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You Won’t Believe What This Man Did for His Competitor

on Wednesday, February 13 2019. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for Shea LangsamIn January, a fire destroyed the building that housed Yossi Heiman’s Fish Market in Borough Park, Brooklyn, leaving him with no place to operate his business and no ability to draw income. Shea Langsam owns a similar store, Fish to Dish, just a few blocks away.  One would have thought that as sympathetic as he may be for his competitor’s poor fortune, he would welcome this opportunity to acquire new customers and increase his business.

Instead, Shea did something truly remarkable.  When he learned of the fire, he picked up the phone and called his competitor.  “When he [Yossi] said that he needs a facility to process and deliver orders for his customers, I said, ‘Why not join me in my store?’ As fellow community members we all try to help each other as much as we can.”  Shea received an official citation from New York State Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein for his incredible kindness, welcoming his competitor to operate out of his space until the store could be rebuilt.

The story is extraordinary for many reasons.  It is an example of seeing fellow community members as part of one family, putting their needs ahead of our own aspiration to make more money or grow our business.  But the story is exceptional for another reason:  It is a truly genuine display of true faith, a great example of emunah and bitachon not existing in the form of empty lip service, but being put into practice in a very real way.

When I saw this story, I was immediately reminded of a powerful passage in the Chazon Ish’s Emunah U’Bitachon:

What we see in life is people like Reuven, who is a moral person, always speaking of trust in Hashem, condemning excessive efforts in life, and expressing his abhorrence of constant pursuit of financial means.  Indeed, he is a successful person: he lacks no customers in his store, and he does not need to expend efforts in that direction.  He loves the concept of trust in Hashem, because even that concept smiles upon him.

And suddenly, we are surprised to see Reuven, that great truster in Hashem, conferring secretly with his assistants and consultants as to how to stop a potential rival who plans to open a store just like his.  Reuven is very upset by this threat; at the beginning he keeps his feelings to himself, because he is embarrassed to reveal them to his acquaintances, fearing their derision.  But with time, he loses his sense of shame, and begins to act openly with the aim of preventing the rival from carrying out his plan.  Gradually he gravitates towards the crooked path, and his sense of shame evaporates:  he openly commits low and deplorable actions – in public.  The competition between him and his rival becomes widely known and is the talk of town – and still he feels no shame, but rather comes up with baseless and untrue reasons and explanations in order to justify his actions.

Over time he becomes even more sophisticated and adds new explanations, claiming that everything he is doing against this rival is for the sake of Heaven and is morally acceptable.  He actually fools himself into believing this, and fools others as well – simple people or those who love a good fight, and usually he attracts fight mongers, and gossip lovers; Satan creates peace between them all so that they can build a stable fortress of strife and arguments, speaking evil of others, lies, tale bearing and baseless hatred – all of which shorten men’s lives.

The Chazon Ish is describing a phenomenon of people who daven with great kavannah, talk about God and divine providence frequently, regularly employ expressions like “Baruch Hashem,” “Be’zras Hashem,” “Imirtza Hashem,” “Chasdei Hashem,” and yet when the rubber meets the road, they totally abandon faith and erase God from the picture.  One cannot talk about believing in God and then be ruthless in business, undercut competitors, take excessive initiative or be paralyzed with anxiety and worry about things beyond our control.

True faith in Hashem means catching ourselves before getting anxious about our competitors or feeling fear about our income and reminding ourselves that while we should take initiative, work hard, be creative, and have ambition, we must leave the rest to Hashem, our senior partner in any enterprise.

Minimally, emunah means we need not worry, but Shea Langsam has taught us that living with emunah can mean even more.  With faith in Hashem, we can even find the capacity to help a competitor, recognizing that Hashem can partner with both of us and bring us each great success and prosperity.

The pasuk in Tehilim (81:10) says Lo yiheyeh becha el zar, which is usually translated as don’t have among you a foreign god. The Kotzker Rebbe offers an alternative, fantastic homiletical interpretation.  He explains, don’t relate to God as a zar, someone who is foreign, distant and a stranger.  Don’t talk about God while failing to maintain a real, personal and intimate relationship with Him.

