Chapter Five

"What will it Accomplish?"
'It is a Waste of Time — In Any Case they Will Not Listen'
When it Hurts — Scream!
Had They Not Screamed — Who Knows Where We Would be Today
Even if There is One-Thousandth of a Chance that Protest Will Help — We Must Protest!

One of the common arguments against publicizing a ruling is the question, "what will it accomplish?" Here are some examples of such questions which were directed to the Rebbe:

1. It’s a waste of time to discuss this matter, since in any case we are doomed to failure.

2. Perhaps it’s better to keep quiet, since no one will listen to this ruling anyway.

Other arguments directed to the Rebbe, were phrased in more "learned" garb, such as:

3. We are not qualified to expound the law properly.

4. In one public address the Rebbe smilingly recounted that "a certain skilled Talmudist, who, when requested by me to publicize a ruling in this matter, responded: "Just as it is a mitzvah to say something which will be obeyed, so it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying that which will not be heeded...."

Before detailing the Rebbe’s responses, we will preface with an excerpt from another address:

It is irrelevant whether or not protesting will be effective, because the reason for protest is not that a logical reason exists to indicate that protest will be effective, but rather because we are pained by the situation! I assume that you are also embroiled in this matter. Our involvement however should not be for the purpose of deriving enjoyment or receiving accolades.… If one receives notoriety for this involvement, one is usually receiving the opposite of what is usually called honor. In any case, I have long given up worrying about such public reaction.

Someone asked me, how can it be that I am not affected when someone denounces me and calls me a certain name, then another person calls me a different name, and a third calls me something even worse? I told him, that this is something that has been ingrained in me from my youth. Not that it doesn’t bother me at all, but it doesn’t bother me enough to make me change my approach — when dealing with matters of life and death, we cannot be silent! This is the clear ruling in the Code of Jewish Law, based upon an undisputed ruling in the Talmud, that it is forbidden to remain silent in matters of life and death!

In addition to this point the Rebbe dealt with all the arguments mentioned above, demonstrating how, in spite of all arguments, the rabbis must issue a clear ruling in this matter.

1. Concerning the argument that "protest does not produce results," the Rebbe responded as follows:

It is impossible to know what the outcome would be if even one person would protest. All the more so when there are, thank G-d, quite a few protesting. Some are protesting behind the scenes, others publicly; some in Yiddish, others in other languages, etc. If people were not protesting, who knows what the situation would be like now?

The Talmud says that all positive things must be done even a hundred times until the result is achieved. The rabbinic authorities imply that this directive is not an exaggeration but is meant literally. In other words, even if one has performed his obligation of "You shall rebuke your fellow" or "You shall extend your helping hand ..." ninety-nine times, he is still obligated to do it again. And he is required to do so with the same vigor and drive he displayed the first time he performed the obligation, since he is, after all, fulfilling the very same injunction.

Indeed, it does not seem to make any sense: he tried to perform the commandment ninety-nine times. What results could another attempt achieve?

The answer is, that we do not know what the effect of the 100th attempt may be. As Maimonides states (as an Halachic ruling, no less), when the world’s balance of merits and demerits is not fifty-fifty, one act cannot swing the balance. But if the world is in balance, then with one isolated act of protest, one could "swing the balance for himself and the whole world to the side of merit, and bring salvation and rescue to himself and humanity." No one knows When there could be a more propitious time than the present.

2. With regard to the second argument, the Rebbe said:

The very fact that there are certain rabbis who issued a rabbinic ruling and sent it to the Israeli government (despite the fact that they knew it would not be effective), is already proof, that this is what needs to be done. This is because inasmuch as they are rabbis they must protest, and they must not be concerned with the notion that they may not be adhered to.

3. Concerning the rabbis’ argument that "we are not qualified to expound the laws properly," the Rebbe responded, that this reasoning cannot enter into a discussion of Jewish Law involving either matters of life and death or an act which is being continually perpetrated. Indeed in our case, it is clear that we are dealing simultaneously with both an ongoing act and a case of veritable life and death. Therefore the argument claiming a lack of qualifications, has no place whatsoever.

4. As far as the argument that "in the same way that it is a mitzvah to say something which will be obeyed, likewise it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying something which will be ignored ..." is concerned, the Rebbe countered:

This argument is not in accordance with the Code of Jewish Law. When the Torah says, "You shall not stand idly by your brother’s blood," it does not mean, that you are only required to involve yourself when you are certain that your efforts will be successful. Rather, even if there is only a slim chance — even only the slightest of chances — that you will succeed in your protest being heard, you must do this, for it is the unequivocal ruling of the Code of Jewish Law!"

In his public address of 11 Shvat 5731 (1971), the Rebbe said that the greatest damage is done by those rabbis who remain silent:

May it be G-d’s will that all those who remain silent (and they are many) finally involve themselves in this issue, since it is easier to deal with an acknowledged opponent, than with someone who remains silent. It is impossible to engage the latter in discussion when he insists on remaining silent: he listens, he hears the arguments, and proceeds to do nothing about it.

We find this with regard to the Sanhedrin. When one of the judges remains silent on an issue, he is not counted together with the rest of the Sanhedrin, but when he votes with the minority, he is. In fact (with regard to a court of 71), if there are seventy judges who vote pro, and one con, the pros prevail; but if there are seventy pros and one abstention, the trial is render null and void.

When seventy judges vote in favor, and one says that right now he cannot be counted with the rest of the Sanhedrin, that he’s not going to adjudicate, he’s not going to hear the arguments for or against, or it’s "not his business" — then the votes of the other seventy judges are not sufficient to produce a ruling. However, if there are only thirty-six judges for and thirty-five against, we can declare a definitive ruling in favor. How can this be? In the latter case there are thirty-five against, whereas in the first case there was not even one against?! Nevertheless, since the latter case involves a complete Sanhedrin, and the Torah says, "you shall go after the majority," the case is won, and closed. However, in the former case, when seventy vote for, yet one abstains and sits on the fence, there cannot be a ruling, and nothing is accomplished.

In his public address of Purim 5730, the Rebbe added that even rabbis who are not accustomed to protest, must protest in this case and not remain silent, lest their silence be taken as tacit approval.

Whether one is accustomed or not, if there is a chance that his silence will be misinterpreted, then he has no choice. Whether he likes it or not, he must articulate his position, at least briefly....

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