In our bleakest dreams, we never imagined the devastation within our community would be so profound. But what happened last Wednesday morning after Israel’s municipal elections was worse than anything we ever expected to see; holy barriers were breached, a clear warning sign for us to brake, stop, and reflect. It’s time for us to make a thorough, exhaustive moral inventory, and to be brutally honest in our conclusions.
Of course, that the deranged individual who burst into Rav Aharon Leib Steiman’s home and attacked him will be presented by the enemies of Rav Steinman (yes, the 100-year-old sage has enemies that go beyond the far-reaching dispute over the leadership of the chareidi community) as a bizarre, mentally unstable individual who acted independently. They will certainly argue, in their own defense, that an entire community cannot be indicted for the actions of a single individual. They will certainly claim that this man does not represent the community of voters who threw their support behind the alternative “Eitz” chareidi party. And I agree with them. Heaven forbid that real bnei Torah could think of committing such a dreadful act. But at the same time, he is not a person suffering from a psychological illness. Rather, he is a person who has been incited to violence.
In Sefer Yehoshua, we read about the sin of Achan. In this brief episode, the text relates that “Bnei Yisrael took unlawfully from that which was consecrated, for Achan, the son of Karmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerach, of the tribe of Yehuda, took from the consecrated property, and G-d became angry with Bnei Yisrael” (Yehoshua 7:1).
After 36 of Yehoshua’s soldiers fell in battle at the city of Ai, Yehoshua prostrated himself before Hashem in prayer. Hashem’s answer was, “Get up; why are you falling on your face? Yisrael has sinned, and they have transgressed My covenant that I commanded them, and they have also taken from that which was consecrated, and they have also stolen, and they have also lied, and they have also put it in their vessels” (ibid., v. 10-11).
We read this, and we are perplexed. There was one man, named Achan, who surreptitiously stole a portion of the consecrated spoils from the city of Yericho. No one else knew about it, and Hashem did not even reveal to Yehoshua who the man was. Yehoshua had to cast lots in order to determine that Achan was at fault. Why, then, does Hashem blame the Jewish people for the secret sin of one individual? Why does the pasuk begin with the words, “Bnei Yisrael took unlawfully from that which is consecrated,” when it goes on to state that there was only one man—Achan—who did that? Doesn’t the navi contradict itself?
But in fact, there is no contradiction at all. Rather, this is a clear illustration of the fundamental concept that no sin is the sin of a single individual. If the nation as a whole had been staunchly opposed to violating the ban, if the mere thought of taking from the spoils of Yericho had been unthinkable and completely shocking to every member of the Jewish people, then it would not have been possible even for someone on the periphery of the nation to make such a brazen move. But the pasuk reveals to us that while no one else actually took from the spoils, since the Jewish people’s hearts did not burn with a holy passion to heed Hashem’s commands, it became possible for one person, a man on the fringe, to actually commit the deed. And in order to make sure that the Jewish people did not shrug his action off and say, “Nu, we are not at fault; it was just some eccentric acting on his own,” the pasuk attributes the sin to Bnei Yisrael as a whole. This is the principle of “kol yisrael areivim zeh lazeh” – the collective responsibility of the nation for each other, binding our nation into one unit where everyone is responsible for everyone else.
On Wednesday morning, an unthinkable crime took place. Perhaps it was the product of a lengthy vilification campaign in which people were incited to believe evil things about Rav Steinman shlita. The agitators succeeded in planting shameful lies in the hearts of some bnei Torah, feeding them the outrageous accusations that Rav Steinman’s dream was to have every yeshivah bochur enlist in the army, that he would ship off all the girls to Sherut Leumi and have everyone learn the Education Ministry’s core curriculum instead of Bava Kamma and Bava Metzia. They slandered him with the claims that he was prepared to sell out the entire Torah. True, these lies were based on the different approaches of Rav Steinman and Rav Shmuel Auerbach shlita regarding the draft, but from that, the situation deteriorated to the point of slander. Over the last weeks, people have brought me pamphlets and notices discrediting Rav Steinman, with contents so shocking I cannot even repeat them.
I have met several young people who are actually convinced that Rav Steinman and Rav Chaim Kanievsky have left the path of Torah! Rav Steinman doesn’t sleep at night because of the threat of the draft; he says Tehillim all day for the decree to be rescinded; he demanded of the students in his yeshivah, Orchos Torah, and in other yeshivos to increase the intensity of their learning in order to avert this evil decree; that unlike in another yeshivah, which closed its doors during the week of elections so that the bochurim could join the war against Rav Steinman, he actually insisted that additional hours of learning be added to the schedule. I told them all these things, but it was like speaking to zombies; they simply looked at me with pitiful expressions, as if to say, “What do you know about what happened? What do you old people understand about what is taking place today?”
My friends, despite the litany of accusations and curses that have been hurled against Rav Steinman, we cannot blame the Eitz voters for this travesty. But there is one person who cannot escape responsibility, one man who has made it his mission in life to besmirch Rav Aharon Leib Steinman’s name. Over the years, he has led a campaign against the gadol hador in various ways and with an assortment of strategies. This past year, he crossed all red lines with a series of slanderous pashkevilim and pamphlets, reaching a nadir that has never been seen in the history of disputes between the gedolei hador. He was totally focused on his goal of defaming this person, this man whose word is heeded by the majority of the Torah world, this man who is a bulwark of support for so many of us, the gadol whose exclusive counsel was sought by Rav Elyashiv ztz”l.
How do I know? I was the founding editor of Yated Neeman, and two years ago, I was viciously attacked in Yated by that same person, in an article chock full of lies. I showed the article to a number of prestigious talmidei chachamim, as well as to the spiritual board of the Yated in those days, and they were genuinely shocked.
The reason I am mentioning this detail is that in recent times, one of the claims being advanced by all manner of propagandists is that Rav Shach’s position was that the newspaper should be militant and aggressive, in the spirit of the editor who succeeded me in that position; he used his position to pounce, to attack indiscriminately, and to lie. In fact, when we approached Rav Shach for instruction in implementing his vision of a newspaper, he told us to write firmly and clearly, but at the same time, he repeated several times, “Do not attack anyone; just make our views be known.”
Yet my successor at Yated, Nati Grossman, made sure to constantly attack anyone who didn’t march to his beat. That is part of his nature. But in his most recent battle, he has sunk to unprecedented depths, to the point that a single avreich, who was affected by his incitement and taken in by his slander and lies, simply got up and committed the unthinkable. May Hashem have mercy on us, on all of us, on the entire Jewish people.
Food for Thought
"Seek peace and pursue it" (Psalms 34:15) - One must seek and pursue means of making peace and establishing harmony between the material world and the G‑dly life-force that vitalizes it.
(Baal Shem Tov)