Thursday, September 25, 2008

Estardition: The Heart that is Baffled

:כח יככה יהוה בשגעון ובעורון ובתמהון לבב

:על חטא שחטאנו לפניך בתמהון לבב


I have often held that Chapter 6 is the most essential chapter in my book (with the possible exception of any of the other 9 chapters). This is the chapter entitled "Getting to the Heart of the Matter" and it emphasizes the principle that, at any given moment, a person must either be situated in the One Above camp (Im Bechukosai Telechu) or in the Seven Below camp (V'Im Bechukosai Timasu) but there is no neutral middle ground (Yalkut Shimoni Vayikra 26:671).


The chapter is sub-divided into four parts:
  • The Heart Beats...the Odds
  • Pulling at the Heartstrings
  • Home is Where the Heart(h) Is
  • A Heart Filled with Anxiety

All these are meant to reflect some aspect of the pure Yiddishe heart that we pray for when we say:

...לב טהור ברא לי אלקים

When we understand the Heart of the Matter, the heart beats in perfect rhythm and so, any Jew who internalizes the true implications of Anochi Hashem and Lo Yihiyeh Lecha is a true "chareid l'dvar Hashem" because, after all, the "word of G-d" is Anochi Hashem and Lo Yihiyeh Lecha - which are the only actual words that Klal Yisrael heard from Hashem. This is what Moshe Rabenu called a "heart that can know and eyes that can see" (Devarim 29:3).

Unfortunately, things are not always perfect. When we have a "heart that can know and eyes that can see" (Devarim 29:3) we are in good shape. But when we "stray after our hearts and after our eyes" (Bamidbar 15:39), instead of a "heart that knows", we wind up with a "heart that is baffled" (Devarim 28:28) – Timhon Levav.

What does this mean?

There is no question that the chareidim are the most sinful segment of the Jewish people. How do I know?

Because the chareidim invest the most time, concentration, and emotion in saying the vidui on Yom Kippur. If we say the "al cheit"s with the most ferver, it goes without saying that we must have committed the worst sins.

Of the 44 alphabetically arranged "al cheit"s, the final one, the grand coda of our confessions is: על חטא שחטאנו לפניך בתמהון לבב

For transgressions that we have committed in Timhon levav.

What is Timhon levav?*

The first pasuk of the Torah says that G-d created the heavens and the earth. This means to say that if we were standing around to see it, there would be no doubt that G-d created it all. There was a great Light that it all came from and it was unequivocally clear.

The second pasuk changes all that. All of a sudden, there is tohu va'vohu - wonderment and emptiness - and darkness on the earth. G-d has concealed the great Light. The observer can no longer unequivocally perceive G-d, and so there is tohu - wonderment - the observer is baffled. He cannot make out what he is seeing. So says Rashi: Tohu - An expression of wonder and desolation...estardition in vernacular (Old French).

When one cannot see G-d, he is baffled and confused.

Fast forward to Devarim 28:28: G-d will strike you with madness, blindness, and timhon levav - confusion.

Says Rashi: Timhon levav - a sealed heart...estardition in vernacular.

When we do not think rationally (shigaon - madness), when we do not see clearly (ivaron - blindness), then our hearts are sealed and we are confused and baffled.

As a result of not being committed to Torah and mitzvos, we get stricken with a sealed heart - a heart that is baffled and confused. And it comes together with being irrational and blind.

The Netziv in Haamek Davar (Devarim 28:28) says it with a bit more spice:

Shigaon (Madness) – Kilkul hadaas – Breakdown of sanity – Being out of touch with reality so that one cannot even comprehend a potential threat from hostile entities. This will apply to the general population. (And to the leftists, the Prime Minister, and the entire cabinet.)

Ivaron (Blindness) – A small segment of the population (and a few right wing members of Knesset) are not insane and they can comprehend a threatening situation if they see it. Still, they will be blind to what is going on and not see it.


Timhon Levav – A smaller subset (the Dattim) that will see the danger and comprehend it. Still, their hearts will be sealed and become like stone because they are powerless to do anything about it.

It looks to me that these principles can apply to community politics, as well.

The headlines of some of the most popular blogs (Hirhurim, Rabbi Horowitz, Emes V'Emunah, Cross-Currents) as well as some popular Jewish publications have been focusing of late on issues of sexual impropriety within the greater Orthodox community. And I have been mulling over whether I should address the subject.

On the one hand, I don't really think that I should. Some of the reasons:

  • I am not an expert in this topic, so what is my opinion worth?
  • I have barely 30 regular readers (AFIK), most of who are related to me, so I am basically preaching to empty seats.
  • It's a messy issue, so why get involved?
  • I can't win. If I go with the flow and join the wolf-pack, I am not contributing anything. If I take a more excusatory position, I become a naive apologist (עורון ) who is out of touch with reality (שגעון)and lose every ounce of credibility (תמהון לבב).

