[Avodah] [TorahWeb] Chilul Hashem in the Streets: Response to the Protests - Rav Mayer Twersky

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Tue Oct 13 10:16:14 PDT 2020

To my mind, this is a very important read.

But, if you get Avodah in digest form, the Hebrew will be all "?"s. So,
use the link at the top to see the web page version.

Did I mention that I think this is a VERY important read?

Shetir'u baTov,

----- Forwarded message from torahweb at torahweb.org -----

Read this on the web
Posted Erev Hoshana Rabbah, 5781, Thursday, October 8, 2020.
An annotated, slightly edited written version of oral remarks.

Rabbi Mayer Twersky


Two stories have unfolded in recent days. The first is that of politicians
and the press repeatedly identifying COVID-19 red zones in New York State
as Orthodox Jewish Neighborhoods; such hatemongering would, justly, be
deemed intolerable and thus never happen vis-a-vis any other religious,
ethnic or racial groups. The second is that of a massive chilul Hashem
(desecration of God's name) in response. [In truth, elements of chilul
Hashem also antedate the actions of the politicians and press.]

We are, b'siyatta d'Shmaya, going to exclusively focus on the second
story. [The first should be appropriately responded to, separately.] The
reason being that a chilul Hashem is just that, regardless of provocation;
provocation, undeniable as it is, does not diminish or mitigate chilul


There is no suspense. In relating to chilul Hashem, there is one -
and only one - vital, mandatory, conclusion: condemnation.

What needs to be emphasized at the outset and continuously experienced and
re-enforced throughout is that the condemnation is self-condemnation. Kol
Yisroel Areivim zeh bo'zeh. The Jewish people are one; and, as such, all
are mutually responsible and interdependent (Shavuos 39a). There is no
"us" and "them", only one organic, encompassing "we".

[It is self-understood that this interdependence is an internal reality
and perspective; the external world has not been granted license to
assign collective blame.]


One final introductory note: please do not draw inferences from what
is not said. The following remarks, due to three factors, are very

1) Lack of time - response to chilul Hashem must be swift, thus not
allowing the requisite time for comprehensiveness

2) Lack of yishuv ha'da'as (composure) - the ongoing chilul Hashem has,
for so many of us, been so personally, deeply, disturbing and profoundly
painful that it has been difficult to muster the concentration and focus
needed to respond clearly and comprehensively

3) Lack of ability - my own limitations and inadequacies


Let us b'siyatta d'Shmaya initially, schematically list some of the
incidents and instances of chilul Hashem and subsequently try to penetrate
to the core and crux of this sacrilege. Throughout words are inadequate
to depict and denounce the various manifestations of chilul Hashem.

* Violence - the shocking violence was simply vile and depraved.
  [Perhaps protestors were surprised on Tuesday night, and did not
  intend to associate with such vile, violent behavior. Wednesday night,
  however, featured a repeat performance under the same irresponsible,
  so-called leadership.]
* Mob behavior masquerading as halachic - the dangerous distortion and
  abusive invocation of the halacha of moser was reprehensible.
* Hooliganism - setting fires is wild, lawless, uncivilized behavior *
  Flaunting public health measures in a hot spot in the midst of a
  pandemic - such benighted behavior is the antithesis of "ושמרתם ועשיתם
  כי הוא חכמתכם ובינתכם לעיני העמים אשר ישמעון את כל־החקים האלה ואמרו רק
  עם־חכם ונבון הגוי הגדול הזה" - "you shall study (alternatively, esteem)
  and fulfill; that [will project] your wisdom and discernment to the
  nations of the world, who will hear of these statues [of the Torah] and
  remark, 'how wise and discerning this great nation is!'" (Devarim 4:6)
* Allowing for, and even encouraging, reckless, irresponsible so-called
  leadership - there is absolutely no justification for allowing
  so-called leadership that consists, inter alia, of incitement and
  nivul peh (uncouth, disgusting speech). And if, on Tuesday night,
  the protest was hijacked, all present were obligated to immediately
  leave and disassociate from the unfolding chilul Hashem

These are some of the incidents and instances of chilul Hashem; each
one was entirely, egregiously gratuitous, in no way warranted by the
journalistic and political provocation. Following is an attempt b'siyatta
d'Shmaya to reflect, albeit partially, on their core and crux.


