Oy Lanu Mei-Elbonah Shel Torah – Two Proposals

מה נאמר ומה נצטדק

R. Chaim Volozhin writes that by right, we ought not daven for ourselves, but for צערה דשכינה, the pain of the Shechinah, as it were. Chazal pointedly describe the Shechinah as pained whenever we are pained. When we are anguished, we can be sure that the Shechinah is as well – and we daven for a change in circumstances so that the Shechinah need not experience, kivayachol, that anguish.

R. Dessler writes that this is a beautiful concept – but beyond our grasp. We can and should daven in good faith for our own needs, as they apply to us directly.

The events of Thursday, July 23rd may be exceptional. I believe that R. Dessler might concede that we can and should feel the pain of the Shechinah. We should be davening first and foremost that the terrible black mark on Torah Jews should not cause the Shechinah any more pain and embarrassment. The images shown on television screens and computer monitors around the globe today are a huge setback to the mission of Klal Yisrael to project to the world an image of what a mamleches kohanim v’goy kadosh is supposed to be. They empower all the cynics who see religion as useless, and worse. We have found a new level of mourning within our mourning.

Returning late from pre-Shabbos shopping, I delayed in checking Cross-Currents. I hoped that by the time I sat down, one of the other writers would have posted something about a day of infamy. Every time some major news item breaks, readers write to inquire/complain that Cross-Currents is ignoring the most important items of the day. Every time, I remind readers that CC is not a news service, and does not even attempt to write about every important topic. It is a site where writers who feel they have something important or insightful to say can showcase their output.

I felt that today’s events loomed so large – so many people I met had long, tormented faces – that somebody had to say something. I hoped it wouldn’t have to be me, because I had nothing profound to offer.

For those who are news junkies, I will offer two non-profound ideas. I offer them in the hope that they may be better than nothing, but without a good deal of confidence that this is true.

1) I have no solution. But for those who wish to do something, let me note that the only offset to massive chilul Hashem is massive Kiddush Hashem. If we do worry about the pain of the Shechinah, whose reputation has suffered such a blow, let us build up that reputation, one interaction at a time. Say hello to strangers (including non-frum Jews and non-Jews of all backgrounds and ethnicities, offer some help to a coworker, let a car proceed ahead of you in an intersection – all the time smiling, and calling attention to your yarmulke or sheitel. Let people see kinder, gentler Torah Jews, and let them see lots of them.
2) For quite a while, I have been toying with creating a forum to discuss the key issues that underlie so much discontent in parts of the Torah world. Perhaps once a month or so, we ought to focus on a particular problem, and invite essays from the field. We’re not quite there yet. (It would take some tweaking of the website, and that would take some money or manpower.) But perhaps this could be a trial balloon. Our readers are spread all over the world. Some of you must have some thoughts worthwhile organizing into good prose, or have rabbeim or mentors who have what to contribute. Somebody will likely say something profound this Shabbos. Perhaps such people, proud of what they have come up with, would like to share thoughts with others. Please send short submissions (recommendation of under 500 words) to [email protected] Please send them by Tuesday evening, EDT. We can’t guarantee publication, but if they are up to our standard, we will publish the best of them next week.

May Hashem quickly repair the pirtzos of our nation – and may we have the insight to know how to do the initial construction work ourselves.

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29 Responses

  1. lacosta says:

    the only other reaction i can think of is the jewish people is SOOO broken, RBSO we are too sick to fix ourselves anymore! we give up, you win, the geula will have to come when we are kulo chayav, and we’re close enough to that right now…..so bring the geula now…

  2. Michoel says:

    I have a lot of pain over this. Sometimes one almost feels like giving up. If we drive politely, will that really cause people to think that we are not g’navim? They will more likely think that we are polite g’navim and in some ways that is even worse then rude g’navim. It comes across as less straight.

    Also, we need to really be m’vaer for ourselves what it means to make a kiddush Hashem, and this touches on a lot of deeper things in our whole approach to Yiddishkeit. If Kiddush Hashem means making Frum Jews look good, there is a huge danger in stressing appearance over substance. If making a Kiddush Hashem means doing what the Torah says, and consequentially people “may” think well of Klal Yisrael, then we need to be very tough to endure when people think badly of us even though we are doing the right thing. Oy.

  3. Gershon Josephs says:

    There won’t be a solution until the frum world focuses more on ethics than on chumros.

