Friday, September 13, 2013

No One is Immune

The following is from a lecture I attended in Jerusalem. On this, the day before Yom Kippur, I can think of nothing more appropriate for our times than the following.

Despite the hair-raising stories that one hears about in our day, nothing seems to match the abyss of immorality recorded in a famous teshuva written by the Noda B’Yehuda (vol. I chapter 35). Rav Yechezkel Landau responds to a Rav of his day. He wanted to know the proper plan of action for one who had commited adultery with someone else’s wife on a regular basis over a period of three years. 

The sin of adultery carries capital punishment in Torah law, and one is obligated to give up his life in order to refrain from committing adultery even one time. The Rav wanted to know two things: Is the adulterer obligated to inform the husband that his wife was unfaithful, since she is subsequently forbidden to live with her husband after having been unfaithful, and how should one go about doing teshuva for such a monumental sin.

What makes this responsum even more astounding however is how this sinner is depicted. We are not told that he is simply a low-life, not serving G-d properly in any way, shape, or form. Rather, on the contrary, the sinner at hand is someone who is completely and totally devoted to Torah study. The Noda B’Yehuda describes him as “having incredible dedication to learning Torah day and night, never involving himself in idle chatter, and never sleeping at night in bed”. 

Upon looking at these words of the Noda B’Yehuda one is astounded – how could someone so completely devoted to Torah study have lowered himself to such immorality? Presumably such a person should be of high moral stature. The answer to this question is the words of Chazal “Ein Apotropus L’Arayus”; everyone is vulnerable to the seductive lure of immorality without exception, despite the severity of transgression.
Two great lessons can be taken from this teshuva. Firstly, in today’s day and age infinite forms of immorality are available at much greater ease than they were in the days of the Noda B’Yehuda.

In order for one to remain righteous one must not be at ease and say to himself that he is of high moral character and not susceptible to sin – we see from this teshuva of the Noda B‘Yehuda that even one fully devoted to Torah study can be ensnared by the lures of immorality and be lowered to great depths, even in his day where immorality was much less accessible. Even the Talmid Chacham must take the initiative and be proactive, finding ways to protect himself from sin in and prevail over his evil inclination.  
Secondly, the Noda B’Yehuda does not degrade the Torah learning of this individual who has lowered himself to great depths. On the contrary – he writes that he should indeed intensify his Torah learning as a major part of his teshuva process. We can take from this that even when one has involved in unfathomable transgression, his neshama is still receptive to the powerful atoning effects of intense Torah study. 

G'mar Chasima Tova