We Loose Our Heads, Our Strength, Our Hearts
The Shabsai Tzvi debacle induces a witch hunt within the Jewish community for someone or something to blame.
The Jewish communities are led by Rabbis. Responsibility is the price of control and the institution of Rabbinical/Torah leadership takes a big hit. More to come in the centuries that follow. For now, the Rabbinical leadership looks like it was duped and impotent.
Before moving on, we need to discuss Torah scholars and leadership.
Let me ask you a question. What type of person would you like to head your nation or your town: A philosopher king? A politician? A warrior? A movie star? A successful businessman? A wealthy person?
What about a leading Torah scholar? This person is committed to master a body of knowledge that specifies moral and ethical principles, against which the design of humanity and society were created by G-d Himself. Unlike the other choices, the behavior of this person can be evaluated against an open standard and he's out the door if he doesn't meet it.
Well, Torah scholars don't know about everything. True. I'm sure that they seek advice from doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and stock-brokers. They don't know about all these things on their own.
Maybe you don't like what Torah scholars tell you what you have to do or what you can't do? Maybe someone told you that they lack compassion or that they are too strict?
I would be the first to agree if the basis for Jewish practice comes from the whims and imagination of this group of people. I would hold a grudge against themif they arbitrarily told me that I couldn't work on the Shabbos, especially if I needed or strongly desired the extra money.
However, if behavior is to be evaluated against a G-d decreed standard, and if a Torah scholar is in the best position to determine what the standard is and how to apply it to life, then I would disagree. If the scholar determines something from the Torah then he is doing a great service, even if it's something that we don't want to hear.
Furthermore, the world of the Torah scholar is not an exclusive club. Anybody can join it, provided that they are willing to work hard.
Torah scholars are people. People are sometimes wrong. Torah scholars have been wrong. So what. Do we look for leaders that are not people?
If you think that they are wrong, you can respectfully question their determination, even if you are not on their level. Just base your question on traditional sources, not on teen-age whining. If you point out something that they overlooked, they will be grateful. They are very compassionate and they do have your interests in mind.
Getting back to the leader issue, what about this: Appoint a Torah scholar and listen to him only when he is right. If you honestly consider this proposal then you will see that it amounts to anarchy, for who can determine in advance if and when the Torah scholar is wrong?
Throughout most of our history, Torah scholars have been our leaders. They are our best link to the Torah. Through hard work and self sacrifice they have acquired within themselves a share of the Torah, thereby linking themselves to the source of all honor. They are worthy of our honor as much as a Torah scroll is worthy of our honor.
Now, the Torah doesn't expect you to blindly believe and follow anybody. It's your life and you owe it to yourself to make the right decisions. Judaism does not believe that the clergy has the right to speak in the name of G-d or make decisions for Him. Clergy are people and they are not infallible.
G-d tests us in many ways. We are sorely tested when Torah scholars who are our leaders are proven to be wrong. To pass the test, we need to pick up the pieces and continue doing the right thing, which may be that which we were already doing.
While G-d will judge us on whether we did the right thing or not, he is also fair. If we are wrong but we did the best we could do, He will take it into account. No one walks away from Him on Judgment Day with complaints.
With this as our background, we move on to witness yet another downfall, in the 18th century.
The remains of Shabsai Tzvi's following are in hiding. World Jewry has lost its toleration for this nonsense.
The esteemed Rabbi Yaakov Emden, a renown Torah scholar, is shown a kabalistic amulet that is purported to have been written by the esteemed Rabbi Yonosan Eibeshutz. It looks like a Shabsai Tzvi token; It smells like a Shabsai Tzvi token. "It is a Shabsai Tzvi token!" asserts Rabbi Emden. Rabbi Eibeshutz denies responsibility but he can't prove it.
This is very serious. One of the two Rabbis is wrong. No one really knows which one it is. We still don't
This flares into an outrage, a series of ugly and very public smear campaigns, even the King of Denmark is called in. Rabbis are forced to take sides. Some lose their positions. All loose prestige and esteem in the eyes of the Jewish people.
