In the Tent of Meeting… Aaron and his sons shall prepare [the Menorah] from the evening until the morning before Hashem. (27:21)
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 donors.
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 Israel?
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 a difference?
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).