodoxy, though they are not the only deviants from Torah and mesorah.
People said that no person or shul that calls itself Orthodox could ever do it, but they have done it repeatedly.
Recently, two Open Orthodox shuls wished mazel tov to people who underwent unconventional marriage ceremonies. Here is what happened.
Congregation B’nai David-Judea of Los Angeles is led by a male Open Orthodox rabbi, Yosef Kanefesky, and a female “rabbanit,” Alissa Thomas-Newborn, the latter of whom was given semicha at Avi Weiss’ Yeshivat Maharat.
Kanefsky’s bio gives a sense of his Open Orthodox orientation:
“He helped to introduce changes in synagogue ritual and leadership to enhance the role of women, and most recently guided the congregation through hiring its first female clergy member.”
Kanefsky wrote two articles in 2011 that argued against the recitation of the morning brachos of shelo asani isha and shelo asani goy, in which he provided what he called a halachic loophole that would enable people to avoid saying these brachos. The fact that these brachos are required by the Shulchan Aruch does not seem to matter to Kanefsky.
“Rabbanit” Newborn is basically Kanefsky’s assistant rabbi, who recites Kiddush for the congregation on Shabbosos when Kanefsky is away, among other tasks.
B’nai David-Judea’s weekly bulletin for Shabbos Parshas Vayeira, 2017, wished mazel tov upon the birth of a baby to a couple who have an unconventional marriage. Despite the halachic and hashkafic violation involved, B’nai David-Judea celebrates it.
Then, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR) wished mazel tov for another such unconventional wedding, as featured in the HIR weekly bulletin of Shabbos Parshas Vayeira, 2017.
The regular clergy at HIR, the Open Orthodox congregation founded by Avi Weiss, who is now semi-retired and is currently listed as “rabbi-in-residence,” are two males who were ordained by Weiss at his Open Orthodox seminary, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), and by two females who were ordained at his Yeshivat Maharat.
HIR has previously been featured in the Yated for many of its outrageous deviations from halacha and tradition. A case in point is its annual Martin Luther King Day concert, where a church choir, garbed in church robes, sings gospel music in the HIR sanctuary in front of the aron kodesh. Some of the songs are solos performed by female church choir members, some of the songs are sung by the church’s pastor, Rev. Roger Hambrick, and some of the songs are led by Avi Weiss with the pastor and the church choir. This desecration has gone on for years, and no one from the Orthodox establishment besides this newspaper has really condemned it.
This past summer, HIR’s weekly bulletin for Shabbos Parshas Ki Seitzei, 2017, included an announcement that extended mazel tov wishes to an HIR couple for their son being married in an unconventional union.
The posuk refers to it as toieva, an abomination, yet they celebrate it.
At the Agudah Convention, the Novominsker Rebbe addressed the scourge of “the new plague called Open Orthodoxy,” which represents the “corruption of Torah ideals, Mesoras avoseinu and downright apikorsus.” He drew attention to the Mazel Tov announcement on the engagement of two men in the synagogue bulletin.
He warned that “the soton – and he’s standing next to everybody – comes sometimes with reasonable sympathetic arguments in the name of fairness, equality, enlightenment and being good natured and accepting and before you know it – if you are not on guard with strong Torah ideals – you can fall into his trap.”
Despite the disgrace, no one else has said a word publicly, other than the new TORA Rabbis organization, which issued a November 16 “Statement on Synagogue Acknowledgment of Forbidden Unions,” which read in part:
“We call upon spiritual and lay leaders and members of the public of respective synagogues not to congratulate or celebrate, whether orally or in writing, those celebrating life cycle events in violation of Jewish law, included but not limited to halakhically prohibited marriages… celebrations held in blatant violation of Shabbat or kashrut laws, or any other event that publicly proclaims opposition to Jewish law…
“When there are events we cannot condone, it is not out of contempt or disrespect, but rather out of a firm commitment to the Torah, its values and its worldview, which requires us all to submit to the Torah even when doing so is difficult or inexpedient.
