Thursday, July 31, 2014

G-d Drives a Chevy Malibu - Reflections on Parashat Devarim 5774

I knew a man, a holocaust survivor, who became a very successful jeweler in America after the war. He sent his kids to the finest schools, his daughters to the most sought-after ballerinas for personal instruction. He spared his children nothing. 

But despite his fabulous wealth, he always drove a Chevy Malibu, lived in an unassuming house and never wore heavy jewelry himself. To look at him in his K-Mart clothes and unfashionable eyeglasses, you'd never guess he was a millionaire. 

I went to Hebrew school with his kids and would occasionally come over to hang out. They were constantly pleading with him to buy designer clothes, to live in a grand estate, to buy a Mercedes. 'We're embarrassed to be seen in this junker of a car,' they would whine. But he was deaf to their pleas.

His was not petty miserliness. He knew something from the War, something about life, that his pampered kids couldn't understand. "You are a Jew. Don't flaunt your money," he would try to tell them, "no one has to know what you have except you and Gcd." But weaned as they were in a culture of conspicuous consumption, they were as deaf to his pleadings as he was to theirs.

In this week's Torah portion, Devarim, Moses begins orating his Last Will and Testament to the Jewish People, and one gets the sense, like my childhood friends, that Old Man Moses and the Jewish people are taking past each other.

Moses begins with a sweeping historical overview, pointing out all the places where the Jewish people messed up along the way. Then Moses says (kind of out of nowhere), "And the Lcrd spoke to me, saying: It is too much for you hanging around this mountain (Mount Seir, the ancestral home of Esau/Edom); turn yourselves to the north (tzfonah)." (Deut. 2:2-3)

The Kli Yakar on this verse says, don't read it as tzfonah, northward; rather, read it as tzfunah, hidden, secreted away. Huh?

He explains: the Edomites and the Ishmaelites, Europe and Arabia, will always feel cheated by you. The Arabs/Islam, because Father Isaac, not Ishmael, received the spiritual heritage of Abraham; Europe/Christendom, because Father Jacob, not Esau, received the blessing and birthright from Isaac. They nurse their grudge, and when you flaunt your success, you only inflame their hatred and jealousy. Rav lachem, it is too much for you; you have too much. Tiptoe around Edom, Gcd is cautioning, with your gifts secreted away. Don't advertise your wealth and success among the nations. It is enough that I know what you have, your hidden treasures, your concealed spiritual beauty. 

The greatest gifts of the Jewish People are not in what you see, but in that which is hidden from the eye. It is in our modesty, in the broadest sense of that term. The stuff that never makes the news; the stuff we don't brag about. 

The true might of the IDF is not in its equipment capabilities and battalion strengths, it's the unrelenting acts of kindness rendered by the IDF to non-combatants. The real story in the Gaza Campaign is not what you're being fed by the media, but in the everyday acts of goodness and common human decency that occur every day and go unreported, because they don't fit the media narrative of the Hamas David to the Israeli Goliath.

Like the field hospital the IDF set up at the Gaza fence to treat injured Arabs:

Like the continued flow of food, water and medical supplies into Gaza from Israel despite a state of war:

Or like the soldiers on a bus headed to the frontlines, who recorded "The Wheels on the Bus" (including the hand gestures) so the little ones back home wouldn't be afraid:

We live in an "olam hafuch", an upside down world, where truth is banished and the lie is king; where celebrities are knaves and nobles are ignored; where the evil prosper and the righteous suffer. Why are we surprised that Israel is demonized and Jews are portrayed as heartless monsters?

And even now, in the run up to Tisha B'Av, which on its surface commemorates every pogrom, massacre and exile ever visited on the Jewish People, there is cause for hope. A hidden treasure lies buried in Tisha B'Av, as the Talmud states that the Messiah is born on Tisha B'Av. In other words, the very seeds of our redemption are planted in our darkest moments of despair.

We probably won't ever convince CNN or the BBC or al-Jazeera of the righteousness of our cause. But we don't have to. We must but continue to follow our inner light and continue to do that which is right; we must connect with one another and search out the sparks of goodness and kindness in the midst of the rockets and terror. If we can do that, "as a father carries his child over difficult terrain," the A-lmighty's Protective Hand will most assuredly continue to hover over us. (Devarim 1:31)

Shabbat Shalom.

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