We talk about God a lot, we even claim to talk to God three times a day.  But many of us leave Him in shul, we say goodbye when we close the siddur.  Real emunah means taking Hashem to work with us and feeling not only His presence everywhere we go, but His partnership and investment in us and in our success.

Torah and Research Both Say This Is the Most Important Factor to Make Emotional Intimacy Possible

on Thursday, February 7 2019. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for behind the curtain privacy

Despite what you may have been told as a child, sharing is not always caring.  In fact, oversharing with everyone, shows a lack of caring to the people we claim to want to feel closest to.

We are living in a transparent generation where the trend is towards sharing in the extreme. Over coffee with friends, at the water cooler with co-workers, and increasingly on social media, people are revealing more and more about their personal lives, their innermost thoughts and feelings, and their most private experiences.

In theory, the movement towards greater sharing should yield better relationships, closer connections, and improved capacity for emotional intimacy. After all, being open with a person is a fundamental part of connecting with that person. And yet, more and more research confirms that in fact it is doing the opposite. An obsession with sharing and a proclivity for being revealing actually damages relationships, hurts self-esteem, increases anxiety, lowers self-control, and breeds narcissism.

In Judaism, the more valuable and treasured something is, the more private and protected we keep it. The more it is accessible, revealed, and exposed, the cheaper it becomes. Indeed, the Torah’s perspective is that genuine intimacy is achieved when something is private, exclusive, and inaccessible to others. This is true physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The less we practice privacy and modesty in each of these arenas, the greater the challenge we have achieving authentic intimacy in them.

A New York Times article on privacy and sharing on the Internet began, “Imagine a world suddenly devoid of doors. None in your home, on dressing rooms, on the entrance to the local pub or even on restroom stalls at concert halls. The controlling authorities say if you aren’t doing anything wrong, then you shouldn’t mind. Well, that’s essentially the state of affairs on the Internet. There is no privacy.”

The article continues by quoting research that confirms what the Torah has known all along: “The problem is that if you reveal everything about yourself or it’s discoverable with a Google search, you may be diminished in your capacity for intimacy. This goes back to social penetration theory, one of the most cited and experimentally validated explanations of human connection. Developed by Irwin Altman and Dalmas A. Taylor in the 1970s, the theory holds that relationships develop through gradual and mutual self-disclosure of increasingly private and sensitive personal information.

‘Building and maintaining an enduring, intimate relationship is a process of privacy regulation,’ said Dr. Altman, now an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Utah. ‘It’s about opening and closing boundaries to maintain individual identity but also demonstrate unity with another, and if there are violations then the relationship is threatened.’”

Our parsha, Terumah, introduces us to the layout and floor plan of the Mishkan, the holy Tabernacle. The outer courtyard hosted the altar where sacrifices were offered. The Kodesh, or the holy section, housed the menorah and the shulchan. The last section was the Kodesh Ha’Kadashim, the Holy of Holies that housed the Aron and was only entered by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. Our sacred ark which held our sacred luchos and the original Torah scroll was in the most private and inaccessible part of the Mishkan.

Rabbi Soloveitchik suggested that we model our personal lives after the structure and layout of the Mishkan:

From the time I was young, I learned to restrain my feelings and not to demonstrate what was happening in my emotional world. My father would say that the holier and more intimate the feeling, the more it should be concealed. There is a hidden curtain that separates between one’s interior and the exterior: “and the dividing curtain shall separate for you between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.” What location is more sanctified than the inner sanctum of one’s emotional life?

In this world “devoid of doors” we need to be all the more mindful to keep our paroches, our curtain up, and protect the Holy of Holies of our lives. This is not to suggest that one should not share his or her emotions and feelings at all and keep them bottled up; obviously that is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. But the Holy of Holies was seen by a selective audience, only the Kohen Gadol.

