Question: [Wednesday, 25th Teves, 5782]
As like every other Frum Jew most likely feels, I am in total shock over the tragic news involving the famous author and educator Chaim Walder, both from the actions that he was accused of doing as well as from his suicide. There’s so much to talk about the story, but one thing that I think I need some comfort in, is regarding what is G-d’s message?! Why would G-d allow an individual who would commit such heinous sins and crimes to be elevated to such a high position of power and influence within the religious public, and have access to the hearts and minds of the most precious of the gems of Jewish people, which are the children of a full generation, including myself and my own children. This incident is not just another perpetrator getting caught, as I am not aware of an individual who has had greater influence and popularity amongst Frum children of a full generation as much as he, and therefore the hurt pain and confusion is so strong and so intense, not to mention that he had to top it off with the suicide which in and of itself, irrelevant of all the accusations against him, is one of the most educationally hurtful things that he can do to our generation and to our children. My question is not on him, my question is on G-d. Why on earth would G-d allow such a person to gain access to an entire generation of our minds and souls and hearts, to then have it be destroyed on us in such an unprecedented manner, leaving us feeling deeply confused, scared, losing trust in authority, in rabbis, in the system, in the Torah, and demonstrating to us in a most vivid way that suicide is a way out of your problem. I am not sure you can help me with this question as I don’t know if anyone knows the answer.
As you write, we are all deeply hurt and confused about what has happened. The pain is raw, deep, and real. The betrayal is immense, the future damage un-foretelling, and his victims are not just the dozens of individuals that he raped and abused, but an entire generation whom he touched, and has now completely betrayed not just with what he did, but also with how he chose to escape through his suicide. I obviously am not G-d and I am not His spokesman or prophet, and therefore cannot say why He did this to us, and why G-d allowed this to happen. I do not know Cheshbonos Shamayim. And I do agree that this tragedy is unprecedented in terms of the intensity of the effect that it has on a full generation of children that he influenced. The one thing that I can say is what the Rebbe would preach all the time after tragic occurrences, and that is “Vehachaiy Yiten El Libo,” that those alive must use the incident to take upon themselves resolutions to help make the world a better place, and make up for the work that will now be missing by those who are no longer with us. I have a lot to say on the subject in general, and would like to try to keep it short with a few important points that I feel are not addressed strongly enough, and that we in the “after Chaim Walder” generation can implement, and use this terrible “educational nuclear bomb” that fell on us, to change how we do things and how we act:
- Bringing perpetrators to light: Sexual molestation can be tantamount to murder of the soul of an individual. The Rebbe makes this very clear in a talk he gave in explaining the mental and emotional affect that the rape of Dina by Shechem had on her, making her a “slave” for life. Anyone, whether a parent, educator, rabbi, or friend, who was made aware of sexual abuse by an individual must do all in their power to bring the matter to light to the proper avenues, so the perpetrator never gets access again to do what he did. This applies even if the victim pleads for it to be kept a secret. Every perpetrator most likely is already thinking of their next victim, and it is just a matter of time. If you have this information, you must act, and act fast, to save the next Jewish soul. Anyone who has such information about an individual and does not take it seriously and bring it to the proper avenues for it to be dealt with, certainly transgresses “Lo Saamod Al Dam Reiacha.” Also, victims should never be made to be felt embarrassed by anyone, and they should be encouraged and applauded for coming forward. As has already been suggested in the past by educators, every parent should have periodical discussions with their children about the subject of sexual abuse, and making them aware that their bodies are theirs and no one has permission to touch it. As well as that, they do not have permission to touch other people’s bodies. Children need to be constantly reminded that if anything ever happens to them and anyone ever touches them inappropriately, that they must tell their parents and their parents will be a listening ear and deal with it appropriately and professionally. If one thing that the Chaim Walder story has taught us, is that keeping and hiding the information about the individual will make it come back at us 100 times worse, with many more victims, and an entire generation who now feels betrayed and confused.
- Who to inform when you have such information: In general, the proper avenue to take such information is to the police, and to file a police report. This is in addition to bringing the matter to light to organizations who deal with these matters. Baruch Hashem, there are many organizations today who are advocates for victims and take this mission very seriously of making the public aware so the perpetrator will never have the opportunity to do his crime again. Most Rabbis are not equipped or trained to deal with these issues, and experience shows that some of them have chosen the path of dealing with it in ways that will not expose the individual to the public, hence leading to many more victims to come. They are obviously not the right address to deal with these issues, which is not their fault, as it is completely beyond their field of expertise. This is a matter of Pikuach Nefesh and Sakanos Nefashos, and must be dealt with only by the professionals who are trained in this. Once again, here too we apply the rule of “Lo Saamod Al Dam Reiecha,” and that in matters of Pikuach Nefesh, you do not ask a rabbi if you can be Michalel Shabbos to save someone’s life. If it were up to me, I think that legislation needs to be passed that a person who has information of this nature about someone, especially a person of clergy or within education, and doesn’t come forward to the police or other authorities, that they can be prosecuted. If you know someone’s about to commit a murder, and you tell no one, there has to be some responsibility and liability held on the person who chose to be silent.
