If we don’t mourn the destruction, are we truly in galus?
By Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
You know how you occasionally hear or read something and wonder, “Wow, that’s so obvious. How did I miss it?”
I just had one of those moments, and I am asking myself that very question: How did I miss it?
Chareidi media has been all over the new law affecting the real estate market. It is presented as a chareidi news story since, as the headlines declare and the articles explain, many frum people are in the real estate sector, and these laws regulating rental properties stand to impact the frum community on many fronts. I read the articles and the readers’ reactions — some say it’s good for the Jews, most insist it’s bad for the Jews — and shrugged my shoulders and moved on to the next article.
But then a rosh yeshivah called me to point out something that should have been obvious, but I had missed.
“What do you think a non-Jew would think,” he asked me, “if he read these articles?”
He noted, correctly, that the articles seem to convey that these laws are somehow against the Jews. In fact, some writers went as far as to claim that there were anti-Semitic overtones in these laws.
But think of it this way, this rosh yeshivah asserted: If a village comprised of Jews and non-Jews was wiped out by a tornado, and the chareidi press would mention only that the tornado killed Jews, would that not be insensitive?
A tornado is not a Jewish catastrophe; it is a general catastrophe.
Yet the chareidi reporting surrounding the new real estate guidelines is in a sense even more callous. On the face of it, this law was motivated by very human concerns regarding the skyrocketing costs of rents in the city. Why would we Jews protest a law presumably motivated by a creed of caring for the underprivileged? A non-Jewish reader will undoubtedly conclude that we only care because we are no longer able to raise rents, and are looking out only for our self-interests.
Does this not reinforce the worse caricatures of money-grubbing Jews? Whom are we pitying? Shylock?
The rosh yeshivah clarified that he obviously does not mean to condemn real estate owners, the overwhelming majority of whom are running perfectly legitimate businesses and providing work for so many employees, many of whom are our fellow Yidden. Furthermore, their largesse has been propping our mosdos for decades, and they have rightfully earned our full admiration.
Rather, he is condemning the chareidi press for publicizing this and painting it as a “Jewish” story.
And I, in turn, am condemning myself. How did I miss this?
I once read a fascinating study about social awareness, in which social scientists sought to determine which measurable factors — i.e. age, income, gender, race, etc. — impacted one’s awareness of his surroundings.
Those conducting the study had people walk down a random city street and then asked them what they had noticed. The findings were somewhat predictable, with one significant surprise. A fairly predictable result, for instance, was that people tended to notice others who were like themselves — young girls noticed other young girls, teenagers noticed other teenagers, women noticed other women.
But they were surprised to discover that one group scored much lower than the others in social awareness. The mega-wealthy, as a group, were particularly poor in noticing what others were doing. Why? The scientists theorized that because these people are self-sufficient and are wealthy enough to believe that their independence is permanent, they forfeit the instinct to bond with other people. Unless they make a concerted effort to care, their economic status fosters a feeling of being different, and isolates them from the world, causing them to live in a social bubble.
Are we, the Jews of chutz l’Aretz, suffering from a similar condition? Does our reporting of the real estate guidelines not demonstrate that we are living in a bubble? Has our justified concern for self-preservation and insularity from a culture so foreign to ours resulted in our becoming oblivious to our environment and how we may be perceived by others?
At the same time, has our collective economic comfort, coupled with our acceptance into society, caused us to forget that we are in galus, so that we don’t care how we are viewed? Do we realize that we are guests in a host country? There was a time when people would never wear a tallis on the street. Are we so comfortable, so “in your face,” that we can confuse Jersey for Bnei Brak?
But sadly, this does seems to be true. We don’t really see ourselves as being in galus. A case in point. I have been told that a large poster appeared in a local shul announcing the formation of a new neighborhood. It presents a panoramic view of the site, with the following words emblazoned on it: “Sa na einecha ure’eh… ki es kol ha’aretz asher atah ro’eh, lecha etnenah ul’zaracha.” This verse obviously refers only to Eretz Yisrael, not New York or New Jersey. Yet it was coopted for selling homes in the Tristate area.
Bear in mind Kli Yakar’s exhortation on the verse, “Penu lachem tzafonah” (Devarim 2:3).
Chazal expound: “If Eisav’s time has arrived, conceal yourself — hatzpinu es’chem” (Devarim Rabbah 19). It seems that this concealment refers to a Jew who has found, even in this galus, a small measure of success. Let him hide it and conceal it before Eisav — for no nation is as jealous of the Jewish nation as Eisav, who feel that they were robbed of Yaakov’s blessing…. Yaakov similarly chastised his children, “Lamah tisra’u — why are making you making yourselves so visible?”
This is the polar opposite of how Jews act nowadays, in the lands of their foes. For if someone has 100 rubles, he dresses in finery and lives in a home as if he has thousands, and in doing so, he incites the non-Jews against him. It is this custom that is at the heart of all our troubles.
As we head toward the Three Weeks, when we are meant to mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, I ask rhetorically: Can galus can be mechaper (atone) if we don’t relate to it as a punishment altogether? Because if we do not mourn the destruction, are we truly in galus?
Kol hamisabel al Yerushalayim zocheh v’ro’eh b’vinyanah. Let us be zocheh in the coming period to be misabeil, and thereby to bring the Geulah bimeheirah.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 768. Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger is the rav of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah of New Hempstead and the author of Positive Vision, a Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation project (ArtScroll\Mesorah)