Friday, July 6, 2018

Why is Roe v Wade so important – Especially during the Three Weeks

By the time you read this essay, we will all know the name of President Trump’s second Supreme Court pick.  One thing, however, we already know with absolute certainty.  The person, whoever they will be, will be strenuously opposed by the democrat party. “President Trump hasn’t even announced his Supreme Court nominee and already liberal advocacy groups are pumping millions into campaigns pressuring Republican lawmakers to oppose his pick”, say the media reports.

Why all the hysteria? Why the enormous gloom and doom?  Why does Senator Schumer say that we are dealing with “the most important vacancy on the Supreme Court in our lifetimes”? (Besides the seemingly inevitable labeling of virtually every issue du jour as the “most important in history” . . .)

Of course the answer you will probably hear is that abortion rights are at stake; another conservative Justice may provide a Supreme Court majority that will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, and affect other rights claimed by liberals.  You will be told that “women’s health care rights” lie in balance, that a women’s “right to choose” should be sacrosanct, etc. etc.

Beyond the ludicrous nature of “we don’t know who it is, but we will oppose” mentality, there is something deeper that must be explored.  I refuse to believe that for millions of otherwise decent Americans, the right to kill a fetus is the issue that they care about most passionately.  Or that for so many voters, that is the single most important issue in a candidate for political office, and certainly for judges.  

It is also hard to believe that the great passion in the other camp to overturn Roe v. Wade is only because people – a far greater number of people than just fundamentalist Christians – are so offended that abortion is legal.  In fact, there is much more at stake, which is often not properly understood.

Gov. Mike Huckabee quipped “Democrats Would Oppose Moses for the Supreme Court”.  I take that as more than a witticism, I think it goes to the core of the real issues at stake.  

The real impact Roe V Wade is not about abortion.  Rather, it is about whether the people and the elected officials who are answerable to them should decide matters of social policy, or whether that policy should be made by unelected judges answerable to no one.  It is about whether the US Constitution means what it says, or whether it means whatever judges think it ought to say.  It is about whether social policy should be decided by the will of the majority of the people through the elective process, or whether it should be taken out of the hands of the unwashed masses by societal elites who dictate what the “correct” and “moral” policy is.  It is about whether the fundamental law of the Republic should be treated as coming from Moses like “founding fathers”, or whether we should be able to say that we can change that fundamental law at will if it suits us.  That is the real question when considering Roe v Wade

To summarize the history of the case, there were and are strong differences of opinions as to whether abortion on demand should be legal, based on a whole host of reasons. Various states wrote differing laws as to its legality, depending on the prevailing opinion in those states, until Roe  was decided.

Writing for the majority, Justice Blackmun held that although the Constitution is completely silent about abortions, one could discern from an “emanation of a penumbra” of several of the Constitution's rights – particularly the Fourteenth Amendments provision, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”, (a phrase repeatedly
contorted by the Court into many different meanings in order to justify whatever the Court wished to hold) – that there is a general right to privacy, including a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy. This was a classic case of Judicial Liberalism, in which the words of the Constitution were said to mandate a result that – while appearing nowhere in the text – were what the Judges claimed that the Constitution taught when considered more broadly.

The main dissent, written by Justice White, set out the basic approach of a Judicial Conservative:

I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court's judgment. The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant women and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes. The upshot is that the people and the legislatures of the 50 States are constitutionally disentitled to weigh the relative importance of the continued existence and development of the fetus, on the one hand, against a spectrum of possible impacts on the woman, on the other hand . . .

The crux, then of the question of whether Roe v Wade should be overturned is really less about abortions than the power of the Supreme Court, less about right to life or choose than the whole
approach to Constitutional law.  

As Orthodox Jews, frankly, we are conflicted about whether we want the government regulating abortions or other personal matters.  Although Halacha forbids abortions (at least for Jews), it does not take the fundamentalist Christian approach, which forbids abortions absolutely under all circumstances.  There are extenuating circumstances that a posek can look at (beyond the scope of this article) in rarely permitting an abortion. As such, we would hold that the decision should be between a woman and her Halachic Authority.

Nevertheless, I believe that Roe v. Wade was a terribly decided case, which ought to be overturned; not because it resulted in abortion on demand.  Rather, Roe  was a most egregious example of judicial overreach, which laid the precedent for many subsequent cases in which Judges felt free to read their personal and political biases into the constitution’s “penumbras”.  (I wrote about this at length in regard to the Obergefell decision.) It is this attitude that Justice Scalia fought against, and that judicial
conservatives find it so important to oppose, and judicial liberals (activists) find it so important to support.  This, I believe, is the REAL reason that Roe continues to be such an important and polarizing case that garners such passion from both sides.

As we go through the Three Weeks and look ahead to Tisha B’Av, it is important to think about this in terms of our priorities.  There is no question that the Churban happened, and the Bais Hamikdash has not been rebuilt, primarily because we thought we knew better than the Torah and messed up our priorities.   

Both in the first Bais HaMikdosh, in which too many people exchanged service of Hashem for service of idols – idols that allowed them decide what laws they should follow rather than the
Torah – leading to horrible distortions and corruption, or the second Bais HaMikdosh, in which petty grievances between people were allowed to develop into major conflicts and hatred, people decided that their personal biases should be paramount, and that the Law should bend before it.  The Bais Hamikdash will be rebuilt only when we recognize that Hashem’s will is what should govern our lives, and it is our greatest privilege to be able to do what He wishes of us, and not impose our desires on the Torah, pretending that it says what we wish it to say. 

May we merit to see its rebuilding through our rebuilding, speedily in our days.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

It Isn’t just Yeshivish or Chassidish: There are many ways to seek Hashem

Are there really only two monolithic paths?  An article published in the Shavuos edition of Mishpacha magazine, Meeting the Baal Shem Tov in 2018, and an ensuing debate in response between Rav Noach Shafran of Ner Israel in Baltimore and Rav Moshe Weinberger of Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, touched on themes that have been near and dear to my heart for virtually my entire adult life.

Briefly, the original article noted the growing attraction to Chassidus for thousands of people – even those who do not take on the external trappings of Chassidic dress and hairstyles – and sought to attribute it primarily to the spiritual emptiness many have felt with classic yeshiva experiences, shuls, and communities.  Rav Shafran protested, defending the “Litvishe” derech and its importance, and ascribed the lack of fulfilment felt there primarily to external factors such as technology, the desire to substitute an actual connection with Hashem through Torah, with “sugarcoated feelings toward Hashem”, which is “immensely easier to attain than ameilus in Gemara, Rashi, and Tosafos”. In a rejoinder, Rav Weinberger argued that Rav Shafran’s letter showed how “misunderstood and misinterpreted this spiritual uprising is”.   He went on to describe what Chassidus is really about, noting that blaming technology will not answer why Chassidus started in the first place in the time of the Baal Shem Tov.  Further, that true delving into Chassidic texts etc. requires no less ameilus than deep study of Talmud – the difference being the search for pnimiyus haTorah that speaks directly to the soul.  I have not done justice to any of these important essays, I merely wanted to very briefly recap them as an introduction to some thoughts I am moved to share.

