Parshat Vayetzei: In Search of Truth

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Ladder to the Sky
30 Nov 2006

Am Yisrael is a nation steeped in the search for truth.

There are billions of people who are satisfied with believing in falsehoods, regardless how absurd or ludicrous they may be, because it is convenient and because their fathers believed in them.

If one’s conception of religion is belief in ‘immaculate conception’, so be it! If one believes that Muhammad wrote the Koran (not an easy task for someone known to have been illiterate) and that he took a midnight ride to Jerusalem on his faithful steed ‘Al Burak’, and after tying the beast to the Kotel he ascended to heaven, so be it!

Not so with the Jewish nation. Our classical writings are replete with controversy, quarrel and disagreement, not because we are contentious or uncompromising, but because we seek out the truth. In that spirit, one must be prepared to deal with uncomfortable questions, like the one I now pose.

This week was the ‘yahrtzeit’ of David ben Gurion. In his lifetime, he could have been considered an apikoras -a heretic. He did not believe in the God of the Torah. He was better versed in Buddhism than in the Shulchan Aruch. Yet this man, so far from Torah and mitzvot was correct. He recognized that the time for redemption of the Jewish nation had begun.

In contrast, the rabbis of the Satmar dynasty, and those who follow their teachings are God fearing Jews. Many are scholars. They pray, teach Torah, author Torah books and mekarev – draw near those who have become distanced from the Torah. Yet these people, so steeped in the Torah, were and still are WRONG, as they preach that Medinat Yisrael is an unholy entity.

The number 6,000,000 is proof of their historical error. This is the number of Jews who were murdered by staying in the galut of enlightened Europe, and it is also the number of Jews in Eretz Yisrael today. How can any rational person dismiss the presence of six million Jews in Eretz Yisrael and claim that the redemption process has not yet begun?

The difference between Ben Gurion and the Satmar, can be reduced to one word which is the subject of a midrash in Parashat Vayetze.

The midrash states that in Ya’akov’s dream, the angels who were ascending and descending the ladder to heaven represented the major empires in history. Ya’akov sees these great empires rising to the heights of power and influence only to eventually descend into oblivion.

At one point, Ya’akov hears the voice of HaShem instructing him to ascend the ladder. But Ya’akov hesitates because he fears that if he ascends, then he and his children will also eventually descend into oblivion. HaShem promises him that if he ascends the ladder, the Jewish nation will forever remain on top.

Ya’akov is afraid and remains at the foot of the ladder, and for that, the midrash concludes, we were condemned to the tragic events of Jewish history.

At that particular moment in his life, our father Ya’akov’s conduct could be described as lack of courage; when “courage” is defined as a fierce and uncompromising dedication to achieving a goal against all odds of success.

Ya’akov was not yet called ‘Yisrael’, the man who fought and vanquished human and spiritual adversaries. He was still the Ya’akov, who escaped from the threatening Aysav. Ya’akov was not yet the man to ascend the ladder in search of greatness.

It was this trait of courage which made HaShem choose David Ben Yishai to be the king of Israel and the future mashiach. David who fought the lion and bear in protection of his flock, was the same David who stood before the giant Goliath-with no more than a sling shot and five stones.

Ben Gurion was all the negative things I stated above; but he was also infused with the God given gift of courage. The United States warned him not to declare a state which would be destroyed by the armies of five Arab nations. And as a means of showing its displeasure, the US placed an arms embargo on the newborn Jewish state. But Ben Gurion was adamant that the time had come for the return of the Jewish nation to our ancient homeland and he acted with courage.

There are many rabbanim who encouraged the creation of the state, which they believed would survive through the miracles of HaShem. They too were imbued with the courage of David ben Yishai. Religious Jews swelled the ranks of the two underground organizations, the Etzel and Lechi, whose aim was to rid Eretz Yisrael of the British forces. Dati’im served in the Hagana in every area of the country. The blood of Bar Kochba’s soldiers flowed in their veins.

Don’t look for secrets in the position advocated by the Satmar and those who follow his ways. They do not know anything we do not know. The plain reason for their opposition to the State is simply a character trait less than ‘courageous’, camouflaged by halachic dialectic which was the life raft of generations of Jews who did not have the strength of character to take the extra leap called ‘emunah’.

Now, if it is disturbing to think that Torah greats can be wrong, turn to the book of Vayikra, chapter 4, which discusses the process of ‘kapara’ (forgiveness) when a Kohen Gadol (High Priest) erroneously permits an act which the Torah rules to be punishable by ‘karet’. If this is insufficient to prove that even great Torah personalities can err, the chapter discusses the events when the Sanhedrin itself erroneously permits such a prohibition and a majority of the people act on their error.

As the days of Chanukah approach, everyone should ask himself, “Had I lived at that time would I have joined the ranks of the few against the many; the ranks of the weak against the powerful? Today’s challenges are no less formidable than having to fight the mighty Greek army. Yet when HaShem provided us with the ‘ladder of Ya’akov’ by giving us control over Shomron, Yehuda, the Golan and Azza we did not act with the courage needed to ascend the ladder.

The temerity of our political leaders and, in many cases, religious leaders, blocked the gate leading to greatness. For this we might, HaShem forbid, have to pay the price which all cowards must pay when faced with their own phobias.

The call of Moshe Rabbeinu “Mi LaShem Eylei” (whoever is for God let him come forward) was heard by many of our ancestors when the call was again sounded to join the ranks of the Hashmonaim. And it reverberates today, calling everyone strong of heart to return to Eretz Yisrael, to complete the process of Jewish redemption which began on the 5th of Iyar, 5708.

This is the truth we as a nation seek.

Rabbi Kahana is the rabbi of the Young Israel of the Old City in Jerusalem, Israel.

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