On the plus side, it is a very hot topic and how can I pass up an[other] opportunity to earn intercyber notoriety and condemnation? (I'm on a roll!)

But, seriously, I cannot be silent because it is the Torah world that is on trial. The term chareidi, as I write profusely, is just a battle-worn synonym for the Torah community and my [self-appointed] task is to put Torah ideals in proper perspective so that people can see them for their true value and not get carried away by sensationalist issues that hog the spotlight.

That said, I might say that the best reason for not discussing this topic is that I don't see this as a chareidi issue. In my book project, I define a chareidi as one who opens up Chumash and Rashi and follows what it says. There is nothing in chareidi ideology that promotes sex abuse.

Sexual predators pop up all the time. And they always will. Rambam told us this over 800 years ago in Mishna Torah Hilchos Issurei Biah 22:19:

And the sages have said that larceny and promiscuity are things that a man's life-spirit craves and covets. And there is no community to be found at any time period that will not have people who are loose in immorality and forbidden relations...

It was going on then and it goes on now. Things haven't changed that much. Heck, even Vicki Polin in her Awareness Center lists predators that lived hundreds of years ago (see Shabtai Tzvi and Jacob Frank).

We know that the chareidi perpetrators always grab the headlines. In one sense it is actually a compliment that a chareidi miscreant is newsworthy – a man bites dog phenomenon. But, compliments aside, when it occurs in a Torah environment (a school, yeshiva, camp, or schul) and is perpetrated by a religious role model – be it a Rav or Mechanech, a Kiruv professional, Kosher butcher, or frum therapist – the Chillul Hashem is augmented and the innocence of a Torahdika upbringing is shattered.

Despite this, this is not a chareidi issue, it's a human society issue and a community issue. It exists in every community. In a chareidi community, it may involve some chareidim [Note an entry in the Awareness Center shmutz-list concerning some sex fiends in Har Nof about 5 years back has one as chareidi and one as non-chareidi]. In a non-chareidi community it involves non-chareidim. In a mixed community, there will be all types. Indeed, based on the lists of "offenders" that appear both on the Awareness Center site and the State of NY Sex Offender Registry, a chareidi molester is quite the exception rather than the rule.

It is unfortunate that schools and camps (and therapists' offices) are fertile breeding grounds for aspiring sex fiends and some of the few high profile (alleged) offenders within our own have gravitated to these posts. Still, the scant research I have done indicates that there is at least as much hanky-panky going on at home.

It seems that many of the more level headed pundits are quite aware of all this. It doesn't pay to blame the chareidim that, say, 3 people out of 1000 may be a sex offender if that's an unavoidable fact of life (note Rambam referenced earlier) and more so if in the general population, let's say, it's 5 out of 1000 (I am making up these statistics up but I believe the point is valid).

And so, the chareidi bashing has to be shifted into the management phase. How can the chareidi establishment let the known offenders off the hook?

Admittedly, it is difficult to offer a clear answer. But I will say this:

It's not because they want to.

There seems to be an inordinate amount of criticism leveled at the chareidi leaders of the various communities for not dealing with the problem. Firstly, I see in this a silver lining – the chareidim are looked up to as the community leaders. As such, these messes invariably fall upon their shoulders. But, let's be clear. Rabbanim do not create or encourage miscreants. Even the Rabbanim that have appeared to be the most negligent and inept and may have actually been protective did not ask for this headache.

Every time a new (or recurring) situation arises, people run to the Rabbanim and beseech them to “do something”. The first question is: do what?

Before anything else, the allegations need to be substantiated. Many victims and their supporters do not understand that barring a confession from the offender, they need to prove the offense. Just because they say so, or have anonymous “reliable” information, or “everybody knows it’s so” doesn’t make it so. Rabbanim are asked to take action against people based on unproven accusations. They will be in no hurry to do so.

Even when there is a confession or clear evidence, there are severe limitations as to available options. Obviously, one can report the offense to the police. That’s cool, you don’t even need a Rav for that (except, perhaps, to give the OK). Problem is, the police have the same problem as the Rav. The victim must press charges. No victims, no case.

If the offender has a position in chinuch or other community service, he can be removed from his post. This actually is frequently done except it often is accompanied by warnings, probations, negotiated clemencies and “pardons” which have traditionally rendered the whole situation ineffective. If he has a community business, you can boycott the business – if it is expendable.

