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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
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The Joy Of VENTalation

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On more than one occasion people have asked me if I find writing therapeutic. I was taken aback the first time I was asked that question, wondering what one had to do with the other, but thinking about it, I realized that it certainly is.

Because when you write, you get to vent.  Which is a good thing, because you need to unload what’s bothering you to at least one person – and I get to air out my grievances to a very large audience.  So thank you for being my sounding board, and even validating my gripes (or not, as gleaned from the e-mails I get from my readers).

As I write this, Toronto is in the midst of recovering from a major ice-storm and the electricity is out. (Having been forewarned by grim-toned weather forecasters about possible power outages due to ice-laden trees crashing down on hydro lines, I fully charged my computer battery.)

Outside is a winter-white wonderland replete with dazzling trees, wires, and sidewalks seemingly wrapped in glittery silver foil.  It’s quite lovely to look at, which is about all I can do since I’m stuck indoors.  Icicle-laden tree branches are bent and hunch-backed by the frozen heaviness of their popsicle-like burden, and the voices squawking from the battery-operated transistor radio I am listening to are warning people not to go out since walkways and roads are extremely slippery, and there is real danger from falling trees.

So no visit to the gym today to burn off those Shabbat calories, but since my deadline is looming and I have a still functional computer, I may as well put my time – and the daylight – to good use and write my column.

While the weather is annoying, it’s not vent-worthy.  After all, it is late December and this beautiful but disruptive freezing rainstorm is appropriate for winter.

Now if this whacky weather had happened Pesach time, say in early April, that would be worthy of a major rant.

Or if this happened in Israel, wait, it actually did earlier this month.  Those hapless souls who found themselves cold, in the dark, and running out of food and a means to stay warm – would be totally justified if they complained, grumbled and protested. Kupfer-010314-Street

But not vent.  True venting should be strictly reserved for those sorry excuses for human beings whose self-absorbed or self-promoting actions or opinions can seriously undermine other people’s emotional or physical wellbeing.

A mild version of an action that is vent-worthy comes courtesy of those individuals who almost bump into you because they are walking with their heads down as they look at their phones. I have gingerly stepped out of their way on many occasions, since I have learned that walking distracted can be mutually dangerous.

In fact, there was an item in the news recently about a woman visiting Australia who mindlessly walked off a pier because she was so engrossed in her Facebook page on her phone.  Luckily for her, other people weren’t so pre-occupied and noticed her plunge into the water and rescued her.

Those who drive distracted with their phones on their laps, obliviously going through red lights or careening onto sidewalks – or who drive impaired due to alcohol, drugs or lack of sleep bring venting to a whole other level.  The narcissistic selfishness that they indulge in and their blatant disregard for the well-being of others is beyond contempt.

Going back to blizzards and ice-storms, ranked at number one in reasons for me to vent and purge myself of toxic rage is the vocalizing of some individuals who claim to know how Hashem runs the world – and piously opined that the bizarre and devastating snowstorm in Israel was Hashem’s way of showing his displeasure at the Israeli government for legislating the drafting of yeshiva bochrim into the IDF and for government cut backs of subsidies that support yeshivot and learning.

This shocking declaration is mind-boggling on two levels:  The first is the fact that many erliche Yidden learning in kollel and devoted ovdei Hashem, and their families were greatly inconvenienced or even harmed by the storm.  So if these know-it-alls insist the storm was a divine punishment, why did these good people end up suffering?

Why did the storm hit Jerusalem, and many frum communities in other parts of the country, but not Tel-Aviv, the bastion of the secular government? After all, the Ten Plagues solely afflicted the Egyptians, while the Israelites were spared.

How can anyone claim to know Hashem’s thoughts?  How can anyone say that he or she  knows that the devastating storm was heavenly retribution for the Knesset’s attack on the Torah?

If we believe that all that Hashem does is ultimately for the best – even though it is beyond our ken and understanding and that His ways are inscrutable – then insisting that a nisayon is a punishment is tantamount to blasphemy.

I remember as a child, someone in the community lost his life in a freak accident, leaving behind a young widow and orphans.  I later heard someone saying that it was discovered that a mezuzah in his house was pasul – some letters had been rubbed out.

It seemed to make the adults feel better that there was a “reason” for what had happened to him – a treif mezuzah – but I was appalled.  Was Hashem so petty and wrathful that someone who was shomer mitzvoth but had inadvertently missed a detail of his observance deserved to have his life cut short leaving his wife a young widow and his children fatherless?

Then why bother with any of it since being human and imperfect, we will fall short no matter how hard we try or how conscientious we are, I wondered.  I came to realize that people desperately need a “reason for why bad things happen to good people.”  It makes them feel safer.  The tragedy was “justifiable” they convince themselves.

And no, Hashem was not petty or punitive – He is Divine.

But I imagine that the people suffering from a great misfortune, whether it is an individual or family dealing with physical or mental illness, or infertility, or a loss of parnassah or shalom bayit issues etc., or a community dealing with the life-changing aftereffects of a hurricane, tornado, terrorist attack, plane crash, or a rare snow or ice storm, do not want some delusional self-appointed spokesman for the Master of the Universe to tell them they brought it on themselves.

Venting –the verbal equivalent of mood-enhancing exercise!  I feel better already.

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