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July 24, 2014 / 26 Tammuz, 5774
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Getting Back Together

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We all know we have to take the Three Weeks seriously. But at the same time we all just want the time between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av to pass already.

Each year seems more worrisome; this year is no exception. Every day brings new evidence that the world situation is deteriorating, with tzouris on every level. Of course, Israel is becoming more and more isolated. The rockets fall, and no one cares except us.

What exactly should we focus on during this sober time of year?

We all know that sinas chinam, gratuitous hatred between Jew and Jew, caused the destruction of the Second Temple. We all know it, but clearly we are having trouble incorporating it into our lives. The knowledge is not going to help us unless it becomes an imperative whose urgency is driven by our desire for a real solution to our problems.

We’ve all become somewhat depressed, affected by the cynicism we learn from the surrounding society, which is content to try to enjoy itself as the world spins out of control. How many people really believe the world can ever be transformed into a peaceful planet on which the Children of Israel can live in our Holy Land, “each man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4)?

Let’s try to understand how we can really make this happen. If we took this seriously, we could well be rejoicing soon in the new Beis HaMikdash. Since we are not there yet, we obviously need to hear it again.

Here is the source:

“[At the time of] the Second Temple, [we know] that the people occupied themselves with Torah, mitzvos and acts of kindness. Why was it destroyed? Because of the gratuitous hatred that existed there. This teaches you that gratuitous hatred is tantamount to the three sins of idolatry, immorality and bloodshed [put together]” (Yoma 9b).

I know of instances in which Jews try to hurt each other and do hurt each other. This is crazy, of course.

People are not using their brains. Maybe it is because so many of us are lost somewhere inside our smart phones or computers. If we would think, we would not act this way, because this behavior is suicide.

All our tzouris stems from the fact that we have no Beis HaMikdash.

“Because of our sins, we have been exiled from our land and sent far from our soil. We cannot ascend to appear…before You…in the…great and holy House upon which Your Name was proclaimed…” (Yom Tov Mussaf). When we will return to our land in teshuvah, Hashem will “command rain for your land in its proper time, the early and later rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. I will provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied” (Shema prayer/Devarim11:14).

* * * * *

I am going to suggest a few ideas.

There are things we can do.

We have to become closer.

We are one family.

My wife and I recently conducted several programs in the beautiful Syrian community of Mexico City. Before going, we wondered how we would be able to relate. After all, we are Ashkenazim from New York. It’s a different world, right?

Wrong!

It is unbelievable how close we all are. In fact, we learned that our granddaughter from Israel was best friends with the daughter of our host in Mexico. They had met at camp in the Catskills. Do you understand? It’s 7,732 miles from Israel to Mexico, and they met at a camp in between.

Mashiach is almost here. We are all about to unite as “one man with one heart.” Let’s get serious. It makes me insane when I see not only how cruel we can be to each other but how we often just distance ourselves. Would you pass your brother on the street and not greet him? Would you stare in the other direction as if he didn’t exist? If we all would try to modify our actions, then perhaps one – even unnoticed or invisible – act of chesed could tip the scale and bring Mashiach.

Here are some thoughts:

Greeting each other: Saying “Shalom aleichem…good morning, how are you?” tells the other person I recognize and care that he or she exists. If you have kavanah when you do it, the person will be happy you care about him or her. Maybe that person is feeling terrible or even, God forbid, suicidal. (I am not joking.)You perhaps have saved his or her life. There are people who just look right through you as if you were invisible; they don’t see anything when they look at you. This means that in their eyes you really don’t exist!Sometimes a person will turn his or her head the other way when passing you – body language for “I don’t want to greet you.” In certain cases we can give the benefit of the doubt, but this definitely happens. I am sure that behavior like this pushes off Mashiach and the Beis HaMikdash.

Returning another person’s greeting: Sometimes you greet someone and he or she ignores you. This is so significant it is considered the equivalent of theft in Jewish law. (Heard in a shiur from Rabbi Yaakov Zev Smith.) How could this be theft? Actually, it’s not so difficult to understand. Here you are greeting your brother or sister with a big smile, investing your heart in that person, and you are rebuffed. He or she is not only throwing cold water on your love but in fact cooling you off from future acts of friendship, because you don’t want cold water thrown on you again. So your chesed is actually being stolen from you. Next time you’re going to think twice about greeting someone, and that is a crime.

Interrupting a conversation: Recently I was conversing with someone when another person walked up and started talking to the person I was speaking with. He didn’t say “Excuse me, please.” He just started talking, as if I weren’t there. That is a breach of derech eretz. Again, it is so vital that each of us values the other person. The other person is a “tzelem Elokim,” made in Hashem’s image. How can Mashiach come when Jews treat each other so contemptuously?

Competition: In our world, competition is considered normal. The basic American motto is “kill the competition.” It is “normal” to try to knock the other guy out in order to become rich. Sorry, folks, but that is not what the Torah wants from us. First of all, there is enough for everyone, and Hashem decides what we are going to earn each year. There is also the matter of “hasagas gevul” – we are prohibited from encroaching upon another person’s livelihood. Rabbi Berel Wein quotes the twelfth-century gadol Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra: “Unfair competition (such as border encroachment) leads to quarrels, violence and even murder.”

Wealth is fine if people gain it and use it in accordance with Torah guidelines and give appropriate tzedakah, but it is important not to take on airs that imply “kochi v’otzem yadi” (Devarim 8:17), meaning I believe I achieved this because I am better and smarter than other people. Sometimes evil people are wealthy and tzaddikim are impoverished. Hashem “humbles the haughty and lifts the lowly” (Shacharis service). We should not fool ourselves into adopting attitudes contrary to Torah.

