About fifteen years ago, while living in the home of the Bostoner Rebbe, Reb Levi Yitzchok Horowitz zt”l, the Cardinal of the Greater Boston Area wrote an opinion piece published in the Boston Globe condemning the State of Israel. In response, the Bostoner Rebbe wrote a letter-to-the-editor condemning the Cardinal and demanding a written letter of apology to the Jews of the Boston area, to be published in the Boston Globe. The Cardinal ignored the warning. The Rebbe wrote a second letter. Before sending it off, several concerned askanim, dignitaries, arrived at the Rebbe’s home and pleaded with him not to send the letter. They pleaded, “People are going to think the Rebbe’s starting a fight with the Cardinal. People are going to think the Rebbe’s crazy!” The Rebbe retorted with power and emotion, “Let them think I’m crazy!” Pinchas endured mockery by the scoffers who said, “Have you seen the son of Puti, whose mother’s father [Yisro] fattened calves for idols, and who killed a leader of a tribe of Israel?” Like Pinchas, the Bostoner zt”l was willing to take a stand for Hashem and for am Yisroel despite mockery. (Parenthetically, I don’t recall whether the second letter was sent. But the story ends about six months later when, due to crimes of impropriety and licentiousness, the Pope demanded that the Cardinal immediately resign and apologize publicly to the people of Boston for having disgraced them).
The Rebbe’s powerful words, “Let them think I’m crazy,” lodged deep in my bones. A couple years later I interviewed for a social work internship at a prestigious brain damage clinic in Biscayne Bay, Florida. Politely but firmly, I refrained from shaking hands with the women interviewers. They thought I was crazy and had me meet with the staff neuropsychologist to ascertain my sanity. I got the job but was fired several weeks later. Let them think I’m crazy.
The Milwaukee Rebbe, Rav Michel Twerski shlita, said, “sometimes you have to be a little extreme to get anything done in this world.” Let the scoffers think we’re crazy. Let them think we’re a little extreme. As a young rav, the Milwaukee Rebbe met with a well respected, albeit secular, business leader. The Rebbe requested the man’s support for a certain project. A lengthy discussion about Yiddishkeit ensued. At the end of the meeting, as the Rebbe was taking his leave, the businessman said, “Rabbi Twerski, although we disagree, I will support you in this endeavour. My reason: I don’t know if my grandchildren will be Jewish, but I know yours will.”
Pinchas acted for Torah. The scoffers accused him of doing wrong. But through his zealotry, he saved the Jewish people and was rewarded with bris shalom, the bond of peace and permanent entry into the kehunah, the priesthood. When we act for Torah, the nations and the scoffers may think we’re crazy. They may think we’re extreme. So be it. Let scoffers think what they will. When, at a farbrengen, a chassidic gathering, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Reb Menachem Mendel Schneerson zt”l, said “Un Fifin Un Ganze Velt, whistle at the entire world,” and put his fingers in his mouth and began whistling, scoffers scoffed. But stronger and more enduring than the voice of the scoffers was the Rebbe’s statement: focus on Yiddishkeit and don’t mind the world.
The Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l, made frequent reference to the Chazal (Breishis Rabba 42, 8) explaining the words Avraham haIvri, Avraham dwells alone, on the side of kedusha, on the side of purity and refinement for Hashem; while the Nations dwell on the other side. To dwell alone takes courage. The nations may well think we’re crazy when we dwell on the side of Yiddishkeit. So be it. Like the Bostoner Rebbe, like the Milwaukee Rebbe, like the Lubavitcher Rebbe, like the Satmar Rebbe we’ll go in the ways of Pinchas and Avraham haIvri. We’ll dwell on the side of Torah and kedushah. A little extreme, we’ll be zealots, taking a stand for Yiddishkeit whenever the call demands. We’ll let the scoffers think we’re crazy. They can think what they will. We’ll put our fingers in our mouths and whistle at the world.
Have a Good, Inspired, and Zealous Shabbos,