Tuesday, October 17, 2006

EVEN EVERY HIDDEN THING -- On Chickens, Scandals and Mussar Haskels

כִּי, אֶת-כָּל-מַעֲשֶׂה, הָאֱלֹהִים יָבִא בְמִשְׁפָּט, עַל כָּל-נֶעְלָם, אִם-טוֹב, וְאִם-רָע
(קֹהֶלֶת 12:14)

For every action, the Lord will bring to Judgment, even every hidden thing, whether good or bad. (Eccl. 12:14)

So much has been written in the last few weeks about the Monsey Chicken Scandal (including a rather heated exchange I had with one of the ba’alim of another blog – but enough said about that) yet, amazingly, no one has written about one issue, which IMVVHO, is the biggest issue in the whole story – and has caused the most Chillul Hashem.

The story is real simple. An outwardly pious and learned Jew, a well–respected part of a community which itself is respected for its high level of learning and piety. The man is considered a cut above the rest – gives shiurim, leins, not to mention tsedakah, etc.

The man turns out to have been selling treif chickens in his butcher store and to local caterers for some time, lying to them about its kashrus. Not cutting corners. Treif. As in Frank Perdue. We’re talking deoraysas here, honey.

When he is found out, a scandal erupts, and, we are told, the man has to divorce his wife and flee the country out of shame.

Much hand wringing follows. Some talk about upgrading standards of kashrus. Some pilpul about the laws of ne'emanus -- or whether timtum ha lev applies here. Some talk about emphasizing the importance of honesty in business – correctly pointing out that the breach here was as much a gross violation of Choshen Mishpat as of Yoreh Deah.

Anything sound out of whack here? Is the proverbial elephant in the room being ignored? Why?

Before I identify the elephant, think about this. Imagine if you had met this man several weeks before he was found out. You tell him a hypothetical story about a frum Jew on the other side of the world who seems frum, but in fact is selling treif meat to a whole frum community. What do you think he would have said? Of course, he would say, that man is a rasha merusha, a pious fraud, and will burn in Gehennom. I mean it’s plain and simple, everyone can understand it. What was done was wrong, wrong, wrong, no two ways about.

So, how could he do it?

“The students of R. Yochanan b. Zacai asked him: why was the Torah more
strict with a ganav than a gazlan? He said to them, this one treated
equally the honor of the servant to his Master, and this one did not treat
equally the honor of the servant to his Master. So to speak, he [the
ganav] made the lower eye as though it does not see and the lower eye as though
it does not hear [a euphemism for he acted as though God did not see or hear his
actions].” Bava Kama 79b.

It’s real simple: no one was looking. And what about the One Above? He, in that man’s mind, kevayakhol was not looking either. It’s that simple. That’s the problem in a nutshell.

To my mind, this is the real Chillul Hashem. Everyone understands that what was done was terribly, terribly wrong – heck, even someone with no knowledge of the Torah can understand that committing massive consumer fraud is wrong. The real question is how could someone so steeped in the minutiae of Torah – who said krias Sh’ma twice a day, who davened three times a day, who learned, kept mitsvos, etc., etc. – how could someone like that fall into the mental trap of the ganav, the psychological trap called, “No one – including No One -- Is Looking”? Someone who wants to be mekanter can easily say -- well you know what he can say, Chazal already said it.

In my mind, this is a part of chinuch that is sorely neglected – the feeling that everything you do is watched and recorded, and one day you will give an accounting as per the opening Ecclesiastical possuk.

The Mishna (Avos 2:1) quotes Rebbe as saying: “Look at three things and you will not come to sin, Know that which is above you, an Eye that sees, and Ear that hears, and all you deeds are written in the Book.”

The Chofetz Chaim is quoted as saying that the reason that the chochmah of making movies came down to the world is because people could not fully grasp the import of this Mishna. A movie helps us visualize that our actions and words can be recorded an played later – after 120 years we will watch our life’s “movie” and be judged accordingly.

Now, since the Chofetz Chaim, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. In his days, you had to head a movie studio to be able to film a movie. Today, for a few hundred dollars, every Chayim Yankel can own a video-recorder, on which he can record the most mundane parts of his and his family’s life. (“How cute! You taped your childrens’ twelfth trip to the local museum.”)

Perhaps the need perceived by the Chofetz Chaim is even greater in our generation. We need to think about that video recorder in the sky. One day, after 120 years, we are going to see a record made by the Video Recorder Above. Will we be proud or shamed by our performance?

Other than such mesholim, I don’t know how to inculcate this lesson. True, the issue is not new. R. Yochanan ben Zaccai, as he was about to depart this world, blessed his students, “May the fear of Heaven be upon you as the fear of flesh and blood.” His students said, “Only that much?” He answered, “Halevai (may it be so).” (Berachos 28b). That was said about tannaim, whose level of piety we cannot even imagine.

So that’s all I can say. “May the fear of Heaven be upon [us] as the fear of flesh and blood.” Halevai.

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