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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Beha'alotcha

Parshat Beha'alotcha

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Behalotcha                                                             Print Version
18th of Iyar, 5781 | May 29, 2021

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer
Holding Up the World

A number of years ago, the well-respected psychiatrist Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski was giving a tour of a psychiatric ward to several medical students. It was certainly a jarring and eye-opening experience for many of the students to see what life was like for such patients given their conditions. Yet one of the patients particularly stood out for his strange medical anomaly, the likes of which even seasoned doctors had a hard time working with. He was a real conundrum.

The man was positioned in a catatonic state with his hands positioned upward in what looked almost like a “V” shape. For decades he had held this same position, save the few times he collapsed from exhaustion. But every other waking moment was spent in such a way. As to why he did so, he would not communicate.

As the students passed by this fellow, they as well could not help but stare and wonder. Included among the medical students was one Orthodox Jew, who had something in mind. “Dr. Twerski,” he piped up, “would it be alright with you and the staff here if I go over and speak to this patient?” Dr. Twerski agreed, though dubious if it would lead anywhere.

The Jewish student headed over to the patient, his arms up and body poised. “How do you do it?” whispered the student to the fellow. “You are working so hard on our behalf to hold up the world! Without you, the world would collapse. I just wanted to extend appreciation on my behalf and on behalf of the whole world for all that you have been doing for so many years. But now I am going to take you over to the side, because you deserve to rest for a bit. Allow me to hold up the world for you for just a few minutes.”

The man sat down. Everyone was shocked. As medical staff rushed over to attend to the patient, they all turned to this new medical student for an explanation. They were waiting for some wild secret to be disclosed as to how he changed the man’s mindset and convinced him to sit down. Where did such a line of thinking come from?

“I’ll tell you,” replied the student. “For so long, you’ve probably been looking at him as some sick man whose medical condition is an enigma. Every time you’ve tried working with him, it was done with the understanding that he was abnormal. Yet that never worked for him because he felt he was doing something so noble and worthy and none of you appreciated his hard work. In his mind, he was far from sick, but rather someone more important than even you all, the medical staff. It was only when he heard from me that he was indeed admired and respected that he felt comfortable allowing me to continue his important mission of holding up the world, and he relinquished his catatonic position for me to take over.

“So long as he was treated as a patient, as a statistic, as another insane individual, he could not be helped. What he needed was to feel important and treated as a person deserves, and with that, my words entered his ears and penetrated his heart. And that is how, I believe, after so many years he was finally able to sit down.”

Sheer brilliance, we might say. Or sheer simplicity. Both are true. It’s something so simple that often goes overlooked, and thus comes as a brilliant explanation. Sometimes it takes the new student on the block to enlighten an experienced medical staff to what stood in front of them all the time. For years, this man was holding up the world, but no one was holding up him. Yet once the roles were reversed, everything became clear.

Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser
If You Had 500 Shekalim…

It was not an easy situation. With a growing family and tight financial situation, the daily grind for one Torah scholar and his family took its toll and caused a fair share of uneasiness. Yet, at the same time, such dire straits brought in its wake an ever-increasing degree of trust and faith in Hashem.

But then matters became only more difficult and complicated. One Shabbos, one of the children required immediate medical attention and could wait no longer. Rushing the boy to the hospital, he was led into a room where he awaited the doctor. But there was something that needed to be taken care of before anything would happen.

“The hospital must be paid before we examine the boy,” expressed the doctor. “I’m sorry, but we’re going to need 500 shekalim upfront now if you’d like me to look at him and possibly carry on with any necessary procedure.” The father was not up against an easy situation. Not only was he not financially off, but more importantly, it was Shabbos and writing a check would mean transgressing Shabbos.

But what could he do? Familiar with the laws of Shabbos, the father went on to write the check with as minimal violation of the prohibition of writing as possible. He then handed the check to the doctor. The boy went on to receive the immediate and important medical treatment needed, after which he was discharged from the hospital.

Yet when the doctor returned home and removed the check from his pocket, he was surprised by what he saw. The check was not written out to 500 shekalim, as supposed, but 1,000 shekalim. The doctor was confused, but quickly dismissed any concerns as he was sure that the man had misheard and mistakenly believed the payment was 1,000 shekalim. The doctor would correct the error tomorrow.

The next day, the doctor phoned the man and informed him that he had mistakenly written out the check for 500 more shekalim than needed. “It wasn’t a mistake,” explained the father. “You see, as a religious Jew, I wondered what the best method to write out a check on Shabbos was. Aside from some other nuances which went into me writing the check, I knew that were I to pay 500 shekalim, I would need to write chamesh mei’ot. Yet, were I to pay 1,000 shekalim, I would be able to write elef, which would be one less word of ink. And so, I decided that it was worth the 500 shekalim to save me from writing another, second word.”

The doctor was stunned. He couldn’t believe what he had just been told. “You mean you paid 500 additional shekalim just to avoid writing a few more letters?” “Yes,” the father mumbled in affirmation. “I can’t believe you did that,” exclaimed the doctor, “but I now understand why the check was written out as such. Yet nevertheless, we cannot accept more than we initially asked you. We would like to return the extra money to you.” But the father wouldn’t budge. “What I paid you is what I paid you. I decided to act as I did, and I consciously wrote that amount. I don’t want anything back.”

The doctor was now even more perturbed. Something did not sit well with him. Here the father was asked to pay 500 shekalim, and he deliberately wrote 1,000 in recognition of Shabbos and now he didn’t want anything back? The doctor, who was clearly irreligious, curiously began wondering what was so special and significant about this law of writing. And so, he purchased a few Jewish books that helped shed light on the topic.

