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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

BONUS DRASHA: On the Performance of Teshuvah



BONUS DRASHA: On the Performance of Teshuvah


I come before you with Viduy, confession, for a sin I caused my entire Kehillah.

I was Davening Shacharis for the Amud last week, leading the prayer service in honor of the Yuhrtzeit for my long departed cat Baruch Shepatrani, when, as I was finishing Chatzi Kaddish immediately prior to Shmoineh Esrei, a fly landed on the Shtender at which I was Davening. Instinctively, I smacked hard on the Shtender, killing the fly. Unfortunately, this confused all 250 of my congregants, who as a result all recited Yaaleh VeYavoh, even though it was not Roish Chodesh or any other holiday. After Chazaras HaShatz half of the congregants began reciting Hallel. And ten members of the Kehilla ended up manically running home to build their Sukkahs, even though it is the middle of winter.

I mention this story out of a sense of guilt, guilt for causing the Reboinoisheloilum’s name to be said in vain by the entire Shul.

Guilt is a terrible burden. We are told of Moishe Rabbeinu that “Loi Kum B’Yisroel K’Moishe Oid”, no other person was ever able to achieve the greatness of Moses – The only man who ever saw God “Panim El Panim”, face to face. And yet the guilt associated with a minor transgression, the smiting of a rock instead of talking to it as commanded by the Aimishteh, was enough to keep Moishe out of the Promised Land, as well as deny him full pension benefits and healthcare for life.

Sin and guilt are strong components of our Jewish tradition. Guilt runs deep in the psyche. It is a part of the human experience and cycle of behavior: appreciation of wrongs we have committed, and their implications, in order that we may do Teshuvah, perform penitence for our wrongdoings.

And how does one do penitence?

BiZman SheBais HaMikdash Hayah Kayum, at the time that the Temple stood in Jerusalem, penitence was done through animal sacrifice. Someone would commit a sin – say, be MeChallel Shabboskoidesh, violate the Sabbath – and he would repent by engaging a priest to bring a Karban Chatusssss, a penance offering, on his behalf. He would also customarily tip the priest 20 Zuzim and an Apple I-Tunes gift card.

But after destruction of the Temple when we no longer have animal sacrifice, a man must commit penitence through prayer and fasting and the giving of charity. So, for example, if you, my dear reader, missed Zman Kriyas Shema, you should be Mispallel to Hakadoshboruchhu, fast next Monday, and buy three of my books at (and not the goddamned e-books either).

Bameh Devarim Amurim – When does this apply? When we are dealing with sins that are Bain Udum LaMakoim – sins that trespass on the precepts of the Reboinoisheloilum. Rules, so to speak, that are linked to the religious cult, but have no impact on other human beings. However, when we discuss Bain Udum LeChaveiroi – sins of man against his fellow man -- bringing a Karban or saying a few prayers is not enough. One cannot say “I am sorry” to Hakadoshboruchhu in order to be forgiven for his sins against another human being. That is like engaging in Tashmish HaMitah and not… errr… completing the Makeh BaPatish. It is an incomplete action – woefully inadequate.

A Gemarrah in Baba Kamma describes the formula of payments that one must make in order to compensate for damages to another human being. They are: Nezek, Tza’ar, Ripuy, Shevess, and Boishes – Compensation for 1) the actual physical damage caused; 2) pain and suffering; 3) medical expenses resulting from the damage; 4) the loss of time associated with the recovery; and 5) embarrassment and humiliation. Toisfois suggests that a sixth element should be added – compensation for being forced during recovery to stay home and watch Dr. Phil.

There are of course many types of sins, and many types of sinners. And there are also different kinds of guilt. The RASHBA identifies three kinds of guilt: The guilt of one who commits a crime; the guilt of one who enables a crime; and the guilt of the bystanders who do not help the victim and look the other way, even after the crime has been committed. According to the RASHBA, each of these archetypes must do Teshuvah.

There is a famous Gemarrah in Moed Katan that tells the story of a Maaseh Shehoya in Sura in ancient Babylonia. In the town of Sura, Reb Baruch was known among his Talmidim as a despot. In his Yeshiva, which had both boys and girls, her would violently abuse the boys by, among other things, kicking them in the schvatzlach. And he would sexually abuse the girls, by allegedly grabbing their…ummm…. Double Daked Tzitz, and doing things like going into their purses, pulling out their Nidah rags, and waving them at the boys in an effort to sexually humiliate the girls. He also perpetually used the abusive and foul Aramaic language instead of the Loshon HaKoidesh expected of someone of his stature.

One day Reb Baruch was brought before a Bias Din in which many of his Talmidim testified against him. He was, however, supported by many of the Amoraim, his rabbinical colleagues. He was ultimately exonerated of all of the charges, and the RCB (the Rabbinical Council of Babylon ) declared that , “The Bias Din determined that the overall portrayal of Baruch was false, and that many of the charges were great exaggerated or distorted… In light of the P’Sak of the Bias Din, we, the members of the RCB, wish Rabbi Baruch continued success as Rav and Educator.” Shoyn. What a Kiddush Hashem!

