I posted earlier that I would write next about "darcha acharita", avoiding temptation, and more on the societal price of mehadrin products and services, but I got sidetracked.
Last night, as I read one of the parsha leaflets, Maayanei HeYeshua, widely considered to be mainstream in the Dati Leumi camp (kinda scary), I came across an article on R. Noach Weinberg, founder of Aish HaTorah, who recently passed away.
R. Noach was a great man. It is both due to his institution and despite that institution that I became frum. But that's a long story.
Anyway, the article, presumably written by a student and/or follower, said the following. "R. Noach warned us that if you don't know what you are prepared to die for, it's a sign that you don't know what you are living for."
And as I read this, I thought to myself, "Well, this is ironic".
You see, R. Noach developed a well-known course on the "48 Ways to Wisdom" based on the Mishna, Avot 6:6, which lists bringing a quote in the name of whoever said it as one of the 48 ways that Torah is acquired. In fact, the mishna continues to teach us that one who brings a quote in the name of whoever said it brings redemption to the world.
So, where's the irony?
The gent who first taught this principle … of knowing what you'd be prepared to die for … was none other than … Martin Luther King, Jr. His exact words were, " I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live".
I admit, MLK may have not have invented the saying, but he certainly is the one who made it famous. And I'm fairly certain he didn't hear it from R. Noach, who came onto the scene after MLK was assassinated (1968).
Now, I don't know who dropped the attribution to MLK, whether R. Noach himself or his disciple, but whatever the case may be, I suspect that xenophobia may have played a role in R. Noach's becoming the creator of this saying in the eyes of many.
You see, MLK was … ummmm … not Jewish. Heaven forefend we should learn such an important value from a non-Jew. And even worse … he wasn't just a non-Jew. He was … gasp … BLACK (or African American, but I think back then it was black). Help! I'm fainting!!
I mean really … I just don't get it. Ben Zoma says in Pirkei Avot, "who is wise … one who learns from every wo/man".
There are, indeed, lots of things we can learn from non-Jews. And Ben Zoma knew that and encouraged it.
Which reminded me of a shiur I once heard back in the mid-80s. In that shiur, the Rabbi of the shul I attended said, based on the one of the commentators to Avot 3:14 (I can't remember who it was … let's call him Ploni), that non-Jews are not in the category of "created in the image of God".
Now, some of the more reasonable folks in the shiur squirmed in their chairs. And how did the Rabbi react? "I didn't invent this! Here it is, in black and white. We can't disagree with Ploni as we don't reach his toe in Torah".
Just one slight problem, the Tiferet Yisrael and just about everyone else and his mother disagree with Ploni and write explicitly the obvious … all humankind is included in the category of "created in the image of God". In fact, R. Barcuh HaLevi Epstein writes in his commentary on that mishna that R. Akiva's principle of "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" applies to non-Jews as well.
But alas, this Rabbi had a hat, and suit … and even a tie … and learned for years in some great yeshiva or other, and … the congregation was not the most solidly grounded in Torah scholarship, so … a whole bunch of people went home from shiur feeling just a bit xenophobic.
Of course, I took the shiur with a grain of salt given that I had previously heard same Rabbi, in answering a she'eila on borer, explain the difference between ikar and tafel. Bong! Wrong answer. Ikar and tafel are concepts in Hilkhot brachot; ochel and psolet would have been the distinction to make.
So much for hats, suits, ties and years of learning in some great yeshiva or other.
And this dude is currently the director of the Vaad HaRabbanim of a major Orthodox community in the US. Kinda scary.
Stay tuned for more on darcha achrita and mehadrin.