I just spent two days learning intricacies and commentaries and questions and answers about . . . oxen goring cows.   


I begin by remembering a watershed event in my life when I was about 19 years old.   Sitting by myself one evening after fairly successfully wrestling that day with a sugya in Baba Kama at my prestigious Yerushalayim yeshiva, when it occurred to me, “I just spent two days learning intricacies and commentaries and questions and answers about . . . oxen goring cows.   WHO CARES ABOUT THAT ANYWAY???   What possible difference will it make in my life, or anyone else’s, to know this stuff?   So what if the Rashba and the Ritva disagree on this or that detail?   The Ketzos came up with a brilliant way of viewing it – but . . . so what?  Why am I spending years of my life struggling with this, when there are so many more interesting – let alone practical – things I could be reading about and trying to master?  Furthermore, why is the yeshiva world seemingly determined to focus so much passion in the public and private sphere on issues that seem so small-minded and unimportant?   Why are there demonstrations and newspaper articles and endless discussions about minutiae of alleged halacha and hashkafa violations – where is Hashem in all this?”

Having formulated questions that had been gnawing at me for some time, I grew increasingly disinterested in my studies and looked for something more.  I had enough exposure to have a strong sense that there was more to be had, but I had no idea know where to go to find it.

I received an additional incentive when I subsequently served as an advisor on one of the early NCSY summer seminars.  I will never forget the first Erev Shabbos that we had.  There I was, urgently helping the new NCSYers to prepare for Shabbos, going through some Shabbos dos and don’ts for the non-observant kids, when they began to ask me “Why can’t we do X?  Why do we have to do Y?   Why do you think it is important to put on tefillin, and so on and so forth . . . and I realized that – other than because Halacha says so – I had NOTHING intelligible to offer them!  I shamefully realized that had never asked myself these questions, and never had heard anyone else ask them either.

I could write a book about my journey since then if space would permit. Suffice it to say that those experiences were life-changing.  Baruch Hashem, I had the very good fortune of meeting several wonderful Rabbonim and fellow Jews who inspired and continue to inspire me, by introducing me to the “spiritual side” of Torah, literally saving my spiritual life.  These Rabbonim included most notably Rav Nachman Bulman זצ"ל, and יבלחט"א Rav Michel Twerski שליט"א, with whom I was blessed to be able to develop a close relationship.  But for their loving teaching and personal attention, I fear that I would have been lost to Klal Yisroel, despite my fine family and yeshiva upbringing.

I wrote this to describe that I am very familiar with the spiritual malaise underlying the issues raised in the article; a condition shared by a great many, though they would never admit it publicly.   Given this background, I wanted to make several points that I do not feel were sufficiently addressed in these articles.

Spirituality is generally understood as the experiencing of a deep sense of feeling for the sacred; for acts laden with great purpose and meaning 

1) The Importance of Spirituality – In his essay Rav Shafran shared that:

“This new approach reminds me of a sign I recently saw. It was an advertisement, and it went something like this: ‘Spiritual but not religious? This class is for you.’ We all understand the fallacy of such an advertisement. Only the One we attempt to connect with can decide how that spiritual connection is made.”  
With all due respect, the fallacy, in my humble opinion, is in Rav Shafran’s thinking.  There is a great deal of “spiritual seeking” in the world, Jewish and non-Jewish, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, which (at least on the surface) has little or nothing to do with Torah.

In my first major effort as a writer, published in  September 1996 in the (Mishpacha predecessor) Jewish Observer, I wrote in part:

I had trouble recognizing spirituality in the yeshiva world as I experienced it. I certainly saw abundant love of Torah learning, great care taken in mitzvah observance, and considerable effort to pray well . . . But yet, the wonder and beauty of experiencing Shabbos through the eyes of a newcomer; the delving into those parts of the Torah that made not just the what, when and how, but the why of mitzvah observance come alive; the examination not just of the obligations of our souls, but of their essence . . . these "spiritual" activities are not emphasized by many of us.
When one hears the term "spirituality," one generally understands it to refer to a person who experiences a great and deep sense of feeling for the sacred, and for religious acts laden with great purpose and meaning. A spiritual person is usually understood to be one who strives for inner peace resulting from a profound understanding that the belief system and set of actions that he or she subscribes to are in fact greatly moving and meaningful. It is a person who is not satisfied with doing things by rote or ritual, but constantly seeks to infuse those actions with deeply personal meaning.
While I find a great appreciation and love for Torah in most of my frum brothers and sisters, I find little evidence of effort to delve into the implication of mitzvos for one's personal growth, to look for what this or that mitzva means to the self. . .  what is generally referred to as "spirituality'' usually means a derech in which people seek to instill in their actions, life, and thoughts a deep sense of the inspiring, the moving, and the sacred; and often this is not what is emphasized in parts of our communities.

With all due respect, the spiritual seeking of those who are currently not finding it purely in yeshiva type learning is to be respected and encouraged.   Hopefully, they will someday find a closeness to Hashem in learning.  But again, as I wrote then:

There is a “deep sense of spirituality that is out there in the form of a "Hunger, not for bread, nor for water, rather to hear (understand) the word of Hashem." Perhaps it would not be too bold for me to suggest that these neshamos are not yet ready for "lachma shel Torah" (the bread of Torah), meaning the basic world of halachic learning and observance. They first need to deeply "hear" the word of Hashem, to sense that Hashem is speaking to them in a way that they can relate to as being meaningful.

2) It should be obvious that those who find their spiritual path in Chassidus are among the fortunate ones.  

Unfortunately, there is a far greater number that have taken their dissatisfied souls to another place – the one we call “Off the Derech”.   This is so pervasive a phenomenon that there has been much written about it; I need not discuss it here.  I mention it only to note that (a) those defending the Litvishe Derech surely ought to acknowledge that for many people it is not working, and much thought must be given to how to adapt it so that it works better for all.  Furthermore, (b) all is not well in the Chassidic world either.  Taking nothing away from the beautiful descriptions (in the original Mishpacha article) of Aish Kodesh in Woodmere and Ashreinu in Seattle – and I admire and am very personally familiar with both – it would be disingenuous to ignore the all-too-many in the Chassidic world who are just going through the motions, “Orthopraxic” (keeping up external appearances while dying inside spiritually), and moreover the great many who have dropped out of Chassidic communities altogether.  Recognizing that neither the Litvish or Chassidic approaches fully solve the problem brings me to my main point.

