TO BE A JEW
I am very upset to see an increase in divorce among Jews in Jews. Yet, couples often separate without having a good reason. The parties blame one another and avoid taking responsibility for the situation. The dialogue gets so heated that it usually leads to insults and even fights. Children are the real victims of such conflicts. They move from one home to another often witnessing cursing and yelling. This situation deeply affects their mental health and jeopardizes their future.
There are many reasons for disagreements leading to divorce:
1. It is written in the Torah that the children of Israel were called "Ivrim". The first person to be given this name was our patriarch Abraham. The term "Ivrim" has two meanings:
The first dates back to the time when Abraham understood that the universe had a Creator and a Master.
His contemporaries assumed that the Eternal created the world for Himself. This assumption was very far from the reality discovered by Abraham. At that time people lived in total disregard of laws and without faith. Their permissive and perverted conduct led them to despair because they lived without faith and spirituality. Having understood this, the people started to worship idols, the moon, the stars, the trees, etc... In fact, they were seeking something higher to believe in. But each time it was a setback for they worshipped false-gods.
As we know, the human being is both physical and divine, material and spiritual. The human body is physical and material structure in which the Eternal has placed divine and spiritual elements making spirit and soul inseparable. Indeed, the soul can’t live without the physical body and vice-versa. The Eternal gave man wisdom and sense of equilibrium so that body and soul can live in peace and harmony.
But the soul couldn’t live within a physical body without spirituality. Consequently, the Eternal created the Torah to allow man to sanctify the body and everything he puts in his mouth. The body consists of 248 parts and 365 organs. This totals 613, which corresponds to the number of Mitzvot that G— gave us to observe.
Because of the blessings that man recites before eating any food, he constantly sanctifies his body. The matter in his body is transformed into a divine spirit allowing the body to live side by side with the soul which is a spark of divinity. Therefore, when man says blessings and studies the Torah, he turns his body into a sacred and spiritual place.
When man comes close to the Eternal by studying the Torah and observing the Mitzvot, he "comes from the other side" ("Ivri" means one from the other side of the river) just like our patriarch Abraham did. A man bound to the Torah is able to live with another who is not, even if their opinions are different. Why? Because the first man, as Abraham did, adjusted his convictions to the "other side".
But the person who prefers to live by his own rules and has a permissive behavior without any faith in the Creator and thinks that his successes are due solely to his efforts, this person is worshipping idols which in reality are money and glory. By doing this, he can be compared to Abraham’s contemporaries who believed that since the world was left in neglect they could live on "the other side", leading a life of debauchery. To feed their souls, they worshipped false-gods.
There is another reason why the children of Israel are called "Ivrim". The root of this word is "Avar" (past). This means that instead of being satisfied with everyday life that keeps changing from one day to another, they lived attached to their past. They were bound to the magnificent past of our Saintly Forefathers, and this past is immutable in the image of the Holy Torah revered by our ancestors.
Being still bound to their past, the Children of Israel are different from other nations who live on "the other side". These nations are attached to the present which changes from day to day.
After being sold and reduced to slavery in Egypt, Joseph the Righteous could have profited from his exceptional beauty in order to improve his fate. But instead of trying to look like an Egyptian, he preferred not to change his personality or identity and stay Jewish as he was when he lived with his father, Yaakov, in the Holy Land. This loyalty earned him the name "Eved Ivri" (Hebrew slave). In other words, even though he was a slave, he continued to live on "the opposite side" unlike the other slaves who lived, as the Egyptians did, the way they pleased.
Moreover, despite the mockery of his entourage, Joseph continued to live bound to the past as his ancestors did. This devotion to Judaism earned him the trust of the Pharaoh who, as the Torah tells us, appointed him prime minister of the whole land of Egypt, reserving to himself supreme authority. For he who is loyal to Judaism, will also show his loyalty in other domains.
On this subject, I heard about a Jew who did not observe the Mitzvot to the point of desecrating the Shabbat. One day, this person learned through the newspaper that a private bank was looking for a director. Having many diplomas, he applied for the job. The administrators were impressed by the candidate. But, one of them asked:
- Your name sounds Jewish, doesn’t it?
