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For Your Shabbat Table

The People and the Place

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During my week in Israel I had my fair share of buffets. All were good. Two were outstanding. None brought me to tears. Except this one:

At the Wall: an endless stream of humanity throughout the day. And greeting each one on the men’s side is the indefatigable and deeply humble Shmulie Weiss. I counted fifteen pairs of tefillin on his table, with three being worn at that very moment and another dozen pairs or so in the drawers. The reason more weren’t being worn right then was because we got there at the tail end of a thunderstorm and the Wall Plaza was virtually deserted.

The man pictured was from Russia and had never been Bar Mitzvah’d under the Soviets; he was virtually giddy from putting on tefillin for the first time.  A group of thirteen-year-olds from LA, students of Sinai Akiba, were eager to not just put on the tefillin but wanted to wear them as they approached the Wall with their notes in hand.  I quite literally lent a hand.

There were dozens of non-Jewish tour groups there too and seeing the Wall Effect on them too was an honor.  I made eye contact with them when I could, and they responded by asking all the questions they had pent up inside.  A group from Bratislava asked their questions too and then requested if I could bless them in Hebrew.  As I began one of them fell to his knee and bowed his head.  I met Italians, Poles, French, Chinese, Malaysians and some from remote places too.  They came alone, they came with their priests, they came with groups.  They prayed for the safety of the Jewish people.

It’s breath-taking to see the intoxicating effect that the Tefillin-Wall combo have, and it is breath-giving to be a part of it.

The Wall Effect.  But what is the Wall already?  It’s not even a remnant of Solomon’s Temple as so many believe.  It’s the retaining wall that surrounded the Temple Mount to make the ground level to build the Temple, or Beis Hamikdash as we call it in our native tongue.  Yet it’s effect is unparalleled.  The only thing I have seen like it is when people come the Rebbe’s Ohel resting place near JFK.  It’s when and where you sense something greater than yourself – within you.

And so this one-item buffet moved me.  This nexus of the People and the Place.  I want to go back

Two Consenting Adults

"Two consenting adults".

This three-word mantra, which condones every four-letter word, has been the avant-garde on every affront to this week’s parsha. Nor is it a cause without merit: we don’t want government poking its nose into our business any more than necessary. And we have a bad history with inspired lynch mobs. 

But two-consenting-adults is no longer about civil liberties. Its cause, increasingly more often stated than implied, is to coerce society (us) to accept, then condone, then celebrate, then embrace any and all (have you heard this word lately?) abomination.
 
But first, what makes an abomination abominable? Is it social mores? Berlin of the thirties shattered forever that once-popular faith. Is it nature, or instinct? What would constitute unnatural (and therefore wrong) a heart-transplant? Ultimately, neither nature nor nurture can -- nor perhaps should -- decree what is or is not abominable.
 
Abomination may be considered an old-fashioned word. It is, if you’re a teenager and forever lasts fifteen minutes. The ancient Romans and pagans alike celebrated most of what we consider abominable. It was only with the spread of monotheism via the church and the mosque that Jewish concepts became widespread. 
 
The concept spread widely, but conduct remained remarkably unchanged, except for going underground. For while the concept was basically Jewish the understanding – and misunderstanding of it – was fundamentally pagan.
 
But getting back to the mantra. In Yiddish, as in Yinglish, we dissect a phrase by playing with word stress. “Jeffery’s going to Los Angeles,” takes on different lives depending on stress. 
 
Jeffery’s going to Los Angeles?” = I thought Herbie was going.
 
“Jeffery’s going to Los Angeles?” You mean he didn’t go yet?
 
 
“Jeffery’s going to Los Angeles?” Whatever for? I told him he’s meant to be in New York!
 
So let’s stress and tease some meaning from the mantra.
 
Two? and why do you discriminate against three?
 
Consenting? you know there’s no across-the-board consensus on when and where consent begins and ends.
 
Adults. Aha, so you think that every culture throughout the ages has been as repulsed as you are by this loathsome (no issue with the vocabulary, this time) abomination? In Rome it was accepted. (Why does that dear town keep coming up? Athens was quite a cesspool itself.) In Eastern countries it’s reflected in their poetry. 
 
Some argue that Western society confuses children with victimhood. They maintain that adults know that there are greater joys to be had than Disneyland and there isn’t a thread of evidence that kids wouldn’t arrive at the same conclusion given all the facts that a loving experience lends.
 
