Friday, April 30, 2010

Compassion Should Not Compromise Truth

I am absolutely convinced that Susan Heisler’s heart is in the right place. I do not know her at all (unless the name is an alias - and I do). Her words in comment to my last post seem to be coming directly and painfully from her heart. She truly feels the suffering of a fellow Jew and castigates those of us who express criticism of Shalom Rubashkin at this time.

She then goes on to bring a quote from an unidentified publication about the level of righteousness displayed by Mr. Rubashkin during his incarceration. For example because he did not want to move Daled Amos without wearing a pair of Tzitzis - prison guards had to put him in a wheelchair to move him around.

Ms. Heisler’s words are a very telling illumination of what is wrong with many of us in the Torah world. And that is what is so maddening about some of the defenders of Shalom Rubashkin. They are blinded to the truth.

Once again so that there is no misunderstanding - let me be clear. I do not think Shalom Rubashkin should be given any lengthy sentence for his crime. If it were up to me, I’d say he has been punished enough over these past two years… losing his business, his income and his reputation. He has to live with the knowledge that he has embarrassed his family and virtually all of Klal Yisroel – and that this entire event has been one big Chilul HaShem. And he has already spent some time in prison.

But to describe his attention under duress to the minutia of Halachos Bein Adam L’Makom as an example of his pure righteousness is exactly why we have problems like this. I only wish he had paid as much attention to minutia of the religious requirement to observe the law of the land - Dina D’Malchusa Dina.

Why wasn’t he as Machmir on that as he is on Hilchos Tzitzis? And then there is the matter of Chilul HaShem. He was willing to take the chance on not being caught?! Perhaps he thought that Dina D’Malchusa didn’t apply. But what about the potential for Chilul HaShem by forcing employees to create false invoices in order to inflate the value of receivables - which are then used for collateral to secure a bank loan.

And then there is the magnitude of the crime. We aren’t talking about a home improvement loan. We are talking 26 million dollars! He knew what he did was criminal. But he was Mekil on that. What is he Machmir on? Tzitzis. And we are expected to see him as a Tzadik for that?!

Ms. Heisler with the best of intentions is blinded to Dina D'Malchusa and only sees the Tzidkis of adherence to the minutia of wearing Tzitzis to the point of passive resistance. She has a good heart. Taken in isolation - this level of devotion to a Mitzvah may be something to admire. But she is wrong to characterize the situation in only this way. Would she be saying the same thing if he had defrauded a G’mach (a free loan society) to the tune of 26 million dollars – or even 5 dollars - even if he does refuse to walk Daled Amos without his Tzitzis?

This is exactly one of the troubling attitudes that pervades our society. Some – perhaps many – of us have a double standard. We see only the Tzdikis of observing the minutia of Halachos Bein Adam L’Makom or when defrauding one of our own. But banks? And fraud on a scale of this magnitude?! Is that not to be recognized as a violation of Halacha just because it wasn’t one of ours? And then there is the scale of the crime. To paraphrase former Congressman ‘Tip’ O’Neil, 26 million dollars ain’t beanbag!

It’s time we recognized this very important fact about ourselves. We cannot afford to only see the good and ignore the bad when it results in harm to Klal Yisorel. Ultimately the bad behavior of one prominent individual reflects on the whole community. And then - when many members of our community go around crying foul – especially in the form of heavily implied anti-Semtism - it can come back to bite us.

I received an e-mail from a very nice lady that I happen to know. She sees only the good in everyone. She took issue with me that I didn’t see this man for the Tzadik that he is and was disappointed that I could be so critical of a Jew in so much trouble - similar to the comment that generated this post.

She said that if I had attended the Tehilim gathering here in Chicago, I would have heard the Rabbanim Chashuvim who addressed it say that Shalom Rubashkin had incredible Ahavas Yisroel – love of the Jewish people -and unwavering Emunah. And about how we are currently in an "Eis Tzara" – troubling times. That it is all in God’s hands and only He controls the world.

I am sure that the description fits and that we are indeed in troubling times. But please let us not make things worse. Compassion does not mean we have to compromise the truth. By all means we should have compassion and do whatever we legally and respectfully can to get a merciful outcome – including collective prayer. But in no way should we turn the truth on its head in the process and bring even more shame upon ourselves.