The candidate said yes. The next question was:
- Do you work on Saturdays?
- Generally, I don’t work on Shabbat. But if I had to close a good deal on a Saturday, I wouldn’t mind opening the bank on this day.
The president of the bank replied:
- Sorry, I’m firing you before even hiring you.
Everyone was surprised by this answer and wanted to know the reason behind it. The president explained:
- This gentleman says he’s Jewish but he doesn’t believe in his Torah which is eternal. Yet, millions of Jews died for being loyal to their faith. Considering this, how can I trust him to manage all the money in my bank?
It is written in the Torah, as well: "When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he is to serve you for six years, but in the seventh year he shall be freed, without cost". The Torah also calls "Ish Ivri" (Hebrew man) the Jew who stole and who is unable to reimburse. The Beith Din (tribunal) sentences him to work for the victim. Why is he called "Hebrew man" and not Jew? Because instead of being righteous and generous like his Saintly forefathers, he stole from his fellow man.
This is why the Torah punished the Jewish slave who freed himself from the study of the Torah and the observance of the Mitzvot by breaking the commandment which forbids stealing. He, therefore, gets cut off from Judaism and assimilates himself with his contemporaries. Thus, he will serve his master as a slave for six years in reference to the sixth of Sivan, the date on which the Children of Israel received the Torah. Since he cut himself from the Torah, instead of being attached to it with all his heart and soul, he will be exempt from studying it for six years until he mends his ways and rectifies the sixth day of Creation, the day of his birth. Only then, he will become free, without owing anything as if he was just born this seventh day, on Sabbath, of this seventh year.
Today, we still praise our ancestors who were always bound to their past and who lived on "the other side" contrary to the other nations of the world.
Unfortunately, silliness is the main cause of divorce today and, strangely enough, it happens often before holidays. Holidays should be a time for joy and happiness within the family. But husbands and wives argue over which parents they’ll spend the holidays with. The parents, on the other hand, instead of staying away from the dispute, meddle in, without considering the repercussions.
There is an explicit Halakha (law) according to which, in the interest of Shalom Bayit (peace within the home), it is better not to spend holidays with any parents. In the first place, the development of a peaceful relationship within a couple should prevail over respect due to parents. It is better for the parents to suffer a little by not spending time with their children than to suffer tremendously by seeing their children destroy each other.
Both spouses should decide, willingly and without arguing, with which parents the holidays will be spent. If an argument is to erupt, G— forbid, the couple should stay at home and invite the parents or visit them at another time.
We should not desecrate the holiday by driving the car when invited by the parents for a meal because the Brakha (blessing) over it will become meaningless and will serve as an excuse to a Hillul (desecration) of a holy day. The intention to observe the Mitzvah of honoring parents turns in fact into an Avera (transgression).
No doubt, reverence for mother and father is a very important precept, so important that the Holy one, Blessed Be He, conceded a part of his honor to man so that he could revere his parents. But if there is a conflict between what parents say and what the Torah teaches, it is the wishes of G— that must take precedence. One should not listen to the parents if it makes us desecrate the Shabbat and the Haggim (holidays). The parents should also understand that if they revere the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and believe in Him, they must first pay their respect to G—. Thus the Eternal will reward them with a good health and blessings and prevent from evil.
A great number of people today follow a new trend and renounce their Hebrew names taking those of other nations, they don’t speak Hebrew and wear inappropriate clothes. Doing so, they break their link with the past of our Saintly Forefathers who for centuries studied the Torah, observed the Mitzvot, refused to assimilate with Egyptians, wore modest clothes, bore Hebrew names and spoke the language of their ancestors. When an individual gets attached to traditions of other nations, he distances himself from Judaism, rapidly assimilates and forgets his eternal Jewish identity. Without the Mitzvot his identity is empty of all meaning. Towards the end of his life, maybe, after seeing that his children became assimilated at a faster rate than he did, he will cry out of remorse and die without telling anyone the burden of his pain. And even after his death, he probably won’t hear the Kaddish because his children never studied Hebrew and are unable to read it.
