I'm very bothered by two brothers who live in the picturesque moshav of Beit Zayit, nestled in the Jerusalem Forest, just below my Har Nof neighborhood. No, I don't suspect them of any connection to the raucous rock music occasionally emanating from the valley below. Somehow they strike me as a bit old and staid for hard rock.
Nor have they wronged me in any way. Quite the contrary. My problem with the Toker brothers, who make their living repairing electrical appliances, mostly large TV sets, is that their middos are too good. If they can't fix something, no matter how long they spent working on it, they don't charge anything. To them, it appears to be the most obvious thing in the world that one does not charge for effort but for results. And no amount of imploring them to take payment for their time has any chance of success.
On the other hand, if the repair requires little effort on their part, they charge accordingly, never mind the desperation and helplessness with which the owner of the appliance originally brought it in for repair. They are never rushed, despite a large shop loaded with TV's waiting their attention, and have seemingly endless time to discuss my two dollar repairs, even as far more lucrative jobs await them.
So why do the Tokers bother me so much? Because they don't wear yarmulkes, and as far as I can tell, have never studied any mussar works. On occasion, I have even gone so far as to make inquiries about their yichus, in the hope of discovering some famous tzaddik among their ancestors. So far no luck.
I know that there are many nice and generous people who are not Torah Jews. I have many such friends and acquaintances myself.
But nice is far too weak a word to describe the Tokers. What stands out is the absolute refinement of their middos. And that degree of refinement – or so I thought – can only be achieved by placing Hashem in front of oneself constantly.
My problem is not that I don’t know Torah Jews who possess similarly refined middos – Mr. Rosenberg, who used to have a shop for glasses in Har Nof, for instance. Watching him patiently trying to fit tiny screws into small holes for children, who, in many cases, did not even buy their glasses from him, is to feel that one is in the presence of one of the lamed vav tzadikim. Even today, when he no longer has a store in Har Nof, I still take my children to his store Beit Vegan so that they can see someone whose face literally shines. When I found out that Mr. Rosenberg has a son who is one of the most brilliant young lamdanim in Jerusalem (I didn’t hear this from Mr. Rosenberg, of course), I could only give thanks for such a clear manifestation of Hashem's justice.
Nor do I view the Tokers' manner of dealing with their customers – the only context in which I know them -- to represent the sum total of the good middos to which a person can aspire. One of the great bonuses of writing biographies of Torah luminaries is that I have been privileged to spent long hours talking to some of the great Torah personalities of our time. In their presence, one feels kedushah. That kedushah can only come from a life animated by one overarching purpose: deveikus to Hashem.
No such sense of purpose permeates the Tokers' TV repair shop. Still, I'm puzzled how they attained their level of refinement without the discipline of a Torah life.
Hillel Halkin, one of Israel's leading translators and critics, also professes to be surprised that there is not more difference between religious and non-religious Jews in terms of their interpersonal behavior. Unlike me, however, he is delighted to conclude that one group is no better than the other.
Based on the recent legal travails of Israel's chief rabbis and the personal observation that Jews wearing knitted yarmulkes are as likely to talk in movie theaters as those who don't, Halkin concludes, in a recent Jerusalem Post piece, that religious Jews are no more scrupulous about mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro than their secular counterparts. (Luckily for Halkin, his article appeared the day before the Trojan Horse scandal broke, in which top executives in some of Israel's leading companies were implicated in the computer theft of their competitors' business planning, and prior to the Knesset and the media taking up the banana republic levels of public corruption in Israel.)
For a thinker of his customary power, Halkin contents himself with some pretty slack proofs. He is a bit too quick to exonerate his own non-belief and to assume he is none the worse a human being for it.
Granted we Torah Jews are not all we should be in how we treat others. And when we are not, it does raise questions about the level of our belief. That is what Chazal mean when they say that a person doesn't sin unless the spirit of foolishness enters. Sin cannot be reconciled with perfect belief.
Still, Halkin should hold his horses a bit. There are clearly many areas involving mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro in which the behavior of the Torah community is qualitatively different from that of the secular community. One such difference is in the general involvement in chesed activities, whether as financial contributors or as volunteers. A wildly disproportionate percentage of the chesed organizations serving the general Israeli population were founded by chareidim.
And those organizations do not even include the thousands of gemachim serving the chareidi community itself. When former Meretz MK Dedi Zucker tried to bring the concept of gemachim to his secular community, he found himself unable to even explain the concept of "free loans," or why anyone would give one.
Similarly, the secular community would be puzzled by entire days devoted to lectures about the perils of improper speech and how to overcome the temptation, in which tens of thousands of religious Jews participate.
I guess I'll have to make peace with the Tokers, and acknowledge that there are those who reach a very high level of perfection of middos, in certain areas, without benefit of the Torah. But that does not mean agreeing with Halkin that belief in Hashem and His Torah makes no difference when it comes to mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro.
Still, wouldn’t it be nice if my friends did not laugh at my naivete when I tell them that I'm more comfortable doing business with other frum Jews because I feel confident that they will treat me honestly?