Share your strong feelings, innermost thoughts and personal emotions with your spouse, or a family member you trust, or a close friend or confidant. But, not every thought or feeling needs to be made public. Not every personal experience or event merits sharing. Not every moment of frustration or point of pride with your job, with your children, or with your experience at a restaurant needs to be fodder for Facebook or with friends.

Failing to be judicious and thoughtful in what and how we share profanes our lives and makes achieving intimate relationships difficult. Preserving our paroches, maintaining the capacity for privacy and mystery, ultimately protects our Holy of Holies and elevates all the relationships in our lives.

Are We Playing God? Leadership, Vaccination and a Communal Policy by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg & Rabbi David Shabtai, MD

on Wednesday, January 23 2019. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for vaccines

The ultimate measure of a leader is not where he or she stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he or she stands in times of challenge and controversy, when decisions bring about uncomfortable consequences.

In a recent post titled “Vaccines and Jewish Leadership Hypocrisy,” a colleague and friend of ours challenges a policy that wetogether with Jewish institutions around the countryhave instituted, which prohibits non-vaccinated children from attending or participating without a valid medical exemption. He argues:

This has nothing to do with religion. This has to do with a philosophy of health …This is not to suggest we are not to take care of ourselves! Or seek medical attention when we are ill. But it is to suggest that there are different philosophies of medicine. Vaccination is one route. Clean and healthy living is another. Certainly bringing God into the equation is another.

Such an approach is not only wrong, it is irresponsible and dangerous, particularly coming from a rabbi and community leader. The “question” about vaccination is not one of lifestyle. It is not comparable to a debate about veganism versus vegetarianism versus carnivorism,or whether coffee is good or bad for you. Plain and simple, regardless of your “philosophy” or approach regarding health, “clean and healthy living” doesn’t prevent measles, mumps or influenza or from transmitting them to others. Vaccination is about far more than personal choice. Because we all interact with one another and potentially transmit diseases to one another, vaccination is about public policy and public health.

Here are some basic facts about measles that the average person, including those who vaccinate, may not be aware of but that inform the new policy and why we feel strongly about it.  We have no reason to think about them any differently than statistics about diabetes, breast cancer, or lead poisoning that help us make informed decisions in our lives and help set policy for the communities that we are responsible for.

  • Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known to man, so contagious that nine out of ten non-immune people (which includes all infants under the age of 1) will contract the disease just from being exposed to someone with measles.
  • Measles can spread by simple breathing and can remain in the air even 2 hours after someone with measles has left the area and can be spread by someone before they develop any symptoms themselves.
  • Even after receiving both recommended doses of the MMR (measles mumps and rubella) vaccine, there is a statistical likelihood that 3 out of every 100 vaccinated people are still susceptible to these diseases.

Put simply, illnesses that were thought to be virtually eliminated have not only resurfaced but are close to epidemic proportions with over 170 cases of measles in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, just since September. What happened? Unvaccinated children and adults have provided fertile ground for the virus to take hold and spread. In Yerushalayim, an unvaccinated baby recently died from measles, the first recorded death from measles in Israel in the past 15 years.

This isn’t about clean and healthy living, it is about following protocol and policy that has been universally embraced by the established medical community in America and across the world. While different countries have slightly varying vaccination schedules, there is literally no debate as to the efficacy and critical importance of vaccination.

Describing those who oppose vaccinations as having “come to different conclusions” is similar to presenting those who think the world is flat, or that 9-11 was an inside job, or that we didn’t really land on the moon as also having come to equally legitimate but simply “different conclusions” than the rest of us. These are equally ludicrous conclusions but with one critical difference. If you think the world is flat or these other events never happened, you don’t directly endanger anyone else, no matter how wrong or inaccurate you might be.  If, however, you believe or defend those who believe that we need not or should not vaccinate, you are, without exaggeration, taking other people’s lives into your hands.

There is more data supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccines than there is for most other medical therapies that we regularly engage in without as much as a thought, including those who don’t believe in vaccines. Thus, we find no more reason to doubt the veracity and motive of this broad consensus than we do to question recommendations about seatbelts, teeth-brushing, or cancer screening. To embrace skepticism without substantiated claims just because of vocal opposition would be not only irresponsible but outright dangerous.

