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.
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.
On Friday afternoon, my hands deep in challah dough, there was a quiet knock on the door from a quiet man whose cause we happily support. He has a Kollel Chatzos, an erstwhile group of men who rise at midnight to learn Torah and Kabbalah all night long. We figure since we're unable to perform this beautiful feat ourselves, we are happy to have a share by proxy in this wonderful endeavor.
He is an assuming man, short and bearded, with kind eyes and an ever-apologetic countenance. He is sorry to disturb on a Friday, but he is not disturbing and we are happy to see him. While he lingers at the door, I venture away from my challah dough.
"Tell me," I ask, "In your kollel, you learn kabbalah. What is being said about...", I gesture vaguely, uncertainly. "About...Moshiach."
He smiles, sadly. I am searching for something deep and mystical; what he offers me is deep and classical.
"It is as the Navi describes," he says, referring to the many passages in Prophets where the era before the Redemption is described in vivid color.
I know it is what the Navi describes. The nations of the world ganging up on defenseless Israel, the mockery and scorn, the impending sense of doom. That is exactly what the Navi describes.
Then he says, "I have heard that Rav Mordechai Eliyahu awoke from his coma briefly and said that he had a dream that Moshiach was supposed to come on Pesach." My husband and I draw a bit closer to the door. "But two great tzaddikim (righteous scholars) prayed that Moshiach would not come."
"But why?" I ask, aghast.
"Because they saw that if Moshiach (Messiah) were to come, not enough of the Jewish People would survive."
It is a deflating moment, a moment that lingers long after the challah has risen and baked. I am reminded of the stark urgency of these turbulent times. When the Jews left Mitzrayim (Egypt), 600,000 strong, that number reflected only ONE-FIFTH of the Jewish nation. Four fifths died. It's a sobering thought, immediately followed by another one: What can we do to be amongst those who will be privileged to greet Moshiach? I really want to find the answer to that question. It is more than a question. It is a plea.
The Nine Days are, for me, depressing, introspective, and frightening. I can almost feel a gasp of relief when Shabbos Nachamu comes; it is like a pent-up emotion, suddenly released, that I was only half-aware was there.
The news headlines don't really help much. With every story I read it is so clear how Hashem is tightening the vise of galus, trying to make us give up and turn to Him so He can finally redeem us. "Oh--the economic crisis wasn't enough for you? Iran's nuclear threat didn't do it? Okay, how about really serious anti-Semitism? No good? Okay, how about rabbonim being arrested so that the whole world will look askance upon Orthodox Jews. Does that hurt? Are you crying "uncle" yet?! No? Okay, how about in-fighting, Jew against Jew--even religious Jew against religious Jew, as in the case of the riots in Yerushalayim over the Hadassah case?" The noose of galus is pulled tighter and tighter, words like "another Holocaust" are bandied around with eery nonchalance.
Aside from the roiling cauldron of fear that dances and grows inside my heart, there's another emotion--I guess I could best describe it as somber self-introspection. It's the voice inside me that says, "You? What a joke! You're not doing enough! What are YOU doing to better your avodas Hashem? How do you ever expect Geulah if you don't get off your seat and start working some more spirituality into your life? What's with the lack of davening? What's with the lashon hara? What about being a good mother and wife? What about exalting Torah properly? How about tznius?!"
What about...what about..what about...ad infinitum. The accusatory finger wags and points and comes up with some pretty startling, downright shameful evidence. Woof.
So I rambled about it to my husband last night, railed against my horrible, less-than self, told him how far I feel and how there's no way that my actions are possibly bringing Geulah any time soon. And my husband--ever so wise!--pointed out something that I believe falls under the category of einfald (genius thought). I have to double-check with him about the source for this idea, but I will reveal it to you now, dear reader, in all its shining simple complexity, in the hopes that perhaps you, too, can benefit from its beauty. He said, "When you tell yourself you're a nothing, you're not very likely to be able to improve. When you tell yourself, instead, 'I am destined for greatness!', you're automatically on different footing. Surely, a person destined for greatness ought to be able to fit in a few small behavior changes each day, working toward a higher Self!"
That's it, folks. For today, I am a person destined for greatness, and all joking aside, it's true--simply because my soul is an immortal piece of G-dliness with magnificent, unlimited qualities. I think I will try to climb out of the doldrums of self-doubt and instead, do something constructive--like mumble a little tefillah. I mean, people destined for greatness do mumble tefillos, don't they?
How do YOU deal with the Nine Days and current world events?
Not like Hamas is shooting rockets a dozen or so kilometres from my home...
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.