I spoke yesterday afternoon by Zoom with staff of a school and learned that half of their teachers and students had tested positive for the coronavirus. Try to imagine such a mess. The principal gave the staff a simple message that helped me get through the day: “A person should always be soft like a reed and never hard like a cedar tree.”
This idea is highly appropriate for us at this time. Whoever is as hard as a cedar, stubborn and inflexible, will find himself in crisis mode. Whoever knows how to be soft like a reed, to bow, to humble himself to constantly changing circumstances, will prevail. The strong do not survive; the flexible do.
Several hours later, a member of my own family also tested positive. This disrupted his plans as well as ours for the coming days. And then a meeting was canceled after one of the participants got stuck in a long line waiting to be tested.
Again and again I was reminded of the need for flexibility as our fifth wave begins. Our internal stability and tranquility could be undermined once again. Yet instead of dwelling on disappointment due to circumstances, we need to accept that plans are likely to change at any moment, and that we need to just relax.
The virtue of the reed, the Talmud continues, is that it is made into a soft pen for writing Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot. Softness leads to holiness.
May all who have tested positive have a complete recovery and may everyone hear only good news.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIGHTEOUS AND WICKED
While we make positive resolutions all the time, we do not necessarily succeed in implementing them. We regret a certain behavior but fail to stop exhibiting it. Rabbi Avigdor Nebezahl articulates a profound principle in this regard, as starkly evidenced in Pharaoh’s behavior. The wicked Pharaoh repeatedly resolves to free the nation of Israel in order to end a certain plague, but as soon as that plague is over, he continues to behave as before, and the nation is not freed. Rabbi Nebenzahl writes that we can all identify with this behavior.
“The difference between the righteous and the wicked is not that one regrets and the other does not. Both demonstrate regret. Pharaoh, too, had positive thoughts about change, just like all of us. The problem lies in the implementation of those same positive thoughts in real life. When a positive resolution arises in our minds, we must immediately prepare a plan for implementing it the next morning, when the passion for doing so will invariably have waned. We must contemplate how to give permanence to resolutions of the heart. It’s not a matter of making a positive resolution, rather its consistent daily implementation.
The difference between the righteous and the wicked is in the longevity of positive passing thoughts. For the wicked person, such thoughts are short-lived. Every thought of teshuvah quickly disappears and, until the next one, he lives according to the whims of his heart. Yet the righteous person or tzaddik desires to create longevity, if not permanence, regarding each positive thought. He extends the influence of each such thought over as much time as he can. His desire is ‘to catch’ positive passing thoughts and take them into his heart at once, so as to preserve those moments of truth.”
Unlike Pharaoh, may we succeed in making positive resolutions that we implement at once.
SELF-PROTECTION AND REDEMPTION
I am still trying to digest the number of participants and its significance. More that 12,000 girls and mothers registered during the last three days for a special Zoom meeting on self-protection as part of the Nifgashot workshop series.
Ayala Barnea from the Latet Peh (speak up) organization that offers programs on self-protection for children and teenagers, opened the session with a question that surprised me: “What are the most important values in your lives, values that you will always preserve?” What’s the connection to self-protection, I thought to myself as, meanwhile, thousands of answers appeared in the chat box: family, friendship, joyfulness, caring, volunteering.
“You see?” Ayala said, “Look at how much good there is in the world. So many good values and good people. Most of the world is good. This is where we begin. And one of the important values that help preserve the good in the world is to guard the body’s privacy, whether it’s our body or someone else’s.”
And then she gave a series of rules for self-protection, including these two:
- No one has the right to touch us in a private place. It does not matter who it is, even if it’s a family member, a famous person, a teacher, or the big brother of a friend.
- We are at an age when it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between right and wrong. Therefore, we should become familiar with the word “confusing.” If something confusing happens that we are uncertain about, it is necessary to simply tell an adult whom we trust (and then each girl was asked to think of five adults to whom she could turn).
I looked at Ayala as she was giving the girls exercises, I looked at the thousands of girls and mothers from Israel, London, the U.S., Russia, and many other places. I understood that the quantity of participants testified to the importance of the subject: Our session was a statement, a shout, an expression of a deep longing for change. When we learn this week’s Torah portion, parashat Bo, it is customary to say that every generation needs to leave Egypt, to go out from slavery to freedom. It seems to me that uprooting this problem is essential to uprooting ourselves from confusion to redemption.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin