Sunday, January 10, 2016

Defining the Difference between Good and Bad

Hilltop youth at-risk should be given the best possible remedial attention from teachers and social workers, in cooperation with their parents. 

By Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Many questions have arisen as a result of the arrest, investigation, and indictment of the young people suspected of committing crimes of violence and murder. Of all of them, the most important question is how to prevent young men, from good families, from deteriorating into deplorable and totally unacceptable behavior.

It is futile to speak about the suspicion of serious crimes, because it may turn out that the youth arrested are not guilty of them. Hopefully, this will be the case. However, it is possible to address what we do know. Clearly, there are youth among the residents of the hilltop communities who publicly bring shame to the Torah and the nation. They claim to love the Land of Israel, but in reality, abhor all the people engaged in its settlement and the soldiers who protect the residents living there thanks to the State of Israel. Theoretically they love the Jewish nation, but in practice, they seem to hate Jews.

They think that the only way to redeem the Land of Israel is by means of unauthorized building. By doing that, they are in conflict with all the righteous settlers engaged in the construction and expansion of Judea and Samaria communities, who, heart and soul, fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv ha'aretz (settling the Land), a commandment equivalent to all the other mitzvot combined, thereby rescuing our nation from the terrible danger of the establishment of a terrorist state allied with hundreds of millions of murderers in Islamic countries.

They despise their peers who study Torah in yeshivas and serve in the army, protecting the nation and the land. With egregious arrogance, they claim that thanks to their wild behavior the surrounding Arabs avoid attacking them, when in truth, without the deterrence of the IDF and the Shabak, they wouldn't survive a single day.

They presume to 'ascend the hilltop', but God is not with them, because the Ark of God's covenant and Moshe are down in the camp with the community, Clal Yisrael (Numbers 14).

He who Shows Disrespect to His Father and Rabbi

Regarding a person who secretly humiliates his father and mother, the Torah says (Deuteronomy 27:16): "Cursed is he who shows disrespect for his father and mother." How much more so is this true regarding one who publicly humiliates his parent's viewpoints and beliefs through his actions and words.

Concerning a person who contends with his rabbis, our Sages, Chazal said: "Whoever contends against the ruling of his teacher is seen as though he contended against the Divine Presence, Shechinah, and whoever quarrels with his teacher is seen as though he quarreled with the Shechinah" (Sanhedrin 110a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 242:2). They question, resent, quarrel and oppose our teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kookzts"l and all his students, among whom are their own parents and teachers.

Various Levels

Among the thousands of Jews living in the hilltop communities, there are various levels. The numbers are difficult to estimate, but it is widely assumed that tens of them are capable of carrying out violent and heinous acts. A murder of a Jewish neighbor nearly happened in one of the hilltops in Gav Ha'Har (Samaria) following an argument over the founding of an additional synagogue in a location where they barely have a minyan on a regular basis!

Then there are several hundred whose behavior scorns Judaism's holiest ideals, but who in their heart of hearts, respect and love the Torah and IDF soldiers. They are capable of cursing soldiers, shamelessly shouting "traitor" at senior rabbis or prominent government ministers, and throwing stones at police at demonstrations or at Arab vehicles. Upon entering a synagogue where a Torah class is being given, they talk noisily nearby about what's "really important", for example, about their sanctified disputes, or about "divrei Torah" proving the whole world is wrong, and they're right. If there's no one to talk to, they're likely to read one of Rebbe Nachman's books out loud, or complete the study of 'shnayim mikra v'echad targum' from the previous week's Torah portion. The most important thing to them is to disturb the rabbi's class, let everyone know they have their own agenda, and that whatever anybody else has to say is worthless. When the congregation is davening the silent 'Shmoneh Esrai' prayer, they read verses from 'Psukei D'zimra' out loud. But in spite of everything, when they are calm and it's called to their attention, they usually are considerate because, after all, they aren't malicious, just childish.

On the other hand, the majority of those living in the hilltop communities are basically fine people. True, many of them find it difficult to fit into a regular framework, but they have good hearts. Many are truly righteous people who genuinely love the Torah, the nation and the country, yearn to redeem the holy land with all their hearts, appreciate the soldiers, and show respect for all human beings.

Defining Good and Evil

The basic foundation of education is the ethical distinction between good and bad. Therefore, it is necessary to say that the attitudes and behavior of the violent hilltop youth are absolutely bad.

Sometimes, out of compassion or a lack of knowledge, there is a tendency not to take a stand against misconduct and harmful views. Labeling an unruly or rude adolescent as wicked is not pleasant, especially when he claims that he is a 'tzaddik' and is sanctifying the name of God. However, the educational price paid for the lack of defining such behavior as evil is high. Although in education there is no guaranteed path ensuring one hundred percent results, and even the best parents are liable to face the reality of wayward children, defining the difference between good and bad is the most efficient way to increase the chances of educational success.

