A vintage Israeli anecdote tells about a meeting in the early 1970’s between Prime Minister Golda Meir and U.S. President Richard Nixon. Golda claimed that her job was tougher than Nixon’s. Nixon vehemently disagreed: “What are you talking about, Ms. Prime Minister? I govern a nation of 300 million people – one hundred times the size of your tiny nation!”
“True, Mister President,” remarked Golda, “but I run a nation of 3 million prime ministers!”
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Like all my fellow “prime ministers” in Israel, I had many reservations about the Gilad Shalit deal and the release of so many terrorists with blood on their hands. The families who lost loved ones would now be reliving the sharpest of their pains by seeing the hideous terrorist murderers walk free. Yet, who could turn a blind eye to Gilad Shalit, already five and a half years held prisoner is a Gaza dungeon? On the other hand, what about future dangers of arch terrorists back in circulation? This seemed to be even more difficult than King Solomon’s case of the two mothers fighting over the live baby…
But, as soon as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef shlit’a, the leading rabbinical posek (law-giver) of this generation, gave his green light to the prisoner swap, I know longer had any more opinions. Daat Torah – the stance of Torah – had been officially established, and therefore there was no more need to speak or write a single word on the subject.
Unfortunately, there were those who took exception to Rabbi Ovadia’s decision, citing the dangers of so many arch-terrorists back in circulation. Surely, Rabbi Ovadia considered all sides of the matter. Yet, those who objected to his decision cannot fathom the depth of his thought process or the ocean of Torah sources that Rabbi Ovadia reviewed while making his decision. And thank G-d, Gilad Shalit is home, alive and recuperating.
Nothing is new under the sun. Back in Mordechai’s time, there were those who disliked his Daat Torah as well.
But, by virtue of the spiritual leadership of Mordechai, exiled member of the Sanhedrin at the time of the destruction of our first Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people were saved from a signed and sealed decree that called for their annihilation, G-d forbid. The holy Mordechai was a worthy receptacle for Hashem’s phenomenal miracles. Yet, at the end of the Megilla, we learn a brow-raising fact (Esther 10:3): For Mordechai the Jew was second to King Achashverosh, a leader to the Jews, and loved by the majority of his brethren.
We rub our eyes in disbelief! Mordechai saved us from the ancient Persian-initiated global Holocaust. Without Mordechai, the Jews would have found themselves in torture chambers and at the bottom of snake-filled pits. Instead, they were miraculously saved under Mordechai’s brinkmanship and their enemies met a bitter fate. And despite all this, Mordechai is loved by only a majority of his fellow Jews?
Most criticism is ugly, especially the type the stems from ingratitude. At one extreme, many of the full-time Torah learners criticized Mordechai for “wasting time” in politics and for not learning Torah all day long as they do. At the other end of the scale, the simpletons criticized Mordechai for being too religious. Without commenting on either group of critics, we can say that they both are ingrates. Without Mordechai, they’d have been permanently silenced long ago.
Apropos, the great "Yanuka" (Aramaic for young child; a nickname given to those who become rabbis at an early age) of Stolin, Rebbe Yisroel Perlov of blessed memory, was my maternal great-grandfather's rebbe. The renowned Rabbi Moshe Feinstein o.b.m. was born as a result of the Yanuka's blessing to the Feinsteins, when they were still childless after several years of marriage. The Yanuka was a phenomenal sage, scholar, and miracle worker, yet he acted in complete modesty as if he were the simplest of people.
The Yanuka loved horses. According to Karlin-Stolin tradition, he would correct those human souls that were reincarnated and trapped in horses. He'd always carry an apple or a few cubes of sugar in his pocket, ready to befriend another equine-imprisoned soul.
During a rabbinical convention in Warsaw, The Yanuka was seen whispering in the ear of a big dapple-gray stallion while feeding him an apple. A young rabbi from Lithunia looked on with disdain, thinking to himself, "What kind of crass Rebbe talks to horses? This is the famed leader of the Stoliner Chassidim?"
Suddenly, The Yanuka turned around, and motioned to the young Lithuanian rabbi to come forward. "Tell me something, please: Is this horse happy or sad?"
"How am I expected to know such a thing?" replied the young man, shrugging his shoulders.
"Is this a stallion or a gelding?" the rebbe asked.
"I don't know," answered the young Lithuanian rabbi, not even knowing where to look to find the answer.
"Can you tell whether this is a Belgian or a Quarterhorse?"
"I don't know that either".
"Well," asked the Rebbe, "do you at least know whether this is a work horse or a pleasure horse?"
"No!" said the young rabbi, now visibly irritated. "I don't understand anything about horses! How am I expected to evaluate a stupid beast?"
"Aha," said the Yanuka, "if you can't even evaluate a horse, or what in your words is a stupid beast, then how can you be so pretentious to think you can evaluate a rebbe?!"
Those who allow themselves the luxury to criticize the prodigious tzaddikim both of this generation and of yesteryear will be asked embarrassing questions like the one above in the Heavenly Court.
I once saw Rabbi Shalom Arush suspend a young man from our yeshiva for saying a derogatory word about a tzaddik.
Belief in tzaddikim and our connection to them is the heart of Chassidut, especially Chassidut Breslev. An important part of our belief in the true tzaddikim is our faith in Daat Torah – the Torah-based opinions and decisions of this generation’s leading rabbinical scholars.
G-d willing, the true tzaddikim will lead us to our rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem, speedily and in our days, amen!
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