Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Loyal Fan


Rabbi Berel Wein

One of my most beloved grandchildren (all of my grandchildren are most beloved but…) wrote to me last week and in the letter made a wonderful comparison between the frustrations of being a loyal baseball fan – almost a rabid supporter – of a bad and losing baseball team and reading and listening to the news reported from Israel about the quarrels, divisions and scandals that currently plague its national and religious society.

Listening to the radio broadcast of another bumbling and inept performance by that baseball team, my grandchild turns off the radio in wall-climbing frustration only to switch on the radio again some time later in the forlorn hope that an amazing turnaround has occurred and that the team is now winning. So too it is with news of the squabbles and embarrassments about the issues and events of Israeli political and religious life that are so widely covered in the media.

My grandchild is torn between ignoring the whole mess or reading and listening to all sides of the arguments and becoming emotionally involved in issues over which my grandchild has no influence or control. He, of course has no influence or control over the performance of the baseball team on the playing field either.

This fact also undoubtedly is guaranteed to raise the level of frustration and disappointment felt by the loyal fan condemned to suffer through a long and dismal baseball season. But being the ever loyal fan, he cannot resist being involved with the team even though it often brings with it heartbreak and disappointment.

My generation was raised on a diet of loyalty. The American public school that I attended taught us the motto "My country, right or wrong – my country!" I know that sounds so primitive to our sophisticated Wikileaks ears today but that made perfect sense to me in my formative years. My parents who were not Zionists in the formal sense and could even be characterized, as being Charedi-light in today’s world, would brook no negative statement from anyone visiting our home about the State of Israel.

My father taught me that the sin of the spies in the desert that led to the destruction of that entire generation – the generation that stood at Sinai and witnessed God’s revelation and the granting of the Torah to the Jewish people! – was that they spoke out negatively against the Land of Israel and denigrated it publicly.

The State of Israel may not yet be perfect but we are nevertheless expected to be its loyal fans. And if it is going through a rough patch in its societal relationships and governmental and religious institutions, we are not allowed to arbitrarily turn off our radios and remain emotionally unattached to the real game that is being played out there.

My motto has always been that one should never confuse the behavior of individual Jews with Judaism itself nor the antics and statements of rabbis with the true religion. Loyal fans also require a degree of sophistication in discerning the baby from the bath water.

Long postponed solutions to problems in Israeli society have now become imperative necessities, since the problems were allowed to fester for decades without being properly addressed. The official Chief Rabbinate, politicized and ossified as it has become, faces public opinion extinction. The welfare state has run out of money and its annual governmental deficits are no longer sustainable.

And the intractable Arab-Jewish conflict still begs for some sort of live and let live solution. The demographic success and political clout of the Charedi sector of Israeli society has forced Charedi society itself and Israeli society generally to face the harsh realities of its poverty-stricken state and its attitudes towards the general society in which it finds itself enmeshed.

Problems of education and curriculum, job training and a computer-centered workforce can no longer be ignored. The true and loyal fan always says, "wait till next year." Well, for most of these problems touched upon above, next year has now arrived - and with a vengeance. Yet, in the long history of the Jewish people and in the much shorter history of the State of Israel, great problems such as these have somehow come right and solutions found.

But loyalty to the core principle of our right to live in the Land of Israel, to our Torah, our nationhood and our faith characterize our being loyal and true fans, long-suffering and sometimes as frustrating as that status may be. So let us not despair for we are truly rooting for the winning championship team.
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