Monday, April 30, 2018

A Fly and a Cockroach Shake Hands

I love the way my friend Rachael Welt sees the world, and the way she tells stories.

We learn together once a week, and our conversations always weave our Torah learning through the text of our life stories. Today’s stories illustrate one of my favorite principles.

"This is what the Holy One said to Israel: My children, what do I seek from you? I seek no more than that you love one another and honor one another; and that you have awe and reverence for one another." -- Tanna d'Bei Eliyahu Rabba, 26:6

Rachael recounts a recent trip to the Mahane Yehuda shuk.

“I have never seen at one time so many people using walkers, walking on crutches, walking with canes,” she said. “And the shuk was packed with people. And of course, walking behind all these people with walkers and so on made it very slow going. Still, not one person started screaming ‘Why are you moving so slowly? Why did you come to the shuk? Don’t you know you could fall down? Why don’t you move out of the way?’

“This is the shuk I’m talking about, where people regularly yell and scream at each other – and not one person rushed these people. Not even the shuk workers with the heavy pallets they carry everywhere. Those guys never have any patience! But that day, they did. Everyone waited patiently for the old and infirm to make their way through the shuk. It was amazing!”

Rachael’s face glows when she tells stories about the good in her fellow humans.

She tells another “only in Israel” story.

“I was in Jerusalem, getting the car repaired. I was feeling a little faint, because I hadn’t eaten enough before leaving the house; so I decided to go to a nearby supermarket. As I started in the door, the guard, a man in his sixties, put up a hand and stopped me. ‘We don’t open until ten,’ he said to me. I checked my watch and saw there would be a bit of a wait. And then I saw the line of people with shopping carts. I’m thinking, I don’t need a big shopping cart. I only need a few items.” Nonetheless, she joined the line, prepared to wait with everyone else until the guard allowed entry.

“People started to say to the guard, ‘Nu? It’s ten minutes to ten. Let us in already! It’s five minutes till. C’mon, let us in! See my watch? Let us in!’ But the guard had his orders, and he was used to this. He held his ground. ‘Ten o’clock,’ he insisted calmly.

“This one guy ahead of me, but still pretty far back in the line, decided he’d had enough. He pulled out of the line, pushed to the front, and tried to get by the guard. The guard stopped him, and the guy started yelling at him.

“The guard, still calm, said to the guy, ‘You know what? You’re a zvoov,’ a fly. And the guy yells at him, really angry now, ‘And you’re a juke!’ a cockroach.”

As Rachael tells the story, I am laughing a little, because I am convinced that these conversations, with this much invective, could never happen in America. People might yell at each other, but it is never this colorful. The two men went at this for several seconds, the guard speaking calmly, the enraged customer getting so upset, and louder and louder, to the point that Rachael was praying he didn’t have a knife. She could just see herself being witness to a terrible incident.

“The man kept yelling, and saying he was going to complain about the guard, and not only complain about him, he was going to write a letter, and he went on and on, getting more and more excited.

"The guard told him, without raising his voice, to step back. The man stepped back only a step or two. ‘Only this far,’ he said. ‘No further. I’m staying right here.’

“Suddenly, the guard walked over to the man, and stuck out his hand, and the other fellow took it. ‘Please forgive me, my friend. It will all be okay. I ask forgiveness.’ And the other guy calmed down. A moment later, at ten o’clock on the dot, the guard allowed the stream of people with their carts into the store.

“But that’s not the end of the story,” says Rachael, with her patented Rachael smile.

“Later, as I was going through the aisles, the guy came up to me. ‘You see?’ he said, ‘He apologized to me. He admitted he was wrong, and I was right.’ I said to him, ‘I think you were both a little bit wrong, and a little bit right.’ (After all, calling someone a fly was not a nice thing to do, and certainly calling someone a cockroach and threatening him is wrong.) ‘The main thing is, you made peace.’ I don’t think he really understood me, because he really thought he was right and the guard was wrong. But I saw that the guard kept calm, offered his hand, and the man took it! And the guard asked for forgiveness. What an amazing People!”

I believe that Hashem teaches us to see Him as a Parent so that we can know how to behave toward each other. As a mother, nothing makes me more distressed – dare I say enraged? – than when my kids are unkind to each other. Conversely, nothing causes me to feel more overjoyed and elated than when they get along and speak well of each other.

Rachael and I learned a lot today. But I am convinced that the holiest moments of our learning were when Rachael spoke aloud words of validation about the behavior of God’s children toward one another. If our learning together doesn’t bring Mashiach closer by itself, surely the stories of Jews rising above their pettiness to respect one another inches the Geula just a bit closer.

15 Iyar 2018.