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The Tzfat Hillel Controversy and the Misunderstanding of the Term "Sinat Chinam"

Posted by Tie Dye Tzitzit Director Yitzchak Katzburg on
An organization called Hillel opened in Tzfat’s Old City recently, and there have been small but heated protests and minor vandalism to their offices. Some residents of Tzfat have counter protested, both for having the organization in town to address a need and to prevent further vandalism.

Hillel is an organization that “help[s] thousands of young adults (over 18) transition out of ultra-orthodox communities, find housing and employment, enter secular Israeli social frameworks, start and complete their studies, complete IDF or national services, and surmount personal obstacles to success.” –Hillel website. There are many young adults who live in tight communities, Charedi communities mostly, with strict religious standards and rigorous rituals. When one of their sons or daughters becomes disenchanted with the religious lifestyle there is often much friction within the family as the youngster “goes off the Derech (way).” This sometimes even leads as far as the child being disowned by the parents and family and community. Because these communities are so close knit the support that usually would come from within is lacking. Often times there is a lagging in secular or technical education or networking. This organization, Hillel, is there to help this youth sector get on their feet in the lifestyle they choose to live.

There is opposition to Hillel from parts of the Charedi public that fears Hillel is pulling youth out of religious observance and into a secular lifestyle. Certainly they are enabling it, if not proactively promoting it, they claim. But counter protesters say there is a need for the organization because there are young adults who need the services.

This article is not to get into the specifics of this organization but to understand the deeper roots of the conflict. It’s Sinat Chinam, Baseless Hatred. And to understand what that really means. Because the cause of Sinat Chinam, the reason why we are in this exile, is a simple misunderstanding. And a little bit of misplaced arrogance.

There are actually 2 misunderstandings. One, in the traditional view of Sinat Chinam. That Judaism broke apart into ever increasing factions and they couldn’t get along with each other. Each looked down on the other as lesser, as not doing things right, or not pulling their weight. Some in one or another faction would look at others and say in their hearts, “They don’t know what they’re doing, look how they’re acting, they barely even try, that’s what Jews look like? They’re practically goyim.” But there is a second misunderstanding about Sinat Chinam that is hidden. This is the friction that goes on within one faction or more directly within a particular family within a faction.

The Misunderstanding of Sinat Chinam is in the soul, or Soul Root actually of every Jew and Klal Yisroel. There were 600,000 Benai Yisroel who left Egypt and crossed the Sea and stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. There are 600,000 letters in the Torah. Each of the Jews who were at Mount Sinai are connected to One letter. These 600,000 souls are the root souls of all the Children of Yisroel who are alive today. There are obviously more than 600,000 Jews today but Am Yisroel is really one soul that keeps splitting apart. There was Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, then 12 Tribes sons of Yaakov, 70 went down to Egypt, and 600,000 went out of Egypt and became the Roots who received the Torah. It keeps splitting now, in us, but 600,000 are still above us so they are our roots. (As are the Forefathers and Tribes.) This key understanding about our each individual souls is the only way to get out of Sinat Chinam consciousness.

The letter in the Torah that we are connected to, each one of us to his/her own letter determines much about us, our personality, and our life mission. Each letter is in its own word, in its own sentence, in its own topic and in its own parsha. There are no two letters in the Torah that are the same.

An internal problem of Sinat Chinam, the type that might arise in a closed or systematic religious settings (but is applicable to any family setting) is one that can start because of one of the most natural tendencies of parents. To raise the child in their vision. So they, the parents, were raised and educated in the way to serve Hashem with joy and enthusiasm. And the parents feel they are on the right path to serving Hashem and they are going in the right direction so they want to guide their family along the same path. The issue arises when the child’s soul is from a letter somewhere else in the Torah and he/she feels an internal emptiness at the lifestyle being presented. The child starts to search elsewhere for something, an internal pull in their soul to search for something else, not yet knowing exactly what. (It’s actually a person’s entire life journey, this internal pull that drives them to be whatever they may be.) But in this closed community and system there is only one option being presented. It may be Yeshiva only, or strict adherence to certain religious rituals without any variance. A search for something else, even relatively innocent, can be perceived as rebellion, against the parents, or sect, or God. It may feel to the parents like rejection of them and their ways and things often get blown out of proportion, as they often do with many misunderstandings.

