By Rav Yaakov Bender, Rosh Hayeshiva, Yeshiva Darchei Torah, Far Rockaway
Baruch Hashem, it has been a wonderful first two weeks here at the yeshiva. From Nursery through Kollel, and every level in between, the talmidim are learning and growing – and most of all, they are visibly happy. Based on the overwhelming feedback that we have received from you, the parents, it is clear that you are happy as well.
So forgive me if I feel the need to offer some constructive criticism, but this issue bothers me a lot, and I feel that we cannot ignore it. Especially not in Elul.
The issue is WhatsApp.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. This message is not about the whole parsha of technology and its myriad of pitfalls in kedusha and menschlichkeit that lurk everywhere, both for ourselves and our children. That is a serious topic that needs further discussion and takonos. Today I am writing specifically about WhatsApp and similar ‘social media’ platforms.
Baruch Hashem, I think it is safe to say that nearly every one of our 1,324 sets of parents, bli ayin hora, is thrilled with their son’s rebbi and teachers. As is expected, there are bound to be a few parents who are unhappy or who have legitimate concerns or issues, and we do our very best to address them.
What WhatsApp and inventions of its ilk have enabled is for one ‘unhappy camper’ to instantly broadcast and amplify his or her complaint – with the click of a touchscreen – to scores or more of their fellow parents. This is not a uniquely Darchei Torah problem. This is a problem in Klal Yisroel.
How much progress we as a nation have made over the last number of years in awareness of and dikduk in the halachos of Loshon Hora and Rechilus! With the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation at the forefront, it is finally acceptable to politely interrupt another person with, “I’m sorry, but I think that’s Loshon Hora. Let’s change the subject.” Mi Kiamcha Yisroel! How many men, women and even children around the world learn two halachos a day, according to the calendar set forth by Rav Yehuda Zev Segal zt”l, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva!
But the Yetzer Hora/Soton is very smart. He’s definitely smarter than us. So smart, that he invented the smartphone (pun intended) — and an estimated 5.7 million apps of all kinds to run on it. Including apps like WhatsApp. So now serious aveiros of bein adam lichaveiro, such as Loshon Hora, Rechilus, Motzi Shem Ra, and others, have become much easier to violate – usually without much forethought. A Yerei Shomayim adult – someone who is meticulous about kashrus, Shabbos and the entire Torah – who would never dare to stand up in front of an auditorium of 90 people and spew rumors, gossip and negativity about another Yid, has no compunction about doing the exact same thing via a digital app! Have we gone mad?
A case in point: I received an email from a parent who was concerned about the configuration of her son’s classroom. And then an email from another parent, and then another. No parents had ever previously complained about that room. They love the rebbi and the teacher and the children are thriving. Suddenly, in the space of a few days this month, we received about ten complaints. What happened?
The key phrase in the email from the first parent who wrote me is very telling: “and I, along with all of the other parents, was very disturbed.”The proverbial bell went off in my head. WhatsApp! One parent had a concern – legitimate or not, that is beside the point – and aired it to a group of fellow parents.
Is this the nicest yeshiva building in America? Possibly. Is there another yeshiva with as beautiful and modern a campus, with expansive ball fields, a gym and other amenities right on its grounds for miles around? I doubt it. All of the positive attributes of their son’s yeshiva were lost as one parent’s gripe suddenly became the shared concern of “all of the other parents“in the group.
I have heard from other menahalim around the country who are in agony over this issue. Your hair would stand on end if you heard about some of the virtual “retzicha” of rabbeim and teachers that came about because of parents with loose lips, or, in this case, loose fingers. I use the term “retzicha” purposely, as Chazal compare the severity of evil speech to actual murder. Countless lives and careers have been devastated. For what? Because someone needed to vent?
Rabbosai, Yisroel Kedoshim Heim. We have so much to be proud of, in all areas. But it’s Elul. It’s a time of reckoning, of cheshbon hanefesh. Before we hit ‘send,’ let us stop and think: is this muttar? Or is this a ticket toGehenom? I do not wish such a gezeirah on anyone, but let’s be careful.
Thank you for listening.
Kesiva vachasima tova.