Sunday, July 13, 2014

Defending the Indefensible, or Simply Whitewashing

In my teenage years, I used to have friends who lived in the tenement house adjacent to mine. My family had just moved to the big city and the first pals I met there, were those boys. They appeared to be from a nice family, educated and rather well-to-do, as far as Communism allowed. They were good looking and had excellent manners.
But I was soon to learn that all those qualities were only surface-deep.
If any window glass got broken in the neighborhood, they were behind it. If someone woke up one morning to find that his car has been scratched with a nail, one of the younger brothers was probably the culprit. If school furniture or instruments got damaged, chances were that one of them had done it. Moreover, if something was stolen in the vicinity, there was a big probability that the owner could find it in their basement. They asked me many times to be their watchman, in case someone found out about their escapades.
However, when the parents of these boys got called to the school or were even visited by the local police officers, the boys need not have worried, because they were protected. They were protected by something which people might call ‘blind paternal love.’ Whether or not such an emotion was beneficial to the children, we will analyze B-H soon.
The parents would swear by all the saints, raise their arms in incredulity and claim that ‘Their boys? Their treasures? Their well-mannered and beautiful sons? They could not possibly do anything wrong. Impossible! It could not have been them!'
I didn’t hang out with them for too long, because somehow I aspired to higher ideals that could not mesh with that lifestyle. But the boys were still my neighbors, so for the next few years I observed how their lives rolled steadily downhill, unstopped by those who were supposed to guard them. The parents failed to protect them, not from the hostility of the world, but from their own evil urges. They ended up as common criminals. And the degree of their criminality only increased over time, as the younger one was the worst miscreant of all. He just permitted himself more than his life role models, his older brothers.
When I analyze this story, which I witnessed with my own eyes, I came to a certain belief. It was not the boys whom the parents were protecting. It was the image of themselves which they cherished in their hearts and minds; an image of self-love and self-righteousness, which just did not allow them to see anything wrong with their family. That is what they protected. That is what they really defended.
The obvious conclusion of this story is that if they would have distanced themselves somewhat from their offspring, if they would really have loved their children instead of their self-image, if they would have corrected the crooked paths of their boys, they would have saved them from destruction.
A little bit of awareness, some modesty and truth, may have been unpleasant in the short run, but would certainly have been helpful in the long run.
What I’m going to write may sound bitter, especially when written by a convert who, by the nature of things, is always suspected of not only being uneducated on matters of Yiddishkeit but also lacking in Jewish self-consciousness and perhaps Ahavas Yisroel.
No matter how much I prove otherwise, there will always be some who accuse me of such. But I will try.
I became a Jew in the most anti-Semitic country in the world after WWII, in a community where aveira was far more common than Mitzvah. Personally, I was later Gegavened even by some frum people. I could go on much longer, but this should be enough. Still, I say and I believe “Mi Kamochu Bagoyim K'Yisruel” – There is no nation among the nations like Yisruel.
I love every Yid and it makes no difference to me when I have the opportunity to help any of my brothers, any member of my Jewish family. Not even when he represents total moral failure or an ideology that contravenes the Torah which I believe.
Justification for this is simple. He must not be aware of what he is missing, and probably it is not his own rejection of Torah but what he was taught by other evildoers that causes him or her to be irreligious. He never tasted the sweetness of real Yidishkeit and the only way to make it accessible to him is through brotherly love and active help on a personal level.
It is prohibited, however, according to the teachings of Chazal as was explained by the Chasam Sofer and Rav SH.R. Hirsch, to be engaged on any level with a group calling itself Jewish, but which is not representing the Jewish way of life.
It is extremely painful to repeatedly see how some of us, religious Jews, publicly defend acts that are committed by members of our family which do no represent what we are about and what our Jewish mission is in the world.
Quite the opposite! Actions which are contradictory to our laws and our values can sometimes cause physical and moral destruction to creation. Worse still, they can cause others to follow in their footsteps. Subconsciously, goyim believe that if the Jews can do an avaira, they can too. Unwittingly, we are the world's compass. If the Chosen Nation, called by the holy name, commits a crime or an atrocity, the goy in his mind and conscience permits himself to do the same or worse.
