Tu B’Av 5777

To my dear friends on “H… on Wheels,”

Last night we had a meeting about an individual in our community against whom severe allegations have been leveled. We discussed the potential ramifications of embracing this individual within our community. Although solutions to these concerns were not fully resolved, there was a general consensus that every community member is entitled to assess the risk they believe this individual poses to his/her family (short and long term) and distance or embrace this individual accordingly.

I want to share an observation about the impact this discussion is having on all of us. For starters, this is a positive conversation. However, in situations like this, people will inevitably take sides, and there is a tendency to judge “the others” for their decision to distance or embrace. Some label the “others” as naive, short-sighted, and enabling a danger in our midst. Some label the “others” as paranoid, judgmental, and overreacting.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, I think we can all acknowledge that everyone is trying to do the RIGHT thing, as they see it. No one has malicious intent. But in the process, we must not wrong each other with malicious words, as some were expressed last night.

In the spirit of promoting achdus, please allow me to share the following thought, adapted from a sicha on Parshas Noach (See link here for the article on Chabad.org, the column “From Our Sages”):

[Noach became drunk…] Ham saw the nakedness of their father, and told his two brothers outside. Shem and Japheth took the garment . . . and covered the nakedness of their father, and they did not see their father’s shame (9:22-23)

One of the cornerstones of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov’s teaching is the doctrine of hashgachah peratit, “specific divine providence.” Hashgachah peratitmeans that nothing is by chance—every event in a person’s life is purposeful, an integral part of his divinely ordained mission in life.

From this principle arises another of the Baal Shem Tov’s famous teachings. “Your fellow is your mirror,” the Besht would say to his disciples. “If your own face is clean, the image you perceive will also be flawless. But should you look upon your fellow man and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are encountering—you are being shown what it is that you must correct within yourself.” Otherwise, to what purpose would G‑d cause you to see your fellow’s degradation?

One may ask: Perhaps I am being shown my fellow’s deficiency not as a message concerning my own state, but so that I may assist him in its correction?

To answer this question, we must first take a closer look at the principle of “particular divine providence.” Particular divine providence means that not only is every event purposeful, but also its every aspect and nuance.

For example, the same event can imply different things to different observers, depending on how much they know about the people involved and the events that led up to it. Divine providence is “particular” in that it shows each observer precisely what is applicable to him. If you witness an event, everything about it, including the particular way in which it has affected you, serves a purpose crucial to your mission in life.

When you are confronted with a fellow’s deficiency, there are two distinct elements in your awareness: (a) the fact of that person’s wrongdoing; (b) his guilt, culpability and decadence. The former does not necessarily imply the latter. You may be aware of the fact that a fellow has done wrong, yet such knowledge can be accompanied with understanding, compassion and vindication.

In order to correct your fellow’s wrongdoing, it is enough to know that the action is wrong. To also sense his guilt and lowliness is completely unnecessary; on the contrary, it only hinders your ability to reach out to him in a loving and tolerant manner. The only possible purpose that it can serve is to impress upon you how despicable that thing—or something similar to it, if only in a most subtle way—is in yourself, and thereby compel you to correct it.

This is what the Torah is telling us when it says, “And they did not see their father’s shame.” Not only did Shem and Japheth not physically see their father’s shameful state—this we already know from the (twice-repeated) fact that “their faces were backward”; they also did not perceive his guilt or disgrace. Unlike Ham, whose own debasement was reflected in his vision of his father, their entire reaction to their knowledge of what had transpired lay in what they must now do to correct it. The shame of their father, however, they simply did not see.

I sincerely believe and pray that if we take the message of the above article to heart, we will ultimately come to a resolution to this issue that brings us ALL together, and encompasses the needs of EVERYONE in this community. It can be applied to each other, and to the individual in question. V’DAL.

May this achdus be achieved immediately, today, Tu B’Av 5777.