A Time to Weep, or a Time to Act?
BY RABBI ELIE MISCHEL
Immortalized in history as the founder of Mizrachi, Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines’ defining quality was his love for the people of Israel – and the tangible pain he felt when other Jews were suffering. When Jews suffered at the hands of gentiles, Rav Reines felt physical pain; his face became flushed, his body shook, and he would repeat, over and over again: “we must do something!” At times he would gather his family together and say in bitterness: “We must act, we can’t sit on our hands! The “gedolim” sin by remaining passive and not crying out!” Though Rav Reines frequently didn’t know what to do, he felt passionately that we must do something (Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan, From Volozhin to Jerusalem, 367).
As we approach the heavy day of the 9th of Av, we remember the suffering of so many Jews throughout the world. While the rest of us move on with our lives, the families of terror victims live with indescribable pain, pain that never goes away. Think also of the family of Aryeh Wolf hy”d, the kind hearted Camp Simcha counselor murdered by an antisemite in Baltimore this past August while installing solar panels (suspiciously, the police have identified the killer but haven’t arrested him). And remember, too, the soldiers and terror victims who survived attacks, but suffer in silence from the injuries that have left them forever maimed or disabled.
For close to two thousand years, we responded to this pain by crying out “Eicha,” “How could it be?” We asked and asked again; we asked ourselves, we asked each other and we turned our eyes upwards and asked Hashem: “How can it be? How can our people suffer this way? How can our Land, our holy city, lie abandoned and alone?” Living in fear and powerless to stop the pogroms and massacres that cast a constant shadow over our people, all we could do was lament and sigh, “How could it be?”
Though we will continue reading Eicha until the final redemption comes, I wonder if this response to Jewish suffering is out of date, heretical as that may sound. Writing 100 years ago in the pages of HaMizrachi, Rabbi Yitzchak Nissenbaum challenged his readers to change their attitude towards Tisha B’Av and Jewish suffering: “The call of ‘Hashiveinu’ at the end of Eicha, of ‘bring us back to You and renew our days of old,’ has burst forth throughout the Diaspora. Our Land no longer sits alone and abandoned. And so now we must call this megilla by a different name: not Eicha, ‘How could it be?’ but rather Ayeka, ‘Where are you?’ Every Jew must hear the voice of G-d calling out to us: ‘Where are you? Where are you, son of Israel? It is no longer time to hide! The time has come to leave your hiding places, to go out to battle, united in strength to build up our Land… Ayeka?” (HaMizrachi, 7 Menachem Av, 1921).
Like Rav Reines before him, Rav Nissenbaum believed it was not enough to wring our hands and sigh in sadness when we hear tragic news. “There are hundreds of thousands of Jews who are absorbed in their own personal affairs… Our great struggle, even greater than the struggle against our external enemies, is our struggle against our own people’s passivity concerning our national life” (HaMizrachi, 19 Elul, 1921).
After two millennia of helplessness, the Jewish people are no longer powerless. We are no longer barred from settling our Land or from bearing arms to defend ourselves. No law forbids the Jews of the Diaspora from protesting the corrupt United Nations in the streets of New York City or from marching with pride and strength in support of the Dee family through the streets of London.
The only obstacle, and it is not a small one, is our own passivity – of which I too am guilty. We’re busy with our jobs, our children and our local communities. Who has time to protest antisemitism?
But in the words of Rabbi Aharon Kahn, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, “How can we eat ketchup and ice cream while our brothers’ blood is running through the streets?” So long as Jews are suffering, so long as terrorists murder innocents in Israel and hoodlums beat up Chassidim in the streets of Brooklyn, how can we justify remaining silent? As Rav Reines would say, the time has come to do something. The question is, how long will it take for us to act?
Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Editor of HaMizrachi magazine.