Sunday, December 14, 2014

Life is beautiful all the time.
Back about 25 years ago, when the world was young and it was a Soviet Empire, not a Muslim Empire that was our nemesis, we lived next to Irvington, NJ, which was next to Newark, NJ.
It was a mixed neighborhood where the residents were more “working class” or newly arrived in their corporate jobs and therefore less financially stable.
Next door to us lived a very nice older black couple who had been there for at least 25 years. He was retired from the merchant marines. On the other side lived a very white Catholic family. He had a landscaping business and was not very friendly towards my Jewish family. Across the street were immigrants from England where the husband was newly employed as… a guy who created the chemical formulas for flavors in food… or something like that. And, behind us was an Orthodox Jewish Lubavitch family who father worked in the financial world.
Most of our other neighbors were either immigrant families, white and black, or “ethnic” white folk who were a tad less educated or cultured than to that which we were accustomed.
One day, when my eldest (Jewish) son was not home, two of the (very “Christian”) neighborhood boys stopped by to see if they could “play” with him. These were cousins, I believe 6 and 7 years old, respectively.
When they were informed that our son was not home, they responded rudely and began riding their little bikes around in our driveway, swearing like little sailors, using rather foul language as to why our son wasn't home.
I was both shocked and bemused, not comprehending how they could possibly be upset or why they would express themselves in this way.
From my back porch I asked them to stop and to leave. They ignored me.
Back in days of yore, I was not so even tempered and sweet as I am today (well, at least that is how I see myself now; others might differ).
I strode down off of my back porch, onto my driveway, and literally grabbed each child by the scruff of his neck, stopping them and making them dismount from their bicycles.
I then began to march them out of my driveway, while they held onto their bikes, telling them that I was taking them to their own houses to talk to their parents.
It so happened that by the time I got to the end of my driveway, the mother of the younger of the two was walking by. I told her what had happened and she, appropriately, scolded her child and took him home while telling her nephew to go home to his father.
And, all was well with the world.
My wife’s mother was visiting with us at the time. Some time later, my wife and her mother were sitting on the front porch when they sent my son to get me. He told me that the 7 year old's father was out front and wanted to talk to me. My mother in law and my wife both appeared rather nervous. When I went outside to talk to this man, I understood why.
The father was a strapping young man with a close haircut, wearing what I believe is commonly called a “wife beater” sleeveless t shirt, showing off his impressively muscular physique. He was about 6’ 2” and he was not happy.
I, on the other hand, was about 6’, overweight, slightly balding, and not a particularly impressive specimen of manhood. Apparently, my wife and mother in law were afraid that this guy was going to beat the bejeesus out me.
His son was with him, still on his bicycle.
I walked up to him as he stood on the sidewalk outside of my house, curious but unafraid.
“Hi,” I said, “I understand that you want to talk to me.”
“Did you put your hands on my son’s neck?!!” he inquired with obvious anger.
“Yes, I did,” I replied, intending to continue...
“How dare you touch my son!” he yelled at me, stepping closer and getting menacingly “in my face.”
“Whoa,” I replied, more astonished than fearful. “Your son and his cousin were riding around in my driveway, swearing, using extremely bad language and would not leave. Are you okay with that?”
He took a step backward and repeated, “Don’t you ever touch my son again. I’ll sue you for everything you've got!”
“What?” I replied truly confused. “You are angry with me for not letting your 7 year old son swear at me in my driveway? And you want your son to stand here listening to you threaten me and tell me that his behavior is acceptable. Really?!”
My antagonist was momentarily disconcerted and brusquely told his son - “Go home.”
His son pedaled off. He had been smirking thus far during our brief conversation but, he looked a bit put out himself as he left. I don’t think he understood why his father was letting this “old fat guy” send him away…
His father continued to threaten me with lawsuits and angry rhetoric.
And, I continued to try and ask him why he thought it was okay for his son to do this.
Each time I would ask him something like: “You really want to bring your son up this way?,” he would take a step backwards.
I did not step forwards but, with every comment or admonition I made, he would jerk backwards almost like I was punching him. He probably took about five steps backwards to my comments, retorting each time about how he was going to sue me, until he finally turned and left.
I was totally amazed. I also had a “fight or flight” adrenaline rush as I only then realized that my body, if not my mind, had fully expected him to pummel me into the ground.
It was an extraordinary experience.
That whole enterprise was brought to mind via the contemplation of a new perspective I have picked up recently called – a false narrative.
A false narrative is one where the whole premise upon which it is based, is a lie. It is an invented story to explain whatever point of view the author wishes to justify.
The boy’s father in question based his false narrative on the idea that I was criminally wrong to place my hand upon his son’s neck and escort him off of my property.
My questions did nothing to dispel his belief in this false narrative; however, my questions did confuse him enough to back away and go away.
(And, no, he did not sue me. I never saw him again.)
Today, we live in a world of false narratives…
Many of us blithely accept these narratives as true and thereby do a great of damage to our own integrity and our relationship to truth.
We know Right from Wrong.
If we choose to not question that which is Wrong, and instead worry about being “sensitive” or “poetically correct,” then we are supporting what is wrong. We are supporting a false narrative; a lie.
I learned a little bit from my experience that G-d supports us, even in peculiar circumstances, when we support truth.

Friday, May 30, 2014

“How odd of G-d to choose the Jews.”

Once more we reach my parsha in the Torah where the third aliyah that we read during the weekday, the aliyah of Yisroel, begins with “the sons of Murray!”  
I love this parsha…    
Do I detect skepticism among some of you?  The parsha plainly says: בְּנֵי מְרָרִ, that’s “b’nai,” the sons of; and mem resh resh yud, which certainly sounds like M r r y or, in my case, Murray!   All right, so the Torah pronounces it Merari.  But all that means is that, for the gentile world, the sons of Merari gradually became Murray’s.  After all, Kohein became Cohen, nu?

However, perhaps a more important feature of this week’s parsha is not the parsha of Naso itself but, what follows.
And what follows is Shavuous – one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals where all Jews were required to travel to Yerushalayim to bring Offerings to the Bais HaMikdosh, our Holy Temple.
And, Shavuous, where G-d Gave His Holy Torah to His Chosen people on Har Sinai.
Where the Jewish People said: “Na’aseh v’nish’mah,” We shall do and we shall hear!
This is the seminal moment of Jewish History when the Children of Israel Choose to become the Chosen People!

(For the rest of the non-Jewish world, the Christian holiday of Pentecost comes somewhere around this day, June 8th this year.
This year, Shavuous begins on Tuesday night, June 3rd, and it continues on June 4th and June 5th.
Pentecost, meaning the “50th day,” is the day associated with the apostles speaking in the different languages of all of the Jews that came from around the world to celebrate Shavuous in Jerusalem which is, according to the Torah, 50 days after Passover.)

I heard this story from a lawyer – I am not sure who.
He was a relatively successful lawyer and was trying a case where the next court date was supposed to be on Shavuous.  
He explained to the Judge that he could not make that court date as it was a Jewish holy day and he was not allowed to work on that day.
The Judge told him: “Mr. Lawyer.  I am Jewish.  I celebrate the Jewish holidays of Passover and Chanukah.  So don’t try and make up some story about some invented holiday that I have never heard of!”
The Judge did eventually come to find out that this was a real Jewish holiday but, that is an example of how little known is Shavuous, even to most non observant Jews.

Nonetheless, over 3,300 years ago, Am Yisroel; the Jewish people, received the Torah at Har Sinai and formally became G-d’s Chosen People. 
Moshe Rabbeinu informs the Jewish people that G-d tells them: 
“And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.” 

However, we are informed that it was not that G-d Chose us, rather that Israel Chose G-d.

The Midrash tells us that G-d not only revealed Himself to the Jewish People but – to all the Nations of the world.

We learn that G-d first went to the children of Esav and asked them: “Will you accept My Torah?”
The Children of Esav answered, “What’s in it? 
Hashem said: “Thou shalt not commit murder.”
The Children of Esav said: “L-rd of the Universe, the very essence of our father Esav is that he is a murderer.  As it says, (Bereishis: 27:22) ‘And the hands were the hands of Esav,’ and (Bereishis: 27:40) ‘By the sword you shall live.’ 
L-rd of the Universe, we cannot accept Your Torah.”

G-d then went to the children of Amon and Moav and He said to them: “Will you accept My Torah?”
The Chidren of Amon and Moav answered, “What’s in it?” 
Hashem said: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
The Children of Amon and Moav said: “L-rd of the Universe, our very essence is that we come from adultery. As it says (Bereishis: 19:36), ‘And Lot's two daughters conceived from their father.’
L-rd of the Universe, we cannot accept Your Torah.”

G-d then went to the children of Yishmael and He said to them, “Will you accept My Torah?”
 The Children of Yismael answered: “What’s in it?”
Hashem said: “Thou shalt not steal.”
The Children of Yishmael said: “L-rd of the Universe, our very essence is that we live from thievery and robbery. As it says (Bereishis: 16:12), ‘his hand will be upon all, and everyone's hand upon him…’
L-rd of the Universe, we cannot accept Your Torah.”

Hashem went among all the nations of the world.  There was not a nation to whom G-d did not speak and on whose door G-d did not knock, asking them whether they wished to accept His Torah.  And every nation refused after hearing what was in the Torah.

 After G-d had spoken to all the nations of the world, G-d came to the Children of Yisroel and He said to them: “Will you accept My Torah?”
And the Childen of Yisroel said: “Na’aseh v’nish’mah; We shall do and we shall hear!”
We learn that Israel immediately pledged their loyalty to whatever Hashem wanted them to do even before they knew what was being asked of them.
This is the one seminal moment in Jewish history when the entire Jewish Nation spoke as One and proclaimed to G-d – Whatever you ask of us, we will do – even before we know what it is.
Israel Chose G-d and thereby became the Chosen People.

For most Torah observant Jews, the above is sort of “inside baseball,” a well known midrash.
However, I heard an additional understanding of “Na’aseh v’nish’mah” from one of our Kollel rabbis, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, the other night –

Judaism is not a religion.   It is a Relationship.
“Na’aseh v’nish’mah; We will do (whatever you want) and (then) we will hear (what you want us to do)” is the Relationship that the Jewish People pledged to Hashem in their Greatest Moment at Har Sinai.
And, for over 3,300 years, we have been trying to remember to infuse this sacred Relationship which we Chose to have with G-d into every aspect of our lives.

And, for men, there is no more important place to remember to instill this Relationship than in marriage.
“We will do and then we will hear” is, quite frankly, the opposite of my and, I suspect, many men’s responses to their wives’ requests.

G-d Chose the Jews because the Jews Chose to have this special Relationship with G-d.
There is not a married couple who, somewhere inside of them, does not want this special Relationship with their spouse.
The Torah was given to us to transform our lives by taking each mitzvah; each lesson that the Torah can teach us, and applying it to every facet of our life.
For men, imagine the Relationship you could have with your wife if every time she asked you anything, your immediate response was – I will do whatever you ask, even before you tell me what it is….
May we all be zocheh to such a Relationship with our spouse’s and to remember that we Chose this Relationship at Mt. Sinai by proclaiming to the world that we agree to do what is necessary before we even know what it is that is necessary to do.
Gut Shabbos and Gut Yom Tov.