3) It is crucial to recognize that there is no “one size fits all” path for all spiritual seekers to achieve greater spiritual meaning.   I daresay Rav Weinberger would readily agree that Chassidus is not for everyone.  In fact, he has devoted a great deal of his efforts in teaching classic "Litvish" learning, as well as non-Chassidic spiritual sources, particularly the beautiful Torah of Rav Kook זצ"ל.  There are those who are drawn by the emotional/spiritual/mystical/ pull of Chassidus, while there are some who are “allergic” to it and are completely unmoved by its practice and teachings.  Even within Chassidus there are many different schools of thought, practice, and flavor. . . a person may be drawn to one and totally uninspired by the other. 

Chazal taught us that the twelve tribes differed not only genealogically, but that each had its individual flavor and approach.  Hashem was teaching us, from the beginning – that within the boundaries of Halachah there are many valid spiritual paths, and they all should be respected as appropriate for different personalities.

Spiritual paths include those of the Sefardic world, with its deep and moving teachings of the Ben Ish Chai and so many other greats – and in the teachings of the Zohar and Kabbalah – which require great Ameilus to master.  Others find that the teachings of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and the path of Torah Im Derech Eretz opens many beautiful vistas on pnimiyus Hatorah, making some otherwise stale subjects – in particular, the Korbonos and Bais Hamikdosh – come alive with deep, personal meaning.  And then there are those who love the study of non-Chassidic seforim like the Meshech Chochmah and many works of Jewish Philosophy such as the Ramchal, Maharal, Kuzari, and so many others that can inspire many to deeper thinking, having nothing to do with Chassidus.   Of course, Mussar as developed by Rav Yisroel Salanter and many greats of the Mussar movement, including contemporaries such as Rav Shlomo Wolbe זצ"ל provides a deeply spiritual practice that, presented properly, (as opposed to too many Mussar shmuesen that leave the listeners feeling guilty and inadequate) can inspire adherents to great and noble spiritual heights, while again, having little or nothing to do with Chassidus.

And last but not least, the straight and narrow litvishe approach, which focuses on Gemara and Halacha as the spiritual path to Hashem, and which appeals to many who are not inspired by any of the above, can and should be taught in ways that don’t leave 19-year-old bachurim wondering why they are “wasting their time” on this irrelevant stuff.  It is not difficult, with just a bit of effort, to translate oxen goring cows into traffic accidents; shtaros into mortgages and deeds, and to bring the sugyos into real life Halacha L’Maaseh.  After all, the main point of so many sugyos is not the “Heicha timtza” of the case at hand, but rather the sensitivities Chazal are working with while discussing how human frailties and idiosyncrasies can be respected and transformed by applying proper Halachic principles.  Talmidim can be shown how Chazal are training us to think and apply Halachic principles and sharpening our minds to be able to properly know how to question, analyze, and gain insights into Pnimiyus HaTorah.  

Furthermore, as Rav Joseph B Soloveichik writes so beautifully in Halachic Man, the quest for Halachic perfection and exactitude is exciting if we properly understand the context.  It is about how we – pitiful, puny humans – seek to discover and perform the wishes of the great Master of the Universe, who has given lowly us the incredible privilege of serving Him who, incredibly, is concerned with our actions.  That alone is reason enough to want to learn and do the mitzvos as perfectly as possible and transforms it into a deeply compelling spiritual quest.

The path may be exclusively in one direction.
It might also be an amalgam

So how does one sort this all out?  I only have one answer.  There is a need for an educational system that will expose talmidim to a variety of approaches, and for spiritual guides to help them find that to which their neshama is drawn, cognizant of many different valid approaches.   

One educator who did this in an amazingly successful way was Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz זצ"ל.  He embodied and taught many different derachim, being a student of Chassidus, Rav Hirsch, Rav Meir Shapira, Chasam Sofer, and the litvishe yeshivos.  He made sure that his yeshiva, Torah VoDaas had many different influences, allowing talmidim to find their own way, and encouraging them to be serious about their quest, wherever it led them.  I believe that with proper exposure to many derachim, coupled with a wise guide who could help people find their own “spiritual aptitude” a great many more souls would find their way to the place they belong.


The path arrived at may be exclusively in one direction.  It might also turn out to be an amalgam.  I was privileged to be present when Rav Bulman was the keynote speaker at KAJ in Washington Heights on the 100th Yahrzeit of Rav SR Hirsch.  He began his remarks by saying, “Here I stand, having been brought up in the Gerrer Shteible, learned in Yeshiva University under Litvishe Rabbonim, about to lecture to Yekkes about Rav Hirsch.”  He was, in fact, a beautiful amalgam of all of those approaches, a path I have sought to emulate.  In some areas, Rav Hirsch is my guiding light.  In others, the teachings of Chassidus has brought so much beauty into my life.  I treasure as well the rigor of Litvishe learning to which I was exposed, and take much pleasure in learning works of Jewish philosophy. This approach works for me; it is important for everyone to find their own path for their unique neshama.

In summary, the problem of too many people being uninspired in their Torah lives, even within the great yeshiva systems, is a very real and painful one.   Chassidus may be in vogue, but it not for everyone.   Baruch Hashem there are many other approaches available for those who seek.   Rav Soloveichik spoke often about how the Torah tells us:

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּ֥ם מִשָּׁ֛ם אֶת־הֹ אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ וּמָצָ֑אתָ כִּ֣י תִדְרְשֶׁ֔נּוּ בְּכׇל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכׇל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ

And you will seek from there Hashem your G-d and you will find Him, if you search for Him with all your heart and soul.  (Devarim 4:29)

We were born with a soul that presses us to search for Him.   How to do that search?   Which direction to go?   The only direction that we are given is to do it with all our heart and soul.  Which is different for each of us.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Jean Gluck ע"ה - What a Blessing it was to Know Her

Shortly before Shabbos in Israel, I received the sad news of the passing of a special lady whom I had come to know and admire greatly, Mrs. Jean Gluck ע"ה. I wished that I could be there to honor her by accompanying her on her final journey, but I am confident that she would be happy to know that, Baruch Hashem, we are now living in Eretz Yisrael, and I was unable to attend.
Jean (Gita) Gluck

Instead, I thought to put down some thoughts that might in some small way contribute to giving her a proper eulogy, along with the many other many well-deserved tributes that I am sure will be expressed, given her prominence and that of, יבדלח"א, her wonderful husband Eugen.

