Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tisha b'Av and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

Tisha b'Av and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

...a disorder in which a person deliberately causes injury or illness to another person,
usually to gain attention or some other benefit. (Wikipedia)

Completely separate from the issue of whether the mother in the episode that is ongoing in Yerushalayim is obsessed by MSbP or not, is the question of the message that Hashem is trying to send us by having had this episode unfold specifically in Bein HaMetzarim.

The answer is rooted in the Cheit HaMeraglim, the “original sin” of Tisha b'Av in which all the day's later tragedies are rooted. What was the cause of that sin? As I heard many years ago from Mori v'Rabi Rabbi Shimon Zelaznik zt”l, the Zohar HaKadosh explains that, great individuals that the Nesi'im who were sent to be the Meraglim were, they were concerned that upon entering Eretz Yisroel all Jews would be holy and lofty, and their nesi'us would no longer be necessary. This negi'a led them to mistakenly conclude that it would be better – not only subjectively but even objectively – for Am Yisroel to remain outside of the Land of Israel, so as to benefit from the leadership of the Nesi'im.

Thus, the Meraglim deliberately attempted to inflict the terrible injury of the loss of Eretz Yisroel upon Am Yisroel – in order for them to retain the attentiveness of the people to their leadership and direction. In short, the Meraglim were guilty of the sin of MSbP. Rather than seek to retain their status by elevating themselves, they sought to retain their superior status by degrading others.

This is the yesod ha'yesodos of Sinas Chinam. What is the difference between your everyday, plain old Sinah and Sinas Chinam? There are people that I am entitled to hate – say, a Haman or a Hitler. But Sinas Chinam means that I hate someone who I really have no reason to hate, and who is not deserving of hate (see the Siddur Otzar HaTefillos on Al cheit she'chatanu lefanecha b'Sinas Chinam). The problem is, that this may make him my equal, and my ga'avah and kavod will not allow me to see anyone else as my equal (as my better, perhaps yes – that's a different story, but not as my equal!). So I seek to retain my superior status by degrading him. Sinas Chinam=MSbP.

Societies can self-define in two different ways: By who they are, or by who they are not. They can say: “We are different because we have a certain superior aspect;” or they can say: “We are different because they have a certain negative aspect.” At first glance, these might seem like two sides of the same coin, but they are not: When we define ourselves by what we are not, we accentuate their flaws. This approach has two pretty negative corollaries: Complacency (i.e., just by me being me I'm the greatest, so there is really no need for me to change anything, is there?) and dehumanization (i.e., those guys are such lowlifes that we obviously don't need to treat them with mentchlichkeit!). In short, societies that self-define in the latter manner are engaging in MSbP wholesale.

When frum Jews call non-frum or less-frum Jews “Erev Rav,” or “Nazis,” or “Amalek,” they are engaging in MSbP. They are defining themselves and rationalizing anything they might be doing by dehumanizing others. In fact, even if I just say: “Well they do the same thing, they're no better than us,” or charge them with maintaining a double standard (both of which may be perfectly true), I'm still guilty of MSbP: I'm not engaging in introspection to see if I'm worthy, or in and self-growth to become worthy, of attention and respect – I'm great, you've/he's got problems/issues; are anti-frum/anti-Charedi/anti-Modern Orthodox; are a self-hating Jew; are antisemitic; are a mosser.

Which leads us to the other messages that Hashem has sent us during this very unique Bein HaMetzarim:

First, the protests in Yerushalayim. Again, I am not getting into whether the protests are justified or not. But how could they have come to overturning garbage bins and setting them on fire, and to the wanton destruction of public property, etc.? Would these same people under the same circumstances have protested so violently in another country? I think we all know that the answer is, no. So why in Eretz Yisroel? MSbP. Because that segment of Orthodox Judaism has long defined itself by what it is not (“Tziyoinim,” “Mizrachistin,” etc.) and in the course of that self-definition they have succeeded in delegitimatizing and dehumanizing the State, its society, its institutions and its representatives to the point that they are unworthy of mentchlichkeit.

Second, the alleged criminal activity of the arrested Rabbonim and other Orthodox Jews. Again, I am not getting into whether they are guilty or not. Let us hope,even assume, that they are not. But in orchestrating the arrests in and of themselves, Hashem clearly intended to send yet another MSbP message. We bandy about catchphrases (usually irrelevant and misapplied!) such as Eisav sonei l'Yaakov or Atem keruyim Adam. Sometimes it's for a “worthy” cause – to caution us in regard to our public behavior, or to castigate the others' immoral behavior, etc. But this too is ultimately a manifestation of MSbP. We thus delegitimatize and dehumanize our non-Jewish neighbors (or kidney donors), which leads too often to dishonesty, fraud, racism, etc. So Hashem says to us: “Hello?! Is this what you think I meant when I told you to be a Mamleches Kohanim v'Goy Kadosh?! Do you really think this is being Ohr LaGoyim?!” So let's even stipulate that the crimes are all trumped-up charges (halevai!) – but do we seriously deny the middos problems that could lead to such crimes?

Third, the curious phenomenon of the focus on the heinous act of the moser. We have seen this focus exaggerated to such an extent that the message one might be excused for getting is that the real problem is the mesirah! It is reminiscent of the Gemara that states (not l'maskanah!): “It is not the mouse that steals, but the mousehole.” Again, let us stipulate that the moser is a rat fink of the lowest kind. But in essence, focusing on him is like saying that even if the crimes were (chas v'shalom!) committed, the real problem is that they were exposed. Is there any greater manifestation of MSbP?! Moreover, somewhat on a tangent, do we really think mesirah is such a problem amongst us that the Hashgachah made this happen to highlight that problem? And, by the way, I would like to propose a daherr: The Gemara says the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. In calling the missing guest “Kamtza” and the moser “Bar Kamtza,” it is evident that it was the matter of Kamtza that was the primary and major cause – the “Bar” (son of) Kamtza matter was but the secondary and minor cause.

The Torah itself alludes to MSbP. (By the way, we also suffer from Munchausen Syndrome in its non-by-Proxy strain, but that's not for now. And the book “The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen” is very engaging reading, but that's certainly not for now.). The way in which Munchausen is spelled in Hebrew (מינכהאוזן) equals 189 in gematria. This is equivalent to the words לא ימצא טוב in the pasuk (Mishlei 17:20): עִקֶּשׁ לֵב לֹא יִמְצָא טוֹב וְנֶהְפָּךְ בִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ יִפּוֹל בְּרָעָה. Of course, the person afflicted with MSbP will not find good in others – on the contrary, he will seek to accentuate the bad. Thus, 189 is also equivalent to the words ילעג למו in the pasuk (Iyov 22:19): יִרְאוּ צַדִּיקִים וְיִשְׂמָחוּ וְנָקִי יִלְעַג לָמוֹ, for the quest to accentuate the bad is in order to denigrate the other as an excuse for not focusing on building oneself. Finally, the 189th pasuk in the Torah (Bereishis 8:5) is the first pasuk in Tanach to reference the 10th month – the month of Av...

All of us are guilty of MSbP in some way or another. It's impeding the Geulah. Hashem has brought it out in the most blatant ways possible. What can we do about it?


  1. Excellent post. Hopefully, those who are addressed in your post will engage in constructive self-criticism rather than additional MSbP. Hopefully, those who are not affiliated with the groups referenced in your post will also engage in repsectful discourse about these issues rather than the unproductive criticizing of others or, as you noted, further MSbP. Finally, while I laud you for a thoughtful, well written post, to a small degree you too have been guilty of MSbP.

  2. I quote myself:

    "All of us are guilty of MSbP in some way or another."

    I meant that as an admission of my shortcomings in this area as well.

  3. Rabbi Bechofer, that was a great post. However, I am confused about something -- specifically I was told that you elsewhere on this blog defended R. David Cohen despite his well known comments on tax evasion, fraud, and eisav soneh es yaakov. I could not find your comments on this issue in your blog so please correct me if I am wrong.

    I was at his infamous speech at Beth Abraham. Aside from his comments permitting tax fraud, he went on at length as to how eisav soneh es yaakov applies at all times and places and that we should not be fooled into thinking that it does not apply to American goyim as well. I can't tell you how many people were turned off by what he said. How can we respect a Rabbi who says things like this? As you point out, aren't such attitudes part of the cause for the current scandals?

    Moreover, as you probably have heard, R. Cohen very explicitly said publicly that tax evasion is ok and I have also heard him say that gezel akum is ok as long as there is no realistic possibility of getting caught. If that is a legitimate Torah position, then why we are so harsh on frum criminals? According to R. Cohen's view, the only mistake they made was in getting caught and/or in wrongly assessing the likelihood that they would get caught. Don't his views place him beyond the pale?

    Have a good Shabbos.

  4. If he said all those things that people are attributing to him, I would have to concede to you. However, I spoke already at the time to someone very close to RDC who told me that these are not RDC's views, and his words were either inadvertently or deliberately misconstrued. Since RDC has a stellar chezkas kashrus, I think that al pi din I may not accept that he said all that stuff unless two eidim come and tell me otherwise.

  5. RYGB, there certainly are more than two eidim. At least seven people that I know of contacted the RCA to tell them, and there are many more people that are familiar with his views. I can probably send you five of the letters to the RCA if you are interested. I guess you have no chiyuv to hear from the eidim but there are hundreds of people who know his views.

    I don't know who you spoke to, but if it is the Rabbi of Beth Abraham he has told people that they should cover up what happened -- even if that means making "misleading statements" -- in order to protect the "kavod harav" of R. Cohen. He was very critical of the people who told the RCA what happened -- not because he challenged the truth of what they said but because he thought that it was disrespectful to R. Cohen to tell the truth as to what happened. In addition, R. Cohen very publicly said at BA that he would deny his statements if quoted so he made it very clear that he would lie about his views if they were to get him into trouble.

    In any case, the main thing is that you seem to agree that he is beyond the pale if he in fact made these statements so I think that you are being consistent. Since I have first hand knowledge of his views, it seems like you agree that I should view him as beyond the pale as well.

    Yasher koach for speaking out on behalf of yashrus.

  6. I think we can leave it at that, except for me to note that it was not the Rabbi of BA.