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5 Cheshvan 5765 - October 20, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Riding Out the Storms: Moral Corruption Leads to Social Ruin

by Mordecai Plaut

Sometimes we read the Chumash and the words shake us with the immediacy of newspaper headlines. (We spent last Shabbos shaken up and did not think that the insight bears waiting until next year.)

Vatishocheis ho'oretz lifnei ho'Elokim, vatimolei ho'oretz chomos.

According to HaRav Hirsch, the idea of hashchoso that appears here three times is destroying something that should work. What should be successful is instead sent to failure. Also the word carries clear overtones of arayos as Rashi notes.

The Torah has very high standards for family life, and keeping them is the pride of Klal Yisroel. These high standards were never meant to be applied to the rest of the world. But there is a basic principle of the world, that it was created to be settled (losheves yetzoroh). This is not part of the modern consciousness in the Western world.

The modern consciousness is saturated with arayos, but it has nothing to do with families and children. It is concerned only with pleasure, each person cares only about his or her interests and not about establishing a family and having children. Everywhere one turns there are arayos: in the streets, in the offices, in entertainment, and even in the news. Thoughts of arayos are the background of everything that people do. Society is saturated with arayos -- all of it to no good end.

But, the modern pundits argue, these are all private matters. If these are crimes (as they once were, not so long ago) they are "victimless crimes." They do not affect anyone but those involved in the acts. Why does society care?

But these pesukim show us how experience teaches us otherwise -- and by now modern experience already verifies this. HaRav Hirsch explains this posuk as it progresses.

"First there was moral decay. There were sins and crimes that secular, civil society does not concern itself with. If the youth is licentious and family life is rotten, the economy can still flourish and business can be conducted honestly -- or so think the people. However, once the land is corrupt before Hashem, no amount of legislation and regulation can save it from doom.

"The land will not fill up with open theft; with its powers of punishment and imprisonment, society can protect itself against thieves. Society will be lost to chomos, to crimes that are abetted by sophistication. There is no defense against chomos if a person's personal conscience does not bring him to task before Hashem. Moral corruption destroys the conscience, and with the passing of conscience, social peace and stability are also destroyed."

Chomos is subcriminal theft. It is stealing less than a prutoh at a time so that the courts will not do anything. It is stealing millions by packing corporate boards with your friends who vote you -- legally and for services rendered -- hundreds of millions of dollars with the unspoken understanding that you will do the same for them tomorrow, based on "independent" studies of executive compensation that show that everyone is getting the same pay. The head of the New York Stock Exchange was paid $145 million. The officers of the Federal National Mortgage Association were paid $245 million. An officer of a public corporation was paid $140 million as he was being fired.

We cannot explain all the problems in detail. But we can list additional issues that show the eagerness to take other people's money in legal ways. They include stock options, mutual fund abuses, accounting fraud and "structured" finance in large companies such as Enron, spending US Social Security assets, passing tax cuts with expiration dates that are then repealed, fake bids and collusion among insurance companies, tolerating huge budget deficits at a time when the population is aging, proposing and implementing new government programs without explaining how to pay for them, the spread of gambling: Americans lost $68 billion last year, an amount that is growing by nine percent each year.

What does this have to do with us? After all, we are not corporate officers or US politicians.

We should resist any temptation to participate, and be sure to seek independent and competent halachic guidance whenever any questions arise, even and especially in issues of Choshen Mishpat.

The most important lesson for us is to strengthen our own Teivas Noach -- the holy yeshivas and our communities. We should know very clearly that there is a raging flood outside and that we must be extremely vigilant to close any incipient leaks. Our firm and uncompromising allegiance to every detail of halochoh is our best -- and only -- tool to ensure that we are not swept away by the strong currents.

Finally, we must be sure to engage in Torah and gemilus chassodim, the recommendations of Chazal against the storms of the world.

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