  4. Garnel Ironheart says:

    I am reminded of something Rav Yonasan Rosenblum once wrote about the 3 boys who are imprisoned in Japan. He noted that the man who sent them on their mission probably only eats the most strictly kosher food.
    There’s something wrong with us if keeping kosher and the kind of hat one wears defines one’s goodness as a Jew. On open the local newspaper this morning and seeing a photo of a guy in a hat and black coat being led away by police, I had to wonder: At any point, did he say to himself “I’m a bad Jew”? Let’s say he goes to a shul where one must be shomer mitzvos to get an aliyah or other kavod. When he gets out on jail and returns to daven there, will he be denied those kibbudim like the guy who shows up in shorts after driving to shul on Shabbos?

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Some prominent individuals in all major segments of the Orthodox world have been been hit lately by accusations and indictments related to financial illegalities, so any proposed solution that focuses only on one segment is incomplete. Any segment that targets its indignation at another segment without addressing its own manifest problems is causing more harm than good.

  6. Jewish Observer says:

    “The images shown on television screens and computer monitors around the globe today are a huge setback to the mission of Klal Yisrael to project to the world an image of what a mamleches kohanim v’goy kadosh is supposed to be. They empower all the cynics who see religion as useless, and worse.”

    – Why all the focus on our image versus the core problem? The fact that “respectable” people are involved with this stuff indicates that we cannot fool ourselves into thinking it is a mere aberration.

    Yes, our image is important, but we must put in in context.

    Mundane moshol: If a person is chas veshalom in a serious accident and is on the operating table, do you focus on how will take care of his lawn?

  7. The Contarian says:

    There is someting rotten in the state of the. “orthodox”.

    What is wrong is systemic and cannot be fixed on the individual level.

    We have not created the institutions to prepare us for living in the real world.

    The Chassidic shtetel model, the litvish yeshvish model, the syrian religious model, all assume a small homogenious self-reliant society with the its own policing and judicial powers surrouned by enemies.

    Until these models are replaced, Charedi/Orthodox societies are doomed to repeat the same Chillulei hashem over and over again.

    If you do not believe me, read the commennts on the popular “orthodox” news sites.

  8. rejewvenator says:

    There is only one torah-true answer: Ubeiarta Hara Mikirbecha. So long as we rely on the police to investigate us and remove the evildoers from our midst, we will be just like everyone else. Once we take responsibility on ourselves to police our own communities and to refuse to tolerate the corruption that has been exposed, repeatedly, before our eyes, we can begin to be, once again, an example unto others.

  9. Leonard Cohen says:

    I have quoted the following words from Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, on numerous occasions. I do so again with grave foreboding:

    “Now I understand the words of Musaf for Yom Tov: ‘because of our sins were we exiled from our country and distanced from our Land.’ This we have done *voluntarily*. Many times have I directed that the religious Jews in the diaspora be instructed that anyone who has the ability to come to Eretz Yisroel and doesn’t, will have to account for his *failure* in Ha’Olam HaBa.” (Ha’ish Al Hachoma, vol. II, p. 149)

    The proverbial chickens have come home to roost. Virulent anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head once again on the European continent. Here in the good ole’ USA — the “goldena medina” — we have over-invested in our stake in golus, forgetting that we are but temporary sojourners here. I fear that for decades our recitations of “Next Year in Yerushalayim” have been spiritually hollow…too many never really wanted it.

    Now our lives are becoming increasingly uncomfortable in this previously too comfortable golus. Having never heeded Rav Yosef Chaim’s admonition (with the exception of the balei emunah who have bravely boarded their Nefesh B’Nefesh flights) the Ribbono Shel Olam is now giving us plenty of unpleasant nudging in the direction of home. It only remains to be seen whether we stop twiddling our thumbs in our yeshivas and shuls, and finally heed the call. It’s time to say goodbye to America and fulfill, en mass, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. In my humble opinion this is the only solution.

  10. Baruch Simcha says:

    At first, my reaction mirrored those expressed on this posting and the comments published.

    While these sentiments are emes l’amito with regards to the lessons we must learn from these events and the need to focus on kiddush Hashem, I think it is important to remember the need to be dan l’kaf z’chus. Allegations are easy to make but harder to prove.

    The chilul Hashem is overwhelming, but we must not cast judgment on those implicated based on the actions of prosecutors, police and (especially) the biased New York Times and other media outlets who remarkably knew to be at the homes of those arrested in time to make the headlines this morning. The chilul Hashem will exist whether those involved are guilty or not, since, if they are cleared of all charges, the media would hide an article detailing these facts to the back section of the newspaper.

