If you saw him screaming like I saw him screaming, you would also stare--no, gape!--and hide your eyes in disappointed disbelief.
You would also grab your child with that firm, horrified look that said, "What a nut! Let's get away from him!" and walk away, sneaking a backward glance at the way his eyes bulged out and his voice shook the neighborhood.
"Doesn't he have any shame?" you might say, aloud or to yourself. "To yell like that? And at a young child no less!"
The boy, caught in the crossfire of the angry, bellowing voice, doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry. He stands, almost transfixed, by the raging, smashing anger as the words crash down upon him.
"You leave my wife and kids ALONE! Do you hear me?"
It looks like any moment now, those trembling hands will reach out and strike the slight boy whose eyes are slightly widened now, maybe anticipating the blows.
You would also wonder at the unchecked anger, at the hostility and venomous words.
But I don't.
I sigh. His wife and children are regulalry singled out for mistreatment. He fights an uphill battle every day. For acceptance. For tolerance. For respect. This boy is just one in a hundred boys who has hurled sticks and stones and ugly words. The roiling rage today is just a vented slit in a pot filled with steam that has been simmering since this shaking, aching man met and married the noble woman I am proud to call a friend. Whose skin is black like a midnight that cannot ease into dawn. Until we all wake up.
So I was in middle of washing the dishes when this blogpost came to me and I burst out laughing. Y'know how it is: "We interrupt this regular programming for some good, old-fashioned humor". The dishes certainly don't mind me abandoning them! Here goes...
A CNN news story announced that Mr. Gadhafi, the tenuous leader of anarchy-ridden Libya, had a wonderful way to elicit support: among other things, he was promising university students free Masters degrees if they would protest in the streets on his behalf. Now, I've heard of monetary incentives, candy, toys, even free cars or liquor, but...Masters degrees? I thought that was simply hilarious. Which led to my mid-dishwashing musings. Imagine the following scenario:
"Hello, have a seat. I see you've come to apply for a position in our company."
"Your resume says you're an electrical engineer."
"Hmmm...must have been a challenge to work all those years for this Masters degree, huh?"
"Absolutely. My arms are sore from sign-waving; my throat's been hoarse for a week from all that chanting."
"Er, sign-waving? Chanting? Is that part of the electrical engineering coursework nowadays?"
"Oh yes. It's a rigorous program, sir, but worth it in the end."
"I see. Now, I'd like to look over your transcripts, if I may. Our company is seeking the best, the brightest, the very cream of the Libyan crop..." Peruses a single sheet of paper. "Strange. I see only the grades for one semester here."
"Yes, sir. That's all I have."
"Now hold on just one moment, young man. You say you graduated with a Masters in Electrical Engineering. But you attended only one semester of Libya University?"
"B-but how can that be? You must be a genius...a wonderchild!"
Interviewee smiles modestly and blushes.
"Oh no, sir. I protest..."
Forget Touro and other fast-track vocational training programs--we can just send our seminary girls over to Libya! :-) I hear Gadhafi's offering free pilot licenses next.
Kids really DO say the darndest things, y'know? And it's always EXACTLY what you need to hear! Let me give you this little anecdote.
We're sitting at the Shabbos table on Friday night, just shmoozing. That's me and my kids, mind you; hubby's flat out on the couch for a post-chicken soup snooze. And it's one of those lazy, delicious conversations where everyone's chilled and just chatting, when suddenly...DEATH strikes!
Don't you love it? Kids and death. There's this fascination, this macabre romance children have with morbidity and beyond--not unlike us adults, only we suppress it. Here's the way the convo unfolds:
Child: It's so sad that So-and-So died. She'll never see her grandchildren and great grand-children...
Me: Yes she will. People who leave this world aren't gone--they're still living, just in another world.
Another child: Really?
Child: Then why is it sad when people die?
Me: It's sad for US because we miss them here. But it's happy for THEM because they're in the Next World, in Gan Eden (literally: the Garden of Eden, commonly referred to as "Heaven").
Child thinks for awhile.
Child: Mommy, do you think I'm going to Gan Eden?
Me: Of course!
