What a stretch.
The last letter that I sent you was over two weeks ago. By the nature of things, that means this letter will be shorter than it should be (even though logically it should be longer) because there is too much to write and too little time to actually get it all down.
The last time I wrote to you, I told you that I would share some of what I saw at the rally for Shmirat HaLashon, better communication. It was awesome. There were over 3, 000 women there. The only reason that they came was to make their lives better by changing both the way that they think and as a result, the way that they speak. Each of the speakers touched upon a specific point. Amazingly, there was no repetition. The point that stayed with me the longest was made by the second speaker, Rav Nissan Kaplan. He is a distinguished Rav, who teaches at the Mirrer Yeshiva. He was frank in telling us that speaking at rallies isn’t really his scene, but that his mother had told him that if even one person changes the way she communicates, then it is worth the effort to adjust his schedule to make it possible for him to come. His point was the value of silence when under emotional stress. He told the story of a man, who I will call Shaul, who had been childless for many years. He had done whatever he could to change things, but the bottom line was that he and his wife still had silence to get up to in the morning, and silence to come home to at night.
He asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky for advice - he felt that he had tried everything. The Rav advised him to find someone who was humiliated publicly and didn’t respond in kind, and to ask that person for a brachah. “Where am I going to find someone like this?” Shaul wondered as he left Rav Chaim’s room. Hashem brought this person to him with His usual providence. Just a short time later, he was at a wedding schmoozing with a friend. Another man came by and said to a third person who was sitting at the table presumably downing a bureika, “So you think you can just come to a wedding and act like nothing happened? You ruined my apartment when you closed your porch. You owe me thousands” Shaul grasped the man’s forearm and whispered, “don’t answer!” The man, who is frum and has learned in yeshivas for years, knew that truth was on Shaul’s side. That didn’t mean that there wasn’t an emotional battle. He won for the moment and kept silent, but the other man continued...”SO you’re; being quiet. That means that even you know that you have nothing to say. Being quiet is the same as agreeing.” Another few moments of verbal abuse followed as a small crowd gathered. Soon they began to get back to the roast chicken and side dishes. After all, how much can you say when the other guy isn’t answering? “Give me a brachah”, Shaul pleaded. The man said, “Look, I’m not some kind of a Rebbe” Shaul persisted, and he finally said, “I hope Hashem gives you kids”. In less than a year Shaul’s first child was born.
The reason that this story is so significant is that it’s the kind of story that would have been enormously important even if Shaul wasn’t at the wedding. The spiritual force that this kind of forbearance releases is far greater than anything that can be described. If Shaul didn’t receive his brachah, the power of the deed would have still effected who knows how many people.
One of our problems is what I call, “retained infancy”. A baby sees everything in terms of himself. If I benefit, it’s worth making some effort. If the rest of humankind benefits, who cares? This attitude doesn’t always change when you get older.
The Talmud tells us that when witnesses testify, they must be told about how awesome a responsibility they have. They should give testimony with trepidation, with deep recognition of the significance of every word that they say. They are told “Be aware that as a consequence of false oaths Hashem can withhold rain, which leads to famine. Some people will say that even when there are seven years of famine, there are still some who will survive. They are then told that war can come from giving false testimony and they retreat into thinking that “no one dies before their time” It’s only when they are told that if they are discovered, they will be known as liars and they will be disgraced. Then, something inside moves them...
You determine what kind of a world we live in. So do I. The headlines that make you think that power politics are where results come from are so illusory (not to mention the nonsense on the social media).
One of the reasons that we all find silence so hard is that it feels demeaning. How can you let someone get away with causing you pain? Emotional pain is real. (Assume just for a moment that the victim in the story actually believed that he was right. How did he manage to keep his mouth closed when a crowd began to gather? How could you expect him to not give back just as much as he got?
The answer, Rabbi Kaplan concluded, is the recognition that suffering in and of itself changes you and is added to your merits. If you really trust in Hashem, you don’t answer evil with evil. You ask yourself different questions.
Maharal explains this idea by telling us that the core of most acts of personal failure stem from arrogance, and buying into the illusion of autonomy from G-d is the usual result of arrogance. If nothing else, when you suffer you face up to your own smallness, and your dependency on Hashem. Being silent and facing the music makes you humble, and can be seen as a gift from Hashem. Now let’s hear how you can change.
New questions became part of your inner dialogue. You find yourself focused outward. “What does Hashem want of me this moment”? Maybe it’s to be humble. Maybe it’s to refrain from doing what I hate seeing other people do to me. When what you face is less dramatic than the story’s narrative, there are other questions to ask. “Why am I facing a person who I don’t feel much for? Maybe it’s to break down a barrier. Maybe it’s to make her feel acknowledged and more validated. Maybe it’s just to give the message, “You’re okay”. You can change lives that way, and draw down more brachah than you can possibly imagine.
When I left the auditorium, I couldn’t help but feel the positivity around me. Everyone wanted to make the ideals that we heard about happen.