What a dichotomy. It seems almost like schizophrenia. If we wouldn’t see manifestations of this every day and wouldn’t have been guilty of this more than once on our own, it might be laughable. But negius, becoming involved and swept up in a machlokes, renders it anything but a laughing matter.
IS THE JOKE ON US?
For illustrative purposes, let us analyze a recent news story and see how awful and ridiculous it seems. United Synagogue Youth (USY), Conservative Judaism’s youth group, recently held its annual convention in Atlanta. One of the resolutions passed there was dropping their ban on dating non-Jews. Let’s stop for a second and contemplate what that means. According to the latest Pew survey, 4 of 10 Conservative Jews who have married since 2000 have non-Jewish spouses. With such a rate of attrition, one would think that the USY would do everything to strengthen its dwindling youth population. Instead, they did the opposite. They officially permitted a change that will lead to even more intermarriage and a greater hemorrhaging of the already endangered movement.
As frum Jews, we can look from the outside and laugh at their shortsightedness, stupidity and self-destructive behavior. They are blinded by their own problems, limitations and inability to acknowledge the inherent, irreconcilable contradictions that their movement and its philosophy represent. Thus, they will slowly but surely continue down the path of assimilation and eventual obliteration from the Jewish map. That is the nature of the genteel Jewish Holocaust gripping American Jewry. The USY is therefore sanctioning anything that they think may leave more people under the umbrella of the movement.
It is easy to laugh at them from the outside. In fact, there is a Yiddish aphorism that says, “Ah fremder naar is a gelechter, an eigener is a shandeh – A foreign fool is laughable, but your own fool is disgraceful.”
THE VIRAL NATURE OF CURRENT MACHLOKES
Our disgrace is machlokes. A tragic, horrible calamity is gripping our collective community, causing irreparable damage to us and our children. Perhaps “holocaust” is too strong a word, but machlokes, the scourge that has enveloped our communities, is certainly making us bleed in a way that causes incalculable damage. It is here on the micro level, in many families, shuls and yeshivos. It is here on a macro level, involving issues that spill out to the entire frum community and beyond.
To be sure, machlokes has been with us since the time of Korach, and whenever it happens, the damage to Klal Yisroel is incalculable, but perhaps it is even more toxic in our time. With the advent of the internet and social media, even the smaller, localized disputes can go viral in a matter of minutes. Suddenly, every bored person with a little time on his hands becomes an armchair pundit. This just feeds the frenzied fire of machlokes, transforming even little embers into uncontrollable conflagrations.
MACHLOKES DESTROYS EVEN INNOCENTS
The Medrash Tanchuma cited by Rashi regarding the machlokes started by Korach explains, “Come and see how difficult machlokes is. In the earthly court, only those deemed to be adults (bar or bas mitzvah) are punished. In the Heavenly court, one is not punished until he is 20 years old, but here, with regard to machlokes, even babies were punished [and swallowed up by the ground].”
So yes, machlokes kills, and it kills ruthlessly, even the innocent.
I am afraid to say this, but one of the ways in our time that the innocent are affected by machlokes is the way it impacts our youth.
While the parties to a machlokes and those fanning its flames often claim to be doing it for the most noble of reasons – because they want to protect this person or that person, this legacy or that legacy, this institution or that institution – the youth who observe what is happening come to a different conclusion. They notice the bittul that one side has toward the other. They see the complete lack of honor shown to rabbinic leaders with whom one side or the other disagrees. By extension, they see families ripped apart by the fight and reputations ruined, and they think, “Is this Torah?”
Yes, we all understand that there certainly is a time when one has to fight for a hallowed principle that is being trampled on. Unfortunately, due to the negius of involved parties, many fights, deep down, are not about the hallowed principles invoked by the mecharchei riv, but about power and money.
There is a well-known vertel that between the brochah in Shemoneh Esrei of “Hoshivah Shofteinu – Return Our Judges” and “Al Hatzaddikim” is the brachah of “Velamalshinim – The Slanderers.” It is the slanderers who often get between the shoftim and the tzaddikim and ruin it all.
WASTING ONE’S ENERGY ON DESTROYING RATHER THAN BUILDING
Either way, there is no doubt that we are losing many of our youth. Perhaps it is because they are not sophisticated enough to realize what the fight is about. They see strife and fighting between groups and their leaders and they say to themselves, “This is Yiddishkeit?!” Yes, perhaps they just use it as a teretz, an excuse to drop it all, but, regrettably, they are being provided with many of those excuses.
A wise friend added another dimension, explaining that aside from the inherent danger of machlokes and all of the associated aveiros, there is additional damage to our youth. When our youth become engaged in a machlokes that sucks all of the emotion out of Yiddishkeit itself, they transfer their energy to the machlokes, to getting involved in the fight, and to winning the fight, instead of directing all of their emotional energy to building a foundation of Yiddishkeit, Torah and yiras Shomayim. That foundation is so pivotal to setting them on the proper path for the rest of their lives, but instead, all their energy has been pumped into a machlokes that, years later, will be part of history, while their avodas Hashem will suffer for a lifetime.
Let me be clear about something important. Readers of this column know that I do not discuss specific individuals or communities. Rather, I deliberate on issues from which we can learn. I am not referring to any specific machlokes or to any specific people. I am talking about a general trend. Unfortunately, there is enough machlokes to go around.
RAV SHOLOM SCHWADRON: “YOU ARE FOOLS”
Let’s conclude with a story I witnessed personally. When I was a bochur learning in Eretz Yisroel, I had the zechus to hear a shmuess from Rav Sholom Schwadron zt”l every Motzoei Shabbos in his home. We were a small group of yeshiva bochurim and Rav Sholom felt close to us and gave us advice on how to properly serve Hashem. At that time, there was a machlokes between two very important figures. Somehow, the subject came up. I had never seen Rav Sholom get so angry. He changed colors and roared, “Is this the subject for discussion among yeshiva bochurim or even avreichim? Sit down and learn! The great rabbonim involved have to do what they have to do, but you, yeshiva bochurim, who do you think you are? The godol who is involved in the dispute wants you to sit and learn. You think he wants you to sit and discuss all of the sides? He wants you to know the truth and go back to your Gemara. But you know better. You know that he really wants you to fight for him. You are fools!”