Improving our sphere of influence far better than pointing fingers

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I read with interest your commentary entitled “When the World Strikes…” in the TJP of Nov. 3, 2016. I always find your message stimulating, even when I disagree with it.
I know, of course, of the venerable history of the theory of mipnei chatoteinu as an explanation for bad things that befall us. And there can be no doubt that some of the evils that beset people are generated by their own behavior. A drug addict or compulsive gambler certainly bears a good deal of responsibility for an unfortunate outcome. On the other hand, if one presses this formulation further, one comes up with some absurd conclusions … I shall not accept the notion that a million and a half children were murdered because Germans were following the prompting of some “renegade” Jews and were induced to commit genocide because Jews criticized each other. That conclusion is, to me, obscene….
You might consider addressing these concerns in future columns … I look forward to learning what you have to say.
With best regards,
Kenneth D. Roseman
Dear Rabbi Roseman,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Under the circumstances, however, I feel it is fit to invoke the well-known witticism of a great sage, who was inclined to quip, “You may quote my Torah in your own name, but don’t quote your Torah in my name!”
The conclusion you draw from my column is your conclusion, not mine!
I was quoting from the thesis of Rav Elchonon Wasserman ob’m, who had written his piece titled A Word To the Generation, addressed to the Jewish people of his generation who were living through increasing anti-Semitism and decrees. Rav Wasserman, one of the pre-eminent sages of pre-Holocaust Europe, was highly respected by Jews, Gentiles and even the anti-religious Jews who opposed him, for his piety, integrity and vast scholarship and sagacious wisdom. As we mentioned, sadly, Rav Wasserman himself joined the holy convocation of the 6 million martyrs when his predictions came true.
Rav Wasserman, culling from the wisdom of the ages, from the Prophets until his time, points to numerous examples in our history when Jews stood up against each other and made decrees against the fulfillment of mitzvos, which served as a catalyst for our Gentile hosts or neighbors to amplify those decrees sevenfold and more. Rav Wasserman was not, nor am I, offering the explanation as to why these decrees were incurred. Only God knows the answer or answers to the ultimate question of why. The main thrust of his thesis is that for whatever reason these ominous events play out, the catalyst is when Jews open the door for others by standing up against fellow Jews.
Far earlier than Rav Wasserman, the Talmud explains the destruction of the second Temple and subsequent exile due to hatred of one Jew toward another, which was rampant in that generation. The Talmud relates the well-known story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. A wealthy man threw an elaborate party and asked his messenger to go and invite Kamtza his friend, and mistakenly brought Bar Kamtza, a man whom he hated. The wealthy man asked Bar Kamtza to leave, and he asked him not to embarrass him once he was already there and he would pay him for his portion.
The wealthy man said no, but Bar Kamtza did not leave. He offered to pay for half of the entire banquet, and then for the entire banquet. The wealthy man responded by physically having him pushed out. Bar Kamtza went to the Roman authorities and said the Jews were rebelling against them, leading to the Romans’ destroying the Temple and exiling the Jews. Clearly that story itself wasn’t the reason for the destruction and exile, but the Talmud relates this story to show how it was indeed the catalyst for the impending destruction to play out.
Rav Wasserman’s and my intention are one, that rather than following our natural tendency to look outward when analyzing events that befall us, to point fingers and blame, instead to look inward and use these events as an opportunity to do some soul-searching. Perhaps if we improve that which is in our sphere of influence, namely ourselves, we can effect positive change in ways beyond our wildest dreams or expectations.

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