Aug 31, 2011

A Study in Contrasts

I cannot vouch for either of these two stories, but the message they convey is powerful.

Story #1

Salach Taomri was a heroic figure for the Palestinian world. He received his recognition before the Lebanon War–1982 when he managed several big terrorist attacks against the Israeli army.  There isn't one single Palestinian child that hasn't heard about Salach Taomri. By the time he turned twenty-four, his picture was hanging on the wall in almost every Palestinian household.

At the time that this story takes place Salach had already given up hope. He thinks, despairingly, that the Palestinians will never rule over the Israelis, never get even and never get their own Palestine. The only hope that he had left was that, if he fights, the Palestinians might get a tiny portion of land of Israel.  He was convicted for his terrorist attacks and became a prisoner in an Israeli jail where he stayed for many years. 

Salach Taomri says, " I was in solitary confinement, absolutely closed off and disconnected from the rest of the world. Only through the bars that divided me from the long hallway was I able to look out. In this hallway, for twenty-four hours a day walked an Israeli guard with his arms full of guns and ammunition. I called him to me, because I had noticed that he was eating a pita sandwich, with great gusto and relish."

"Are you Jewish?" I asked him. He shook his head yes, his mouth full with the pita. " If so, why are you eating Chametz on Pesach? Don't you know that Jews are forbidden to eat Chametz on this holiday?" The guard was astonished and shocked to hear these words coming from a top terrorist. There was a moment of silence and then he replied." I am not obligated to the wonders that happened to my people more than two thousand years ago. I am secular, I have nothing to do with that."

Salach Taomri continued "...I sat on my dirty mattress, absolutely in shock. I said to myself, " A nation that has no connection to their history and past, and is capable of publicly desecrating its own credibility and beliefs, is a nation that has cut their roots from the land. Therefore, we, the Palestinians can achieve our goals."

The next day, the guards allowed me to go to the regular prison room. I gathered together all the leaders of the Palestinian prisoners that were there. I told the story of what had happened to all those who knew my opinion that we had no chance to win the war against the Israeli's. I told them about the shocking event that I went through and my conclusions.

"We are changing our approach," I told everybody. "From this very day on, we are going down a new path, a new war. We want everything. We shall demand everything. Not just a little percentage of Israel, not just the little bones that they throw down to us when they feel like it. We want all of the Holy Land, because standing against us is a nation that is not connected to its past. We will fight against the Jews in Israel for amongst them there is no concern for their history. We are fighting against the Jews in Israel, because they don't care about their roots anymore. Since the Jewish people don't care about their religious laws and traditions, they will have no strong motivation to fight and to go to battle. Therefore, we are going to win."

Story #2

The story is told of Napoleon walking through the streets of Paris. As he passed by a shul, he heard the sound of people weeping inside. He turned to his assistant and asked, "What's going on in there?"

"Today is Tisha B'Av," came the reply, "and the Jews are mourning the loss of their Temple."

Napoleon looked toward the shul and said, "If the Jews are still crying after so many hundreds of years, then I am certain the Temple will one day be rebuilt!"

Aug 30, 2011

Author's Candid Observation

"I used to think that by writing about my various struggles and sharing them with others, I would end them, exorcise them forever.  But I was wrong."

How refreshing! Someone in a frum publication who has not only discovered, but let us know, that talking or writing about something is not synonymous with eliminating the problem! We have been subject to numerous exposes on a wide range of ills, epidemics, and crises and have been patting ourselves on the back for our willingness to face our problems.  Many people have "come clean," sharing very personal life stories with or even without pseudonyms.  We have been told that this is the first step in dealing with our society's problems. 

However, there is never any follow-up research done to inform us whether the ills, epidemics and crises have receded, been mitigated, or done away with as a result of airing our problems in public.  What were the statistics before the exposure and what are they now.  Nobody knows. 

If this author's experience is any indication, I'm afraid that the results of our "tell all" approach are disappointing.

Aug 29, 2011

Who By Water; Who By Fire

We bentched Rosh Chodesh Elul the day before Hurricane Irene struck.  Boruch Hashem it was much more mild than anticipated.  However, two tragedies in the frum world were reminiscent of the tefillos we will soon be saying on the Yomim Noraim.

A man was electrocuted by fallen live wires as he was helping a child, and a woman drowned when the motel she was staying in was flooded.  In וּנְתַנֶּה תּקֶף we say מִי יִחְיֶה וּמִי יָמוּת (who will live and who will die) and specifically, מִי בַמַּיִם. וּמִי בָאֵשׁ (who by water and who by fire). 

May the new year bring only simchas to Klal Yisrael.

Aug 24, 2011

Missed Opportunity

I was sitting out on the porch, enjoying the gorgeous weather, when I began to feel vibrations.  Since my washing machine was not in use, it wasn't the spin cycle that was causing my chair to shake.  What was going on?

Upon entering the house and seeing everything shaking, the bookcases, light fixture, the entire room, I knew this was an earthquake, a rare occurrence in my part of the world.  The last earthquake I remember was about 25 years ago.  I was in bed and felt some gentle shaking.  But this time, I was up and about and the house was being shaken! It was mild and nothing was falling, and so it was mostly an exciting experience.  I looked outside and people were walking down the street as though nothing was going on, so perhaps they didn't feel anything.  Someone told me that she was on the third floor of her house and felt it, while those downstairs did not feel anything.

