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Posts Tagged ‘Rav Shimon Schwab’

‘Crisis’ In Orthodoxy?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

The recent arrests of several New Jersey rabbis, coming on the heels of a variety of other scandals in Jewish life that also resulted in prominent arrests, have led many to conclude that Orthodoxy is in crisis and its entire worldview under siege and perhaps unsustainable.
 
Some have asked, What is the value of Torah study and mitzvot if the human product that results is no more ethical or moral than one who eschews those divine commandments and just lives a life of integrity? Others have decried the “overemphasis” on certain mitzvot to the exclusion, or at least the minimization, of other mitzvot.
 
All valid questions, to be sure, but they also miss the point, and in their justified concern for the reputations of God, His Torah and the Jewish people, those who ask them overlook one essential dimension of Torah and fail to put this tragic waywardness in perspective.
 
In short, there is no crisis; there is only life, people and human frailty.
 
The nostalgia for some perfect world of the past – where all Jews, especially rabbis, were decent, honest, ethical and upright – stems from a fantasy. A dangerous fantasy.
 
   Human nature remains human nature, and as a people we are defined by the majority, not by the exceptions, even if the exceptions grab the media spotlight. And the majority of religious Jews – and rabbis – are decent, honest, ethical and upright people, and even among the accused wrongdoers, the overwhelming majority of their actions also reflect the values they profess. And to the extent they do not? Well, that is why there are courts, laws, prosecutions and public opprobrium.
 
The phenomenon of “religious sin” or the “sins of the religious” is quite ancient. “How could they, of all people?” might well have been asked of Korach, Datan, Aviram and a host of others who stood at Sinai. The prophets were well aware of people who performed mitzvot by rote, who did not seem to be on the inside what they looked like on the outside. That type of person, in one context, is referred to as the “ish navuv” – the “hollow man” (Iyov 11:12), what Rav Shimon Schwab called “a person with a righteous fa?ade who has a hollow interior.”
 

So none of this is new. There is a passage from the SMA”G (Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, a compendium of the 613 commandments written in the early 13th century by Rav Moshe of Coucy, France), pointed out to me by my colleague Rav Shaul Robinson, that is both frightening and, oddly, comforting. In Mitzvat Aseh 74 – the laws of returning lost objects, he states:

 

            I have already expounded to the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Spain and to the other exiles of Edom that now that the exile has been prolonged, we must separate ourselves from the corrupt values of the world and grasp the seal of Hashem, which is truth. We are not to lie either to Jews or to non-Jews, nor to cause them to err in any matter, but rather to sanctify ourselves through what is permissible. As the verse says (Tzefania 2:13): “The remnant of Israel shall do no crookedness, not speak falsehood, and not have any deceit in their mouths.” And when Hashem comes to redeem us, they (the nations) will then say, “God acted justly [in redeeming them], because they are people of truth, and the Torah of truth is in their mouths.”
 
            But, if we treat the nations with trickery and deceitfulness, they will say instead, “Look what God has done, choosing for His portion in the world a nation of thieves and swindlers . ” And, indeed, God scattered us about the globe so that we should attract converts, but as long as we deal with the nations with deceit, who will want to cleave to us? We see [from the story of the flood] that God was concerned even about stealing from the wicked.
 
            And the Yerushalmi (Bava Metzia 5:5) teaches that distinguished rabbis once purchased a kor of wheat from non-Jews, and in the bushel of wheat they found a purse filled with money, and they returned it to the non-Jews who exclaimed, “Blessed is the God of the Jews.” There are many similar stories that discuss returning the lost object of non-Jews and the sanctification of God’s name that resulted.

 

That passage is frightening because it was written approximately 800 years ago, and so, apparently, Orthodoxy was in “crisis” then as well. But it is also comforting when we recognize that nothing is new, and that, indeed, there is no “crisis.” Money is money, temptation is temptation, and people are people. No one is perfectly good or perfectly evil, but rather hybrids of good and bad conduct.
 
We hope most people are mostly good, and that the rough edges we all have can be smoothed by the ameliorating effects of Torah. We all struggle with different elements of our nature. Different parts of the Torah challenge each of us – some are challenged by issues of personal modesty and others by arrogance, some by money (most of us, Chazal say in Bava Batra 165a) and others by Shabbat.
 
