Hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews protested in Jerusalem on Sunday, declaring that learning Torah is their life and they can’t be dragged away from it, even for a moment, to serve the State, even if everyone else is required to.
What is “learning” and how is it demonstrated? A baby “learns” to walk, and we know he’s learned because we see him walking.
How is “learning” Torah demonstrated? To learn Torah is to LIVE it, and that is displayed, as Rabbi Eliazar said in Brachos 64a in the name of Rabbi Chanina, by a measurable and quantifiable increase in peace in this world. “Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is said: And all your children will be children of HaShem, and abundant peace will your children have.”
By this standard I can only conclude, based on the daily increase in violence and strife world-wide, that the untold numbers of Torah scholars who spend their days and nights “learning Torah” aren’t actually LEARNING. They might be reading, they might be memorizing, they might be practicing and perfecting the art of Talmudic discourse, they might be rehearsing arcane texts, they might be building up their didactic skills, but they’re not LEARNING. There’s no PROOF of their learning, if an increase in peace is the measurement for whether or not Torah is being learned.
Learning is doing. In the case of the mass demonstration in Jerusalem today protesting the Israeli Government’s insistence that all sectors of society – including the Charedi sector – serve two years in either the army or in National Service, the hundreds of thousands of Talmidei Chachamim have only proven that they’re neither LEARNING Torah, nor living it.
How do we know they’re not living Torah? Of course they’re living “Torah Lifestyles,” but a beautiful etrog, a white tablecloth and a built-in Netilat Yadiyim hand-washing station in the kosher kitchen does not a world full of living Torah make.
What would the world look like if this population was actually learning AND living Torah? It would be a world engaged with the culture around it, for Torah demands we interact with the “other,” we are charged to be a light unto the Nations, we’re told that Torah will come forth from Zion and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem, we’re told that the whole world will be filled with the knowledge of HaShem, and that the Jewish People will be such sought-after teachers of light and wisdom that individuals and communities will vie for access for even one Jew.
Of course that’s not simply a “Charedi” world vision. That’s the broader Jewish vision, where every Jew is so full of the light and the love of HaShem that they can’t help but be beacons of truth and goodness everywhere they go, in every interaction they have in this world. We don’t get there by turning our backs on each other, excluding each other, judging each other.
Until the Charedim reject the insular and exclusionary, the National Religious reject the triumphalist, the Chilonim reject the resentment and hatred, until each Jew understands that the sons and daughters of their neighbors and friends matter just as much as their own children, and that the basic social, economic, cultural and security infrastructure of the State of Israel depends on ALL of her citizens, we won’t get there.
Until the political leaders within each of the sectors – Charedi, National Religious and Secular – stop playing politics, cronyism, protexia, baksheesh, and the combina with their followers and the issues, and agree to sit down together and decide how to administrate and govern a Country of over 8 million citizens and what measure of responsibility each citizen is assigned in exchange for infrastructure, services and protection provided by the State, we won’t get there.
Until we’re living in a world like that, I won’t believe that anyone is actually LEARNING Torah. Because the first move MUST come from the “Torah World.” If Torah learning makes a person, or a community so darn SMART, so wise and so full of divine light, it’s THEIR JOB to shine that light, to extend their hand, to approach those whom they have shunned, to make amends, to build bridges, to establish connections. The Torah Community, the Charedim, the “Ultra-Orthodox” sector, as the “elder brother” and self-proclaimed “refined” and sensitive community, MUST make the first move, towards connection, dialogue and reconciliation with the rest of the Jewish community… just as with children fighting, one must always appeal to the most mature child to cease the strife and make conciliation with the more immature child, even the child who is a bully or a coward.
When there’s an increase in peace within OUR WORLD, the Jewish world, instead of an increase in strife, then I’ll believe that Torah is being “learned.” We can’t be a Light Unto the Nations when we ourselves are bumping into each other in the dark all the time.