The rest is history. From there the doctor began perusing through other laws and topics of Shabbos, which led to a greater interest in the overall laws of Shabbos, which from there led to an unquenching thirst to learn all about about Judaism. Today, because of that 500 shekalim, the doctor is an observant Jew.
When we look at 500 shekalim or dollars, how much value do we really give it? Do we ever think that it could mean so much as to impact and inspire someone to become Torah observant? If we would be told that donating 500 shekalim would lead to these results, we would all likely jump at the opportunity.

The same applies to every action we do. With something that is relatively small, we can accomplish something so big. The only drawback is that we underestimate our power and potential. But just remember this story. Something that the father never imagined would come from his decision became a reality. And the same is true of all our decisions and actions too. They create ripple effects and leave profound impressions on others in ways well far beyond all expectations.

Rabbi Shimon Gruen
Connect and Communicate

Communication is something that we as people constantly engage in. Yet, while it may occupy a large part of our everyday lives, there is most certainly an art to it. Meaningful, deep and real communication is something which takes forethought and deliberation. And especially when it comes to relationships and marriage, mastering communications skills becomes an art of paradigm importance.

The Chovos HaLevavos writes that everything created in this world was created for a good purpose. Every trait and quality can be channeled and utilized for the good. For some characteristics, it is easy to define and discern its positive use and application. For others, however, it is quite challenging. What good use, for example, does sheker, falsehood or deceit, serve? In what way can it be directed in a beneficial and useful way?

The Chovos HaLevavos explains that so-called “sheker” can be used to avoid hurting another’s feelings. In example, if you don’t like something about another individual, it is sometimes better to avoid pointing out the truth and being upfront and straightforward at the expense of being insulting.

In marriage, particularly, as important as is knowing what to say, it is equally important to know what not to say. Communication does not mean that everything which comes to mind must be said. Good communication sometimes requires that no communication occur. If it is not the right time or place or it will be hurtful, it is better not to say anything at the moment.

At the same time, sometimes not communicating and remaining silent can be misused and manipulated. In colloquial terms, society refers to this as “the silent treatment.” One spouse subliminally hints that they don’t wish to communicate and deliberately gives the other the “cold shoulder” and acts aversive and avoidant. It is often rationalized for one of two reasons. Either the spouse is very upset and is afraid that what they will say will be misconstrued and cause only more dissonance. Alternatively, the individual is so hurt that they cannot face their spouse and talk about the issue at hand.

However, despite any justification, this lack of communication is oftentimes less than helpful. If done often enough, it can even become a habitual manner of communication and when something upsetting occurs between husband and wife, they naturally avoid speaking to one another. In place of this, however, there is another, perhaps more effective way of dealing with matters of conflict which arise.

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:9-10) states that when Korach, who rebelled against Moshe and Aharon in an attempt to overthrow them as leaders of the Jewish people, actually heard Moshe’s rationale for their appointment of leadership, he understood. However, he did not respond in any which way to Moshe and enter into a conversation for he realized that were he to do so, Moshe would thoroughly convince him and win him over. Korach would have no choice than to acquiesce to Moshe’s role as leader and accept it. In order to avoid this from occurring, he evaded confronting Moshe at all costs.

Likewise, notes the Midrash, when Moshe summoned Dasan and Aviram with the hope of appealing to them and ending the debacle, they too refused to speak to Moshe. This frustrated Moshe, says the Midrash, for “when one person enters into an argument with his friend and his friend replies, the person is satisfied; however, when the friend does not respond, the person is pained.”

As clearly articulated in the Midrash, when there is some sort of scuffle or disagreement between two people, addressing the issue at hand and not giving the “cold shoulder” or the “silent treatment” is most beneficial. Avoiding the problem will not solve it, but merely allow it to remain and fester. By facing the proverbial elephant in the room and engaging in a heart to heart dialogue about the presenting problem, both parties are in better position to reach mutual agreement and understanding.

Now, you may be wondering if there is anything to do if, for one reason or another, you or your spouse are simply not in the mood to talk about the conflict right now. Is there anything else that can be done? The answer is yes. If either you or your spouse are overly tense or stressed or simply feel that now is not the time and place to discuss the matter, tell them that. Very gently and considerately, say, “I don’t feel that I can discuss this right now. Is it okay with you if we do so later?” There is a way of engaging in conversation and openly communicating about the issue, but at the same time, not really doing so.

Do not ignore the issue, but tell your spouse that you wish to speak about it at a later date. Make up a time that works for you both and schedule it. Otherwise, both husband and wife feel as if they are walking on eggshells and it is only cause for angst and frustration. It may not be easy to follow this protocol, but it is one way of addressing the issue and not ignoring it even if you are not in the right frame of mind at the moment.

Moreover, it is also important to be cognizant of how you respond to something. Whether it be responding to a negative or sensitive comment or a previous argument, it is wisest to be calm, and speak briefly and to the point. Of note, Bill Eddy, developer of High Conflict Personality (HCP) theory and noted author, suggests that respondents to situations of conflict incorporate four elements into their rejoinder: BIFF. It should be brief, informative, friendly and firm. Stick to the point you wish to address and don’t go on tangents and bring ancillary issues into the conversation. In addition, make sure you are not merely babbling, but have something of substance to say. As well, be careful that your tone of voice and words do not come across as hurtful, but rather respectful, polite and friendly. At the same time, ensure that your point gets across. Temper your friendly response with a healthy dosage of surety and confidence in yourself.

While the words which are expressed are of utmost importance when it comes to marriage, when they are said and how they are said are no less vital. It may take time to learn the art of how to do so, but so long as we are motivated to continually work at it, we are in perfect position to enjoying a blissful marriage for many years to come.

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