"The leaders of today are not what they once were." complained an old man who was in the kibbutz movement during his youth. "There were once idealists, there was a goal". Once people drained swamps here, and died with diseases of fever, and malaria, they worked eighteen hours a day, and in the remaining time danced the hora to the sound of the accordion. Today the only thing that interests their grandchildren is their pension benefits. This is a State?! ". The old man concluded his bitter speech with a question.
The oppression had already become ordinary and acceptable to all long ago in the region, and the bitterness kept nudging the Jewish state. The leaders of the public featured in ridiculous entertainment programs, the government officials were convicted with acts of corruption. Expressions like "it is unthinkable that…." are extinct long ago from the public discourse, since it turns out that not only have they come to mind, but have actually come into action.
There is no doubt that the support of the Israeli legislators' continuation of this occurrence is consequential and also raises the proportion of the population, and yet we cannot impose the guilt only on them since we find the aftermath even in distant regions, a far distance from the political swamp. Here, just a short time ago as we waited together at the beginning of the prayer of Maariv, a friend spoke to me in a similar tone. "Once- Torah Scholars were Torah Scholars. Once kids would finish the Shas at age thirteen! Just picture your son finishing Shas in honor of his Bar Mitzvah. Once- "time" was "time", learning was learning, prayer was prayer… Oops, excuse me a moment- I have a phone call…"
WE ARE GOOD
What can I say? When I hear such sentences, I become weak in mind. Is there no truth to these things? Is it incorrect? Today, for the price of the current President's tie, you can renew the entire wardrobe of David Ben Gurion with hockey shorts for the rest of his life, not only for Shabbat but for weekday too…
However along with this, I feel a need to defend the ones of "Today's Day", and claim their insult. Yes, its true- times have changed. The spirits have weakened and have indulged. Anyone can agree that the perseverance of Talmudic study of those in the past, have turned into individuals in our days- if at all. The Spiritual work and connection of the innocent commoners of past generations can be expressed with admiration for those who serve G-d in our days. I do not think any of my readers will disagree with these basic facts, and if he disagrees, better he had look a bit into the History of our nation.
And yet, although I agreed with these determinations I disagree with the conclusion derived from them. Ask who am I to decide? Since I am "dust and ashes", however I'm dependent on a much higher authority which reaches the Heavens.
As I was sitting and waiting to hear the beginning of the weekly Mussar Speech from Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Plaey Ztz"l, the Rabbi smiled at me for attending ahead of time, and gave me an unforgettable Spiritual gift, and said: "You know? So many things have changed since I was a boy till today, a totally different world. The transportation, health, technology, everything… everything changed". Suddenly his face became serious and he said: "Everything changed in the world besides for one thing- the person's Spirit. The same person, the same inclinations, the same goals, the same desires. Everything changed!" concluded the Rabbi-"Besides for the person".
Take heart my friends, good news for you. We are not less than the past generations. Our leaders are not weaker than the past leaders. The Learners are not less talented, and our Spiritual abilities have not dimmed. The person has not changed. The only thing that has changed is our readiness to pay the "price" that is needed in order to achieve Spiritual value.
OF CARDS THE JEWISH DECK
The survival of the Jewish nation in the jungle of nations is a Historic wonder. There is no point to look for explanations of that in the academy hall for the simplest reason- if our existence depended on demographic- historic- social- or security laws- gentiles would be talking about us today in the past tense. This remarkable survival happens with two cards of which the Jewish nation carries close to the national heart. On one is written-Truth. On the second-price.
Truth- In order to protect its national unity, every united nation needs their moral values to be true, unique, and clear. It must be clear and right in the eyes of its subjects. An obscure code that is doubtful will loosen the national unity, and weaken the nation, and within time will bring to extinction upon their stage of history.
Price- Naturally the code of moral values will limit the humans' wills and desires. It does not allow the human to be liberated to his impulses, and sets usage rules of the inclinations for the individual and nation. It decides the "How", the "When", and "How much", and binds the morals of a human's character in various levels- of thought, speech, and action. In order to maintain unity through the code of moral values we first must check whether members of the nation are ready to pay the price.
The price is the lifeblood of morality. It determines the life expectancy of the national moral code -conditionally upon the amount that the nation is willing to pay for their Spiritual path. A moral code that no one is willing to pay its price has no life. This is the secret of our eternity!
