How to Say “No” to the Non-Orthodox
Dr David Luchins spoke in LA today. Always a captivating speaker, the piece de resistance of his presentation was a fascinating Torah thought from R Ahron Soloveichik zt”l on how to relate to non-observant Jews:
A Mishnah in Yoma relates that before Yom Kippur, the senior Kohanim used to warn the Kohen Gadol not to make any changes in the avodah. He reacted by crying for their suspicions of him; they cried for having suspected him.
We understand the context. For 200 years, halachic Jews battled the Tzadokim/ Sadducees. The latter often controlled the Kehunah Gedolah, although they generally obeyed the instructions of the Perushim regarding details of the avodah. One of the more high-profile disputes concerned the avodah of Yom Kippur. The Tzadokim argued that the incense should be placed on the coals before the Kohen walked in with them to the Holy of Holies; proper halacha, on the other hand, mandated that the coals and incense be combined only after they were brought in. Chazal had good reason to seek assurance from the Kohen Gadol that he would follow halachic instruction, rather than Tzadoki practice.
But of what consequence was a verbal assurance from a misfit Kohen Gadol, who would not hesitate to lie and follow his own community? Furthermore, this procedure is cited by the Rambam in the Yad – the only “story,” if you will, in a halachic work. Why is this story important?
It is no story. The Rambam means to pasken this way for all time. Here is the background.
A midrash tell us that one year, the Tzadokim offered a negotiated settlement. They had designed a gadget that could hold two measures of ketores instead of one. It could be divided. On one side, the Kohen would carry ketores already ignited on the coals, Tzadoki style. On the other, pure ketores. Using this device, the Kohen could satisfy the requirements – or so they thought – of both the Perushim and the Tzadokim.
It couldn’t work, of course. We don’t compromise on matters of halacha. We had to say “no.” The Mishnah instructs us how to say no, whenever we have to do so. When the Mishnah describes the elder Kohanim as crying, it means to establish a halacha, not to tell a story. That is why the Rambam cites it. He means that whenever we deal with Jews out of the fold, and we have to tell them that we are unable to take part together with them, we should never speak with arrogance and pride. Rather, we should cry. We must tell them that our loyalty to Hashem and His Torah does not allow us to do what they ask – but they must see us shedding tears at having to keep ourselves apart from them.
A corollary of this is that when we are asked to join with them in something permissible, we must regard it as a mitzvah to do so.
חבל על דאבדן ןלא משתכחן