Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rav Ovadia's Passing - What is a Tzaddik?

Baruch Dayan Ha-emet.

I was zoche to be part of the Rav's levaya last night, even to touch the van for a minute or so, and it was truly amazing to see Yerushalayim in such a state. Walking from Ramot, I saw the Golda Meir turned into a virtual 2-3 lane parking lot as the masses (of up to one million according to several reports) made their way to say good bye to Maran. Tzomet Bar Illan was a complete ocean of kippot and hats. Looking back on it I think of big funerals for state leaders with all their pomp. There were no fancy vehicles here, no soldiers in full regalia and a ceremonial firing of their rifles. The pomp was simply the throngs of people who loved the Rav... from talmidei chachamim on down to every day shop keepers pushing in for their chance to accompany him one last time.

Many thanks to my wife for giving me a heads up to this link from the Daily Mail with some very beautiful pictures from the levaya and around Yerushalayim (be careful viewing as several of the rotating links at the bottom of the page have some fairly untznius pictures). Yet as beautiful as some of the images captured are, the talkbacks are just powerfully ugly. The more benign amongst them responded to the grieving quotes of, "Who will lead us now?" with comments such as, "Why don't you think for yourselves?" The more blunt ones personally attached the Rav with names such as "bigot" "medieval extremist" and numerous others I'm too sickened to even post here.

My wife and I were discussing the incredible difference between Am Yisrael and these talkbackers. They honest to goodness have no inkling whatsoever of the concept of a tzaddik. Beyond the esoteric connotations the Torah ascribes to the term tzaddik, they simply put can not understand the concept of a holy person. They laud being an individual and thinking for one's self, assuming such ideals preclude acknowledging the superior knowledge of one more learned and experienced. When most people are G-d forbid ill, they have no problem seeking the advice of top medical professionals. And nobody has a problem getting on a metal tube with wings and being shot through the air like a rocket thousands of miles simply because the airplane pilot or some engineer at Boeing assured them that according to physics it was perfectly safe and reliable. And there is nothing wrong with these things - because lacking the ability be become an expert in all walks of life, it is only common sense that for most things a person will trust acknowledged experts in a given field. So if it's common sense for all other areas of life, why wouldn't it be common sense for the realm of religion as well? If one seeks advice and guidance for the passing issues of this physical world, shouldn't it be all the more important to seek it for spiritual matters of the eternal world? Perhaps one could counter that it's not possible to differentiate between those who really posses the truth and mere charlatans. However the Jewish people proved themselves quite able distinguish one of those types pretty well about 2,000 years ago - a fact several of the talkbackers explicitly still harbor sore feelings over.

As far as those who outright insulted and attacked Rav Ovadia as well as the hundreds of thousands who saw fit to honor him, it seems their problem isn't with him as much as with G-d Himself. In this very week's parsha, when Lot separates from Avram Rashi comments that he said to himself, "I don't want anything to do with either Avram OR his G-d!" One might have thought they simply had a difference of opinion/lifestyle, yet it was specifically G-d and Avram's association with Him that drove Lot away. Lot made the same mistake that is all too prevalent in this day and age of divorcing morality from G-d. He admittedly wasn't interested in being religious, but he reasoned that his own intellect and desire to be a good person would prevent him from leading an evil lifestyle. Though his shepherds committed outright theft by letting the flocks graze on private fields they reasoned that he was one day destined to have possession of those fields anyway so what does it matter in the grand scheme of things of they just use them now? Though he chose to live with the wicked residents of Sodom, he thought nothing of it as by comparison to actual evil people he "wasn't that bad." Indeed, compared to his neighbors who went around committing homosexual gang rape he was such a good guy that they appointed him chief justice of the city. Yet just as his intellectual based system of morality (instead of a G-d based one) allowed him to rationalize away theft, it eventually progressed until he reached the depths of filth. As Rashi elucidates, upon waking up from a drunken stupor and realizing he had slept with his own daughter the night before, he allowed himself to get just as drunk the following night and sleep with his other daughter. Of course anyone with a shred of decency would be disgusted by the thought of sleeping with their own child and certainly Lot was no exception. Yet if he were to make himself drunk to a point of being beyond full control of his mental faculties, he would be able to allow himself the perverted pleasure without the accompanying guilt trip. I'm sure he told himself that, after all, he was too drunk to know the difference so who could blame him? Yet he knew very well what he was doing an purposefully allowed himself to get that intoxicated solely so he wouldn't have to feel as bad about it after the deed.

Without fail rationalizations will be abound with somebody who feels they can achieve morality without G-d. Any wrongdoing is simply brushed aside with answers such as, "that's not really a big deal - don't be so extreme!" "times have changed" or, "I'm only human what can you expect?" However without a higher power holding one accountable to an objective standard, a person's own subjective morality will allow room to rationalize away the most despicable acts as soon as their base desires get the best of them. The bottom line is that some folks just don't want to do what G-d asks of them in life, so they convince themselves that He is either, G-d forbid, not there or is but decided to create this whole awesome universe with all it's wonders and then suddenly lost interest and could no longer care less what happens to its inhabitants. Yet while they may desire to conveniently paint G-d out of the picture something throws a monkey wrench into their operation. That is the tzaddikim - who make it their sole purpose in life to attach themselves to G-d and bring awareness of Him and adherence to His will about in this world. The true reason that people hate the tzaddikim is that they remind them of a G-d they wish wasn't there and force them to acknowledge a Creator they wish they could forget.

I've seen the effects of the ravages brought upon a wholesome and unassuming Sefardi population when they were brought into the welcoming arms of a deceitful Eastern European socialist utopia hell-bent on ripping away every shred of their Torah and their heritage. To those unfamiliar with this part of history which still has reaching effects in Israeli society today, it's hard to appreciate what a revolution Rav Ovadia brought about in this country. One of my gemara rebbe's who, while Ashkenazi, was an ardent admirer of the Rav put it quite simply - "He made it chashuv to be Sefardi." Besides the obvious levels of greatness in Torah which he achieved - levels which practically nobody left in this generation can match and which basically nobody could hope to replace, he also achieved greatness in his love of his brothers. Like we await Mashiach to do to the entire Jewish nation, he took a downtrodden and shamed people and spent his life helping restore in them a reason for pride and self worth. Those who would choose to ridicule such a man wouldn't recognize a holy person if he spit in their face. Nay, they themselves are truly spitting in the face of G-d who sent us such a special individual.

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