By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Sometimes all you can do is ask, “Eichah? How could it happen?” Sometimes there are no answers and there is nothing to say. Sometimes the news is so sad that we are left speechless upon hearing the goings-on. Sometimes things take place in this world which defy reaction. “Vayidom Aharon.” When Aharon Hakohein‘s two sons were taken on the day of the chanukas haMishkan, the posuk relates that Aharon accepted their fate with dignified silence.
You can’t go anywhere in the Jewish world without seeing people shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads as they speak in hushed tones about the tragedy which affected our brothers in Brooklyn and New Jersey last week.
People attempt – in vain – to make sense of the tragedy and wonder how it could happen. Can a son of a dynasty sink so far that he entraps the most respected members of his community in an ugly scheme just to shave years off his own jail sentence? How can it be that the middah of tzedakah that a community is renowned for is turned upon them, tripping up their leaders in such a vulgar fashion?
What words of comfort can be offered to the grieving families of all involved? Our hearts and prayers go out to them as we pray that their loved ones are proven innocent without much more senseless embarrassment.
In the merit of all that they have done for the community, we pray that those who have been shamed and enveloped in tears be restored to their proper positions as paragons of virtue and sincerity when they are absolved of the accusations against them.
Once again, the asher korchah power of our ancient foe Amaleik has reared his ugly head and cast a pall of disgrace upon Torah. In recent weeks, he has had several victories as he has successfully portrayed the Torah community as an uncaring, anti-social, riotous, violent, unlawful group. We stand pained and humiliated as the world media tars us week after week with articles and photos maligning us and turning even our people against us.
The novi Yirmiyahu, in a harbinger of events to be recycled through the murky sewer of golus, said it all: “All your enemies have opened their mouths wide against you; they hissed and gnashed their teeth [and] said, ‘We have engulfed [her]! Indeed, this is the day we longed for; we have found it; we have seen it!‘” (Eichah 2:16).
Their mouths have been opened wide against us and now, instead of religious Jews being perceived as a group which dedicates itself to studying and following the word of G-d and living responsible, selfless and moral lives, we are viewed as just the opposite.
Amaleik has utilized the media to paint a derisive picture of us, using the regrettable actions of a minority to taint the silent majority of law-abiding fine people. Hopefully, with his latest gambit he has overreached.
We have to go back many years to find a story which equals this one in its level of betrayal and humiliation, as we pray that it is the fanciful imagination of over-eager prosecutors entrapping gentle and kind people in a bid to prove an international conspiracy which defies belief. The age-old canard of Jews being money laundering loan sharks who rip off pounds of flesh from their gentile neighbors has once again been resuscitated and we bury our faces in shame. Any defense we can offer is thrown back in our faces by the awful stories propagated as fact.
It stretches the imagination to believe that an 87-year-old icon was running an international money laundering scheme. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be comical. Yet people believe it. Our community possesses so many good and selfless people, outstanding rabbis, fastidious lawyers and exacting accountants, yet we are portrayed as shylocks. There is no place to hide from the shame and embarrassment.
Everyone among us is left bewildered as to how something like this can happen in today’s enlightened world and what lessons there are for us in what has transpired.
The dust has not yet settled and the facts are not really known. Let us not fall into the trap of sensationalism and gossip. Let not a communal tragedy become a pretext for further defilement. Let us use our time to study Shulchan Aruch and sifrei halacha so that we can be better and more complete frum Yidden.
It is important to keep in mind that the first reports from the battlefield are almost always false. The circumstances are not known, the facts are skewed, and the story is told in a way that produces the most sensational headlines. Until the truth emerges, we are inundated with innumerable bogus versions of what “really” happened, but many of these assumptions may turn out to be incorrect. Let us not fall prey to the temptation to exaggerate and embellish the most lurid and shocking aspects of anything under discussion or investigation. Let us employ the necessary self-control, realizing the fruitless nature of endless and often erroneous analysis. Let us pray that the scandal is not as deep as the over-eager media purports it to be.
We need to channel our feelings at this time into something positive. As we reflect and engage in a period of introspection, we need to rise above the failures and work to achieve a more perfect state of affairs. When events such as these take place, we struggle, on a personal and communal level, to place it in the appropriate context. It is true that we don’t know why these events occur. But, as always, in the aftermath of such happenings, we must utilize such a tragic occurrence as an opportunity to take spiritual stock of where we are and how we can better ourselves in our eternal quest to be doveik baHashem.
In the future, if we are approached with a request that seems incongruous, or suspicious, we must probe for an explanation. There is no shame in asking questions repeatedly until we feel safe and secure that what we are doing is proper and just. We have to take the way we conduct our Yiddishkeit in golus seriously and be sure we are acting properly. As observant Jews, we must ensure that we don’t act erratically and foolishly and that we never fall into complacency or smugness.