Today, it is possible to live side by side with the new generation, benefit from the development of the new technologies and, nevertheless, stay faithful to our Jewish past. Both are possible at the same time.
A person who eats Matzah and bitter herbs on Pessah is remembering that the Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt and by doing so, he is bound to his past as if he too was a slave in Egypt.
A person who, in this technological era, fasts on Yom Kippur will certainly be forgiven by the Eternal.
A person who lights the Hanukiyah for eight days is once again identifying with the past of his people and cherishes the miracle of the oil that burnt for eight days instead of just one.
All of them are bound to the past and by observing the Mitzvot, they are building a shield around that prevents them from assimilation. Therefore, they are living "on the other side" while the nations of the world are living on the opposite side.
This being said, how can some people contradict themselves by leading a life of debauchery? One day, they seem to be bound to their past, but the next day, they undergo a drastic change and live in the present, without feeling any remorse for their wrongdoing.
One day, a Jew was invited to the palace of the King of Spain. The King said:
- I have a surprise for you in my palace. Look at all of the paintings and tell me which is out of the ordinary.
The Jew gazed at the paintings for a long time but didn’t see anything particularly interesting. He said to the King:
- They are all very beautiful paintings.
The King said:
- Aren’t you Jewish?
The man replied:
- Yes, I am.
The King then said:
- Don’t you see that 500 year-old painting entitled "A Jew praying with phylacteries on his head and hand"? This work is worth a fortune because it was painted 500 years ago.
Surprised, the Jew answered:
- You mean to tell me, Your Majesty, that 500 years ago, the Jews put on the tefillin?
Leaving the palace, the Jew felt a sincere desire to repent and, as a result, decided to go back to Judaism and started to observe all the Mitzvot.
Why doesn’t the Torah attract as much people as the most insignificant historical monument? Isn’t the Torah eternal, created thousands of generations before the world itself was created? Doesn’t it reveal all the secrets of the Creation? Isn’t it the only hope man has for protection once he dies?
Is it right not to give it the respect it deserves? Is it right to despise it? Is it right to ridicule it and the people who commit themselves to it? Is this behavior fair?
I would like to give you a brief account of two events that happened to me in 1996. In regard to this, I am endlessly thankful to the Eternal for giving me the opportunity to accomplish two great Mitzvot. Maybe only they alone will help me, G— willing, in this world and even in the future world.
One Friday afternoon, I was very tired because of a migraine. I didn’t want to take any phone calls since the problems I was dealing with during the day put me under a lot of pressure. But my secretary kept telling me several times that a lady wanted to talk with me. It was apparently an emergency. I told my secretary that I was very tired and that I was sure that there was no emergency. I was used to hearing the phrase: "Connect me with Rav, please. It’s urgent." But usually, there was nothing urgent. Anyway people who call always think that their questions need an urgent response. Once again, I refused to take the call. But all of a sudden, I felt like a electrical discharge passed through my body. I ran to the phone and said: "How may I help you?"
She told me:
- Rabbi, I am a married woman with children. But there is a man who is courting me. I am supposed to meet him today. Please convince me and give me the strength not to go to this rendezvous. If I go, I know that I’ll no longer be able to live with my husband.
I was rejoiced by this Mitzvah that I had to accomplish and I told myself: "This person must be saved from the sin she is about to commit". The Eternal sent me a mitzvah to do that I wasn’t even looking for and for which the reward is immense. Indeed, he who saves one soul, saves the entire world. How could I fail?
Every person should feel that the world was created for him and that he truly belongs to it. Therefore, I saw myself at the point of saving a Jewish woman’s world. Every person born into this world represents something new, original and unique. The idea is expressed in the Talmudic quotation "Bishvili Nivra Haolam" (It is for me that the world was created). The Eternal could have created thousands of humans in the beginning. But if all of humanity comes from one man, Adam, isn’t it to emphasize each individual’s uniqueness? Everyone in this world can consider himself unique. There wasn’t, isn’t and won’t be anyone in this world similar to anyone else, otherwise there wouldn’t be any purpose for that person to be born.
