OBSERVATIONS I

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

I usually don't make a sicha unless I have a lot to say about a certain topic. Then I realized that there are some small points and observations about different concepts that have inspired me. I wanted to give them over but I realized that each point by itself is not enough for its own sicha (at least I didn't have enough material to make one). So , I have decided to try to put some of these separate points together into one unit called, "Observations". These are unrelated points and each one is (I hope) food for thought to reflect on these very important topics.

"LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF"

We all realize the beauty and thoughtfulness that goes into this mitzvah. However, I didn't realize to what extent this mitzvah applies until I saw a Mishna and Gemoro in Sanhedrin.

The Mishna in Sanhedrin (52a) describes how to give burning to someone who transgressed an aveirah which carries with it the death penalty of burning.

The burning is not the conventional throwing the person into a large fire (reminiscent of the inquisition's auto-da-fe) ,rather having the person drink burning lead which will only burn his intestines not his body.

One of the reasons cited for this latter method as opposed to the former is "Love your neighbor...-Choose for him a nice death." While no death is "nice", the Chazal understood that there are nevertheless different nuances in various methods of death which make one "nicer or easier" than the others. The Chazal understood that the burning of ones insides without blemishing his outer appearance is a lot nicer than mutilating and burning of ones skin.

Now, when I saw this, it had a profound impact on me. We are dealing here with a real sinner who stooped so low as to transgress a sin deserving of death, despite a warning (death can't be given without a warning). Who cares if we burn his skin- He deserves it... can "Love your neighbor..." apply to him as well?

However, the Torah teaches us, Yes, he deserves burning but with consideration. He gets what he deserves, but not one iota more. Even on this person we must apply "Love your neighbor..."

In fact this consideration for this sinner is brought out in two more aspects of burning.

The Mishnah says that you sink the sinner's feet into dung up to his knees so that he won't be able to move about. The commentaries (Rashi, Bartenura, Tiferes Yisroel) explain, that this is (not to make sure that he doesn't run away, but rather) to avoid his moving about and the burning lead may fall on his skin and cause him pain.

Also the Mishna describes how to force open his mouth to allow the burning lead to be put in. It says that you put a hard cloth into a soft cloth and you wrap them around his neck. Two people pull from opposite directions and this forces his mouth open. The commentaries (ibid.) explain that the soft cloth alone would not have the desired effect. The hard cloth alone would hurt his neck, so they put it into a soft one to protect his neck.

This is amazing!!! All I can add is that Halevay (I wish) that we would be at least half as considerate of our fellow Jews as the Torah is of sinners.

How many times do we hurt other people with words or physical violence with the excuse that he “deserves it" because he did or said this. Just reflect for a moment on how the Torah treats real sinners and then maybe we will be a little more considerate.

I'll end off this point with a beautiful explanation from the Baal Shem Tov about "Love your neighbor" that is brought down in the wonderful book, "Love Your Neighbor" by Rabbi Pliskin, p.301.

He says that a person loves himself despite the fact that he knows that he has many faults. So too you should love your neighbor despite his faults (just as you love yourself despite your faults).

FACING REALITY

There is a certain problem that exists that medication and psychotherapy cannot help. Rabbi Abraham Twersky, in his book "Getting Up When You're Down", p.115-116 explains that this problem is when people don't approve of reality. They have unrealistic expectations. For example, they expect to start the car every morning without a problem, have their employers appreciate them, and their children to be promptly obedient when they are told to do something.

When things don't happen the way they expect then they are depressed and dissatisfied and are looking for some therapy or magic pill that will alleviate their situation.

The trouble is, there is none (except in escaping reality which is not a remedy but a temporary copping out which doesn't last. I explained this point in "How to Face Reality"). Rabbi Twersky compares this to a story told about the great escape artist "Harry Houdini" (I remember reading that he was a Jew by the name of Eric Weiss). He had the ability to escape from the most confining locks and cells. Once a prison warden boasted that he had a cell that even the great "Houdini" couldn't unlock. Houdini promptly accepted the challenge.

Once left in the cell, Houdini began working on opening the lock. To his astonishment, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't throw open the bolt. He worked more carefully, but still without success. Finally, in his exhaustion, he leaned against the door, which swung right open. It was never locked. Even the great "Houdini" cannot open a lock that wasn't locked.

Rabbi Twersky points out that we can learn from this story that treatment can be effective only when there is an abnormality that needs to be fixed. If a person just has an unrealistic expectation of the world and expects it to always conform to his wishes, then he is beyond the ken of any psychiatrist or psychologist to treat. Perhaps a rabbi whose authority the person respects can spell reality out to him, so that he can make the necessary, if sometimes inconvenient adjustments to the real world.

In fact, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his book "Gateway to Happiness" writes that one of the biggest problems in marriage is the unrealistic expectations that each partner has when they come into the marriage. Rabbi Yisochor Frand has a beautiful sicha on shalom bayis which stresses this point. It is in his book, "Rabbi Frand in Print."

At this point I refer you to my sicha "How to Face Reality". May Hashem help us to understand reality, so we can live a better life in this world and the next.

DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF YOURSELF

Many years ago, Rabbi Boruch Chait came to entertain us on Tu B'Shvat. We were then called "Neveh Yehoshua" (the forerunner of "Neveh Zion") and we were in a Moshav "Beit Yehoshua" near Netanya.

I never would have remembered the event if not for the magic of tape recording. I found a tape of that occasion a while ago and therefore I'm able to repeat this story.

He told us an interesting story-parable which carries an extremely important lesson.

A young boy who went to the zoo with his father. He was walking around and watching all the ferocious animals who were locked up in their cages. This gave the boy some feeling of security. Suddenly, the lion puts his paws on the bars of the cage and begins roaring at the young boy. It looked as if the lion was going to break out. Frightened, the boy ran to his father. He asked his father if the lion was strong enough to break through the bars of their cage? His father said it was a good question and he didn't know the answer. He suggested that they should ask the zookeeper. The zookeeper told him the following, "Really the lion has tremendous power. If he would use all of his strength he would probably be able to bend those bars. (Remember this is only a parable. The fact probably is that the bars are strong enough to contain the lion, but for the purpose of bringing out a very important lesson the zookeeper in the parable answered in this manner). However, when the lion comes up against the bars and feels resistance, he stops. He doesn't realize how strong he really is. So, this resistance keeps the lion from reaching his full potential.

So too, Rabbi Chait concludes, we all have tremendous power to beat our Yetzer Horo. The problem is that we don't realize our true potential. We come up to the bars, try to overpower him, but as soon we feel a little resistance we give up. We don't realize how powerful we really are.

There is a book called, "Chicken Soup of the Soul" by Jack Canfield and Mark V. Hansen, that brings a poem that illustrates how we underestimate ourselves. It is called "The Touch of a Master's Hand," by Myra B. Welch.

It's about an auctioneer that is trying to auction off an old scarred and battered violin. The bidding starts off with a mere $1 and is about to be closed at $3.

Suddenly, a gray-haired man came from the back and picked up the bow and violin. He tightened the strings and tuned it. He played such beautiful music that people thought that this is the way a caroling angel sings.

After the music ceased, the bidding started again. This time it began at $1000 and was closed at $3000.

Everyone was happy, but they wondered what made such an upheaval in the bidding? They realized it was the "touch of a master's hand." Until he played the violin and showed its true beauty, people underestimated its value.

So too,

"Many a man with a life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
much like the old violin....

But the Master comes and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that's wrought
By the touch of the Master's hand."

I don't know for sure who the "Master" they are referring to in the poem. Maybe they mean Hashem.

I would like to apply this poem in a different way (maybe this is what they really meant in the poem).

"Many a man...is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd..." is referring even to ourselves. When we do sins we get depressed and think that we are worthless.

"But the Master comes...the worth of a soul and the change that is wrought by the touch of the Master's hand" refers to a friend or rebbi that shows us and others what we really are, what diamonds are really inside us waiting to be processed through the Torah.

I refer you to my sicha on Shavuos "There's More to Shavuos than Eating Cheesecake”, where I tell a story from Rabbi Twersky about "The Center for Polishing Diamonds". This also shows us that we really are diamonds , but maybe covered up with some dirt. All we really have to do is be processed then our diamond will shine forth for everyone including ourselves to see.

May Hashem help us realize our true potential and power and to bring it from mere potential into reality.

ATTITUDES

I have written many times that it is not events that make us happy or sad but rather our attitudes towards them.

In the book "Chicken soup for the Soul" he brings a quote from Hugh Downs that crystallizes this point.

"A happy person is not a person with a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes."
There is also a story called "The Window" that shows us to what extent our attitudes can shape our lives.

It is about two sick people who are in the same room. They were seriously ill and had to remain in bed. One of them was close to a window. Part of his therapy was to sit up for an hour in the afternoon. This allowed him to look out the window and enjoy the scenery. This man spent the hour describing the beautiful scenery to the man in the other bed. He described the lake, the ducks and swans, and the children who came to play there with their model boats and throw bread to the ducks and swans. He even described how a child nearly fell into the lake. These descriptions were so realistic that it made the man in the other bed feel he could almost see what was happening outside.

Eventually, this man in the bed was jealous. He was ashamed but he wished that somehow the other man's bed would be vacated so he could get the chance to look out the window.

One night as he was staring at the ceiling, his friend at the window woke up choking trying unsuccessfully to ring the bell for the nurses. The other fellow just looked on and did nothing to aid his friend, even as he saw the fellow stop breathing. In the morning the nurses came in and found the man by the window dead and quietly took his body away.

As soon as it seemed decent, he requested to be moved to the bed by the window. They moved him and as soon as they left he finally had his chance to look out the window.

He worked hard to prop himself up on the bed and looked out the window.

It faced a blank wall.

We see here that an attitude can even make a person think he's happy even when there is nothing to be happy about.

We, as Jews, really have a lot to be happy about. Let us learn to have the proper attitude.

I refer you to Rabbi Pliskin's, "Gateway to Happiness" which will teach us how to use what we really have to have the proper attitude and live a life of happiness.

May Hashem help us to enter the gates of happiness and give it over to others.

List of Rabbi Price's sichot
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