I’m Not Your Etrog
“Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the Kohen…” (25:10)
A few weeks ago, on Shabbat afternoon, I was asked to speak to group of young boys and girls who were about to go into the IDF. To better prepare them for their leadership roles, they join what are known as mechinot k’dam tzva’i. Part of their preparation is to come into contact with sectors of Israeli society that they would not normally meet. This particular Shabbat they were being hosted by haredi families in our area. They were all intelligent and articulate — the crème de la crème of Israeli secular society — and for the most part they had never had an in-depth encounter with someone haredi. I emphasized to them that as Jew I have an obligation to love and respect every Jew as my brother, and that haredim care and love their secular neighbors, even though this may not be immediately apparent. The gulf between the two worlds is not easy to bridge, but that afternoon I felt I made some headway.
Towards the end of my presentation, one of the girls accused me of not being a typical haredi. “I’m not sure what a typical haredi is,” I said to her, but I assured here that if there was one, I was close to it. “You don’t seem judgmental to me,” she said. “At lunch, my hostess made me feel like “an empty wagon.”
I’m not sure if she realized it, but this was precisely the argument that the Chazon Ish made to the then-Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, when the PM went to Bnei Brak to try to reach a compromise about yeshiva students and army service. Ben Gurion asked the Chazon Ish how the two communities could find a way to live together, and the Chazon Ish responded by quoting from the Gemara in Sanhedrin: “If two wagons meet each other while on the ascent to Bet Horon… How then should they act? If one is laden and the other is unladen, the latter should give way to the former.” The Chazon Ish said that the haredi community is like a wagon laden with the tradition and customs of centuries, while the secular community is unladen.
Sometimes in our sincere desire to bring our Jewish brothers and sisters close to Jewish tradition, we can come off as condescending — “You poor benighted creature, how lucky you are to have found yourself at a haredi Shabbat table where we will disabuse you of all your apikorsut and ignorance.”
In this week’s portion of the Torah, Pinchas “zealously avenges” the honor of Heaven.
Not every one of us is a Pinchas. The ways of the Torah are the ways of peace, and without genuine respect there can be no peace.
No real relationship can start with an agenda. However intense my desire to bring those who are far away close to the Shechina, if I treat my fellow Jew as an Etrog I will end up with a lemon.