We begin with a story. A ben Torah from a thriving Jewish community met my
grandfather zt"l. After an exchange of greetings, my grandfather inquired
as to where the individual lived. Upon hearing the answer, he responded,
"a very fine community. There is only one problem: they forget they are
in glaus (exile)."

    ארמי אבד אבי וירד מצרימה ויגר שם וגו' - Lavan, the Aramean, attempted
    to destroy my father's household; subsequently he descended to Egypt,
    and lived there as a stranger, etc.

    מלמד שלא ירד יעקב אבינו להשתקע במצרים אלא לגור שם - this verse teaches
    us that our patriarch Yaakov did not intend to settle in Egypt, rather
    to sojourn (Devarim 26:5, Sifrei ad. loc; Haggadah Shel Pesach)

How extraordinary! Yaakov Avinu knew that his earthly life would end
in Mitzrayim. Hakadosh Baruch Hu had promised him that He would return
his body to Eretz Yisroel for burial. See Breishis 46:4, with Rashi
ad. loc. quoting Chazal. And yet, he viewed himself as a stranger in
Mitzrayim, his stay as temporary.

Galus Mitzrayim (the Egyptian exile) serves as a paradigm for all
subsequent galuyos (exiles.) Irrespective of the duration of his stay,
a Jew in chutz la'aretz (outside the Land of Israel) is never at home.
The land is not his; the streets are not his.

    ובזה נקבע בנפש בניו קישור טבעיי להשתוקק אל ארץ אבותיהם ולחשוב עצמם
    כגרים, וזה ויגר שם מלמד שלא ירד יעקב אבינו להשתקע אלא לגור שם, פירוש,
    מלמד לדורות בכל גלות וגלות ההנהגה, שידעון, שלא ירדו להשתקע רק לגור עד
    בוא קץ הימין ויהיו נחשבים בעיני עצמם לא כאזרחים.

Yaakov Avinu's request to be buried in Eretz Yisroel forged a natural
bond between his descendants and the land, whereby they would yearn
for the land of their ancestors and view themselves as strangers.
This is the import of Chazal's comment, "He sojourned there - this
teaches that Yaakov Avinu did not intend to settle in Egypt, rather
to live as an outlier" i.e., this teaches us how Jews ought to comport
themselves in each and every exile. They should know that they are not
supposed to settle, rather to sojourn, and they should view themselves
as non-citizens. (Meshech Chochmo, Vayikra, 26:44)

[Once again, note that this perspective is exclusively internal; the
nations of the world have not been granted license to disenfranchise us.]


The brazenness and arrogance of the protests have been appalling. The
defiance and claims of proprietorship - "no one is going to stop us;
let them try!"; "this is our neighborhood" - are the antithesis of
the foundation of Jewish existence and continuity in the diaspora. How
lamentably and deplorably ironic that such sacrilegious, antithetical
behavior was allegedly intended to preserve our singular Jewish religious
identity and way of life. (See below section VIII.)

[To be clear, the behavior and tone of the protests would have been
intolerable in Eretz Yisroel as well. We are reacting to the protests
in the diaspora context in which they happened.]

To be sure, this modus vivendi in exile does not mean we should accept
being trampled upon; the Torah allows for effective, responsible,
respectful protest.

    שגזרה המלכות גזרה שלא יעסקו בתורה ושלא ימולו את בניהם ושיחללו שבתות מה
    עשה יהודה בן שמוע וחביריו הלכו ונטלו עצה ממטרוניתא אחת שכל גדולי רומי
    מצויין אצלה אמרה להם בואו והפגינו בלילה הלכו והפגינו בלילה אמרו אי שמים
    לא אחיכם אנחנו ולא בני אב אחד אנחנו ולא בני אם אחת אנחנו מה נשתנינו מכל
    אומה ולשון שאתם גוזרין עלינו גזירות קשות

The Roman Empire issued an edict forbidding Torah study, circumcision,
and Sabbath observance. What did Yehuda son of Shamo'a and his colleagues
do? They sought council from a well-connected [aristocratic] woman. She
advised them, "come and demonstrate at night." They went, demonstrated at
night and said, "for the sake of heaven, are we not brothers? the sons
of a single father and mother? in what way do we differ from all other
nations that you issue harsh decrees against us? And the authorities
rescinded the decrees (Rosh Hashana 19a)

What a profound contrast between the restrained, respectful mode of
protest adopted by Chazal, and the gratuitously brazen, confrontational
mode displayed these past two nights. Bayshanus (humble refinement,
healthy inhibition) is a defining Jewish characteristic (see Yevamos
79a.) Chazal protested Jewishly. The azus ponim (brazenness and arrogance)
which characterized the protests betrayed the very essence of Jewishness.


