Okay, We Can Argue About Corona – But Let’s Stop the Name-Calling

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    By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

    “That person is a murderer – going to kill dozens of people if not more!”

    “Well, that other person is a moiser!  How dare he?”

    Rav Shmuel Brudny zt”l, a Rosh Yeshiva in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn, once explained an essential difference between Chanukah and Purim.  He asked why it was that Purim achieved a higher status in terms of spirituality than Chanukah did?  Rav Brudny answered, “On Purim, upon which it is stated, “Lech knos es kol haYehudim – go and gather all the Jews..” – we demonstrated achdus.  Esther gave back a message to Mordechai that all the Jews should gather and daven and fast – to assist in nullifying the horrible decree.  Klal Yisroel demonstrated achdus.  On Chanukah, however, there were many misyavanim – and we were missing this crucial component – we had no achdus.”

    Ever since Sefer Bereishis, we, the Jewish people, have always utilized and interpreted tragic events as a means toward introspection.  We have questioned why things are happening, and what it is that Hashem wants of us.  And there have also been quite varied opinions as to where we should go.

    This column is not going to be about “wearing the mask” or not “wearing the mask.”  It will not discuss shuls with “mask sections” and “no mask sections.” It is not going to be about who is right or wrong about when to go back to the “normal” we once had.

    Rather, it will discuss the nature of our discourse – how we speak about each other.

    The term “Gadlus HaAdam – the Greatness of Man” means that spiritually, we are on a higher plane, than the angels themselves.  When the Slabodka Yeshiva first opened its doors in the Yeshiva in Hevron – the Alter of Slabodka said as follows:  “With our feet, we have already entered the Aron haKodesh.. the palace of the King.  Our task now, however, is to remove our minds and hearts from the garbage bin in which they are now situated and to bring them as well into the Aron Kodesh.”

    If this was true in 1924, it is certainly true now, almost a century later.

    Murderer?  Moiser?  To our shock and horror, the two beginning statements were actually statements or declarations said by people that were too caught up in the heat of things.  They were said about remarkable people – tzaddikim, in fact.  And they are both wrong – terribly wrong.  Indeed, perhaps the whole reason for this terrible pandemic is to get us to realize that we must stop talking about others in such horribly derogatory terms.

    The Gemara in Bava Metzia (58b) states that all the people who descend to Gehinnom arise from there with the exception of three kinds: adulterers; those who affix a pejorative name to another; and one who embarrasses his friend in public. These three never arise. This halachah is stated in Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 228:5) and is nogaya – practically applicable. In this case those that said those statements may be violating two out of the three, chalilah, depending upon how public they were when they made the statements.

    The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:14) lists these as one of the 24 categories of people that have no share in the World to Come.

    Let us realize that the two people that were being discussed are remarkable people – tzaddikim, in fact, whose lives are entirely defined by the chessed and avodas Hashem that they do.  True, both have taken positions on opposite poles of each other – but to call them murderers and mosrim – is a violation of the very fundamentals of our Torah and is something that people on both sides of the spectrum have to, yes, do Teshuvah for.

    The holy Chida, in his commentary on Chumash (Parshas Yisro), writes concerning the commandment of “lo sirtzach” as follows:

    “It appears in the eyes of the masses that they are innocent of this transgression..  [This is not the case, however.] One who embarrasses his friend in public spills his blood..”

    Calling someone a murderer or a moiser is also the ultimate insult or embarrassment.  Rabbeinu Yona in his Shaarei Teshuvah (3:139) discusses explains that embarrassing someone is abizraihu of murdering.  He refers to the incident of Tamar and Yehudah and explains that Tamar preferred to be burned with fire – rather than embarrass Yehudah publicly.  He implies that this is an actual halacha.

    Rabbeinu Yonah, citing the Gemorah in Bava Metziah 59a, states, “L’olam yapil adam es atzmo l’kivshan haAish v’al yalbin pnei chaveiro berabim – a person should always throw himself into a pit of fire rather than embarrassing his friend in public.”

