“When I was in prison, the officers and the guard would routinely goad me and try to humiliate me by asking me, ‘Did I think I would ever come home, here [in Israel]; would I ever be with my wife Esther,'” Pollard said. “And I always answered them the same way: I would ask them, ‘Do you believe in G-d?’ and most of them would say yes. And then I would ask, ‘Do you believe that G-d can perform miracles?’ and they would say, ‘Sure, of course.’ Well, here we are.”
These words were spoken by Jonathan Pollard.
They weren’t just words spoken in gratitude to Hashem for bringing him home to Eretz Yisrael. These words were spoken when he donated a Sefer torah to the kever of Yosef HaTzadik. There in Shchem, he closed a circle. Like Yosef, his story of heroism in prison will always inspire us, and his faith will always be one of the greatest gifts anyone can give to Am Yisrael.
In this week’s parshah the laws of lashon hara are narrated. Intuitively most people don’t see lashon hara as all that severe. Most of the time the victim doesn’t even find out what has been said about him. Since the halachah defines lashon hara as being true information that is either negative or harmful, many people will assume that as long as what they say is true, there is nothing wrong in saying it. In fact repressing negative feelings or information is often perceived as repression rather than of piety.
The truth is far more complex. Having a cynical, bitter view of life is not rare according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2018:
o Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 48,000 people.
o Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
o There were more than two and a half times as many suicides (48,344) in the United States as there were homicides (18,830). The rate of suicide in the United States is growing. It has increased 35% since 1999.
The way you see life is influenced by many factors. Arguably the most influential factor is your self-talk. If you see your life as worthless, if you see rejection as inevitable, if you feel that your achievements have no meaning, it is hard to maintain a positive attitude towards life. A great deal of self-talk is determined by the social environment you live in. If you hear denigration of others, you have every reason to anticipate rejection. If you hear that the world is meaningless, that people are uncaring, that there are never pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, you have every reason to anticipate living a life that just doesn’t get better.
Lashon hara is a killer.
The Talmud tells you that it kills three people; the speaker, the listener, and the victim. Of the three, the one who is scarred most severely is often the listener. The victim often never even finds out what was said behind his back. The speaker knows that what he says is touched by his own agenda. The listener thinks that what he heard is the way “it” is. Unlike physical harm, which is confined to the area that is attacked, lashon hara can move from one end of the world to the other, especially via today’s media.
The opposite takes place when you hear words that tell you that every moment of life is real, full of purpose, and that connection to Hashem can happen to you or to anyone else moment by moment. If you hear stories of heroism, you learn that social acceptance, success, or rejection isn’t the only way that the value of your life is determined. You learn that no matter where you are, with whom you find yourself, whether or not you have talents that are known and expressed and appreciated, you can still reach out to the place where hope, aspiration, and heroism live.
Jonathan Pollard and his wife, Ester, have done us all a great service by being who they are.
If for whatever reason, you have self-talk that colors the world black, envision the way their faces looked at Kever Yosef, and choose a new color.
Shechem is a place where many tragedies have occurred. In fact, when Avraham entered the Land, he built an alter there because he could foresee the future events that would take place there. He saw Yosef’s brothers selling him to itinerant merchants, Dina his daughter being abducted, and the division of the Jewish kingdom into two segments (interestingly and tragically, when entering the mishkan you would enter through the east. North and south (which is the way the kingdom was divided) the south being loyal to Shlomo’s son Rechavam, and the North rebelling under the leadership of Yeravam ben Nevat, parallel right and left in the mishkan. Yes, the first division of Israel took place by the right and the left separating leading to irreparable tragedy. When you look at today’s Israel, heading to a possible 5th election, the bitterness and divisiveness between the right and left seem to be a replay of our early history.). You would think that Shechem was a place to be avoided. The Sfas Emmes points out an entirely different perspective that you can choose. The word Shchem is an acronym for “Shaim Kavod Malchuso” which means that this is the place of Hashem’s kingdom. This tells you that here, in the place of tragedy is where you choose to let Hashem rule. Or not.
Jonathan Pollard chose to bring hope into darkness. Let his word touch your heart and change your self-talk
All the best,