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HOW MUCH DO YOU CARE?

Friday, 26 January, 2018 - 1:32 pm

I do not care how much you know until I know how much you care!

A couple had two little boys, ages 8 and 10, who were excessively mischievous. They were always getting into trouble and their parents knew that, if any mischief occurred in their town, their sons were probably involved.

The boys' mother heard that a Rabbi in town had been successful in disciplining children, so she asked if he would speak with her boys. The Rabbi agreed but asked to see them individually. So the mother sent her 8-year-old first, in the morning, with the older boy to see the grand rabbi in the afternoon.

The great rabbi, a huge man with a booming voice, sat the younger boy down and asked him sternly, "Where is G-d?”

The boy's mouth dropped open, but he made no response, sitting there with his mouth hanging open, wide-eyed. So the Rabbi repeated the question in an even sterner tone, "Where is G-d!!?" Again the boy made no attempt to answer. So the Rabbi raised his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy's face and bellowed, "WHERE IS G-D!?"

The boy screamed and bolted from the room, ran directly home and dove into his closet, slamming the door behind him. When his older brother found him in the closet, he asked, "What happened?"

The younger brother, gasping for breath, replied, "We are in BIG trouble this time, dude. G-d is missing - and they think WE did it!"

This week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, relates how Pharaoh had a change of heart right after he let the Jewish people go: "He said to the children of Israel, ‘They are lost in the land, the desert closed in on them.’" Rashi raises an obvious difficulty with this verse. Pharaoh did not speak to the children of Israel, for they had left Egypt already. How could he be talking to them?

The Targum Yonatan ben Uziel gives an astonishing explanation. There were two Jews, Dathan and Aviram, who remained in Egypt. They refused to leave. Pharaoh spoke to them and reassured them that the Jews were lost, stranded, and stuck in the desert. Their choice to flee the country was an ill-conceived one.

Yet here is where the story becomes mind-blowing. If they chose to stay in Egypt, how are they journeying with the Jews in the desert later on—complaining about the manna, revolting with Korach? The answer is plain, if absurd. They must have tagged along with Pharaoh when he went to pursue the Jews by the sea. And when the sea split, they too were spared. They crossed along with the Jews and got to the other side safe and sound.

This is ridiculous. These two men seem like absolute atheists. They fought Moses and G-d every step of the way, chose to remain in Egypt, and were then saved with their brethren. They linked their fate and destiny to Egypt, not to the Hebrews. Why were they spared at the Red Sea while all of the Egyptians drowned?

What is more, the Midrash teaches that many Jews who did not want to leave Egypt died during the plague of darkness. Yet Dathan and Aviram, who also did not want to leave, remained intact. Why?

Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin offered an amazing answer. After Moses demanded Pharaoh to let his people go the first time, the king decided to increase the burden and torture. He stopped providing straw for the Jewish slaves to form bricks. They had to gather straw themselves and still deliver the daily quota of bricks. The Jewish police, chosen to oversee the labor, did not have the heart to force the Jews to do the impossible. So the police were beaten by the Egyptian officers who were in charge of them. 

Even though Dathan and Aviram were troublemakers, they were two of the policemen who absorbed the blows of Egyptian taskmasters to save the Jewish slaves from being whipped themselves. This merit caused their lives to be spared during the days of Darkness and to be saved by the sea. One who accepts suffering to save a fellow Jew from suffering has an infinite merit—neither the Red Sea nor the Angel of Death can touch him.

Two of the greatest giants of pre-war Eastern European Jewry were Rabbi Chaim Ozer, chief rabbi of Vilna, and the Ostrovtzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yechiel Meir, one of the spiritual giants of Polish Jewry.

Once, these two giants—the Rabbi from Lithuania and the Chassidic Rebbe from Poland—met. Reb Chaim Ozer asked the Ostrovtzer Rebbe to share with him a Torah insight, which he did. After hearing the brilliant interpretation by his colleague, Reb Chaim Ozer exclaimed: A great man! To which the Rebbe responded: No! Brilliant scholarship, even if it came with great toil, is not what makes one a great man in Judaism. You need something else entirely to be considered a great man in the universe of Torah.

“What is that? And why do you say so?” asked Reb Chaim Ozer:

The Rebbe proved his point from a fascinating Talmud: Rava said, How foolish is the practice of people who rise up before a Torah Scroll, but who remain seated in the presence of a Torah Sage—a great human being. After all, argues Rava, the verse says that one who transgresses a serious Biblical negative command should receive 40 lashes. Yet the sages, those defined as great men, came and reduced the number to 39. How foolish it is then to rise before the Torah scroll, and not before the “great men” with the wisdom and power to interpret the true meaning of Torah. For what would the Torah be without the people who truly understand its depth?

A “great man” in Judaism does not merely describe an intellectual prowess that tells us the true intent of Torah verses. This title is given to the sage who will save a Jew, even a transgressor, the pain of an extra lash! It is the sense of love and caring of the sages that behooves us to stand up in their presence. We do not care how much you know until we know how much you care.

Upon hearing this, Reb Chaim Ozer, the great Lithuanian sage, exclaimed: Ah, that is Chassidut!

This is the definition of greatness in Judaism. Yes, we cherish education, scholarship, and knowledge very deeply; we admire talent, creativity, and success. But above all, what makes you a great human being? That you care! That you employ your wisdom and talent to ease the pain of a fellow human being, to reduce his suffering, to bring goodness and kindness to the world around you.

Today, Friday, January 26, 2018, is the 10th of Shevat in the Hebrew calendar. This is the 68th Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1880-1950). He was famed for his undiscriminating love and concern for all Jews.

Today is also the day when his son-in-law, the Rebbe, assumed leadership of the Chabad movement, in 1951. I wish to share with you a story of the Rebbe that so captures the above message.

A head of a Yeshiva in Har Nof, Jerusalem, visited the Rebbe in 1975. During their meeting, the Rebbe urged him to get more involved in influencing others outside his community—to reach out to care for and help all types of Jews. As the conversation got more intense and involved, the Rebbe finally turned to him and said: “I have a question. Which is the most important limb after the brain?”

“The heart,” the visitor said.

“And which is the more important side in Judaism? Right or left?”

“For sure the right,” he said. “Joseph was upset when his father, Jacob, placed his left hand on his oldest son. The right is associated with more love, closeness, and vigor.”

“So,” asked the Rebbe, “why is the heart on the body’s left side?”

The visiting Rosh Yeshiva remained silent.

“I will tell you the answer,” said the Rebbe. “The heart is really on the right, not the left.

“You see, the heart of a person is made to feel, to emphasize, to connect, to be there for another person, another Jew. My heart was given to me to feel your pain, your needs, and your concerns. My heart was given to me to experience the soul and the heart of the person standing in front of me. My heart is here for you. And from your vantage point, my heart is on your right!”

This sums up so much of the Rebbe’s life, perspective, and mandate to us all. Do not shut your eyes to the pain of your people. Do not turn a deaf ear to the cry of a child, a teenager, a man, woman or child who can use your love and help, your gestures of wisdom and kindness. Even Dathan and Aviram were spared because they CARED and took a beating for their fellow Jews.

To the Rebbe, if you have a heart, it was meant to care. Use it. Do something for our people, our homeland, and our world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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