Last week we discussed the responsibility of each of us to use our talents and energies to alleviate the suffering of our fellow Jews and to bring Klal Yisrael closer to its ideal state. Our starting point was Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz's, zt"l, statement that taking responsibility for Klal Yisrael is perhaps the principal measure of a person's spiritual state.
Taking responsibility goes far beyond showing concern or davening for others, though doing so is certainly vital. A former student of Torah Vodaath returned to the yeshiva after many years. After Minchah, Tehillim were recited for the Jews in the Soviet Union. The former student approached the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr, zt'l, and told him, "Nothing will ever come from your kapitel Tehillim because it is not serious."
Rabbi Schorr was taken aback by that statement. The former student explained himself: "There is very little of a tangible nature that you can currently do for the Jews in the Soviet Union. But I come from South America where there are hundreds of thousands of Jews upon whom yeshivaleit could have an immense impact. If you really cared about doing something for Klal Yisrael, you would be figuring out how to bring Yiddishkeit to the Jews of South America, not contenting yourself with davening for Jews behind the Iron Curtain." Rabbi Schorr acknowledged the force of his point.
The percentage of those in our community who are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the lot of Klal Yisrael is one of the glories of the Torah world. Reading the English Mishpacha's pre-Yamim Noraim Mosaic of the Jewish World: A Panoramic View of Institutions and Initiatives I was struck that virtually every one of these initiatives was the product of an individual or small group of individuals who saw a particular problem and devoted themselves to solving it.
They did not convince themselves that if they had noted the problem someone else more qualified to solve it must have done so as well. Nor did they place the responsibility elsewhere, telling themselves that if the issue were truly of importance it must already being addressed by the gedolim. Rather they accepted that if they had noticed a particular problem it was likely one of their life tasks to do what they could to solve it.
The same sense of responsibility is reflected in the far higher rates of volunteerism in the Torah community. Many of our most important chesed organizations depend on massive amounts of volunteer labor. Mesila, an organization that offers guidance in money management to families and businesses experiencing financial distress, for instance, utilizes 300 volunteers in Israel, who have each completed an intensive training course, and who contribute 2-3 hours weekly to working directly with clients. Thousands of Israeli avreichim set aside an evening a week to teaching Torah to non-religious Jews, and an even larger number of frum women do so via the telephone.
NOTHING PROVIDES ME with more satisfaction that when I see the efforts of one of the meshugoyim l'davar echad, upon whom, Rambam writes, the world depends, crowned with success. Last year I wrote about Jeff Cohn, a Baltimore businessman, who was so moved the tales of woe he was hearing from local singles that he decided to devote himself to finding solutions. One of his brainstorms was to increase the shidduch possibilities for singles outside of the New York metropolitan area by making it possible for them to meet initially via video conferencing. Armed with haskomas from leading gedolim and the support of generous sponsors in Baltimore, Chicago, Toronto, and Lakewood, the idea is now a reality, and the Baltimore-Chicago couple who inaugurated the system pronounced themselves well-satisfied with the naturalness of their meeting.
For years a Flatbush businessman named Albert Kahn has been obsessed with the necessity for every young couple to purchase low-cost term life insurance so that in the event of tragedy the surviving family members will not have to endure the humiliation of being dependent on communal efforts. Partly in response to his efforts a growing number of yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs now include term insurance in their salary package. And recently, Bais Medrash Govoho of Lakewood announced that all talmidim of the yeshiva are eligible to be part of a group policy providing up to $250,000 of individual term-life coverage, with the yeshiva covering one-third of the cost of premiums.
Not all communal issues, however, are susceptible to individual initiatives. Those affecting the entire community – e.g., parnassah and housing – are too complex and involve too many different aspects [murkav] for any single individual to develop the type of comprehensive plans necessary. Doing so requires a great deal of research and bringing together many different people with relevant expertise to exchange ideas and develop plans over an extended period of time, in consultation with gedolei Yisrael. Only umbrella organizations representing the entire community can provide the necessary framework.
I HAVE MY OWN IDEA for a project someone should undertake. While writing my pre-Succos column on the full-scale war that might erupt in the wake of an Israeli attack on Iran, I started to think about how the Torah community would be able to contribute. With the IDF and civil defense structures stretched thin, many of us would be eager to do anything we could to help. But our ability to do so productively would be severely limited by our lack of prior training. It occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to set up some kind of training program in advance for those no longer learning full-time so that we could make a maximal contribution in the event of catastrophe, chas ve'Shalom.
The truth is that I have no more idea how to set up such a program than I would have an idea of how to start a business, even with a million dollars in start-up capital. But I'm not sure that is an excuse. Before approaching the gedolei Yisrael, I would be interested in hearing from readers as to what they think of the idea, how they think it should be done, and whether they would be interested in participating.