Rabbi Asher Resnick
Kiruv is an Urgent Priority
I would like to address two points as a follow-up to the articles on kiruv.
1. How much money and resources should we continue to invest in kiruv?
There is a beautiful insight that I learned from Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l, many years ago that is very relevant to this question.
The Gemara (Baba Basra 21a) says about Rebbe Yehoshua ben Gamla, that if not for him, Torah would have been forgotten from Israel. What was his extraordinary contribution that warranted such great praise? Up until his time, there was no formal system of schools, as the fathers were the ones who were the teachers of Torah to their sons. While it was wonderful that the fathers played this role, it led to a problem in the generation of Rebbe Yehoshua ben Gamla. He saw that there were many orphans who were not being taught Torah. In order to address this problem, he developed an extensive system of schools in Jewish communities throughout the world. And to avoid stigmatizing the orphans, it was required that all boys attend these schools, even those with fathers of their own.
Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l pointed out that there is an obvious question that could be asked on this Gemara. As terrible as it was that the orphans were being denied the opportunity to learn Torah, how could the Gemara say that this would have caused the Torah to have been forgotten from Israel? After all, how many orphans could there have been?
He therefore explained that the meaning of the Gemara must be that a Jewish community that doesn’t care enough to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to learn Torah, will fail to teach the Torah successfully even to their own children.
This message has frightening implications for us today. Who amongst us is not concerned about the terrible phenomenon of children in all sectors of the frum community losing their connection to Torah, or worse, going “off the derech”? This teaching of the Gemara suggests that the very premise that we must make a decision to either direct our resources toward kiruv rechokim or towards kiruv k’rovim is fundamentally flawed. Perhaps the reason that we see so many frum kids going “off the derech” is actually related to the fact that we haven’t made enough of an effort to reach out to secular Jews – i.e., those who grew up with no one in their family to teach them Torah. In other words, if the frum community really cares about the continuity of Torah, they will necessarily invest in kiruv, and this will also help to keep their own kids “on the derech,” as well.
2. Is it appropriate to speak about assimilation as a crisis, and even to use the metaphor of the Holocaust to describe it?
Long before my Rosh HaYeshiva and Rebbe, Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, spoke this way, the Chafetz Chaim (in Chizuk haDas and Chomas HaDas) declared that the situation of the Jewish people in 1905 was an Eis La’asos – a time when every single Jew was obligated to serve G-d and address the crisis of assimilation the entire day, each one according to his abilities.
“In general, then, everyone is obligated to honor G-d with whatever is in his power at all times and in all situations, leaving but a little time to earn for himself and his family a modest living, just like the banker who must be content with meager rations while fighting in the army.”
In a second example of using physical terminology to speak about spiritual dangers he wrote –
“In former times, when fires were infrequent, it was enough for the government to appoint one company of fireman. Today, however, because fires are common everywhere, each community has a group of volunteers. The same applies to the yetzer [hara]. Once, it was sufficient for the Holy One to select a few chosen individuals in each generation who, with the power of their inspired words, could quench the flames of passion. But today, when, because of our many transgressions, fires are common everywhere, volunteers must be found in every community.”
And in a final example of physical terminology, he said that assimilation was “similar to the case of a man who sees his friend drowning in a river, or in some other imminent danger, and is commanded to save him. He is forbidden to stand idly by, as it says – “Do not stand idly by your brother’s blood.” If he cannot personally save him, he is obligated to hire others to save him… Just as we are obligated to find men who can swim well and pay them, if necessary, to save someone we see drowning in a river, so too are we obligated to find excellent orators who are G-d-fearing men, and who know how to attract the hearts of Israel to their Father in Heaven.”
This sense of crisis was also expressed by the Alter of Nevaradok (M’zakeh HaRabim in Madregas Ha’Adam, first published in 1918):
“When one becomes aware of a failing within society as grievous as its present educational structure, which has taken such a tremendous toll on our youth, one must summon up all of his powers to guard the breach, remove the impediments, and raise up the standard of truth. This is especially true in our days, when the nets of the doctrine of transgression are cast even over the very young, when all the paths of Torah are desolate, and when there remains but a chosen few who stand steadfast and unflinching upon their watch… If the present state of affairs is permitted to persist, there is a danger (G-d forbid) that in the course of time, Torah will vanish from Israel. This being so, there is no alternative but to rouse ourselves from our slumber, take cognizance of the dangers which confront us and do battle with them, with all of our talents and sensitivities, with all of the means at our disposal.”
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, in a call to action that was directed to yeshiva students and published in the Jewish Observer in June, 1973, similarly stressed the urgency of the situation:
“Today, however, a crisis situation exists, and it is most acute. While there were times when we could keep ourselves distant from forces of darkness, they are now closing in, even threatening the most sheltered communities of those loyal to Torah… These are exceptional times. We must, therefore, examine our accepted priorities to determine who is to be charged with the responsibility of battling to better our situation and under what conditions…
As Moshe responded to the voice of authority when he was told that he must [act] because there was no one else, so too must our yeshiva students… When there is no one else to accomplish this, then one must even take time from his Torah studies to do so…
The current situation makes urgent demands upon us, for “It is a time to work for G-d. It is an Eis La’asos.”
And finally, a declaration signed on the eve of Rosh HaShanah 5765 by Rav Shmuel Birnbaum, Rav Matisiyahu Chaim Solomon, Rav Yaakov Perlow and Rav Aaron Moshe Shechter, as well as by Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv and Rav Aryeh Leib Shteinman:
“The situation of our brethren in eretz Yisrael and chutz l’Aretz is rapidly deteriorating. Inciters from both within and without are doing everything possible to uproot the Torah haKedosha and pure faith from our fellow Jews, leading them astray through seductive and false ideas. The situation today is truly an awful, spiritual holocaust [literally, Matzav zeh k’yom hu Mamash Shoah Ruchnis Nora’ah] that is claiming the souls of millions of Jews who are assimilating among the nations, may Hashem protect us… As the Chafetz Chaim wrote, ‘When one sees people drowning and doesn’t know how to save them, he must hire people who do know how – or learn himself!’”
The fact that there is even a need to prove to mechanchim (educators) that a situation of close to 90% of the Jewish people assimilating is properly understood as a crisis, and comparable in its destruction and devastation to the Holocaust, is perhaps the greatest sign of that very crisis existing even in the frum world today.
Rabbi Asher Resnick has been a teacher for Yeshivat Aish HaTorah for close to 30 years.