I thought of her often over Shabbos, and of what a blessing she was to so many, in her long and productive life.   My former congregants know that I was always amazed at how the Parshat Shavua unfailingly provided timely inspiration for whatever was transpiring.   Parshas Naso was no exception.   There were two sections in particular that reminded me of Jean Gluck. 

The first was in the cryptic statement of the Torah (Bamidbar 5:10), in discussing donations that were to be given to the kohanim:

ואיש את קדשיו לו יהיו איש אשר יתן לכהן לו יהיה

Everyone's holy sacraments shall belong to him; whatever a man gives to the kohen shall be his

What is meant by this statement, “whatever a man gives to the kohen shall be his”?  The kohen’s?  Well -- of course it does --it was just given to him!  The donor?  He just gave it away!   What is the Torah instructing us here?

The general interpretation of this statement is that the Torah is teaching the concept of טובת הנאה.  Although one is required to give the Kohen (and Levi) the Teruma and other gifts that are due to them, the original owner retains טובת הנאה, which is the absolute right to determine which kohen (or Levi) shall be the beneficiary of this donation; no kohen can come and demand that it be given specifically to him.   This is a monetary right with various ramifications that need not be discussed here.

However, I would like to focus on a beautiful homiletic interpretation by the author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Shlomo Gantzfried, that is so apt here.

Most people, he said, spend much of their lives working to spend, save and invest in the hopes of providing security for ourselves. But what do we really have? At the end of our hopefully long life, what can we say is eternally ours? Stocks crash, and buildings crumble. How real is our estate?   We are buried in tachrichim (shrouds) that are notable for one major design feature – they have no pockets.  You can’t take any of it with you.  Wealthy or poor, we all come to this world with nothing, and leave the same way.

Except for one major thing.  

The Torah tells us, whatever a person gives of "sacraments", or to the Kohanim shall be his. It does not say, "... will belong to the Kohen.” It says, “it shall be his!” What we invest in the eternity of spirituality, in order to proliferate Hashem's eternal message, in order to promote Hashem’s agenda of Torah and the destiny of the Jewish people, particularly in Eretz Yisrael, will never be relinquished. For what we invest for eternity, will be eternally invested in our portfolio. It shall always remain ours, compounding interest at a heavenly rate.

The incredible generosity of the Glucks to so many important causes is legendary; the world is truly a better place because of their bounty.  I have heard it said that “The fact that there are today over 300,000 Jews in the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem and some 450,000 in Judea and Samaria is due in great part to Mrs. Jean Gluck, of blessed memory, and her husband Eugen, may he continue to live a healthy and happy life".  And that is regarding only one of their many philanthropic ventures.  As astute business people, Jean and Eugen invested incredibly wisely, and Jean will only now begin to have an inkling of what an extraordinary eternal portfolio they have built in Heaven.

Important to me, however, is not just the large amounts of money that they gave, but the love and concern and care with which it was given, which – I am quite sure – is valued even more highly in the Heavenly scales.   Which brings me to the second lesson that I took from Parshat Hashavua, from the Birkat Kohanim that I now have the daily honor of performing.

The benediction is concluded with another cryptic verse:

ושמו את שמי על בני ישראל ואני אברכם
They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them

Once again, this verse raises many questions:  What exactly is the kohen’s role?  If Hashem is The One blessing, why are the kohanim needed?  What does it mean to bestow His name?  Again, this is not the place for an extended discussion.

I would, however, like to cite the explanation of the Alshich Hakadosh.  He says that the role of the kohanim as expressed in this verse is clearly not to bless the people; that is reserved for Hashem alone.  Rather, the role of the kohanim is to raise up the people and to direct their attention to be worthy recipients of Hashem’s bounty, by becoming proper bearers of His holy Name.  Once the kohanim successfully help people understand that their blessings come from Hashem and from Him alone, they will prove worthy to receive that bounty into their lives.

Jean Gluck was not a kohen.  But she certainly was one who knew how to fill people with a love of Hashem and awareness of his bounty in the world and helped so many see the wonderful blessing that could be had thereby.

When I think of Jean Gluck, several memories stand out.  I know the great care that she and Eugen, true partners in every sense in everything that they did, took to give in a way that lifted spirits, that inspired, that made people proud of their heritage.  Whether in Forest Hills, or Bet El, or at the Hakafot Shniyot in Yeruashalayim or at Shaarei Tzedek, their concern was always to raise spirits and to build people and worthy institutions up, placing Hashem’s Name on people so that they could receive a full measure of His bounty.

 I think of the way that she delighted in seeing Jewish children; how important it was to her that the children should be happy and rejoice in being Jewish.  In several precious conversations with her, as she told Lonni and me stories of her youth and of their early struggles as survivors in America, the focus on her joy in Jewish children was overflowing.

Regarding one of the last times that I saw her outside her home, as their guest at the Israel Day parade, I wrote the following:

I had the great privilege of watching the parade with several Holocaust survivors.  Watching Jean Gluck stand on her very painful feet – smiling, waving, handing out candy, and joyfully taking it all in for hours – was such an inspiration.  I could not help thinking that surely it crossed the mind of many survivors that they had participated in a parade of a very different sort almost seventy years ago – the infamous and horrible Death March through the forests of Europe.   One of the cruelest and most horrible things that the accursed Nazis, may they eternally rot in hell, made Jews endure was to force the weak, starving inmates – who they had worked to the bone –  to march in the freezing cold at a fast pace for many days in the freezing European winter, for no purpose at all, often on a purposely circuitous route to nowhere.   The camps were abandoned, the war lost; but rather than just letting them go, they forced these poor people on the terrible march where untold thousands who had made it through all the horrors of Auschwitz fell when they had no more strength to go on.  Elie Weisel’s harrowing account in “Night” of his father’s death on the march sticks in one’s mind forever as a symbol of the senseless barbaric cruelty that our people endured.
And yet, there I sat with survivors of those marches, who took such solace in seeing thousands of free, strong, proud, committed young Jews marching with joy and abandon.   What an incredible privilege it was to share a little bit of this with the precious survivors that we still have with us!

Jean and Eugen certainly played that role beautifully.  To know them, and to know the story of the depths that they experienced and the heights that they reached, while remaining humble, down-to-earth "mensches" of the first order,  is to understand what it is to have true Emunah and Bitachon and love of Hashem.  To see the delight in which they made sure to avenge the Nazis by doing so much to rebuild our people is to understand that any questions that we -- who did not go through the Holocaust -- may have, ought to be muted in an awe-filled silence.