'He Who Spares the Rod Hates His Son'

We learn this from 'Midrash Rabbah' in the opening of the book of 'Shemot'. Yaacov Avinu (Jacob) is said to have had an "unblemished bed," a term meaning that all his sons continued in his path. Our Sages explained that this was because he 'reprimanded his sons', i.e., he rebuked them.

"And these are the names of the Sons of Israel that came into Egypt with Yaakov, every man came with his household – There it is written (Proverbs 13:24): “He who spares the rod hates his son; but he who loves him disciplines him in his youth”… this comes to teach that anyone who refrains from disciplining his son, in the end, causes him to fall into evil ways and will hate him. This is what we have found with Yishmael (Abraham's elder son); because his father Avraham had a fondness for him and did not rebuke him, consequently, Yishmael fell into evil ways, Avraham hated him, and sent him out of his house empty-handed… Similarly: 'And Isaac loved Esau' (Genesis 25:28), and as a result, Esau went astray because he was not rebuked… Likewise, because David did not rebuke or chastise his son Absalom, he fell into evil ways, seeking to slay his father… as well as many other endless sorrows… and David also treated [his son] Adoniya in a similar fashion, neither rebuking nor punishing him, and therefore he became corrupt."

'But He Who Loves Him Disciplines Him in His Youth'

The Midrash continues and teaches: "'But he who loves him disciplines him in his youth', this refers to the Holy One, blessed be He; because of His love for Israel… He heaps upon them chastisements. You will find that the three precious gifts which God gave unto Israel were all given after much suffering: the Torah, the Land of Israel, and the Life to Come...

"But a father who chastises his son causes the son to have additional love and honor for him…We find that Avraham reproached his son Yitzhak (Isaac), taught him Torah, and guided his ways ... (and as a result of this, Yitzhak followed in his ways), as it is written: 'And these are the generations of Yitzhak the son of Avraham' (Genesis 25:19), this comes to teach that he was like his father in all things – in wisdom, in beauty, in wealth, and in good deeds. Know, that Yitzhak was thirty-seven years old when his father bound him on the altar, and it is written: 'And Avraham was old, well advanced in years'; nevertheless, he bound Yitzhak like a lamb without resistance, and as a result: 'And Avraham gave all that he had unto Yitzhak' (Genesis 25:5)... Likewise, Yitzhak reproached Yaacov, teaching him Torah and tormenting him in his studies ... therefore, he merited receiving a blessing, and inherited the Land. And Yaacov reprimanded his sons as well, rebuking them and teaching them his ways, and they were all righteous, for indeed it is written: 'And these are the names of the Sons of Israel that came into Egypt' etc., equating them all to Yaacov, for all of them were righteous as he was."

Is This Terrorism?

The 'Duma affair' stirred public debate in Israel about whether Jews who murder Arabs are considered terrorists. The debate is primarily academic since the law permits "regular" murder suspects to be interrogated by means of relatively mild measures alone, whereas murder suspects who operate within the framework of terrorist organizations are allowed to be investigated using torture.

People on the left, whose faith and religion maintains there is no difference between Jews and Arabs, strive to claim there is absolutely no difference between Jewish nationalist criminals and Arab terrorists. However in truth, comparing the two is like comparing a mosquito to an eagle. One could argue that a mosquito is essentially a tiny eagle, however, the differences between them are so vast that making such a comparison is infuriating.

However, regarding the damage caused to the State of Israel, according to several high-ranking defense officials who are responsible for Israel's security, the damage is substantial and extremely severe. True, this stems from discriminatory attitudes of various countries towards Israel, but it is the reality. Consequently, they believe a vigorous investigation of such actions is vital in order to terminate them completely. Based on this, it was determined to consider the youth's actions as acts of terrorism.

Since there were allegations of excessive torture used against the detainees, there is room for clarification and assessment of these claims by means of lawyers and reliable public officials, so as not to allow Shabak investigators to go beyond the pale in over-zealousness, seizing the opportunity to assume excessive powers with the intention of causing harm to an entire ideological sector of the public, while interrogating people who are totally unrelated to these serious crimes. If it turns out that the legal advisers or interrogators violated the law, we must see to it they pay the full price.

How to Deal with the Wild Youth

A criminal who is caught must be punished because that is the law. Punishment is beneficial both for the criminal's personal atonement, and also for the welfare of the public, for, as our Sages say, "without law and order, people would swallow each other alive." If the hilltop youth against whom accusations are proven regret their actions, ask for forgiveness, and seek a way to correct them, it would be appropriate to consider easing their punishment, as is customary in similar cases. Then it would also be appropriate to include as a plea for lessening their sentencing, the tense situation these youth faced, stating the names of their relatives and acquaintances who were killed in Arab terrorist attacks.

However, it is forbidden to adopt a hostile attitude towards the rest of the unruly youth. Indeed, their disruptive behavior and immoral views must be condemned, but at the same time, they should be given the best possible care of educators and social workers, with their parents participating in the educational and rehabilitation process. Financial resources should be invested and new building permits should be issued, with the goal of reducing their frustration, so they can atone for their actions and find positive avenues to which to channel their energies in construction of houses, agricultural development, and recruitment into the army.

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