According to Newton, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Everything we do has an effect in one way or another.
Take the case of yours truly, a frum married father of five who decided to reinvent his life a number of years ago and become a Sinatra-style crooner. The entertainment business is brutal for anyone, but more so for a 40-something-year-old struggling businessman who faced a lot of cynicism, had a family to support, and wouldn’t work on Friday nights (a showbiz no-no).
Yet, I persisted against all odds, recorded a few albums, made a bunch of music videos, and had some great shows. After years of writing, I decided to produce and star in a one-man Off-Broadway show called “Avi’s Midlife Crisis,” which even garnered interest from some producers.
Around this time, I was hired to perform at a nice hotel venue, and even employed extra musicians at my own cost because I wanted to film it to promote my one-man show. In a rare move, I also invited family and friends to see me perform.
I woke up the day of the performance ready to go when, suddenly, five hours before the performance, I discovered my voice was all but gone! Apparently I was suffering from a hiatal hernia which placed acid right on my vocal chords, but at the time, I knew none of that. I was in a state of shock and fear because I was going to have to make many phone calls and cancel the show.
I called the man who hired me and tried to explain the situation, assuring him that I would immediately find a replacement. I begged for his forgiveness and understanding, but instead of receiving it, I was met with a savage attack. “This is not acceptable! It’s not professional! How can you do this!”
I tried reasoning with him, but he was unreasonable. I can’t recall all of the horrible things he said – nor did I realize that night that it was the beginning of the end of my career. After three years, three surgeries, 30 doctor appointments, and a whole lot of heartbreak, I hung up my microphone and changed career paths.
A few years later, I hired a band to play at a party and, as fate would have it, their speakers blew. I was really upset and wanted to say, “Hey, you know this business! Why don’t you carry a backup speaker?” Instead, I kept quiet and thought of an incident I had all but forgotten about.
About a year before “the voice incident,” my revered rebbe, Rav Shifman, hired me to perform in Los Angeles at Emek Academy. I flew out and, as I was preparing for the show before an audience of 600, I felt a burning sensation in my throat – and then my voice disappeared. That had never happened to me before and I nervously made the call. “Rebbe, I have no idea what’s happening, but I can’t sing! I literally just lost my voice!”
And then he reacted in the only way a rebbe of his caliber could – with concern and love. “Avi, calm down don’t worry. Gargle. Say Tehilim. Lip Sync. Don’t worry. We’ll work it out.” (Miraculously, I prayed and gargled with cayenne pepper and hot water, and was able to perform to a satisfied crowd, baruch Hashem.)
It’s been four years and I’m still mesmerized by the juxtaposition of the two stories. What caused one Orthodox Jew to behave in a heartless fashion while another, in the same situation, with love and genuine concern?
Rav Shifman actually faced greater risk than the other fellow because he had put his name on the line; he had recommended me. The other man was a boss who could have easily replaced me with an unknown performer – which he did – and not attack a sick person. So how could the same situation elicit such radically different reactions?
The answer is that Rav Shifman placed my feelings before his own. He instinctively knew how horrible I must have felt, and was only concerned with helping another Jew. The other individual was only concerned about himself.
And so, as I stood by watching the leader of the band attempt to fix the broken speaker, I calmly placed my hand on his shoulder and echoed the words of my revered rebbe. “Don’t worry. We’ll work it out.”
It wasn’t easy, but I knew I was doing the right thing. And that sentiment remains. Hashem sends us challenges, many of which are really tests and opportunities for us to prove ourselves worthy of becoming a Rav Shifman, or chas v’shalom, his polar opposite.