Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Okay, People. Settle Down!"

Yom chamishi, 27 Shevat 5770.

I'm not given to ranting.  But I've had something on my mind for a while that I need to say.  I'll be happy to hear your opinion.

Would it be too much to ask that we get off each others' backs?

Let's start with a couple of short examples.

Plony, living in the United States, tells his friend, "You will destroy your teenager if you move her to Israel.  She will have trouble adjusting to the language, to the culture, to having less -- and she will hate you forever."

Plonit, living in Israel, tells her sister in the US, "People who refuse to make aliyah have no G-d!  Look it up in the Talmud.  It says that it's as if you worship idols!"

There are many stories on both sides of the equation colored by verbal abuse and discouragement.  As if either side can know what is going on in the hearts and minds and lives of those on the other side.

It reminds me of the debate that raged throughout my child-rearing years over which was superior:  being a stay-at-home mom, or being a working mom.  By the time each side got done talking over the other, mothers on both sides of the argument felt like losers.

Since it is impossible for us to know G-d's mind, I wonder if it wouldn't be more helpful if people validated each others' choices, instead of sabotaging each others' efforts to live healthy, productive lives.

People who want to take on the challenge and the dream of making aliyah should be encouraged for their noble goals, rather than dissuaded by "modern-day meraglim."

People who have made other choices have unshakable reasons -- at least at this time -- and shouldn't be verbally battered or belittled.  Besides, they have plenty of rabbis on their side of the argument, too.

We recently read in Parashat Beshalach that Moshe is instructed by Hashem to strike a rock, causing it to produce water for the Jews.  Later, in Parashat Chukat, Moshe again will strike a rock to bring forth water for the complaining masses, and will be punished for it by not being allowed to lead the Jewish people into the Holy Land.  Years ago, I heard one of those paradigm-shifting Torah explanations from Rabbi Ephraim Becker.  I'm paraphrasing, and any errors in transmission are mine.

Rabbi Becker asks why Moshe Rabbeinu was punished so severely for striking the rock.  After all, he was justifiably angry -- and not on his own behalf, but on Hashem's.  Which of Moshe's grandchildren, in our day and age, cannot feel defensive of our great teacher for this seemingly excusable lapse in patience?  Rabbi Becker explains that Am Yisrael had finally climbed back to the level of kedusha from which we had fallen since the time of Adam's chet.  In other words, if Moshe merely had spoken to the rock, the rock would have obeyed.  And the Jewish people would have come to the conclusion that if a rock can listen to G-d, surely we can.  And we would have been spiritually able, at that moment, to cross back to that exalted level of holiness as a nation.  From there, we would have been one tiny step to returning to Gan Eden...  and to Eternal Life.

But Moshe struck the rock.  And we all understand that in the short term, one can beat obedience into anybody.

We lost that moment for collective salvation.

And now we must crawl and scratch our way back up a mountain of spiritual scree to that moment of possibility as individuals, blind to a clear path, with decreasing guidance with every succeeding generation...

According to Rabbi Becker, for this error in judgment was Moshe kept from entering the Land.

We don't know what G-d wants.  We can only learn as much as possible, and strive -- individually and collectively -- to understand.

And it is my humble opinion that Hashem would be more proud of us for supporting each other than for cornering the market on The Right Answer.

Plony: the "John Doe" of Talmudic discourse; Plonit is my feminine version
Meraglim: the spies who gave a bad report of the land of Caanan, convincing the people that they could not successfully take the land -- even though G-d had brought them to it for that purpose (and would presumably back their effort)
Parashat Beshalach, Parashat Chukat: specific weekly readings from the Five Books of Moses
Moshe Rabbeinu: Moses, our Teacher
Am Yisrael: the nation of Israel
Kedusha: holiness
Chet: sin (the chet of Adam refers specifically to his decision to eat from the forbidden fruit)
Gan Eden: the Garden of Eden

Okay, Benjie.  I used your title.  Happy?
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