2005 The Question No One Wants To Answer
Chananya Weissman
September 9, 2005, The Jewish Press (Titled "Trust Not In Princes")

The easiest way to offend Jews wholesale is to suggest that the bad things that happen to us are punishments for our sins or consequences of our shortcomings. If you don’t believe me, try openly speculating from a spiritual standpoint why the Holocaust happened. You’re guaranteed to make lots of immediate enemies regardless of your theory.

True, without prophecy we can’t expect to uncover the spiritual reasons for certain events with exact precision, but that’s hardly an excuse to give up the search entirely. The risk of missing a wake-up call from heaven is far greater than the risk of blaming the innocent. A misguided but sincere attempt at spiritual improvement is better than no attempt or a feeble, vague attempt. As a case in point, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his students swapped theories as to why the Jews were punished with Haman’s rise to power. The lesson that needed to be learned superseded the possibility of offending the sensitive. (Megilla 12A)

We also need to understand that innocent people will necessarily suffer when the nation is punished. For example, when a drought is brought upon Israel, rain clouds do not form over the fields of the righteous. The righteous among us remain in exile, and do not merit their own private redemption. This should not be difficult to accept; we’ve all come to terms with the fact that when the class is punished the good students suffer too, and when the class gets a reward the troublemakers benefit with those who really earned it. Particularly special individuals may be spared the full brunt of a cataclysmic event, but when the nation suffers, everyone suffers. As chazal teach us, those who share in the mourning of Israel will share in the redemption, even if they may not merit it on an individual basis.

With this in mind, let us probe the theological question posed by the Gaza destruction (as it should be called). Why would Hashem allow this to happen? The “settlers” of the various Gaza communities represent the cream of the Jewish crop. Who sacrifices more for the security and the development of Israel? Whose faith in Hashem and commitment to His word is so genuine and deeply intertwined with their daily existence? Who can measure up to the insults and injustices that they have courageously, defiantly withstood these past months? I am in awe of them. They make me feel small.

So why is Hashem allowing their communities and their lives to be destroyed? Why are the prayers of hundreds of thousands of Jews seemingly being dismissed and all their efforts thwarted by an unbreakable decree?

I have a theory. I submit it not as a fact that I expect to be accepted, since I cannot prove its correctness even to myself, but as a highly plausible possibility that should give everyone food for thought. I believe that observant Jewry is guilty of a terrible crime, and that the Gaza destruction is both a spiritual and a practical consequence. The crime is putting trust in politicians who do not share their Torah values to do what is morally correct.

Mind you, the residents of Gaza and their supporters overwhelmingly put their trust in Hashem, as is evident from the incredible display of prayer these past few weeks. Far be it from me to accuse them of a shortage of faith. However, for observant Jewry to put even a smidgen of faith in corrupt, atheistic, self-interested politicians is by definition transferring a smidgen of faith from where it belongs.

Several years ago Yeshiva University invited Benjamin Netanyahu to address the students. (They reportedly paid him substantially more for delivering a short speech than I make an entire year teaching Torah to young children, which is a separate issue for the community to reflect upon.) At the time Ehud Barak was the Prime Minister, and Bibi was a political reject who’d lost the position amid personal and political scandal. He had also handed Chevron to the Arabs, and, despite constantly repeating his mantra of “peace with security”, had failed to deliver either of the two.

Now Bibi was invited to speak before a packed auditorium of young observant Jews, most of them passionate lovers of Israel and believers in Hashem. The ovation he received when he was introduced! The frequent applause he received as he regurgitated his campaign speech about peace with security! I felt sorry for Moshe Rabbeinu, who was publicly maligned much of his career as leader. Netanyahu’s oration was wonderful, masterfully smooth and polished, but underneath the fancy packaging was an utter lack of fresh content.

So why did this educated religious audience fawn over Bibi, who had already failed the Jewish people, like he was a savior? Because he was a celebrity, a world-famous man with a significant past, contacts in the highest of places, and plenty of political influence still remaining. So my fellow Jews fawned over him, ingratiated themselves to him, allowed themselves to be charmed by him, overlooked his numerous flaws and failures, and in so doing reinforced the presumption that the faith of observant Jews can be won if an influential person says the right things – and even if not!

When Ariel Sharon made his famous visit to the Temple Mount, his steps reverberated across observant Jewry like those of Avraham exploring the land promised to him. The only difference was that it was Ariel Sharon taking those steps, and not a God-fearing Jew. We put our faith in this tough-talking, tough-acting former general to finally take decisive action, and our faith was rewarded: with decisive action against religious Jews, his greatest supporters.

During the past year, when Sharon’s nefarious intentions became increasingly real, how many religious Jews representing influential organizations had their picture taken with him? How many of them shook his hand respectfully and smiled during the photo-op for their press release? How many of them were so filled with pride and awe at their brush with royalty that it no longer mattered what this royalty represented?

Most of all, how many of us continued to have faith in him to do the right thing? What did he ever do to earn that faith? Does anyone even remember that the so-called religious parties in Israel had the opportunity to bring down the Sharon government with a key vote a few months ago? At the time most people were too timid and deferential to question, let alone decry, the decision of prominent Rabbinic figures to vote in support of the government in exchange for what amounted to shut-up money for their yeshivas. I recalled the verse in the beginning of Parshas Shoftim, “Bribery blinds the intelligent and corrupts the words of the righteous.” The government retained its shaky majority, and now thousands of lives are being destroyed, the social fabric of Israel is being ripped apart, the rights of religious Jews have become a fašade, and who knows what else will follow?

Can we finally admit that our rabbinic leadership as a whole has failed us, too, and that we religious Jews have only ourselves to blame for our predicament? Can we finally acknowledge that the so-called religious parties have consistently had only their own narrow interests in mind, blissfully content with their isolationist lives so long as their yeshiva system receives funding? Can we finally acknowledge that those religious Jews more involved with society have also failed by placing their faith in atheistic, corrupt politicians and a hostile media?

The next leader of modern Israel who does not fail his people will be the first. The next leader of modern Israel who openly expresses his subservience to Hashem and his fidelity to Torah values, and represents the Jewish people with pride will also be the first. This is not a coincidence.

The answer is not merely to turn to Hashem, as we have done on occasion, but to turn only to Hashem, completely to Hashem. If we find ourselves under the rule of those who do not share our values we must respect them and work cooperatively with them for the betterment of society – but we must stand openly and proudly by our Torah values at all times.

We must also never be satisfied with a leadership that does not share these values, let alone trust that leadership to stand by us in times of crisis. We will always be the first to be sacrificed when things get tough, for to this point we have shown that we will always place our faith in those who have failed us. Just ask Benjamin Netanyahu, who once again is becoming the “hope” of religious Jews to change the present course for the better.

Finally, we must forever keep in mind that Yosef was punished with two extra years of imprisonment in Egypt for asking Pharaoh’s butler to plead his case. Yosef’s fallacy was not in making this most sensible request to gain freedom through natural means, for Hashem expects everyone to make a concerted effort, and not to rely on a miraculous salvation. Rather, Yosef’s fallacy was believing that the butler would act morally and repay Yosef’s kindness in this small way, that Pharaoh would act morally and reverse the injustice that had been perpetrated against him. For this Yosef needed to be shafted, to spend an extra two years in prison, so he could learn the hard way not to put even a smidgen of faith in the selfish and corrupt.

The Jews of Gaza and their supporters are being given the same lesson. Let’s hope we finally learn it.

Chananya Weissman is a Jewish educator. He can be reached at admin@endthemadness.org.