“We call upon all Jews to reaffirm the immutable character of the Torah’s value…and proclaim that to celebrate events that publicly flout Torah law is itself a violation. Within the confines of Jewish law, we recommit to making our synagogues and other Orthodox institutions sacred spaces where all can seek the wisdom of the Torah, the guidance of its teachers and the inspiration from the fulfillment of its precepts and the internalization of its values.”
More voices are needed to condemn these Open Orthodox shuls.
It is not only about female clergy. It is not only about changing brachos and violating the Shulchan Aruch. It is, rather, about a rejection of the values of the Torah and the authority of chachmei haTorah. It is about a rejection of all that Torah Judaism stands for.
What more will it take for us to recognize that there is nothing Orthodox about Open Orthodoxy?
We sit complacently, thinking that their deviation will never affect “us,” but as many have found out already, if we sit quietly and don’t expose these people for what they are, an Open Orthodox rabbi may be coming soon to a shul near you and bringing this brand of Judaism to your door.
Levado. We have to remain separate from them and continue reminding Torah Jews that they represent a growing danger to Judaism. We must not permit them to distort our religion and openly defy Torah and halacha.
People who celebrate actions the Torah refers to as disgusting are abhorrent. We pray that they reconnect with the veracity of the pesukim of the Torah and reunify with those for whom Shulchan Aruch is the guide.
The opening to Parshas Vayishlach tells us about the malochim sent by Yaakov. Rashi teaches that the messengers sent by Yaakov to scout his brother were malochim mamosh, angels. What was it about this mission that could not be carried out by men and required angels?
Why did Yaakov immediately assume that there was malice in the heart of his approaching brother? How did he know that Eisov intended to harm him? Perhaps upon hearing that his brother was returning home after having done well, he wanted to greet him and express his love.
The Baal Haturim in Parshas Toldos (25:25) states that the numerical equivalent of Eisov is shalom, peace. Perhaps we can understand the gematria as teaching that Eisov oftentimes presents himself as a progressive man of peace. He seeks peace and walks in peace, and all he does is motivated by a desire to spread peace and love.
Yaakov feared that if he would send humans to explore his brother’s intentions, they would be fooled by Eisov’s appearance and comforted with the belief that he seeks a peaceful existence with Yaakov.
When he was informed that Eisov was on the way, Yaakov sensed that he was in danger. The Torah doesn’t recount that the malochim warned Yaakov that Eisov was planning to do battle. It only says that he was on his way. But Yaakov understood that if Eisov was coming towards him, it could only mean trouble.
The wicked adopt the posture of Eisov, portraying themselves as calm intellectuals. As they promote their agendas, they slam us for deviating from the modern, liberal, progressive outlook.
The Bnei Yisroel though, have always opted for the emes of Yaakov, stating the facts as they are and accepting the ramifications.
The novi Michah said (7:20), “Titein emes l’Yaakov.” Yaakov Avinu, the fountain of emes, sent malochim to Eisov to gauge his positions. Yaakov yearned for shalom, but his primary concern was that it be within the context of emes.
He sent malochim mamosh, who could discern the truth of Eisov’s intentions. Yaakov was sending a message: “If you speak of peace, but under your smile lies a dagger, I will have no choice but to kill or be killed. I will not compromise on the emes. I won’t change and will not adapt the truth to conform to your evil path.”
Let us endeavor to inculcate a desire for fidelity to Torah as well as emes and shalom. Let us hope and pray that peace will reign in our camp, and that a united desire for truth leads to harmony. Let us all seek to bring peace among Jews.
The Maharal in Ner Mitzvah states that at the time of the neis of Chanukah, the Yevonim sought to transform the Jewish people through Greek intellectualism. The Sefas Emes (435) adds that there is a fine line separating truth and fiction. Knowledgeable individuals are able to bring people over to the cause of sheker by making small, barely perceptible changes. However, Jewish people, through their connection to Hashem, have an inbred ability, through the roots of their souls, to discern the truth.
Our study of Torah reinforces our fidelity to the truth.
Allowing the pesukim to pave our way will lead to unity, success, nachas and permanent peace.