Child: Yeah. Well, I'm just getting started doing mitzvos (good deeds). I think I'm going to go to Gan Eden after 120.
Me: Uh huh.
Child: Mommy, do you think YOU'RE going to Gan Eden?
Me: Hmmmm... Well, I never really thought about it. I sure hope so. Some days are better, some days are harder, but I'm definitely trying.
Child: Well, I hope you go to Gan Eden because I want to see you there!
Now tell me something. Where, in the world, would I be without my kids? Certainly not wondering about whether I'm going to Heaven! :-) But seriously--have YOU ever thought about whether you're going to Gan Eden before?
I met a woman who recently delivered at a natural birthing center, in a pastoral setting (ie. not a hospital), who went home three hours after giving birth to bond with her other children, and she described her experience as serene and immensely spiritual. She also does yoga.
I gave birth in a hospital--albeit naturally--where I stayed for three days wonderibg how in the world I would manage when I got home. I've endured a total of one yoga class my entire life.
I met a woman who wears blazers, pencil skirts, and silk scarves everyday, and patent leather shoes. And it's not a job requirement.
The only blazers I own are collecting dust in my closet and if I wore a scarf it would be of the woolen, outerwear variety.
I met a woman whose house is prepetually clean and she loves spending all afternoon playing with her children.
My house is perpetually messy and I never feel like I've played with my kids enough.
I just finished watching a sixty-minute video called Iranium, a very well-done production advertised through Aish.com that brings to light the development of the Iranian nuclear weapons program and the true threat it poses to the entire world. The movie, featuring some very intelligent interviewees, some very gory footage, and a chilling script, is really quite frightening. But honestly, the conclusions offered at the end of the screening are even more frightening.
What can we do to derail Iran's nuclear program and thus prevent the possible annihilation of millions of people? throbbed the message throughout the movie. I sat through sixty minutes, expectantly, waiting for the million-dollar answer to the billion-dollar question. And yet, when it was over, the "What Can I Do to Help" link gave several options: Stop supporting Iran's nuclear program, Sign the petition, Circulate the movie, Write a letter, and Support the Iranian people (I am approximating here, but I think I'm being pretty accurate).
If you're a politically correct human being with fairly Western views on life, you may be surprised to hear that I was disappointed and frightened to see this litany of "helpful actions". Let me explain.
The Iranian threat is not a new idea; it was prophesied centuries ago and recorded in several places in Tanach (the Bible). In fact, Judaism is never surprised by the rise of new terrorists; we expect it. It's just one of the facts of life-after-Eden: Esau despises Jacob, and he will do so until the end of time. Yishmael (Ismael, the father of Islam) plays an enormous role in the Final Redemption and, indeed, we know that the Geulah (coming of the Messiah) will be preceded by Yishmael and Esau fighting each other over the Jews. So Iran is perfectly punctual, right on time for world events. But that's just the background. The really important thing in all this nuclear weapons stuff is this: we are told the panacea to all the world's ills. It's teshuvah, return, recommitting ourselves to Torah and mitzvos. All the evils and torments of world history have only one purpose for the Jew: to goad us into re-connecting with G-d. He is waiting for us.
But signing petitions is so much easier, so much more doable and REAL than, say, reciting Psalms or making up with an estranged sibling, or whatever other spiritual step needs to be taken. It may seem counterintuitive to be standing in solem prayer instead of writing letters to Obama to pretty-please put more sanctions on Iran. Yet in looking at the hard facts, there's almost no one who will deny that it will take a miracle to derail the Iranians from their devious machinations.
I'm not advocating complete passivity; Judaism has always encouraged action. Indeed, Jacob's first encounter with his nefarious brother, Esau, exemplifies this principle. He prepared in three ways--first with prayer (y'hear that? FIRST with prayer!), second, by sending a gift (pacification), and third, by preparing for war. In doing so, he taught us an eternal lesson in how to confront an enemy.
Well, applying this biblical lesson to current affairs, and especially where Iran is concerned, it's pretty clear we've got the pacification part down pat! And, at times, we've done the war thing, too. But what about the prayer? When does that come in?
I speak not to you, dear readers; I speak to my own dormant heart.
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.