The key problem is that "doing something" all too often comes at a price. And for anything that has a price, people need to do cost/benefit analyses. Exposing and punishing the offender almost always comes with collateral damage. The prime subjects are the perpetrator’s immediate family who may be enduring tremendous turmoil even without public exposure and they certainly do not need, nor deserve any more. Moreover, there are the victims themselves who stand to lose from public exposure. And in the ugliest cases, the offenders and the victims are related to each other. The Rabbanim are responsible for everyone. In many cases, for every person pressuring the Rav to “take action’ there are 10 people pressing the Rav to keep quiet.

Sof davar, we have noted a few legitimate reasons that the Rabanim do not take an active role: lack of effective options, concern for victims and other korbanos, lack of reliable information, and we can add to this threats and intimidation. Undoubtedly, leaders have been known to look the other way for less than legitimate reasons, as well: weakness of character or negligence, intentional foot-dragging (ignore it and it goes away), bribery, or complicity. But, again, the fact that they do not necessarily solve the problem, or even prolong it in some cases, does not make them responsible for its existence.

None of this should astound any of us. Except that the events of the past few weeks are a new twist. Evidently, Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, New York wants to establish a layman's "task force" to deal with the issue. I am not clear as to what is the prime task of the task force. I assume that it will be a repository to lodge complaints and a resource center for assistance for victims. It's a clearinghouse where people can call up and kvetch about an offense or an offender and can listen to somebody tell him, "Sure, we've gotten complaints from other people about this fellow. We will register the complaint. You are welcome to call the police and press charges (you'll be the first one) and in the meantime, call this number for free counseling. Have a nice day and remember elections are coming up…."

Anyway, it sounds like a positive thing. What harm can it do? However, it's been reported that surreptitious forces of evil are trying to sabotage the task force and have intimidated a respected and qualified chareidi psychologist to the point of abdication.

Who did it and why? Were they "chareidi"?

I would venture to say that they are certainly not the first degree "One Above" chareidim that I define in my book as the adherents of "Im Bechukosai Telechu". It doesn't matter how they dress, what they don't eat or what their mama lashon is. And if one is not in the "One Above" camp, he is by default in the "Seven Below" camp. When we venture into the Seven Below camp, HKBH pulls away from us and leaves us to the forces of keri. We cannot see Hashem anymore and our hearts become sealed and baffled. Estardition in the vernacular. We will have shigaon - meshugaim who perpetrate this madness, we will have ivaron – blind people who do not acknowledge it. And the rest of us will be stricken with timhon levav - baffled and confused because we don't know what to do about it. Estardition.

May Hashem reveal Himself b'karov and save us from our estardition.


:ו ומל יהוה אלהיך את לבבך ואת לבב זרעך לאהבה את יהוה אלהיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך למען חייך

*Credit – Rabbi Doniel Rubin and Rav Shlomo Volba in Alei Shur II, Fourth Gate Chapter1

12 comments:

G said...

"I would venture to say that they are certainly not the first degree "One Above" chareidim that I define in my book as the adherents of "Im Bechukosai Telechu"."

Give me a break

G said...

The first question is: do what?

Okay, I;ll play devil's advocate...

How about 'anything'? Why is it that a community that has no problem find ways to express themselves for all manner of issues, be they small or smaller, all of a sudden is having a problem finding its voice?

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

WHo says anything is better than nothing?
That's exactly what leftist in Israel say about negotiating with Palestinians: anythng is better than nothing. And they are clearly wrong.

It's not like there is some kind of social epidemic of sexual deviancy spreading around and that the hareidi man-on-the-street has to be informed that its wrong to abuse others.

If it's a rebbe in a school, then the parents, teachers, and principles all the only ones who can EFFECTIVELY say or do anything.

If it's a therapist or cong. rabbi, then it's his clients/cong. and supervisors or employers who can EFFECTIVELY say or do something.

How exactly does a genral public policy statement by a community against abuse do anything at all in such cases?

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

WHo says anything is better than nothing?
That's exactly what leftist in Israel say about negotiating with Palestinians: anythng is better than nothing. And they are clearly wrong.

It's not like there is some kind of social epidemic of sexual deviancy spreading around and that the hareidi man-on-the-street has to be informed that its wrong to abuse others.

If it's a rebbe in a school, then the parents, teachers, and principles all the only ones who can EFFECTIVELY say or do anything.

If it's a therapist or cong. rabbi, then it's his clients/cong. and supervisors or employers who can EFFECTIVELY say or do something.

How exactly does a genral public policy statement by a community against abuse do anything at all in such cases?

G said...

continuing advocation...

I didn't say it had to be a public statement.

