Rabbi Price shlit"a will be undergoing open heart surgery in the near future. He requests that all daven for his health.
His name is Shlomo Yoel ben Chayah Leah
He is publishing these new sichot to serve as a zechus for him.
It's no secret that I like stories. I have been inspired, and find that many others as well are inspired, by stories and parables. I usually try to mix some in to my sichot whenever I can. I was greatly inspired by the stories of my own Rebeim and of course the stories of the Jerusalem Maggid, Rav Shalom Shwadron z.t.l. Thanks to Rabbi Paysach Krohn's famous Maggid books, many of these stories have been become widely publicized.
In fact, I realized the importance and effectiveness of stories from a story that Rabbi Krohn tells in the introduction of his very first Maggid book, "The Maggid Speaks." (p.22-23)
He relates how Rav Shalom, as a young boy of thirteen, joined a group of boys who would practice giving sermons. They would meet every Shabbos and Rav Shalom was the first speaker.
Rav Shalom strode up to the pulpit and began with a parable that he hoped one day to say in front of a large audience.
A father had two children who had a certain illness that required a very bad tasting medicine. To the older child the father explained the severity of the consequences if he wouldn't take the medicine. He may even end up in the hospital. Eventually he convinced him to take the medicine. The second son however was a different story. The father played with him and told him jokes. As the son opened his mouth with hearty laughter, the father slipped the medicine in. Anyone seeing this might think that the father likes the second son better than the first. With the first he was stern and strict, but by the second he played around and almost got him to "enjoy" the medicine. However, this is far from the truth. Rather, the older son was old enough to be spoken to logically. But the younger son would not understand the seriousness of going to a hospital. He might think that it was fun. Therefore the father had no choice but to find a pleasant way of giving the medicine.
The same is true of our generation. It used to be that the maggidim could get straight to the point without softening them up with pleasantries and making them laugh. Nowadays, however people resent mussar and rebuke. they will not accept it. If you, however, loosen them up with laughter and pleasantries their hearts and minds become receptive even to reproof and instruction.
Rav Shalom said more than 50 years later that that it was true then when he was a child and even more so today.
I'm going to relate some of the stories that have inspired me in the hope that they will inspire you as well.
The first one deals with the proper way to give and receive rebuke.
Unfortunately, people look at someone who gives rebuke as sort of a policeman. I have been told myself an expression in Yiddish "Du bist Gut's fahrzugger-Are you Hashem's policeman?"
There's is a true story that I remember as a kid. My brother and I were playing ball outside our tenement building. The ball went over the fence into the grass. My brother climbed over the fence to get the ball. But there was only one problem. In the middle of the grass was a bold sign declaring "KEEP OFF THE GRASS!" (This was during the innocent days when "keep off the grass" was not a warning not to smoke up but rather just simply don't step on the grass that the Housing Authority worked so hard to beautify).
Well a housing policeman saw my brother the "perpetrator" (who is now a lawyer, I wonder if this episode didn't steer him towards his profession) and ran after him. My brother ran up to our house with the policeman at his heels. The policeman told my mother, "The next time he runs from a policeman he's liable to shoot him!"
From here we can get a proper understanding of a "policeman."
Why did he want my brother not to go in the grass? Out of his love and concern for my brother? Of course not! The policeman was doing his job of reprimanding anyone who has the gall of transgressing the "holy" laws of the Housing Authority."
Unfortunately many look at rebuke-or worse yet- give rebuke with this intention. "You have some chutzpah to smoke that cigarette in front of me and ruin my Shabbos!" This is not the proper understanding of giving and accepting rebuke.
The proper way of understanding rebuke is not as Hashem's policeman but as a concerned friend who cares and loves his fellow man and wants to save him from harming his neshomo-soul. Just as a concerned friend would save someone from harming his body or investing in a stock that will make him lose his money.
As Rabbi Zelig Pliskin explains in, "Love Your Neighbor" (p. 279-80), the goal of rebuke is to correct the wrongdoer. In every situation we must weigh that particular case and use the best possible way to accomplish this.
The most important rule is to administer the rebuke with love and as painlessly as possible. When the receiver sees that you sincerely love him he will readily accept it.
This can be beautifully illustrated with a story about the Kopicznitzer Rebbe, Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (1887-1963).
This story was told by Rabbi Yaacov Greenwald and printed in "Visions Of Greatness" Vol. II, by Rabbi Yosef Weiss (p.157). It was entitled, "Admonishment with Love." It takes place on the lower East Side (my home town) when the Rebbe lived on Henry Street.
One Shabbos the Rebbe noticed two non-religious Jews standing on East Broadway, smoking a cigarette.