An example that I experienced, and I’ll switch over from Letters to Tribes in this example, is one that happens often in Netzach Yehuda (Nachal Charedi) Battalion in the IDF. The Israeli Army opened up a battalion in the 1990s that catered to Charedi soldiers. It’s a wonderful combat infantry unity that has only 2 main differences than any other unit in the IDF. No girls. And the food has a stricter kashrut than other bases. When I was there in 2007-2009 I was a Lone Soldier because my parents lived abroad, but there were Lone Soldier Israelis, from Charedi families, who had parents in Israel that disowned them for joining the military. The Army gave them extra assistance. But this was wrong by the parents, a misunderstanding of souls. In ancient Israel, when all 12 Tribes were present, each tribe had its own characteristic and responsibility. But all the Tribes contributed to the whole, each in his own way. And the whole was greater than its parts. The Tribe of Issachar was dedicated to learning full time, similar to what you may see in today’s Kollels. The Tribe of Gad was on the border on the other side of the Jordan River. Their area of prowess was soldiering. They were great and mighty warriors who were often the vanguard in fighting wars.

In the example of my friends from the army, they were born into a family or community of the Tribe of Issachar. But somewhere deep within them they felt it wasn’t right for them, to sit in yeshiva all day. They didn’t have zitzfliesh, as they say. But somewhere in their heart they felt they were from the Tribe of Gad and they wanted to contribute to the defense of Israel by taking up arms and training. But their parents and family and community lacked the understanding of the soul’s drive and mission, and connection to a specific letter that’s different from the fathers’ letter and mothers’ letter and Rabbis’ letter and friends’ letter. Each soul is connected to a different letter in a different place in a different parsha. But a Torah needs every letter to be Kosher. If even one letter is missing the Torah is not kosher until it’s repaired.

Not understanding this concept of our souls together with a misplaced arrogance (and sometimes even misplaced zealousness for Hashem) is the cause of Sinat Chinam. It’s misplaced because once this is internalized, the letter/soul connection, it melts away. A person or a parent or a faction might think they have the truth, they know the right or best way to serve Hashem. Any deviation by someone else to their (singular or community) way is clearly, to them, lesser. That is the arrogance. To think you, or your community, has the only hold on the truth. “My way is right, if only they would see or serve Hashem this way, My Way, they would be better off.” Its arrogance and zealousness for Hashem that melts away with the understanding the Hashem is not asking us to serve Him all the same way. Each of us has our own way, our own path. It’s foolish to think that one path is the path that fits all or is the “right” path. There are 70 faces to the Torah, it’s said.

A silly story highlights the flaws in thinking one way is better than another, in light of the fact that every Jewish soul is a different letter from a different parsha, and every letter is needed for a Torah scroll to be Kosher. Let’s say Parshat Terumah (which deals with the assembly of the Mishkan, the Prototype of the Holy Temple) gets up and says “I’m the Most Important because I’m where the Nation of Israel comes to Serve God.” Then Parshat Titzavah (which deals with the Kohamin and their dress) gets up and says “Yeah, but without Kohanim to do the holy work you’re just a building!” Then Parshat Vayikra (which deals with the animals for the sacrifices) gets up and retorts “Well, I disagree, I’m the Most Important because without the cows or sheep you two are just standing around with nothing to do.” And they all start arguing and fighting. Obviously this story is silly. You need all 3 to work together. Every letter in the Torah is needed and no parsha is bigger or better than another. They are all equal and each has its unique mission and path. But they all combine to form a Whole.

