Shabbat Parashat Pinchas| 5766
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Leaves and Clusters - Independence by Means of the Non-Observant - From Harabbanut V’hamedinah, pp.289-291
People are preoccupied with the question of whether we are in the beginning of redemption or in a period of darkness, and diametrically opposed answers are given. Proponents of the pessimistic approach point at the corruption and spiritual decadence of much of Israeli society and the political isolation we suffer. The crux of the dispute seems to depend on the relative stress one puts on two foundations of Judaism, the individual and the community.
Mesilat Yesharim starts with a person’s need to determine what “his obligation is in his world.” The stress is on the individual- his world, his goals, and his world to come. In contrast, there are statements of the Rabbis that point in a different direction. The Rambam (Teshuva 3:11) talks about one who does not sin but who separates himself from the ways of the community and says that the person is cut off and lost. When Moshe was offered that the chosen nation would descend from him alone, he responded: “Let Moshe and a thousand like him perish, and let not one from Bnei Yisrael perish”(Tanchuma, Vaetchanan 6). Moshe apparently objected to the prospect that a special individual would be the medium for service of Hashem. He wanted the representative member of Bnei Yisrael to be the focus.
Regarding the individual, the determining factor is a person’s ability to choose. In contrast, nationally, the lack of choice is prominent. Mt. Sinai was held over Bnei Yisrael’s head so that they had to accept the Torah (see Maharal, Netzach Yisrael 17). It could not have been any other way than that we would receive the Torah. The idea of our spiritual destiny seems very haughty. However, to a great extent, it is the opposite. To the extent that we received things that were not our doing, we cannot take credit for it. The Divine plan required there to be a focal point through which things would reach their goals, [and he chose the Jewish people].
The idea that all Jews are interdependent, which finds full expression in Eretz Yisrael (Sanhedrin 43b) does not just mean that one is punished for another’s sins. Beyond that, when a limb is weakened, the rest of the body needs to be strengthened so that a minimum body strength is maintained. We see that within the Jewish people today. While the belief of some is weakening, there is also a teshuva (repentance) movement. While once, being a scientist was synonymous with throwing off Heaven’s yoke, there are now many scientists who are careful about the minutia of halacha.
The dichotomy within Bnei Yisrael is apparently what the Rabbis intended when they said that the Torah scholar and the unlearned are both to be valued. “Whether one does a lot or a little, the important thing is to focus his heart on Heaven” (Berachot 17a). So says the gemara (Chulin 92a) that Bnei Yisrael is like a grapevine, with clusters of fruit (representing scholars) and simple leaves. The clusters need to pray for the leaves’ welfare, for if not for the leaves, the clusters could not exist. There are things that non-scholars are able to achieve, which scholars cannot. The scholar seems more equipped to work on himself. However, there are those who do not seem capable of passing the simple test of doing what they should, but are willing to give their lives for the welfare of the whole. The leaves often do the dirty work. Therefore, the clusters should not take undue credit, as their nourishment is channeled through the leaves’ unseen pipes. We should not be surprised then that through the efforts of those who are otherwise far from Judaism, we have received independence.
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