Twenty years ago abomination was society’s description for what now passes as prideful alternative lifestyle. Unless you have an adolescent time frame then don’t be too smug that the unthinkable will, for better or for worse, metamorphose into acceptance.
 
 

REALITY:

Something real. I can touch it, see it, feel it. It exists. Unless you start getting into quantum physics kind of stuff. Which I don’t need to: I have enough real things around me. Especially toys: big toys because I’m a big kid. And lots of toys, because the one who dies with most toys wins. And I want to win. 

As long as I have enough toys nothing else really matters. People call me lucky. 
As long as I’m sleeping a sweet dream nothing else matters. People call me lucky.
As long as I’m drunk, high, spaced nothing else matters. Unless I wake up.
And because I might wake up, those who aren’t drunk and high feel sorry for me. 
Are they right, or am I?
“Reality is an illusion brought about by the lack of drugs” a student of mine (a jazz player) quoted to me.
 
So then, if I stop feeling good because of all my toys, am I lucky? Well yes, maybe.
 
Because there is something other than toys. 
Whether they are dangerous, bad toys, (drugs, self-mutilation, gang-violence):
Harmless toys (sitcoms and now, some insist, body-piercing)
Or even vaguely worthwhile toys, whose main job is to keep me happy.
If I break through my toy-induced contentedness, I am lucky.
 
Now I wake up to a whole new world. 
Whole: I have seen beyond a fractured, dimensional room to a seamless, timeless life. 
New: even if this life was here the whole time, if I just noticed it, then it is new. 
Not “new to me”: new. My perception counts. Not for a little, but for everything. 
He created this whole galaxy-filled, continent-filled, anxiety-filled, strife-filled existence only that I should be able to see through it all and see something different. 
Something new. 
 
(Torah speaks of the “new moon”, not because the-ancients-believed-that-the-moon-actually-disappeared-on-a-monthly-basis-and-came-back -but-now-we-know-better-thanks-to-the-telescope-in-my-backyard, but because if people, specifically the Sanhedrin, say something, pronounce something, determine something, then from a Divine point of view that pronouncement, that determination, becomes reality.)
 
Sometimes I wake up to this whole new world by thinking deeply into it – something stirring inside of me. Often because one of my toys broke, forcing me to look elsewhere.
 
This week’s entire parsha speaks of tumah tahara, and mikvah. If you translate them as impure, pure and ritual bath then you are sticking them into a toy world. They only resonate in a land beyond toys. And languages other than Hebrew and Yiddish don’t operate as well in this other world. 
 
But I don’t have to wait for a world transformation before getting to know taharah and mikvah; just rubbing shoulders with them helps rub off the murky film that shrouds from view everything but toys. 
 
Because, as the Kabbalah insists, we aren’t superficial or dimensional. We only think toys are us. Just shake yourself a little and the real you wakes up. To the real world.
 
 

Silence is Eloquent

“And (the sons of Aaron) died, and Aaron remained silent,” the Parsha. 

It was a Reader’s Digest article I read years ago. About a lady who had just lost her mother, her husband was on his way home from a trip; she alone had to break the news to her little children. People were calling offering condolences: ending with the expected (awkward?) “don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything”. Then the doorbell rang. Her husband’s friend was standing there, a rolled newspaper under his arm. “I’ve come to shine your shoes,” he announced.
 
“What?” she said.
“I‘ve come to shine your shoes,” he repeated. “I remember that at my mother’s funeral, the family was so busy, and with the shock and all, we forgot to shine our shoes. We didn’t even realize it until we got to the funeral home.”
 
He spread the newspaper over the floor, asked for everyone’s dress shoes, and began scraping the soles and polishing the uppers. The woman’s pent up sorrow and shock gratefully gave way to torrents of tears.
 
When tragedy happens, friends worry ‘what do I say’. That we have to say something is a given: that we have to say something is a mistake.
 
Silence is eloquent and heartfelt. Silent presence is a gift that needs no explanation: gold that need not be gilded, a message with no distracting words. The space formed by silence can be filled with simple acts: shoe shining (in a kup-in-galoshin environ) that pave a way from one heart to another, from a Jew to her Torah, from a man to his Creator.
 
For mourners too: if you can’t express your feelings, if you feel cheated all over again -- this time because of the emotional nightmare -- if this all makes no sense, you don’t need to say a thing. Silence lends credence to everything going on inside of you. Silence allows a rebuilding inside of you, a renewal. And that renewal, that rebuilding is the best consolation we have until Moshiach intervenes.
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