Sinat Chinam is not just within any one faction, this misunderstanding of who we are on a soul level. It still also exists from faction to faction. But it comes from the same place. Looking at the ways of other factions and thinking they are lesser or contribute less. It’s not less. It’s different. But if it’s compared to your own way it’s a misunderstanding of the big picture. Each Individual has his own way and each Tribe had their own way and particular strength. Some examples were given before. Gad were defenders of the border and warriors. The Tribe of Yehuda were Kings and administrative officials. The Tribe of Naftali were thinkers and artists. Asher were farmers and produced delicacies and fine oil. Reuven raised cattle. Menashe had a knack for logistics, bridging 2 sides. Zevulan were sea merchants and supported the Torah studies of Issachar. Three Tribes were actually involved in Torah or spiritual pursuits full time. The Tribe of Issachar were like Kollel guys, learning all day and producing prolific scholars. The Levites worked in the Holy Temple and ran cities of refuge and taught the ways of Hashem to the people and were small town judges. The Tribe of Shimon were teachers of Torah to school age children.

All of the Tribes contributed together, each in their own way, to a functioning society and country. We are already doing this today, the same thing, just the identities of the tribes or our individual letters are hidden. But it’s not too hidden if there is understanding that if another, or others, are different from us, that’s OK. There are still rifts between “types” of Jews today. But by opening our eyes to look beneath the external surface reveals that we are already there in action, just not in consciousness.

One major rift in Israeli society is about who goes to the Army. Certain factions look down on other factions for not contributing to the whole by going to the Army. The debate really centers on the quantifiability of spiritual energy, whether it exists and how much it’s worth. Some say it’s not worth much and others point out the miracles we witnessed in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge Gaza War and attribute it to spiritual protection. I’m not here to debate it but to paint an alternative scenario. Let’s say all the yeshiva bachors were indoctrinated into the Gemara Unit of the IDF. They sat there in standard IDF green uniform, with a little Gemara picture on the lapel and a blue beret. The Rosh Yeshiva too, sitting up there in green. Army discipline to showing up on time. The base is in Benei Brak. In the same Bais Medrash they’re in now. So they do that already, we do that already, the country. Just the uniform is black and white, not olive green. It’s just surface. But we get so caught up in it. The Midrash says, btw, that in the times of King David’s army they were divided into three sections. One went with the sword to the battlefield. These were usually the most righteous ones as their personal merit would help protect them. The second section studied Torah to produce spiritual merits and energy. And the last section were in prayer all day, taking the names of the soldiers on the battlefield and praying for them. Hey, didn’t we do that in the last war? There were names of soldiers being sent to individuals by sms to pray for them. I had 2 soldiers, as I was in America at the time. And the yeshivas in Israel and the Diaspora stayed open even though it was summer break. We are doing the right things in action already. Just the surface look clouds our perception, and we think there is division.

Sinat Chinam comes in two ways, between factions and within factions, but it’s just one simple misunderstanding of us as Individuals. Each member of Am Yisroel is an integral part of the whole. Every letter counts and is needed, in their right place. A person is drawn on a path through life by Divine Providence. They are being drawn to their right place, their letter. Sometimes it’s a painful journey. The main issue that Am Yisroel has struggled with is Sinat Chinam. When it comes from within it’s particularly painful. By not understanding the pull that a young person has, to begin their search, their own journey to their letter. A family or a community who doesn’t recognize the idea of the core journey of each one of us, and instead maintain a rigorous way of doing things will perceive deviance as rebellion. Things then get taken out of proportion, because it’s not really the youth’s rebellion against the parents (they may love their parents very much). It’s a break in another direction as their soul is awakened to begin its search. Often things get heated and as youth are wont to do they get pushed to further extremes by the very ones (the parents/school/community) who are trying to reel them in. In my younger schooling days, I went to a black hat yeshiva, and kids were called “Bums” by certain Rabbis because they went to a pizza shop on Motsai Shabbat, that there might have been girls there. You’re not a Bum for going to a pizza shop or even talking to girls. But being called negative things leads one to go to lower places. Negative Reinforcement, it’s called. This is what happens because of the Sinat Chinam that comes from within one faction.

But there is a bright spot. What seems to be a yerida, a downfall, is only on the path to an aliyah, an uplifting. For me, when I left school, I took off my black hat and I said I’ll never wear it again. Some might have said that was a downfall. In hind-site it was actually an Aliyah because it opened up other doors on my path to learn about myself and Hashem.

Things are perception but a little understanding of the invisible soul goes a long way. We are each Unique. But as a whole, each in our own place, we are United. Baruch Hashem, May All Of Klal Yisroel Be Blessed With Shalom

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