A really evil act, even one perpetrated by a Jew, is recognized by the Gentile as such because certain evils are self-evident. For those deeds, the evildoer will be held solely responsible at the time of Final judgment.  But for the impression of permissiveness in a sin; for the bad example that our misbehavior sets for the world, we have no defense. Those misdeeds will be held on our account. As Mamleches Kohanim – a Kingdom of Priests and Ohr L’amim – a light to the nations, we are obliged to keep higher standards of morality and ideals.
Too often, unfortunately, the Nations follow our renegades instead of our righteous.
It is said that at least some of our misdeeds are also committed under the bad influence of the nations. This is true. But still, who is supposed to lead in this game called history?
When other people question the misbehaviors of our own Jewish family who represent the betrayal of what we treasure most, Torah and Mitzvois, some of us defend them. Is this right?
I will not even mention the topic of Mesira, which is the most self-defeating act that can pervade our circles. We should always bear in mind how harshly the Torah forbids it, and be aware that there are strict halachic rules regarding this issue.
Let us look together into the Talmud, the protective walls of our nation. Let us examine what our position should be, when the sins of our fellow Jews are committed in public. These avairos are sinful by any standards, including rule Dina De Malchusa Dina – the rule of the country where we live is our rule. DDMD applies as long as it is not openly in opposition to the Revealed Truth.
Yoma 86b in the middle of the page: "Rav Yehuda said that Rav contrasted the following verses. On the one hand it is written: ‘Fortunate is one whose transgression is forgiven, when sin is concealed.’ But on the other hand it is written: ‘One who conceals his sins will not succeed.’ This is not a difficulty, says the Gemura. The second verse, which objects to the concealment of wrongdoing, deals with a sin that is already widely known.” Rashi elucidates: “When people discover that someone sinned, the honor of Heaven is diminished.”
When a Jew transgresses any commandment of the Torah, and knowledge of it becomes public, it creates Hilul Hashem which is by many accounts the worst part of the sin itself.
On the same page of Gemura the fascinating topic continues in the last Beraisa:
“We expose hypocrites, for otherwise a desecration of the Name might ensue.”
The Talmud says specifically that when a person pretends to be a righteous, for example by calling himself with the holy name “Jew” but acting with behavior that is antithetical to the positive characteristics ascribed to Jews, we must call that what it is – a sin.
Chazal is teaching us in many places, that it was never the intention of our Torah to whitewash even our fathers and our greatest of teachers. They were indeed righteous but if they failed even on their own level, it revealed their human character. It showed that the Torah was not given to humans who are made of superior material, but to simple flesh and blood like our own. In other words, their behaviors should motivate us. For if it was possible for the greatest people from the pages of the Torah to uphold the commandments, so it is possible for us.
Any effort to whitewash their mistakes would bring the opposite result than what was intended. That is exactly what happens when we try to whitewash something that is obvious to everybody around us, including ourselves. But we conveniently make ourselves believe that the whole act, event or situation was different than the reality.
It is highly desirable to find explanations and sometimes even justifications for our fellow family members; as long as they do not perpetrate a crime against intellect.
There are always plenty of anti-Semites, including those from our fold, who are waiting to amplify any Jewish misbehavior. And if those misbehaviors don't exist they will fabricate ugly stories to pin on the Jew. For this kind of false accusations we should always be ready to defend our people and our values.
If, however, in the false attempt to defend the indefensible we are adding lie to the sin, we cause Desecration of The Name – Hilul Hashem of even greater proportions.
It is highly required to defend our brother or sister if we bring him to do Tshuva. However, without realization of sin Tshuva is impossible. If we try to defend only our self-image at the price of our fellow Jew not being informed about his transgressions, we do not really help him. We only lead him toward further destruction.
Besides that, there are those of our as-yet-irreligious brothers who will not understand what our ‘good’ intention was. They will see only a defense of sin, which will make sin seem permissible to them.
Our condoning is a disservice to our fellow Yid who transgresses. If we repaved his path back to the heights of real Jewishness, we would enable more members of our family to follow the path of righteousness instead of going astray. Ultimately, whitewashing will only bring blemish to the holy nation and disrespect to our G-d.
Love cannot be blind. Real love is not that which is directed toward ourselves.

First Emes, then Shuloim, as the Nuvi directs - in this sequence. Because without truth, there cannot be peace.
Matys Weiser