Monday, February 2, 2009

Absolute Integrity

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, interprets the Mishnah in Yoma 22 in a surprisingly novel way: “In earlier generations, anyone who wanted to rise (לתרום-להתרומם) and take a position of authority could do so just by wanting to (רצין-רצון). If there was competition, whoever ascended to higher levels in avodas Hashem (בכבש-כבשונו של עולם) and proved the greater master of halachah (בארבע אמות—בד' אמות של הלכה) prevailed. If both were equally qualified, the yetzer hara (ממונה) would suggest falsely flattering the community (הצביעו) to secure the position. The evil inclination would rationalize that a bit of hypocrisy is nothing to worry about (ומה הן? מוציאין אחת או שתים...)—one can always regain one’s integrity after the contract is signed. But the righteous of earlier generations wouldn’t budge an iota, since they knew that their duty was to the Creator alone (אין מוציאין אגודל במקדש)!
Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin zt”l was a thorn in the side of the Maskilim of Brisk. He saw them as a poisonous threat and did everything he could to obstruct their progress. In desperation, they planted counterfeit money in the Rav’s home and informed on him. Rav Diskin was arrested, and the loyal Jews of the town hired a famous lawyer to prove him innocent of this capital crime. True to his conviction that one may not gaze upon the wicked, the Rav refused to look his own attorney in the face during their conversation in his cell. At the trial, the lawyer opened with a strange statement:
“Before I present my arguments, acquaint yourselves with the nature of this defendant. The Rabbi knows that I hold his fate in my hands, that a wrong word from me can cost him his life. Yet he never looked directly at me during any of our conferences because, in his opinion, I am a wicked man! How could it be that such a principled man committed the crime of which he is accused? It must be that this is a trap laid by his many opponents, who would do anything to silence him!” The court was convinced of the truth of this statement, and acquitted Rav Diskin.

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