This reflects reality: Among the billions of people on this earth, not two are alike. Even identical twins are different from one another. The Midrash poses the question: What is the difference between the Eternal and a National Mint? The answer: With the same mold, the National Mint strikes millions of coins, each identical. Any coin with an imperfection is thrown away. But the Eternal. with the same mold, created humans that are all different.
Every person, in relation to his uniqueness, has a unique task to accomplish. Every person, in order to accomplish his obligations in this world should be himself. A Hassidic story illustrates this. Rabbi Zouchia says: "When I’ll confront the Heavenly Judges, they won’t ask me if I’m Moshe Rabenu or Rabbi Akiva. They’ll ask me if I was myself.
That day, thank G—, my influence over this woman prevented her from committing a grave sin.
Another day, a woman came to tell me that she and her husband have money problems and they can’t support their children. Her husband urges his wife, by abusing her verbally and physically, to go to hang around the public garden at night and have, G— forbid, relations with the men who frequent that place. According to the husband, the money she would make would help out the family. This woman was so harassed that she came to see me for advice. What was she to do? I was in dismay. How could a Jew order his wife to indulge in such an abomination. I told her that she should absolutely not, under any circumstances, yield to her husband’s pressure. I told her: "In this case, it is better to divorce that to commit such a degrading act for money; not to mention, the divine interdiction on extra-marital affairs."
Thank G—, the woman followed my advice. A month and a half later she came to see me and said: "Thank you very much , Rabbi, for your advice. Today, thank G—, things are much better. Even my husband is happy that I didn’t do what he ask. He can’t understand himself, how he could ask me such a thing!" She continued: "A miracle happened. The same week I came to see you, city hall, for no apparent reason, closed the garden that my husband wanted me to go to. But when my husband realized the ignominy of his act, he asked me to forgive him. And the garden reopened the same night."
To avoid any misunderstanding between couples, each side should listen to one another without being stubborn. Sometimes, to avoid arguments and quarrels, concessions should be made.
To preserve the Shalom Bayit (peace within the home), one should study the Torah, observe the Mitzvot, in particular the "Taharat Mishpaha" (family purity) complying strictly to the rules of Nida (separation due to monthly menstrual period). Our Sages say that the night the wife returns home after having been in the Mikvah, it is as if the couple just got married. Our Sages also say that even during slavery, the Bnei Israel strictly abided by the laws of Nida and family purity. As a reward for their commitment to these precepts, Jewish women of that time witnessed many miracles. We can even claim that thanks to them, the Bnei Israel were brought out of slavery in Egypt.
During one of my visits to the United States, I asked a lady: "Do you observe the laws of family purity?"
She said: "My husband and I discussed this, and decided that we weren’t made for it and that it wasn’t for us!"
I told her: "Who are you to negate only one of the Torah’s Mitzvot claiming that it is not made for you? And you came for a blessing to increase the Parnassah (revenue) for you and your children? It is of no avail to pray to the Eternal if you ignore family purity and don’t go to the Mikvah." I lectured her lengthily and today, thank G—, she and her husband understand that they were wrong about drifting away from their past and living on the side opposite to the Torah.
In these modern times, there is only one way for man to stay bonded with the past, that is, by observing with all heart and soul the precepts of the Torah and accomplishing the Mitzvot. He will feel that even though he lives in a modern world, he didn’t abandon his ancestors’ ways whose commitment to the past earned them the name of "Ivrim" (Hebrews). Nothing should prevent the occupants of beautifully furnished and luxurious houses from living according to the teachings of the Torah and its Mitzvot.
How many times have Jews who drifted away from their faith, almost completely assimilated, came to me for a blessing? I can’t help saying, how dare they ask me for a blessing if they defied all the Mitzvot and will still continue to live without the Torah and Emunah (faith)?
