Rashi (B’reishis 34:25) explains the reason why Shimon and Levi acted in an unacceptably rash manner when they avenged the defilement of their sister Dinah at the hands of Shechem: because they did not consult beforehand with their father Yaakov. Yaakov would likely have counseled them to take pause before reacting in the violent fashion that they did. The Midrash on this pasuk goes a step further: They should have at least consulted with each other, states the Midrash.
If both Shimon and Levi were of the same mindset to take physical revenge against Shechem and the town, then how would talking to each other in advance have changed things? If anything, they would have reinforced each other’s attitude.
The answer, of course, is quite simple. Sometimes when people take the time to verbalize their inner thoughts and listen to what a colleague has to say, even if resembling their own, it helps crystalize those thoughts and put things into a different perspective. Had Shimon and Levi talked to each other in advance, they may not have reacted so harshly.
This past year, we had the opportunity to see many different perspectives religiously, medically, and politically. On the religious front, there were marked differences in approaches between the “Modern Orthodox” world and the more chareidi. Naturally, I am generalizing, but I am talking as a rule.
When it came to the health response to the COVID pandemic, the modern crowd was without question much more aggressive and careful to follow government guidelines such as masking and distancing. The RCA, the Orthodox Union, and the National Council of Young Israel were up front in addressing the issues at hand in practical terms and in halachah. Early in the pandemic, these organizations arranged for halachic guidelines from talmidei chachamim such as Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Mordechai Willig, and Rav Asher Weiss she’yaarichu yamim. Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt shlita was heroic in addressing all the related issues from a Torah and medical perspective.
The same crowd was also very careful not to cause chilul Hashem. And that is major. We have seen too many public stories of frum Jews not complying with COVID protocols, costing untold hundreds of lives. The worst scene of all was that of such people on airlines refusing to mask, bringing terror to fellow passengers. The most notorious story was of a family traveling from the US that forged COVID-negative documents and entered the plane unmasked, while in reality being COVID-positive. Besides the horrendous chilul Hashem, it caused huge damage to those innocents who want to travel to Israel for Pesach to see loved ones. The Israeli government was forced to refuse even those who could prove legitimate COVID-negative results for fear of falsified documents.
On the other hand, we can learn from the chareidi crowd. They are to be envied for their passion in wanting to return to shul and keeping their yeshivos open. They viewed this plague as a threat to their way of life as Torah-observant Jews. Yes, sometimes they were reckless, but at least they felt genuinely deprived of being able to daven with a minyan and teach their children Torah. That passion is something we can all strive for.
The amount of chesed stemming from the chareidim was nothing short of incredible during this crisis. The food distribution, as well as the money raised for individuals and institutions, was absolutely beyond imagination. Above all, the plasma drive, which was run by chareidi volunteers and organizations, brought about a huge kiddush Hashem and saved countless lives, Jewish and non-Jewish.
So, after we will be, with G-d’s help, blessed to be able to remove our masks, let’s sit down with each other and recognize that, underneath the facade, we are all Jewish brothers. Let’s gain from the Shimon and Levi experience. Unlike them, we need to listen and learn from each other.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.