Monday, March 10, 2008

Three Cheers for Mercaz HaRav

This morning I must admit: I did something I'm not wont to do. I read an article called 'Heads to the right,' penned by Gideon Levy in Haaretz newspaper. Even stranger, I actually agreed with some of what he wrote. Not everything, of course, but bits and pieces.

For example, the 2nd paragraph: Mercaz Harav is the flagship of the last group in Israeli society still operating in the realm of ideas. Religious Zionists are the only group, aside from the ultra-Orthodox population, whose members are willing to lay down their lives for the collective and its worldview. Right on!

And he goes on to say: …without the Gush Emunim movement, supported by successive Israeli governments, there would be no settlements; and without the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, there would be no Gush Emunim. This institution, then, was the cradle of the settlement enterprise and its driving force. Right again!

But of course, it can't all be good. These last lines are prefaced with: Nor can anyone ignore the damage it has caused the country. Without the settlement enterprise, peace might have reigned here already… Oops.

And then, some of the lines are mixed: From Mercaz Harav emerged the rabbis that led the vilest move in Zionist history. Most of the delusional right-wing perpetrators and the mongers of hate for Arabs came from this flagship. Religious leaders such as Rabbis Moshe Levinger, Haim Druckman, Avraham Shapira, Yaakov Ariel, Zefania Drori, Shlomo Aviner and Dov Lior, all idolized by their students, raised generations of nationalist youths within those walls.

All of these lines can be analyzed, but the first words are really what interest me: Mercaz Harav is the flagship of the last group in Israeli society still operating in the realm of ideas.

Ah, those lofty ideals, which are today so blasphemed. So old-fashioned. Like these quotes:

It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical… In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them! The Diary of a Young Girl, eds. Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, p. 332

One needs something to believe in, something for which one can have whole-hearted enthusiasm. One needs to feel that one's life has meaning, that one is needed in this world. Hannah Senesh []

I also seem to remember, even though I cannot presently find the source, that either the poetess Rachel or Hannah Senesh asked, 'what will happen to us, here in Israel, after we've achieved our present goals. What will happen to our ideals then?'

But for many, such ideals have lost their taste. Today their lives are based upon secular materialism, hedonism and money. And let's not forget peace. Even at the cost of survival.

The Rabbinic leadership and student body of Mercaz HaRav must be lauded and applauded. For at least three different things:

As we say – Sur me'ra v'aseh tov – first veer from evil and then, do good!

Sur me'ra – Veer from Evil:

Yesterday the so-called education minister, Yuli Tamir visited the yeshiva. When leaving she was verbally attacked by people there. Bravo. She deserved everything said to her, including 'murderer.' As 'education minister' Tamir has allowed 'nakba' (the Arab word for catastrophe, which they use to describe the 1948 War of Independence), to be taught in Israeli schools as a legitimate part of the curriculum. This is nothing less than incitement, inciting Arabs against Jews and the state of Israel. Such incitement can only lead to bloodshed. Jewish blood being shed.

Yuli Tamir, one of the founders of Shalom Achshav, (Peace Now), is the antithesis of everything Mercaz HaRav has ever stood for. Thank G-d she was chased away.

Sur me'ra number two: The yeshiva refused to allow Olmert to visit and pay his respects or condolences. This too is an act to be praised.

Olmert was one of the initiators of the expulsion from Gush Katif. He has publicly declared his willingness to expel tens and hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria, while abandoning our land to our enemies, allowing them to continue attacking our civilian population.

Despite continuing attacks on Israelis, Olmert stubbornly insists on continuing negotiations with the enemy, in an attempt to rid ourselves of our land. He plans on holding negotiations even during the week of the 'shiva' – the seven days of mourning for the yeshiva's murdered eight young students. He is ready to abandon Hebron and divide Jerusalem, leaving the holiest sites in the world in the hands of our enemy.

How could Mercaz HaRav allow such a defiled person to walk in its holy midst, who, while offering 'condolences' is preparing the ground for more Israelis to be killed?

And now, Aseh tov – Do Good: This morning, when speaking on Israel radio, Rabbi Haim Steiner, when asked why the Yeshiva was politicizing the death and mourning of its students, (referring to the decision to refuse Olmert's visit), he answered, 'this is not politics. We are people of Torah and 'yirat-shamayim' (G-d fearing.) In other words, there are issues which transcend such mundane subjects as politics. There is G-d. There is Torah. Those who study Torah, the word of G-d, those who fear and revere G-d, those who make ideas and ideals a way of life, have the ability to discern who and what surround them. Eretz Yisrael is transformed from earth to a spiritual value, far exceeding the obscure standards of life significant to the Levys, Tamirs, and Olmerts of this world. Refusing to shake hands with Olmert is not politics – it is Torah!!!

This is why it was so important to make these points clear, from the very center of religious Zionism, Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, during one of its most difficult moments.

Da'at Torah – the way of Torah, is not weak and lackadaisical. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt'l, son of Israel's first Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, and leader of Mercaz HaRav and the return to Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza following the Six Day War in 1967 wrote about his trip to Yaffo in the winter of 1949, visiting the home and Torah study hall where his father had lived and where he had grown up:

…It was an awesome moment. I was filled and spiritually uplifted by the energy binding me during my stay at the Talmud Torah…and afterwards (I went) again to the study hall "Ohr Zoreach" which had been shelled and destroyed and ruined by the British, may their names be blotted out…and I forced myself to walk back and forth, with the many sacred memories of my childhood and later years…filled with the anger of G-d and I felt empty there, at this terrible time at this terrible place, with the deepest of thoughts and sharpest expressions and speech, from myself and from holy verses, of the abundance of curses and vengeance which should occur soon on the heads of the wicked, on the rulers of malice and its perpetrators, which G-d the redeemer will bring about and judge them as they've done to us, as they have destroyed and ruined here, so too swiftly will it be to their palaces and halls…" (Ohr l'Netivoti, 315-316)

Amen, may it be His Will, speedily in our days.

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