Let us attempt b'siyatta d'Shmaya to probe another core aspect of the
chilul Hashem.

    והענין כי התורה הזהירה בעריות ובמאכלים האסורים והתירה הביאה איש באשתו
    ואכילת הבשר והיין א"כ ימצא בעל התאוה מקום להיות שטוף בזמת אשתו או נשיו
    הרבות ולהיות בסובאי יין בזוללי בשר למו כו' והנה יהיה נבל ברשות התורה
    לפיכך בא הכתוב אחרי שפרט האיסורים שאסר אותם לגמרי וצוה בדבר כללי שנהיה
    פרושים מן המותרות כו'

The content of the mandate to be holy as explicated by Chazal is this:
the Torah prohibits incestuous and adulterous relationships, as well
as non-kosher foods. The Torah, however, permits marital relations
and consumption of meat and wine. Thus, the individual with hedonistic
inclinations would find an opening for orgiastic behavior with his wife
(or wives) and gluttonous consumption of meat and wine etc. and he
would have been a naval with license from the Torah. The mandate "Be
holy" precludes this. After detailing specific prohibitions, the Torah
commands in general, sweeping terms that we abstain from all forms of
excess... (Ramban, Vayikra 19:2)

At first glance, the mitzvah "Be holy", according to Ramban, closes
what would otherwise be gaping holes in the Torah. Upon reflection,
however, Ramban's teaching runs much deeper. A crucial clue for deeper
understanding is provided by Ramban's famous phrase, "he would have
been (i.e., absent the mitzvah 'Be holy') a naval with license from the
Torah." What does the word naval denote?

The author of Hakesav VeHakabala (in his commentary to Devarim 32:6)
explains the semantics of naval.

בע"ח מת יקרא נבלה ע"ש הפסד צורתו החיונית כו' וכמו שהונח שם נבלה על הפסד
כח המעמיד צורה גשמית כך הונח על הפסד צורה רוחנית דהיינו עשיית מעשים
מפסידים צורת תפארת האנושית

A dead animal is dubbed a neveila due to the loss of its vital
essence...just as the term neveila refers to loss of vital physical
essence, it also refers to loss (or destruction) of essential spiritual
essence - i.e., acting in a way that destroys human spiritual splendor

In other words, naval denotes one whose outer, external shell and
appearance endure but is void of its essence and vitality. The hollow
externality masks an inner vacuum. Thus, when predicated of an animal,
neveila refers to a lifeless body. And, when predicated of a person,
naval refers to a soulless physicality.

Thus, in Psalms, an atheist is described as a naval. "אמר נבל בלבו אין
אלהים" the naval, in his heart, denies the existence of God (14:1,
53:2.) The atheist's external appearance is human, but in denying Hakadosh
Baruch Hu he has forfeited his humanity. It is fittingly emblematic of
one whose external appearance belies his inner vacuity that he outwardly
professes faith, while inwardly rejecting it.


Mitzvos haTorah are vibrantly bi-dimensional, consisting of body
and soul. Both components are Divinely mandated and inseparable. The
prescribed or proscribed action or speech constitutes the body; the
religious-moral-spiritual value and telos comprise the soul. Thus, by
way of illustration, proscribed incestuous and adulterous relationships
form the body. Chaste, redeemed, sanctified physicality comprises the
soul. So too for prohibited foods.

An individual who "observes" these mitzvos but behaves orgiastically with
his wife and/or eats and drinks gluttonously is a naval. Outwardly he
appears observant, but actually is decadent. A beguiling externality
of observance masks a reality of non-observance. In his hands, Torah
becomes soulless - a dry, legalistic compendium of technical, superficial,
unidimensional rules and regulations. The naval's infractions are not
discrete or self-contained; instead they vitiate and violate all of
Torah. He lives not Torah, but a cruel caricature of Torah.


