Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Jack Abramoff, Baal Teshuva

The saga continues. We are far from seeing an end to the Jack Abramoff story. In fact it is probably just beginning. He made the cover of Time magazine and his Orthodoxy is mentioned. The fact that he is a Shomer Shabbos Jew makes this story compelling for all who care about the honor of Torah. There has already been much ink spilled in the Orthodox media ...everything from breast beating apologetics to separating Torah observance from his actions. I’m sure every Orthodox pundit either had or will have something to say about it... probably many times as this saga unfolds. I already have and now, I say more. We have only scratched the surface it seems.

Cross-Currents, one of the better blogs which boasts world class authors, writers and thinkers of Orthodoxy has had several essays about the fact that Mr. Abramoff is a Baal Teshuva, a man who was raised in a secular home and then became observant. He did so as a young adult, in his early twenties. I responded in the commentary section of Cross-Currents and believe that my thoughts are worthy of an entry on my own blog. So... here are my thoughts.

Baalei Teshuva (BT) are in a class by themselves. They are far more elevated than those of us who are FFB (Frum from birth...born to religious family and raised that way). Those of us who are FFB often take our observance for granted. We do not usually think about the larger questions in life. Many are observant out of rote habit. It is relatively easy for us. In most cases, we were never seriously tempted by the “forbidden fruit” offered by general culture. BT’s came to Torah observance through a search for truth. And it is not a move easily made. To change from a lifestyle of complete freedom to do as one pleases and accept the Ol Malchus Shamayim ( Torah Law) is to make a conscious decision to deny pleasures that one has gotten quite used to in life and not so easily abandoned. By doing so they have given up more than a FFB could ever really appreciate. And they do so through conviction... because they have found Emes. I stand in awe of anyone who has done that.

This is what makes the Jack Abramoff case so perplexing. How can someone who sought to find ultimate truths, found them in the Torah which contains the ultimate expression of ethics and then do the kinds of things he has pleaded guilty to in court? How can one give up on the pleasures of complete and unfettered freedom of non Torah observance seeking and then finding the highest of ethical values, do such unethical things? What kind of person has so much disdain for his fellow human beings, the Native Americans created in the image of God? They trusted him, and that trust was based on the belief that Orthodox Jews behave in ethical ways! How could he not realize the massive Chilul Hashem he was making? MAASIVE!

It makes no sense