Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
In the Tent of Meeting... Aaron and his sons shall prepare [the
Menorah] from the evening until the morning before Hashem.
I recall that when I was learning in Yeshiva, there was a disagreement
between the Rosh HaYeshiva and the ba'alei batim (financial
committee) as to which direction the Yeshiva should be heading. The
financial committee asserted that the Yeshiva's ultimate goal was to
increase enrolment, even if it meant accepting some students who
did not meet their standards. Their logic was that as far as fund-
raising goes, a Yeshiva with a large student body makes a far greater
impression on the outsider, which would ultimately result in greater
charitable donations, the bread-and-butter of any Yeshiva. The Rosh
Yeshiva insisted that "quality" was more important than "quantity," and
refused to accept students whose main role would simply be to fill up
the chairs of the bais ha-medrash. A Yeshiva must concern itself
primarily with the studies of its students, he felt, even if it meant
doing things in a way which might not gain the approval of its
In a most fascinating letter, Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt"l addresses this
very dilemma. He writes:
I was asked why I oppose arranging the schedule of the Yeshiva
in a manner which would generate the most publicity and
appeal among potential donors.
I explained that the answer to this question can be found upon
closer examination of the mitzvah to light the Menorah in the
Holy Temple. The Talmud (Shabbos 22b) states: "The Western
Lamp (Ner Ma'aravi) bore witness to the entire world that the
Divine Presence rested among Israel."
At first glance, this statement seems quite puzzling: After all, the
Western Lamp burned within the Heichal, an area inside the
Temple where no gentile or even non-Kohein (non-priestly Jew)
was permitted entry! In what way, then, did the Ner Ma'aravi
"bear witness to the entire world" of Hashem's Presence among
What the Western Lamp did do was reinforce the recognition of
the Jewish people among themselves that the Divine Presence
dwelled with them. The more powerful this awareness among
themselves; the more widespread the recognition they would
receive among the [gentile] nations of the world.
Similarly, if we want our Yeshiva to earn a good reputation with
the community at large, we need not concern ourselves with
making public displays of our studies. Rather, we must work to
strengthen the Yeshiva internally, in ways that may not even be
apparent to outsiders. And we can rest assured that, if we do
these things, the "lamp" which will be ignited in the privacy of
the Yeshiva will nonetheless bear witness to the entire world that
the Divine Presence rests within its walls.
There has been substantial dialogue within the Torah-observant
community in recent years regarding the topic of Kiddush Hashem -
sanctifying Hashem's Name through good deeds. Generally, whenever
the subject arises, the discussion is geared towards how a Torah-Jew
can bring about a Kiddush Hashem by acting appropriately when
dealing with non-Jews. Inevitably, stories will be told about how
someone's extreme honesty by returning to a store to pay for an item
he was inadvertently not charged for brought about a tremendous
recognition of the moral/ethical stance of the Torah. Undoubtedly
such anecdotes, and there are Baruch Hashem many of them, are
indeed an example of a true Kiddush Hashem.
What I believe is sometimes overlooked, however, is the fact that
Kiddush Hashem is not at all limited to, nor perhaps focused on, how
a non-Jew perceives and appreciates what we do. Question: What is
a greater Kiddush Hashem: A Jew helping an elderly woman across
the street (or returning a lost object, etc.), or when a rowdy bunch of
teenagers drives by a Jewish family walking down Bathurst Street
dressed in their Shabbos garb, and howl at them with a choice
selection of profanities and racial slurs?
I'm not sure. I think both scenarios are great sanctifications of
Hashem's Name. In both cases you have Jews behaving as Jews
should; according to Torah law. At times, gentiles may appreciate
and acknowledge such behaviour. Other times, conducting oneself
according to the Torah may make one the subject of derision and
ridicule. Woe is to us if we make the degree of appreciation of secular
society our yardstick by which we measure Kiddush Hashem. Is it a
Kiddush Hashem if a frum Jew's dubious knowledge of rock music
garners him the respect and admiration of the person sitting next to
him on the plane ("Wow - you dress like that, any you know rock
music?! Cool.") - or is it a Chillul Hashem? Should we hope or expect
that secular society recognize and appreciate why rock music and its
culture might not be an appropriate interest for a Torah-observant
Jew? No doubt, at times they look upon us as foolish, closed-minded,
dogmatic, extreme, and totally un-cool. Since when should that make
Environmentalists take issue with our large families, humanitarians
have problems with the "barbaric" mitzvah of bris milah, and
feminists are offended by our "maltreatment" and "oppression" of
women. What can we do? It is not our responsibility to become
Torah-apologists, and certainly not, G-d forbid, to modify or dilute
our beliefs and practices so that they conform with the "truths" of
modern society. When the opportunity presents itself, it is definitely
a Kiddush Hashem to let the nations of the world perceive a small
taste of the Torah's beauty. But we musn't limit and restrict Kiddush
Hashem to these isolated circumstances. Make a berachah (blessing)
with kavannah (proper intent and concentration), even when you're
alone, and you've just performed a tremendous Kiddush Hashem!
The Ner Ma'aravi teaches us that our focus in life, both individually
and communally, should be to keep the candle of the Torah burning
bright from within. Ultimately, the Torah's light penetrates all barriers,
and bears witness to the world that Hashem rests among Israel.
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication has been sponsored by the
Fenig family, in memory of R' David Yisasschar ben
Menachem Dov Winover z"l.
This week's class is dedicated by Yaacov Simon in memory of Eliezar Elyahu
ben Reb Nachum (Al Glockner).
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.