Jun 30, 2010

Talk About Miscommunication!

In the excellent book "Nine out of Ten" (Israel Bookshop) p. 116 the author says he grew up with the misconception that his mother did not love him.  She would look at him and repeat a little Hungarian saying to herself which said, "You are as good as you look" or "Your goodness is reflected in your face."  Since he, a child, did not think he was good looking, he assumed others felt the same way and therefore, his mother's saying that his goodness reflected his appearance wasn't a compliment.  Each time she said it, it hurt him.

As all children yearn for their parents' approval, he worked on getting his mother to love him by buying her gifts and in other ways showing his devotion to  her but his feeling unappreciated stayed with him for decades.  About fifty years after the war, in which his mother was murdered, was over, he went over to his sister at a wedding to wish her mazal tov and she introduced him to a woman sitting next to her as "the best Katz in the family" and added, "My mother positively adored him."

The author was shocked at this statement and protested - but she always said that proverb about goodness being reflected in the face and you know that my face was never anything to write home about! The lady sitting next to his sister, who understood the Hungarian saying, insisted that those words were a tremendous compliment.  "They are the nicest words a child can hear," she said. 

This enabled him to think that perhaps his mother had really liked him and had really meant what she said.

Some time later he had occasion to meet the Hungarian ambassador to the United States.  He decided he would take the opportunity to clarify, once and for all, the meaning of the words his mother constantly said to him.  He wrote the proverb down in Hungarian and asked the ambassador to translate it for him.  The ambassador said, "This saying is the nicest, warmest thing a parent can say to a child."  He unburdened himself to the man and said how he always thought his mother didn't like him and how much he had suffered because of it.  The ambassador said, "You can rest assured that your mother loved you more than any of your brothers and sisters, and the proof is that she said this to you often."

Is this not extraordinary? A mother expresses her deep love for her child and the child, rather than basking in her love, feels hurt and unappreciated! How many times do we misunderstand what people are saying to us? What feelings do we have towards people that are based on a completely erroneous understanding of what they said to us? Let us pray that it does not take us decades to appreciate the truly warm feelings people have for us.

Jun 29, 2010

Do You Want to Become a Truck Driver?

A woman wrote a letter to Hamodia magazine complaining about an article in which a rebbi, wanting to spur on his class to learn, rhetorically asked them, "Do you want to become truck drivers?"

The woman's husband is a truck driver and so of course she took offense at her husband's source of livelihood being regarded derogatorily and used as a negative example of what would become of the children if they didn't shteig in learning.  What would a child of a truck driver feel if he was in that teacher's class? She went on to say that her husband earned an honest living and used his truck to do chesed too.

Yaakov, upon fleeing from Esav, put a circle of rocks around his head.  The question is asked, if he was afraid and wanted to protect himself, what about the rest of his body? If he relied on Hashem, then why surround his head and if he did not want to rely on supernatural intervention, then he should have protected his entire body!

The pasuk in Tehillim 128:2 says, "yigi'a kapecha ki sochel ..." - when you eat the labor of your hands, you will be happy and it shall be well with you.  You can earn a living in one of two ways, by doing manual labor which leaves your head free to be involved with Torah or by using your head so that you are completely involved in earning a living.  The pasuk is telling us that when you work with your hands, leaving your head for other things, it will be good for you both spiritually and materially.

When Yaakov left for Charan he knew that he would have to deal with the crooked Lavan and there were "wild animals" to contend with even before he got there.  So he put stones around his head to demonstrate that his mind is off-limits.  The head must be protected.

Jews take great pride, and rightfully so, in our intellectual accomplishments.  We are represented in fields of intellectual endeavor in numbers that way exceed our actual physical numbers.  For many of us, white collar jobs are the goal to strive for and not only because many of them provide good salaries but because as intellectual people, it is beneath us to work with our hands. 

This is a modern day phenomenon since there were numerous Ashkenazic Jews in Europe who worked with their hands for a living being tailors and shoemakers and numerous Sefardic Jews who worked as silversmiths and in other crafts.  We have stories of how some recited Mishnayos or Tehillim as they worked.

