I get the point. We all get the point. There are Jews who act inappropriately. There are Jews who look religious but who commit disgraceful acts when they think no one is looking.
There are Jews who shame us all. No one is denying that. But is it really necessary to forward to everyone we know every article in every newspaper or on every website that describes an incident in which a Jew did something wrong?
Let’s say the stories are completely true. And, for a moment, let’s even put aside the laws of lashon hora (as if that can be done). Is there something to be gained by every Orthodox Jew being aware of the shameful acts of fellow Orthodox Jews? Is there something to be gained by publicizing our own degradation?
It’s not as if we are aren’t aware that such things happen in our community.
We are charged to love every Jew. Granted, it’s not always easy to do so. But as any psychologist will tell you, it’s a matter of focus and perspective. In a cynical and sarcastic society, where we all suffer from jealousy, fantasies about everyone else having it better than we do, and all manner of inferiority complexes, we often zero in on the negative. We are quick to judge and condemn others, without seeing the whole picture.
But even when Jews have indeed acted reprehensibly, how can we love our own people if all we talk about is how they are doing things wrong, cheating, acting immorally and being lousy citizens?
If a person tells a therapist he feels lowly and worthless, the therapist will instruct him that for every negative thought he has about himself he must counter with five nice ones. The therapist may even insist he write the positives down and keep it logged in a journal for constant review.
Perhaps whenever we receive or read about yet another terrible story concerning frum Jews, we should remind ourselves about how much good there is in our community. What about those beautiful articles depicting the chesed, the heroes, the love and passion exhibited in furthering our service to Hashem? Those articles circulate, but not nearly with the same speed as the negative ones.
The level of Torah study and mitzvah observance today is beyond compare. Recently, a neighbor related that she arrived home from a tzedakah event and remarked to her husband that she was so proud to be a part of such a special people. Though she had attended many such events before, that night it struck her just how remarkable it is that they are so commonplace in our community. Virtually every night there are similar events taking place for the benefit of a myriad of organizations.
Tanna D’vei Eliyahu speaks glowingly about the intense pleasure God has, as it were, when we speak kindly of our fellow Jews. Rav Avrohom Pam, zt”l (quoted in Haggadas Mareh Kohain), dolefully noted that it is common to hear people, even people of stature, bemoaning the spiritual degeneration of our time.
Rav Pam said we must realize that God has no pleasure from such negative speech, adding that he wasn’t referring to one who rebukes or admonishes others. In such a case it is surely fitting to explain to someone (in a genial and gentle fashion) what he has done wrong. Rather, Rav Pam explained, he was referring to those who stand together “conversing about things.” While speaking, they begin to discuss people and events and they lament the spiritual erosion of our time.
If one wishes to find fault with Jews, “iz duh vos tzu g’foonin” – “there is what to find.” But if the purpose of one’s words is simply to speak negatively, he is doing a great disservice to the world.
“Perhaps this malady,” Rav Pam warned, “is one of the causes for the delaying of Mashiach.”
It’s not a matter of being blind to the truth of our faults but rather a matter of focus and perspective. What does one choose to see? Unless one has the ability to correct and rectify evil acts, he should not speak negatively about other Jews but should seek out their positive traits and focus on them.
There are many serious challenges in the Torah world. There is, however, no dearth of merits that we possess. The fact that the Torah world rebuilt itself as it did after the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis is the greatest testament to our resiliency and greatness. It all depends on what we focus on.
We surely need to contemplate and plan for how we and our children will navigate the maze of challenges that confront us as Torah Jews. At the same time, we need to know we are part of a people who are never happy with past achievements and are always striving for greatness.
We are a people of unstoppable resilience and faith. We are a nation that has the courage to be different, and to be accused of being eccentric for our beliefs. But if we aren’t careful we can easily allow the negativity and shameful acts of some members of our community to overshadow all the beauty.
Something to think about before we decide to share an article on social media or push the send button on an e-mail.Rabbi Dani Staum
About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.
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