I close with confidence that b’Ezrat Hashem, our dear Eugen Gluck, together with all of his wonderful family, will find the strength to go on, now that their dear Matriarch has gone on to begin enjoying the dividends of the amazing investments that she and Eugen have awaiting them in the Olam HaEmes, and that she will be a Meilitzat Yosher for them and all of us, as we move ever closer to the Geulah Shelaimah, and a time when we will reunite with our beloved departed ones, Bimhayra B’Yameinu

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sefirat HaOmer – A Turtle’s Pace in Lavon

It was a turtle, of all things.

There I was, walking to shul on the morning of our first Shabbos in Lavon, when a small turtle incongruously appeared on the side of the road.  The closest lake is the Kinneret, some 25 miles to the East; high up in the mountains of the Galille is not a place that one would expect a turtle to roam.  But there it was, meandering down the street at its own pace, oblivious of the absurdity that it presented to those who chose to notice.  Turns out, however, that it was somewhat of an omen.

I really did not know what to expect on our first Shabbos in Lavon.   We discovered a Beit Knesset on the yishuv, but our first day there, on the last day of Pesach, was not encouraging.   I arrived for the Tefilla with my two sons and two sons-in-law, and figured that by bringing half a minyan with us, the odds of having a tefilla b’tzibbur were not too shabby.

No such luck.  No one was there but us crickets.

I tried to look at the bright side; there was plenty of time for us to daven at our leisure.  However, saying Yizkor by myself was a trip – I imagined my father looking down at me and saying “What the heck are you doing there?   Some brilliant move -- schlepping your Avreich sons-in-law to this seemingly Godforsaken secular yishuv for yomtov!”  But I had a hunch that there would be more to the story. 

When we came back for Mincha/Maariv, the first of the Mohicans arrived.   Soon after there were five more, and we launched into Shir Hashirim and the usual Sefardic Kabbalat Shabbat davening.  They wondered who this meshugga is and why he has come to live with them, but very soon accepted me and my family in their midst, and tried to make me feel welcome.   By the time Shabbat had ended, with a minyan on Fri eve, Shabbat morning, and even for Mincha , I knew that we had come to the right place.

Not one of them was Shomer Shabbat. (In fact, I later discovered, the reason that some had come back for Mincha was that an encouraging reminder email had been sent out after Shacharit . . .)  The last time the Torah had been used was on Chanukah, for a Bar Mitzva.  But there was an underlying thirst to have some of the mesorah present in their lives, and gratitude that someone had come to live with them, to accept them as they were, and to seek to live together in friendship, while strengthening them spiritually and in comradeship.

That was just the beginning.  This past Shabbos even more people came.  Furthermore, I was privileged to attend the ceremonies and festivities for Yom HaZikaron and the wonderful celebration of the 70th Yom HaAtzma’ut.  It is really a shame that so few of my American acquaintances have
ever attended this important event.  They missed out on witnessing the somber and painful reflection on the memory of those who sacrificed so much to provide us with the privilege of living in this blessed country, and – from that place of pain – rise up in joy, celebration and gratitude for the amazing gift and privilege that we have in our time, the State of Israel.  Warts and imperfections notwithstanding, it is an unbelievably wonderful present granted to us by the Ribbono Shel Olam, that has brought back Jewish life, and Torah life, to an unprecedented degree, and the incredible joy it should fill us with is incredible!

At these events I was able to meet and interact with many more of my new neighbors – including many who I would probably never meet at the Beit Knesset – and again experienced how open they are to being nice, friendly, welcoming, and supportive of a religious person after the smallest amount of friendliness and respect is shown to them.  It is so exciting to see their preconceptions fall, one by one, as they talk and share, and see that I am just another Jew who is excited to be with them and to be living in the midst of their secular yishuv, kippah and all.

The fact that I am living on Rehov Sapir made this particularly interesting.  It is named after one of the stones on the Choshen (breastplate) of the Kohen Gadol, as are most of the streets in this yishuv.   But it is also reminiscent of this time of year. 

We are engaged in Sefiras HaOmer – counting the Omer, counting and waiting for Shavuos.   Actually, this is but ont of the many “counts” that we are given in the book of Vayikra; the miluim, waiting of the metzora, the days of the zav and zava and niddah, the years of the shemitta and yovel, and so forth.   It is no accident that all of these are at this time; the time of waiting to receive the Torah. 

Furthermore, the Omer period starts with the mitzvah of telling the story of Egypt, Sippur Yetzias Mitzraim, about which it says:

כל המרבה לספר ביציאת מצרים הרי זה משובח

(Whoever expands upon the tale of the Exodus is to be praised).  

Rav Mordechai Elon asked, “What does it mean, in Hebrew grammar, המרבה לספר ביציאת מצרים (to expand with the telling)?  The text should have read המרבה לספר את יציאת מצרים (To expand the telling of..)?   How is the teller of the story (literally) expanded?

But all these words are related.  סיפור, ספיר, ספירה
 Sippur, Sefirah, Sapir, all come from the same root  ספר .   They are related to Sapir – a Sapphire – a gem that contains an inner glow that is only revealed once it is rubbed and the outer level is removed, shined and given a chance to glow.   The story of the Exodus comes alive only when the teller of the tale allows it to penetrate him/her.  Similarly, counting the days and looking forward brings out the inner desire and longing for the anticipated goal.  It is only through waiting, anticipation, removal of the crust and seeing the gem inside that we appreciate the sublime beauty of what we have.

So we happily count the Omer on Rehov Sapir.  We look for the inner beauty of the supposedly blunted souls we live amongst.  We see their kindness and friendliness, their love of Israel and of other Jews, their many offers to help each other and their kindness to us, and we are continually blown away by how much good there is in these “lost” brother and sisters, who have so much of a yiddisher neshama in them, just waiting to be revealed. 

We will not get there quickly.  Like our friend the turtle, slow and steady is the way, having a thick skin for those who inevitably will be less appreciative, as we plod away, counting the days until not only will our neighbors appreciate our mesorah more and more, but our friends and family in the Diaspora realize how much they are missing and come and join us here, במהרה בימינו, (speedily in our days).

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Pesach: Confronting the Struggle

It has finally happened.  I write to you today from our wonderful new home in Lavon, a lovely community in the Galilee just north of Karmiel.  

We have finally joined our brothers and sisters in Israel and are thrilled to be the first Shomer Shabbos family in this beautiful Yishuv, which features breathtaking views.  Views not only of the surrounding hills and valleys, but more importantly to me, of the variety and depth of commitment to many Jewish values that even "secular" Israelis have just under the surface.  Rub these "ignorant", "hostile to Torah Jews" just a little bit in the right way, and you'll find their neshama shining beautifully underneath. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It was a privilege to have been part of the spiritual leadership of the Queens Jewish Community, and the decade we spent in Forest Hills was a very special chapter in our lives.  We are grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the community and formed many friendships that we hope will always remain strong.   Nevertheless, we increasingly felt the tug of Eretz Yisrael calling.  Very much aware of Hillel's wisdom that "If not now, when?, we were determined to come Home when we were still able to do something significant, to try to earn the privilege of living in the Holy Land.  There is much wonderful work being done here by so many, but there is something for everyone to contribute – we feel that the area that we can best work on is to promote Jewish Unity.