Later that night I was dismayed when I realized I had missed a bracha opportunity! There is a bracha to be said  over an earthquake.

There are those who view earthquakes purely as natural events which doesn't mean anything unless you acknowledge Who is behind all of nature.  Some see it in negative terms, as Hashem expressing His anger.  I like hearing that the Gemara says earthquakes are Hashem's way of showing His compassion and love for us, though I don't know how that fits with the earthquake of 1837 in which Tzfas was completely destroyed, 4000 Jews were killed, and somewhere between 700 and 1000 Jews were killed in Teveria.

There was an upbeat American spiritual with the words, "He's got the whole world in His hands" which I was reminded of.  Hashem holding the universe and giving it a little shake to remind us He's there.

Aug 12, 2011

Choosing to Disconnect

Rabbi Wallerstein of Ohr Naava in Flatbush is calling for the Jewish world to disconnect from the computer, Blackberry and iPad for a single day to focus on family and Torah.  The designated day is in October, Tzom Gedalia.  The goal is for thousands of people to voluntarily unplug their gadgets for some time – an hour, two or even all day. During this time, those who choose to disconnect from technology will reconnect with spouses, children, family, self or G-d.

Many people have commented that this is what Shabbos accomplishes, but I think this initiative serves another purpose.  As shomer Shabbos individuals, using technology is not an option.  I think what R' Wallerstein is seeking to accomplish is to get people to set aside their preoccupation with their gadgets even when it halachically permissible to use them.  He sees the great detriment of people not connecting with people in a personal, face-to-face way, throughout the week.  He described standing behind someone at the checkout counter who was yapping away on her phone while the clerk rang up her purchases.  Upon moving away from the counter and examining her receipt, she had questions which prompted her to go back and question the cashier.  Because she hadn't been paying attention when she was being checked out, she caused the people behind her on the line to be delayed and prompted a nasty remark from the cashier.  This is an example of what R' Wallerstein is talking about.  Unplugging.  Shutting the cell phone.  Greeting people.  Paying attention to people. 

Although there have been people who spent hours on the phone, at least, up until recently, they were confined to their homes and the only people who suffered were their immediate family.  Now, with mobile phones, the interruptions and rudeness are everywhere.  I've been to a shiur when various phones have rung and been answered several times over the course of an hour.  That's inconsiderate to the speaker and other participants.  Checking messages and ringing phones in shul, at the Kosel, at weddings and funerals are further invasions.

R' Wallerstein's point is "connection."  I think an equally important goal is discipline.  To ensure that our technology serves us and is not our master.

Aug 10, 2011

Life Isn't Fair, or Is It?

A popular book with insights as to how to keep little things from getting to us has a chapter called, "Surrender to the Fact that Life Isn't Fair."  It says that one of the mistakes we make is that we think life should be fair, or that some day it will be.  It's not and it won't, says the author.

It reminds me of the high school teacher who told us the same thing, "Life isn't fair."

Well, that a non-Jewish author claims this to be so is one thing, but that a frum Jew should say this?! If it was put, "Life doesn't seem fair, but Hashem is in charge, and He is perfectly fair," that would be altogether different.  But that is not what was said.

It says in parshas Haazinu, "Ha'tzur tamim pa'alo... tzaddik v'yashar hu" - Hashem's actions are perfect... He is righteous and straight. 

All of Shaar Ha'Bitachon in the Chovos Ha'Levavos is predicated on Hashem being all loving and doing what is best for us.  We believe that "gam zu l'tova" - this too, is for the good.

There are so many things in life that seem unfair to us.  As it was written in Pirkei Avos millenia ago, "R. Yanai says "Ein b'yadeinu lo mi'shalvas ha'resha'im v'lo mi'yisurei ha'tzaddikim", by which he means that - we cannot understand why on the one hand there are wicked people who live tranquil lives, while there are righteous people who suffer.  This is nothing new.  The reason we think life should be fair is because we have an innate sense that G-d is in charge and that He is good.  Ultimately, we will see how everything is as it should be.

There is a Medrash (Seder Ha'Doros) that tells how Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked Eliyahu Ha'Navi if he could accompany him.  Eliyahu refused, saying R' Yehoshua would not understand what he saw.  R' Yehoshua pleaded until Eliyahu agreed, on condition that as soon as R' Yehoshua began questioning him, they would part company.  R' Yehoshua saw some puzzling things but kept quiet until he couldn't restrain himself any more, at which time Eliyahu explained what he saw. 

There are answers, but we are not privy to them.  There is a famous story that is told (with various names) about someone who explained that the reason he enjoyed longevity is because he never questioned G-d.  He said, others ask, "why me?" and so on, and Hashem takes them from this world so their questions are answered. 

Life is fair.  May we merit to see how this is so with the coming of Moshiach.

Aug 1, 2011

The Pilot Light is Always On

It's the 9 Days and there are many things we do or not do to mourn the Mikdash.  How do we balance this with the injunction to serve Hashem with simcha? Should simcha be put on hold at this time of the year?

I heard a nice mashal to answer this.  If you remember the old gas stoves, you know that they had a pilot light inside that was always on, even if you hadn't turned on any of the fires to do some cooking.  So too, our simcha always has to be there, in the background, even as we are in this more somber time.  Perhaps a good modern version of this mashal would be putting your computer into a sleep state or hibernation when it's not completely off, or those programs that run in the background while you're working on something else.

So like the smiley face in the oven picture above, keep smiling!