    We may think that the person is mistaken in his or her take on how to react to the COVID pandemic.  But before we label someone a “moiser” – we must ask ourselves the following question.  We are living – not in tolerant 21st century America – but in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth of the 1600’s.  A Jew engages in counterfeiting the local currency.  And then someone states that it is permitted to turn in the counterfeiters to the authorities.

    Is that person a Moiser?  Be careful of what you say.  Because if you said, “yes” – then you have just labelled the Turei Zahav – Rav Dovid HaLevi Segal – one of the Gedolei HaAchronim by that label.  And here person number #2 discussed above – felt that opening up during COVID, whether he was right or wrong, endangered Jewish life.  Heaven forbid, that we should label such a person a Moiser.  It is something upon which one must certainly do Teshuvah.

    MEIRI’S VIEW – SUGGESTION

    There is, of course, another understanding of Rabbeinu Yonah’s citation.  The text in our Gemorahs (both BM 59a and Sota 10b) is different than that which Rabbeinu Yonah quotes.  Our text states, “Noach lo le’adam sh’yapil – it is preferable for a person to throw himself etc.”  The wording of preferable indicates that doing so is a stringency – rather than a requirement.

    Indeed, this seems to be the indication of the Meiri in his comments on the Gemorah in Sotah where he writes, “A person should always be careful not to embarrass” – the indication of his language and the fact that he refers to the throwing oneself as a “ha’ara” – a suggestion is indicative that he holds it is just an act of preference – a chumrah, so to speak.

    The Baalei haTosfos in their comments on the Gemorah in Sotah, however, pose the question as to why this concept is not listed in the Gemorah in Psachim (25a) among the three sins that one must forfeit his life for.  The Baalei Tosfos answer that this concept is not explicitly written in the Torah.  The implication of Tosfos is that they agree with the position of Rabbeinu Yonah that it is a full halachic obligation.

    There is perhaps a third possibility that we can suggest.  Could it be said that our sages merely are indicating how very severe it is to embarrass someone and are speaking in hyperbole?  We find that Chazal will occasionally speak in hyperbole in order to bring home the point that this is an action from which we should stay far away.

    Regardless of the actual understanding of the Gemorah – we really need to change and upgrade our method of conversation.  We need to adopt the first words of the Alter when he opened the Yeshiva, and to adopt the criterion of Purim – achdus.

    The authorcan be reached at [email protected].

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    12 COMMENTS

    1. There is no question that now – davening is not causing deaths. But, Sorry, Rabbi Hoffman – in the very beginning SO MANY PEOPLE DIED.. I think that sharp words should have been used, and I disagree. Even now, with so many r”l that have passed away – the people that kept the shuls opened still do not think it was wrong!

      • Everyone that died, was nigzar last Rosh Hashana. If it wasn’t from Corona, it was something else. We recently had the tragedy with 4 members of a family killed in a van that crashed r”l. There was a bachur who was killed in Arizona while helping a stranger change a tire. There were many people who died from illnesses non related to Coronavirus.The point is no one died from Covid 19. No one died because they davened in Shul. No one died because they passed a non wearing mask person in the grocery store. People died because the Aibishter said their time on this world was up. To believe otherwise is mamesh kefira. A kofer beikar. Do you think you can outsmart the Aibishter? Do you think, that if it’s a persons time to go, he can circumvent it by staying locked up 100 miles from the closest person with 20 masks on his face???

        MODERATOR: Rabbi Hoffman responded as follows: This is not quite true. There is such a thing as pshiya in regard to safety. So, yes, if one violates the law and races at 120 miles per hour – it is possible to be taken before it was ordained. This is not kefira and labelling it kefira is incorrect. There are also Gemorahs that discuss cases where the malach hamavais took someone before his time. There is also something called an idna derischa – where things can happen al pi midas hadin and not midas harachamim – where hester panim kicks in up to midas hadin. It is true, however, for the van that crashed. All the gedolei Torah say that we have to take safety precautions.

        • Rabbi Hoffman,

          I think what Proper oiskook menat to address is the crowd by enlarge. Perhaps those that knew better and were wreckless, for them you can say they were a pyhsia. For the overhwleming majorty they were at wrose bgeder shomer pissum hashem. Its kefria to say , had we closed on purim things would be different. These guys were not poshia on purim because that was not the consensus. As long as they are not at fault one can say that this was a gazria anyhow. They would have been nifter anyhow and no “what we should have done purim ” argument exists.

