A PHONE CALL FROM THE GANENNET
Israel is passing some new laws. If a child does not show up in kindergarten or first grade for the first hour of school, the teacher is responsible for calling the parent to find out where the child is. This is meant to be a precaution taken to prevent the type of tragedy that has, unfortunately, struck all too often lately. Good hearted, loving parents, due to the hustle and bustle of life, forget their kids in the car as they start their day at work. If the parent gets a phone call from the kindergarten teacher, the Ganennet,Â within the first hour, asking the parent where the child is, there is a better chance that parents will not forget their kids in the car for the hour it takes to suffocate the child.
I wanted to cry when I heard the father cry on the radio, as he sat shiva over his own daughter. He quoted the Talmud that records how during the time of the Temple Destruction, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai was granted a wish from the Caesar. He asked the Caesar to save Yavneh and its wise men. The Talmud asks how Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who was Hillelâ€™s student, who was one of the greatest Rabbis who ever lived, could make such a mistake, and did not, instead, ask the Caesar to save Jerusalem. The Talmud answers that at times of a decree, G-d takes away wisdom from the wise. People make mistakes, no matter how great they are. The bereaved father said he feels that this was a decree; that G-d made him forget that his daughter was left in the car.
With a glaring lack of sensitivity, the radio show host asked this father the following question: â€œThere are stories about this epidemic lately, on the radio, in the newspapers. Until now, what was your response? Did you say to yourself, this tragedy, this mistake will never happen to me?â€
He cried, and said. â€œWhen the police interrogated me, to establish my guilt, or to prove that it was an accident – they saw how much I loved her, and how hard it is for me to bear this whole tragedy. They decided that what I did was to be considered a mistake, not negligence. A mistake that anyone can make.â€ The radio show host pushed further. â€œBut what did you tell yourself, until now, whenever you heard or learnt about such tragedies? Did you think it could happen to you?â€
He responded, â€œ I never connected stories of forgetting children in the car to myself. I thought it has nothing to do with me.â€
My Parasha sheet is strictly about learning lessons from the Torah, how to live better and more meaningful lives. I do not take lessons from tragedies, for I feel that the loss is always bigger than the lesson. This is why I have a hard time writing this time of year, writing lessons learned from the Churban, as Tisha Bâ€™av is about mourning our Temple, mourning our lack of connection with G-d, mourning our distance from how great we could be and how great we could make the world. But, I want to mention something that the policeman said to the broken hearted father: â€œThis can happen to anyoneâ€. And sometimes, we need to set up a reminder system, a checkup with our rabbi, mentor, coach,Â to bring about awareness and to prevent things from turning out the way we do not want them to turn out.
So many times in life, we do not realize our own mistakes (sometimes bordering on negligence) and their heavy price. During quite a long period, the Jews knew that the Destruction and the consequent tragedies were imminent. For forty years in a row, on Yom Kippur, when the Kohen Gadol would pick the lot of “Lashem” and “La’Az’azel”, the lot of the goat to be sacrificed in the Temple came out in his left hand! Left reflects G-dâ€™s Attribute of Judgment. This meant that judgment, for the Jews, was imminent.Â (Yoma 39). So, why did they not â€œget the messageâ€? Because they said to themselves, â€œThis has nothing to do with me.â€
In this weekâ€™s Parasha , this is the lesson that we learn from the one who kills by mistake. His ax was not well secured, and consequently, he killed somebody, and the price he needed to pay was to go into exile. Why does the one who unintentionally killed go to exile? And why are we still in exile? Exile is the place for people who are not aware of what they are doing. The reason people are not aware of what they are doing is because of how their life is structured. By changing habits, by changing life structure, a person can wake up.
We do not have a Temple because we looked at Judaism as a brand name, not as a vibrant connection to G-d. As if, as long as I am orthodox, I am under the radar. In Yeshiva last week, the Rosh Yeshiva put on a famous speech of Rav Gifter, ztâ€l . â€œI am not an Orthodox Jew. I do not know what an Orthodox Jew is. I am a Torah Jew.â€
What got me thinking about writing this article,Â was a tee shirt Iâ€™ve been seeing every day, when I walk home from Shacharit on Uziel St., in Bayit Vegan. Every day, the same guy, bald, with an earring in his left ear, shorts, and a backpack. His black tee shirt says in big, bold white letters, â€œI AM A NICE GUYâ€. His face looks like he probably stole the shirt from a nice guy. But it has been five days, so far, that he passes me each day, with his shirt. The law of advertising is that after five times of exposure to your message, the acceptance rate reaches 73%. He would have convinced me, but his face gives me the opposite message from that of his tee shirt.
Are we giving mixed messages to the world, to our children, or even to ourselves about who we are? Are we realizing that we think that we love our spouses, children, families, fellow Jews, but we are not being the nice guy our â€œOrthodoxyâ€ says we are? Are we taking Shabbos as a day of Rest from our Cellphones, but not a Day of Connection with G-d?
Tisha Bâ€™av. Three weeks. All the weird mourning customs. They remind us that we are in exile, and that the Churban has a lot to do with each and every one of us. And they are reminding us not to suffocate our Neshamot in this long exile, for our connection to G-d is our only oxygen.