"If it's a rebbe in a school, then the parents, teachers, and principles all the only ones who can EFFECTIVELY say or do anything.

If it's a therapist or cong. rabbi, then it's his clients/cong. and supervisors or employers who can EFFECTIVELY say or do something."

That would be fine...unfortunately that is not the reality either.

So again, pick something...just pick action!

why all of a sudden is caution and over deliberation the order of the day in coming out AGAINST something?

Rafi G said...

it is a human problem, not a chareidi problem, as you say. However, it is fodder for us bloggers and we condemn and attack it, because of a couple reasons..

one could say the reason is because when it happens outside, in the general community, it is not nogei'a to us. So we look at it in derision and critically, but we do not necessarily allow it to bother us. When it happens in our own community, we feel the need to speak out.

Another reason is that chareidim DO profess to be better than others. We do claim our lifestyle is correct and more moral. So when it happens in our community, and when it gets shoved under the carpet, it hurts more. Aren't we supposed to be better? Isn't living a Torah lifestyle supposed to make us better, as we claim it should?

Novartza Mahershallalchashbaz said...

Reb Yechezkel, please. You lure unsuspecting subscribers of your mailing list to your blog. Some of them may follow the rulings of certain Rabbanim that maintain that the Tetragrammaton, even on a computer screen, has kedusha and may not be erased. I do understand that use of this Name as it is written is common on the net. However, you should not be the one to unnecessarily add to them. is it that hard to substitute a less-holy form, such as ה' or י"י (even without the gershayim, the double yu"d does not have the kedusha of a shem she'eino nimchak).

As for the issue itself, I have nothing but a yishar koach for your reasonable and coherent response to it.

Yechezkel said...

To G:

Your comments indicate that you either did not read, did not comprehend, or you did not agree with what I wrote that taking action almost always involves collateral damage and calls for a cost/benefit analysis. This means that doing "just anything" carries the risk of doing more harm than good.
I believe this is what FKM was trying to say as well.

To Rafi G:

I addressed your comment when I wrote the speculative statistic that perhaps in the Chareidi world there is a smaller per capita proportion of offenders. When people say "Isn't the Torah world supposed to be better?" they are often asking "So why don't they bat 1.000?" But the point is that if in the non-chareidi world the "batting average" is .300 and in the chareidi world it is .600, then that would indicate that the chareidi world is doing twice as good and Torah ideals are effective in curbing problems. Critics are not satisfied with this and demand 1.000. This is not realistic and isn't going to happen.

To Novartza:

I knew that sooner or later someone would complain about my use of Shem Hashem. I would also prefer not to use it in full spelling. However, as you can guess, much of my Torah text is copy pasted from Torah library disks. These texts display proper spelling. To avoid displaying the full spelling would force me to delete or change the Shem on screen. I am more comfortable with putting up a tetragammon and relying on the psakim that digital print is not being erased when it is displayed and closed (not deleted) rather than to physically change the Shem once it is on the screen which, to me, is a more serious infraction.

Shan Tova,

Yechezkel

Novartza Mahershallalchashbaz said...

Reb Yechezkel, fair enough. Then, please add a warning to the emails you automatically send to your list: "Posts may contain shem hashem."

G said...

Fine, substitute 'something" for 'anything'.
To hide behind complete innaction because of possible colateral damage in insincerity of the highest order.
I don't think anybody is advocating knee jerk reactions or goign off half-cocked w/o some degree of thought being put in to the course of action.

The question is why does NOTHING happen? There has been ample time for something, no? And yet...

Furthermore - Why is the damage that may be caused peripherally such of major concern NOW but does not seem to be so in the vast majority of other cases and situations?

No, I'm sorry - your line of thinking just does not hold up to even the lightest bit of scrutiny.

More is the pity, I wish it did.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

To hide behind complete innaction because of possible colateral damage in insincerity of the highest order.

Who exactly are you accusing of inaction?
Let's be clear about which individuals you expect action from and what kind of action before we go further dicussing this gripe.

The question is why does NOTHING happen? There has been ample time for something, no? And yet...

I thought the psokim were consulted in many cases and actual dinei Torah were conducted. I'm not vouching for the competence and impartiality of any of those, but something was done and I would guess more is probably being done-- away from the public eye.

It seems to me that the J-Blogosphere is clamoring for more than just "something". They won't be satisfied untill they see blood: dismissals and resignations. All that from snap judgments based solely on what you read in the media.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

Don't forget police arrests and jail terms. They want to see that too and won't be satisfied if they don't. "something" indeed.
Let's call a spade a spade. The effectiveness of blogger protests on this issue is nill.
This is just another public chareidi scandal target to shoot at like Rubashkin's.