Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Coping with Difficulties
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Hana Bat Haim

Setting Out on a New Path

The destruction of the settlements, the cruel expulsion of the settlers, the suppression of those who demonstrated against the state and the government - these matters have taught us that the working-from-within approach is destined to fail.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

2 min read
1. The Need for Self-Criticism
2. Learning to Criticize and Reproach
3. The Failure of Working from Within
4. The Elite and the General Public
5. Systematic Criticism
6. Learning to Condemn Evil
7. Preparing an Alternative
8. Foreign Relations
9. Economics and Education
10. Inward Strengthening
11. Freedom

The Need for Self-Criticism
With the arrival of the new year, we must stop to reflect upon our deeds in order to pave the way for self-improvement. After the blow we suffered at the hands of our deceitful brothers, we cannot allow things to continue in the manner they have until now. This crisis indicates that there is a serious problem. If we do not draw the necessary conclusions, we will be forced to face additional, more difficult crises, until eventually we will be forced to abandon evil and choose good. However, if we draw the necessary conclusions now, we can emerge from these difficulties into the light of solace and salvation.

We may establish our approach upon three fundamental principles:
a) inward strengthening
b) open criticism of all authoritative systems and elitist networks
c) preparation of alternative programs for all government and social systems in Israel

The underlying foundation for all of this is a consciousness of our "freedom."

Learning to Criticize and Reproach
Over the years, we have been negligent about criticizing government systems. It is true that the underlying motivation for this approach was a positive one. We preferred to seek out the light and the good, not to focus on shortcomings and evil. Criticizing inevitably offends people. A person who criticizes is liable to oversee all of the good which God has bestowed upon us through the ingathering of the exiles and the establishment of the state of Israel.

However, this approach was at the same time plagued by weakness and flattery. It is easier to esteem the rulers, to feel partnership with those in power and to receive a small piece of the "cake" of their power. Yet, without taking note of the weaknesses and corruption which exist in all of the state's governing establishments, it is impossible to correct them.

The Failure of Working from Within
For years, we strove to fix things from within, to assimilate into all of the systems and to improve them gradually. We believed that if we would adopt an approach of love, we would receive love in return. We thought that if we would acknowledge the worth of the nationalist and humanist values espoused by forerunners of Israel's secular public, they too would acknowledge the importance of Torah values. The schisms would be mended, the polarities would dissolve, a process of mutual fertilization would evolve. This situation, we believed, would lead to the building of a value-grounded Jewish society that would advance, stage by stage, until reaching a level of complete faith in God, His Torah, and all lofty human ideals.

The destruction of the settlements, the cruel expulsion of the settlers, the suppression of those who demonstrated against the state and the government - these matters taught us that the working-from-within approach is destined to fail. The establishment behaved toward the religious-Zionist community in a manner reflecting what our sages say regarding the "reshut" (authority): "Be careful with [those in] authority, for they do not draw a person near except for their own needs. They appear as friends when it is to their advantage, but they do not stand up for a person in his hour of distress" (Avot 2:3).

When it was necessary for us to request help from the courts, the media, the IDF, and the police, everybody closed their ears and hearts and sided with those bent on destroying us. All of their talk of democracy, justice, and morality turned out to be worthless. We can see that their befriending us until now was for their own good, in order to strengthen their control.

The Elite and the General Public
This accusation is directed toward the establishment, at Israel's elitist networks. It appears that, on an individual level, many people who hold establishment positions embrace Jewish values. Perhaps when they retire from their posts they will regret what they did. However, as long as they are part of the establishment, they are ready to accept crooked and malicious opinions.

However, the wider Israeli public, both traditional and secular, is actually interested in strengthening the state's Jewish and Zionist values. We must therefore show them love and trust, and strive towards mutual fertilization with them.

The problem is the elite circles. They exploit the general public so that they are unable to realize their true ambitions. The media maligns those who are faithful to Zionism and Judaism and causes the general public to repudiate those who would be capable of giving expression to these Jewish values. The courts and the academic establishment, each in its own way, manage to block any Zionist and Jewish initiative. Thus, the elites distance and disengage themselves from the values of the Jewish people and pull the wider public along behind them.