The Rebbe's Ahavas Yisroel- love for his fellow Jew was legendary and he could not pass without sharing his concern. He began to speak to them in a soft and gentle tone.
"Good Shabbos, Yidden-Jews."
"Good Shabbos, Rebbe," they replied respectfully.
"May I ask you a question?" the Rebbe said gently.
"The Shabbos is such a holy day, and you are such fine Jews. Why are you smoking on this holy day?" Then one of the men said to the Rebbe, "Rebbe, do you know what they say in America? Mind your own business!"
The Rebbe was unfazed and asked them another question.
He explained that this street is very busy with many cars going back and forth. If someone would G-d Forbid be hit and be lying there heavily bleeding, would you also say, "mind your own business?"
"Of course not, Rebbe! The man is lying there bleeding to death. Of course we would help him."
"Well, it is the same situation here. I see two fine Jews standing on the street with their souls bleeding to death. How can you tell me to mind my own business? Can you blame me for wanting to help them?"
The two men immediately threw the cigarettes away and promised not to smoke on Shabbos again.
Whenever I would say this story I would point out that we may not be like the Rebbe, but we can definitely try to show our love and concern in our rebuke to some extent. In fact, we should learn to give compliments and positive reinforcement when people do things right. Then the people would see that we truly love them. The problem is that the only time we speak to people is to tell them that they're wrong. This gives the impression that we are giving rebuke for the wrong reason.
May Hashem help us that there shouldn't be a necessity to give rebuke, and if there is, then we should learn the proper way to give it.
The next story deals with another very important point. Many times people feel they are doing something that may be wrong and it's hard to stop. In fact many other people also do it so what will it help to find out if it's really wrong. I won't stop anyway. It's so hard not to be dragged along by the cultural tide.
Well the truth is, that knowing that you're wrong also helps. Rabbi Avraham Twerski, in his book, "Let Us Make Man" (p.98-99) brings a beautiful story from Rav Nachman of Bratslav that drives this point home.
A king was once informed by his prime minister that there was a terrible plague with the new crop of wheat for that year. It was tainted, and anyone who would eat it would go insane. However, he told the king that he had set aside enough provisions of last year's wheat for the two of them. They could eat the old wheat and not go insane. It will last them till the new crop comes.
The king refused to eat anything different than his subjects but he suggested the following, "You and I will eat what everyone else eats. However, we will mark our foreheads with a symbol, so that when I look at you and you look at me, we will at least know that we are insane!"
Rabbi Twersky concludes, "Sometimes we cannot avoid being pulled along with the cultural insanity. But if so, let us be aware that we are insane, for then we may at least search for ways to restore our sanity."
I will conclude this point with a parable that I heard from my Rebeiim which I brought down in the "Rabbi of 42nd Street Sicha."
I was discussing the problem how sometimes people are inspired by a sicha but it doesn't last. So what's the use of going?
This can be compared to a person who was lost in a big forest late one night. It was very dark and he did not know which way to go to get out. All of a sudden, lightning lit up the forest for around three seconds and he sees that there's a way out toward the right. But then, he was back in the dark. So what did he gain in those three seconds? The answer is, he's still going to be stumbling and it will take a long time to get out, but at least he knows which way to stumble. The same thing is with a sicha or even a momentary inspiration. It may take you a while to get where you know you should be, but at least you know in which direction to go.
There is another famous story that I have heard being used in many different forms. I will relate it the way I originally heard it.
There was once a king who had a Jewish adviser. He asked him to explain to him clearly the difference between a Jew and (lehavdil) a gentile. The Jew explained that the best way to accomplish this was to show him, and if the king would listen to his instructions he would see the difference himself. Naturally the king agreed.
The tables were set in the king's palace with all kinds of delicacies. All of the king's gentile officers and advisers were surrounding the table awaiting instructions from the king. The king told them they may eat whatever is on the table but with the following conditions. They may not touch the food with their hands. They must use only the utensils that were on the table. It was then that they noticed the huge long forks and spoons that were on the table. They began trying to use these utensils but found that they couldn't manipulate them to put the food in their own mouths. After much hard work they gave up.
Then the Jews had a similar setup with a table laden with special kosher food and the same huge (kosher) utensils. They were given the same instructions. The Jews, however, realized what to do immediately. Each one picked up a huge portion with the utensil and fed his fellow Jew that was opposite him.
"This," said the Jewish adviser, "is the difference between the Jew and the gentile, chesed-doing favors and being considerate of others. The gentile only thinks about himself. If he can't eat himself it doesn't occur to him maybe I could at least feed someone else. The Jew understands that I'm not the only one. If I can't eat, maybe, at least, I can help someone else."