And yet, try presenting a shidduch idea of a man who is a plumber or electrician or in construction as compared to someone who is an accountant, lawyer or architect ...  Perhaps we need to rethink our priorities.

Jun 28, 2010

Because we aren't human!

A judge in Georgia, asked his Partner in Torah whether he was a rabbi.  He said he wasn't a rabbi; he was a businessman and the judge was disappointed since he had a question that nobody was able to answer to his satisfaction. 

What was his question?

He had marched for civil rights in Selma and he firmly believed that all humans are created equal, so why does the Torah say Jews are the Chosen People?

Hashem helped him formulate an answer which pleased the judge which went something like this.  He said Jews are 0.2% of the world population and yet, Jews have received 22% of Nobel Prizes.  When Time magazine was considering who to put on the cover as Man of the Century, they were undecided between Karl Marx, Freud, and Einstein, all Jewish (they picked Einstein).  Why are we consistently superior in ways that greatly surpass our numbers? Because we are G-d's ambassadors to the world and have a mission to carry out and a message to convey.

That's a fine answer but I heard an even better one.  Yes, all humans are created equal but Jews aren't human! We are neshamos, a veritable part of G-d Above, and we are here on earth in the guise of humans.  We look like everyone else but are hated because we are not truly like everyone else; we are alien beings - neshamos.  Hashem sent down angels in the form of humans (see Bereishis) and that did not work out well.  Neshamos, sent down in the form of humans, works. 

This idea is discussed by Maharal.  There are the four levels within the Beria (creation): inanimate, plant life, animals, and humans, and Yisrael is a separate, higher category which is part of the Borei (the Creator).  As a convert friend of mine told me, non-Jews are often fine with this idea.  They get annoyed when Jews try to act like them.  It's very often Jews who squirm at the idea of being Chosen.

Rabbi YY Rubinstein tells of a lecture he gave for Gateways in which he asked the audience what makes Jews special.  He got hostile responses from "I don't think Jews are special" to "That's racist!" to people walking out.  At a later point in his lecture he asked the audience where they thought someone granted a green card to any country on earth would pick and they enthusiastically responded America! When asked why, they offered many reasons: the economy, the education system, the can-do attitude, etc.

R' Rubinstein then pointed out to them how ironic it was that when it came to extolling America as the best country to live in, they had no problem doing that but when it came to extolling being Jewish, they rejected their Jewishness as anything special. 

Time to relearn the song, "I'm a Jew and I'm proud and I sing it out loud, forever that's what I'll be.  I'm a Jew and I'm proud and I sing it out loud and I know Hashem is watching over me."

Jun 21, 2010

Pill in His Coffee

What a great story I heard.  A rebbi told a father that he could not handle his son, he was impossible.  The father said, but he sits nicely at home ... The rebbi wasn't interested, it was either get him Ritalin or he's out of the school.  The father said he couldn't afford it and the rebbi said raise the money.  The father, seeing he had no choice, said there's one more problem.  My wife and I leave early in the morning and we won't be able to ensure he gets the medication at the same time every morning.  The rebbi said that's no problem, I'll take care of it.  I'll send him to the teachers' room to make me a coffee and to take his medicine.

Two months go by and the child is doing beautifully.  One day, the father asks his son how things are going at school.  The child said, terrific! Better than ever.

The father asks, is there anything you can attribute this to? The son says, I don't know but the only thing that is different is that every day, after davening, rebbi asks me to make him a coffee and to take this pill, so every day I make him coffee and put the pill in. 

The question asked of R' Yitzchok Zilberstein was - does the teacher have to reimburse the father for the medication!

Should we laugh or cry?

How many parents are coerced into drugging their children in order to placate school staff? What a crime!

Jun 20, 2010

Intellect versus Emotion in the Courtroom

I heard a speech given by a lawyer who used to be a prosecutor and is now a defense attorney.  He said  that as a prosecutor you try to get the jury mad, to speak to their emotions, so they hopefully forget the actual laws involved.

This was said with no shame.  He was simply sharing how lawyers work and telling us that rather than focus on Truth and encouraging the jurors to concentratrate on the information being presented, they play on the court's emotions.  As the Zohar says, this is an alma d'shikra ( world of lies).