Friday, September 21, 2012

Bray on Slichot

A guest post by CHAIM BRAY OF FUNDIE

There is a passage in the Selichos that:

A. has been sticking in my craw every time that I enunciate it and that

B. gets perilously close to דֹּבֵר שְׁקָרִים--לֹא-יִכּוֹן, לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי = he that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before mine eyes. Furthermore I think that everyone from Kanoi to kahl, from misogynist to feminist from frozen-in-amber conservative to let's-reinvent-the-wheel reformer should be deeply offended by it.
I am referring to:

אשמנו מכל־עם. בשנו מכל־דור =
We are guiltier than all /any nation (s) We are shamed more than all /any generation(s).

Really now? Are we more murderous than the Ukrainian Cossack nation ? More exploitative than all the great colonial powers that murdered, pillaged and raped whole indigenous peoples and sold the remnants into slavery? Do we pollute the planet or tyrannize populations more than Red China? Are we more licentious than ancient Mitzrayim, K'na'an, Rome or Greece or contemporary Americans in Las Vegas or any Red-Light District in any Western metropolis? Do we engage in more gossip than western readers of People, US and TMZ ? Have we produced more pedophiles than Irish, Italian and Polish Catholics? Are we crueler and more heartless than the Germans and sundry Nazis? Are our business ethics more depraved than those of the Siciilans or Russians? Are we more mired in polytheistic idolatries than the Indian subcontinent? Are we more invested in a false prophet than the Saudis and the Iranians? Are we more credulous of a false Messiah than any or all of the nations of Chistendom?
I know I know...Khazal already ask this question on the posuk of חטא חטאה ירושלים, על-כן לנידה הייתה "Did Jerusalem (i.e. the Jewish People) alone sin?" But even according to Khaza"l answer, i.e. that Jewish sins are more impactful than those of other nations, it is still a far cry from saying that our sins are more significant to saying that we are THE guiltiest of Nations.

How about the end of the passage? If a grandfather, father and son/grandson are all davening at the same Slichos minyan when the three of them utter this line, as they are members of three diverse generations, ממה נפשך at least two of the three are lying. I'd hazard a guess that all three are.

I have long been a champion of the interbellum eastern European generation who made up the bulk of adult Holocaust victims and survivors. I believe that as a generation they were spiritually light years ahead of my own. But as far as comparing my generation with that of my children? How can the kids be deemed more shameful? Their Tzitzis, Tefilin, Matzos, 4 Minim etc. are more ritually fit than those that we used as youngsters/ young men. They eat fewer bugs and from more reliable Hashgochos. They learn more Torah and learn it more deeply from an earlier age. Mega-Yeshivas exist. Torah is more widely learned by Baalei Batim through Dirshu, Mifal HaShas and scores of non-tech, low-tech and high-tech learning programs. Tznius standards are higher. Shmiras Shabbos, HaLoshon and Eynayim are obsessed over. And when it comes to G'machs and Chesed Organizations? Don't even get me started! Sure we are hemorrhaging through ignorance and assimilation but we are not going down without a fight. Chabad, Aish, Lev L'Achim, Ohr Somayach, Partners-in-Torah, Oorah et al won't let us.

Does our generation, still just emerging from the long , black and eternal shadow of the Holocaust really have more to be ashamed of than those generations that gave us Yeruvam ben Nevut? Than those that gave us Shabbetai Tzvi and Jacob Frank? Than those that engaged in Jew-on-Jew murder during illegitimate civil wars between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms? Than the Rumkowskis of the Judenrats and the KAPOs of the ghettos and Death Camps? Than the Jewish-Underworld White slavers that preyed on Warsaw orphans and sold them to Argentine brothels? Than the Meyer Lanskys and the Bugsey Segals of Murder Inc. ?

אשמנו מכל־עם. בשנו מכל־דור????!!! Who wrote these words? A Ruakh HaQodesh infused Paytahn or a delegate to the Durban II Conference?

But not having the benfit of a YU or YCT smicha, unlike Rabbi Yosef Kanevsky, I cannot perform a radical phrase-ectomy of the offensive passage. Instead, in the Best Berditchever tradition of defending our people during the Days of Awe and Mercy I will have to settle for some reconstructive surgery through reinterpretation .

I'd like to submit that the paytan who composed this line in the Selichos was utilizing the derivative Mem prefix rather than the superlative Memprefix. The Mems fronting מכל־עם and מכל־דור mean "from" rather than "more than". It is to be read as a rhetorical question providing it's own answer אשמנו??? Have we accrued guilt?? If so it is מכל־עם "from all the nations" i.e.the guilt derives from the tyranny and inexorable cultural osmosis of our long exile by "all the nations" . AKAשעבוד מלכיות. We want to do your bidding, Dear G-d, but our subjugation to the Nations compels us to sin and accrue guilt.

בשנו ??? Have we done things that fill our hearts with shame ?? If so it is only מכל־דור "from all the generations" i.e. from the accretions of Golus-induced sinful / shameful behavioral patterns that grow like the rings of a tree from one generation to another. Does only a Mekhalel Shabbos,a Okhel Nevelos U'trefos and a Boiel Nidos get a pass as a Tinok Shenishbah but not an inveterate Loshon Hora speaker? We are allproducts of entropic bad nurture yet our natures stay pristine and identified with Your will, Dear G-d.

I realize that by reading the selichos this way I am fahrdraying a vidui, an act of contrite confession and transforming it into a passing of the buck and shifting of the blame to G-d himself. But lest anyone accuse me of being more radical than Rav Levi Yitzchok let me say that I stole this play from Rebee Akivas playbook
וצריך לפרוט את החטא, שנאמר0
'אנא חטא העם הזה חטאה גדולה ויעשו להם אלהי זהב, דברי ר
יהודה בן בבא,רבי עקיבא אומר(׳) אשרי נשוי פשע כסוי חטאה, אלא מהו שאמר משה ויעשו להם
אלהי זהב,כדר' ינאי דאמר ר׳ ינאי *אמר משה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבש״ע כסף וזהב שהרבית
להם לישראל עד שאמרו די גרם להם שיעשו אלהי זהב.

So there you have it. Rebbe Akiva morphed a Vidui that specifies into a shifting-of-blame-for-sin that points an accusing finger at the סולח ומוחל ית Himself כביכול .

May all the Tzadikim living here and living in heaven act as our advocates and may we all be immediately signed, sealed and delivered into the Book of Life.

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