The current scandal involving Rabbi Leib Tropper is the latest in a series of “spiritual abuse” cases that have occurred in the Orthodox community in recent years, to the horror of all of us.
This case, however, is particularly intriguing for several reasons: first, it is the first instance that I know about where a major personality in the religious world was brought down via a headlining expose that ultimately originated in an internet blog. Second, it is a very dilated and distorted window on the relationship between Jewish organizations, their directors and their donors. Third, it clearly exemplifies the words of our Sages. “Rabbi Yochanan ben Broka said, ‘Whoever desecrates the Name of Heaven in secret, they will exact punishment from him in public'” (Avos 4:5). And were it not for the instantaneous speed with which information can be posted and sent to a virtually unlimited number of people via the internet, this problem may have gone on undetected and unnoticed for years. It appears that uncovering deception happens very quickly these days.
I don’t personally know Harry Maryles, or the authors of “the unorthodox Jew” or failedmessiah.com, but I do have a message for them and everyone who reads their blogs: instead of simply using our soapboxes to judge and castigate others with the rationalization that we are simply trying to restore honesty and transparency to the religious world, we should realize that these events happen in front of our eyes because they have a message for us; we have to take mussar from these events. We have to realize that “there but for the grace of G-d go I”. Quite literally.
Anyone who reads the accounts of the snake, Esav or Lavan, would be letting themselves off easy if they simply snarled, called these personalities, “bad guys”, and flipped to the next page. Hashem gives us detailed accounts of these people because He wants us to take it to the second level, and ask ourselves, “how am I like the snake, Esav, or Lavan?” From there, we can work to eradicate these personality traits.
Parenthetically, I am very dismayed at the proliferation of frum internet tabloids, blogs that symbiotically live off of systemic problems in the religious world and supply their readers with a type of Orthodox (or, really anti-Orthodox) pornography that serves to confirm their suspicions that every religious Jew or rabbi is actually an evil pervert, while eroding the emunas chachamim of others. Solutions or invitations to substantive discussion are rarely offered on these sites. Lots of people have an axe to grind; I suggest that maybe it’s not such a responsible thing to do in front of six billion people?
I say this because I am a therapist, and because I am essentially “one degree of separation” from many of the people who make it onto these unsavory lists. I am a YU musmach, I have been an assistant rabbi in Monsey myself, and I work with this underbelly of the frum world professionally. I consulted to NCSY leaders immediately after the Baruch Lanner affair several years ago, and I listen to the thought distortions of offenders on a weekly basis; it’s harrowing. But a person should thank G-d that he or she has not been given the impairments of conscience coupled with the overactive yetzer hara that have led other people down the path of destruction.
One addictions treatment expert has put it this way, “every single person who has come into my office has said initially that they never imagined this could happen to them.”
If you think about it, these high profile cases of corruption may simply be a very monstrous, pathological version of the “disconnect” that affects everyone according to their level, the incongruity that comes from knowing what is right and not doing it–or doing the opposite. How can people smoke, when the label on the box clearly tells them that doing so will kill them? They light up anyway. How can people talk in shul, insult people, cheat on tests, run cash businesses, overestimate accident damages, double park, ignore newcomers, drive over 25 miles per hour in a school zone, not call their mother, get to work late, submit restaurant receipts as tax write-offs, etc., etc., etc.?
On a clinical note: in these very awful cases that have surfaced in recent years, I propose that, if you examine each one, they probably all adhere to a set of diagnostic criteria for pathology that predisposes them in this direction. It does not excuse the actions of these people, of course, but it would be very beneficial to the Jewish community if some type of screening test could be developed and administered to people who would become the heads of our institutions.