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Parshas Bo - Checking the Unchecked Behavior    5 Shvat 5782

01/06/2022 09:54:09 PM


Leadership is, at times, judged for taking a stance on an issue, and, on occasion, for not taking a stance on an issue. Perhaps ‘taking a stance ‘is not the best choice of language, especially regarding the topic of discussion below.  Perhaps a better choice of words would be to comment or choose not to comment on issues which swirl around the world, and, more specifically, swirl around the Jewish world at large. I share this message with some trepidation. Too often a writer or speaker leaves a point or two out of the discussion, leading the reader or listener opportunity to fill that void,  resulting in criticism for the omission.   A writer must be very careful, as, unlike the spoken word, the written word remains  for eternity. Even today, when so many things are recorded, one must be extremely careful not only to cross the T’s and dot the I’s, but to also ensure that no essential details are omitted while making the complex effort to omit details which can later be misconstrued or taken out of context.

With this introduction, I arrived at another dilemma. We, here in San Diego, are blessed and cursed by living ’out of town’. Living in an ’out of town’ community causes challenges of living a life without all the Jewish amenities that are typically readily available in a larger Jewish, and particularly religious, population.  On the other hand, we ‘out-of-towners’ are blessed to be insulated from some of the major distractions and challenges facing larger “frum” Jewish communities. With this said, today’s world is starkly different, not only in the Jewish world but for everyone, thanks to the Internet. This is not a referendum on the Internet (otherwise how would you be reading this on-line); I am simply stating a fact that the world has become much smaller. We can now tap into the shmuess/chatter and news of every Jewish community throughout the world with a few strokes of a keyboard.

I do not know how many of my readers follow news that comes out of Chareidi, Chaisidic or Litvish circles, but it is irrelevant for two reasons: 1) to quote Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, “Predators exist everywhere since time immemorial. There are Haredi predators, Modern Orthodox, Dati Leumi, Conservative, Reform, unaffiliated Jews, atheist, Catholic and Muslim predators. There are predators who are priests, rabbis and imams. There are predators who are journalists and politicians, doctors and lawyers, teachers and professors, police officers, plumbers and piano teachers, producers and directors, actors and actresses, parents, and stepparents. Nevertheless, we should be accurate and circumspect in judging any group for the sins of an individual.” 2) Rabbi Pruzansky continues, “Those who continue to deny that problems of abuse exist in their community are enablers of the worst kind. Therefore, I will make known to anyone who doesn’t even know what I am talking about to hear a message of going forward. I am referring to the recent scandals, disgraces, humiliations, and shameful stories that have come out of the religious Jewish world. Many are familiar with the term Chillul HaShem,’ loosely translated as a desecration of God’s name. I would like to outline two or three points that we can take away from current events. Before I begin to address Chillul Hashem, the most severe sin a Jew can commit, let us halachically define it and not misuse it. Too often a term of such magnitude is thrown around and most typically ill placed. I will try in a few short sentences to give a general overview;  I am sure there is more to be said. My description is not all-encompassing.   

The Rambam enumerates three types of Chillul Hashem. The first is when someone refuses to give up his life when called for. The second is when one commits a sin, not because he’s driven by his urges but pretty much out of spite. The third category is what we typically mean when we talk about Chillul Hashem: when someone who should know better acts in a fashion that is perceived to be beneath him. The Gemara Yoma 86a discusses what would constitute a Chillul Hashem. Rav said a Chillul Hashem would be applicable if a person failed to  pay his butcher on time. Now that is not such a grievous thing, but coming from Rav, it reflects badly on Torah scholars. Each of us, at our own level, is responsible to strive to act upward and not stoop down. Tosfos in Gemara Bava Kamma 113b rules that a Chillul Hashem does apply to non-Jews whenever they are expecting better behavior from the Jew. If it is a common traffic violation that most people may transgress and is understood [even though not forgiven] by the authorities,  Jews are not looked upon more harshly than others. Such case may not be defined as Chillul Hashem. In the case of a serious infringement, however, where most people are expected to obey, and the Jew is looked upon as one who should present higher standards of behavior, it may fall into the definition of Chillul Hashem.

These cited references are light in comparison to scandals that place the Jewish people clearly in a bad light by committing fraud and white-collar crimes where it is “only money”. These “only money” crimes destroy the reputation of Jews within the community where such offenses occurred as well as to the Jewish name at large. But  cases of sexual abuse, fraud, manipulation, and so forth, destroy the essence of Jewish society by losing trust in the good people and mentally and sometimes physically come to kill the victim.

We find in Gemara Yoma 86a quoted earlier that complete Teshuva/repentance for the classic Chillul Hashem is not always a simple task, and in extreme cases it is almost unattainable. In lighter cases of Chillul Hashem, if at all, I give you the words of Rabenu Yona in his Sha'arei Tshuvah 4:5:one should increase Kiddush Hashem  - the sanctification of  Hashem's name - by acting with meticulous care in that regard, in order to repair the damage that had been created. The sin of committing a chillul Hashem in an extreme case, such as in sexual abuse, is so serious that the Gemara tells us that neither teshuvah (repentance), Yom Kippur, nor suffering can fully affect atonement for such a person. A person cannot be fully cleansed of the taint of making a Chillul Hashem until he has died - and not by suicide.

I have read, listened to countless talks by leading Rabbanim, Roshei Yeshiva, and mental health professionals about the recent events and the conclusion is the same. The works of a person who commits these crimes against the innocent and vulnerable must be thrown, out despite the appearance of the mis-perceived value of the offender. We must understand this person (who I don’t want to even mention his name) probably lost any portion in the world to come. Our feelings of support must be loud and clear to the victims of sexual abuse.  We must assert that we believe the victims’ claims (when substantiated through proper channels) and are here to support these people emotionally, physically and financially, assuring that they  receive the necessary tools to rehabilitate.

Going forward, we, as parents, grandparents, and teachers need to educate our children from an early age about the dos and don’ts that are expected and accepted by adults. This is not limited to strangers, it applies equally to all relatives who are near their prey within the natural family setting. To again quote Rabbi Pruzansky, “It is parents who must educate their children regarding acceptable boundaries and the impropriety of physical contact by others. Parents must impress on their children that no adult is ever allowed to tell them to keep a secret from their parents, and that children should never be embarrassed or afraid to share with their parents anything that has happened to them. Children – boys and girls – should be informed of the laws of yichud and try to not to be alone behind closed doors with any person, even a respected authority figure. And children should cry out immediately, run from their assailant, and immediately inform their parents.”

Let us begin to correct and protect the innocent and vulnerable and root out the evil conduct within our society. It is up to us all to live in God’s image by creating more Kiddush HaShem and not, Chas V’Shalom, the opposite.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Tue, August 16 2022 19 Av 5782