Religious Criminals and G-d
By Nachum Mohl
Recently in the news, a religious Jewish man was arrested in the US on grounds of stealing millions of dollars. He even admitted the crime to police investigators and began to implicate others that had participated in his crime.
Being that he was Jewish and religious, the tich-tichers began deploring the fact that an ultra orthodox man should/could do such a thing. A real chillul haShem (a desecration of G-d's holiness)!
There is an automatic knee-jerk reaction when ever a religious Jew commits a crime. The underlying assumption is that "religious people should be more ethical and scrupulous than the non-religious masses" Doesn't this crime prove that the religious are really no more ethical than the non-religious?
The Talmud in tractate Brachot lists five categories of people: the totally righteous, the not totally righteous, a middle group, the not totally wicked and the totally wicked.
Our holy mystical books teach us that the totally righteous person is very rare. He is a man that has no temptation to do evil. Instead, his total desire is only to cling to G-d. He finds evil and its temptations revolting and flees from them, seeking instead, the service of G-d.
The second group is the not totally righteous person. He also does not commit sins, but his hatred of evil is not total. He will never do a sin, but he just is not so committed to the service of G-d as the totally righteous person. He does not completely abhor evil and is not bothered by the internal base desires that plague the other lesser people.
On the other extreme of the spectrum is the totally evil individual. He is a person that is totally given over to the dictates of his animal desires. There is never any regret for any bad deed and never any desire to serve G-d. This type of person is one whose life is totally given over to fulfilling his personal desires with no regard to G-d or anyone else.
Better than this type is the not totally evil person. His is a person who sins on occasion, yet is plagued by fits of anguish and repentance. After doing a sin, he will go through a period of sorrow and return to being an ethical G-d-fearing person. But again he will succumb to his evil desires and sin. The cycle will continually repeat: sin, remorse, sorrow, repent, and then sin, remorse, sorrow and repent over and over, again and again.
The middle group is different. People in this group are those individuals to whom every day life is full of temptations and challenges. His evil impulse is very strong, but since his true desire is to cling to G-d, and since he prays to G-d earnestly, G-d helps him avoid the pitfalls of the evil doers.
People in the middle group category do not sin. They are not like the righteous because their evil impulse is very strong like the evil person. If it were not for the help that G-d gives this man, he would succumb to his baser impulses and commit various crimes and sins.
Perhaps this is the answer that we are all looking for when we hear about a religious man who is apprehended for a crime.
It is not the "religiosity" of a person that makes any real difference at all, and we all really know it. Often religion can be just a façade to give a false aura of righteousness to others, and even more devastating, to the person himself.
Religious people do sin. The Torah was not given to the angels; it was given to all Jews, and not just to the religious Jews. The Torah understands that people have strong desires, whether for money, non-kosher food or other forbidden acts. It was G-d who created man with all of his imperfections.
The concept of religious and non-religious is a man made concept. The sages of the Talmud understood this. That is the reason they enumerated five categories and not just two, religious and non-religious. They knew that it is only through the help of G-d that a person can avoid the pitfalls of sin.
Let all of us, both religious and non-religious, take heed. By ourselves, we can not avoid falling into the grasps of our base desires. It is only through the help of G-d that we can remain free from sin and crime. All the rest is folly.
from the February 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine