By now, everyone has surely heard of the travesty created by the presidents of three Ivy League universities. The heads of the formerly formidable seats of knowledge, Harvard, Penn and MIT, could not find it in their collective heads or hearts to condemn genocide against the Jewish people. Debbie Maimon’s comprehensive report in the pages of this paper last week details the rot and moral decadence in these so-called institutions of higher learning. However, as Torah Jews, we must look beneath the surface and attempt to understand what is really going on here. Beneath the obvious anti-Semitism, moral deafness and blindness, double standards, outright bribery and corruption, Hashem is sending us an incredible lesson.
A Trip To The Past
First of all, please allow me to return to a column I was privileged to publish in this newspaper almost ten years ago (November 22, 2015) under the title “Our Rabbeim Were Right.” The following words were written well before the most recent pogrom by Hamas and the squirming protestations of the vile university presidents. As Chazal say, neither my father nor I are prophets, but we must begin with some perspective on what has been happening on campus to understand the ramifications and new depravity that has now been added. I quote from this paper and myself just to gain this crucial point about the present:
One of my revered rabbeim was Rav Mottel Weinberg zt”l. I was zocheh to learn from him at the Mesivta of Eastern Parkway, before he moved to Canada to become rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Gedolah Merkaz Hatorah of Montreal. An ardent opponent of college for yeshiva bochurim, he bombarded us with mussar shmuessen almost every Friday about the evils of university life and its teachings. In the sixties, this type of talk was not as accepted as it is today, and our Holocaust-survivor parents often felt that it just couldn’t be that bad. After all, we needed a parnassah in the New Country and going to college was a necessary prerequisite. Or so we thought. Then, one day, rebbi said something really outrageous. He predicted that someday, PhDs would be driving cabs and yeshiva boys who had not attended college would be sitting in the back seats. I remembered this bit of nevi’us a few years ago when I traveled out of town to deliver a speech. The driver was a highly intelligent frum man, who had indeed earned a prestigious doctorate. Speaking with him further, I discovered that many of the drivers in this particular car service, which caters primarily to the Orthodox community, had at least Master’s degrees and often PhDs. One for rebbi.
But rebbi’s much more important prediction waited until more recently to come to fruition. He warned us that as bad as college was, it was going to get much worse. To our widening eyes, he painted a frightening picture of dens of iniquity, centers of heresy and even headquarters for anti-Semitism. Many of us, and even more so our beloved but naïve parents, couldn’t believe it. They complained to him, accused him of fanaticism, and some even switched their sons to more “normative” yeshivos. Yet, let’s look at what’s happening on campus today. Most of the offending activities are so egregious that they cannot even be described in a family newspaper, let alone one with frum standards of modesty and propriety. However, to the extent that the reality of university life in secular non-religiously-run colleges can be described, any normal intelligent person must experience a combination of repugnance and feelings of risibility.
Many universities not only offer courses, but even advanced degrees examining and glorifying the lowest aspects of so-called “culture,” entertainment and assorted inanities. Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are rampant even on campuses in areas with large Jewish populations. Advocating BDS against Israel is considered the epitome of morality, and Islamic terrorism is accepted as standard civilized behavior. Alternative lifestyles, sarcastic depiction of what until recently was universally considered to be normal family life, complete submission to atheism, coupled with cynicism about anything associated with religion defines the general tone, syllabus and philosophy of most universities today. Even those colleges attempting to pull back somewhat from this trend away from traditional values find themselves enthralled by radical tenured faculties over whom they have no control. Two for rebbi.
What all this proves, without a doubt, is that we need to reaffirm our own commitment to emunas chachomim and daas Torah. Not that my rebbi or anyone else needed the vote of confidence, but this may be a good time to remember how right they have been.
Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler, author of Michtov M’Eliyohu, was quite a wise man himself. Yet, he testified (1:75) after watching gedolim such as the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky in their deliberations that their wisdom was “mavheles – awesome.” Since we are firm believers that Yiftach b’doro k’Shmuel b’doro (Rosh Hashanah 25b) – every generation has the leaders that are appropriate for them – we must feel the same way about our leaders as Rav Dessler felt about his. In our time, Rav Moshe Feinstein, too, testified that “all of my opinions come only from the Torah, without any admixture from other sources or so-called logic derived from the heart” (Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 2:11). Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, author of Tzitz Eliezer (18:64), likened Rav Moshe to Moshe Rabbeinu himself for our generation.
In truth, we shouldn’t even need these testimonials about the brilliance of earlier generations. It was well known that the Chazon Ish (Pe’er Hador 4:141) could guide brain surgeons through complex operations, but we have seen similar successful decisions made by Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Chaim Kanievsky in our time as well. In fact, it was the Chazon Ish himself who assured us that “Hashem’s providence provides individuals, who devote themselves to profound Torah study in every generation, with an angelic spirit from Above, which allows them to answer difficult questions” (Igros, no. 33). In fact, the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 3:2) assures us that “one who consults with the elders will not be led astray.” The Ramban (Devorim 17:11) poetically describes “the spirit of Hashem which rests upon those who serve His sanctuary and will not abandon His pious ones so that they are forever protected from errors and stumbling blocks.”
Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, a Torah giant, who himself possessed daas Torah in no small measure, explained the concept in simple, understandable terms. A man who stands one hundred meters from an important site is asked if he can spot any details. He responds that he does not have such wonderful eyesight and cannot even see the designated objective. Someone else comes along who can see up to 40 meters, a third who can make out details at 60. However, only the one who can finally see for 100 meters can report on the reality they are all seeking. Even if all of the first three pool their information, they cannot match the fourth, who actually perceives the target. Thus, even if a number of scholars and experts claim that something is not dangerous and the gadol hador says that it is, he simply saw what they could not. In fact, we might say that they all “turned a blind eye” to that which the gadol saw clearly (see Yalkut Lekach Tov, Shoftim, pages 182-183).
Where do these unique individuals obtain such extraordinary vision? Cannot other lesser scholars also obtain this knowledge?
The Sefas Emes (beginning of Pirkei Avos and Devorim, page 240) reveals that there are two sources of Torah wisdom. One is indeed the result of each person’s diligence and effort in ascertaining the truth. The other, however, is the exclusive purview of those who have been granted the “Torah inheritance” embodied in the posuk, “Torah tzivah lonu Moshe morasha kehillas Yaakov.” These special insights are only granted to the leaders of every generation, as required by Klal Yisroel (see, also, Bais Halevi, Parshas Yisro).
Of course, all of this may be missing the main point. There are those who unfortunately claim that gedolei Yisroel only have the requisite knowledge for purely halachic decisions. However, when it comes to the daily vicissitudes of life or political, medical or business advice, they have no more standing than anyone else. To this, we present the flaming words of the Chinuch (Mitzvah 496 and 605): “We are enjoined to listen to the scholars in each and every generation…and one who transgresses this commandment and does not listen to the advice of the gedolim in his generation nullifies a positive commandment and is subject to great punishment.” As has been pointed out (Rabbi Tzvi Noigershal, Shmaatin 14:87), the Chinuch is not speaking only of a halachic ruling, but also of what we also usually refer to as “advice.”
Rav Moshe Feinstein, too, is quoted in the biography about him (page 91) as saying that “those who maintain that gedolei Yisroel cannot make rulings about political and similar issues commit a grave sin and cannot be counted in the Torah camp.”
The Rebbe of Sochatchov, too (Sheim M’Shmuel, end of Moadim) stresses that “the essence of Judaism is that a person should subjugate himself to daas Torah and its scholars.”
Even the greatest of Torah scholars always sought to discover what talmidei chachomim of earlier generations held about certain subjects. Rav Aharon Kotler (Marbitzei Torah Umussar 3:275) would eagerly interview older people who remembered the gedolim of previous generations, happily gleaning whatever he could about the teachings of these giants of yesteryear.
The Chazon Ish (Igros 3:92) emphatically declares that “the position that the Torah may be divided into segments, wherein gedolim may rule upon purely halachic matters but not upon life’s important issues, is the ancient one promulgated by the early German Haskalah. This false division destroys the Torah, is insulting to Torah scholars, and its adherents have no share in the World to Come.”
So it is not only my rebbi’s predictions about college that were right. The Mesillas Yeshorim (chapter 3) offers the famous parable of the labyrinth, wherein people wander, hopelessly lost. Only those who have been through the maze successfully can guide others as well. Our gedolim have all seen every other path and know how to emerge safely and intact. In the complicated world in which we find ourselves, it is a measure of our own wisdom that we seek theirs to discover what path to follow in these difficult times.
We are back in Teves 5784 and the end of 2023. Apparently, the situation in the universities was already pretty bad a decade ago. So what has changed? Let’s look at the past few years with Torah eyes. Hashem brought Covid upon the world and it is now a different world. Many ancient plagues and even pandemics came and went, but this one changed society radically. Many people no longer work away from home anymore, and judging from my own shul and community, many have been able to rearrange their schedules to learn a good deal of the day. One might even say that the klalah of working “by the sweat of your brow” (Bereishis 3:19) has been somewhat alleviated, just as gedolim have pointed out that the curse of a difficult childbirth has also been mitigated in various ways unknown to mankind for millennia. Indeed, Hashem is clearly bringing about a new, hopefully much better world, but it still comes, ironically, with new chevlei leidah called chevlei Moshiach.
The disdain and outright scorn with which many are now viewing the hitherto sacrosanct citadels of knowledge would seem to be another aspect of Hashem preparing the world for geulah. The Rambam (uncensored version in the Shabsi Frankel edition) at the end of Hilchos Melachim indeed describes the purpose of several religions as “preparing the road for Moshiach.” By this, he seems to mean belief in monotheism or something close to it. But as we watch, quite frightened and even confused by current events, we must marvel at how obvious it is that Hashem is rearranging His universe for some ultimate purpose.
In 2018, Rav Dovid Cohen (Gvul Yaavetz) published a sefer called “The Torah and Secular Studies.” In it, he demonstrates definitively that the Torah predates and includes all true areas of human knowledge. Whether in the fields of medicine, environment, astronomy, geology, genetics, even nuclear physics and much more, he proves that the Torah anticipates all the so-called innovations and discoveries of mankind. The current revulsion toward the centers of what was once revered and venerated would certainly seem to be part of the Creator’s preparations for His new world. We are seeing that not only do we no longer require secular places of “Higher Education,” but they have become a caricature of what they were ever supposed to be.
Of course, Hashem is the One making it all happen. But perhaps we can participate in His Master Plan in several ways. First of all, we must believe with every fiber of our being that Hashem truly runs the world. Secondly, the better we become, the more we change for the better, the easier this “birth” process will be. Right now, of course, there is great suffering in Eretz Yisroel and beyond, but the current teshuvah process and our help from afar can surely speed the geulah and help us bring Moshiach Tzidkeinu as soon as possible bimeheirah b’yomeinu.