- Giving the perpetrators a path of Teshuvah and giving victims a path of real closure: As a society, when we hear of individuals being accused of molestation, we usually split into two groups. One group which vehemently defends the individual and says that they don’t believe the accusations. The second group, which believes it in totality, and publicly shames the perpetrator even wishing his death. I believe in a third path, and that is in general to believe the accusations when they have been properly investigated and not to throw our face in the sand and refuse to believe reality just because it doesn’t make sense to us. At the same time, I believe in closure and repentance. I don’t think it is helpful neither for the victims nor for the perpetrators for them to be completely banned and cut off from society, and in all essence have character assassination performed on to them from which they will never get up again. This leads them to fight for their very existence, and deny the accusations, which at times results in lengthy trials which is not beneficial for anyone, and never give the victims any real closure. The Torah is merciful, and Teshuvah can be done even for the worst of sins, and it is not every person in the generations job to suddenly become the Goal Hadam of the victims, especially when there are other people already doing so, in a more professional and guided method. The public mob lynching of the perpetrators I do not believe assists the victims, and certainly does not assist the perpetrator, who is now fighting for his very life. I think a middle approach should be taken, and that is to preach to the perpetrators that there is a path forward, a path of repentance, a path where they apologize to their victims, a path where they apologize to society for betraying them, a path in which they give their victims monetary compensation and acknowledge and take responsibility for all the hurt that they have caused, a path where they do their time and pay their dues to society in incarceration in accordance to the rule of law, a path where we show them sympathy that despite their evil ways and terrible decisions, we can accept them back, obviously with limitations, but we still love them and accept them as we love and accept any of our fellow Jews no matter what sin they did, and want to help them get back to become a productive member of society where they will never get a chance to perform their evil acts again, but will get a chance for rectification and to live life in the most positive way possible. This level of embracement and sympathy towards the perpetrator I understand cannot and should not be demanded from the victims and their families, however, the rest of society does not have to be the Goal Hadam to try to kill the perpetrator, and they can act in the most beneficial way possible for both victim and perpetrator, which I believe is through showing him a path of Teshuvah and closure.
- Public shaming: In light of the above said, I strongly believe people have to stop with the public shaming and be very careful with what they write about other people especially in a public setting. Shaming someone in public is worse than death, and in the most extreme cases can lead them to commit suicide, and as the Talmud teaches us that even one who commits adultery still receives a portion of the world to come, while one who shames someone in public does not have a portion in the world to come, even if he shames him for his sin of committing adultery! We can kill with our words, and just because someone did a very severe sin does not give us the right to kill them, neither according to Torah nor Lehavdil secular law, and one who does so and decides to kill the perpetrator will be held liable both in heaven and earth for his own evil actions. The blood of perpetrators are not Hefker, and both Torah and Lehavdil secular law give us guidelines and regulations. Regarding the subject of molestation, on the one hand public awareness is the most vital and important tool we have to stop it, and hence we cannot apply the prohibition against public shaming to prevent this important information from coming to the public. On the other hand, it should only be done by the professionals and through their avenues and directives. Not only may the public shaming and hate comments not be helpful to either the victim or perpetrator, but it may also transgress this biblical prohibition, as for what purpose and under what basis is the person choosing to publicly shame the perpetrator. Has he sought advice from the professionals who are already dealing with this regarding whether he should or shouldn’t make a comment, and whether it will or will not be helpful to bring about the most positive resolution? If someone wants to already make a comment, it should be one that comforts the victims, and beseeches the perpetrator to confess and bring closure for himself, his family, and to all of his victims. Preaching hate online may express your own emotions and angers but will not necessarily solve anything and contribute anything good to the situation. As in the case of Chaim Walder, the public lynching led to his suicide, without closure for anyone, and the creation of an entire new generation of victims.
- Suicide prevention: If now, more than ever, children and adolescents may be more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts. We, the Frum community, have gone through a very emotionally traumatic year with the Meron tragedy, and now this Chaim Walder tragedy which ended in his public suicide, certainly does not help the emotional well-being of people already struggling. It is imperative for parents and educators to look for signs in children who may be silently suffering inside. Give them an avenue of expression. Each parent should make private personal time for his child once a week or the like to talk to them and see how they are doing, and tell them that they can share anything with them that is important and that is bothering them, and that they should never be ashamed, and that they love them and care for them and will do everything they can to help them. Parents and educators and even friends who are made aware of a person’s depression and/or suicidal thoughts, must take it extremely seriously and immediately turn to proper professionals for guidance and counseling to help the child. Once again, we are in unprecedented times of trauma for children, and extra awareness and attentiveness is demanded of everyone.
- Ein Aputropis Learayos: We should never trust our strong morals and conscious to permit placing ourselves in situations that can lead to immoral and forbidden activity. The Torah gives us guidelines of how to distance from entering ourselves in situations that can potentially lead to sexual misbehavior and these guidelines need to be followed to the exact. Distancing from Yichud, distancing from flirtation with the opposite gender, and distancing ourselves from counseling people of the other gender and entering into close emotional relationships with them even under the cloak of “work and Parnasa.” We should all use our shock and anger and confusion of what has happened to strengthen our own moral behavior, and observance of Torah guidelines, including Shemiras Eiynayim, and protecting ourselves from access to internet filth, and if we are already addicted, seek the help to redeem ourselves from this evil. Don’t be ashamed, be courageous and brave to stand up to your struggles and face them in order to fix them.
There is much more to elaborate on the subject, but I have already said enough. I understand that some people may disagree with parts of that which I wrote above, and I say to them don’t feel threatened by my opinion, they are simply my personal perspective. May Hashem comfort us all with the coming of Moshiach, and end all suffering and tears from upon our faces.