What’s Wrong with This Picture?

There is something terribly wrong with the picture painted in a Yeshiva World News story. On the surface it might seem like a story of a man who is scrupulously honest and regrets the financial damage he caused to city property a few years ago during a protest. One might be tempted to praise the Admor – the Chasidic Rebbe who generated this fellow’s determination to make things right… and to pay his debt.

I am not tempted to do so. That debt was generated by a violent and dangerous act of burning dumpsters in Meah Shearim at a protest. A protest that was most likely supported by the Admor himself. That Chasid not only destroyed city property but created a health hazard to the elderly residents of his neighborhood because of toxic fumes emitted by burning dumpsters. Not to mention all the other mayhem such protests typically cause including injuries to innocent bystanders.

And then there is the Chilul HaShem at the sight of a groups of religious Jews with long beards wearing religious garb acting like an inner-city street thugs with reckless disregard for human life. Those images are spread far and wide by the news media – print and electronic. Change a few details and you could just as easily be looking at the Ferguson protests that burned down businesses last Monday night. Different people. Different reasons. Same actions. All worthy of condemnation.

Does paying for a few dumpsters make up for all that mayhem? Not in my eyes.

True it was 3 years after the fact. But this Chasid obviously has a conscience – having gone to great lengths to pay his debt. Even though it was precipitated by his Chasdic Rebbe’s request for reasons unrelated to the protest. But instead to be free of debt so that he could be a valid witness at a wedding.

After paying his debt – his conscience was apparently clear. It should not have been. Why was it clear? Because of values informed by the approval protests like these by rabbinic leaders like this Admor . Despite the likelihood of violence.

The Admor gave no admonishment when this Chaisd told him what he was paying for.He just smiled and told him to take care of his debt. When he came back and told the Admor what that he did, He smiled again and validated him as a witness.  Is that praiseworthy in the face of the Chilul HaShem that was ignored? Not in my eyes.

In my view the first thing the Admor should have done when he found out what his Chasid’s debt was about – was to admonish him never to be involved in such protest again! And inform him that whatever the cause – the resultant  likelihood of danger to life and potential damage to property not to mention the Chilul HaShem – isn’t worth it. Even if there is a legitimate reason for protest, Yotze Scharo B’Hefsedah. Whatever benefit might accrue from it is lost by the health hazards, the mayhem, the property damage, and the Chilul HaShem.

So was what this Chasid did praiseworthy? Looked at in isolation, yes it was. But looked at in context, not really. The Rebbe smiled and declared him a Kosher witness?! That’s nice.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.