If you want to know a man, give him power. So said the saintly Rav Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, z”l, also known as the Tzemach Tzedek. And so I think of the many abusers like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and unfortunately more recently, those in the Jewish community, who have failed in their abuse of power.
When the Chaim Walder story broke last month, I held my tongue. I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon an rightfully castigate this monster because the point was exhausted. What is there to say that we don’t already know? That people in power should know better? It’s no secret that their errant behavior not only ruins everything good they ever represented, but worse, destroys the lives of innocent victims. And that’s not even mentioning that many of their victims who will understandably now have a jaded perception of Judaism. And worse, science has shown that therapy rarely cures these twisted predators from their sick ways.
But I still wasn’t able to shelve this saga so quickly because I can’t put my head around a few things. For instance, how do these brilliant, dynamic personalities who have the ability to inspire so many chose to destroy everything by abusing their power? Did they really forget who was running the show and who gave them their ability to inspire others in the first place? Did they forget that it was Hashem who allowed them to have any power and success to begin with?
I know that when my father became mayor of Miami Beach, the mara d’asra of our community, Rabbi Mordechai Shapiro, z”l, came to the mayor’s office and “reminded” my father that everyone would be watching his every move as he was now representing the Jewish people. Thankfully, my father always took that matter to heart and served the city with great honor and even had the distinction of building the eruv, b”H! Why? Because he never forgot who was the One in charge of everything. He never lost sight of who was running the show.
Still, something about this last incident really struck a nerve. About 30 years ago, I heard a lecture from a then-famous kiruv rabbi who was later outed and prosecuted for untold abuses. After the lecture, I saw a rabbi and mentioned how much I enjoyed the featured lecturer. The rabbi turns to me and says “Uch. Don’t mention that guy’s name.” I figured they had bad blood and forgot about it until years later, when he was prosecuted and I found out that they had worked together in the same organization and “had heard things for years.”
And then I realized what was bothering me.
How many people could have stopped and prevented future abuse yet chose to remain silent throughout these ordeals. Obviously, the victims who remain quiet do so because they are ashamed and traumatized and that is understandable. But what about those who knew something yet chose silence, or even worse, victims who spoke up and were met with indifference. And this apathy, this lack of concern for a fellow Jew in severe danger is beyond unconscionable and flies in direct opposition to Torah values. And as painful as it is, there were many rabbis, educators and administrators who have heard stories and/or have had suspicions, yet have opted to ignore them.
One article discusses a boy who was molested by a rabbi and told his other rebbe. The result? He was slapped hard across the face and was warned not to speak lashon hara. I can’t imagine the punishment awaiting a clergyman, whose sole job is to bring kids closer to G-d, yet commits a crime that accomplishes the opposite. If a rabbi touched me inappropriately, chas v’shalom, I might have never evolved into the person that I am. If I were molested, G-d forbid, while another rabbi smacked me in the face, I would be waiting outside both of their respective homes with pliers and a blowtorch.
I can’t begin to imagine how Hashem feels about people that he entrusts with power who then abuse it by causing untold pain instead of bringing happiness and kedusha to the world.
I want to appeal to those who are in a position to prevent others from abusing others. While these perpetrators of evil for whatever the reason cannot overcome their sickness, you have the power to stop it. Consider that the next time you overlook the next abuse that the victim he’s abusing could very well be your own child, grandchild or friend. Consider the fact that if you were able to prevent a Cosby or Weinstein from existing and you didn’t, then you share in a part of their guilt because you remained silent while they divvied out untold trauma. Hiding your head in the sand so you don’t lose your job or better yet, your upcoming promotion with an even better pension plan, will hardly mitigate your culpability. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps you were privy to certain information so that you could be the one to stop it?
Remember that Moshe Rabbeinu could’ve easily ignored the plight of the Jew being beaten yet the Torah tells us clearly that he looked “this way and that way” – within himself – catapulting himself into the greatest leader the world has ever known.
The Torah has the commandment of eglah arufah, where a calf is decapitated as penance for an unsolved murder in a neighboring town. The implication is that the leaders are somewhat accountable for not being sensitive enough to another person’s pain. How much more so does this apply when we are aware of someone else’s guilt?
Around 50 years ago, the New York City police department had a great deal of corruption until one single courageous cop named Frank Serpico exposed their crimes, and was even shot in the process. Yet he had the courage and fortitude to stand up for justice, a true hero. Spiderman reminds us that with great power comes great responsibility. That applies to those in positions of power who commit evil, as much as those who are privy to it yet shamefully chose to remain silent.