Late last year, I addressed the congregation a couple of times about scandal that washed over a local rabbi who is a dear friend of mine. Without rehashing the sad and distasteful circumstances, let me summarize this way: without a doubt, terrible and immoral actions came from a person whom I love.
As human beings, we have a great capacity to compartmentalize. If there is any lesson that our tradition should teach us, it is that we betray the image in which we were created when we pretend to be different people in one circumstance than in another. God is one, that is, unified. Our personalities are unified as well. When we decide to behave otherwise, we separate from God, that is, we sin.
I won't get involved in the limits of the "love the sinner, hate the sin" attitude some religious folks adopt. Quite honestly, that philosophy works better in practice than on paper. But genuine love for the "sinner" means, in our tradition, being willing to offer tokhecha, reproof. If the love is honest, then the reproof can be unequivocal. There should be no loopholes.
I have very little in common politically with Rabbi Daniel Lapin of the conservative religious group "Toward Tradition." But when his friend Jack Abramoff admitted his own double life, my heart went out to him. I anxiously awaited the response from Rabbi Lapin because it would have credibility. You can read it in its entirety on www.towardtradition.org. Here is but one section:
On a personal level, this affair reminds me that human beings are far too complex creations to be evaluated with a simple balance sheet. Imagine a man who saved someone's life, raised money for the homeless and hungry, and did seven other wonderful deeds. However, during the same time period he also was cruel to a cat, had an affair and divorced his wife, and did eleven other horrible things.
We are tempted to do some simple arithmetic on this human being. A total of nine good deeds versus thirteen bad deeds results in a minus four rating. We then conclude that he is a moderately terrible human being. He is much worse than someone with a plus seven rating and not quite as bad as someone with a negative nine rating.
I am disappointed. The math involved is not a balance sheet of sins and merits, but of whether a man's actions are part of a set or separate equations. A man who raised money for the hungry and was cruel to a cat is a man with an inconsistent record. A man who raised money for the hungry by stealing it from other hungry people must not in any way be excused of his crime because his motives were admirable. There is an halakhic category for such actions: mitzvah haba'ah mei'aveira, a meritorious act that is the result of a transgression. When done with intention, our tradition — the one Rabbi Lapin goes "toward" — rejects the merit entirely.
This lesson is not about Rabbi Lapin in particular as much as it is about all of us and our allegiances. We are quick to take umbrage at others when they do not meet our standards of ethics, but we find loopholes and leniencies for those near and dear. It is a natural inclination. The only hope for real tikkun, for real fixing of the broken image of God in this world, is for us to hold tight to our loved ones and use that relationship to repair rather than to rationalize.