Part of the curse of golus is that we have no novi who can interpret for us the actions of Hashem, who can help us correct our ways and explain to us the reasons behind disturbing events. Thus, we are left in the dark, broken and despondent. Ein lonu novi, v’ein lonu chozeh, v’ein lonu shiur rak haTorah hazos.
We must be thankful that we live in an enlightened democratic country that accepts us and lets us live, worship and work in peace. Jews are not only tolerated, but are treated well and supported in this country. Jews have risen to the highest levels of power in this land, and that is not in jeopardy. We may be in for hard times, but let’s keep it all in perspective and remember that it is up to us and our maasim tovim to determine the outcome of this trying historic period.
We have grown too comfortable in this golus. We are too complacent about all that goes on around us and we believe that this country is our natural home and that we belong here. We have forgotten that we are in exile from our land and are foreigners in a strange country. Instead of viewing ourselves as refugees pining for our return to the homeland we have been evicted from, we parade about as lords of the castle.
Not that long ago, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l would tell people to be careful to observe the admonition of the Magein Avrohom not to wear a tallis on top of their clothing as they walk the streets on Shabbos. Instead, we parade down the streets as if they were the streets of Yerushalayim. We arouse the anger of our neighbors by attempting to treat them as the interlopers, when it is we who are the ones who don’t really belong here.
We forget that one hundred years ago, we were treated as pariahs in most of the countries in which we lived. We were taxed into poverty, forced to live only in certain areas, and banned from many professions. Jewish children were regularly snatched from their families and placed in the Czar’s army for periods of up to 25 years. To be a Jew meant a life of poverty; deprivation and indignation.
Thankfully, that has all changed, primarily due to the way this malchus shel chesed has reached out and accepted us as equal citizens. We have grown lax in our personal conduct and perhaps taken advantage of the kindness of our host country.
Regardless of the presumed innocence of the revered people whom it seems were set up to appear as members of some phantom international conspiracy, the very fact that such an incident can transpire and cause so many people so much anguish and bewilderment should be a wake-up call to us. As obvious as it may seem that respected people were set up for downfall by a desperate, selfish, crooked person, the fact that such a colossal chillul Hashem could transpire has to have lessons for us.
Since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, 1940 years ago this week, the vestige of holiness resides in our yeshivos, botei medrash and botei knesses under the leadership of rabbonim, roshei yeshivos and morei derech. We must constantly be on guard as the power of Amaleik and the ugly forces of golus seek to erode the respect of our hallowed institutions and people. His mission is to cynically tarnish the way we view Torah, gedolei Torah and bnei Torah. We must always be alert to those attempts and not permit anything or anyone to diminish our devotion to Torah, halacha and the success of yeshivos.
We have to realize that every yeshiva, shul, and chesed organization is now suspect and must be doubly sure not to tolerate even the semblance of indiscretion. As painful as it is for us to admit, religious Jews are now viewed with great suspicion and we must all conduct ourselves in a manner in which, if exposed, will only earn praise and not condemnation.
We have to seek to cause the spotlight to return its focus on the many acts of kindness and charity performed in the religious community, which dedicates itself to fidelity to religious and civil law and conducts itself as true patriots of a welcoming country.
Whether in the realm of speech, actions or financial integrity, we have to look at the larger picture when we act. We have to ensure that all our actions are designed to find favor in the eyes of G-d and our fellow man and are in consonance with halacha and the law.
The Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuvah (7:5) that all the neviim commanded Klal Yisroel to do teshuvah. He adds that “Yisroel will only be redeemed through doing teshuvah. And the Torah has already promised that in the end of days, Yisroel will do teshuvah and will be immediately redeemed.”
Let’s try to cheer the sad, restore hope to those who have lost theirs, rejuvenate those who have become bitter and depressed, and train ourselves to be better rachmanim, bayshonim and gomlei chassodim.
The first solution to any dilemma is to recognize the problem. If we examine Jewish history in exile, we find that after an uncomfortable period following immigration into yet a new country, Hashem causes the Jews to find favor in the eyes of the host nation. We become successful financially and accrue much power. Torah grows and flourishes and we believe we have found the Promised Land. And then, the cycle turns on us and anti-Semitism strengthens. The tide of the country begins turning against us. People who had forgotten that they were in exile and ceased to desperately await the arrival of Moshiach and the reconstruction of the Bais Hamikdosh are given awful reminders and are awakened from their obsequiousness.
The self-assurance is punctured. The serene, amiable tranquility is shown to be a facade. Jews who had faded away begin returning to their heritage and those who have remained loyal to the religion of their fathers are coaxed to be cognizant of the fact that the only dependable ally they possess is the G-d of their forbears.
Eichah. And so it has come to pass in our day. Yoshvah badad. Only if we take heed of the messages being sent to us and recognize that we are in golus can we begin to do all we can to cause the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu speedily in our day. It is only then that the power of Amaleik will be vanquished and we will finally be able to dwell comfortably in our own land. It is only then that we will have all our questions answered and all the pain assuaged.