The only problem was that ten years or so later, the Judean Peoples Weekly published an expose on Rabbi Baruch, based on the testimony of many, many former students. An investigation by the Babylonian authorities ultimately led to Rabbi Baruch going to prison for 3 years. So, it turned out, all of the initial allegations against Reb Baruch were in fact true. The original Bias Din was completely mishandled.

The Gemarrah goes on to discuss the culpability and Teshuva of all of the members of the Bias Din and the Amoraim who supported Reb Baruch, as well as the impact of the findings on many of his Talmidim.

Of the members of the Bias Din, Reb Yoisaif did full Teshuvah. He dedicated the rest of his life towards rooting out abuse of children and young adults throughout all of Babylonia. Reb Aaron, upon learning of the tragic error of the Bias Din, expressed extreme regret and died shortly afterwards of a broken heart. And Reb Haman, whom the Gemarrah suggests was allegedly responsible for swaying the initial outcome of the Bias Din, made a public apology after much pressure, and acknowledged that mistakes were made in the trial and that the Bias Din was ultimately flawed since no members of the Bias Din were experts in abuse.

However, Reb Haman was later involved in another controversial Bias Din trial in which he had a personal conflict of interest. In addition, when a new Rosheshiva that he did not approve of was appointed at the Yeshiva in Sura, he led many Talmidim of the Yeshiva in Sura in saying Tehillim. Nice guy. According to a separately Medrish in Vayikra Rabbah, after 120 year, Reb Haman was sent straight to Gehennim, had a large skewer shoved up his male Erva, had an apple stuck in his mouth, and was roasted over a fire for 1600 years and served to Adolph Hitler for Christmas dinner.

The Amoraim, too, varied in their forms of Teshuva. Reb Yossi expressed regret in front of his congregation and oriented his own Yeshiva towards operating in a manner where no abuses would be tolerated. Reb Shmuel allegedly denied any knowledge of the case, even though he was a signatory of the RCB letter and was its Sgan Nasi. According to RASHI, Reb Shmuel had perhaps forgotten his involvement in the case. Maybe he smoked Bsomim every day before Shacharis (Duuuuude)? Otherwise, it would be hard to account for such a memory loss. Finally, Reb Binyamin not only did not do Teshuvah, he opened his home to Reb Baruch for an extended period after Reb Baruch’s conviction, and later performed Reb Baruch’s second marriage. The Medrish in Vayikra Rabbah reports that after 120 years, Reb Binyamin went straight to Gehennim and spent the next 1000 years performing Metzitza BiPeh on syphilitic, uncircumcised Romans.

And what of the Talmidim? Many went on to become the Gedoilim of the next generation, despite their traumas. But some, like Reb Shabtai, lost his faith, and instead of having the joy of learning Toirah all day, was forced to work in a Madison Avenue medical practice and make seven figures every year, Rachmana Litzlan.


Rabboisai, Klal Yisroel, and in particular Klal Yisroel in America, is going through its Catholic Church moment: All elements of the Orthodox community, from the Chassidic community on one end of the spectrum to the Modern Orthodox community on the other end, are being inundated by reported cases of sexual abuse of minors. But instead of confronting this scourge, much of the community continues to ignore it and has entered into a “circle the wagons” mentality, perhaps to protect their friends, perhaps to protect their institutions. Even the great Yeshiva University, which holds itself up as the paragon of modern thought, is hesitant to publicize an internal investigation about two of its former faculty, and as a result is on the brink of losing what little credibility it has left on this issue. Without casting the light of day on ALL the details, on identifying the guilty, on encouraging victims to step forward, there is no real Teshuvah.

And what of the victims --those who have stepped forward, and the many who have remained in the shadows? Where is their Nezek, Tza’ar, Ripuy, Shevess and Boshess? And even worse, what of the future victims? For sexual abusers of minors are serial predators, and every abuser left teaching in a classroom or working in a camp or other such institution is always seeking out more victims.

Rabboisai, a community and a Rabbinate that does not change its behaviors is a community and a Rabbinate that has not done real Teshuvah. They can Klop as many Al Chayts as they want. They can recite Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Dibarnu Dofi from today until tomorrow, but the Reboinoisheloilum will be as deaf to them as they are to the cries of the past and future victims. They can keep Shabbos and Daven three times a day and keep kosher and say as many Brachois as they want and learn Toirah Yoimum VaLailah – day and night -- but they are simply reciting Hakadoshboruchhu’s name in vain.

And as a result, like Moishe Rabbeinu, they too will never truly reach the Promised Land.

Ah Gutten Yuntif, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

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