When vaccination rates drop, everybody is at risk. While no medicine or preventive measure can guard against everything and anything, vaccines are the best tool we have in promoting and maintaining our health. Pretending that this data doesn’t exist doesn’t make it so.

In fact, according to epidemiological data, the public health campaign of vaccinations is the greatest medical achievement of mankind. Ever. Diseases that once regularly took the lives of young children, disfigured millions, and ravaged communities are simply gone. Because of their success and our collective unfamiliarity with those conditions, some people have a hard time believing that this was once our reality. But it’s only because we’ve been so vigilant about vaccinations that it’s been this successful. The emerging realities in New York, New Jersey, and Washington State are just the tip of a potentially very deadly iceberg.

We believe that it is an imperative for us to take steps, as individuals and as a community, to protect our health. Not only is doing so not spiritually problematic, it is what is religiously demanded and expected of us. When God created the world, He deliberately left it imperfect. He left it for us to repair, discover, manipulate and complete His creation. Modern medicine is one of the greatest gifts that God planted in this world so many years ago. When we use it, when we build off the discoveries of those who came before, and can even now proactively and preventively prevent disease, we are partnering with God in perfecting His world.

If you think that “clean and healthy living” has managed to eradicate smallpox, haemophilus influenzae, and polio instead of an aggressive vaccination campaign, you aren’t looking at historical facts with an alternative perspective on health and healing. You are just wrong.

If you believe that the earth is flat, you don’t have a different perspective on geometry and physics. You are just wrong. If you think that vaccines cause autism and are putting thousands, nay, millions of kids in danger each year all in the name of some Big Pharma conspiracy, you aren’t looking at the current state of medicine with an enlightened lens. You are just wrong.

If you walk across a six-lane highway without looking both ways, you aren’t demonstrating an unflinching faith in benevolent providence that God will protect you. You are acting like a dangerous fool and it would be you, not He, who is responsible for the potentially fatal consequence. Similarly, when it comes to disease and medicine, God does protect us, by enabling and empowering us to do successful scientific research and discover drugs and vaccines that can protect us, heal us and extend our lives. Embracing those findings and using them is expressing faith in God. Ignoring them is ignoring God’s gift and benevolence to us.

But even if you are unconvinced by the preponderance of evidence supporting vaccination, Jewish communal policy would and should be unchanged. Historically, Jewish law regarding health and medicine has always mandated following what the medical establishment and majority of doctors believe at the time, even if that could change.

Given the medical community’s current consensus and recommendations, we do not believe that Jewish law allows us to ignore them in formulating policies for our communities.  

Our colleague mocks rabbis who quote Rav Elyashiv zt”l and others whom they don’t consistently look to for guidance. However, we believe that there is a broad rabbinic consensus here, too, from the Charedi to Modern Orthodox], from every segment of the halachic community and across the full spectrum of orthodoxy. In fact, we do not know of even one recognized posek who, in the reality of the current outbreak, supports not getting vaccinated or opposes school policies t that don’t allow unvaccinated children to attend.

He concluded his original essay by asking:

I look at the landscape of what is going on, and I shudder to think that a community of Jewish people who think differently are being thrown out by people and leadership who do not even listen to them, who do not acknowledge their view (and fears) as valid, who do not seek to understand their perspective, and who do not even give them a hearing. JEWS THROWING OUT JEWS. What would our ancestors say?

Couldn’t it be argued that those who are kicking kids out of schools and yeshivas, shuls and camps, are also presuming to play God? Presuming to understand how the world works? Wouldn’t we need permission from God in order to play God with their neshamas?

He is right that we shouldn’t simply dismiss, reject or cast to the side those that are unwilling to follow the vaccination policy, no matter how misguided we think they are. We should be, and we are, concerned with their future place within the community and their children having access to Jewish education. They are our brothers and sisters and we love and care about them, even though they are wrong about this issue and have concerns with how their position impacts us. And it goes without saying, they are still our dear friends and neighbors, and their place in our community is not defined by this one issue.

