Friday, July 26, 2013
A Fast Thought Before Shabbat
One of the stranger customs in synagogues is the bestowing of wishes to be strong upon those who are called to the Torah. In Ashkenazi synagogues, anyone receiving such an aliya is greeted with "Yasher (Yiyasher) Koach," meaning roughly May your Strength be Kept Up. In Sephardic synagogues, the more common greeting is "Chazak U'baruch," meaning May you be Strong and Blessed. But what does strength have to do with it? I mean, I can see bestowing a wish of strength on the fellows who are holding the scrolls, since they are quite heavy. But the ordinary person getting an aliya is not doing any serious lifting or carrying. So why does he need a wish for strength?
The explanation is that in Judaism the highest pursuit for a person is to study so diligently that he exhausts himself. Therefore, wishing someone strength is an indirect compliment to that person, congratulating him for driving himself to exhaustion in his studies and wishing him to continue to do so, to the point where he is in need of outside wishes that strength be conferred upon him.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren is the famous rabbi who blew the shofar on the Temple Mount when it was liberated by the IDF in the Six Day War and before the pusillanimous politicians turned out over to the Moslem Waqf for control and administration. In one of his books, Rabbi Goren describes an incident involving the great Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook, the founder of the modern Religious Zionist movement and of the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and Chief Rabbi of "Palestine" from 1921 onwards.
When Rabbi Kook was a young man, he went off for a month of rest and rehabilitation in a health spa in Lithuania. He was sitting under trees one day studying a volume of Talmud. An older Rabbi passed by him, snatched his Talmud away from him and screamed at him "Thief!" Why are you calling me that, he asked, from whom did I steal?
The older Rabbi explained. I can see from your appearance that you are a young rabbi. And the fact that you are here must mean that your community felt you had exhausted yourself in studying Torah to the point that you are now in need of rest and recovery. Therefore, if you are spending your time here studying Talmud, you are misusing your community's resources. You are exhausting yourself and you are betraying your own community, which sent you here to rest and not to exhaust yourself, and therefore you are failing your own community and undeserving of the salary you are receiving from them.
Years later, in a very different incident involving the same Rabbi Kook, one can see all of the elements of the corruption and moral decrepitude of the politicized governmental Rabbinic hierarchy in Israel today, the very same one that just selected two Ultra-Orthodox Chareidim as chief rabbis over alternative candidates who were modern-Orthodox, meaning men who live in the 21st century as opposed to the 16th century.
In the middle of the 1948-9 Israeli War of Independence, there was some debate among the Orthodox as to whether yeshiva students should leave their studies and participate in the war, especially in defense of the Jewish Quarter inside the old city of Jerusalem. The very same Rabbi Kook was unambiguously in favor of all yeshiva students halting their studies and participating in the fighting. Although very old at the time, the Rabbi himself was seen digging trenches and participating in the war effort. But according to a recent biography of Shear Yishuv Hacohen, a later Chief Rabbi of Haifa, a malicious letter was suddenly distributed among all the Orthodox communities of Jerusalem. It was a letter signed by the very same Rabbi Kook urging rabbinic students NOT to serve in the military and NOT to participate in fighting. (Shear Yishuv ignored it, joined the battle, and was taken prisoner by the Jordanians.) The letter was being distributed by those Chareidi groups opposed to Jerusalem's yeshiva students joining in the war effort.
As it turned out, the letter in question was indeed written by the same Rabbi Kook, but it was written in World War I and was addressed to yeshiva students studying in the UK who were refugees from Poland and Lithuania. At the time Rabbi Kook was of the opinion that they should continue their studies and not enlist for the fighting in World War I. The same Rabbi held the diametrically opposite position regarding participation in Israel's own war of liberation. But his earlier letter was hijacked and distorted and misused for cynical political purposes by dishonest "Orthodox" functionaries advancing their own agenda. Somewhat like the politicized Chareidi functionaries in Israeli politics today, hijacking and distorting and misrepresenting Judaism.