Yaakov Horowitz’s Campaign – And Why We Ought To Support It
Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz announced a new weapon in the struggle against abuse. For most people, the obvious reason to support him will be sufficient. It might be worthwhile to consider some of the other reasons as well.
Rabbi Horowitz is a trusted name in the world of chinuch. He has earned a justified reputation for speaking his mind, particularly about topics that generate lockjaw (in the closed position) for others. He has demonstrated enormous concern and sensitivity for the victims of abuse, and holds it responsible for producing a great part of the off-the-derech population. In a high-profile case now in progress, he anticipates a large showing in court from members of a closed community – on behalf of the accused. Understanding the impact that this will have on the victims (and victims in unrelated cases!), he urges at least a parallel show of support and concern for them. Whatever one believes regarding offering assistance to accused (but untried and unconvicted) felons, such assistance should not give the impression that accused criminals are more important to us than real victims. (At a conference for rabbanim in LA last week, Dr. David Pelcowitz shared a chilling finding. He related that child welfare personnel in community after community all ask him the same question: “Why is your community more concerned with protecting its image than protecting children?)
His request is reasonable, and could be a small step in countering the entrenched retrograde views of some holdout communities that still believe that they can control abuse without the help of governmental clout and authority, and only show up in court to try to keep people from serving time. This should be enough reason for people to email support to the victims, as he requests.
There are other reasons to support Rabbi Horowitz. One concerns Rabbi Horowitz himself. He operates very differently from other iconoclasts – and is therefore a more valuable community resource than many others. Notoriety is cheap in the Jewish (and even frum) blogosphere; effectiveness is another matter. Say what enough people want to hear, and you can attract a cult following, but that does not a community leader make. To be truly effective, you have to keep the trust of the mainstream – whose support is necessary for community-wide change – even when that means operating within limits and boundaries at which others chafe. It takes courage and insight to cool the expression of your passion in order to accomplish a greater public good. Rabbi Horowitz has pretty much written the playbook on how to remain a trusted figure within the mainstream while maximally pushing the envelope on important issues. In this case, supporting the messenger is important, beyond supporting the message.
One other reasons grows out of a fascinating thought of the Netziv (Harchev Davar to Shemos 40:20) on last Shabbos’ parshah. The short version (the longer one will have to wait for my projected weekly online shiur on Netziv, beginning parshas Bereishis, BE”H, following in the tradition of previous series on Nesivos Shalom and Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch) goes as follows:
In parshas Terumah, the Torah speaks not once, but twice about placing the kapores (the golden cover of the Ark, including the two cherubs atop it) on the Aron. Between parshas Terumah and parshas Pikudei, we find references to placing the kapores on an Aron already at rest in the Holy of Holy, as well as to a description of placing it on top before bringing it into the Kodesh Kodashim. This is all unsatisfying, as well as the instruction to place the kapores on top of the Aron altogether. Wasn’t it more than obvious that the kapores was to be fitted on top of the Aron?
Netziv argues that the kapores was carried into the Kodesh Kodashim resting askew and precariously perched. It was only fitted into place once inside. Moreover, this was the position that it assumed once more when King Yoshiyahu ordered it sequestered away to keep it out of the hands of the anticipated enemy attack on Yerushalayim. Positioned in this manner, the Aron is not so easy to carry. Special care must be taken so that the kapores does not fall off. The point of this is to indicate to us that sometimes Torah requires special care and support from Am Yisrael. It is in this state that it still functions, even hidden away, giving mute testimony in solitude that what Divine Providence (which is what the cheruvim symbolize) demands of us is dedicated care for the Torah.
Aside from the enormity of this chiddush, Netziv’s conclusion seems to contradict the gemara’s version of Uzzah’s sin (Haftorah of Shemini) when the Aron was travelling on the way to Ir David. Seeing the Aron apparently tottering, he reached out to right it. He was struck dead by HKBH. His sin? He should have realized, says the gemara, the Aron does not require human assistance! On the way into Israel, the Aron flew over the Jordan River, together with the Leviim who carried it. “The Aron carries those who bear it; those who bear it do not really carry the Aron.” Thanks, but no thanks, says the Aron. I can do fine without you.
The passage is mystifying to begin with. That the Netziv seems to ignore its bottom line makes it even more perplexing.
Rav Kook helps us out. He famously commented that when you think you see the Torah in danger of falling, you must understand that you are making a mistake. What endangered the Torah was the wagon – not the Torah itself! When Torah seems to be in an awkward position, it is no fault of the Torah, but of the way it is being carried!
I wonder whether there ever was a generation in which so much negativity has been associated with a Torah life style. Did the Haskalah in its heyday convince as many loyal Jews that “the system is broken?” I suspect that most readers of Cross-Currents nod in agreement with that description, myself included. Many of us feel that the road to repair of the system – whether in regard to chinuch, shidduchim, or parnassah – will have to start with acknowledgment of the problems, and open discussion about solutions. It is crucial to our ruchniyus and that of our children that we understand the difference between “the system” and Torah itself. The values, advice, solutions of the Torah are valid beyond cavil. Problems with the wagons should not confuse us about the Ark.
With this in place, there is room for the Netziv. The Torah will not fall. It will never be supplanted by a runner-up that comes close. It will require, at times, that we exercise more care in its transport.
The Netziv spoke of two kinds of assistance that are implied by the off-kilter kapores. The first he calls “pilpulo shel Torah.” While the content of Torah may have been open, manifest and accessible to the people during the time of the First Beis HaMikdosh, the flowering of Torah she-b’al peh in the Second would require a cadre of talmidei chachamim applying creative energy to extract the truths of Torah and apply them to new conditions. The second is the participation of the Nation as a whole, offering material and other support to the entire enterprise of deeply comprehending the Torah’s content.
I would suggest a third method of assistance, necessitated by the exigencies of our own times. When many pairs of prying eyes are directed at those who claim to live according to its expectations, we owe the Torah a new kind of help. We must be there to fix the wagons, lest the world fault the Torah itself. Even standing on the side of the road with tools in hand will often be enough to underscore the difference between the vehicle and its holy cargo.
Thus, yet another reason to support Rabbi Horowitz. Few areas bring as much disrepute to Torah as the handling and mishandling of the abuse issue. If we were G-d forgive completely deaf to the entreaties of the young victims of abuse, we should still be there supporting Rabbi Horowitz, who in these matters serves as the master mechanic of the Torah’s vehicle.
Supporting him, and those like him in other problem areas, is nothing less than an exercise in concern and zealousness for the Honor of Heaven.