There are men and women who truly consider themselves frum and exemplary in their observance of mitzvot. They are machmir in kashrut and meticulous in their Shabbat and Yom Tov observance. They even pride themselves on taking on stringencies that are not halachically required. Yet on their personal Yom Hadin, they will be shocked to discover that their self-perception of being erlich, God-fearing Jews is not shared by the Heavenly Court.
You see, there are mitzvot that pertain to Hashem, and others of equal importance that revolve around how we treat our fellow human beings – and somehow these pious folk failed to “get the memo.”
In my previous column about spiritual mindfulness, I mentioned that a crucial component of being connected to Hashem was being aware of, and thus having appreciation for, the routine activities we undertake, such as eating. Perhaps more challenging is internalizing that we are all created in Hashem’s image, that we are sons and daughters of the King of Kings, and must be respectful of one another.
Yet somehow, too many of us fail miserably in our dealings with other fellow humans, and “spin” or justify our actions – this is especially the case when it involves money.
A friend works for a company whose owners have a reputation as being big baalei tzedakah. Their names are often on the “benefactor” page of yeshivot and chesed organizations. My friend does not directly donate anywhere, but considers that she does “indirectly” because she is underpaid for the work she does, so her employer’s charity comes out of her paycheck. Thus she gives tzedakah in a roundabout way.
She is afraid to ask for the going rate for her skill set, aware that she is replaceable – and she needs the income from her job to help support her family. Other employees in the company are also being cheated of a fair wage.
At the same time, she and her colleagues are often berated, criticized and demeaned by their office manager, a member of the family. Each perceived mistake is publicized, but there is no praise or positive reinforcement for a job well done. Yet the manager is the epitome of tznuah, her skirts go well below her knees and not a strand of hair can be seen escaping her sheitel.
Her bullying, minimizing treatment of someone who, like her, is a daughter of a King, puts her on the same level as a treif-eating Jew who is kind and considerate to her employees and gives a fair wage. Mitzvot bain adam l’chavero is on the same level as those between man and Hashem.
And we all know or heard of women who would have remarried, but are imprisoned in dead marriages by a vindictive spouse who refused to give them a get. These “husbands” are doing Hitler’s’ work, by preventing children and the generations they would have created from coming into being. A woman free to marry can create worlds.
(The only excuse for not giving a get is if the wife chronically sabotages a loving father from having access to his kids by falsely accusing him of abusive behaviors or consistently thwarting court ordered visitation – a far too common occurrence. Withholding the get might be the only leverage he has.)
And then there are those who deliberately mislead or “put a stumbling block in front of a blind person” – a Torah prohibition. They convince friends and relatives to “invest” money they can’t afford to lose in “a sure thing,” hiding the fact that it is actually a risky financial undertaking. Or they borrow money from naive and trusting relatives or friends knowing it’s unlikely that their passionate declaration, “I will pay you back in a few weeks” will likely not happen in that time frame, if at all.
Yet these men and women piously beat their chest on Yom Kippur and genuinely feel they are doing teshuva, and look to elevate themselves spiritually.
It’s the epitome of hypocrisy and apikorsis.
Because, as Hillel declared to a gentile nobleman who wished to learn Torah while standing on one leg, the essence of Torah is about treating others the way you want to be treated, as well as not treating people in a manner that you yourself wouldn’t want to experience – and the rest is commentary and explanation of that statement.
No one wants to be cheated and ripped off, or taken advantage of; no one wants to be minimized and disparaged and made to feel worthless, or ignored or left out.
How many spouseless men and women ate alone this Yom Tov, or swallowed their pride and suppressed their dignity and asked married friends if they could come to a meal? How many have gone off the derech because of chronic non-inclusion? How many youngsters walked away from their Torah community because they were verbally or emotionally abused by clueless teachers, rabbeim or classmates because they were socially awkward or didn’t fit in academically?
Dr. Miriam Hirsch, an educator at Stern College, wrote in the fall edition of Jewish Action magazine that she had been involved in a research project a few years ago where she examined the school experiences of almost 100 former day school and yeshiva students. Sadly, one third wrote how teachers shamed, disgraced and shunned them.
Publicly humiliating someone is viewed in the Torah as akin to murder, so embarrassing a student in front of his or her classmates can be considered as breaking one of the Ten Commandments. No doubt the teacher or rebbe was careful to wash his/her hands before eating bread and then bentching and feeling perhaps virtuous. Yet the emotional killing of the student could have led less resilient individuals to “wash their hands” from Yiddishkeit. They emotionally equated the religious world as one where they were made to feel like losers and inferior. Why stay in a chronically toxic environment?
Anger, intolerance, unfair business practices weaken our achdut, our oneness, and lack of unity is the Jewish people’s “Achilles Heel,” and we become vulnerable to hatred. When a frum person rejects, ignores or manipulates another to his emotional or financial or social detriment, he or she is in practice rejecting Hashem. Treating another person with contempt, viewing them as an am ha’aretz or acting as if he or she is invisible, is in effect saying that Hashem made a mistake, that He is fallible. That could be a definition of a heretic.
A kidney recipient once said that all his future mitzvot belonged to his donor, for he had extended his life, thus every bracha he made; every good deed, every gift of tzeddakah, belonged to his donor. I believe in that same vein, every act of deliberate or even unintentional omission, be it social or financial, that can lead to a person rejecting his Yiddishkeit, results in that person’s sins being attributed to the people who pushed him away through their meanness or unethical treatment.
So on Yom Hadin, some self-identifying frum men and women may be in for a rather unexpected judgement.