Aish.com has one of the most foolish articles about the new war in Israel I’ve seen. Entitled “Seven Ways You Can Help Israel,” the article is long on feel-good spirituality and short – very short – on tachlis. The seven ways you can help? Here they are, in order just as Aish lists them:
3. Study Torah.
6. Do good.
Okay, so there are only six ways. The seventh, stated at the end of the article, is get on a plane and come to Israel today, presumably to do much more of numbers one through five.
When Jews face danger, prayer is natural – and correct. But it is not the be all and end all Aish makes it out to be. God wants us to do the most we can in the here and now to make things better. The midrash points out Nachshon ben Aminadav went into the sea until his nostrils were a fraction of an inch above water. It was only then the sea split. A midrash also chastises Moshe for praying when he should have been doing exactly what Nachshon did.
The lesson for us should be clear – doing what we can do to help Israel, from going there and helping out to sending money to funds that will help offset the tremendous financial losses taken by Israelis in a time of war, comes first. Extra time praying and learning should happen as well, but not as a first choice or even as a second. Practical help always comes first.
So, you might wonder why I ridicule Aish. After all, what we have is a disagreement over priorities. Both parties here endorse practical action. If you thought this, I would not argue with you. If the only sin of Aish was a shifting of priorities, the tenor my attack against them would be uncalled for. But it is not Aish.com’s only sin:
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, one of the greatest Torah leaders in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust said this before he was murdered by the Nazis: “In times of trouble, anyone who can strengthen themselves and doesn’t transgresses the command of “standing by while your neighbor’s blood is being spilt.” Literally. Because every effort by every single Jew has the power to prevent bloodshed and save the Jewish people. And if someone has the capability and doesn’t do anything, he’s an accomplice to destruction, preventing the preservation and salvation of the Jewish people with his own hands.”
Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman (who in the above passage is speaking about spiritual action like praying and learning) forbade his students and followers from fleeing to Palestine or America. Most perished in the Holocaust. Wasserman allegedly refused visas for himself and his students from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary because Yeshiva University (the parent organization of REITS) was “worse than Hitler.”
Wasserman was an extreme anti-zionist who also hated modernity. His “advice” killed hundreds of his followers. To cite such a man in the context of what should be done today to help Israel is unconscionable. The only reason I can think of for Aish to do this is ignorance.
Wasserman is not a role model. He was an extremist whose advice led to death, not life, and whose words were filled with hate for Jews who kept Shabbat, kashrut and Jewish law but differed with him on theological grounds.
Israel needs your help. Send money. Offer support. Go if you can and think it safe (or go if you are willing to take the risk). But by all means do not spend excessive time learning or praying until you are certain every Israeli has food and a safe place to sleep. That is what Jewish law – and common sense – expects and demands.