Systematic Criticism
We must make a shift, moving away from the approach which calls for criticizing particular aspects of the system in order to mend things from within. It is time to critique the very foundations of the establishment in order to change things from the bottom up:

We must criticize the media. It acts as a mouthpiece for anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist propaganda, and to this end distorts reality to the point where it ought to be called "falsehood" ("tishkoret") instead of media ("tikshoret").

We must uncover the true face of those leaders whose true motivation is personal good. In order to deceive innocent citizens, they portray themselves as individuals who spend their days and nights laboring for the good of the nation and the homeland. Furthermore, we must expose the lifestyles of the state's wealthy who are disengaged from values and from Judaism.

We must voice criticism of the High Court. Even if its members are not personally corrupt, their arrogance knows no bounds. They ridicule Jewish values, and, without having been chosen for such, determine the domestic and foreign policy of the state of Israel. Without thinking, they make decisions which endanger the existence of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.

Only constructive criticism which is penetrating and continuous has the power to possibly bring about a change for the better. It is likely that, initially, only a handful of those targeted will actually respond to the criticism. The great majority will resent it and prefer to stick its head into the sand. They will prefer to believe that everything is proceeding as usual, but if we are persistent we will make process.

At the outset, progress will be difficult and slow, and we will have to fight for every additional percent of support. However, when we reach the fifteen percent point, the effect of the criticism will grow. The process of eroding the elite's public standing will be accelerated, and in a relatively short amount of time we will be able to begin changing the establishment for the better.

Only he who is capable of standing courageously and rebuking leaders is worthy of leadership. In the words of Rabbi Yonatan (Sanhedrin 101b): "Why did Jeroboam merit the crown? Because he rebuked Solomon." However, it is important to take note of the continuation of this source: "And why was he (Jeroboam) punished? Because he rebuked him in public," and Rashi comments that he rebuked him in public in order to embarrass him.

In other words, rebuke must be aimed at improvement alone, not at insulting and humiliating. Therefore, we must make sure that our criticism is founded upon truth, and that it is voiced with the sole intention of bringing about improvement. This, after all, is the definition of the Torah commandment to admonish, as it is written, "Do not hate your brother in your heart; you must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him," and in the next verse, "You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am God" (Leviticus 19:17-18).

Voicing criticism will allow us to create alternative programs for all of the difficult problems which accumulate before us. It will create an open space which we can fill with new content. We shall start with the necessary criticism of all governing systems. One might think it necessary to begin by preparing alternative programs, and then, naturally, there will be no need for criticism, because everybody will acknowledge the excellence and desirability of these alternatives. However, in reality, this is not the case. There is evil in the world, some stems from direct intention and some from laziness. Without criticism, there will be no room for change.

Learning to Condemn Evil
In order to accomplish this, we will have to review in depth the laws of slander and gossip. We will have to learn that we are obligated to relate the disrepute of evil people or people with evil opinions who bring evil upon the public.

Our precious, honest community is not accustomed to behaving in such a manner. Many of us saw corrupt ministers, or senior officers acting with extreme crudeness, or wealthy individuals cheating the poor. Due to naivety, we tried to interpret these sins in a positive manner.

We must now learn to take a more honest look at reality. It is entirely possible that on a personal level, in many cases, an individual may be judged favorably. However, when the corruption takes its toll upon the "vineyard of Israel," we must condemn it. (I will expand elsewhere upon the halakhic and ethical foundations of the obligation to rebuke, as practiced by the Prophets of Israel upon the kings and ministers).

Preparing an Alternative
Employing criticism will allow us to think creatively and come up with fresh ideas for building an original Jewish society according to the illumination of the Torah. The Almighty gave us His Torah, and it contains advice and instruction for ideal life. However, it is necessary to delve into its teachings in order to illuminate and rectify creation.

For two thousand years, the Torah accompanied us in our exile, and due to its power we succeeded in surviving the most difficult situations. However, we did not accustom ourselves to deriving from the Torah instructions for all aspects of life. This is our task today, to pave a path for national life based upon the Torah.

