Thursday, July 21, 2011

"See me, feel me, touch me, heal me!"

Yom shishi, 20 Tamuz 5771.

I mentioned on Shiv'a Asar b'Tamuz that I had a friend who was feeling literally rejected by the people around her, simply because they would not smile at her, nor respond to her greeting of "Shabbat shalom."

Since then, I have heard other stories that cause me much pain, from around Israel and outside Israel.
  • A young newlywed I know tells me she will never become religious.  "I went to an Orthodox shul a few times, to try to learn about Judaism.  I had stopped wearing pants; but I couldn't get used to the idea of covering my hair.  I asked the way to the women's section.  A man in a big black velvet yarmulke looked at my hair, and said 'You're probably the type who is more comfortable sitting next to her husband in shul.'"  Clearly, he judged her by what was not on her head, just as I find myself judging him by what was on his.
  • A rabbi gives a shiur on a controversial subject.  Only a handful of people bother to show up.  As they are all Anglos, and one elderly woman has trouble understanding Hebrew, the rabbi chooses to break his usual pattern, and give the lesson in English.  Fifteen minutes into his lecture, a native Israeli (who is fluent in both languages, and who also disagrees with the rabbi's stand on the issue under discussion), walks in, and demands that the shiur be given in Hebrew, since we're all in Israel.
  • A boy asks a philosophical question in class; and his rebbi -- followed by the students -- laughs at him.  The boy resolves never again to ask another question, because his questions are stupid.  It takes him years to develop self-confidence.  He still lacks confidence in the Torah educational system -- because of one moment and one rabbi.
There are many more stories like these; but my objective in writing them here is not to tell titillating tales about my people's failings.  The stories are meant to shake us up, to shake me up!  To remind us to listen to ourselves, to look at ourselves.

Do I get so wrapped up in my own thoughts and worries, or in a call on a cell phone, that I fail to notice the Jew passing by long enough to smile?

Do I decide that someone is "less Jewish" because of how she is dressed?  Is she somehow less worthy of dan l'chaf zechut, or at least of me guarding my tongue, than someone who has mastered wearing "the uniform"?

Do I sometimes forget that I represent Torah, and must think before I speak, lest I cause a Jew to think badly of people who "know more Torah"?

Do I show rabbis the respect that they are due?  Am I careful to criticize an opinion with respect, and never the person?

Do I remember to look around me at all of the people in the room, and think of what their needs might be?  Or do I only concentrate on my own needs?

Do I remember to make bridges between Jews?  Or do I carelessly, flippantly, put stones in the walls between us?

Do I encourage people to speak?  Or do I spend too much time filling the airwaves with my own words?

Do I pursue truth?  Or do I only spout platitudes or verses that others have stated before me, without thoughtful analysis? 

Do I listen to the searching question of a child or a ba'al tshuva or a friend with my whole self, or only with my ears, waiting for an opportunity to show them how much more I know than they (chas v'shalom)?

The world is in a terrible crisis right now.  We are all lost, alone, frightened, desperately needful of acceptance from each other.

I cannot say that by smiling at every random Jew I meet on the street I will save the lives of my friends who are suffering life-threatening illnesses, or that the answer will come from listening patiently or doing a kindness or living in Israel (for anyone who thinks that is the answer) or doing more mitzvot more diligently (for anyone who thinks G-d is mad at us for lacking attentiveness to His laws).

But Torah and our Sages -- both ancient and modern -- stress the need for kindness to each other.  We cannot know the mind of G-d.  I have a hard time relating to G-d as a King, or as something fear-inspiring.  (I'm working on it...)  But I can begin to relate to G-d Our Father, from my standpoint as a parent.

When my children are mean to one another, it enrages me.  I come as close as possible to "losing it," when they are hurtful to each other.

But when my children are kind to each other, when they "cover" for each other or help each other -- I can forgive them any slight against me.  

I think Hashem must be like this toward us.  While we must certainly do His mitzvot to the very best of our ability, while it is a shandeh if we ignore His gift of this holy and amazing Land, I cannot help but think that wherever we are in the world, treating each other much, much better than we do now might cause Him to change how nature and nations are treating us.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of fasting for the Churban.  I'm tired of watching the world crumbling around me.  Most of all, I'm tired of saying goodbye to friends, and fearing more goodbyes.

I'm going to smile more, listen more closely, think about the wisdom of my words before I say them.  Please help me.

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Stella's Sunrise (taken on an early walk with my friend)
I have found that it's easier to daven with kavana for people when I know them.  Please feel free to get to know my friend Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sara in this lovely interview, posted at her husband Yarden's blog Crossing the Yarden.  I think you will love her as much as I do.  And that can only help your davening, and help to save the world.

Glossary:
Shiv'a Asar b'Tamuz: the 17th of Tamuz: a fast day commemorating the Destruction of the Temple
Shiur: lesson (esp. in Torah studies)
Dan l'chaf zechut: the commandment to judge favorably
Ba'al tshuva: individual becoming more religious
Chas v'shalom: Heaven forbid
Mitzvot: commandments, good deeds
Shandeh: a shame [Yiddish]
Churban: destruction of the Holy Temple in 586 BCE
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