There is a story, that I believe I saw in one of Rabbi Hanoch Teller's books, that shows that sometimes gentiles themselves realize this point.
A Jew was riding down the highway when he noticed a stalled car with a man wearing a yarmulke near the car. Naturally, this Jew stopped to help his fellow Jew. After he fixed the problem, he noticed something in the car that shocked him. Right there on the dashboard was prominently displayed a cross, which is not exactly a Jewish symbol.
The Jew started a conversation with the other fellow and asked him tactfully if he was Jewish. The fellow sheepishly admitted that he wasn't. He explained, however, that he always noticed that whenever he saw a Jew stranded on the road, his co-religionists would always stop to help him. By the gentiles he didn't notice this. So he decided to carry a yarmulke in his glove compartment and put it on whenever he was stranded on the road. So far it hasn't failed him.
Of course, we have to learn from all of this to do much chesed and to be proud of our heritage.
Sometimes the biggest chesed is trying to understand someone else's situation. Even if we don't agree with him, and he may even be doing something weird, we should try to understand where he is coming from and try to help him. This is very well illustrated in this beautiful story from Rabbi Twerski in "Do Unto Others" (p.45).
Rabbi Twerski tells about an episode that he witnessed when he was a psychiatrist in a large state hospital with hundreds of mentally ill patients. Medical students would visit the hospital periodically and he would show them the various cases that were described in psychiatric literature but rarely seen outside of an institution.
On touring a chronic care building he pointed out a man who was the "senior" patient in the hospital. He was admitted fifty-two years ago at the age of seventeen. He hadn't spoken a word for the last fifty-two years. He had a very weird routine. After breakfast he would go to a corner of the community room and assume an absurd contorted position with his hands directed upward, and he would maintain this position for hours until he was called for lunch. After lunch he would return to this position till supper, and thereafter till bedtime. No therapy or medication, even electroshock treatment had served to alter his behavior which he had maintained for all these years. No amount of urging could get him to sit down except at mealtimes.
On one of the medical students' visits one young man asked if he could talk to this patient. "Certainly," Rabbi Twerski said, wondering what impact he thought he could make on this patient when decades of psychiatric efforts had failed.
The student approached the man and told him that he must be tired so why don't you sit down? The man gave him a blank stare and did not move. The student then assumed the contorted position of the patient, equaling his posture with great precision, and then said, "I'll stand here like this. You can go sit down." Without a word, the patient sat down on a bench for the first time in fifty-two years!
Rabbi Twerski concludes, " While it's impossible to know what was going on in this man's mind, it is likely that his delusion may have been that by assuming this weird position, he was holding up the universe, and he clearly could not submit to all entreaties to leave that position, lest the world collapse. (You may ask, as we all did, why did he leave to eat and sleep? But there was no rationale to his behavior.)
For all those years no one had understood this person until this ingenious medical student solved the mystery. But why? Granted this was irrational behavior but what we suddenly understood was that this unusual behavior had great meaning to the patient, but no one had tried to understand it. This strange behavior was just dismissed as "crazy" and no more consideration was given it or him. But by showing this patient compassion and understanding, the medical student gained a mitzvah, he showed kindness and allowed the patient to feel some relief. Further, a connection was formed between the irrational mind and the rational. Who knows how far such an understanding might have gone if it happened many years before.
Understanding another no matter how far apart our beliefs might be is a mitzvah in both senses of the word- a kindness, a connection. If more often more of us tried to build this bridge there's no telling where such kindness might take us. Think about it the next time someone around you acts in a way you can't immediately understand."
The only thing I can add to this story is that unfortunately this is a big problem with many people especially with today's youth. They may act sometimes not the way we want them to. To label them with derogatory names (bums, crackheads, druggies,etc.) won't help . What we need is, to use our compassion and ingenuity to try to understand that there is "method to their madness". Let's try to befriend them and find out what's bothering them. There are some recent issues of the Jewish Observer (November '99 and March '00) that are all about this problem. I would suggest that everyone get a copy.
I would not be doing justice if I didn't include this very inspirational story from a recent book of Rabbi Hanoch Teller entitled, "In An Unrelated Story…."(p.41-48-"Board of Education").
He tells about a ten-year-old Jewish boy who had gone to public school for the first four grades. Now his parents wanted to send him to a private one. They were not sure which, but they knew that they didn't want it to be a Jewish school. A certain Rabbi, who was the dedicated Principal of a large Jewish Day School, had met the boy by chance, and was convinced that he was a definite candidate for his Day School. He saw that the boy was clever and sensitive, with a bright future in store. The Rabbi tried to persuade the boy's parents but to no avail. The mother stated firmly that she had no interest in her son receiving a Jewish education, and she didn't want to "waste" even a penny for it. At this point the Rabbi countered with, "What if it won't cost you anything?"