It is a perspective primarily of Kiruv Levavot (bringing hearts closer together); not so much of Kiruv Rechokim (bringing those “far away” closer)

I did not seriously look to join the Rabbinate in Israel, not only because of the daunting supply/demand ratio but because I wanted to do something different.  I hope that one of my chief passions has come through over time in my writing: a deep desire to work on the divide between religious and secular Jews, which I strongly believe can be largely bridged if approached from a perspective of mutual respect, non-judgmental tolerance, and appreciation.  It is a perspective primarily of Kiruv Levavot (bringing hearts closer together); not so much of Kiruv Rechokim (bringing those “far away” closer).  It is recognizing that the majority of our fellow non-Orthodox Jews are usually open to having good relationships with us, are willing to listen to classic Torah concepts, are proud of their Jewish heritage and are concerned with its continuity, and are more than willing to grasp a hand extended in sincere friendship.  It is noting that although there certainly have been many non-Orthodox leaders who intentionally set out to uproot classic Torah observance and promote an anti-Torah agenda, it is also true that we in the Orthodox community have been too often guilty of not presenting a face of Torah that inspired Kiddush Hashem, which has driven people away from being willing to consider joining us.  It is developing an attitude of love and tolerance and determination to positively engage with our fellow Jews.  As Rav Nachman Bulman zt”l often told me, “it is not our task to ‘make them frum’; rather, it is to model, as best we can, the beautiful mesorah that we have, and, in a spirit of friendship and brotherhood, to gently communicate that they too have their own share in it, if only they would take it for themselves.  The Almighty will do the rest”.  And so, we moved to the secular Yishuv of Lavon.

(In doing so, we have been greatly helped and encouraged by a wonderful organization called Ayelet HaShachar, founded and led by the tireless and courageous efforts of Rav Shlomo Ra’anan. (Please see their website).  They have helped place many couples in secular yishuvim and moshavim around the country, with a great deal of success in Kiruv Levavot, and helping many Jews to find their way back to the mesorah.  We certainly encourage any of our friends to consider taking part in helping this wonderful initiative.)

When we first came there, we were told by a very nice couple that we met that although we seem friendly and reasonable enough, we should know that many residents would be put off by my black knitted kippah, as “we don’t want another Bet Shemesh here”. (For those unfamiliar, Bet Shemesh has repeatedly been the scene of much ugly Chillul Hashem, where extremist, so-called religious fanatics came to a town which has a majority non-observant population and have repeatedly exhibited repugnant behavior in an effort to coerce others to give in to their demands for “greater holiness”.)  Undeterred, we came anyway, confident that we can – and must – project a different image.  Although we have only been there for a few days, we have been greatly encouraged that we are on the right path.   I travel twice a day to Karmiel for minyanim; I don’t yet know if, or what kind of minyan we will have on Shabbos.  But we have been greeted with an outpouring of friendship, helpfulness and a desire by all we have met to make our move as painless as possible, and even with an appreciation for our desire to come and meet “the other side” on their turf.  

This project of ours, it seems to me, is very appropriate to begin as we approach Pesach, (besides the fact that this is a great time to move to a clean new home!).   The main positive commandment that we have is to eat Matzah on Pesach.   It is much more than to refrain from eating Chometz, which we could fulfill by eating tomatoes and (way too many) potatoes.   The mitzvah of specifically eating Matzah – the only Torah level mitzvah of eating – is interesting in that it can only be fulfilled with ingredients that can – and will – become Chometz if that eventuality is not intensely guarded against.  

Dear ones, I don’t want you to avoid the struggle;   I want you to face the struggle

Rav Mordechai Elon pointed out that the word Matzah, and the main word for Chometz Lechem, both come from roots that have “dispute, or “war” as their meaning.  “לחם”, related to “מלחמה” is the word we use for bread, the staff of life.  The two ingredients most needed to sustain human life – water and grain – are melded together (“מולחמים”) in order to help us subsist in our struggles in life.   But as we well know, too often in that struggle we allow the material to overpower us, and rather than the food being an aide to our struggles, it becomes a carbohydrate monster that causes us to becoming corpulent and over satisfied, and ultimately it controls our desires, rather than us controlling it.  This is the result of allowing the natural processes grow, uncontrolled.

“Matzah” is related to the word for the beginning of the struggle, 
תְּבַקְשֵׁם וְלֹא תִמְצָאֵם אַנְשֵׁי מַצֻּתֶךָ
(See Yeshayahu 41:12 and Metzudos ad loc).   Matzah is produced by engaging with the ingredients that will naturally grow, become bloated, and might even be objects of struggle, and – right at the beginning of the process – asserting control and preventing that dispute from taking place.  It is vital to use Matzah Shmurah; Matzah that has been carefully guarded.   It is as if Hashem is telling us, “Dear ones, I don’t want you to avoid the struggle; to stay away from engaging in the spiritual battle of life, subsisting on tomatoes and potatoes.  I want you to face the struggle, engage with those forces that might seek to overpower you, and assert control right at the beginning, and not allow that conflict to grow out of hand.”   

We are not supposed to avoid struggles in life.   We are called upon to engage and to make sure that we put things in their proper place and in the right perspective, so that ingredients that – were they unchecked – would develop into harmful substances and situations, will instead live together in peaceful harmony and grow to their and our mutual benefit.  It is only by fully engaging in the world we live in and the variety of Jews who are largely where they are spiritually due to no fault of their own, that we can positively control the temperature of our relationships with them, and live in true freedom that is the result of tolerance, love and respect for others.

As we are so fortunate to live in this amazing time when the fifth cup of the Haggada comes more and more into view, where the unbelievable growth and progress of the great gift and opportunity  Hashem has granted us – the State of Israel  is about to celebrate its 70th year of becoming the fulfilment of  “I will bring you into the land (והבאתי) that I have lifted My Hand to give to you as an everlasting legacy”, we gird ourselves to do our part to positively engage with the struggles Hashem has presented us with, and look forward to his help in bringing Kiruv Levavot between all of our brothers and sisters and our Father in Heaven.

Chag Kosher VeSameach

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Orthodox Union: Reaffirming the Standards

This was a great week for the Orthodox Union (OU). 

Despite enormous pressures that were brought to bear on the organization and its officers, they took the time, deliberated, and came up with a wise and compassionate decision, and re-affirmed my confidence in them.  I write this week to celebrate this great moment – but first, a bit of background.