However, we take great offense to the suggestion that community leaders who are following both medical and rabbinic consensus by embracing policies that protect safety and health are “playing God.” We, too, believe every neshama is important and that is why we are promoting policies that will protect and preserve the health of all our precious neshamos based on current medical guidelines, a policy Torah and Halacha have always followed.

We have each met with families who have concerns and are affected by our vaccination policy.  We have sought to hear them and to feel their pain. We, too, are deeply troubled and worried about Jewish children who are missing out on a Jewish education as a result of the policy, only we place the burden of responsibility to avoid that on their parents, not the schools.  

We are greatly sympathetic to the feelings of isolation or marginalization that non-vaccinating families must be enduring. But let’s be clear – nobody has kicked them out or put them in cherem. They have been, currently are, and always will be welcome in our schools, provided that they comply with our safety policies.  Schools are entitled to, and responsible for, having policies regarding safety, whether it relates to drugs, weapons, or health standards.

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, assistant rabbi of the Young Israel of Woodmere, put it well when he recently wrote:

Imagine if parents were to insist their child come to school armed with a revolver. Would even the most ardent gun rights activist defend them? Of course not. So why are we letting children come to our shuls, schools, and camps spreading serious potentially life-threatening illness that could have been prevented by vaccination?

We don’t question the author’s sincerity or his genuine concern for families who are outliers on this issue.  We question his premise and presumption, that he has a monopoly on sleepless nights, worry, and fear for these children and the impact of this policy.  We are deeply concerned, and we are not alone. His article, originally titled “Vaccines and Jewish Leadership Hypocrisy,” misunderstands and misrepresents what leadership is all about. Leadership is not about allowing your emotions, however noble they are, to cloud your judgment, particularly when so much is at stake.  Leadership demands taking strong positions, even when they result in difficult and uncomfortable consequences.

We continue to pray that our community and the world embrace the breakthroughs that God has enabled us to achieve and that He inspire all to utilize them in a way that eliminates disease and illness from our midst.  

It is Time for Outrage, Not Silence! Where are Our Friends Protesting Anti-Semitism?

on Sunday, January 20 2019. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Adapted from a Sermon delivered at Boca Raton Synagogue

January 19, 2019 – Shabbos Parshas Beshalach

Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we will mark this Monday, spoke powerfully about the danger and potential damage of silence.  He once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  On another occasion he said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  Both of these insights, separately and the combination of the two together, resonate deeply for me these days, days in which the silence from too many is growing increasingly worrisome.

This morning, as we sit here in shul, the 3rd Annual Women’s March will be held in cities across the country. Many of its most prominent founders and leaders have associated with outspoken anti-Semites and have been accused of expressing anti-Jewish sentiments themselves.  Just this week, on a major talk show, women’s march founder Tamika Mallory, who called her hero Louis Farrakhan the greatest of all time, refused to condemn his statements, among them his calling Jews termites, Satan and “the great enemy.”  In another interview, she refused to recognize Israel’s existence, while calling Palestinians native to the Land of Israel.

To their credit, some refuse to be silent and have disassociated from the movement.  Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz wrote an op-ed in USA Today this week explaining why she cannot continue to participate.  “I cannot associate with the national march’s leaders and principles, which refuse to completely repudiate anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry.”  The Democratic National Committee removed itself from the list of sponsors and should be commended for doing so.

But aside from the few who have spoken out, there is deafening silence from too many groups, among them those who supposedly stand against bigotry and discrimination like the ACLU and others.  New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has announced her intention to run for President, is attending this morning’s women’s march in Iowa, but while she spoke out against anti-Semitism in general, she has refused to condemn the march specifically or its organizers for their associations and comments.  Would she ever participate in a march whose founders identify with leading racists and who themselves have been accused of racists comments and policies?  Can you imagine the backlash she, or others, would face?

