Friday, December 28, 2018

Behaving like a Mentch

Attorney Baruch Cohen addressing students at Valley Torah High School in LA
Although I have never met him, Orthodox Los Angeles attorney Baruch Cohen and I have a shared experience that we would not wish on our worst enemy. We both lost children to a rare form of cancer known as Ewing’s Sarcoma. He a lost a daughter. I lost a grandson. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to lose a child. The pain must be indescribable. But I can tell you that losing a grandchild is not easy either. (R’ Baruch talks about his personal experience in a Mishpacha Magazine  article.)

Thankfully we have more than just that in common. We both have an almost visceral hatred for Chilul HaShem. Especially the kind that is the result of poorly developed sense of ethics when it comes to the secular world in which we live. This has unfortunately manifested itself more times than I can count in recent years. So often that I have stopped counting.

More often than not this happens by way of cheating the government out of money. Whether it is laundering criminally obtained funds via an elaborate charity system; or avoiding federal taxes through inflated charitable donations – 90% of which are kicked back; or using funds the government earmarked for one thing for something else; or using other people’s social security numbers to divert payments to themselves… you name it. If there is a way to cheat the government, it has probably been tried.

I have written about many of these things and have condemned them all. They were legally wrong and the perpetrators knew it. But in some cases they saw nothing wrong with it morally and committed those crimes because they thought they could get away with. I recall one fellow I know who now sits in prison making an offhand remark that government clerks  manning the system are so ‘dumb’ that stealing from the government would be a near risk free enterprise. He found out that those clerks weren’t so dumb after all. And in fact they are a lot smarter than he is.

That said, fear of being caught should not be what motivates anyone from committing a crime. Even now where prison reform is a bit more favorable to those who commit those crimes. It ought to be our sense of morals and ethics… our fear of creating a Chilul HaShem. Not fear of getting caught.

This is where Jewish education seems to have failed. Let me hasten to add that I am not castigating every yeshiva or elementary school. I am absolutely convinced that many schools do teach ethics and try mightily to teach their students ethical behavior. That in fact was my own personal experience. I had many teachers like that and one in particular that was an exemplar of ethical and moral behavior in every respect. 

But I fear that are many instances where there has not been enough of that. Not at home where it should begin. And not in school. In fact there are some schools that practically teach the opposite. I recall listening to a recording of a Hashkafa Shiur where a Rebbe in a popular Yeshiva high school vilified virtually all non Jews to such an extent, that one might come out believing that it is practically a Mitzvah to take advantage of them in any way you could – as long as you didn’t get caught! It sickened me, to say the least!

This is where Baruch Cohen comes in. His Hashkafos are Charedi in the mold of the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva. For which I have a soft spot. They are among the finest of Yeshivos - producing role models of behavior. Their students become Talmidei Chachamim with a highly developed sense of morals and ethics. I received the following note from him which speaks for itself: 
This past x-mas, I  had the opportunity... to address the Boys Division of Valley Torah High School  (VTHS) on “Killer Litigation Strategies for Lawsuits, Business and Life.” (Avoiding Chillul Hashems).  Below and enclosed is the the outline of the speech. It was based on many Youtube speeches that I heard by criminal defense attorney Ben Brafman on the issue.
I used various headlines of Chillul Hashem in the powerpoint presentation so that the boys and the rabbonim experience the "cringe factor."
It was a huge hit; the boys didn't want to leave afterwards and the hands were all raised with questions. This important topic totally gripped the audience. Your outstanding blog on this issue was a major inspiration.  
This was followed by another note which said the following: 
VTHS Dean and Rosh Yeshivah Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger said: "We need more voices like that of Baruch Cohen. Frum attorneys, yeshiva graduates, a talmid chochom to be role models to our kids. Too often it's only rabbonim who we look to as role models. We need more baal habatim who are shtark bnei torah to set examples to our kids. To know from the secular world, right from wrong. To speak from the trenches of the secular world, how to behave like a mentsch." 
And that was followed by still another note from R’ Baruch personally: 
Frum Baal habatim who have been koveah itim on a serious level all of our lives need to be seen as role models for our youth. Our society’s 2-tier system that the ideal is learning in kollel and the not-so-ideal is to work for a living is simply wrong and misguided. It turns off many and gives them an inferiority complex if they pursue honest parnassah that somehow they failed the system.  
Like I said, we have a lot in common. What he has done in LA should be the model adopted by all days schools and Yeshiva high schools. I hope that officials at Torah U’Mesorah are listening. What follow is the above-mentioned outline of his talk. 
1. The World Does Not like Jews - we do not need to encourage more people to dislike us
2. Wearing a Yarmulkeh - carries with it an extra measure of responsibility
3. We Must Be More Honest - more careful, more courteous & more prudent
4. When We Screw-Up, it Gets Magnified - the “Cringe Factor” (ie., Frum Slumlords)
5. Having Good Intentions Is Not a Legitimate Excuse - for Breaking the Law
6. Bad Behavior for a Good Cause - a lie for a good reason & a Mitzvah is still a lie
7. The US Government Is Not the Enemy - we’re not in Europe during WW-II8. We Cannot Pick & Choose the Rules We Live by - no smorgasbord Judaism 
Baruch Cohen’s 14 Rules for the American Orthodox Jew: 
1. Keep Your Word - do what you what you say you're going to do
2. Document Everything - confirm everything in writing
3. Follow the Rules - be a law-abiding citizen - know the laws - serve on a Jury
4. Don't Think You're Smarter than the Law & Won't Get Caught - you will 
5. You’re Not Right Because You’re Orthodox - you’re right because you’re honest
6. Establish Credibility  - admit when you're wrong
7. Listen to Your Internal Compass - if it sounds to good to be true, it is;
8. Consult Before Taking Action - not after
9.  Believe in Yourself, Act with Courage & Confidence - but never with arrogance
10. Stop Being Nosy - “but I’m just asking”
11. Give Unconditionally - with no expectation of anything in return
12. Insert Bais Din Arbitration Clauses in Your Contracts - believe in our Torah
13. Stand up for Judaism & Eretz Yisroel - never apologize about both
14. Pause, Before Pushing “Send” on Emails and Texts - it could save your life