The Symbol on the Grave

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Path Through Forest

Holy and Secular – Note: Two weeks ago (in an article called, “The Package, the Merchant, and the Taxi Driver“), we wrote that the Almighty wants us to feel good about performing the mitzvot, which should be done in a calm way and not through suffering. However, we noted that sometimes the observance of a specific mitzva requires a great sacrifice, and we must perform such a mitzva in the best possible way. With respect to these exceptional mitzvot which sometimes require unimaginable sacrifice and suffering, we feel it is appropriate to bring below a quote from a speech of Rabbi J.B. Solveitchik more than thirty years ago at a convention of rabbis in the United States.

“I know about your problems, many of them are presented to me. We stand before terrible problems, and we sometimes feel that we are swimming against the current. I feel this, I know about it, you must continue to tell me about it. But if you think the solution lies in a reform approach or is based on external interpretations of the halacha you are making a very grave mistake.

“Many problems cannot be solved. One example is the status of a mamzer (illegitimate child). Nobody is capable of making this disappear, neither the Chief Rabbi nor the head of Diaspora Jewry. This problem cannot be made to go away. It is a direct verse in the Torah: ‘A mamzer (illegitimate child) shall not enter the community of G-d’ [Devarim 23:3]. This is very tragic. The Midrash describes this in the words, ‘I have seen the tears of the oppressed’ [Kohellet Rabba 4:1]. But it is a reality, a religious reality.

“If you tell nonreligious Jews, ‘That is our position,’ they will not like us. They will say that we are not flexible, that we are cruel. But they will respect us. But if you try to join together with them, even if you raise vain halachic claims in reply, you will not obtain their love, and you will without any doubt at all lose their respect. What can we do? This is the Torah of Moshe. It is the way to accept the yoke of G-d. We must surrender to it.

“I know this from my own personal experience. A Gentile girl who had converted came to me. After her conversion, she met a Jewish boy who came from a nonreligious background. She influenced him to become closer to Judaism, and they became engaged. He decided to investigate his roots, and he visited the cemetery where his grandfather was buried. There he saw a strange symbol on the gravestone: ten fingers, with pairs of fingers at an angle to each other. He investigated, and he discovered that he was a Kohen. What could we do? The halacha is clear: A Kohen is forbidden to marry a convert. We surrender to the will of the invincible G-d, Blessed be He.

On the other hand, to say that the halacha is not sensitive to the problems and the suffering of people is a complete lie. Halacha responds to the needs of the community and to the needs of the individual, but it follows its own route. I am a descendent of a family of rabbis. My grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, tried with all his might to be lenient. But there are limits even to the leniencies of Rabbi Chaim. When you reach the limit, all you can say is: ‘I surrender to the will of the Invincible One, let Him be Blessed for all eternity.’

“With a very heavy heart, I joined the unfortunate woman in her suffering. The woman was the tool that brought the man back to Judaism, but she lost him. She rose up and went on her way…”

(Source: “This is Sinai” – with minor changes)

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There are times that require “a binding of Yitzchak.” There are times when we must suffer and live in an impossible situation. The Talmud tells us that every day a heavenly voice praises bachelors who live in a city and do not sin. There are difficult and impossible situations in which the one who stands up to them is greatly rewarded by heaven for each and every day that he passes the test even under great hardship.

However, these are the exceptions which prove the rule. They show that we observe the good and pleasant Torah because of our obligation to the Creator and not because it suits us. The path of the Torah is “a pleasant way, and all of its routes are peaceful” [Mishlei 3:17], but we are committed to observe it because of Divine commands.

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.