Monday, January 9, 2012

The Only Mussar Schmooze I Ever Give

I figured that I would wait for everyone else to weigh in on recent events in Beit Shemesh before offering my thoughts. Also, I have not had time to write until now.

It is hard to formulate what should be the proper response to the events in Beit Shemesh (and Yerushalayim and New Square for that matter) from the perspective of a Centrist Orthodox American educator. Yes, it is important to consider that someone living in a different world than where the events are taking place is bound to have somewhat of a skewed perspective. And as someone who has fundamental disagreements with the Charedi approach to so many things, I am bound to either be too harsh or to overcompensate and excuse things that I find inexcusable.

But at the end of the day, I have a hard time justifying, even in my best moment of dan l'chaf zechut (loosely translated as walking a mile in someone else's moccasins), actions such as spitting on little girls, calling those girls prostitutes, Jews throwing dung at Jewish bookstores, and dressing up your children as Jews in Nazi Germany when your own recent ancestors might have been those Jews in Germany and you should understand the vast differences between the situations.

As such, we come to the only mussar schmooze I ever give my students. I tell my students that when all is said and done, there are two questions that they should ask themselves if they are unsure if their actions are appropriate:

1) Is this what Hashem wants me to do?
2) Will this help bring Moshiach?

Simple or simplistic as the questions sound, they require some deeper thinking. Asking whether or not Hashem wants you to do something has nothing to do with deciding that your understanding of the verses about Shabbat mean that God wants you to throw stones at Shabbat violators or sit outside in shorts in your hammock on Saturday afternoon. Rather, it means that one should consider whether or not he is acting in accordance with what he can honestly say is the direction that the classical sources are pointing, or if he is just following his own conscience or desires and hoping that there is a source or two out there that can back him up. This does not necessarily work for halacha, but I am pretty sure that I would decide that vandalism is not condoned by any of the sources that I have read.

The second question requires one to remember why our Sages tell us that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed - baseless hatred. There is no question that we are an argumentative people, and we seem to relish that reputation. However, we are also fairly firm on the point that disagree does not mean despise. A person who spits on an 8-year old girl is a person who does not ask himself what he is doing to restore a sense of brotherhood among the Jewish people. He is a person who is not looking to increase peace; only to increase the spread of what he views as "right".

A challenge of raising students to keep an open mind is the danger that they will get so good at nuance that they will be unable to take strong positions on issues and will be unable to fully recognize when someone or something is horribly wrong. It is imperative that we train our students to be sensitive to how to find the proper path so that they will be capable of recognizing when someone has undoubtedly stepped off of it.

1 comment:

Yossi Herzog said...

i have several points to make. firstly, once you give the individual the right to decide right from wrong etc, you can no longer "judge" him for deciding something that contradicts your idea of of morality etc. you cannot say that he must honestly confirm his motivations... and then condemn him for them by saying you would do differently. also, while i agree that th eobjective measure of right and wrong ought to be what hashem wants, i don't understand what bringing mashiach has to do with anything. like the gemara says mashiach won't come on shabbos so as not to violate a d'rabanan of eyruvin... additionally, i'm not certain that "peace" is an objective measure of values or "rightness". on the contrary, peace without a context of "rightness" is not peace ;it is simply a shallow "lack of fighting"- that is also not what hashem wants...like we see by pinchas. and even he got tremendous "flack" for that gory act... allow me to link to my own blog where i discuss this and also your primary topic which i refer to as mindfulness. http://mussarthoughts.blogspot.co.il/
having said that, i think it is plain that we can agree that spitting on little girls etc is neither correct nor peace engendering.