Thursday, May 17, 2018

Torah Based Careers and Sex Abuse

by Rabbi Dr. Binyamin Zev Telsner* - Guest Contributor

Convicted sex abuser, Eliezer Berland - a Torah based career
I am pleased to present the words of Rabbi Dr. Binyamin Zev Telsner* about what might be one of the most serious issues of our time. It was sent in response to yesterday’s post about yet another prominent individual accused of sexual abuse. 

Rabbi Telsner* is a well known Rav who is trained in - and deals with these issues on a regular basis. I believe his words are true and represent authentic Torah thought. His words of wisdom are in some cases unfortunately lacking even among even among those who are seen as rabbinic of lay leaders. His thoughts follow.

The Torah community is not immune to the ravages of a physical drive that is not enclosed in proper boundaries. Allow me to copy and paste a halacha of the Rambam (Isurei Biah - laws of forbidden sexual relations 22:21)

וכן ינהוג להתרחק מן השחוק ומן השכרות ומדברי עגבים שאלו גורמין גדולים והם מעלות של עריות. ולא ישב בלא אשה שמנהג זה גורם לטהרה יתירה. גדולה מכל זאת אמרו יפנה עצמו ומחשבתו לדברי תורה וירחיב דעתו בחכמה שאין מחשבת עריות מתגברת אלא בלב פנוי מן החכמה. ובחכמה הוא אומר אילת אהבים ויעלת חן דדיה ירווך בכל עת באהבתה תשגה תמיד 
Free Translation (HM):

A person should distance himself from joking, drunkeness, and flirting, because they tend to lead to forbidden sexual relations.

A man should not live without a wife, for this (living with a wife) customarily leads to great spiritual purity. And greater than all this they (our sages) say - one should turn his thoughts to words of Torah, and broaden his wisdom, for the thoughts of forbidden relations grow strong solely in a heart empty of wisdom.

As (Shlomo HaMelech) in his wisdom says: "She is a beloved hind and a graceful doe - her breasts satisfy you at all times. You will always be obsessed with her love." (Mishlei  5:19)  

The implication of the Rambam is that the void of Torah true Torah allows for the foothold of these boundary violations. But the sticky part of this is that there is widespread belief that those whose positions are Torah based, including askanim who are עוסק בצרכי ציבור, (active in the community) are immune, having filled themselves with חכמה.

I postulate that this assumption is untrue, and that one can be a לב פנוי מן החכמה  (a heart empty of wisdom) even if one serves as a genius Rosh Yeshiva or any other position of Torah expertise. In fact, I take a further, riskier step in stating that being Torah True Torah, while is undeniably the goal, is not at a 100% correlation with academic achievement, or even the status of genius in Torah knowledge. 

What's the beef, you may ask?

We are guided that our learning must be לשמה, a concept that is still elusive in its complexity, and the subject of multiple definitions. I doubt that this can be summarized well enough to fit into a box here, but we can make a few statements that at least approach the target.

Bearing vast Torah knowledge, certainly as asset, is not the ultimate goal. A computer chip can contain huge amounts of data. Shrinking Torah to the level of simple data is tantamount to kefira. 

Approaching Matan Torah, as we are doing today, is not about formatting our internal drives so that Har Sinai serves a cable to download Dvar Hashem. This reductionist perspective is erroneous. Rather, Torah is a hefty portion of a life guide, with prescribed attitudes, ideas, and halachos (the Taryag mitzvos). 

Whichever way one cleaves unto Torah, one is the recipient of the greatest gift in existence. For one, it is the absorption of voluminous data, the ability to integrate these huge amounts of knowledge to produce chiddushim, shiurim, etc. For another, it is the following of one's heritage by way of halacha and minhag, etc. One of these paths is not better than the other, just as an oncologist is not better than a dermatologist, just different, but practicing the same field.

There is a point of Torah dedication, in which one is fully involved, intellectually and emotionally, with the fulfillment of Ratzon Hashem (the will of God). This is 24/7, and contains no compromises. It sets limits on an individual that are as relevant and active when alone as when in presence of others. It means that all levels of morality are fully followed anytime and anywhere. 

In this state, people do not engage in violations. Someone (in) this space would not entertain even a passing thought of allowing desires to execute without restraint, and kal vachomer (certainly not) violate the safety and innocence of another. One could not tempt the boundaries of a marriage, and one could not stomach the very thought of being a baal taavoh. One could not refrain from committing issurim because of fear of getting caught.

Yes, the academic achievements of being a Torah scholar can co-exist with the basest of immorality. One just needs to "hide it from the kids". But this is a fictitious life. And we all know sheker to "have no feet". It explodes somewhere. 

I surmise this can explain many of the shocking revelations we have experienced over these last few decades, where persons of supposed religious accomplishment and stature were found to be responsible for some pretty awful offenses.

Torah knowledge should ideally be consistent with true spirituality. Sadly, this is not always true, and these media reports scream quite loudly when there is inconsistency. Can we make this year's Kabolas Hatorah an emotional experience, in which we rededicate ourselves to absorbing the values of Torah into our very being? I pledge to try.

*Not his real name. The writer chooses to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.