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"We Know Nothing, Nothing!"

03/28/2019 03:08:46 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

There is a story told by a colleague that comes out of Bait Ya'akov of Baltimore about a couple who had been Torah and mitzvot observant before the Shoah (the Holocaust).  Sadly, but not unexpectedly, after experiencing the horrors of the Shoah, the husband dropped all religious observance.  Because the wife was able to retain her belief in Hashem and Torah despite of all the tragedy she had witnessed and experienced, she insisted that her husband should at the very least go to shul simply because he was still, and always would be, a Jew.  Nevertheless, he steadfastly refused to go.  After arguing about it for a while, the wife finally said: : "You know, each morning you run out to buy the newspaper and come and read it from cover to cover.  As a personal favor to me, could you please buy your newspaper and take it to shul and read it there?  I'm not asking you to go there to daven.  Just go there and read your newspaper and make me happy."  Because the husband wanted to please his wife, he agreed to her request.  For years, he would go to shul each morning and sit in the very back and read his newspaper while everybody else davened.

Now I ask you: If you saw a man coming into the CSS morning minyan each day the just to read the  newspaper, never once putting on a tallit or tefillin, never once opening a siddur, how would you react?  Even if you said nothing or did nothing about it, wouldn't you think that this person is a sheigetz?  Would you not think that he is being totally disrespectful to the shul, to Judaism, to Hashem?  Would you not wonder why he cannot read his newspaper at home?  Well, if you thought any or all of this, I would not necessarily blame you.  That would be the expected reaction.  But, believe it or not, that is not how the congregants of this shul reacted.  Not only did they not chastise this man, they actually befriended him.  After davening was completed, they would schmooze with him.  If a yahrzeit was being remembered, they would invite him to join them for a "l'chaim."  So what eventually happened?  You guessed it: he stopped reading his newspaper, started davening three times each day, and eventually became the shul president.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Semini, we read the following: "But this is what you shall not eat from among those that bring up their cud or that have spilt hooves: the camel, for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split --- it is unclean to you; the hyrax, for it brings up its cud but its hoof will not split --- it is unclean to you; and the hare, for it brings up its cud but its hoof has not been split --- it is unclean to you." (VaYikra 11:4-6)  In these verses we have a combination of three different verb tenses: past, present, and future.  Why?  Rav Yisrael Salanter, zichrono livrachah (may his memory be for a blessing!), that this passage shows us how we cannot, before know someone's past, present and future, judge that this person is tamei (unclean, impure, unworthy).  If you do not know everything about the person you are about to villify, you must not be so quick to declare him/her tamei.  The members of the shul in the story did not know that this man was not reading his newspaper as an act of defiance against HaShem.  He was reading it to please his wife in spite of how he felt about Judaism because of what he had experienced during the Shoah.  Because they knew nothing about his past, his present, or his future, they accepted him as he was and became much richer for it.  We should do no less!

Sun, September 15 2019 15 Elul 5779