No two people are alike, and what is asked of each of us is to control those parts of our nature that are unruly. That is the “kabbalat ol malchut shamayim” – acceptance of the yoke of God’s kingship – we are obligated to experience twice a day. Our Sages therefore asserted, in loose translation (Sukkah 52a), that “the greater the person [i.e., the more desires he has under control], the greater the temptation” [in those remaining areas].
 
           We all understand intellectually that no one is perfect, and yet are surprised when we see any imperfections in certain people. Undoubtedly, King David (even Moshe Rabbeinu himself) would have been vilified by our society. Spiritual greatness is not, however, defined by an unreachable perfection but by the spiritual giant’s capacity to overcome sin, to accept responsibility for misdeeds, and to aspire to perfection.
 
One should no more be inclined to abandon a life of Torah (or not embrace one) because of a few alleged evildoers than one should stop eating food altogether because a few people suffer food poisoning. “For these [mitzvot] are our lives and the length of our days.” They are commandments, not suggestions. We are responsible for all our actions before God, and the mitzvot in totality are designed to produce a human being who strives for perfection and is answerable for any failings.
 
No one mitzvah can guarantee perfection, because each mitzvah targets a different dimension of the human personality. But pull one thread out, and the entire garment will unravel. The study of mussar, and an understanding of mitzvot, can inculcate how all mitzvotShabbat, kashrut, tefillah, etc. – ideally make us better people, and if they do not in an individual case, we can still learn where we went wrong and what we can do to rectify it.
 
   So let us not rationalize nefarious conduct – but let us also not be na?ve about human nature or simplistic about the Torah’s commandments. Let us continue to demand of ourselves the highest standards of fidelity to God’s law. As Rav Zundel Salanter is reported to have said, “We should check the origin of our money to the same extent we check the origin of our food.”
 
But we should also recognize that, for most of us, it is easier to serve God through Shabbat, kashrut, tefillah, etc., than it is through exhibiting – at all times – ethical behavior and decent conduct, from how we drive our cars to how we earn our money. And the latter is a more substantive definition of who we are as servants of God – and a greater challenge today and perhaps always, and therefore, as the SMA”G indicated, the route to redemption as well.
 
Crisis in Orthodoxy? I think not. It is just life, people and their challenges – and it has existed from time immemorial. The Torah is perfect – but no one ever claimed all its practitioners are.
 

Rather than cast aspersions on others and make sweeping and smug generalizations, we should instead look in the mirror and confront our own failings (and not wait for the FBI or its informants to expose us). And then we will truly become servants of God, a nation renowned for its virtue and piety, and a people worthy of redemption.

 

 

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, 2009). He writes at Rabbipruzansky.com.

On Confidentiality

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Rabbi Horowitz:

My daughter has confided in me that one of her friends is cutting herself, and she is concerned that her friend may really hurt herself – or worse, chas v’shalom. She made me promise not to tell anyone.

What are my obligations and responsibilities to my daughter, her friend and her friend’s parents?

Name Withheld by Request

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

The matter of children or young adults engaging in self-destructive behavior, such as the “cutting” that you noted in your question, is a very serious matter – and far more common than we would like to think. In fact, I will submit that all frum teenage girls nowadays have either only one “degree of separation” or two “degrees of separation” between them and someone who is actually cutting herself. This means that they personally know a young lady who is engaging in this practice, or know someone who knows a “cutter.” In my next column, I will respond to the issue of the “cutting” and what you ought to be doing to help your daughter’s friend. (For the record, I already reached out to the writer of the letter in order to get her professional help in dealing with this dilemma.)

This week I would like to draw attention to the promise you made to your daughter, namely not to tell anyone. The quandary that you now find yourself faced with raises several ethical questions:

1. In light of the emotional turmoil and potentially life-threatening danger to your daughter’s friend, are you morally bound by the promise you made to her?

2. If (or when) you will be faced with a similar dilemma in the future, would it be wiser to simply tell your daughter outright that you cannot promise not to tell anyone?

3. How about the overall privacy matter with your own children? Is it OK to check up (or as the kids might say, snoop) on them by looking in their drawers/pockets, listening in on their conversations or checking their e-mail/IM/website history – in your effort to keep them safe and out of trouble?

Perhaps the best way to gain clarity in this complex web of ethical dilemmas is to first address question #3 – the matter of privacy as it relates to your children.

