Pictured above is Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l seated next to Rav Kook zt”l. You could not ask for two more diametrically opposed giants. Rav Sonnenfeld was the leader of the old Yishuv in Yerushalayim. He was a firebrand against the Zionist idea in the early part of the 20th century and campaigned against anything Zionism stood for. Rav Kook, on the other hand, was the great proponent of modern day Zionism, which gave way to the Religious Zionist movement.
Despite the huge gap in their hashkafos, their religious philosophy, the two got along famously. In fact, for a while they traveled the country together to outlying settlements and kibbutzim in what was known as the Masa HaG’dolah, the great journey, in order to reach and encourage non-religious inhabitants.
What’s wrong with this picture is that it is about 90 years old. How many pictures of today’s Torah giants, who represent differing approaches in Yiddishkeit, seated together have you seen? Hanging in my living room is a picture of Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l seated next to Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l at a Chinuch Atzmai dinner. They too represented two very different hashkafos, but they were united in their cause of spreading Torah. Thus they had no problem getting along. That was over 50 years ago. Do you think a similar picture can be taken today? Do you think you will ever see a Satmar Rav seated with Rav Hershel Schachter? Do you think you will ever see a chareidi newspaper print a picture of a YU rosh ha’yeshivah’s wedding? Or a memorial to someone not from that world?
It works both ways, though. Often, I hear people having disdain for the “black hats.” Or, take a look at a parlor meeting for a noble cause run by a “black hat” individual. The crowd is monolithic.
Do you think you will ever see a Satmar Rav seated with Rav Hershel Schachter?
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:20) that we just learned this Shabbos states: “Any dispute that is for the sake of heaven will have a constructive outcome… What sort of dispute was for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Hillel and Shamai.”
Now, Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel (the academies of Shamai and Hillel) were known for disputes throughout the Talmud. But we also know that they dwelled with each other, because they “loved truth and peace,” as expressed in the Gemara (Y’vamos 14b). It is interesting to note that the Mishnah does not state “Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai,” rather Hillel and Shamai. Commentaries have observed that in many cases the leaders of the yeshivos are completely sincere in their disputes, but the later students carry it on in a different level. The sincerity is dropped. Rav Y.L. Chasman, in his sefer Ohr Yahel, very interestingly points to the fact that there are three places in Shas that Hillel and Shamai (as opposed to Beis Hilel and Beis Shamai) argue, yet the halachah is like neither one. They did not fight to overcome the opponent but rather to have a sincere debate. Also noteworthy is the Rambam in his commentary on the Mishnah, who defines a “dispute in Heaven’s name” as one where the disputants will concede to the other side if they feel the argument of the other side has merit.
This is precisely what is missing today. But it is not just in the Jewish arena. It is in the political arena as well. The country has become incredibly polarized. This was brought home just recently when politicians such as our good Senator Schumer jumped on board at a convenient time to oppose President Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal. Yet when President Trump announced that he was walking away from this disastrous deal, Schumer unabashedly criticized the withdrawal. At the ceremonies for the historic opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, not one Democrat showed up! Of course, the Trump-hating media could not bring itself to shine on the great moment, but chose instead to focus on the Hamas-inspired Gaza bloodshed, playing right into the hands of the terrorists behind it. The New York Daily News should be forever shamed with its headline referring to Ivanka Trump as a “Ghoul” for smiling that day when 55 were “slaughtered.” Such insanity in the press can only survive in an atmosphere poisoned with hatred for the current president. This is truly unprecedented.
The White House is not innocent either. Why it could not condemn the remarks of Kelley Sadler about Senator McCain’s vote being irrelevant since “he is dying anyway” is beyond me.
We live in the greatest secular country in history. We are blessed, especially as Jews, to live in this gracious land. It is a shame that we are also witnessing the unraveling of the fabric that made this great society.
The 90-year-old picture referred to at the outset of this article is worth not just “a thousand words,” but thousands of lessons for all of us in this century.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.