There seems to be no end to the scandals enveloping the frum community these days. If someone isn't rioting over a parking, he's rioting over an abused child being taken away from his mentally ill mother. If it isn't about scamming people of millions of dollars, then it's about corruption, bribes, and organ trafficking.
The chilul Hashem that results from these debacles is beyond measuring. "Official" Jewish culture has gone 180 degrees in the opposite direction from where it should be. Instead of being a light unto the nations, an example of moral and ethical direction, we are the picture on the front page of the paper being led away in handcuffs. And like the United States in the first few hours after 9/11 was committed, the Orthodox Jewish leadership seems to be in shock, uncertain what to do next.
The difference, of course, is that George Bush II and his team quickly overcame the shock and began planning the defence of the United States. Unlike them, we are unlikely to see such definitive leadership from any quarter of the frum world. A real leader knows that when the system isn't working, change must come and it must come from the top. We lack such leaders so what we'll get is prevarication, procrastination and denial. Already we have seen it in various quarters. Rav Tuvia Weiss, head of the Eidah Chareidit, was reportedly offered a viewing of the video in which the mother accused of starving her child was caught pulling a feeding tube out of his abdomen. He refused to view it. What he doesn't know can't change his mind? In the U.S. extra scrutiny and possible discriminatory treatment of Jews may become standard and, rachmana litzlan, for good reason. Rav Avi Shafran has his work cut out, that's for sure.
What seems worse is the glee that comes from the enemies of Torah observance. These shameful events are like man from Heaven for them. For what seems like forever they have been pounding their little soapboxes and shouting about how evil religion is, how evil religious people are, how being religious is evil, and one after another, we find frum Yidden more than happy to prove them right!
אף על פי כן , they are wrong. There is the messenger and then there is the message. The messengers are flawed, that's not a chidush for anyone who has read Navi. Getting God's message wrong, following the convenient mitzvos and screaming at anyone who notices is old business for us. Even so, that does not change the perfection and purity of the message itself. It remains untarnished even as its self-styled representatives throw mud at it in an attempt to alter its form to their liking.
What is their motivation? Chazal tell us in Sanhedrin that after the return from Bavel, the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah destroyed the yetzer for idol worship. What is less well know is that the yetzer didn't actually go away. It morphed, turning from a lust for worship for external objects into self-worship, a far more perfidious evil. People who say they worship the Ribono shel Olam but in truth are following their personal desires and needs while labelling them "god" are really engaging in modern idol worship. You can have the blackets hat, the longer bekisher, but still worship yourself. And when you are God, to mangle Dostoyevsky, then everything is permitted.
So why not just give up? Did God give us the Torah? Clearly its demands are too much for us. It's simply not possible to have an entire people live like the Talmud suggests. For them this is proof that the Torah was invented by "the rabbis" because a real God would have given us something far less demanding. In a world where university students think they should get an "A" just for showing up to class, this isn't too hard to fall for.
The answer comes from this week's parasah, Devarim. In it, Moshe Rabeinu begins his capsule summary of the history of the Jewish people in the desert, from the departure from Har Sinai to the edge of Israel. He goes over the incident with the spies and notes two important features of the story. One is that the punishment was to wander for 38 years in the desert until getting another chance to go to Israel. The second was the rejection of the teshuvah of the Jews who, on the morning after their doom was pronounced, announced that they were really sorry and would now stage an invasion of Israel, just as God had originally commanded.
Have you ever seen a child get in trouble? Usually their first response is to deny he's done anything wrong. Then comes the attempt to put things right but with a completely insincere attitude. Only with time and maturing does the child come to appreciate why he was wrong and why the punishment was appropriate. The Jews who wanted to go into Israel were in the second step. They knew they had committed a terrible sin but still didn't understand how terrible and thought they could put things right post facto. It was only 38 years later, after a total of 40 years in the desert (remember that Avos tells us that at age 40 comes true understanding) that they could stand at the edge of Israel and understand what had gone wrong.
We are standing here on the day after the curse of wandering. The first urge will be to do something to put things right. We will see a focus on new chumros as if not enough of them was the reason for this problem. We will see attempts to downplay the enormity of the chilul Hashem that has happened or valiant revisionist tales that transfer the blame to others. (Goyim blame the Jews, non-religious Jews blame religious Jew, who do we blame? Everyone else!)
We must remember that the reason for practising Torah and mitzvos isn't for any personal benefit. This isn't about who's sheitl is most expensive, or who has the most kollelleit sons-in-law. Those of us who still care for honesty, ethics and Torah must do two things. One is to redouble our efforts at leading decent lives so that we can stand apart from those who are disparaging the name of God in This World. The other is to know, in our hearts, that this is one more proof that it isn't the sthreiml that makes the Jew but the daily effort to be honest in one's dealing, to treat all others with kindness, that makes the Jew. No, it's not at flashy. No, you can't show anything off in shul and have people say "pssshhhh" but here's the forgotten bottom line: Judaism isn't about impressing the next guy. It's about impressing God and He is not fooled by superficialities.