Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Although the following incident occurred probably close to two decades ago, I distinctly remember the time I heard the rumbling. It was a sound I had known since boyhood – the sound the world makes when it pauses for that fleeting moment while a person decides whether to stand still or leap forward. I humbly present you, dear reader, with the same opportunity to hear the rumbling and then decide if you wish to stay put… or to move.

We are talking circa three weeks after the Knesset elections in the early 1990s. The Shas party had landed a lot of mandates, making them a shoo-in for the formation of the new government. And naturally, when a new government is formed in Israel, no different than after a presidential inauguration in the United States, there is pomp and circumstance solemnized in an official ceremony.

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A day or two before what was to be the celebrated ceremonial, Shas announced that it would not take part in the event, as part of the festivities included a female singer. The jealous and zealous leftist media had just been handed a zinger on a silver platter. Bad enough that the rightists had captured the government, and worse still, that the chareidim (very religious) were a key component of the new coalition. All of the left’s fears were now encapsulated in the one act of primitive, archaic fanaticism of the Shas chareidim who would not attend an official government ceremony because of the participation of one of the country’s lead female vocalists.

The media could not get enough of this chareidi foolishness, and it wished to embarrass Shas and everyone associated with the party. The leftists had lost the election, but they would yet make the rightists suffer a “regretfest” over the election results. The issue was such a hot news item that one might have imagined that an impending war was of lesser significance.

I happened to have been listening to a Hebrew interview on Galei Tzahal (the official radio station of the IDF) with the singer who was to be snubbed by the walkout. “So,” the interviewer questioned with great glee, “Did you ever experience a put-down before – where religious fanatics wished to boycott you because you are female, and thwart your singing in public?” In media interviews, such a question is known as a “softball,” or in this instance, a soft and steady pitch so directly over the plate that anyone could blast it out of the park. This was the kind of battering that the country was being subjected to incessantly since Shas’ refusal to participate in the ceremony became public knowledge.

“Well…” the singer responded, “Something similar happened to me when I was in the army and scheduled to sing at an event on the base. The local chaplain [Rav Tzvai’i] informed me that he would not be able to attend my performance.”

The interviewer’s previous elation was forgotten as he sensed an impending touchdown for the home team. He was no longer asking questions – he was singing them. He had more cheer than a sidewalk Santa overdosed on Zoloft. “So how did you react to that insult?” the interviewer pressed.

“Fundamentally,” the singer responded, about to drop the biggest thunderbolt I ever heard on Israeli radio, “with admiration.”

“Huh?!” One strained to determine if the interrogative was through the airwaves or from out the window.

The singer elaborated to the incredulous reporter, “The chaplain wrote me a personal note explaining that since he married his wife, he has been particular that his attention and affection should be devoted exclusively to her. He hoped that I would be understanding that he would not wish to tamper with such a harmonious relationship.” The singer went on to stress her admiration and fervent hope that one day she would be privileged to merit a husband who would feel such fidelity and devotion.

And the interviewer? He just fell stone silent, even louder than his “Huh?!” of a moment earlier.

I do not know the name of this chaplain. I wonder (and strongly doubt) that he ever heard the radio program. But his wise and sensitive comment had had a ripple effect that he never could have imagined.

It is thanks to individuals like him, and no thanks to others lacking this intelligence, that we move forward or backward in society. We spend, for very good reason, a lot of time focused on lashon harah (negative truths), cognizant that lashon harah can hurt and punish – even kill. The army chaplain unwittingly taught a lesson stressed far less often. It is the very same lesson that the Orchos Tzaddikim taught nearly 600 years ago: “With the tongue one can commit numerous great and mighty transgressions such as informing, talebearing, mockery, flattery, and telling lies – but with the tongue, one can also perform limitless acts of virtue.”

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Rabbi Hanoch Teller is the award-winning producer of three films, a popular teacher in Jerusalem yeshivos and seminaries, and the author of 28 books, the latest entitled Heroic Children, chronicling the lives of nine child survivors of the Holocaust. Rabbi Teller is also a senior docent in Yad Vashem and is frequently invited to lecture to different communities throughout the world.