Rep. Steven King of Iowa made deeply disturbing remarks about white supremacists and his colleagues acted swiftly, and correctly, stripping him of his committee assignments.  But what about Rep. Ilhan Omar who supports BDS, a hypocritical anti-Semitic policy against Israel, a woman who once tweeted “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

Instead of being held accountable for her offensive, discriminatory remarks, she was placed on the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday. A woman who holds anti-Semitic views and who described the “evil doings” of Israel has been placed on the most important committee for foreign policy.  In response, there was no uproar or outrage, only absolute silence.  Indeed, those who spoke about her appointment, haven’t done so in opposition to her appointment, but in opposition to anyone who dared to oppose her appointment.  Shockingly, JStreet’s founder and leader said, “smearing Rep. Omar as an anti-Semite – or suggesting that she is somehow not fit to serve on an important committee like Foreign Affairs – is bigoted and deeply wrong.”

In other news this past week, a Palestinian activist who has praised Hezbollah, said Israel did not have the right to exist, and has called for Israeli “Zionist terrorist” Jews to return to Poland, posted a picture of himself with Freshman Congresswoman Rep. Rashida Tlaib after she posed for a picture with him at a private, invitation only dinner following her swearing in.  What do you think the reaction has been from her colleagues?  Deafening Silence.  Can you imagine a member of Congress posing for a picture with David Duke or a KKK member at a private reception?  It would correctly elicit outrage.  Where is the outrage when it is hatred against Jews?

Martin Luther King was absolutely correct: If we are silent in moments like these, our lives have literally begun to end.  Outrageous comments, views and associations deserve to be greeted with outrage.  Intolerable comments, pictures and attitudes must not be tolerated.   And he was also right when he said most disturbing is the silence of our friends.  Where is the outrage and condemnation from Jewish elected officials about their colleagues’ anti-Israel remarks and aspersions, paralleling their reaction to Rep. King?  Where is the ADL to lead the fight, stand up for truth, be at the forefront of calling out inappropriate and offensive speech, posts, pictures and policies?

Whether Avraham Avinu speaking truth to the ultimate Power when he protested the impending destruction of  Sedom, Moshe challenging Hashem about why bad things happen to good people, Moshe and Aharon confronting Pharaoh, Esther and Mordechai taking on Haman, the Chashmonaim standing up to the Syrian Greeks against all odds, or countless other examples, we come from a tradition of not being silent when injustice is being perpetrated against anyone, and certainly not when it is directed against our people.

These are moments that demand we not remain silent.  Hashem has blessed us with voices, with influence and with access.  We must speak up and speak out and hold those that are silent accountable.  We must generate outrage, the most powerful commodity these days and the only one that draws attention and demands action and reaction.

But while there are moments like these to overcome our silence and to express outrage, there are other times in which we would do better to be quiet than to react with indignation.

When the Jewish people miraculously cross the sea and emerge safely on the other side, they erupt in spontaneous song – Az yashir Moshe u’Vnei Yisroel.  In that song that we recite each morning in our prayers, we describe Hashem:

מִֽי־כָמֹ֤כָה בָּֽאֵלִם֙ ה׳ מִ֥י כָּמֹ֖כָה נֶאְדָּ֣ר בַּקֹּ֑דֶשׁ נוֹרָ֥א תְהִלֹּ֖ת עֹ֥שֵׂה פֶֽלֶא׃

“Who is like You, Hashem, among the celestials; Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in splendor, working wonders!”

We typically understand the song as praising Hashem’s unique power.  For example, the Seforno writes: “Hashem’s incomparable stature consists in His ability to change the nature of phenomena in the universe which had previously been considered as indestructible, inviolate, impervious to any attempt by man to influence their nature in any way.”

