Hyphenated Allegiance

A Word with Rabbi Moshe Taub


Parshas Mattos-Massai 2010


Cavalier in Cleveland



The other day, Dina Lundener, a former member of our Shul now residing in Cleveland, received an email from her family’s pediatrician marked “urgent”:


Subject: How to talk to your kids about Lebron leaving Cleveland


About two months ago, my 13 year old son, Joey, who is a basketball player, announced that he wasn't interested in playing basketball this coming season. No reason. I suspect that he was consciously or unconsciously protecting himself for what happened last night. Today, we have heard many comments from parents about how crushed their children were, asking for guidance in dealing with this issue. The following is a letter that I wrote last night to Joey who is away at camp. I hope that it will provide some insight as to the type of discussions that are appropriate to have with your children. Remember, crisis, health related or sports related, is always an opportunity for growth.



July 9, 2010

Dear Joey:


Well by now you have heard that Lebron is going to Miami. I cannot tell you how angry and betrayed Mommy and I felt when we initially heard the announcement. We actually went walking around the block for about an hour, talking about what happened and why we felt so bad. And I think the main reason we felt so bad is that for a moment it made us feel like losers. If Lebron can reject you, then you must really be a loser.

But Joey, think about how silly that sentence sounds. Cleveland is no different now than it was before we heard Lebron was leaving. To be sure, there will be a huge financial impact on Cleveland. I feel sorry for the businesses that will lose a lot of money because the Cavs will not be selling out games. And I feel sorry for the salesmen who will lose money because people will not be buying his shirts and other memorabilia. Etc.[1]



While at first blush this email –from a doctor no less - seems preposterous, after some thought we could perhaps relate. After all, this was not just a man who left town, but an industry, a billion dollar business that picked up and moved to another side of the country. More than this, Chazal discuss the attachment one has to their city, and, in this case, the denizens of Cleveland feel more than just rejected, they are fearful that his leaving confirms a doubt many secretly harbor about their smaller towns: “are we relevant?”



The above may be highly illustrative, L’Havdil Ad Lanetzech, to the events in this week’s Parsha.


The Torah, from its earliest events, describes in glowing, even pining terms the ideal of EretzYisroel. It has been both our greatest force of hope, and, when misused or misunderstood, cause for haunting regret.


Now, finally on the verge of AviraD’Aara (Aramaic expression for the “air of the Land”), when the Land was a reality to the point of its divisions beginning to be awarded, and, with the memory fresh of that entire generation through whose own error would not witness this moment themselves…comes along Bnei Gad and BneiReuvein to request they not dwell there; they, so to speak, wanted to be drafted to another place.


What a buzz kill! More: What a risk, considering events from our recent history!


Moshe was nonplussed. First he questions if their actions will “…dissuade the heart of the Jewish people…”[32:7]. Secondly, he reminds them of how the spies’ words, 38 years prior, caused so much to fall apart the first time the Jews were ready to enter the Land [32:8-15].


Bnei Gad and Ruevein respond by reaffirming their commitment to the cause and to the forthcoming fight (“We shall arm ourselves swiftly in the vanguard of the Children of Israel…we will not return to or homes until the children of Israel will have inherited…[32:16-18]). Moshe allows their request to be realized by making it conditional both on their assurances and with the addition of “…if you arm yourselves before Gd in battle…” [32:20].


Our concern, I humbly offer, should not be in how these tribes could surrender the holy opportunity to dwell in the Land when the door was open to them; do not we today as well, here in ChutzL’Aretz, make that same request[2]? Indeed, Moshe too does not seem to be troubled by their application in and of itself, rather, and as seen clearly from the verses, he wanted assurances of battle.


Was there really a cause to doubt that they would fight? Was that not to be an imperative on all men of a certain age, regardless of their dwelling?


The OhrHaChaimHaKodesh explains both Moshe’s initial concern and his addition of “…before Gd in battle…” as follows:


The Rambam [Maimonides, Yad, HilchosMelachim Ch. 6, Hal. 15] states that when a Jewish army fights, each and every soldier must “…not think of his wife and children, indeed he must erase their memories from his heart… his mindset must be to act for the honor of Gd alone


This is due to a very simple truth relating to the psychology of humankind: Dual loyalties are a challenge, if not impossible.


