Personal thoughts on current events, cultural events, Israel, Judaism, Jewish/Israel innovations and life from a Jewish perspective - read into that what you may.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Principle of Pikuach Nefesh - Interview with Rabbi Moshe Tendler on the situation in Israel

Even before the government voted to destroy the communities of the Gaza Region, most people were feeling helpless - clueless about how they could personally help change the terrible decree facing the Jewish people. As the Jerusalem protest tent was folding last month, Voices Editor (moi) and Publisher had the opportunity to chat with the respected Yeshiva University rosh yeshiva and Jewish leader Rabbi Moshe David Tendler, shlita. Here are some excerpts of our talk:

Many years ago, a talmid of mine married and lived on a kibbutz. After nine years of married life, which included visits to the biggest fertility specialists in Israel, G-d did not strengthen with them with children.
He was appointed as a shaliach to America, where the couple consulted with experts in fertility management. None of the doctors they met had the key that the Ribono Shel Olam keeps in His pocket. After almost two years, and no children, they prepared to return to Eretz Yisrael. He asked me if he could see my father-in-law [the great sage of the previous generation HaRav Moshe Feinstein] ztz'l. Like a good Litvak, my father-in-law said to him, 'Did you try everything? The best in Israel? The best in America? You gave up? There's nothing else? Well, now the Ribono Shel Olam will help.' As long as you think you have a better idea, one that the Ribono Shel Olam didn't think of, He waits until you finish. Once you make up your mind that there's nothing to do, then you come to the conclusion, ‘Ein lanu al mi le'hisha'en elah al Aveinu She'BaShamayim.’ (We have no one to rely on, except our Father in Heaven.)
On the way home, they took a side trip to France and to Italy, and by the time they landed home in Israel, she was expecting. They have nine children today, bli ayin hara.
I use this story for myself and for others. The trick is to give up. We haven't given up enough.
Surely, we have to do everything. Lemaan yevarechecha H' Elokecha bechol ma'asecha asher ta'aseh... (So that Hashem will bless you in everything you do. If you do, Hashem will bless you, and if you don't, He won't bless you.)
So you did everything you could possibly do, and you have to have confidence that it will work out fine. The question is, 'Did we do all we could possibly do?' That's the whole shayala (question). Give up when there are some obvious important things to do yet, and then HaKadosh Baruch Hu is not yet involved.
Did we do everything possible? I think there is more to do:
We must contact the American money men, who support Sharon and the city of Jerusalem. Money talks and money men talk. They should be told that we cannot have confidence in Sharon when military men, Shabak and the secret service all say we're increasing the danger to the lives of Israelis with this act [the Sharon Plan]."
We must get the cooperation of the OU (Orthodox Union), the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) and the Young Israel to organize a march on Washington with very simple signs, 'Bush, would you let this happen in America?' 'Bush, where is your biblical integrity?' We must bring out 50,000 people, as we did for the march on Washington a few years ago. If we do, I am convinced that the Senate will become stronger in its support of Israel.
Pikuach Nefesh
"There's a klal gadol baTorah. In the gemora, sometimes discussions or controversies end up with the word teiku. What's teiku? Tishbi yetaretz kushiyot ubaayot (Eliyahu HaTishbi will answer the questions we have when he comes).
But in halacha, there's no such thing as no answer. When there's no specific answer in halacha for this case, you fall back on principles. Safeik de'oreita le chumra. Safeik derabanan lekulah. (If you have something you're not sure of, if it's from the Torah, you take the stringent approach. If the question is from the rabbis, you take the more lenient option.)
There's no specific answer to the problems facing Am Yisrael today. There's no quick answer to the Kassam rockets. But we have a base halacha which says, when in doubt, pasken the halacha as it is written. And what's written, Pikuach nefesh is docheh kol mitzvah she baTorah. (Where there's a life at stake, you can transgress the mitzvoth in the Torah [note: except three]). Therefore, analyze the situation.
Am I endangering the life of a Jew by the 'disengagement'? Am I improving their security by doing that? That will be my decision. Pikuach nefesh is docheh kol mitzvah she baTorah. So I ask myself a question, 'Is pikuach nefesh involved here?' The generals say it is. The Shabak says it is. The rabbanim in the hitnachluyot say it is. The people are yelling, 'You're killing me.' So, the 'disengagement' is forbidden.