From my earliest youth, the OU has been a major part of my life.  Long before most had heard of virtually any other Kashrus organization, we were trained, “if you want to know that a product was kosher, look for the OU symbol”.  I assumed that the OU was a Kashrus organization, and that was the extent of it.  I didn’t know how wrong I was.

As a young adult, I encountered the OU in a whole new light when I became an NCSY advisor on an Israel program.   The care and concern for all of Klal Yisrael, the innovative, spirited, the deeply spiritual way in which they demonstrated the importance of outreach and how to do it effectively, was a major influence on my life and that of thousands of others.  Around the same time, I witnessed the opening of the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem, and found a second home there attending many programs, and basking in the inviting and uplifting environment.  But I later found that I still had little clue of what the OU really represented.

When I became a Rabbi in Portland, Oregon, I began to more fully appreciate the raison d'être of the OU; what it meant to be a Union of Orthodox Congregations.  I discovered a large national framework that provided support and help for synagogues and shuls, with resources and assistance to help a broad range of shuls – a Big Tent – bring the light of Torah to communities large and small.   I realized that Kashrus, NCSY, Yachad, OU Torah, the wonderful magazine Jewish Action, and so many other “departments” of the OU were just parts of one overarching objective: Klal Yisrael.  I gratefully attended special “Mikdash Me’At” conferences tailored to help small communities, and benefitted greatly from the wise counsel of many great OU leaders in making my Rabbonus and our shul more effective.  In particular, I remember a talk given by Rav Nota Greenblatt שליט"א, who explained that he had to be at a conference, because “If the OU asks you to come, it is the Torah world itself that is inviting you”.  I became intimately involved in kosher supervision visiting many factories on behalf of several organizations, and saw that no matter whether the product carried a Kof K, or Star K, or Heart K, or many other symbols, it could do so only because a very large percentage of the ingredients were supervised by the OU, which is larger than all of the others combined.  Later, at the Young Israel of Forest Hills, I also was the beneficiary of OU help on many occasions – I was particularly proud to be part of the OU mission to Israel during the 2014 Gaza War, where I witnessed how much the OU does to stand up for Israel’s rights and provide support for her soldiers and citizens.

By virtue of its membership in the OU, a shul was saying that they adhered to standards and bylaws of the OU, and followed the recommendations of the Rabbinic leadership of the OU in regard to various issues of the day

But most of all, the OU has been important as a standard bearer.   Much like the trusted symbol on food items, it was a standard on the wall of a shul.   When a visitor walked into a shul and saw the OU symbol on the wall, they were assured that the shul is Orthodox.  Period.   By its membership in the OU, a shul was saying that they adhered to standards and bylaws of the OU, and followed the recommendations of the Rabbinic leadership of the OU in regard to various issues of the day.   In Portland there is a shul that once was a member of the OU, but refused to install a proper mechitza and had various other deviations from normative Orthodox practice.   When that shul left the OU and our shul remained, people knew which shul was the Orthodox, and which was only “Traditional”.  We were able to set certain policies and avoid arguments over them, by stating that we were acting as an OU-member shul where certain things were acceptable, and others were not.

Over the past few years, however, I  had begun to have my doubts.

I have written several times in the past about the plague caused by the so-called “Open Orthodox” (OO) movement, which has sought to introduce many negative changes and radical innovations into synagogues.  These changes included hiring female Rabbis (whether calling them Maharat, Rabbah, or Rabanit), having “partnership minyanim”, lowering standards for conversions, announcing mazal tovs for gay marriage members, publicly attacking the Chief Rabbinate, engaging in extreme leftist anti-Israel advocacy, and publicly denigrating many positions taken by Gedolei Torah, including the Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshiva University and poskim of the Orthodox Union.  In general, they flout established Rabbinic Authority, producing their “own poskim” and teachers who feel qualified to make changes against the stated positions of all recognized Torah authorities.   There is no need for me to discuss this unfortunate phenomenon at length, readers of this blog are well aware of the problem.

And therein lies the rub.  Unfortunately, several of the leading OO congregations, first and foremost the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, whose Rabbi Emeritus Avi Weiss is the founder of Open Orthodoxy, are longstanding members in good standing of the Orthodox Union.

As a two-term member of the Executive Committee of the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America), which has many unofficial ties to the OU, I have participated in countless difficult discussions over the past decade regarding the problem of how to deal with colleagues who support OO ideology.  There were discussions of whether to expel certain members who had publicly taken positions against established RCA policies; most of the more vocal ones thankfully left on their own accord.  But the festering problem that persisted was that several well established OO congregations remained as recognized members of the OU, and continuing to proclaim themselves as normative orthodox congregations.  Mounting pressure was brought to bear on the RCA and on the OU from both sides to define their standards and to decide whether or not OO innovations could be accepted within the “big tent”, or whether, by their actions, the OO supporters had defined themselves out of Orthodoxy. 

Much of the pressure was brought not only by Rabbis and members of those Congregations, but by their many friends and supporters in the Modern Orthodox world, who had been convinced that the innovations sought by OO were just efforts to provide more of a voice for women – an objective that all sides consider important – and therefore relatively harmless and not worth causing a rupture amongst Jews.  No one, after all, wants dissent or machlokes, and personal relationships especially make things difficult.  I saw this personally at the Young Israel of Forest Hills; the very week that an article that I wrote decrying OO was published in the Queens Jewish Link, a leading member thought it appropriate to publicly send their best wishes to Rabbi Weiss from the pulpit in response.  This dilemma has been the source of much angst and concern for the OU leadership, as they sought to balance the values of אמת ושלום (Truth and Peace).

One year ago, after many months of consultation and deliberation, the Orthodox Union published an simultaneous official statement and Halachic Ruling against hiring woman clergy, by whatever name they might be called, while at the same time calling for increased involvement of women in whatever leadership and Torah teaching roles that were proper within Halachic parameters.  There was hope in many quarters that this would put the issue to rest, and that the more “liberal” wings of Modern Orthodoxy would recognize that these statements, signed by a blue ribbon panel of Rabbonim and lay leadership, made it clear that the OO agenda was out of the bounds of Orthodoxy.

But for some, this was not enough.  Some statements coming out of the left included “The OU should stick to Tuna Fish”. . . “the OU will only divide the community if it starts to strip some of its member shuls which have female clergy of OU affiliation” . . . “Just as a Zionist would not ask the Satmar Rav for a psak regarding Zionism, the Modern Orthodox community should not look to [YU Rosh Yeshiva] for opinions on the role of women in our communities”, and even more intemperate comments.   More congregations announced they were considering hiring female clergy, and those Congregations that already had done so made it clear that they had no intention of complying with OU Policy.  The statement of last year seemed unserious – the OU was allowing member congregations to ignore its stated policy; implicitly saying that the policy would not be enforced.

