Friday, May 05, 2006

Unfinished Business or חושש בראשו

Without going into details, this past week I learned the truth of the maxim, attributed to the Kotzker Rebbe זצוק"ל to wit:

“Not everything that you think should be said. And not everything that you say should be written. And not everything that is written should be printed.” (Hat tip: Morty Schiller)

The humbling experience of writing something that I later regretted at least provided me with a few (renewed) insights.

1) The creation of fairly homogenous Haredi, Dati and Hiloni enclaves within Israel has created a situation in which we really don't interact with each other. Most of the people with whom we're intimate, pretty much agree with us. As a result, when contemplating the world we all too often stew in our own juices and lose touch with reality. The result is that one starts living in a world of self-serving, superficial platitudes. This is, to say the least, not a healthy situation.
Obviously, what I just said applies mainly to Haredim in Jerusalem and Bnai Braq, Dati'im in Judea and Samaria and Hilonuim in Tel Aviv and large parts of the Sharon. However, ghettos are not only geographically determined. I really wonder whether things are different, really different in Raanana, Bet Shemesh, Savyon, Ahuza, Petah Tikva, and Rishon.

2) A few posts ago, I mentioned the burning of the three volume bio/hagiography of the GRA. One of my commentors noted that (irrespective of the question of book burning), this work is highly problematic. This was confirmed to me yesterday by a very knowledgeable colleague in my department, whose encyclopedic knowledge of, well, everything never leaves me less than stunned. The book, it appears, has a really meanspirited agenda (which it tries very hard to hide).
Mea Culpa.

3) Hazal taught that החושש בראשו יעסוק בתורה (Erubin 54a). With that in mind, I made my way to Reb Usher Weiss' shiur last night. As always, Reb Usher dazzled us with his wonderful combination of breadth, insight and passion. En passant, he mentioned a resonant responsum of R. Shalom Schwadron (1835-1911, aka MaHaRSHaM),

The question, itself, came from an outstanding rabbinic personality, R. Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim (1845-1905; aka ADeReT). The Aderet was the Rov of Mir and came to Jerusalem to serve as Vice Chief Rabbi to the venerable R. Shmuel Salant (1816-1909). When he arrived in Jerusalem, he wrote the Maharsham to ask if he was obliged to always drop everything to respond to the questions of his community, even if this came at the expense of regular meals and sleep.

In his reply (Resp. Maharsham II, no. 210), R. Schwadron ruled forthrightly that (barring emergencies) there is no such obligation. However, he himself had adopted the supererogatory position (i.e. לפנים משורת הדין) that one must always drop everything to respond. He cited a number of different proof-texts. Reb Usher, though, highlighted one (which really affected me personally).
The text is from the extra-canonical tractate Semahot (8, 8):

וכשנאחזו רבן שמעון ורבי ישמעאל וגזרו עליהן שיהרגו, היה רבי ישמעאל בוכה, ואמר לו רבן שמעון ברבי, בשתי פסיעות אתה נתון בחיקן של צדיקים ואתה בוכה, אמר לו וכי בוכה אני על שאנו נהרגין, בוכה אני על שאנו נהרגין כשופכי דמים וכמחללי שבתות, אמר לו שמא בסעודה היית יושב, או ישן היית, ובאתה אשה לשאול על נדתה ועל טומאתה ועל טהרתה, ואמר לה השמש שהיית ישן, והתורה אמרה אם ענה תענה אותו, ומה כתיב אחריו, וחרה אפי והרגתי אתכם בחרב; ויש אומרים רבן שמעון היה בוכה, ורבי ישמעאל אמר לו כדברים הללו. וכשנהרגו רבן שמעון ורבי ישמעאל, באה שמועה אצל רבי עקיבא ואצל רבי יהודה בן בבא, עמדו וחגרו מתניהם שקים, וקרעו את בגדיהם, ואמרו אחינו ישראל שמעונו, אילו טובה היתה באה לעולם תחילה, לא היו מקבלין אלא רבי שמעון ורבי ישמעאל, ועכשיו גלוי היה לפני מי שאמר והיה העולם שלסוף פורעניות גדולות עתידות לבוא לעולם, ולפיכך נסתלקו אלו מן העולם, הצדיק אבד ואין איש שם על לב, יבוא שלום ינוחו על משכבותם הולך נכוחו
This passage is pregnant with meaning, and requires very close study and internalization. Reb Usher's point was, though, that God expects Talmide Hakhamim to go that extra mile in order to do the right thing. It was for the failure to do so, that these גדולים וקדושים felt they paid the ultimate price during the Hadrianic persecutions.
The events since last Yom HaAtzma'ut teach us, I think, that not only are those who can obliged to go the extra mile. Sometimes, the person with the question doesn't even knock on the door. One must seek him or her out. Their souls, and ours, hang in the balance.

1 comment:

Dave (Balashon) said...

I had heard the think/say/write/publish quote in the name of Rav Yisrael Salanter. Any confirmation on to whom coinage is due?