By Sandy Eller / Vos Iz Neias
In a passionate speech at last night’s Agudah convention in New Jersey, Executive Vice President Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel addressed the recent scandals that have affected the Jewish community and the detrimental effect they have on the Jewish community’s standing in the eyes of the outside world.
Alluding a quote made last month by Nancy Dubler, an ethics consultant for the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation who referred the Agudah as an 800 pound gorilla because of its political clout, Rabbi Zwiebel cautioned that while the magnitude of the Jewish community may impress the outside world, it is our adherence to mitzvos that makes Hakadosh Baruch Hu look upon us favorably.
Referencing recent headlines that have propelled the Jewish community to the center of the media spotlight, Rabbi Zwiebel said that it often seems as if we are surrounded by scandals.“Week after week almost, stories about financial improprieties or allegations of them, stories about horrifying, unspeakable interpersonal improprieties,” said Rabbi Zweibel. “It’s so hard to pick our heads up. And if we think that that we need to be strong, we need to be able to be a gorilla, we need to be able to get the powers that be to have respect for us. Yes they care about votes, but they read these headlines too. They read these stories too.”
Rabbi Zwiebel’s words came just days after one New York family made headlines for massive welfare and mortgage frauds and weeks after a Washington DC rabbi was accused of planting cameras in a women’s mikvah.
In an emotional moment, Rabbi Zwiebel related a story of the Baal Hatanya who was imprisoned and was davening in his tallis and tefillin. A warden came up behind the Baal Hatanaya and began screaming at him to turn around. The curses and threats persisted as the Baal Hatanya continued his tefillos, and once done, he turned to face the warden who ran away in fear after seeing the Baal Hatanya wrapped in his tallis and tefillin.
Questioned by a chosid who observed the incident, the Baal Hatanya quoted the possuk which states that when the world will see Hashem’s name upon us, they will fear us, and brought out a gemara which explains that the words “shem Hashem” refer to tefillin she’b’rosh.
The chosid wondered aloud why his tallis and tefillin never elicited a similar reaction and the Baal Hatanya replied that it is the difference between tefillin she’b’rosh and tefillin shel rosh: if tefillin are worn superficially, then the wearer is no different than anyone else on the street.
“Tefillin has to penetrate b’rosh, has to get into your kishkas,” exhorted Rabbi Zwiebel. “It has to make you a better person, a different person, a person who is elevated.”
“That is the elephant in the room, the scandal,” continued Rabbi Zwiebel. “The tefillin that remain al harosh haven’t penetrated b’rosh.”
In his moving closing remarks, Rabbi Zwiebel noted that it is incumbent upon each of us to strengthen ourselves in our performance of mitzvos in order to regain the respect of the outside world.
“When the nations of the world see and they look and they see the tefillin and they see the sheitlach and they see the kosher restaurants and they see all of the outer trappings of yiddishkeit, they look at us and they say this person is special. This person in fact conducts himself in a way which is elevated… that is when we can be 800 pound gorillas.”