A crucial underpinning of any meaningful relationship is developing a sense of trust. Because trust is built up slowly over the course of time and so easily eroded, it is very important that children deem parents trustworthy and sincere. That means never being dishonest with them and not violating their sense of privacy unless it is absolutely necessary.

It is of paramount importance for your children to have a sense of privacy in their home. In addition to developing a sense of comfort and belonging, in the long term, it also helps them establish appropriate boundaries that help protect them from abuse/sexual predators/molesters. If children are raised to feel that they have a sacred right to their “own space,” they are far less likely to allow others to invade that space and mistreat them in the future. (This is a very important matter that I addressed in my 2-part column on abuse prevention. Visit my website, www.rabbihorowitz.com, for those articles.)

It may be helpful to keep in mind the sage advice of one of our generation’s outstanding mechanchim, Rabbi Shlome Wolbe, zt”l, who often commented that children are miniature adults who need to be treated with the same respect that we would afford other adults.

Always be candid and up-front with your children. If you are inclined to check their IM or website history, for example, (and in today’s climate, maintaining that level of vigilance is very prudent advice), inform them in advance that you will be doing so. If you are worried about the behaviors and friends of your teenagers, and are apprehensive that he or she may be engaged in destructive activities (such as alcohol and/or drug abuse), it would be wise to inform them of your concerns. You might also clearly state that you may feel the need to occasionally suspend your rules of privacy in order to keep a more watchful eye on them.

Please don’t go the route of regularly snooping on your children. Trust me, your children will find out what you are doing. It is only a matter of time until they do. And when that happens, they will rightfully feel violated, and you may find that you have created a terrible rift in your vital relationship with them. I personally know of more than one young adult who left home permanently – ultimately abandoning Yiddishkeit – over having their privacy regularly violated. This is not to suggest that this was the only reason (there rarely is only one reason), but this was the final straw.

When discussing privacy boundaries with your children, it is a good practice to stake your claim to occasionally – and rarely – violate these rules if you think they are engaging in life-threatening or destructive behaviors. You may wish to use the analogy of a firefighter, who doesn’t knock politely on doors when opening them to extinguish a fire. If you have established healthy boundaries – and trust – over time, your relationship will survive the stress associated with the suspension of your house privacy rules. And deep down, your children will respect you for caring. But they will find it hard to forgive you if you violate their trust by snooping on them.

With that in mind, I think that the answer to question #2 would be to tell your daughter that you cannot promise not to tell anyone if someone’s life may be in danger. You should assure her, however, that you would not take any action without discussing it with her in advance.

As for helping her assist her friend, I strongly feel that expert, professional help is required for the “cutting” matter. This is not something that well-meaning individuals with no professional training – like me – should touch at all. The best thing we can do as responsible adults is place the young lady in the hands of an expert who can guide her properly.

It may be a good idea for you to find a mental health professional with training in self-destructive behaviors and take your daughter to speak with him or her. He or she can help your daughter understand her friend’s actions, and then your daughter can recommend to her friend that she see this doctor or clinician. In this way, you will not have violated her privacy and will be offering her meaningful help.

In closing, I commend you on being an involved parent, one who has earned the trust of your daughter. The fact that she confided in you speaks volumes about the quality of your parenting skills. Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, notes that the first time the word re’ah (friend) is mentioned in the Torah relates to the incident of Yehudah’s misdeed (see Bereshis 38:20). Yehudah found himself in a very uncomfortable position during the incident with Tamar, and he reached out for the help of an individual, who is introduced to us as Chirah re’eihu (Chirah his friend). Rav Schwab explains that since Yehudah was comfortable confiding in this man after he had sinned, he was crowned with the title of “re’eihu.”

A friend is one who listens without judging. A friend is one with whom you can let your guard down. A friend is someone whose friendship is genuine and everlasting.

Fortunate are those who have parents who guide them, who constructively criticize them, who set limits for them, who teach them right from wrong by personal example, and who are their friends.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved.

Note to readers: In the next column, we will address the issues of “cutting” and self-destructive behaviors.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. To review and download a free pre-publication copy of Rabbi Horowitz’s “Bright Beginnings Chumash Workbook,” please visit his website, www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail ek@darcheinoam.org, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/on-confidentiality/2007/09/11/

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