Are there Heterim (leniencies) for living outside of Israel? Certainly. Were the needs of Bnei Gad and Ruevein in line with these allowances?  Indeed. Could they than fight with the same vivacity as those fighting for their families and homeland? Not so simple.


Moshe needed to know - the nation needed to hear – that when Bnei Gad and Ruvein will battle it would not be solely to fulfill a promise and commitment to Moshe through which they can then receive the real estate they so desired. Even if this were to be mixed with true concern for the battle at hand and their Jewish brethren, that too would be insufficient, even dangerous. What Moshe demanded and what the nation needed to be assured was that their fighting would be unrelated to their new homes and that they would be of one mindset –and one mindset only – with the rest of the nation: their mutual loyalty to Gd and His battle.


The other week I was reading a biography of Rabbi Aaron Kotler (A Living MishnasReb Aaron, by R. Dershawitz, Feldheim Books). There it relates a meeting Rabbi Kotler had with a lay-board of one of the may organizations of which he was the religious head. After he answered there specific question and the meeting came to a close his students remarked that they were surprised by his replies, “The Rosh Yeshiva’s answers seemed like leftist positions!”. Rabbi Kotler was not amused. “Do you think that Daas Torah (a scholar’s understanding of deep Torah principles and philosophy) is rooted or shaped by party allegiances or political alliances? Heaven Forbid! It is about looking into the Torah, Gemara, Rambam, ShulchanAruch, our history, etc. and finding a truth, no matter what that truth “represents” in the eyes of man.”


Too often our allegiance to Torah, our alliance to Yiddeshkeit, is hyphenated:


Modern-Orthodox; Yeshiva-Orthodox; Religious-Zionist etc. etc. etc. (Of course, and sadly, the parties to which one does not belong always sound oxymoronic)


But are dual loyalties really possible? This is not to argue that we all share, or should share, the same Hashkofos (religious philosophy), rather, that while each one of us may view our codes through the prism of a specific upbringing, we can – short of a specific Mesora (Torah-true tradition) – allow ourselves to yield first to “the battle of Gd” as opposed to fighting for what we believe to be our personal philosophy[3].


To put it another way: perhaps it should be called Orthodox-Modern; Orthodox-Yeshivish etc. instead, where the priorities are clear.


Back to Israel:


The Diaspora Jew is always insecure. Some want to exclaim that they are American first; others want to let us know that they are a Ben/Bat EretzYisroel first.


But the correlation is wrong to start with: We are, all of us, BneiEretzYisreol in Galus. That is what defines us, that is our Mehus (being, essence), who we are.


Separate from that, in a grouping unrelated, we are doctors, lawyers, teachers – all important to our physical selves -, and, of course, in that same breath, we are Americans – it is just that all these do not define us.


We do believe, however, that these separate types of loyalty can merge, in that the protection and safety of the State of Israel is vital for the survival of this great country as well.


This past week, when the PM of Israel met with the American president – our president – one week after this great country’s celebration of her birthday, the feelings were not, or should not have been, mixed. An Irish American need not apologize for demanding that his homeland be cared for and that his/her relatives back home be safe.


What Moshe was demanding from Bnei Gad and Reuvein echoes down to us today: what defines your loyalties? Where you live, your political or religious theories? Or, are we loyal only to something greater than ourselves, something that binds us as Jews rather than divides us?


We, like Bnei Gad and Reuvein, mustn’t dissuade the hearts of our brothers and sisters who are fighting fortheir very survival. We must make sure that know with confidence that their fight is our fight; that while we live and breath here our souls inhale from the land of our forefathers; and that we shall join them there soon.


Let these battles end and may the day that we join together as one under a common flag in a common homeland happen soon so that this TishaB’Av can transform from a Yom Aveilut to a Yom Tov (See MidrashShirHaShirim as codified by Rambam).








