THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
On Optimism and Shivas Tziyon (The Return To Zion)
The following is a true story. I was walking by myself on the back roads of Gush Etzion many years ago - the roads that are not paved, that go through ancient vineyards built in stepped irrigation. These roads may even date back to Roman times.
As I was walking -- in my cocky teenage walk -- an older Arab man came up to me. I thought to myself, "Rebboinoisheloilum, now I am going to die. Shema Yisrael AdoiShem Eloikaynu AdoiShem Echaddddd." Instead he gave me a large batch of grapes, and refused to take money for them, no matter how much I insisted.
Such is the nature of the Arab Israeli conflict. It defies basic understanding, because it is rooted in emotion, not rationality.
Rabboisai, one of my Talmidois reached out to me in despair last week, ruing the latest events in Israel and Gaza. In this case, it was the believed capture of an Israelis soldier. "When will it end?" she asked. "Is it hopeless?"
Rabboisai, a late uncle of mine, a veteran of the early days of the State, used to make a half joke about Israel: He said that the pessimists in Israel speak Yiddish. But the optimists speak Arabic.
I never quite understood what he meant. But given that he was born in China (Mamish!), was raised speaking Russian, was taught English and French in school, and learned Hebrew and other languages later, I am surprised that he could form a cohesive sentence in a single language.
My uncle's experience, as a purely secular Jew, was quite typical of his generation. After making Aliyah with his parents and brother, he helped build the State. He likely never learned a piece of Gemarrah in his life, so never had the joy of diving into a Gevaldikkah Toisfois after a quick dip in the Mikvah, never had the pleasure of engaging in a Machloikess with his Chavrusa, and undoubtedly never undertook the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan. He never wore a Shtreimel and his wife never wore a Sheytel. Yet he was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, and died as a Jew. He served in the army, as did his children. He paid his taxes. And when he went to the Oilum Ha'Emes, he left children and grandchildren to continue his legacy. His experience is typical.
Do you, you Minuval, believe that modern Israel became magically populated with Jews one day, who answered the call to come live in their ancestral homeland? No, you Vilda Chaya! Shivassss Tziyoin, the return of the Jews to Zion, has been a long, drawn out process of at least 150 years.
Even before Theodore Herzl, there was the First Aliyah and the Second Aliyah. There were Chareidim who came and settled. There were indigenous Jews who can trace their ancestry in the Land of Israel back centuries.
And then of course there were the waves of immigration: Following the pogroms of the early twentieth century; in the days leading up to the collapse of Jewish life in Germany; during World War II; after the hell fires of the Shoah, before Statehood; and wave after wave of immigration following the establishment of the State -- survivors from Eastern Europe, Jews from Western Europe, Jews from Egypt and Iraq and Morocco and Israel and Yemen and elsewhere in the Arab world. Jews arriving in secret waves of Aliyah from Romania and Argentina. Jews from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. Jews who continue to arrive today...
To what is this phenomenon comparable?
One need only look at Jewish history to find a very direct precedent. Roughly fifty years after the fall of Jerusalem and the first Temple, the Babylonians fell to the Persians, who decreed that the Jews were free to return to their ancestral homeland and rebuild their Temple. Did they travel en masse and rebuild the Bais HaMikdash immediately? No, you Mechtiziff Ignoramus!
The Jews returned in waves. First came Zerubavel and later Sheshbazar, escorted by the Koihain Yehoishua and the Neviim Chagai and Zechariah. Zerubavel and Sheshbazar claimed descent from the House of Duvid HaMelech. But they disappeared from history. Then came Ezra, a Koihain. Later came Nechemya. And others. Rebuilding the Bais Hamikdash and the Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel did not happen instantly or magically, but took numerous generations to be established and secured.
And so, to those like my Talmidah who suffer through moments of despair, I would like to remind you that earlier conquests of Israel and Judah and the establishment of the First and Second Temples were not accomplished in one day or one month or one year or one decade or one generation or one century. And, similarly, Modern Israel, our Third Temple, is the product of a multigenerational enterprise.
