Rabbi, I saw your face in the paper today. If was a mugshot, so different from the face you always showed me. Your eyes were red as if they’d been crying, and in that was the deepest glint of shame and self-hatred. It was different from the other criminals’ mugshots where the eyes were blank and dead. I could see remorse in your eyes.
Rabbi, I know that you sinned and yet those eyes haunt me in my dreams. When your disgrace comes up in conversation, the others make light to mask their shock. But I make light to mask my pity. I cannot forget how kind you were to my husband after the loshon hara of another rabbi almost brought him to ruin. How you truly showed love for the converts that came to you to learn. You worked for pennies to spread frumkeit among people like me. How can I paint over this feeling of love and gratitude for disgust? How can I suddenly turn around and see a different man? Did your evil erase the good?
Rabbi, I know your choices must have consequences. Yet I cannot fathom your total exile from the community, the shunning of your wife and your children. I can see the remorse and self-hatred in those eyes. Where others see an evil man who hid behind his position, all I see a good man who let his taivos destroy him. A Gd-fearing man who loved his mitzvot but hid an inner darkness. Perhaps you chose this work precisely because you saw yourself as so lowly, so disgusting that only this could bring some relief, some semblance of redemption. I wish, instead of hiding, you had asked for help. But it is no good to mourn what could have been.
Rabbi, I long to call you and tell you that Hashem still loves you. I still love you as a fellow Jew. Maybe you can no longer be my rabbi, but you are still one of us. Elul approaches and you can still repent. What is it that Rabbi Meir said to Elisha Ben Abuya? G-d turns man to dust and still he says “Repent, You children of Men”. You are in the dust, the ashes of your self-immolation and yet still you can be redeemed. Rabbi, I hope you have your own Rabbi Meir that will tell you this even as you sit in the ashes of disgrace. I hope you have your own Rabbi Meir who tells you he still loves you.
Rabbi, I finally understand why people defend the fallen, those whose dark secrets are finally ripped open for all to see. It is not so easy to turn your back on all that you saw in a person, all the chesed they showed you and others. People are not so black and white. It is easy to sit in judgement of the congregants and family members who rush to excuse or rationalize the evil. Yet, when it is your rabbi, your fellow, how can you look back at all the light you saw in them and say it was all nothing, the mask for the darkness within?
Rabbi, if I had courage I would tell you I am here for you. I would tell you that your sins don’t erase the good you did in your community. Rabbi, no one will ever forget what you did or its terrible consequences, and yet I hope you still have a future amongst us. You are not as lowly as you think you are. May your teshuva bring your some peace, Rabbi. May your teshuva protect your wife and children from further pain.