Sunday, December 25, 2005

Post from my friend Reb Aaron Berger

From my friend Reb Aaron: You can post responses as comments or email me for his address.

How does one maintain emuna in spite of all the corruption out there among frum society and its leaders? (By corruption, I am not referring to dramatic lack of integrity, as in lying, cheating, znus, etc. I think this exists, but is the exception. I refer to the absence of authenticity; i.e. the agenda, the cheshbonos, the apparent lack of running life decisions through the filter of rotzon hashem, etc.; the sum of which detract from the emes and shleimus of our religion, and therefore corrupt it). If you don't agree with my basic premise that there is such corruption going on, then we can agree to disagree. I do not care to argue that point. It is more than obvious to me.

When I face up to all this nonsense, at first it makes me wonder about the integrity of the mesorah handed down to me. Is all the trust that I had placed in that which was handed down from e.g. the Chazon Ish, the Chofetz Chaim, etc. misplaced? Is it possible that all these gedolim were really not that great but their image was bolstered by clever promoters? These doubts do not usually linger too long. I know enough products of these gedolim to restore my confidence. So I typically regain my bearings pretty quickly and my shaila becomes more focused. I wonder where the real leaders are that hashem must have (I had always thought) put here for us. My assumption had always been that every dor has its trusted leaders. If ours does not, how can we push forward our mesorah to the next generation. Can we exist as a believing nation without a set of trusted leaders?

My chizuk usually ends up coming from isolated events of integrity and righteousness which do exist among our rabbonim, great and small. What gets me, though, is that these are the exception rather than the norm. If a rav acts like a mentch, it is considered worthy of recording in an Artscroll biography. (look at some of the nonsense that gets recorded as acts of tzidkus). Why shouldn't we be able to hold our rabbis to the same standards of integrity that we hold ourselves?? If our religion can't foster the basic decency that is a given in other religions, what is it worth?? And even when there is no outright breach of integrity, there is almost always an agenda of some sort such as recruiting students, gathering $, or even influencing people to keep a particular brand of frumkeit. What happened to actually believing in g-d?? What happened to making believe we actually believe in g-d, and following through on all that that implies?? What happened to the simple "kiruv" work that our grandfathers did by welcoming another yid into their circle, without any agenda other than brotherhood and humanity??

I tend to think the real answer is that emuna comes from a place very deep in a person and it does not derive from leaders. It simply cannot afford to. It comes from our families; from a time before the whole daas torah rage, from a time when being frum was something deep in your genetics and did not depend on constant direction from "gedolim". It derives from the mesorah based on what all 600,000 of our parents saw; thus its transmission involves the whole klal, not just the leaders. This very basic, very real, very pious frumkeit (seems ridiculous to have to put the word pious before frumkeit) is what I observed in, and received from, my grandparents. They all had deep respect for rabbonim. But they did not appear to be deriving their whole belief system from the rabbis in the same obsessive manner that frum jews are doing today. If a rav did mess up it didn't shake their whole world because they understood that he failed as a man and that the religion itself is much greater than any one man. I remember remarking to a chaver in yeshiva that with all the rabbeim I had, all of whom were "good guys", I never met anyone as frum as my grandfather. To me he seemed to have the real stuff. No razzle dazzle, no frumeh cheshbonos, no nonsense. This emuna that I saw in all my grandparents had been injected very deep into their psyches by observing their own parents and grandparents, and was collective in the klal. I need to believe that we, as a dor, can push through without a reliable system of trusted leaders, based on the emuna that lives in the klal.

This is not a complete answer; just my theory for a framework of an answer.

As the very nature of my rant is about cutting the nonsense, I thought it would be counterproductive to polish up my rhetoric. I welcome all responses but ask that you keep them real; i.e. not party line verbiage or how you wished you believed, but stuff that would pass a lie detector test (unless of course it's funny). And please don't get hung up on my particular usages versus the spirit of what I am saying.

Gut voch,

Aaron