Charedi Chief Rabbi David Lau is talking to a Charedi radio station and he’s asked his thoughts on Naftali Bennett’s visit to a Conservative day-school. “If Minister Bennett would have asked my opinion before the visit I would have said to him explicitly: You cannot go.” And the Jewish social media lit up. Why were we so surprised? How did we think the Charedi Chief Rabbi would respond to a Charedi audience? What is all the fuss about?
In Parshat Vayigash, Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt reveals himself to his brothers and requests that his father and his family come join him in Egypt due to the famine in Canaan. Yaakov gathers his entire family and goes down to Egypt and settles in Goshen away from the capital. Why Goshen? Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that Yaakov wanted his sons as far away as possible from the royal court so they wouldn’t be lured into government positions.
What is most interesting about this explanation is that his concern is with Egyptian government appointments, which presumably extends to any country in which we live in while in galus (exile). Today, Baruch Hashem, after two millennia of exile, we once again have Jewish sovereignty in Israel. Today, no doubt, Rabbeinu Bechaya would say that it is a mitzvah to work for the government – politicians and bureaucrats have the great zechus (merit) of serving Am Yisrael!
The State of Israel is a Jewish country, and at the same time, a democratic country. When JFK became president many were worried that since he was Catholic he would be answerable to the Pope and not act in the best interests of the American people. When Mitt Romney was running for presidency once again many were concerned with his religious beliefs because he was Mormon and theoretically subordinate to the prophetic president of the LDS Church. When Rav Lau commented on Naftali Bennett’s public policy decisions, he was unwittingly jeopardizing the electability of any yarmulke-clad political candidate.
Minister Bennett proudly serves the democratic State of Israel, and the Jewish people in Israel and abroad. In that capacity, he understands that he represents more than just a religious party or Orthodox Jews. Actually, he has gone to great lengths to make his party as inclusive as possible – his second in command is Ayelet Shaked, a secular Israeli!
What’s more, Rav Lau’s position is also a political appointment of the democratic State of Israel, the state of the entire Jewish people. And so wherever he finds himself, whether in Israel or abroad, he represents ALL Jews, not just the Orthodox. And, even when he is talking to a Charedi radio station, he represents ALL Jews not the just the Orthodox. In the democratic State of Israel, the Israeli chief rabbis’ roles are well-defined: life cycle events, such as births, funerals, marriage, and divorce, and other ritual matters such as kashrut and conversion.
When he commented on the policies of the Diaspora ministry, firstly, he was stepping out of his bounds; but more importantly he momentarily forgot he is the Chief Rabbi of all the Jews of Israel, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or secular. “Ki miZion tetze Torah” means that Minister Bennett must strive to spread the light of Torah and Zionism to all Jews everywhere. And, in my humble opinion, Rav Lau should also strive to spread the light of Torah and Zionism to all Jews everywhere.
Our Sages teach that Yaakov’s best years were ‘lived’ in Egypt because the Shechina (Divine presence) rested upon him. Why in Egypt, and not Canaan? Because there’s no greater happiness than having all your children living peacefully together. We have spent two thousand years avoiding government. Now that we have the opportunity to serve, we must strive to be as inclusive and united as possible. May we merit to be all on the same page of unity and inclusiveness; this time not in Egypt, but in the Holy Land!