Things here are quiet Baruch Hashem. How are things by you?
There have been interesting things happening at Neve. Almost every day another group arrives. Some of them are here for a day or two, others for a week or more. They are from all over the world, and have only one thing in common with each other; they all want to know more and to experience more. They get as much as they can, but by the nature of things, they see Torah life from the outside. The inside has to be experienced.
Thinking about how limited their view of Yiddishkeit is, made me question how often and how well any of us look inward. With Tisha B'Av approaching, clearly reverting to the "couldn't be better mode" isn't the best modus operando. I recalled something that a friend told me.
My friend Faigy had the "pleasure" of coming on time to a wedding. This being Israel, hardly anyone besides the immediate family and the catering staff was there. The florist arrived. The flowers (at least in Faygy's opinion) were gorgeous. She said that they were a lively and somewhat violent tangerine. The tablecloths however were a delicate shade of pink with mint green trimming. Did you hear the yelling all the way to Montreal? From the way she described the scene, you should have. It took close to a half hour for the decibel level to go down to a high but bearable pitch. By then a small crowd had gathered, and were passive participants in the melee that started out with shocked hostility and soon disintegrated into painful verbal violence... The florist had no options. He couldn't get the amount of white roses needed. It was too late in the game. He offered to give whatever amount of flowers he could get free, and then moved on to offering financial compensation. The bride's mother's tone became more strident. The accusations came thick and heavy. He was a thief. He ruined the wedding. Her daughter would never forgive him for her humiliation on what should have been her happiest day. Then the curses began. “G-d is just: He will see that people hear about his. Your reputation is shot. You’ll see - you’ll soon be out of business”. Downwards! “Your children will have miserable weddings if they marry at all”. And on. And on. Faigy stood silently and watched as the florist cowered and finally left in white-faced shame...
When she told me about it later, she said that she wished she had the courage to stop it. A quiet whisper to the bride's mom, maybe just one sentence or two would have restored sanity: " You can’t change the flowers. Enough! It is your daughter's wedding; let it go". Would it have worked? Maybe. Maybe not. One thing is certain, Faigy said," I couldn't possibly have made the situation worse." Faigy found it hard to forgive herself for not trying.
The similatrities between the Saga of the Orange Flowers and story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza were too close for comfort. In the Talmudic narration where the uninvited Bar Kamtza showed up at his enemy's party because the mail carrier (or second century equivalent) gave him an invitation meant for the host's friend. This led to a similar scene; some things don't change. The host demanded that he leave. The uninvited guest couldn't bear the humiliation and began to bargain. Bar Kamtza's rage at being thrown out (after he successively offered to pay for his potion, half the party and finally the entire party) wasn't directed only at his host. The sages of the time were there, and nobody intervened.
I'm not sure I would have. We don’t know why the host hated Kamtza so much. Suppose that the host's bad feelings weren't based on nothing. Suppose Kamtza had borrowed money from the host, defaulted and as a result, the host had to sell his home at a loss? If you were the host, would you want him at your party? Would it matter how much money he was offering to be allowed to stay? Would it matter that he is your fellow Jew? If you were one of the sages watching the entire drama, are you sure that you would intervene?
I recently saw an essay written by Rav Meilech Biderman. He posed the same question and came back with an answer that rang painfully true. You can't accept someone else's humiliation with a cavalier "gam zu litovah". It's wrong to do this to the victim and TAKE NOTICE! It’s just as wrong to let the perpetrator who is, after all, also your fellow Jew, to dig his hole deeper and deeper. Being Jewish means that you learn to care. Last week's Parshah spoke about the 42 stops that your ancestors made in their trek through the desert on their way to Eretz Yisrael. We are still on the same kind of journey, waiting for Moshiach to lead us to our final destination. The one thing that we know is what the end of the story will be; we are going to get there. The question to ask at this time of year is what you are doing to make it happen. We will be redeemed as a nation, a whole. The more you can rise above thinking of yourself as an island, the more you are creating the headset that makes this kind of redemption possible.
You have huge potentials, share it with others by being the kind of person that you want to be.