Avodas Hashem (service of God), in general, is rooted in shiflus
(submissiveness to, and before, God). The mitzvos of tefillah (prayer)
and simcha (rejoicing), in particular, are beautiful, soulful expressions
of such shiflus.

    אין עומדין להתפלל אלא מתוך כובד ראש, פירש"י הכנעה - one can pray only
    with koved rosh, i.e. submissiveness (Berachos 30b, with Rashi ad loc.)

    מצוה להרבות בשמחה זו ... (ש)השמחה שישמח אדם בעשית המצוה ובאהבת האל שצוה
    בהן עבודה גדולה היא כו' וכל המשפיל עצמו ומקל גופו במקומות אלו הוא הגדול
    המכבד העובד מאהבה. וכן דוד מלך ישראל אמר "ונקלתי עוד מזאת והייתי שפל
    בעיני" (שמואל ב ו כב).

It is a mitzvah (on Sukkos in the Beis Hamikdash) to rejoice in a
maximal fashion ... the joy that a person experiences and expresses in
performing mitzvos, reflecting his love for God who commanded them is
a great form of service ... and one who lowers himself, oblivious to
prestige on these occasions is a great, dignified person who serves
Hashem out of love. David, King of Israel, exemplified this, saying,
"I would go even further in making light of myself, and become genuinely
lowly in my own eyes" (Rambam, Hilchos Lulav, 8:14-15)

When we brazenly and arrogantly, even violently, protest, ostensibly as
to be allowed to gather in an unrestricted fashion for prayer and Sukkos
celebrations, we act as nevalim, Rachmana litzlan. We distort and contort
the beautiful, soulful mitzvos of tefillah and simcha, rooted in shiflus,
into dry, legalistic, soulless, superficial, hypocritical performances.

Talmud Torah (Torah study) is a pillar of faith [see Rambam, Hilchos
Kerias Shema 1:2] whereby we submit to ratzon Hashem (the will of God),
humbly consecrate and elevate our intellects, become enlightened by the
luminous words of Torah, and "connect" to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. When we
violently, primitively protest, allegedly to keep yeshivos open, we make
a mockery of talmud Torah. We act as nevalim.

When we distort and abuse sacred halachos to provide cover for mob
violence, we act as nevalim.

What results is a colossal chilul Hashem.


    ואסור להתמהמה בחלול שבת לחולה שיש בו סכנה שנאמר (ויקרא יח ה) אשר יעשה
    אותם האדם וחי בהם ולא שימות בהם. הא למדת שאין משפטי התורה נקמה בעולם אלא
    רחמים וחסד ושלום בעולם

    It is prohibited to delay in the slightest in overriding Shabbos for
    a dangerously ill individual. "'[These are miztvos] that man will
    fulfill and thereby live' - he should not die on their account." This
    teaches that mitzvos haTorah do not embody harsh justice in the world.
    Rather they embody compassion, kindness and perfection in the world
    (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 2:3)

Demonstrating zealous concern for life, even, when warranted, to the point
of temporarily overriding mitzvos, reflects and preserves their true,
essential character. On the other hand, disregarding health protocols
designed to protect life suffocates the soul of miztvos.

We have been, inexplicably and inexcusably, selective in our reactions.
Over the past months on multiple occasions we have vociferously protested
and challenged the governor's actions and yet while the hotspots developed
we remained deafeningly silent. The silence continues in the face of
the brazen, violent chilul Hashem reaction which again saps the soul
of miztvos. These glaring inconsistencies also create a naval bereshus
haTorah effect. And chilul Hashem ensues.

And, finally, we note the obvious: violating and/or subverting the dina
demalchusa (halachically recognized law of the land) only compounds
the chilul Hashem. So too the silence in the face of such subversion
and violation.


The teshuva (repentance) for chilul Hashem, Rabbeinu Yona (Shaarei
Teshuva, Gate 4, para. 5) teaches, is kiddush Hashem (sanctification
of God's name.)

May we merit a piska tova (favorable "verdict card"), a year of
kiddush Hashem, yeshuos (salvation), and nechamos (consolation).

More information about the Avodah mailing list