I would like to read several paragraphs from an undated letter by the Chofetz Chaim. It is difficult to know what the historical context was, but it is obvious from this letter that the Chofetz Chaim is terribly pained about something. This letter is found in the sefer Chizuk HaDas, which is one of the Chofetz Chaim’s sefarim. It is Letter #31 in that collection. Although this is written well over a hundred years ago, the subject matter is, unfortunately, very contemporary for a variety of reasons.
Therefore, I wish to publicly express my terrible pain about this issue. Maybe there will be found people who will take this matter to heart and my effort will not have been in vain. I am greatly pained that argumentation has proliferated amongst the Jewish people. Jews, Talmidei Chachomim, are fighting with one another. Every day, there are new factions, and factions of factions, that emerge to contest with one another. All of this is done publicly.
They print articles; they print “Kol Korei” proclamations, each backing up their particular points of view. They spread these articles and pamphlets and posters to every corner. This person gathers signatures to support his position, and this person gathers signatures to support his position. Each side heaps scorn on the other side of the dispute, back and forth. The result of all this is that the entire exile has become one huge bonfire, lit up with the fire of dispute. Not a single day passes where such publications do not reach my hand, bashing one side or the other—papers and publications each heaping scorn and shame on the opposing position.
This greatly pains me that also in our Holy Land, these actions of the Satan have been successful. It, too, has fallen into the trap of Machlokes. Each side feels that they have the truth with them and that it is only the opposing camp which is causing the Machlokes. Each side feels they are totally righteous, and will not in any way be punished for causing such Machlokes. This is a great mistake. Every Machlokes, even one which starts out for the Sake of Heaven, is vulnerable to having the human element (“I need to win”) take over. This is the inevitable nature of Machlokes.
Everyone knows the story of what happened to Rabbi Akiva, who had 24,000 students. There was at the time a great plague, may the Merciful One save us from such. All 24,000 students died, and the world was desolate, from lack of Torah.
Why were they deserving of death? Was it merely because they did not treat one another respectfully? Was it because they yelled at each other? Was it because they insulted each other? All that would be terrible, but they are not capital offenses. All these actions merely involve prohibition of Ona’as Devorim (hurtful words) [Vaykira 25:17]. It is a negative prohibition, but not one deserving of the death penalty at the Hand of Heaven.
So why then did the Talmidim of Rabbi Akiva die? Why did 24,000 of his students fall for not treating one another with respect? It can only be because their actions created a great Desecration of G-d’s Name in the world. When Talmidei Chachomim argue with one another, it is a tremendous Chilul Hashem, for it besmirches the reputation of Torah in the eyes of the entire world. The aveyra of Chilul Hashem is indeed punishable by Death at the Hand of Heaven.
About this I say, “How can we not be in fright from the example of these ‘Cedars of Lebanon’ who met such a fate for the sin of the Chilul Hashem their disrespectful behavior caused.”
People of a certain stature need to be afraid, not only of Machlokes, which is an issur, and not only of Lashon HaRah, which is an issur – but they need to be afraid of something that is far greater than either of those two prohibitions, and that is Chilul HaShem. For the aveyra of Desecrating the Name of Hashem, we know, unfortunately, that the punishment is very great.
Why am I speaking about this now?
This is our first meeting during the days of Sefiras Ha’Omer. The Chofetz Chaim is writing a frightening Chiddush, and this is something we need to ponder, particularly during this time of Sefira. We need to strive to make a Kiddush HaShem and avoid Chilul Hashem at all costs.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Achrei Mos is provided below:
008 – Lifnei Ivair (Accessory to an Aveira)
052 – Prohibition Against Revenge
095 – The Mezonos Roll: Does it Exist?
143 – Inviting the Non-0bservant to Your Shabbos Table
190 – The Prohibition of Negiah
236 – The Do’s & Don’ts of Giving Tochacha
280 – “Lo Sa’amod Al Dam Re’echa”
326 – Mipnei Seiva Takum: Honoring the Elderly
370 – Desserts – Do They Require a Bracha?
414 – Giving An Injection to One’s Father
458 – Giving Tochacha: Private or Public
502 – Kisui Hadam
546 – Treating Mitzvos With Respect
590 – Sofaik Be’racha
634 – The Prohibitin of Hating Another Jew
678 – Tochacha – Is Ignorance Bliss?
722 – Stealling As a Practical Joke
766 – Making Shidduchim Among Non-Observant
810 – The Prohibition of Hating Another Jew
854 – Tattoos – Totally Taboo?
898 – Paying the Plumber and Babysitter
943 – Oy! They Shaved Off My Peyos
985 – Giving the Benefit of the Doubt – Always?
1029 – Should You Eat Bread In Order To Perform the Mitzva of Benthcing?
1074 – Paying for Someone’s Expensive Medical Treatment – Am I Obligated?
1116 – Eating Before Davening
1158 – “I Don’t Want You Spending Time With So-and-So”- Must a Son/Daughter Listen to the Parent?
1247 – The Kiruv Workers Dilemma: Inviting Non Shomer Shabbos for a Shabbos Meal
1289 – Performing Mitzvos During the Holocaust
1378 – Standing Up for One’s Parents – Why Don’t Most People Practice This Mitzvah?
1421 – A Capella Music During Sefira-Is There a Problem ?
1466 – Wearing Gloves While Performing a Mitzvah Is There a Problem?
1509 – Does the Mitzva of Tochacha Apply In Our Day?
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.