Feeling is Important

Is it plausible that the expulsion from Gaza may have yielded some unforeseen benefit? I can’t help but feel that, to some degree, things backfired for the left. Some of its pundits described it as the triumph of the secular state over religion, of the will of the people over the Will of G-d. I will speculate that the polar opposite may have occurred.

We saw the reactions of two groups. On the one hand, the residents of Gaza left with their heads held high, with their pride intact and their love for their people and land so evident it was almost palpable. We saw people at the limits of their endurance who, with the exception of the statistically insignificant crazies, acted with non-violent restraint. On the other hand, we heard the cold, cruel and sometimes unfeeling analysis of the Haaretz and Tel Aviv U crowd, eager to criminalize the contribution of those who had previously been hailed as heroes. We read of their complaining of the “crocodile tears” of the settlers, while the rest of us shed real ones in empathy.

For those who observed both groups from the sidelines, it is hard to believe that commitment did not resonate far more than callousness. There is much truth in the old saw about the choice of the sabra as the national fruit of Israel, because it is, like the average Israeli, tough on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside. The reaction of the soldiers in charge of the evacuation should be an effective and telling barometer. Deliberately chosen from secular – not religious – circles, we saw again and again the shared pain, the way that the soldiers responded, even while obeying their orders, with succor and solicitude. (Graphic evidence of this that is worthwhile looking at can be found in a short and touching video by Chabad.) Could the rest – or at least the majority – of the country be all that different? Could it be that millions of Israelis, while supporting the notion of throwing off the albatross of protecting Gaza, did not react with a Jewish heart?

Does it matter? Sure. For one thing, how Israelis felt about the expulsion will directly impact upon any future ceding of territory. The 9000 may yet learn in the next few years that they saved far more land elsewhere in Israel than they had originally held in Gaza.

Just as importantly, feelings may define, in the end, who is “in” and who is “out” in the record of Jewish continuity. The conclusion may be the opposite of that which Amnon Rubinstein et al would like to see. How Jews react to the pain of others may be a reliable touchstone of Jewishness itself.

When the ancient Givonim were allowed to seek reparations for suffering they had suffered at the hands of Shaul, they asked for the death of his sons. Dovid tried to talk sense to them, but they remained adamant. The upshot of the affair, according to a Gemara in Yevamos, was that Dovid definitively ruled that this people (whose Jewishness had long been questioned) could not be Jewish. There are certain national characteristics that define the essence of the Jewish soul; reactions entirely inconsistent with the Jewish predilection towards compassion and empathy are simply inconsistent with Jewishness. Displaying a heart of stone is not symptomatic of a blighted soul – it may indicate a non-Jewish soul.

Feeling matters. In what must be one of the most memorable mussar talks given by Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel, the famed Alter of Slobodka explained how Yaakov could have been faulted by the Sages for hiding his daughter Dinah from the anticipated leering gaze of his brother Esav, instead of allowing her to perhaps marry him and lead him to repentance. What father would have acted differently? Who could be expected to sacrifice his daughter to a predator in the hope that she would tame the beast? Indeed, said the Alter, Yaakov did no wrong. He performed exactly as a good father would, as the Torah expected him to. Dinah had to be hidden in a crate, to keep her safe from Esav. What the Torah objects to, he said, was the lack of feeling Yaakov had at that moment. Mixed with his fatherly love and devotion to his daughter, he should have felt the pain of his brother’s situation. Every blow of the hammer should have pierced his heart. “Oy, that I am forced to act this way to my own brother! If only I could legitimately have given my daughter to him in marriage!”

Yaakov is faulted not for what he did, but for what he did not feel.

In 1913, Rav Kook answered his critics regarding the sale of land in Israel as an expedient to avoid the prohibitions of the Sabbatical year. In a letter (Igros Rayah, #555) to the famed Ridbaz, Rav Kook touched on many areas, including a stunning tour de force concerning his reaching out to Jews far removed from Jewish practice and thought.

Rav Kook avers that there are two critical components of Jewish holiness. One is instinctive and G-d given: the spiritual legacy of our forefathers, living within each Jewish soul. The second is predicated upon proper behavior as dictated by the Torah. Typically, the former will only be expressed according to the degree allowed by and cultivated by the latter. Failure in the second area need not mean the extinguishing of the latent potential, however, of the first. In modern times, though, drastic shortcomings in the area of behavior threaten to snuff out the vitality of the inherited component. The practical consequence is that we ought not to waste our time trying to reach out to such people. While kiruv offered by souls properly kindled by the light of Torah is assured to have some positive worthwhile effect upon people who have not lost the legacy of our ancestors, such is not the case regarding those who have killed their souls from within. To the contrary, engaging them is dangerous to the spiritual well-being of the would-be mekarev.

How do we tell the difference? Here are Rav Kook’s own words:

Such [i.e. the fatal muffling of the inherited aspects of the Jewish soul] is impossible, except to those who have gotten to the point of hating Jews, of seeking their harm both actively and in the longing of their hearts.

Among those who commented on the expulsion triumphally , there were those nonetheless expressed deep sympathy. But then there were those who showed none at all, who gloated and took joy in the pain of other Jews. My bet is that their reaction will not win them accolades in the end, but rejection by the majority of Israelis.

Which may not be so terrible, as they may have already written themselves out of the Jewish people.

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3 Responses

  1. mb says:

    Thank you.

  2. Daniel Wohlgelernter says:

    Thank you, Rabbi Adlerstein, for your thought-provoking analysis. The indifference by many and the near-sadistic gloating by some in the secular Israeli community was painful but not entirely surprising, given their antipathy to the “settlers” whom they consider fanatic religious messianists; however, the apathy and insensitivity of many in the Torah world to the plight of the victims of the expulsion from Gaza was shockingly disappointing and utterly unacceptable. If the concept of “achdus” is to have any hope of being realized, then surely all of us, in Israel and in the Diaspora, who consider ourselves Torah-true Jews, must unite, must join forces, must be committed to saving Eretz Yisroel and Toras Yisroel.

  3. Yaakov Rosenblatt, Dallas says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for a wonderful post. We so badly need words of vision, hope, and promise.
    We all cried tears, bitter tears (especially watching that video). But your words soothe the aching spirit and tell us that the tears we shed today may yet engender Salvation another day.

    I pray that vision be given to our displaced brothers and sisters, too.

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