As a result, more pressure built, both pro and con, for the OU leadership to draw a line in the sand, and to decide whether it would act to defend the sterling reputation that it had built up in over 100 years of representing the finest of what Orthodox Torah Judaism stood for.   Baruch Hashem, after much difficult deliberation and thought, the OU issued a statement this week, clearly stating that it will not allow any member congregations to hire woman clergy, while at the same time encouraging learning and positive roles for women.  As to the four OU congregations that now employ female clergy, a sunset clause was provided for a three-year time limit to allow those congregations to come into compliance with OU policy.   This was a difficult decision for the OU, given the great pressures put on them to not issue this policy, and they are to be applauded for it and supported.

We hope for a future in which these types of issues will no longer pull apart members of the Torah community, and we can focus on all of the laudable goals which the OU has pursued for these many years.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

In Appreciation of Rav Berel Wein, upon the passing of his wife Rebbetzin Mira Cohen Wein A"H

 I recently heard the devastating news of the passing of Rebbetzin Mira Cohen Wein, and I felt moved to write some words of chizuk to my esteemed Rav and teacher, who is going through this tragedy now for the second time.   It is self-evident to me that the wonderful teacher and mother-lode of inspiration who has greatly benefitted us all with much needed chizuk over the years, should surely be the beneficiary of whatever Chizuk we can offer to him in his time of need.

Although I met the Rebbetzin (and her predecessor Rebbetzin Jackie Wein) only very briefly, I was deeply impressed.  All the more so given the difficulty of being a zivug sheni (Second marriage spouse).  I hope that Rav Wein will take solace in knowing how much he means not only to his family, his direct talmidim and congregants, regular readers of his columns, books and essays, listeners to his shiurim, tapes, and lectures, but to many thousands of others who see him as a unique and special voice that represents -- more than anything else -- "common sense" (in Hebrew -- sechel hayashar) in the Torah world.  This quality is one that to this writer seems to have grown increasingly rare, in inverse proportion to the sheer vast amount of knowledge that is growing ever more prevalent.

This may seem counter-intuitive.  After all, clearly, the quantity, and even quantity, of learning and knowledge available in our world is unprecedented and growing at exponential levels.  In the secular world, the openness of society and tools such as the internet have made incredible amounts of knowledge available and useful to untold millions the world over, knowledge previously available -- if at all -- only to academics and experts.  Young children are knowledgeable about matters that seasoned adults could not fathom a generation ago; students have unbelievable resources with which to challenge their mentors.

In the Torah world, as well, although in many quarters the use of modern information technology is frowned upon, the amount and quality of learning is at levels not heard of for millennia.  While in our parent's generation there were less than two thousand yeshiva students in the entire world, there are now several Yeshivas that alone boast more than twice that amount; the total number of full time learners is closing in on 100,000.  The tens of thousands making a Siyum on Shas, the explosion of seforim being published, the unbelievable assortment of thousands of shiurim available for and by men and women of the highest levels of learning and scholarship, simply boggles the mind.

The primary reason that a person can attain great vast amounts of knowledge -- even Torah knowledge -- and yet not exhibit wisdom is that they lack one crucial ingredient -- common sense.

  And yet -- something is missing.  Without going into any specifics here, I am not alone in bemoaning that with all of this incredible knowledge, we are still too often confronted by far too many instances of statements of questionable wisdom, even as expounded by very informed individuals.   Although this is certainly not true of most of Jewish leadership, on some extreme occasions I am reminded of the Even Ezra quote I heard from Rav Wein regarding the  phenomenon of a chamor noseh seforim  (a donkey carrying books) -- a reference to someone with a great deal of knowledge, who remains -- a donkey.  I would venture that the primary reason that a person can attain great vast amounts of knowledge -- even Torah knowledge -- and yet not exhibit wisdom is that they lack one crucial ingredient -- common sense.

Although this sounds harsh, Victor Hugo said that in fact all too often, "common sense is in spite of, not as the result of education".  All of this knowledge may, in fact, be a mixed blessing.  Keeping one's moorings in the face of lightning speed shattering changes, in which values and "facts" unchallenged for millennia are being overturned, denied and uprooted, while the sheer volume data constantly streaming into our consciousness, is daunting.   Add to this the incredible pressures in the Orthodox world to conform to certain views and norms, which sometimes are the result of rulings by great Sages, but all too often are based on dubious reports regarding "Daas Torah" circulated by various self-appointed activists, or by people resistant to any type of change of views or practice, no matter how innocuous or necessary, simply because "that is the way we do things".  A great deal of wisdom is required to sort through all of this and to hold up the light of Truth and of the real call of our Mesorah, wisdom that is needed and all too rare.

Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls Wisdom

It is said that "Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls Wisdom" (Samuel T. Coleridge).   There is certainly more to it than that, but there is no question that this quality is at the core of what we celebrate as chochmah.   It is an exceptional quality, in addition to saintliness, erudition, diligence, and incredible concern for others,  that a special few of our greatest Gedolim had in abundance.   Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, Rav Mordechai Eliahu and the Pnei Menachem of Ger, were examples par excellence of this quality.  I daresay that the outpouring of grief and sadness at the very recent passing of Rav Shteinman zt"l was not so much because of the tragedy of his passing -- we did have the incredible gift of having him fully with us with all of his faculties intact until the age of 104, what more could one ask? -- but rather due to the fact that he possessed this quality of common sense wisdom, which is so often lacking.   It is this wisdom, which as Emerson put it: "Common sense in genius dressed in its working clothes", that we need so much, and which Rav Wein has been a grand source of for all these years.

As a Rav and Rosh Yeshiva and lehavdil  as an attorney, historian and astute observer of world events, Rav Wein has accumulated a great deal of yedios and bekius  in Torah and much knowledge regarding the world and the highs and lows of human foibles. But it his "common sense" wisdom that comes through in all of his amazing teaching and accomplishments, inspiring us to look beyond the often foolish and small minded statements and issues that so many get caught up with, to focus on the ultimate issues that matter, and to strive to make a positive difference in the world.  To enjoy and celebrate the beauty that Hashem has so bountifully placed in this world; to know and appreciate the timely lessons and wisdom that we should draw from knowing our history and the lives of great people; to recognize the good in ALL sections of the Jewish world -- these are some lessons that Rav Wein has taught me and so many others, and which has given us the chizuk to continue striving for sanity in this often crazy world.

May Rav Wein find comfort among the mourners of Zion, mourners who were so often inspired  by him to appreciate what mourning for Zion truly means.