    The tzaarah d’Schinah perhaps is found in the fact that such accusations can be made against the frum world and carry credence. We must become beyond reproach in all areas of life. And, yes, starting with the small things (like driving properly) is the only way to accustom ourselves to doing the right thing when it is much harder (see Da’as Torah, chelek I, Ma’amarim, Parshas Vayetzeh, etc.).

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    Like it or not, we have failed across the board to inculcate the importance of CM in our daily lives, as opposed to a few blatt learned in depth in a zman of learning or our progress through Daf Yomi where we tend to cover ground at the expense of Halacha LMaaseh. Until we view CM as important as OC and YD, we will see more ritually observant and prominent people walking the perp walk. Anyone whocan walk a perp walk with his Tzitis out and not be mindful of “Urisem Oso” brings to mind Chazal and Rambam’s definitions and illustrations of Chillul HaShem.

  12. CJ Srullowitz says:

    “[T]he only offset to massive chilul Hashem is massive Kiddush Hashem.” – Rabbi Adlerstein

    Well put. I would also suggest, lulei demistafina, that these chilulei Hashem act as moral hazards warning the rest of our holy nation that this is the fate awaiting them when they violate the rules of the Torah and the government.

  13. Shira says:

    I agree with the idea of just being respectful to those around us thereby causing a kiddush Hashem (It’s fine to be nice to others no matter what you think they think about you). If we would all reach outside ourselves a little more and show the kind face Rabbi Adlerstein describes, it would undoubtedly have a positive effect on ourselves and our own attitudes as well. Whether or not society responds positively to this change in attitude, it will at the very least distance us from being tempted by such corrupt behaviors.

  14. shmuel says:

    When we say that limud HaTorah is greater than maaseh are we giving ourselves a mixed message? Are we forgetting the concluding phrase that the limud (should) brings us to maaseh?

  15. Shades of Gray says:

    “Let people see kinder, gentler Torah Jews, and let them see lots of them.”

    On the subway today, I saw people reading the New York Times and Daily News, which pictured identifiable frum Jews led to being booked by the FBI. At times such as this, I feel embarrassed to face non-Jewish neighbors and acquaintances and worry about anti-Semitism.

    Before I had to get off, a woman passed by me, collecting for medical expenses. Now, I am usually suspicious of most panhandlers on the subway, but this person showed what seemed to be documentation of her medical needs, so I gave her a dollar. I was the only one in my area to give her, and I thought to myself, “let my fellow commuters reading the newspapers see this as well”.

    On a recent OU Radio Program (“A Jew in the Modern World: Understanding Opportunities”) Steve Savitsky interviewed Dr. Nachum Katlowitz, an urologist in New York, about precisely this topic, the image of the Torah Jew in a non frum world. He told the story of Shlomo Carblach who once gave a bigger tip than usual, “to make up for all those who don’t”.

  16. Ori says:

    Leonard Cohen: It’s time to say goodbye to America and fulfill, en mass, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. In my humble opinion this is the only solution.

    Ori: What does Shmittah have to do with Mt. Sinai? Are Israeli Charedim more honest in their business dealings than US Charedim? Or do you think this incident will provoke an anti-semitic backlash?

  17. Saul Berger says:

    Why do we all focus on “chilul Hashem” to such a large degree whenever a story like this breaks? In this particular case, the politicians arrested were mostly non-Jews, and since they are in positions of power, they should be the main focus of the news stories. We all agree that the alleged actions would constitute chilul Hashem, which is a by-product of the key to the story. The key is that GREED and the Yatzer Hara tries to bring every human down. no matter their race, color, creed or religion. There are bad apples in every basket, and we should be reaching out to all Jews, as well as non-Jews, by teaching them the Torah way regarding ethical behaviour in business and life.

  18. Tal Benschar says:

    This past Shabbos I was thinking about these events when I saw a very frightening piece in the Derash Moshe by R. Moshe Feinstein that is apt.

    The Torah relates how Moshe Rabbenu gave Mussar to klal yisroel. Many of the events he mentions only by a hint — mentioning the name of the place where the sin took place. (See the first passuk in the parsha.) Rashi there states that he did so because of the honor of Israel.

    The Derash Moshe asks, but we see later in Devarim that certain sins (Meraglim, Egel ha Zahav) are described in great detail. What happened to “the honor of Israel?”

    He answers that for sure to know the terrible extent of certain sins and how they achieved kapparah, one has to go into detail.

    Our passuk, however, deals with something else. These were sins done by the prior generation, not the current one. This generation did not commit these sins, so it would not be proper to rebuke them in detail.

