Let's take the most recent example. Let's say we have an honorable individual who has founded and directed a rabbinical organization for years. He has antagonized people on both sides of the Orthodox spectrum, from those who hate him for his unwillingness to bend the rules, to those who hate him for what they consider to be his willingness to bend the rules. The hatred he has attracted is not unique; Moshe Rabbeinu was accused of fattening himself off of the sweat of the Jews, and Yechezkel Hanavi was accused of having an adulterous affair with a married woman. This is to be expected. Every ethnic group has its weaknesses, and devouring our leaders is one of ours. As related in this week's parsha (2:14.), when Moshe Rabbeinu confronted Dassan and Aviram,
'Who made you our prince and judge?' retorted [the other]. 'Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?' Moses was frightened. 'The matter has become known,' he said.
Rashi there explains,
Moses was frightened: [To be explained] according to its simple meaning [that Moses was afraid Pharaoh would kill him]. Midrashically, it is interpreted to mean that he was worried because he saw in Israel wicked men [i.e.,] informers. He said, Since this is so, perhaps they [the Israelites] do not deserve to be redeemed [from slavery]. [From Tanchuma, Shemos 10]
Compounding the problem is the Mishna in Pirkei Avos 5:17: כל מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמים סופה להתקיים
Literally, that means that any dispute that is motivated by a desire to serve Hashem will have positive lasting results. In my experience, it really means that when people fight in the name of Hashem, they have no moral limitations, and they will never compromise, and the fight will be dirty, and it will never end. And the parties will never regret it. "It was le'sheim shamayim!!!!"
I wonder; when accusations were made against this individual, did people say to themselves "this accusation, if it spreads and is taken to be true, will kill this man. His reputation will be destroyed, his wife will divorce him, his children will hate him, his yeshiva will fall apart, he will end up penniless and despised. So I had better be more than certain that the accusations are true before openly saying I believe them, and I better not publicize them." Or, "I will not open my mouth unless the evidence is so compelling that if the accused were my own father, I would believe it." Or, "Publicizing this is morally indistinguishable from disemboweling him. Is this something I'm comfortable doing?"
These are rhetorical questions. I actually am not wondering at all. What has happened, at least in the case of the guardians of our morals, our righteous fifth column, is that they accepted evidence that would not have been accepted in any court in any civilized country, to say nothing of the extremely strict procedural rules in a Beis Din dealing with capital punishment. When the government of Iran distributes Photoshopped illustrations of missile launches, when any talented ten year old Goebbels could dice and splice an innocuous telephone conversation into a damning depravity, what evidentiary value do photographs and taped conversations have? Is it for nothing that the Torah requires live witnesses? We're not talking about "kabdei'hu ve'chashdei'hu," respect but suspect. We're talking about making a person into a graf shel re'i.
This is not a case where the accused is a clear and present danger to others, as in the case of child molestation or marital violence. In those cases, of course, the suspect should immediately be placed where he cannot do any harm. Our hypothetical suspect presents no danger to anyone.
What if it turns out that the accusations were true, and not part of an orchestrated smear campaign funded by an extremely wealthy nemesis? Will that justify retroactively the behavior of the lynch mob? No, it won't. The question is, was this behavior justified on the basis of the evidence presented. If the initial evidence was faulty, later proof of guilt will not justify anything that was done before the real proof was presented.
So, I was just wondering. Assuming this is the fate of Klal Yisrael, and that this kind of blithe willingness to participate in a man's destruction is just another iteration of the behavior Moshe Rabbeinu saw so many years ago, here is the real question.
Which is better; a piranha or a leech?
On the one hand, a piranha is a nice looking fish, with glittering silver scales and bright red markings on its belly and ventral fin. With a little imagination, you can even see a coy smile on its face. On the other hand, when is smells blood in the water it horribly rips its victims to shreds, leaving nothing behind but striated bones and a faint echo of pain and despair.
A leech, on the other hand, is an ugly boneless slug of cartilage, lacking even a rudimentary spine, but at least it doesn't rip its victims to pieces, it only sips a bit of their blood.
It's a tough choice.