Friday, July 07, 2006

A Gem from the Netziv

I love the Netziv and his writings. In fact, I have to say that if I'd had the zechus to be a talmid in Volozhin, I'd have attended the sahiurim of both. When the controversies broke out between his talmidim and those of the Bais HaLevi and Reb Hayyim, I would have stayed out of it, for love of both. I am proud that my copy of the Ha'ameq She'elah is falling apart, again like some of my volumes of Brisker Torah. There is almost no Shabbat that goes by without a Dvar Torah from his Humash commentary, Ha'ameq Davar (my oldest son has become an afficionado, as well). Anyway, hidden away in a long series of pearls in this week's sedra (we only read Balaq, remember?) is this observation that could have been an Op-Ed in the Israeli or American-Jewish Press.

Balaam, in his first blessing, says (Num. 23, 9):

הֶן-עָם לְבָדָד יִשְׁכֹּן, וּבַגּוֹיִם לֹא יִתְחַשָּׁב.

This is translated as:

Lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.

The Netziv, however, has a different take. He interprets the word ישכון as meaning "He will in-dwell" meaning that God will cause His Shekhina to dwell among them. Based upon this, he writes that there are two parts of Balaam's observation on the nature of the Jews and of Jewish History.

הֶן-עָם לְבָדָד יִשְׁכֹּן

When it is a people that dwells alone and maintains its uniqueness, He will dwell among them.

וּבַגּוֹיִם לֹא יִתְחַשָּׁב

However, if they seek to become indistinguishable from the nations, they will never be considered or accepted by the nations.

Truer words were never said.

(Thanks to my friend and neighbor, Rabbi Yaakov Greenwald, for showing this to me.)


Anonymous said...

Gil Perl, an instructor of Jewish History at YU, is completing his PhD on the "Intellectual Worldview of Nezib" at Harvard.

Ben Bayit said...

I used that piece in a public dvar torah I gave nearly 20 years ago. Haven't heard it since!! Thanks!!

BTW, I had very cordial dealings with the Netziv's great-grandson from Rechovot (who was named after him). I left very impressed. The Netziv's great-great-grandson (unfortunately now a refugee at the hand of his fellow Jews) is also a big tamid chacham and certainly knows how to distinguish between ethical behavior and brainwashing. see

Having grown up in a Yeshiva that was nearly torn asunder by political in-fighting between two factions I would say that:
1) it's almost impossible to have a neutral faction in this type of a situation. Very few bochurim went to both the shiurei klali in nearly every instance that a Yeshiva in Europe, USA or Israel faced such a situation. I could be wrong about Volozhin though - maybe there were bochurim that were above it all.
2) Anyone who values Yishuv Haaretz and secular studies (like I do - and I believe you do as well) would have chosen the Netziv hands down. One cannot be anachronistic and extrapolate from later Soloveitchiks to what the earlier generation would have said. The earlier Soloveitchiks were anti-zionists (as was RYBS himself up until the early 1940's at least) and anti-secular studies. period. Times changed and their descendants (some of them) changed as well. The Netziv on the other hand supported limudi cho"l (in theory at least) and actively supported Chovevei Zion.

mycroft said...

The earlier Soloveitchiks were anti-zionists (as was RYBS himself up until the early 1940's at least) and anti-secular studies. period

rav went to Berlin in the 20's. RMS was more in between. Certainly what you say is true for Rav Chaim Brisker and Rav VElvel.
One can overestimate the Ravs Zionism-it has been sais that the Rav was a leader of Religipous Zionists rather than a Religious Zionist leader.

mycroft said...

BTW: While the Netziv is being discussed and we' approaching the 3 weeks-read the Netzivs introduction to Bareshit on Churban Bayit Sheini.

Jeffrey said...

Your point about RYBS is incorrect. Every indication shows that Reb Moshe and the Rov were Mizrahi sympathizers (and perhaps card carrying members) in Warsaw. See the studies by Shlomo Pick in BaDad.

Ben Bayit said...

IIRC correctly RYBS served as a senior member of the Agudas Yisroel of America presidium in the early 1940's. and it was the Aguda that pushed his candidacy to replace his father as RY at YU - much to the chagrin of the Mizrachi wing which preferred another candidate.

I find it difficult to see someone of such stature being a member in both Aguda and Mizrachi simultaneously. Neither likely that they switched from Mizrachi to Aguda after arriving in America. If they harbored Zionist sympathies they would not have found a home in Agudas Yisrael of America at that time - if anything the American branch of the Aguda was even more vehemently anti-zionist and maintained an anti-state position well after the European movement voted in favor of it at the Aguda convention in Europe after the Peel Commission report; where the Polish Admorim held sway against the Litvaks and Central European rabbonim.