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Beit Midrash Family and Society Understanding Circumstances

Election Eve Note: Response and Responsibility

In life, each of us is antagonized and beleaguered by others. A number of possible responses offer themselves to the victim such hardships. Some approaches carry a seal of quality and truth; others steer a person in the opposite direction...
Dedicated to the speedy recovery of
Asher Ishaayahu Ben Rivka
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1. Introduction: A World of Difficulties
2. Ways of Dealing
3. Pure Intentions and Proper Behavior
4. Summary: A Role-Model

Introduction: A World of Difficulties
This world is no paradise. Only in the eyes of a drunkard does life appear just (see Yoma 74b). Our universe is full of imperfection and evil: Some evils are due simply to the nature of creation, while others are born through the inclinations of man's heart. In the course of life, each of us is antagonized and beleaguered by others, and this causes us much pain. Life's injustice seems to screams out. The situation is unbearable and one cannot but demand its rectification.

Injustice can come from almost any direction - it can result from a government decision or a court ruling; from steps taken by a municipality, a local council, or the administrative office of a settlement; from the disreputable behavior of a neighbor or even a family member.
A number of possible responses offer themselves to one who experiences such hardships. And while some approaches carry a seal of quality and truth, others steer a person in the opposite direction...

Ways of Dealing
One way of dealing with difficulties is by taking constructive steps toward rectifying the situation: to write up a blueprint for action, to turn to others for help, and to do whatever else is in one's power. This path bears a genuine blessing. True, there is no guarantee of success; true, even victory has its price; yet, chances are that one who acts in a calm, intelligent, and responsible manner will have a clearer picture of the desired goal and its necessary limits. Chances are that one who takes this route will know at what point to step back and be satisfied with the reward received for getting out of the battle at the right time. Such a person will readily admit that though each of us is commanded to better the world in an attempt to hasten the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Creator does not permit following any path, for not every end justifies all of the means. It may well be that this sort of battle will call for verbal assertiveness, yet everything will be judged according to the measuring rod of Jewish law and in light of the genuine effectiveness of method. In this regard, the Torah states: "Do not stand still when your neighbor's life is in danger... You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him" (Leviticus 19:16,17).

An opposite route is taken by one who merely wishes to unleash pent-up frustration. The follower of this approach refuses to act in any truly productive manner. Rather than carefully considering each move like an experienced chess player, he chooses to let off steam by going around denouncing all injustice. Needless to say, such an approach brings no great blessing to humanity, neither is it very effective. True, it gives its proponent a sense of satisfaction. Every story, accusation, or street-corner discussion makes him appear - in his own eyes and in the eyes of others - a faultless defender of justice. This sort of person will make a point of participating in demonstrations even where he knows that they will have no practical impact. Basing himself on hearsay, he will succeed in denouncing both Prime Minister and local council head alike. He will make fiery speeches to convince the already convinced, yet will bring no true gain to the cause for which he claims to fight. Such an instigator is capable of rousing much anger and dispute, and igniting hatred between brothers, friends, camps, and parties. The Torah calls this method "Lashon HaRah" (slander), and it commands us "not to go around as a gossiper among your people" (Ibid. 16).

Then there is a situation in which a person finds himself helpless, and sees no realistic path to proceed along. He simply lacks the strength necessary to take on the powers-that-be. Neither does he desire spending his days in senseless protest. Is there any option left for such a person? Yes. There is an alternative path, and it calls for acknowledging that in God's world there never was and never will be an entirely unfavorable circumstance. "Even though I walk through the valley overshadowed by death, I will fear no evil for You are with me" (Psalms 23). Even though things seem difficult and not given to change at present, realize that this apparent predicament contains some good. True, this helpless individual would prefer foregoing both the suffering and the reward that accompanies it, but the only thing left to do is to search carefully and discover the rose hidden among the thorns. In this regard the Torah says: "Judge your people fairly" (Ibid. 15) - i.e., Judge every individual - indeed, the entire word - favorably. One who chooses to follow this path will discover himself capable gaining something of value from even the most trying situations. Furthermore, chances are that when the opportunity to change things arrives, such a person will jump at it, and God will help him to succeed.

Another possibility is outright despair. One who chooses this path will accept things as they are, saying: "Such is the way of the world, and we are not obligated to fix it. The owner of the vineyard will come and remove the weeds on his own." In this regard, King Solomon has stated: "He who is slothful in his work is in fact comrade to him who destroys." (Proverbs 18:9).
Man is free to choose how he will deal with each undesirable situation. Yet, he would do best to avoid the unbecoming path of "Lashon HaRah."

Pure Intentions and Proper Behavior
Jeremiah the Prophet teaches us that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and grievously weak: Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). A person must examine himself very closely before he goes talebearing his fellow. One must ask himself, "Is my intention really to improve the world? Maybe I actually harbor ulterior motives and in fact hope to gain something from the cause which I am so adamantly battling for? Am I not in effect digging a pit before my brother in order to build a mound for myself? Has not Jewish law laid down clear and explicit guidelines regarding how to behave in this sort of situation?

Indeed, Rabbi Yisrael Meir of Radin, the illustrious "Chofetz Chaim," has written very clearly regarding in what manner one may deliver a derogatory report of somebody even if ones intentions are pure. It is true that one is obligated by the Torah to deliver such a report for the purpose of perfecting the world, yet one must first make sure that his fellow is in fact guilty of transgression. Next, it becomes necessary to gently reprimand the transgressor in a clear and pleasant manner. Only after all else has failed does it become permissible, and even obligatory, to go relating such information. Moreover, even when delivering a negative report one must be cautious, for not every manner of delivery is acceptable in the eyes of Jewish law. The blatant degradation of an individual without attempting to see or show his positive sides constitutes a sin against truth, justice, and peace.

Summary: A Role Model
This is the great task of public channels when in the hands of the religious public - especially channels like journalism and politics. It is not enough to publish newspapers "for the observant" or to establish "religious" political parties - cheap imitations of secular media and politics with added focus on the interests of religious comrades. Such bodies in fact have a responsibility to serve as role-models for their non-religious counterparts - through clean politics, responsible media, exemplary love for the Jewish people, and both public and private sensitivity at all times and with all people. This sort of approach will constitute an instrumental and necessary layer in the building of a Torah-true state, which will surely rise in its proper time.
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Some of the biblical verses here were taken from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's "Living Torah," and from the Jerusalem Bible (Koren).

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