But the Gemara understands our praise and awe of Hashem differently.  When the wicked Titus entered our Holy Beis Ha’Mikdash and desecrated the Holy of Holies in unspeakable ways, Hashem was silent, He was passive and failed to react.  Why would the Almighty, the infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, all-powerful Hashem, do nothing when He could do anything?  Our rabbis explain (Gittin 56b):

מי כמוכה באלים ה’ מי כמוכה באלמים דבי רבי ישמעאל תנא

Do not read “Who is like You God b’eilim,” among the celestials, but “Who is like You b’ilmim,” among the mute.  Hashem modeled for us the greatest strength, the most powerful response – doing nothing.  God showed us His power not by manipulating nature and controlling the world, but by the self-control and discipline, to remain silent in the face of insult, defamation and even blasphemy.

He taught us that our greatest strength too is not in overreacting to being insulted; it is not acting at all.  Chazal teach (Shabbos 86) we should train ourselves to always be min ha’ne’elavim v’einam olvim, from those who when insulted don’t insult back; shom’im cherpasam v’einam m’shivim, hear the wrath against them, but don’t respond.

Save your outrage and indignation for things that truly matter, for threats that are real and for insults and offenses that have real consequences.  When it comes to a personal slight, a hurtful insult, let it go, walk away.  But how?  We get that nasty text, that hurtful email, someone makes an aggressive comment. How do we stay silent?  How can we find the resolve to walk away, press delete, not match or escalate what has been cast our way?

The answer is found in something we say every day, three times a day.  We say at the end of the Amida – “v’limkalelai nafshi sidom, to those who curse me may my soul remain silent.”  Why do we invoke nafshi, or soul? Perhaps we mention our soul because it is the source of our strength, our self-control.  We each have a tzelem Elokim, a Godly spirit, and just as Hashem shows His greatness by hearing an insult and not responding, we too can find the inner strength and discipline to not respond and match the volume and vitriol, no matter how poorly we are mistreated.

The Zohar says that Hashem’s chariot has four legs, the first three are Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov and the fourth is Dovid Ha’Melech.  We understand the patriarchs are the three legs, by why Dovid over Moshe, Aharon, and so many worthy others?

The Chafetz Chaim, in his Shemiras Ha’Lashon explains that David Hamelech became the fourth leg of Hashem’s Chariot, when Shimi ben Geira hurled insults at him in public, and Dovid just ignored it.  Even when Dovid’s servants wanted to respond, Dovid told them, he couldn’t be cursing me and embarrassing me if Hashem didn’t want it to happen, so leave it.  There is a master plan, no need to respond.

Rav Pam says there are times we are meant to experience yesurin, suffering.  It can come in many forms – illness, financial collapse, relationship crises.  When it comes in the form of someone insulting us, we should sing and dance with joy that with all the options and alternatives, being insulted is our form of suffering.  What a gift and a blessing.  Lean into that insult, embrace it, and gladly take it and remain quiet.

Finding the capacity to remain silent, even when insulted, is an expression of true gevurah, of great strength.  When we dig deep and find that ability, it creates a very special moment. We have a tradition that when being insulted, instead of responding, escalating or matching the vitriol, we should take a deep breath and offer a prayer, ask for something in that propitious and providential moment in time.  That is when we are at our best and most worthy.  Don’t waste it by shouting or insulting back; prove your strength and take advantage of the opportunity to be worthy by asking for something important.

My friends – We seem to have it backwards sometimes.  We are outraged when we should be quiet, and when we should be screaming from the rooftops, somehow, we remain silent. 

When it comes to anti-Semitism against our people and injustice against others, let’s vow to never be silent, to stand up and speak out. Let’s hold our elected officials accountable. Not the ones in the other party, that’s easy. But calling up and calling out those in our party, the ones we identify with and voted for.  Object to the elected officials saying the wrong things and call up those who are remaining silent while their colleagues cross important boundaries.

But when it comes to being personally insulted, to absorbing a slight against ourselves, let’s learn to let it go, to show our true strength and be like Hashem, to be counted among the ilmim, those that are silent, and among the ne’elavim, those that are insulted but never insult back.

עת לדבר ועת לשתוק – We are blessed with voices; we have the capacity to express outrage. True wisdom, says Shlomo Ha’Melech is knowing when to use it.  Choose carefully and wisely for there is a time to speak and a time to be silent.