God is on our side

There is no get-out-of-jail-free card. Be aware of your behaviors

By TZIPPI SHA-KED, PAM PELED, DANIT SHEMESH
August 28, 2019 16:17
4 minute read.
God is on our side

There is no get-out-of-jail-free card. Be aware of your behaviors. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve all read about the boys caught up in the alleged Cyprus gang-rape affair. It’s a scandalous story all around. My question is, what do you three ladies think about how these boys thanked God publicly for their freedom?
Michelle,
Ra’anana

Danit Shemesh:
There is a gemara that discusses the paradoxical prayer of thieves. If they are stealing, an activity vehemently forbidden in the Ten Commandments, how can the thieves beseech God not to be caught? Even worse, a botched robbery can result in murder. The prayer of criminals is only considered prayer because the thief is in a precarious predicament, a potential catastrophe. Then they look up to God.
Our young men’s behavior was worse than that of thieves. It was not hidden. It became a national disgrace, a collective shame. There was no miraculous heavenly intervention here, only a raucous invocation of God’s name (causing global chatter about Israelis). The fact that they were legally acquitted does not right the wrong. To thank God at this juncture is to downgrade the concept of even the thief’s prayer to vacuous chants.
Everything we do is significant. It is not true that “God works in mysterious ways.” He communicates with us directly. He first whispers, then speaks louder, then begins to shake, rattle and roll us. If these boys are praying from a place of regret and wanting to do teshuva (repentance), great; if they are just sighing “Whew!” without introspection, then this is a Divine wake-up call for us. Are we teaching our children the connection between sex and love, the sanctity of human beings, respect for women? At the moment, our reputation is not exactly as a “light unto the nations.”
There is no get-out-of-jail-free card. Be aware of your behaviors. First be your best version, and then pray.

Tzipi Shaked:
These boys donned white skullcaps, prayed to their maker and were greeted with chants of “Israeli pride” at the airport. By all means pray for your release, boys, but you’re hardly our pride. Was your moral conduct any different than frat boys back in the States? No, but for “traditional” Israeli boys you’re a national shanda, disgrace. Y’all should’ve skulked back into Israel rather than thank God in an airport spectacle.
Prayers aside, it’s time for a serious hesbon hanefesh (spiritual accounting) across all Israeli sectors, and time for a remedy. Harvard social psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg posits a theory of moral development in which children climb a ladder through stages of moral reasoning as they become adults. If formal education begins with simplified moral deliberations, later there is the potential for complicated and abstract moral reasoning. There are schools abroad that incorporate strategies, including problem-solving and moral dilemmas, to foster moral thinking. This approach is very different than the teaching of Torah or civics in a vacuum.
Years ago, I hired a young haredi (ultra-Orthodox) boy to teach my son to daven (pray) from a siddur (prayer book). I caught this lad stealing from me, not once but twice. Turns out that he never connected the Ten Commandment dots to his real life. Many schools don’t!
At a Kohlberg-based school, I learned the most effective strategy to promote moral-reasoning capabilities is not merely to cite others’ opinions but to guide students to deliberate moral issues out loud. Text alone is insufficient. Prayer alone is not enough. Students (and these boys) must process the dilemma cognitively in order to turn into menschen, people of integrity and honor.

Pam Peled:
I say let’s cancel elections and rely on God to run the country: He seems to control even the minutia. Recently I had to delay signing a business contract until after Tisha Be’av. The other party said signing before brings bad luck. Really? God audits all contracts in the Holy Land and decrees misfortune on those finalized while mourning the Temple’s end? He has time to look down at adolescent punks in Ayia Napa and ensure the case against them falls apart? Where was He during the drunken disaster? Why didn’t He chastise the youngsters then that they were heading for trouble?
It always amazes me how, in living memory of the Holocaust, anyone can sincerely believe that God has the plot. I can even see believing He has the overall plan, the script for the Big Picture. But that He intervenes in each person’s destiny and decides whether they walk free or go to jail? What a comforting thought. I wish I felt it too.
An ill loved one recovers? Praise be to God. He dies? Praise be to God.
Sentenced to 10 years hard labor? Praise be to God. Acquitted with no fine? Praise be to God.
In King Lear, Edward laments: “As flies to wanton boys / So are we to the gods / They kill us for their sport.” How bleak to believe that. How fabulous to put our faith in a God who abrogates us from all responsibility for our stupidity, forgives us, and pours forth his love.
Smotrich and God. Go Israel. 

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