Activism through Torah

od yosef chai 19 kislev

 19 Kislev 5772 event at the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva

By Yonatan Gordon

I used to write about interesting topics like technology or science fiction. As with now, the intent was to relate these interesting topics to the Torah. But at some time point all these nice and interesting topics seemed to lack luster. And primarily based on reader feedback, I’ve attempted to engage more in tikkun olam, endeavoring to fix reality instead of talk about it.

The transition began when I started writing articles after the passing of internet activist Aaron Swartz close to two years ago. At that time I began to think of writing as a form of activism, what I called then “content activism.” It took another close to three months to internalize these thoughts further with a piece called, “The Mystical Meanings of the Anonymous Hacking Attacks.” It was an uncomfortable piece to write… a piece which intended to deride and discredit Anonymous while encouraging those noble-spirited within the group to leave. But it was also my most popular article at the time.

But this present article is about more than writing the uncomfortable. As I’ve discussed recently, while this is a prerequisite when writing essay-style pieces, the focus now is on the result; on effecting real change. I began to realize that what I originally called “content activism” is better named “Torah activism.”

Torah activism means going beyond the theory and building a practical system that can be implemented. For instance, I don’t know if anyone picked up on this, but the underlying message behind the Anonymous article was that the best way to counter the April 7th OpIsrael campaign was to invest ourselves in our own holy “OpIsrael.” As mentioned in the article, April 7th that year corresponded to 28 Nissan in the Hebrew calendar, the day when 22 years previously the Lubavitcher Rebbe had put the responsibility of bringing the Redemption into our hands.

Malchut Yisrael – Jewish Leadership

In synagogue on Shabbat a friend was talking to someone about a concept called Malchut Yisrael, establishing true Jewish leadership in Israel. He kept on emphasizing that beyond theory and debate, the most fundamental activity that we all need to occupy ourselves with is action—to do something today to establish a true Torah-based leadership. He quoted from Maimonides in the Laws of Kings and Wars section of Mishneh Torah that: “In the future, the Messianic king will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel.”[1]

Initially we might think that we need to wait. Wait until Mashiach comes and let him do all these things. But the sages teach us that there is no king without a people. Right now we need to concern ourselves with doing all we can do to begin the process. This is what my friend was explaining. That Malchut Yisrael, building a Torah-based Jewish leadership begins from our actions today; specifically, the actions and campaigns that we initiate according to the holy Torah.

According to the calculations of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi and other Torah sages, the appointed time for the Redemption is 5775, the year that we are presently in. While the sages warn against making calculations, nonetheless, many great sages throughout Jewish history have occupied themselves with this. And while we don’t rely on these calculations, from the fact that a calculation of the final date of redemption exists for this year, this should arouse us to make every deed we do count.

With this is mind we can now suggest something most profound, something which also accords with my synagogue encounter. If the Redemption is imminent, this also means that we need to change the way we approach Torah learning. Instead of viewing Torah study as explorations of thought, Torah writings, discourses and discussions should now be considered actions. That today making reality a dwelling place for God means approaching Torah study as activism.

We can see the effect by observing the opposition. As with the imprisonment and subsequent release of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi from prison, when occupied in matters of holiness, then opposition is a sign that you are doing something right.

Specifically related to Malchut Yisrael, establishing Jewish leadership in the Land of Israel that is inspired by royalty, the example for this in Chassidic tradition is the Holy Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin. He was imprisoned by the Russian Czar for acting regally. His home was built like a palace, he rode in a magnificent carriage, upheld a horse stable, used gold and silver vessels and wore regal clothing. And as a result of informants who told the evil Czar Nikolai of this “rebellion,” Rebbe Yisrael was thrown into prison. Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin did not suffice with his chassidim praying, learning and observing mitzvot, he wanted to establish Malchut Yisrael. In this way Rebbe Yisrael took the entire Chassidic movement one step forward towards its true goal of bringing the Redemption by ultimately reinstating a Jewish monarchy in the Land of Israel.

Where do we see an example of this today?

While writing this article, I read of the six-month extension of the military seizure of the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva in Yitzhar. To give some background, the yeshiva was initially seized in April following previous heavy-handed tactics against several “price tag” incidents between a minority of the community and security forces.

It should be stated that Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, dean of Od Yosef Chai, has come out publicly against any form of price tag vandalism. From a statement made back in May (22nd of Iyar):

“In response to various media reports and unsubstantiated accusations I would like to (once more) state that I have not in any way encouraged or helped organize the current phenomena termed “tag machir” (“price tag”). Although I understand the great frustration among certain youth to current unjust and immoral government policies, I teach that the proper response in such cases is through words not through deeds. The true strength of the Jewish people is in our ability to clearly express our opinions and thereby to influence others for the good. In this spirit, I believe that through education and strong identification with Jewish tradition, morals and ethics we can create much needed changes in the direction of the State of Israel.”

This was to give some background material around the initial military seizure back in April. Regarding the six-month seizure extension announced last night, the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva administration’s first response was to call attention to the grievous hypocrisy and double-standard that is lenient to Arab terrorists, while cracking down on the residents of Yitzhar. And secondly to respond that the words of Torah will continue to be pronounced loudly, which for the meantime is from their temporary headquarters adjacent to the building that was stolen from them.

Thus according to all that was said above, if you want to know why the military is extending the seizure, then you need to go and learn in Od Yosef Chai for a day or more. The opposition is opposing the purity of the Torah emanating from those walls and any other reason is an excuse. When you visit the yeshiva, for now inside the adjacent building, you will find the beautiful sing-song of Torah being echoed throughout. And for this the military seized the yeshiva. Not because of a security threat, but because of the intensity of the grandeur and splendor of Torah echoing forth from those halls.

The spiritual malady behind this motivation to “attack healthy parts of the body” instead of the “dangerous invaders” was discussed in another statement made soon after the military seizure here. Also mentioned in that statement from Rabbi Ginsburgh is the need to increase peaceful protests. Thus the truest response, which is also according to what was presented above, is to organize more Torah-centered rallies and events around building Malchut Yisrael, true Jewish leadership in the Land of the Israel.

The thoughts expressed above represent the personal sentiments of the author alone and not of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva, or any other involved party.

[1] Chapter 11:1.


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