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

10 comments:

sparrow said...

Lots of things for me to ponder on here dear friend, and as a non-Jew I have a lot to learn from your wisdom. You should be a lady Rabbi - you are so faithful and wise.
Love you!

Leora said...

I can so relate to some of your "rejected" friends. I've met all the judgmental types, that judge people by their looks, dress, language. Sigh. I try not to hang around with them too much.

Avisonenthal said...

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for showing the way to be kind.

Daneil Center said...

This article was my much needed three weeks kick in the seat (edited for not army vets) to stop being judgmental of others and start loving all my fellow Jews regardless of there details! Congrats on writing one of the best blog posts ever it hit the right spot!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely excellent post and perfect timing for the three weeks.

Karma works, did you know that? What you give is what you get returned. Stand on one leg and listen to Hillel, he got it right the first time.

We need to open our lives and open our minds. We are always going to be judgmental, that's the human in us. But we can overcome it with a little thought, that's the Jew in us.

Sora said...

Though this is by no means the first I've heard of such stories, it still hurts deep down every time I hear one. It's in much the same way that we have all been completely horrified, not just by the brutal death of a young boy in Brooklyn, but by the fact that his murderer was one of us! Don't we wish we could blame it on some other group? That we could build an enemy? It just seems to ooze our own community's failings, and we find the stench repugnant. Who wouldn't? But we can't keep covering our faces and turning away, or Hashem will continue to rub our noses in it.

There is no question that all human beings would do well to think before they speak and consider the needs and feelings of others. But I think that it is imperative for us all to know the power of our words, our gestures, our smiles, and our scowls.

Tisha B'Av is coming up, and I know I hear shiurim on these topics every year. I wish I could say that it sticks with me all year round, that I hear these speeches and develop a sudden consciousness of those around me which never goes away, but there's a reason we'll be fasting again this year, and that reason is my own forgetfulness and the forgetfulness of our whole people.

So thank you for reminding us. Please keep it up.

Batya said...

Good points, but it's even more important to help people overcome that rejected feeling.
Maybe the person with the nasty frown is suffering something personal.
It has been my own challenge to learn to overcome feelings of anger and rejection.

Hinda Bayla said...

Ruthie,
I've been reading your blog lately and enjoying it. Wanted to respond to one comment about how you do not experience G-d as fear inspiring and you are working on it. WOW What i would give to have all the "fear inspired (punitive) experiences I have of G-d to disappear or lessen. Not that I don't have a loving G-d but it is quite the challenge. So don't run after too much of that stuff. Good Shabbos and regards to your family. Hinda

rutimizrachi said...

Sparrow: As always, you inspire me to want to be better. Thank you for being my friend.

Leora: Understood.

Avi: Thank you.

Mysending: Thank YOU for adding more thoughtful writing to the blogosphere, and to my favorites!

Daneil: Thank you for your service, and for honestly wanting to be the best Jew you can be.

Miryummy: Nicely said! Even when you just write a comment, I think "I want to know that person!"

Sora: Passionately said. I believe like so many things in Judaism that our efforts are cumulative; so don't get too disappointed in yourself. The fact that you feel pain over our collective transgressions and their results says that you are part of the solution, even when your efforts don't seem consistent.

Batya: As always, you remind me of that other way of looking at an issue that is so important!

Hinda Bayla: Thank you for reading and commenting. I am sorry that you have had such experiences, and apparently in way too much abundance. We don't get to understand why Hashem doles out challenges the way He does. Trust me: I'm not running after them, and wish others didn't experience them either. We are told we must have love of Hashem and fear (awe) of Hashem... and it sounds like they both can be a challenge to attain, depending on the tailor-made-for-us maze in which we are placed. I wish you success in reaching your spiritual goals! (And if you are my friend Hinda, then I miss you very much!)