The anti-clerical sentiments of the 16th through 18th century non-Jewish world now find a foot-hold in the Jewish world. The Rabbinate is discredited; its authority is undermined. Figuratively, to some degree we begin to lose our heads.
Today, with notable exceptions, most Jewish causes and organizations are headed or controlled by lay leaders. The criteria for their selection are mostly political, social, or economic, with limited or even no requirements for Jewish knowledge and practice. These people are hard working, well meaning, and deserve recognition for great self-sacrifice. At times their lack of background presents a delicate dilemma, as illustrated by this story.
A group of wealthy Jewish activists became increasingly concerned over the rise of assimilation and intermarriage of their youth. They were completely bewildered. They poured hundreds of millions of dollars into their Jewish orientation programs.
They made a Jewish health club. They built and maintained a Jewish sports stadium. They funded a Jewish orchestra. There was a Jewish horse ranch, a swimming club, sky lodge, a Jewish bungee drop, dozens of Jewish restaurants, a Jewish university, hospital, old age home, hockey team, basketball team, football team, a Jewish casino, and a Jewish marina.
Yet, they were losing their youth. Their frustration drove them to call in a great and wise rabbi from Israel to give them advice.
They showed him everything. He was amazed.
He really wanted to help them. He came up with the following story to help explain the problem to them.
The United States dependency on Arab oil caused a huge trade deficit.
Someone came upon a brilliant plan. One by one, the great sheiks were invited to the United States, all travel and hotel expenses paid and with royal escort services to boot.
They came with huge money bags. They and all their wives went on spectacular shopping sprees. It was a win-win situation for all and everyone had a lot of fun.
One sheik requested that he be left alone for a day to buy some private things.
On the day after this special trip, his hosts noticed several huge wooden crates in his hotel room containing the things he had just bought. It was improper for them to ask what was inside.
On the day of his departure they came to pick up the crates. They were very heavy. No one said a word about it.
The customs officer at the airport demanded to know what was inside them.
The sheik authorized their opening for inspection and to everyones astonishment, the great wooden boxes were filled with faucets.
Iron faucets, brass faucets, aluminum faucets, bathroom faucets, kitchen faucets, fire-hydrant faucets, you name it.
The escorts could no longer control themselves. They asked the sheik why he bought the faucets. He explained as follows.
There is a great shortage of water in his country. He was so impressed with the United States and how huge amounts of water flowed out of their faucets. So, bought a supply of faucets for the people of his country, who desperately needed water.
Somewhat reluctantly, the escorts tried explaining that the faucets were only of use when they were connected to a source of water.
The parable was now complete.
The health club, sports stadium, orchestra, horse ranch, swimming club, sky lodge, bungee drop, restaurants, university, hospital, old age home, hockey team, basketball team, football team, casino, and marina are similar to the sheiks faucets. To serve the intended purpose, they must be connected to the source.
The source of the Jewish people and their eternity is G-d and His Torah. Without being connected to our source, we can not compete to retain our youth within the cultures that dominate their lives.
The Rabbinate is not the only casualty from the Shabsai Tzvi debacle. The Kabala and its public study are blamed. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, author of many works upon which this tour based, is persecuted. He is banned by Rabbi Emden, who later apologizes. Later in the 18th century, the Chassidic movement will face an uphill battle because of their Kabalistic leanings.
A source of great strength becomes a source of great suspicion.
Rabbi Yonosan Eibeshutz points out that our faith in the imminent coming of the Messiah is key to our survival. Without it, the Jewish people would have given up long ago, wearied from the deadly persecutions and enticed by the comfort and social/economic advantages of assimilation and conversion.
Shabsai uplifted our hopes and then he was shown to be a fake. We're still nowhere. Faith was damaged; weve lost some steam.
Our focus shifts to Germany, birthplace and seedbed of the Protestant Reformation.
By now, Western Jewry has been rebuilt from the ravages of the Reformation. They are tired of ghetto life, of the persecutions, riots, of living on the lam. They are about to be tested.
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