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Parsha Mitzvot: Ki Teitzei: Mitzvah 533 – Concept 549

The entire Yeshiva was summoned to an emergency “Asifah,” or, gathering. A famous Rabbi had publicly spoken in a demeaning manner of Rav Shach zt”l. I listened to a tape of my father’s speech and heard him speak with more passion than ever before. My great-aunt, Rebbetzin Judy Neuberger a”h told me that. “the walls of the Yeshiva were shaking as your father spoke.”

I asked my father why he felt it was necessary to interrupt the learning of almost a thousand people for this gathering. “Why did you not wait until your next talk to the Yeshiva?”

“There are times when a person must make a statement. The Yeshiva had to make a statement to all its students, to the community, and the world, that we cannot survive if we allow someone to speak in such a manner of our greatest leader. We cannot survive if we are not willing to fight for the honor of Torah!”

I often wonder when is the proper time to make a statement, and how strong a statement it should be. It is far easier to dismiss something as meaningless than to take a public stand. When an orthodox rabbi speaks of the “Kiddush Hashem” of a Jew marrying the daughter of a former president, part of me wants to make a public statement and part of me wants to dismiss his comments as meaningless.

I was sitting in a synagogue listening to a rabbi deliver a lecture on the laws of Shabbat and found that not only did I disagree with absolutely everything he said, I found his approach dangerous. I was sure that his words would have a deleterious effect on his audience. A part of me wanted to stand up and publicly argue with his approach. Part of me wanted to walk out to make my statement. And part of me felt that a public approach would detract from my message. I am ashamed to admit that I remained silent.

“If a man shall have committed a sin whose judgment is death, he shall be put to death, and you shall hang him on a gallows.” (Deuteronomy 21:22) The body of a person executed by stoning for idolatry or blasphemy must be hung. “And all Israel shall hear and they shall fear.” (Verse 21) There are times when we must make a statement. The practice was to hang the corpse just before sunset, and immediately take it down for burial.

What kind of statement is it when we hang the corpse just to take it down?

We are making the statement to ourselves. Certain things will not stand!

On my first day as a pulpit rabbi, the president of the congregation wanted to sit down with me and give me the lowdown on each member of the congregation. I expected to hear about their families and basic information. He wanted to share his thoughts about each member. “I can’t do this,” I said, “it is Lishon Harah.”

“Rabbi, you’re young. You need this information. This is one time that politics demands that you ignore the law. Besides, it’s for the benefit of the congregation.”
“I won’t do it,” I said. I had to make a statement to myself, right then, at the beginning of my carreer that I would not violate the laws of Lishon Harah in order to succeed as a pulpit rabbi. There were numerous times over the next twenty years that I failed, but the statement left its mark.

Elul is a time to make statements to ourselves. When we are extra careful with different laws during this time, we are not pretending to be more righteous than we are; we are making a statement to ourselves of what is important to us. The statements leave an impact that lasts beyond Elul and the Days of Awe that follow.

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