[1] Here is the letter in its entirety (from where we left off above): I even feel sorry for Dan Gilbert who truly invested in his team, perhaps more than any other owner of a Cleveland franchise. But remember Joey, being rejected by a 25 year old person who puts a basketball in the hoop for a living doesn't make you any smaller or less important and it certainly doesn't make you a loser.

Despite what he said in his prime time, self-promoting interview on ESPN that he chose winning over everything else, in Mommy's and my opinion, Lebron did not choose to be a winner. If that were really true he would not have put himself first. He chose the easy route in Miami. A true winner would have stayed with his loyal fans even if it meant working harder. Maybe at 25, he is tired of shouldering responsibility. Maybe that is what happened in Game 6 of the Boston series. Maybe he doesn't have the fire in his belly that Kobe and Michael have/had. Although I started out feeling angry, as I think about it more, I feel sorry for him. Because what he has shown with this decision is that at least at this point in his life he doesn't understand what a true winner is. The fame and the grandeur that goes with winning a game or a playoff or a championship ring cannot buy loyalty and it often doesn't buy happiness. His face told it all during the ESPN extravaganza. He looked nervous and he almost gulped when he said he wasgoing to South  Beach, Florida. He knew he was abandoning his hometown but he wasn't able to look beyond himself and give back to those who supported him and who indirectly made him so famous. Betrayed Akron fans turned on him almost immediately and were burning his t shirts while Cleveland sportscasters quite correctly pointed out that over time, he may be one of the most hated people around Northeast Ohio, just a little bit ahead of Art Modell who brought the Browns to Baltimore. This morning's Plain Dealer quoted him as saying "...I wanted to do what was best for Lebron James and what would make him happy." He may have a lot of money but the people who paid for tickets and bought his shirts feel that he has been disloyal to them and all the money in the world won't be able to buy him happiness. I hope he finds happiness in Miami but I doubt it because true happiness doesn't come from what you get, it comes from what you give.

Until last night, Lebron was a hero to many here in Northeast Ohio. He brought 7 good years to the Cavaliers and by extension to the city of Cleveland. We all wanted Lebron to continue being a hero. Human beings want to believe in heroes. We need heroes because they challenge us to rise above our own weaknesses and soar. You may remember the Greek tragic story of Icarus who had wax wings and believed he was invincible only to find that when he flew too close to the sun, his wings melted and he came crashing to the ground. Since he was 13 years old, Lebron has been called the King and the Chosen One. He has been worshipped and adored and been granted every wish he could want. Just like Jafar, the evil sorcerer in the Aladdin movie. But the danger of living a life of privilege with no limits or boundaries is it may lead to a wish to become the most powerful genie and you end up getting put right back in the bottle, you fly too close to the sun and your wings melt. A true hero quietly and modestly works to make the world a better place. Even one person at a time. At times like this, we have to remind ourselves more than ever to be on the lookout for the true heroes in our life, the firemen who risk their lives to save others, the police who keep our cities safe, the doctors who heal people, the teachers who nurture the next generation, and maybe just the person who, with a kind word, puts a smile on someone else's face.

Joey, you know that one of my favorite lines in all of literature is the Peter Parker quote in the Spiderman comic book that with great power comes great responsibility. Lebron has great power. I don't believe he used it with great responsibility. Remember, however, that you too have great power, in some ways as much or more than Lebron. Learn from tonight's experience to use your great power with great responsibility.

Love, Daddy (and Mommy)

As always, thank you for your continued support of our practice. We look forward to taking care of your family's needs this summer.


Senders Pediatrics

2054 South Green Road South Euclid, OH 44121 Phone (216) 291-9210 Fax (216) 291-9422

[2] The Halachik strength or weakness of our residing in Chutz L’Aretz is beyond the scope of this short sermon.

[3] An example: While washing Negel Vasser next to one’s bed is a important Halacha, the fact that the Shulchan Aruch is silent about it does allow for certain leniencies that other more fundamental laws may not have. This is not the bypassing of our customs but the true Halachik observance of them. See for instance S.A. HaRav regarding not being Mevatel Torah in order to wait for someone to bring one water in the morning.

Daf Yomi takes place nightly at the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, 105 Maple Road, after the evening services. For complete schedule call 634-0212 or visit their web site at 

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