The Jewish nation and the Torah's eternity stems from the clarity of the Jewish truth that did not escape throughout the generations and its nation's readiness to pay the high price that the same truth demands.
The origin of the national- social-religious breakage which plagues us is the crumbling of the card's price. As soon as the Jewish nation refuses to pay the price of their Jewry, they damage their eternal existence. Throughout the generations the Jewish nation was ready to pay the price of their faith as high as the price may be, as long as they would not have to renounce their religion and abandon their ancestors' faith. Apparently in the recent generations there is devaluation in this, and that is our weakness. That is the only difference between us and the past generations. We are not any less capable, or less talented. We are contemplating upon the heavy price that we pay.
THE PRICE OF TRUTH
In Parshas Lech Lecha the Torah points out two figures that were willing to pay the price of Truth. Abraham is one, and Hagar the other.
In the beginning of the Parsha it says: "And G-d says to Abraham Go from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father's home to the land that I will show you". After Abraham was commanded he took his things, his family and left to an unknown land. Behind him he left his good name, his natural surroundings, his ancestors' faith, and his culture. Abraham did not try to compromise his faith between G-d to his natural surroundings. He pays the price of truth and wanders out, a path in which his children will continue.
Further in the Parsha the Torah describes the life of Hagar, the maidservant of Sarai and Abraham. Our Sages tell us that Hagar is the daughter of Pharaoh King of Egypt. Through her admiration towards Abraham and his faith, she abandoned herself from the pleasures of her father's home, and preferred to become a maidservant in the house of Abraham the Father of Faith. She received her reward when Sarai did not have children, and marries to Abraham in order to fulfill that. During her pregnancy she miscarries, and runs away to the desert in order to do her own introspection.
When she is alone, Hagar wonders upon the "price" she is paying equivalent to the "truth".
And so consciously –to leave the pleasures of the Egyptian Kingdom in order to be in Abraham's tent in the desert is not a trifling matter, and by Hagar giving up the pleasures of Egypt, it is not only but to prove that she recognized G-d and the truth, and so why did she run away? Because the "price" increased. Suddenly she realized that to be in the desert tent of Abraham not only must she give up the formalities of the Egyptian Kingdom, but she must also deal with her mistress who is tormenting her. Upon such a price she did not think she would have to pay, and she… gives up and surrenders.
In the desert Hagar meets an Angel who asks her for an explanation upon her escape: "And he says, Hagar the maidservant of Sarai from where have you come and where have you gone, and she said from my mistress Sarai I have run away". Hagar tells the Angel of G-d that the price of sticking to the "truth" is unbearable, and she is thinking of returning to Egypt to the house of her father. The Angel does not agree with her conclusion, and tells her that the truth is worth paying its high price: "And the Angel of G-d said to her- go back to your mistress, and submit thyself under her hands".
Our Sages have taught us "Better is the conversation of the servants of our Fathers than the Torah of their sons". Not for nothing is a description of this in the Torah. It was intended to teach us that the willingness to pay the price for the sake of truth is fundamental to the existence of a nation. From Abraham the Ivri and Hagar the Egyptian we can learn the sublime value of the truth and its price, which is required to pay for those who stick to it.
The same composition of the leaders of the past is no different from the makeup of the leaders of our times. The visible difference between Torah scholars of our generation learners to past generations is no origin of successful or higher quality DNA. The real difference lies in the price which our Forefathers were willing to pay for the truth- in which they placed their trust, and our limited willingness to bear the same price.
THE PRICE OF ABUNDANCE
The generation of abundance is directly threatening the national truth. Abundance causes the skyrocketing of the price which one needs to pay for the truth. Life of comfort and indulgences are the enemies of truth. In a generation where a cell phone transformed into an additional limb in which a person is born with, in the era of which a navigating device assists the intelligent as a guide cane for the blind, in such a time we are required to pay for our way of life a much higher price from the price of which our ancestors have paid, for the same truth. The shallowness is not the result of the decline of the generations, but a result of abundance.
The Spiritual quality of the generation is dependent on these two ingredients: The clarity of truth, and the price that we are willing to pay for it. Is the truth clear? Is it crystal clear? Let us take this rule with us- the bigger our will to pay the price for the truth, the stronger its clarity.
"The person has not changed", my Rabbi had said. The price? Has definitely changed.
Translated By: Tzipora Niazov