| Voice in the Crowd |

Impact Accelerator

Against my usual practice, I want to share my personal reaction and feelings after reading those letters attacking my piece



Once, on Erev Yom Kippur, someone I did not know called to ask me for mechilah, explaining that, in a letter criticizing an article, he had referred to me as painfully ignorant.

I told him — and I meant it, a Yid doesn’t lie on Erev Yom Kippur — that those kinds of barbs come with the territory. You hope that your writing moves people enough to feel, and while you’d like the feeling to be happiness or pride, sometimes it might be displeasure or frustration.

For that reason, I have never objected to any letter being printed about me, no matter how harsh or critical.

I don’t write about halachah, or, l’havdil, offer recipes or home-renovation advice. In those cases, the writer could be wrong, because the details are absolute, black and white. When it comes to opinion pieces, though, it’s different — it could be a good take or bad take, you can agree or disagree, but it’s hard to say the writer is wrong.

I do, of course, read the letters, and often, they make me wish I had worded something differently, expressed an idea in a clearer way, or chosen a different example to make a point. Still, I have never responded in print. Since it was always a matter of opinion, all I would do by responding is prolong the argument and invite more letters that wouldn’t convince anyone or change any minds.

The strong response to my most recent column — about appreciating yeshivah bochurim especially at a time when we are showing such appreciation to the soldiers — left me with a weird feeling.

I’d like to quote the lines in the piece that drew the most ire.

Dovid Hamelech dispatched soldiers to war, and no doubt, those soldiers were appreciated and acknowledged. He did not just wish them well and make sure they had food — he also ensured that they would be victorious by filling the gates of Yerushalayim with those who toil in Torah, creating a source of merit and protection.

If the soldiers, with their valor and dedication, have captured your heart and you are baking, folding, arranging, or swiping, then take one moment to contemplate the source of their strength and go all the way.

On Isru Chag, thousands of bochurim and yungeleit were back at their posts, understanding just how vital their mission is now. American and European bochurim who’d traveled home for Yom Tov were suddenly stranded, uncertain how to proceed. Then, these young men squared their shoulders, hugged their parents goodbye, and boarded flights back to the place they feel is best for their learning.

If you have acknowledged the soldiers — and who hasn’t? — make sure that you are at least as appreciative of the ones giving them the energy and strength, bringing blessing, protection, goodness, and light to the world (See Nefesh HaChaim 4).

I don’t think that there is anything here that qualifies as opinion. I would think that every reader of Mishpacha agrees that Torah protects and shelters, and that the zechuyos created by those who toil in Torah and tefillah are vital to the warriors in the field.

Still, I wasn’t going to go back there.

But then I got a call from a choshuve rav, a distinguished posek and mechaber seforim. He told me that his wife had read him the letters about the piece, and he felt that I had a responsibility to defend its premise. I did not have much cheishek to do this again, but he made it clear that he felt it important to clarify the idea.

He compared it to a general who comments that wars are won by artillery.

“How can you say that?” someone asks. “Being in the infantry involves more sacrifice, since the foot soldiers actually face the enemy.”

“Who is talking about sacrifice?” asks the general. “I am discussing impact. The artillery is what allows the infantry to do their part.”

Against my usual practice, I want to share my personal reaction and feelings after reading those letters attacking my piece.

First of all, I don’t need anyone to preach to me about ahavas Yisrael or feeling pain of other Jews. I am one small person in a small town, but, like most Jews these days, my schedule and life has been altered over the last few months to allow for as much tefillah and other zechus-generating activity as possible.

I am sure the letter writers have their way of showing distress, but it doesn’t have to be mine. Suggesting that “maybe I visit a shivah house or watch a levayah” is offensive not to me, but to the idea that ours is a nation of rachmanim. Have we become a society where emotion at what is a very, very rough situation has made it okay to label as “insensitive” those who express their concern differently than you do?

Dovid Hamelech, as I referenced, created a holy partnership between those in the beis medrash and those on the front: The ensuing victories were powered by those learning and executed by those on the battlefield. His chiddush, perhaps, was not that Torah is magna u’matzla, but that these are not two divisions, but one — two elements of the same dynamic. It’s one team, as I wrote.

Soldiers fighting for us at a time of war generate an instinctive sense of gratitude; that we should feel that same love and appreciation for the ones fueling them isn’t an idea I will ever apologize for.

Of course I understand that a soldier leaving his pregnant wife without either of them knowing what the future holds is sacrificing more than a bochur in the comfort of yeshivah, with a warm bed and three meals a day. I was never writing about sacrifice, but about impact.

The imagery of the bochur “squaring his shoulders and boarding the plane” was meant to emphasize that since right now the job of our bochurim is to learn like never before, they all went back to the places in which they learn best. It was not a comparison to the soldiers’ sacrifice, but to their sense of mission. I understand that for people who did not read the whole piece, that line alone might have led them to draw a conclusion that hurt.

Dovid Hamelech showed us that, with respect and real acknowledgment, there is one unit. This miraculous entity is called Klal Yisrael, His nation.

Our nation. Our family. The greatest nation the world has ever known.

That’s my letter. Thank you for printing it.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 990)

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