    Why rebuke them at all? Here is the frightening part:

    In any event he stated the mussar here with a hint, that the new generation was rebuked for the sins committed by the prior generation. That is because every man must know that if he sees someone sinning, he should not say that as to himself it is not possible he would sin, in that he knows this is a forbidden thing and he believes in Hashem and His Torah, rather he must that he also may sin in this thing even if it is an ugly thing, if he has not yet uprooted from himself the evil forces that entice one even to things which are extremely ugly, and one should not rely on one’s rationality (seichel) that it will not permit him to sin, rather he must add in learning Torah and Mussar until his character traits and thoughts change and he knows how to avoid the sin through fences, etc. An thus all this [rebuke] was because they did not work hard to uproot the traits which lead to sin, Moshe rebuked them as though they had done the sin itself, and this rebuke — that they are liable to sin — he rebuked them with a hint because of their honor, since they did not actually sin yet.

    This reminded me of the Chazal: One who sees a Sotah in her degradation, should separate himself from wine. (Ha roeh Sotah be kilkulah, yazir atzmo min ha Yayin.)

    This week we had the unfortunate and unpleasant experience of reasing about people who were ostensibly Bnei Torah being caught up in sin — some of which is terribly ugly, and has lead to terrible Chillul Hashem.

    No one who hears of these awful events should say “By me this could not happen.” The same temptations that lead the persons involved down the path could happen to anyone.

    There is no question a major tikkun is needed. Like any mussar, that has to start at the individual level before it spreads out to the community and klal yisroel in general.

  19. Menachem Lipkin says:

    I grew up in West Deal. Though, not Syrian, it still really hits home for me. If this will be a catalyst for us to change our ways in how we deal with ethics and the non-Jewish world then it will have been a blessing in disguise. As usual, you hit the nail on the head in suggesting a remedy.

    The following was excerpted from a Dvar Torah by Rabbi Eli Mansour, Congregation Bet Yaakob, Deal, NJ:

    A Rabbi commented that the final redemption will resemble in this respect the redemption from Egypt. Just as the Exodus from Egypt could not occur until Benei Yisrael earned the Egyptians’ favor and respect, so will the ultimate redemption unfold only once we are admired and held in esteem by the gentile nations. Today, unfortunately, the Jewish people do not have a reputation of honesty and strict ethical standards. We are looked at by many as cheaters and swindlers. Too many headlines have appeared reporting various scandals involving Jews, and we have yet to rid ourselves of this stigma. While this stereotype certainly results to some extent from a degree of anti-Semitic sentiment, we nevertheless bear the immense responsibility to conduct ourselves with scrupulous integrity in our dealings with the gentile world. Only then can we hope to earn their admiration and respect, and only then will Mashiach be able to come and redeem our nation.

  20. dr. bill says:

    let me mention something that is perhaps a tad too intellectual. CM may be a bit removed from the reality of today’s marketplace; it may provide too much leeway or at the very least, it can be abused to be so interpreted.

    I am not known as a great machmir and even react negatively to some of the CM chumrot (some say dinim) as being overly harsh. But if there was ever a time for ‘eis lasot Lashem, haifairu toratecha’ it might be zero-tolerance for any kulot in any area related to CM. Again, for some distinguished poskim, i am advocating little change to the dictates of halakha; but for those who disagree, might this not be the place for chumrot and real concern for a “varvorfenah yesh omrim”. In fact, i know we do not have to go as far as “haifairu toratecha!!”

    For those who remember the story of a few weeks ago and how some came to the defense of rabbi who counseled the permissibility of activity if you do not get caught causing a chillul hashem, might this not be the time to admit the consequenses of both bad halakhic and political judgment?

  21. joel rich says:

    Dr. Bill,
    What you describe is imho the result of “ish hahalacha” without “ish haelokim” (that was the original title, it was released under the title “uvikashtem misham)-both by R’YBS.
    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu


  22. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Ori: Are Israeli Charedim more honest in their business dealings than US Charedim? Or do you think this incident will provoke an anti-semitic backlash?
    I think that those American frum Jews of all stripes are more cognizant of their behavior because as olim from a prosperous and free country they are “Israelis by choice” and feel a need to uphold the ethical values of the Torah. This is not universal, and obviously the less mature people are less developed in their character, but frum Jews making aliya in numbers will have a positive effect.

    Dr. Bill: There is no such thing as a chumra in Choshen Mishpat. In monetary matters if a dayan is machmir to one side he is maikil to the other. If you mean to be strict on yourself unilaterally in not taking money or paying money when you suspect you might be in the wrong, that is a good policy, but it must be done in moderation, otherwise your wife and children could be poverty cases. If you are not such a super-tzaddik, you won’t be able to deal with it.

