Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | June 27, 2018

Close Your Eyes

Have you ever walked in when your child was trying to prepare a surprise for you?  You have to close your eyes, turn around really fast, and pretend that you didn’t see anything.

Boy hiding his eyes

Even if you see pipe cleaners, glue, glitter, and construction paper all over, and she asks what you think the surprise is, you have to guess something like a cupcake or a new car.  When your son says, with a big grin on his face, “You’re going to be really upset with my score on the Chumash test,” you have to scowl and feign consternation until he “shocks” you by telling you that he really got a great mark.

Let’s say you see someone dancing at a wedding and he splits his pants.  You quickly avert your gaze and pretend that you didn’t see him.  Or someone rushes to come in to shul but had the time wrong and just catches the end of davening.  You look away and pretend you didn’t see him so he shouldn’t be embarrassed by realizing that you witnessed his misfortune.

Say you’re getting an oil change and the people in the shop are watching the game on TV.  You have no interest (because it’s not your team, or because it’s the World Cup and Nigeria is playing Uganda.)  You tune out and calmly go about your business of reading the old car magazine you found there touting the latest technological advances (“Announcing a portable GPS system for your car!”)

What this means is that we have the ability to selectively see things.  We can tell our brains to edit out certain things which we deem unimportant, valueless, or harmful.

It is ironic, then, that when it comes to other people, especially those who are “different” from us, we often ignore their best qualities and focus on what we dislike.

Say someone says dumb things.  She speaks arrogantly and doesn’t talk nicely to people.  You can write her off entirely, or you can say, “I know that she helps out a tzedaka organization and is very devoted to her family.”  We should accentuate the positive and simply close our eyes to the negative, unless we can help her change, or warn others not to act that way.  Either way, we should never negate all that’s good and wonderful about her.

Maybe the fellow next to you in shul doesn’t wear a hat and you do.  Or you don’t and he does.  And maybe he’s talking when he should be davening.  While that is an awful thing (the talking, not the hat) if you only had nine men in shul and he walked in, you’d be overjoyed to see him because he completes the minyan.  In that case, you’d be able to close your eyes to your differences and focus on what’s similar.

I heard an amazing story about a fellow in a taxi in Israel.

The cab driver was smoking and the man said, “It hurts me that you’re smoking.  It’s terribly unhealthy.”  The cabbie sneered and made some remark about the man being a Chareidi and why should he care about the cab driver’s health.

“My Rebbi taught me that we’re all brothers,” said the man.  “I truly care about you and do feel pain that you might become ill.”   “Oh yeah,” replied the taxi man, “Who is your Rebbi?”

“His name was Adolf Hitler,” replied the passenger.  “He said it doesn’t make a difference how you look or what you observe.  When they put us into the ovens, we Jews were all the same.”

Whoa! Now THAT’S a perspective on Ahavas Yisrael.

When Bilaam tried to curse Klal Yisrael, one of the things he said was, “Lo hibit aven b’Yaakov,” HaShem doesn’t see sin in the Jewish People.  That is not to say that there isn’t sin, but that HaShem often chooses to look away and focus on the good in His people.

If HaShem, Who is responsible for reward and punishment, does this, shouldn’t we, who are not supposed to judge our fellow man, be looking away more frequently?  If someone isn’t the same “type” as we, does that make them less of a child of HaShem?  Absolutely not!  There are twelve tribes, and each has its own way of serving HaShem.  Who’s to say that any one way is “the right way” or that another way is wrong?

It is strange that when dealing with people who have never been exposed to Yiddishkeit we are happy to accept them as they are and we go out of our way to befriend them and help them see the joy of being a Jew, and yet, when we deal with people who are practicing Jews, but they don’t look exactly the same as we do, or don’t share all our opinions, we are ready to call out the dogs on them and cast them into a flaming abyss.  Shouldn’t we feel that they, too, deserve our warmth and love at least as much?

Klal Yisrael is compared to a bundle of sticks.  When we are bound tightly together, we are unbreakable – even if some are straighter, some are more bent, some are lighter, and some are darker.  When we are divided though, even the most perfect, straight, and smooth stick can be easily snapped in two.

We are now in the Three Weeks, the time when we mourn the losses of Kedusha in Klal Yisrael.  The Luchos, the korbanos, the Batei Mikdash.  Nearly all the tragedies that befall us could be prevented by unity.  So what keeps us from that?  The fact that we’re constantly focused on our differences, instead of our similarities.  If we were to avert our gaze, and try to see the good in others instead of being judgmental, we could be blessed by HaShem in kind and He would look away from our sins.

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