Who Is Capable of Reproof?
As a longtime reader of The Jewish Observer, I have been
treated to an ongoing series of articles that endeavor to define the weaknesses of the Orthodox community. Certainly, nothing described in these articles is inaccurate; yet I am invariably left with a profound sense of sadness after each attempt to again explore where precisely we are failing. And each time I feel the urge to defend.
Any attempt to communicate to the public where they have failed
puts us into a relationship of tochachah (reproof) -- the writer as the
mochiach (accuser) and the reader, hopefully, as a mekabel
tochachah (recipient of corrective advice). Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner offered
clarification of the Talmudic statement that in the time of Rabbi Tarfon the era of mochichim (those capable of reproof) had come to an end
(Eruchin 16b). He explained that the mitzvah of tochachah
requires that the mekabel not be left with a sense of hopelessness,
yaiush; rather, that he be able to accept the criticism and still
preserve an optimism about his avodas Hashem.
I am reminded of a conversation that I had some years ago with a
prominent member of the Eidah Hachareidis in Yerushalayim. After
the Six Day War there was a tremendous hisorerus leteshuvah (inspiration to return to Torah), he remarked, whereas after the Yom Kippur War, there was not. Do you know why? he asked me. It is because we won
the Six Day War dramatically and the Yom Kippur War we did not. The problem is that we no longer understand a potch.
At first I was taken aback by his remark, but then I realized that
his comment merely illustrated what I believe Rabbi Hutner had meant, and what I am sure Rabbi Avraham Pam had intended to convey in an article published in The Jewish Observer some years ago (See Between Parents and Sons, p. 118).
Rabbi Pam told of a talmid who was doing poorly. His father
had come to speak to the Rebbi and received the less-than-glorious
report. The father asked to see his son, and told him that the Rebbi
said he was doing very well, but that with a little more effort he could really excel. This child, reported Rabbi Pam, grew to be an outstanding talmid
chacham. The reproof was cushioned in love and encouragement. The boy was
not brow-beaten. He was lifted up and then challenged, and he responded.
So too did Klal Yisrael respond to the events of the Six
Day War, but not to the Yom Kippur war.
In Pursuit of -- What? -- and Why?
We live in very difficult times. There is much emphasis on
materialism and there is much emphasis on our emphasis on materialism. I am not sure that, as has been postulated many times, the alien culture is entirely to blame. I am not sure that redifas hamamon (as it is called in these
pages) is because of the goyim. It seems as though one must be rodeif
mamon to hold his head up in the frum community. Tuition,
tzedakah for mosdos all over the world, support for children in
Kollelim, kein yirbu (not to speak of getting a good
shidduch), hiddur mitzvah, simchos (yes, even the
minimum), housing in cities that are Torah centers -- these all make it impossible not to be overly conscious of money. This is only one of the challenges with which we struggle.
Every frum home today is, in some
measure, wrestling with the impact of the feminist movement on the women of our community. (Rabbi Hutner wrote in his introduction to Sefer Mitzvas
Habayis that any movement that envelops a generation will affect
everyone, regardless of his or her efforts to resist it.) A secular, professional woman whom I know was invited to a simchah attended by over
three hundred very frum women. She had not seen any frum women since dimly remembered memories of her aged grandmothers era. She commented that these women were not traditional women, but rather
women who on some level had struggled with integration into broader society. For instance, they were multitalented, represented myriad jobs and professions, were articulate, and current with contemporary styles, in addition to their expertise at homemaking and childrearing.
Yes, we are wrestling with the problems of the culture, but
materialism is not the worst of them. We are facing an unprecedented divorce rate, with its breakdown of families. We live in a world that is not immune to abuse, alcoholism, drugs and other ripples from the host culture. And within all this, our men and women are attempting to create a Torah life, a Torah environment for the children. In spite of the pressures of the tirdos hazman umikreihem (the pressures and distractions of contemporary society)
and the effects of the frequent economic necessity for two incomes (with the dual set of demands on the wife/mother, and the dual set of demands on the husband/father to earn and learn), they are striving to offer their children the best chinuch (education), the best sevivah (environment), and the best examples that they can make of themselves. All this is usually taking place without their having witnessed firsthand the implementation of the lifestyle they are seeking to create, for the parents of todays bnei
Torah were by and large baalei battim -- pillars of their
communities, perhaps, but far more integrated than we are trying to be.
At some level we are all the child in Rabbi Pams story. When
a child feels that he has failed, he continues to fail. Only the hope of success motivates and challenges a child to succeed. I feel that instead of focusing on where we are guilty, we need to provide chizuk for our beleaguered families. We must stop suggesting that our problems stem from the self-indulgent parents that we are. In answer to Where are the parents? I would say that, for the most part, the readership of The
Jewish Observer is out there trying to survive and to meet economic
commitments that have become the standardized membership dues in a contemporary frum society. And even if we have strayed, I believe we need to
acknowledge the pressures on the young families. Perhaps by offering them chizuk, we will free them to recognize areas in which they can rise
above their own limitations.