Not because of ahavat haaretz (love of the land), Eretz Shelaimah (wholeness of the land). That confuses the situation. It causes the opposition to demean the machloket (disagreement) into whether we want more territory or less territory. That's not the issue. We want our children not to be killed. Period.
On the big issue of what's good for the Jews or bad for the Jews, we've reached an impasse - teiku. When you have a teiku, you go back to principles. The key principle here is pikuach nefesh.
That's the big error that's being made now in this whole battle. They [the organizations fighting the dismantling of Gush Katif] are putting too much Zionism into the picture. When in doubt, go with the halacha.
And the halacha says clearly, 'This act is endangering the life of Jews.' Oslo was isur me'doreita (forbidden from the Torah) for one reason - not because you felt it was going to fail, but because the signing of Oslo and the reincarnation of Arafat that followed, led to more Jews being killed.
That was foreseen by the little rabbanim in the hitnachlayut (Yesha communities). It wasn't seen by the big rabbanim who had trouble deciding whether they do or do not vote with the government. A shayala was asked, ‘Is Oslo good for the Jews or bad for the Jews al pi halacha?’ They didn't know, so they decided to support the government. That wasn't the issue. If they didn't know, they should have gone back to principles. The first principle, 'pikuach nefesh.'
The Infinite Jew
What do the proponents say? Will [disengagement] increase or decrease security? ' will decrease security now. But in the future, it will be good.' There's no such halacha that you kill somebody now because in the future you'll save more lives. That's against the halacha. We don't have that concept of sacrificing a few Jews so you can save a lot more Jews, because to wax mathematical and poetic, a Jew is of infinite worth, and ten infinities are no more than one infinity. Infinity is infinity.
What should regular people do?
Push this one point. Don't talk about anything else.
Don't talk about how much effort [people of Gush Katif] put into building their hot houses, and what a terrible thing it is to uproot someone, or that it is reminiscent of the Shoah. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about one simple thing, 'You're killing our children.' Period. Not here. Not in Gush Katif. You're killing our children in Tel Aviv.
The Kassam rockets are getting better. Israel is so small. Add a few more grains of powder to a kassam rocket. If you're not interested in accuracy, and just want blind terror, it will hit Tel Aviv also. If it hits Tel Aviv, then you'll get a reaction.
If the first rocket landed in Tel Aviv, they would have wiped out swaths of enemy territory in order to prevent it.
Endangering Ourselves
I have big investments in Eretz Yisrael - 43 grandchildren and great-grandchildren living here, bli ayin hara. So I'm not exactly an outsider. It cannot be that while I was not looking Israel became a fascist dictatorship country with one man calling all the shots.
The fact that Sharon is so resistant to a Misha’al Am (referendum), indicates that he knows he is not presenting a popular plan. If he could have a mandate and a decent majority voting with him, he'd have it his way.
We are surrounded by enemies. They're killing our children. Which nation has ever suffered this thing of arbitrary missiles - 'I'll just send out a missile and see whom I can kill' - and it doesn't lead to a declaration of war!
It boils down to: we have to do what we have to do. And no one's asking me.
[Speaking after the deadly Kassam missiles hit Sderot, Rav Tendler said] Right now, Sharon doesn't understand that he can do whatever he pleases against the Arab terrorists with full support of the people of America. Bush will yell that it wasn't a measured response, and so on. But the majority of Americans today, as anti-Semitic as they are, are pro-Israel, because they hate the Arabs more. It's not from Ahavat Mordechai, but from Sinat Haman.
If I were Sharon, I'd make an announcement on the radio today, 'If one more Kassam rocket lands, this geographic area consisting of ten blocks will be destroyed in the morning by bombers. You have 24 hours to take your belongings and leave. Next Kassam rocket, 20 blocks get destroyed. Next, 30 blocks get destroyed.' They'll stop.
This is like what Yehoshua did when he came into Eretz Yisrael. 'I will leave you an escape hatch, and you can go out.'
The halacha is clear. Pekuach nefesh must be the motivating factor."

Article published in the February Issue of Voices Magazine

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