Monday, July 15, 2013

"What if we just stopped hurting each other?"

Yom sheni, 8 Av 5773, Erev Tisha B'Av.

My friend told me a story on Shabbat that was filled with such promise, I had to share it with you.  Especially now.  Especially just before Tisha B'Av, the saddest day of the year.

Years ago, there was a property dispute between neighbors.  Prior to the argument, they had been friendly, warm even.  Their children played together. They attended shiurim at each other's homes, had meals together.

After the argument, they stopped speaking.  They didn't go to one another's homes.  They didn't acknowledge each other on the street -- even going so far as to cross the street rather than cross the path of their "enemies."  If a ball rolled into the yard of the neighbor -- that ball was history.  No one would go through the gate or over the fence to retrieve it.  If a piece of fruit fell into one neighbor's yard from the other, no one would eat it, because it came from "their yard."

Years went by.  More than a decade.

Every year, my friend would write a letter in her head to the woman of the other family.  She mentally composed line after line of conciliation.  But she could never bring herself to write it, much less to send it.

Each Rosh Hashana, she struggled with a feeling of hypocrisy, knowing that she had this anguish festering deep in her heart.  Most of the time, she could work around the pain.  She had buried it, and was used to the not speaking, not visiting, not acknowledging.  But at Rosh Hashana, what had once been a series of misunderstandings felt like a giant, heavy stone in her heart.

Finally, life events piled up to such a degree that she could not go into yet another Rosh Hashana with a pain partly of her own making pressing down on her.  She resolved to write the letter, and to deliver it before Rosh Hashana.

As she sat down to write on Erev Rosh Hashana, she had the vision of handing the letter to her neighbor before candle-lighting, and of going home to light the candles with a sense of having done what she could do.  She did not know, of course, how her neighbor would react.  Would she slam the door in her face?  Tear up the letter without reading it?  Unload all of her own pain in a verbal assault?  My friend did not know.  All she knew was that she could not bear this weight any longer, and she had to try.

She wrote and wrote and wrote...  She was amazed that it was not trying to find the words to say that was difficult.  The difficulty was in stopping the torrent of writing that poured forth from her anguished soul.  Yet, not one word was about the fight.  No mention of whose rights were violated, or who had more reason to be upset.  Those words had been burned out in her own internal war long ago.

A glance at the clock told her that the time for Rosh Hashana candle-lighting was coming in soon.  She finally made herself stop writing.

She tapped on her neighbor's door, and was glad that it was the woman of the family who answered.  She started speaking immediately, rather than risk losing the moment.

"I wrote you this letter, and I wanted to deliver it personally."

The neighbor's hand reached tentatively for the letter.  Then, taking it, "Do you want me to read it in front of you, or after you leave?"

"I would like very much to stay while you read it, if you would like, but if you want to read it after I leave, that will be fine, too."

The neighbor invited her in.  My friend marveled at how strange it was, after more than ten years, to step over the threshold of this house!

As her neighbor read silently, my friend thought the words again in her mind.  "It has taken me a long time to write this.  But I wanted you to know how I feel, from the heart.  What if I said hello, and you said hello in response?  What if we went to shiurim at each other's houses?  What if when a ball went into your yard, my child would feel comfortable coming to get it, and if your child's ball came into my yard, your child would feel comfortable knocking on my door?  What if we invited each other over for Shabbat?  What if when fruit fell from our trees into each other's yards, we would be comfortable eating it?  What if we just stopped hurting each other?  What if we became friends again?"

When her neighbor reached the end of the letter, she asked, "Did you write this many times before today?"

"I wrote it mentally many times before this."

"I did the same.  I have been mentally writing you a similar letter for years now."  And with that the neighbors embraced.

My friend's candle-lighting that Rosh Hashana was holier than any in memory.  The weight of the pain of this conflict was gone from her heart.  She felt so light, so pure.

They never spoke about the issues of the past, never tried to work out who was right or who was wrong. The families involved began to behave like true neighbors, smiling at each other, sharing with each other. Over time, they even shared their story, in the hope that other people with long-standing feuds would just make up and leave the past behind -- and they have had some success in "infecting" those around them with a desire to make peace.

And that Rosh Hashana, when my friend stood before Hashem, she truly felt worthy of attending His Coronation.

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