Parking your car: Do you park between the lines? Can the next car get in? Did you take a “disabled” spot? It’s also a chillul Hashem to park in front of a hydrant. “Dina d’malchusa dina…the law of the land is the law [for us, unless it conflicts with the Torah].” (See Bava Kama 113a, Nedarim 28a, Bava Basra 55a and Gittin 10b.) I know a healthy person who – on his way to meet his chavrusa! – regularly parks at an angle across two parking spaces, both of which are for disabled people. Besides being a chillul Hashem, this is cynical, because it proclaims, “I am above the rules.” This breaks down cooperation and makes the world less friendly.

Derech eretz kadma l’Torah” has countless applications, but think about it: we are supposed to internalize Torah to improve ourselves, but if we cynically take what belongs to our brother or sister, we demonstrate we are not interested in becoming better. I remember hearing that a great rabbi, who was temporarily in a foreign city, would always remove his shoes after 10 p.m. in order not to disturb the downstairs neighbors. I’m sure he trod very quietly even with his shoes on, but he did not want to take a chance. This is the hallmark of a great Jew – not pushing others out of the way, God forbid, but always seeking their welfare.

Driving: Just last week I was driving in a residential neighborhood, and one of those crazy people was tailgating, only inches behind me. I was going the speed limit, but that wasn’t fast enough, so he was honking like mad. Then he passed me and I almost fainted: this maniac driver was wearing a yarmulke! Can you imagine? What’s wrong with us? Are we succumbing totally to the insanity around us?

Speed davening: I admit I am a slow davener – really slow. What can I say? I am trying to have a real conversation with Hashem. I go a little crazy with supersonic minyans. Sometimes I am on the third berachah of Shemoneh Esrei when the baal tefillah starts his repetition. OK, I’m slow, but the real question is: are we all really thinking about what we are saying when we speak to Hashem? I think our respect for each other should extend to creating a situation in which we can all daven with a sense of serenity. We are all in this together and we will only get out of it if we beg Hashem intensely to rescue us.

Disturbances during davening: I was davening in a shul where there are continuous minyans. To me, this is a beautiful service to Am Yisrael. I love these places. You see how Jews love to speak to Hashem; the atmosphere is electric. Someone brought his two-year-old son. This is very young to be in shul. There were maybe a hundred people davening, and this kid was talking loudly to himself during the total silence of Shemoneh Esrei. Everyone in the shul could hear this child. I said to the father after the minyan, “You should have taken him outside.” He got very angry with me. Why?

“One who takes…immature children to shul is…responsible for problems they cause. One cannot do teshuvah for sending disruptive children…. Disturbed kavanah cannot be fixed. Also, one will not know from whom to ask forgiveness” (from the sefer Wake Up! – Halachos of Davening).

Davening with derech eretz: I am particularly sensitive to interruptions during davening, so I want to be careful about confusing my own ideas and halacha, but clearly we should be sensitive to other people, especially when it comes to matters of kedushah. We should be careful about not sitting in another person’s place in shul. I believe it is proper that one who is new to a shul should inquire first before taking a seat whether that seat is available. People appreciate this very much.

Also, some people daven very loudly. I always wonder whether they think Hashem is hard of hearing. This is a joke, but it’s not a joke. Of course, during Shemoneh Esrei we are not supposed to be heard by others, but some people have a way of whispering very audibly. Regarding people who converse during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, the Shulchan Aruch says, “His iniquity is more than can be borne and he should be rebuked.”

Even during Pesukai d’Zimra, when the rules are less stringent, it is brought down that “one should not raise his voice too much” (Elyahu Rabbah 51:10). But some people think it is a mitzvah to yell. I would think it a mitzvah to be aware of your neighbor, who may be unable to daven because you are yelling.

Recently I was at a minyan in which two people were texting during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei and the gabbai was conversing with a friend. I don’t understand why people don’t take life seriously. This is playing with fire. In fact, the Mishnah Berurah (124:7) famously quotes the Elyahu Rabbah, who writes in the name of the Kol Bo, “Woe to those people who speak during davening, for we have seen several shuls destroyed as a result of this sin.” It demonstrates disrespect not only for the entire institution of prayer, but also for those who take daveningseriously and know our lives depend upon it.

* * * * *

In the merit of caring for each other and “not doing to others what is hateful to us” (Shabbos 31a), may Hashem answer all our tefillos and send us very, very soon the Holy Temple and Mashiach ben David to bring us back to our beautiful Holy Land, where we will all live together in peace and serenity.

Roy Neuberger’s latest book, “2020 Vision” (Feldheim), is available in English, Hebrew and Spanish, with French, Russian and Portuguese editions in preparation. Roy is also the author of “From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul” (available in English, Hebrew and Russian) and “Worldstorm.”

Roy and his wife speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. He can be contacted at roy@tosinai.com or through his websites www.tosinai.com and www.2020visionthebook.com.

About the Author: Roy Neuberger's latest book, "2020 Vision" (Feldheim), is available in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Russian with a Georgian edition in preparation. An e-edition is available at www.feldheim.com. Roy is also the author of "From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul" (available in English, Hebrew and Russian, Georgian edition in preparation) and "Worldstorm." Roy and his wife speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. He can be contacted at roy@tosinai.com or through his websites www.tosinai.com and www.2020visionthebook.com. Roy and his wife speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. He can be contacted at roy@tosinai.com or through his websites www.tosinai.com and www.2020visionthebook.com.


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