Brooklyn, NY – OpEd – CitiField Asifa: Filtering Ourselves, Not Just The Internet

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    Advertising material used to the Asifah campaignBrooklyn, NY – Much has been said, both pro and con, about the upcoming Asifa sponsored by the Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachaneh which will be taking place in CitiField on May 20th.  This article is not meant to criticize the forthcoming Asifa. Rather, it is an attempt to help us focus and shed light upon a fundamental achrayus, a responsibility, that we all share equally.  And it is this achrayus which we as a community have not, as of yet, adequately addressed.

    The ubiquitous rise of the internet in the past decade has been quite staggering.  It has created a very new and different world in terms of the instant communication of ideas and news.  And the numbers are astounding.

    The data on the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) site shows that the estimated number of Internet users had reached 2.08 billion by the end of 2010, compared to 1.86 billion a year earlier.  By the end of 2012 it could very well reach 2.3 billion.

    This boils down to the fact that 1 in every 3 people in the world actively surfs the internet.  And those one out of three are not hermits hiding in a remote shell.  They surely discuss things with others too.

    Why should we care about all this?

    Because now, more than ever before, we must be on the lookout to avoid Chilul Shaim Shamayim – a desecration of Hashem’s Holy Name.  It is, let us remember, a verse in Sefer VaYikrah (22:32), “Lo sechalelu es shaim kodshi – And you shall not profane My Holy Name; but I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel: I am the L-rd who sanctifies you.”

     Now, with the remarkable speed of the internet, any desecration of G-d’s Name on our part that is reported almost anywhere is known instantly across the world.

    Both the magnitude and the ramifications of this notion are truly staggering.  And in this pasuk, lays the achrayus that we all share.

    It is the violation of this posuk, which perhaps represents the greatest challenge that has been opened up by the breadth and scope of the internet.  The colossus known as the World Wide Web has brought us face to face with our greatest challenge – ourselves – and our internal commitment to literally choose life.

    The upcoming Asifa in CitiField has the potential to be a major opportunity in addressing the underlying causes of Chilul Hashem and how to prevent them.

    In our current day and age, news is reported not only in newspapers but online as well and while today’s newspaper may get tossed in the trash, what is posted on the internet remains available indefinitely for all to see. The most horrific and egregious violations of decency are chronicled on a daily basis and whether it is an issue of molestation, theft, fraud, Ponzi scheming, money-laundering or whatever other ill, not a day goes by without a Chilul Hashem being reported.  The violations are of a proportion and scale that were unimaginable a mere twenty five years ago.  This is not to say that all of the allegations are completely true or even partially true, but we must make it our business to stay away from even the appearance of impropriety, and we are not doing that.

    SERIOUSNESS OF CHILUL HASHEM

    Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:158) writes that Chilul Hashem is the greatest of all sins.  He writes, citing the Gemorah in Yuma (86a) that neither Teshuvah nor the hardships and travails of life atone for it.  Atonement can only be achieved at one’s death and only when accompanying the proper Teshuvah.

    We stand now in the middle of Sefirah, in a state of mourning for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died tragically in a plague.  The Gemorah in Yevamos (62b) states clearly that their Aveirah was that they did not accord each other the proper respect.  The question is most blaring.  Granted, they violated the Mitzvah of Onaas Dvarim and maybe even negated the Mitzvah of V’Ahavta l’rayacha Kamocha.  But the death penalty?  Why was their Aveirah so severely punished?

    The answer is that this lack of respect to one another constituted a grave Chilul Hashem.   The deaths of 24,000 students were on account of Chilul Hashem.  When we consider the much greater magnitude of Chilul Hashem in our generation, with the fact that there are two billion plus potential readers – the ramifications are mind-boggling!

    A POSSIBLE SOLUTION

    So how can we best address this problem?

    True, we need filters on our routers, computers, and other products and gizmos.  But we need filters on our own selves, as well.

    We need to filter out examples of improper behavior, and things that are antithetical to Torah-true ideals and midos.

    We can begin by asking ourselves certain questions.  Are we really teaching our children and our students our Torah values?  Are we telling them that every person is a Tzelem Elokim and to attempt to be as honest as possible in all our business dealings?  Are we providing our children and our students with examples of MiDvar Sheker Tirchak in our day to day actions and activities?