  23. L. Oberstein says:

    Over the years I have grown immune to cries of “moser”. It seems that for many Jews, the biggest sin is not stealing but getting another Jew in trouble.The anti-semitic laws of Czarist Russia made earning an honest living very hard. My own grandfather was a bootlegger in the Ukraine around 1910. That is he made whiskey without a license. I don’t think of him as a criminal. But, and this is a big “but”, this is really “mesira”. From what I read ,the cooperating witness entrapped people. He went to them and proposed the illegal action and he entrapped rabbis based on his familial ties. How he will ever show his face in the Syrian community ever again, I wonder. Will the reduced sentence he receives for his “mesira” be worth the shame he has caused his mother and father, whom I know and respect. How will this affect his wife and children? Did he do this because of righteous indignation or because he was in so deep, this was his only “life line?”
    Over the years I have been offered more than once to take a big check for tzedaka and return most of it in cash. Luckily for me, it isn’t an issue, my superiors would never ever in a million years do it.
    Someone once told me that in certain circles they laugh at Baltimore as a “hick town”. My retort was that none of our leaders are “sitting” in jail. The Talmud tells us that if one does a sin and repeats it, it become permissible to him. That is the long and short of it.
    As a father , I shudder to think what would be if this moser were my son. We could all be in that situation, no matter what we think.Oi Va avoi. hshem yerachem.

  24. Shlomo says:

    A wise rabbi once opined that (one of)the real tragedy of the Shoah was that each side used it to more deeply entrench himself in his own views. The Zionists (religious and non): that we (others, not us!) didn’t move to Eretz Yisrael. The frum, that we (other Jews, not us!) left the Torah. Hashem sent us a tremendous message, either via Hester Panim or a Shinui Sidrei Breishis, and all we can say is: I told you so!
    As we approach Tisha B’Av, we read in the Gemara that the Jews of the time searched out the reason for the Churban. Al Ma Avdah Aretz? And no one could provide an answer, until Hashem himself did. I think that we are so content thinking that we know the answer that the Neviim and Chachamim did not know, that we miss the force of the question.
    I have not personally seen this aspect of Yiddishkeit stressed. Each Yid should ask himself: Why is Hashem doing this to me? to us? I know it comes from Him, Yisbarach Shmo, but why. When I can ask this question personally, about my own nisyonos, then I may begin to ask it seriously about the nisyonos of Klal Yisrael.

  25. YM says:

    Its simple: observe the halacha in all aspects. If you are not sure what to do, speak to your Rav. All aspects include the the required halachic character traits: being modest, bashful, greeting everyone with a smile, etc.

  26. YM says:

    What exactly is entrapment? Is it somehow a mea culpa for ones sinning to say that someone created the opportunity to sin and he took it?

  27. joel rich says:

    R’ Yehoshua,
    see Baba Metzia 83a regarding Rabba bar bar Chana, who had a barrel of wine negligently broken by some porters he had hired, it would seem .He took their property, and they went to Rav, who told him to give them back . He said, “is that the din?”, Rav said yes, “leman telech b’derech tovim” (Mishlei 2:20) which Rashi explainsas a reference to lifnin meshuras hadin.
    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu


  28. Bob Miller says:

    The main, most powerful agent of entrapment is our Yetzer Hara (evil inclination). If someone overcomes his personal Yetzer Hara, no best buddy or wired-up con man can entice him to join an illegal scheme. In an ideal Jewish society, no one, certainly no community leader, would have taken the FBI’s bait, and we would have been spared the whole disgusting spectacle.

  29. Jeffrey Alhadeff says:

    The first step to a tikkun is to admit we have a problem.

    When we have a problem, our rabbanim focus the energies in talking about it. Our schools focus on teaching it.

    Classes on marriage are common place. Sure there are classes on business ethics, but nowhere near as intensive.

    I suggest creating a curriculum that would be used in high schools that would detail the laws and attitudes that pertain to this situation. This curriculum should include Torah sources that describe proper attitudes towards money, non-Jews, and the a non-Jewish government. Laws related to such topics should also be covered. In addition, specific cases should be presented, students should study the sources, and discusses/debate the correct path (similar to an ethics class). After, a dayan could come in and discuses the matters with the class.

    We also need to clearly identify what is the area of responsibility one has when they know something is going on, be it ranging from not beseder to illegal.

    To admit that we have a problem will open paths of teshuva for us to create ourselves as new.

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