Rabbi Barry Freundel is a famous figure in the news right now for all the wrong reasons. I'm not going to list all of them. The man has had enough public humiliation without me having to pile on.
What I want to do is ask: what went wrong?
A quick look at Rabbi Freundel's CV clearly shows a discrepancy. He is a major talmid chacham. He is politically influential within the Modern Orthodox community. He is a well-known author. His personal level of religious practice is known to be on the stringent side and, unlike very recently, his reputation was impeccable. None of these achievements came without tremendous amounts of effort, study and work. How is it possible that someone who so dedicated his life to Torah and kedushah was, in his spare time, involved in such despicable acts both known and unknown to his victims?
I would like to suggest the following: it's all how you see your religious practice.
For some, religious practice is a guide. One sees the rules as leading towards greater spirituality, character development and closeness to God. One practices in public and private in the same way because the guide is always present and relevant no matter what the situation.
For others, religious practice is a tool. It's a job, it's a way to community prominence, it's a bludgeon to hit others over the head with or some such. It's not about the inner content but the outer routine and those public and private practice vary quite a great deal. It's all about who's watching.
Recall the gemara in which a dying Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai tells his students to be as careful in their fear of God as their fear of man. To their response "Not more?" he remind them that when a person sins he always checks to make sure no one saw him but God sees everything and that doesn't seem to register with the sinner.
North American culture is very much about the superficial. It's about what you wear, how you talk, what you own. Personal qualities such as humility, honesty and decency very often count for little. "What's in it for me?" might as well be on everyone's licence plate.
Is it any wonder then that prominent religious figures keep finding themselves in the news for all the wrong reasons? A person might be exemplary when it comes to some areas of religious belief while completely negligent in others and the justification, conscious or not, is that he enjoys the former and gets something out of it while the latter are not as important and can therefore be ignored.
Perhaps this is the trap that Rabbi Freundel fell into. Clearly an intelligent and ambitious man, in those areas where his intelligence and ambition were useful and gave him a sense of satisfaction he was able to rise to the top and perform at a very high level. In those areas where restraint or sensitivity might have been called for he perhaps did not get much satisfaction or use for his intelligence and ambition. Maybe this is the reason for the huge discrepancy in his behaviour.
When I was in grade 7 my school teacher gave me the secret to academic success. Anyone can succeed in something they like, he told me. The people who get the furthest in life are the ones who succeed at the stuff they don't like. If they can excel in those areas then the stuff they enjoy comes easy.
Our religious practice needs to incorporate this philosophy. Yes, there are areas of halacha that a person might not much care out: theft, honest, peritzus, etc. It might be easy for a person to restrict himself to triple mehadrin meat while holding back from the internet might be inconceivable to him. But he must recognize that it is the latter where he must excel and the former will simply follow.
Otherwise we are just picking and choosing and that's not real dveikus with the Creator of the universe.