Our sages teach us to "embrace the wisdom of the nations," and a Jew who sees a wise man from one of the nations must bless: "Blessed are You, O Lord . . . Who has imparted His wisdom to His creatures." Therefore, we must occupy ourselves with secular wisdom, for it too is "His wisdom." However, only the Torah can provide us with life's moral content.

Despite all of the technological advancement in recent generations, man's distress has remained as it always was. Only the Torah can give true meaning to life. We must learn one discipline after another, the humanities and the natural sciences alike. We must unravel the difficulties and problems in each field and search the Torah for advice and direction in order to arrive at solutions.

Foreign Relations
For example, let us look at the field of foreign relations. We, the nation of Israel, live amongst the nations of the world, and our task is to be like a heart for the organs. The question is, how should we be managing our relations with the countries of the world today? In what manner should we be establishing relations with friendly nations? How should we respond to the animosity of our Arab neighbors? How shall we sanctify God's name amongst the nations?

To answer these questions, we must examine the foundations of Jewish faith and the role of the nation of Israel in the world. We must learn history and political science, familiarize ourselves with the various nations of the world, and think about how we can earnestly bestow upon them the sort of goodness that contains both spiritual truth and practical benefit.

Economics and Education
In the field of economics, too, we face weighty questions. How is it possible to create an economic system which provides maximum autonomy for free enterprise on the one hand while preventing the rich from taking advantage of the poor on the other? How can we transform commercial transactions into something with moral value? How can we build a social system which, while aiding the weak, does not legitimize joblessness at public expense?

The Torah points us in certain directions, however, in order to realize the vision, we must delve into both the Torah and economic and social sciences. We need both of these ingredients if we wish to apply Torah values to modern conditions.

But dealing with theoretical economic questions is not enough; we must also cope with practical questions. How do we go about preparing a national program to reduce traffic accidents? How do we build safer roads? How do we create a system of punishment which will be less burdensome and more effective?

How do we improve the educational system and also reduce the burdensome expenses which fall upon the parents? And how do we at the same time protect the conditions of the teachers? These problems appear difficult, but I am certain that if we wrestle with all of the questions, without accepting the prevent norms as sacrosanct, we will succeed in greatly improving the educational system. These two courses together - "abandon evil" and "adopt good," i.e., criticism of evil on the one hand and the proposal of a worthy alternative on the other - will gradually allow us to replace the controlling elites "for the good of our nation and the cities of our God" (see 2 Samuel 10:12).

Inward Strengthening
The principal that underlies all of this depends upon an intensification of the inner strength of those who are loyal to the Torah, the nation, and the land. We must solidify the spiritual stance of a sector which has had a tendency to be dragged to the right or the left, forward or backward. It is not because we admire the generals or because we wish to please the secular public that we enlist for army service. We enlist because it is a Torah obligation. Therefore, we shall not be deterred from criticizing security policies, because voicing criticism in order to improve things is also a Torah obligation.

We do not uphold the laws of the state in order to prove to somebody that we are loyal to the state; rather, we uphold them because Jewish law demands this of us. However, we shall not uphold laws which run counter to the words of the Torah. We shall continuously remember that we must strive to "restore our judges as in earliest times" (Amida prayer), and that in order to achieve this we must critique the courts which are estranged from the Torah, the nation, and the land.

This inner strengthening is connected to the attribute of freedom, which is the only vehicle for critiquing and creating. By freeing ourselves from alien influences, we will be able to strengthen family life and educate our children as admirably as possible. By freeing ourselves from luxuries, we will be able to economize and establish ourselves financially. This will allow us to reach that ideal state wherein money is a vehicle for performing good deeds and realizing ideals - not an end in itself, an end which is never satisfactorily achieved.

When we finally merit living according to the Torah, living with a mission of mending the world, living with a proper balance of ideals and actions, a family life rich in love and faith and mutual fertilization, financial stamina, and joy of life - when this is achieved, all will know that those who follow the path of the Torah merit life. Then, all of Israel will chose life, return to God, and inherit the goodly land, and God shall act benevolently towards us in accordance with that which he swore to our forefathers.

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