Monday, 31 March 2008


Having made Aliyah almost one and a half years ago, I encountered a world unknown to me. Yes, I’d been to Israel numerous times before, lived here for some time, and taken part in Israeli life. But it’s different when one makes the commitment to actually take a stand and say “I’m ready to be a citizen of the Holy Land.” Somehow, when doing this, one enters that world where the Talmud speaks of “Acquiring Israel through suffering.” Suddenly, the flu appears from nowhere, buses stop at bus stops moments before one arrives, banks are closed just when one needs them (and possibly just after one arrives from now having caught the bus after the bus above!)

I can’t say life can be easy living with people who’ve been brought up with a value system different to one’s own, and I often feel like perhaps I’m right here in Egypt, when in fact, I’ve actually left it! I continually question the Torah obligation of rebuking my fellow Jew, or that other most important obligation of “Loving one’s fellow Jew as oneself.” And just where does one draw the line between these two most important apparently contradictory commandments – neither one being any less important than the other? After all, love is the necessity, but without some measure of discipline, one opens the way to matters that can even affect one’s health. While children may enjoy 3 scoops of ice-cream on a warm summers day, dad knows only too well, that little Levi might just end up with a tummy ache! So when and how does one use one’s judgment correctly?

Sometimes, I’ve felt stronger about the judgment factor, to a degree that I wonder just when all this exuberant love stashed away inside me will let loose! In fact, at just about the time I’m ready to let go of it all – something happens yet again (call it missing that very important bus if you like) – judgment kicks into action, and it seems like the love was just never there!

Yesterday, as I peered outside my window from my apartment, an event occurred that made me feel like giving up on it all. Well, I don’t mean everything. I do mean however, that perhaps I should give up – even with the judgment. The situation is irrelevant for this article, but coming from a quiet, refined home and family, I simply could not put together what I was seeing or hearing – right here in the Holy Land. Apparently, as I was told, the behavior was normal Israeli etiquette! After expressing my concern to a number of rabbis, I realized I just wouldn’t get anywhere, and so took some “time-out”, contemplated my concern for improving the behavior of others and resigned myself to just staying away from correcting the world. It’s certainly no job for me!

Coming out of Purim – and living with the times – something else happened today that turned everything around yet again. Some time back, I had received a beautiful image of the Tree of the Sefirot – a Kabbalistic image showing the basic structure of G-d’s “tools” and “system of control” in the world. Based on it’s mystical meaning, and the particular love I have for the inner most parts of Torah, this piece of art was appreciated, save for one thing! The artist had drawn the image the wrong way around. Well, it really depends on how one looks at things for something to be the wrong way around. In this case however, the normal flow of the image is to show “kindness” on the right side (which it actually is) and “severity/judgment” on the left (which it actually is.) The artist had however swopped the Sefirot (emanations) around. The only thing I could come up with logically in my mind was that the artist had the intention of showing the image as it would be presented as if one were looking at it facing towards one – rather than the actual way it should be represented.

While this may have been the case, it was still not the standard way of showing the actual emanations in their correct positions. It worried me, since I felt that if one is displaying a Torah image – or structure – in a certain way, it should be done in accordance with the Torah’s normative way of representation. This image, was however, (intentionally) drawn incorrectly.

I did want to hang it up – but felt that I could not let others see something which does not fit in accordance with the Torah’s way of things, and so I wrote to the author/artist. I guess, my “sense of judgment” once again got the better of me. I remember seeing the Lubavitcher Rebbe on various DVD’s pointing out to people that when things are done, they should be done correctly! To such a degree, the Rebbe is seen informing a rabbi who had designed a three dimensional image of the Temple, that a certain part of it was not to scale. The Rebbe doesn’t tell him directly though – but rather hints that it appears to him as if it hasn’t been built to scale. One of the parts of the model was a little too short to fit the exact measurements. The average person might need rulers and much time to see the inconsistency, but the Rebbe saw this in a brief moment with just his eye! The rabbi (having already put much effort into doing things exactly correct) goes home, measures the work, and realizes the Rebbe’s correctness, and changes the image to be reflected in accordance with the exact scale. Indeed, he had been just 3 millimeters off!

I suppose I felt the same way about this image. I was upset that it just had not been done correctly. Why should I care in any case?! Most people would probably hang up the image because of its beauty. Did it really matter that it wasn’t drawn to fit the Torah’s requirements exactly?! In two worlds about the dilemma between criticizing another and loving my fellow Jew, I did not know what to do. But I went ahead and notified the artist that the image had been done incorrectly.

This happened some time ago already, and today as I checked my email, I noticed a message from the artist. In it, she acknowledges the error made, and more so informs me that she has changed the image to reflect its correct structure – and offers to send me a free copy of the new drawing!

I’m no authority on how to love my fellow Jew (although I’m trying hard!) And, I’m definitely no authority on how to correct another either. To strike the exact correct balance is a lifetime of work! I’m trying to work on both. But, after having finally thought to myself of the unimportance of correcting another – after my ordeal yesterday – especially from the criticisms of those already “in the know”, I realized today that in fact we are all in need of improvement, and have the right to let another know when things are not done correctly. It is through this that the world becomes a better place to live in – a cleaner one, a healthier one, one filled with more wisdom, goodness and kindness.

Whether a drawing or a mode of behavior – it is not for us to be silent. We are here for the purpose of helping each other, both in the sense of giving to them, as well as teaching them the right way to behave. We are not here to watch others humiliate themselves as they lead their lives as they wish to, but rather we are here to be guides for others when necessary. It is unacceptable to let others be, in the way they want – just because this has become their society and ways of doing things. Torah is about growth and working on oneself, one’s relations with others – and actually – yes – being there to teach another too, whether one’s own child or another’s who one might never have even met!

I guess there are some rabbis of the opinion that one who censures another for their incorrect behavior is acting immaturely and should grow up and that it is for him to improve himself. But I learned a far bigger lesson today. I learned that in fact, there are many people who actually may not know how to, or may in fact wish to improve themselves if only they knew how! They may even appreciate the “rebuke.” Sometimes, we are the one’s who may have the keys to open the doors of the “how” for another. If so, it’s not enough for us to simply be quiet and sulk regarding the bad behavior of others. It’s our duty to help them. To love them… but to make them aware that some things are just not done.

The love of a parent towards his/her child is probably the strongest love that can exist. Yet, it is only through holding back and discipline (the very two emanations that were the wrong way around on the drawing) that the love will find itself expressed correctly. Through the correct discipline and rebuke of a parent towards his/her child, the loving relationship between parent and child is in fact one which is heightened and appreciated when the child grows up later to become a mature and responsible adult giving of himself to the rest of the world.

Just as parents share this mutual love/discipline relationship with their children, so too must each Jew incorporate these character traits within themselves and express them outwardly in order that others benefit. Through this, in fact, not only is there not an issue of immature judgment against another, but instead, a mutual expression of love and kindness between two Jews, thereby bringing further goodness and kindness and mature responsibility that each of us have towards our fellow Jew. As a result and through this “rebuke” we allow for each of us to actually reach our potentials becoming the great people we really can become!

As the prophet Micah (6:8) says “He has told you – man – what is good? And what does G-d require from you, except to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly before your G-d?”

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