A Fundamental Acharayus

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

This article is an attempt to help us focus and shed light upon a fundamental achrayus, a responsibility, that we all share equally. It is an achrayus which we as a community have not, as of yet, adequately addressed.

The fact is that more than 1 in every 2 people in the world actively surfs the internet.  And those one out of two are not hermits hiding in a remote shell.  They surely discuss things with others too.

Why should we care about all this?

VAYIKRA

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.  The challenge brings to fore our internal commitment to literally choose life.

There are websites and bloggers who each day post the most horrific and egregious violations of decency.  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.

UNIMAGINABLE PROPORTION

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 have all heard of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died tragically in a plague.  This is the main reason for our mourning during the period of Sefirah.  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 4.5 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, phones, 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.

ARE WE REALLY TEACHING TORAH VALUES?

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 Jewish and secular media, 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.

REBOOTING AT EVERY LEVEL

We need to reboot at every level.  Torah values need to be retaught in every Yeshiva, every shul, and every home.  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.  It is in how we speak to others.  It is in how we drive.  It is in how we conduct business.

If we can do this, then we can perhaps fulfill this most fundamental of responsibilities.

The author can be reached at [email protected]


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