          Now if one got ill and died because he knew to take precautions and did not, (meaning no social distance etc..) then yes .

          • Yes. If you recall, last summer there were so many drowning deaths, the most famous one unfortunately, being in Virginia Beach r”l. All those deaths were nigzar the Rosh Hashana before. When a persons time to go comes, there is nothing that can thwart the Aibishter’s plan. If an individual would of decided not to go boating that day, the Aibishter would of taken his neshoma in a different way. We are not on the level of David Hamelech. People have to get that concept thru their kishkes. I once saw in a sefer about Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Artscroll) that it says shluchei mitzvah aino nizakim. But aay, you see people who are in middle of performing a Mitzvah suddenly die of a tragedy. Rav Chaim says it’s not a stira. It was this persons time to go so this maaseh is NOT what caused the death. He was going to die that day anyway and adaraba, it’s a tremendous zchus that his nishama left him while he was doing a Mitzvah, or on his way to perform a Mitzvah.

          • So are you suggesting that the Novominsker Rebbe was a posheya? Rav Yisroel Plutchok? Rav Scheinberg? All the kidoshim that died recently?

      • Thats right it wasn’t wrong in most cases.

        1) Out door minyan : Studies showed that when people congregate outdoors it does not increase covid 19. Thanks to BLM we now know this for a fact. What’s more, the study was conducted based on people not social distancing but simply being out doors. We are dealing with an outdoor social distant minyan . Outdoor minyan is completely safe. Its been proven and studied

        2) Indoor Minyan: Shuls that ensured people social distanced and wore masks were safe too. Look at the shuls who did social distance like those mentioned in Rabbi Franekl’s shumuz a while back. Noone got sick from it. We also know that satmar had indoor schools open yet no illnesses

        Now two more things to clarify
        1) Maybe a few shuls were open with no social distance. Well thats wrong and we don’t discuss those people
        2) Lest you will say hey, but like how mnay yidden died from a shul? That’s a faulty and silly argument. The discussion is if AFTER people knew to social distance and they attended social distant minyan, did they get sick? The answer is by enlarge no. Were many sick from before the social distance at shuls took place? Certainly. But that wasn’t where most of the fights were.

        Bottom line is, you were not a rodef and many rabbonim allowed him. After all is said and done many even recanted thier bans to begin with.

        We also know that shuls save lives. You say it every shabbos before musaf. Just read what you are saying.

        Its very poshut. noone was a rodef. And yes Rabbi Hoffman has a point in that noone went ot jail or siberia by being snitched on either. So lets not carried away with moser term either even though I disagree

    2. Rabbi Hoffman, if the people davening in shuls, going to mikva or not wearing masks were on the level of the Taz I could agree with you. However many people in our community basically did what they wanted. From the beginning when Covid hit us, many were very cynical of anything the government said. Why they didn’t listen to the doctors is beyond me. I said many times, there are many people don’t have a rov to guide them in a time like this. They daven in one shul for shachris another for mincha and yet another for marriv. On Shabbos they daven in a local shtible, so they do what they want. There were choshiva rabanim who kept their shuls open I have no problem with them. I also have no problem with those that stopped all the “rules” since Shavuos when they saw the government has a double standard.

    3. The great uncle Moishe once sang: don’t walk in front of me I may not follow…… just walk beside me and be my friend…

      People need to be more friendly in comments! Especially since 99% of people don’t use their real names.

    4. we should simply direct all of our anger and evil comments towards biden and the rest of the democrats and black matterists and thugs and looters and anti-semites…… TRUMP 2020 TRUMP 2024 TRUMP FOREVER !!!!!!!!!!!! MAKE AMERICA GREAT FOREVER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • you would think it’s Moshiach you are rooting for. ‘forever’? Really? You think he’ll accompany you in Gan Eden (or the other place)?
        What ever happened to al tivtichu b’nedivim, b’ven odom . . . .?
        Ain lonu al mi l’hisha’ain .. . just HaShem! Remember that!

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