So when will it end? When will there be peace? When can Klal Yisroel stop having to worry about defending itself from its Arab neighbors and return to infighting over the draft of the Chareidim, public transportation on Shabboskoidesh, whether or not we hold by the Heter Mechirah for Shmita, and whether or not Payis can be used as Koisher Schach in a Sukkah?
I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. The RIF was once riding in a boat on a journey from his home in Fes, Morocco to sell Esroigim to the Jews of Yemen. When he arrived in Yemen, he expected to make a large amount of money, as Sukkois was weeks away. The RIF started peddling his Esroigim door to door, but no one wanted to buy his Esroigim. He then went to the Central Synagogue of Aden and set up an Esroig stand, but no one expressed any interest in his wares. He then asked the local rabbi, Chacham Yousef Ibn Al-Misnagid, why none of the locals were interested in his Esroigim. Chacham Yousef laughed at the question. "You, my dear RIF, are from Morocco, and consider yourself European. And you try to sell us your Kleinekeit little Esroigim that look like a man coming out of the Mikvah on a cold day. We Yemenites consider ourselves African, and have massive Esroigim that are hung like Oig Melech HaBashan." With that, Chacham Yousef pulled out his Yemenite Esroig that was the size of an American football.
The RIF was disappointed, as his business venture had clearly failed. He was silent for a few minutes. Then he spoke. "Reb Yousef, forget about the Esroigim. They are silly looking fruit anyway. Can I interest you in buying real estate in New York? America has not been discovered yet, but believe me, in about 1,000 years you will make an absolute killing!" And with that the RIF was able to make a handsome return on his travel investment.
Rabboisai, when will peace come? This is indeed a Shailah long asked by Klal Yisroel, even in the centuries when there was no large presence in Eretz Yisroel. And since the dawn of modern settlement, we have failed to achieve peace: First in the pre State era, then at the time of Independence, and even now, when we have a strong army and large population.
I would like to suggest that we have been all wrong in the way we have pursued peace. We have tried using secular visionaries like Herzl, secular Zionists like Weizman and Ben Gurion, shrewd strategists like Eshkol and Meir, traditionalists like Begin, moderates like Rabin and Peres, and conservatives like Sharon and Netanyahu. They were founders, men and women of letters, people with political experience and military background. But they lacked the core skills required to negotiate a long term agreement that was advantageous to the Jewish People. They meant well, they tried their best, and had genuine achievements, but they could not deliver the ultimate prize. We have a secure State, but no peace. It is like getting a good massage, but no "happy ending".
I would like to suggest that we need a different fundamental skill set to bring about peace in Eretz Yisroel. We need Chassidim to negotiate peace with the Arabs.
Chassidim have a different mindset and special stamina that makes them better suited to represent Jewish interests: They wear long black coats in the middle of summer. They are able to drive big fancy cars while collecting Welfare, food stamps and receiving Section Eight. The have beautiful Payis that hypnotically sway back and forth, back and forth. If they can make ends meet with 12 kids while the man is learning in yeshiva and the woman is working as a teacher during the day, in a grocery store during the evening, and as a Mikvah lady at night, then I want them at the negotiating table.
Chassidim will get us the best deal possible... perhaps even convincing the Palestinians to accept pennies on the dollar, pay retail prices, and engage in all financial exchanges in cash. In exchange for stopping rocket fire from Gaza, the Chassidim will throw in a few old cameras from B&H and fresh Kugel and Yapchik every Friday. And they will make sure that the Palestinian elite have access to some of the finest diamonds on the market. In addition, the Chassidim will offer extensive employment opportunities to the Palestinians: As doctors and lawyers, as engineers, as Goytas, as Shabbos Goyim, and as their representatives serving in the IDF while the Chassidim continue to study in Yeshiva all day and avoid the draft.
Rabboisai, to be a Jew means to be an optimist. Our intellectual and philosophical grounding is in the past, but our fate is to build a life in the present and future. May we see true peace and security in our lifetimes.
Ah Gutten, Peaceful Shabbos, You Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess