Opinion: Getting a Handle on the Scandal

By Bracha Goetz (The Jewish Star)
December 30, 2009, Issue of January 10, 2010

Some were shocked. Many were in denial. Others were disillusioned when those tapes emerged. But what happens next? It is wonderful if we can come to see that really each new scandal that surfaces is cause for the deepest gratitude. G-d is giving us another chance with every single one. Once the sunlight is shining on our transgressions, we have the opportunity to correct them. Left covered up, in darkness, corruption proliferates. Why should any of us waste energy being concerned about our image being tarnished? We can channel our energy into actually cleaning ourselves up when the dirt becomes evident, so that our image can reflect who we really are.

Our rabbonim are people similar to us, with hopefully much more Torah knowledge than we have. Thank G-d, we're not part of a religion that thinks of our leaders as infallible. Our leaders, like us, also have to guard against the common tendency to rationalize engaging in wrongful behavior in order to achieve great goals. For example, the Spinka Rebbe was caught engaging in illegal financial activities in order to help his yeshiva. Getting caught got him to stop, and to go around telling others to stop as well. This kind of thing shakes up our complacency. And it rocks our self-righteousness, at least a little, for at least awhile. Why worry about hanging out our dirty laundry — if that's all that works for us to come clean?

When a scandal is revealed, it is an appropriate time for moral guidance from our leaders. We don't need attempts at whitewashing or blaming the messengers. We long to hear from those in positions of power who are courageous enough to express outrage about the dangerous, immoral behavior of their peers. They can role model when it is not considered lashon hora to speak out about vile abuses. We could also learn tremendously from their own admissions of guilt for accepting funding from unsavory sources, or condoning unscrupulous practices that have become standard. So many of us have been lulled into complacency, but with each new scandal's revelation, G-d is reaching out to us again and again, to return to our pure and genuine ways.

If we have become too cult-like, G-d is giving us opportunities, it seems more and more frequently lately, to re-examine what the results can be when we abdicate our individual responsibilities and concentrate more and more power into the hands of a few. Following money trails can hopefully lead us to many more startling revelations, so that ethical improvements can be implemented and financial transparency can be put in place. But we need to gather the courage to go there. How many more scandals will need to surface first?

Before the destruction of our Second Beis Hamikdash, corruption was widespread among the Kohanim Gedolim. The corrupt flaws proliferating in our midst now are being highlighted, so that we can remove them. We have a lot of work to do on ourselves if we really want to be shining lights to the world.

The Vilna Gaon reminds us that water helps the weeds to grow, just as it helps plants to grow. Alongside the wondrous blossoming of our Torah communities, abusive and corrupt behavior can also grow, strangling what is most valuable, if left unchecked. In order to have a beautiful garden, we can really never become complacent about the weeding that goes along with it. The weeds look so much like the real thing, but they are out to destroy all that is good.

Scandals are G-d's way of nudging us to get weeding. So after the denial, the shock and the disillusionment have passed, we can be grateful that G-d still thinks we are up for the job.

Bracha Goetz serves on the Executive Committee of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children. She is the Harvard-educated author of eleven children's books.