In Chicago, I happened to visit a Jew in a hospital. For 50 years, he never put on Tefillin, never ate Kosher food, he didn’t know about Judaism. The day he was between life and death, he cried out so loudly "Shema Israel, Hashem Elohainu, Hashem Ehad" (Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our G—, the Lord is One) that all the doctors ran to his bed. How can this be explained? How could a man who never understood the meaning of the Shema express his faith with such fervor? To comprehend this, one should know that every Jew, even the one who drifted away from Judaism, carries deep in his heart a spark which bounds him to the past of his Saintly Forefathers and the Torah that he heard on Mount Sinai, the day it was given to the Bnei Israel. Indeed, all the Bnei Israel were present when the Torah was given to them and all of them heard the Ten Commandments from the Eternal.
Therefore, when the spark is kindled in the heart of the individual, it brings him to the other side and links him once again to his past and to Judaism.
I would also like to recount a miracle that took place in Mexico. This miracle had a great effect on the Jewish community as it did on the local population. The son of a Mexican who was not Jewish, but was working in a business run by a Jew, mysteriously disappeared. It’s known that in Mexico, it is very unlikely to recover a missing child. The Jewish boss said to the boy’s father:
- Come with me. We are going to meet a Jew from France. He is the grand-son of Great Sages. He might be able to help you.
The Mexican family accompanied by Jews, who were comforting them, came to see me. The father of the boy took out a map, pointed at it and asked me:
- Could you tell me where my son is? He’s been missing for a month. Is he dead or alive?
Never in my life, did anybody ask me such a bold question with so much confidence. Looking at the map, I asked myself: "How can I solve this problem? Am I a prophet who is able to decipher mysteries and find a lost child in a country with over 70 million people?"
Everybody in the room, including many Rabbanim, were waiting for my response. I lifted my eyes to Heaven and prayed to the Eternal to help me at least find the appropriate words to comfort this man. It’s in G—’s hands to do what was necessary in order to sanctify His name among all the nations, so that everyone knows that there is one G— in Israel.
All of a sudden, I heard a noise coming from outside. While laughing, somebody said to his friend: "I’m bicycling to Acapulco tomorrow!" His friend answered: "Are you kidding? It’s very far!"
At that moment, I picked up my fountain-pen and threw it on the map. It landed on the exact place where Acapulco is located, leaving a spot of ink. I told myself that it was not a coincidence. It was not in vain that the man was talking about his impossible trip to Acapulco by bicycle. I told the parents: "In my opinion, your son is in Acapulco. He might have gone there with his friends by bicycle or by bus."
The father answered: "That’s impossible! He doesn’t have a bicycle, but he could have ran away because I refused to buy him one."
His words supported my belief that the child was in Acapulco. I told the father: "Go find your boy in Acapulco." The father said: "But where should I look for him there?" I said: "Search the areas where traffic is heavy. Your son is probably making pocket money by washing windshields."
The same day, the parents went to Acapulco. At the central bus station, they found their son. They were very happy to see him. They kissed and hugged the boy and promised not to punish him. That same evening, back in Mexico-City, they came to see me with their son. I can still picture our meeting: the father, the found boy, the mother, the Jewish owner of the business and the two Rabbanim came to thank G— for the miracle He did. I asked the boy: "Why did you run away?"
He answered: "I wanted a bike to participate in the Mexico-Acapulco race. But my father didn’t want to buy me one. I was ashamed not to have a bicycle in front of all my friends who do. So I hitchhiked to Acapulco. I was scared to call my parents. I slept on the street. And to buy food, I washed windshields."
See, how good the Eternal is. When someone prays with all his heart and asks Him for help, the Eternal uses many ways to answer the prayer. There is no need for the one who prays to be a prophet. Remember the words of the two men I overheard about the incredible bicycle trip to Acapulco. These words were spoken so that I hear them and tell the worried parents where their son was. The Eternal helped me because I took those words seriously and I wasn’t afraid to repeat them. I was sure that the Eternal would intervene and His Name would be sanctified. This was the way, thank G—, things turned out.