At this point the boy's mother agreed to send the boy on a scholarship.
But now the hard part began. The boy's parents were quite affluent and could well afford full tuition. The school was finding it hard to make ends meet and was not inclined to allow a scholarship especially to a wealthy family. This did not deter the Rabbi from trying to persuade the Board of Directors that in this case they should allow it. He made an impressive presentation but he was flatly refused. The Rabbi was not ready to give up and came upon a different scheme.
He knew that the boy himself wanted very much to attend the Day School, his parent's refusal notwithstanding. So the Rabbi decided to let this ten-year-old boy plead his own case. The boy obliged and wrote the following letter with words straight from his heart:
Dear Rabbi…,The young boy's heartfelt words succeeded in winning the hearts of the board and gained him entrance into the Day School.
If you allow me to attend the Day School I may become an important rabbi someday. But if you do not allow me to enter, who knows what will become of me?
Of course, the story doesn't end here. This boy is a prominent adam gadol-great person today. The Rosh Yeshivah of the boy's High School said that it would have been worthwhile to establish the whole Day School which this boy attended if only to start him on his path to greatness.
And when the Rabbi of that Day School passed away, the hospital staff handed his meager personal possessions to his family. His wallet was empty but for his ticket to the World to Come embossed on the boy's fourth grade letter.
When I finished reading that story, I realized that the beautiful letter that the boy wrote could also be a heart felt letter from our future children.
Many of us are at a crossroads in life. The decisions we make today about what yeshiva to attend, (or if you're already at the Yeshiva, whether to attend the Beis Medrash or stay in the dorm), which girl to marry, where to live, what job to take, etc. can have a profound impact on the rest of our life as well as the life of our children, grandchildren, etc. It may help us to make the right decision if we imagine getting a letter from our future children:
If you will allow yourself to attend (and LEARN in ) the Yeshivah WE may become important rabbis, or fine Jews someday. But if you do not allow yourself to enter, who knows what will become of US?
Your Future Children
I'm going to conclude with a story from Rabbi Krohn's "Around the Maggid's Table" (p.120-121) called "Down to Earth" that gives us a very important and eye opening perspective of life.
He brings from Rav Yissachar Frand, a noted Torah scholar and lecturer in Baltimore, a story from Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner (1749-1821).
There were two neighbors who had adjoining fields. There was one part there that they had a violent feud over. Each one claimed that the part was his and refused to listen to the other ones arguments. Finally they agreed to approach Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner for a judgement. Each one stated his claims to the Rabbi. The Rabbi heard their arguments and suggested that he wants to see the piece of the field that was in question. Maybe that would help him understand their individual points of view. The Rabbi studied the layout of the land and its boundaries. Then he heard their arguments again.
All of a sudden, the Rabbi bent down and placed his ear to the soil. The two men were astounded. "What are you doing there on the ground?" one of them asked.
"I have heard your points of view about this piece of property," answered Rav Chaim, "but now I would like to hear what the ground has to say for itself."
The men thought he was joking, so one man said in a humorous tone, "All right, so indeed tell us-what does the ground say?"
Rav Chaim smiled at them and said, "The ground finds it hard to understand the anger and short-sightedness of both of you. It says, 'This one claims that I belong to him, then the other one claims that no, I belong to him. The truth, though, is that eventually they will both belong to me!' "
A sobering thought for humility and compromise.
Of course, the Rabbi was reminding them (and us) that eventually we will all be buried in the ground (belong to the ground), and we should learn not to fight so much and get angry. We should think, is it really that important? Does it really matter? (Even lehavdil the "Beatles" sing, "Life is much to short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friend…")
We should follow the Rabbi's advice and remind ourselves that eventually we will be buried and have to give an accounting for everything we have done or didn't do here. We won't necessarily get a warning when that will be. Consequently, we should follow the advice of Rebbi in Pirkry Avos (Chapter2 Mishna15) "Repent one day before you die." Of course the students asked Rebbi, "Does one know when he will die, that he can repent one day before?" So Rebbi responded, "Therefore repent today, lest you die tomorrow."
I hope that some of these stories have inspired some people and maybe even helped people decide to be better. But let's not just decide to be better let's actually do it. As I saw a question recently, "If there are five frogs on a fence and four decide to jump off. How many are left? The answer is five, because there's a big difference between "deciding" and "doing".
May Hashem help us to be inspired, decide, and do what we should and we will live a happier life in this world and the next.
List of Rabbi Price's sichot
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