    The problem here is not that a Chilul Hashem is caused when the crimes of Jewish people are broadcast across the internet for all the world to see.  The problem is that there are Jews who are committing crimes in the first place.  By pointing the finger of blame for this Chilul Hashem at the internet, we are no different than the small child who covers their eyes thinking that if they can’t see anyone, then no one can see them.

    If organizers of the Assifah are correct, and tens of thousands of people show up at CitiField, then this event will be the perfect opportunity to educate those assembled about the reality of life in 2012:  any time a Jew does anything wrong the chances are excellent that it will be reported on the internet.

    There will be many prominent Rabbonim present at CitiField on May20th.  It is perhaps time for things to be told like it is: the internet is a fact of life whose use grows more widespread on a daily basis and each and every one of us has the achrayus to make sure that our actions are appropriate and just, because the reality is that if we do something wrong, it will very likely be reported on the internet, to a worldwide audience of over two billion people.

    If we don’t want to see Jews with yarmulkas being splashed across the internet news sites, then we need to make sure that Jews with yarmulkas stop doing things that are wrong.

    The words of Pirkei Avos are literally unfolding before our eyes.  Not just in the celestial realms, but even in this world, there are watchful eyes and listening ears who write down our actions in a book for all to see.  We need to take this reality very seriously, as each of us has the responsibility to make sure that the media has only positive things to report about the Jewish people.

    Two further suggestions might also be instructive, here.

    The first one lies in a common expression – “the best defense is a good offense.”  The best way to focus on preventing Chilul hashem is to actively try to create Kiddush Hashem, whenever and wherever we are.

    When Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky zt”l passed away his family members discovered in his papers a kaballah that he accepted upon himself.  The Kaballah was to perform no less than two acts of Chessed per day.  Perhaps we can attempt to try to perform two mini-acts of Kiddush Hashem each day as well.   We should start off small, and without a neder, but a gradual entry into this mindset might go a very long way in avoiding chillul Hashem.  And no act is too tiny for Kiddush Hashem.  Helping someone in a supermarket line put their groceries on the counter, being a courteous driver, smiling and saying hello are all prime examples of mini-acts of Kiddush Hashem that we can do daily.  And there are bigger ones that we can perform too.

    The second suggestion lies in the power of learning Mussar and inspirational texts.  Some of us may recall that long ago there was such a thing as a Mussar Movement, where Reb Yisroel Salanter promulgated the idea of learning Mussar not just as a text, but with feeling and inspiration.

    He wrote that it should be studied with “sfasayim dolkos – with lips aflame.”  Don’t we remember our Roshei Yeshiva waxing emotionally about the grandeur of Kelm, of the Mussar regimen in Novardhok and in Slabodka?  Each of these Yeshivos had a unique brand of Mussar.

    We need to give bring back the genuine Mussar shmuessim of the Yeshivos of yore.  The fiery words of a Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zt”l must once again permeate our Neshamos. We need to bring back the half hour daily Mussar Seder, where Mesilas Yesharim, Orchos Tzaddikim and Chovos HaLevavos resounded in our Batei Midrashim for a half of an hour straight.  In short we need to reignite our dedication to improvement and the refinement of our neshamos.

    Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l once explained in a Rosh HaShana Mussar Shmuess that a commitment to daily Mussar study may not resolve all our character flaws right away, and even over time it will take enormous effort if it works at all, but what it does do is quantify our commitment to change and to improve.  Doing so down here will earn us assistance in shamayim to reach these worthy and lofty goals.

    Countless times throughout our day, we have the opportunity to create either a Kiddush Hashem or a Chilul Hashem with our actions.  Just as we apply much needed filters to our internet to keep the content appropriate, we must apply filters to our own actions so that they are appropriate as well.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

    Rabbi Yair Hoffman, is an an Orthodox Rabbi and educator, author of several Seforim on Halachah and a former Morah Desarah of a Shul in Long Island, Rav Hoffman is a well respected Torah figure with close contacts with many leading halachic authorities.


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