By Rabbi Eliyahu Safran
They say that you cannot tell a book by its cover. True, but more damning is that we very often are reluctant to make an effort to look closely enough to see the thing itself, to see deeper than the superficial. As a result, we almost always remain blind to the wonder and beauty of what’s really right there in front of us, preferring it seems to sleepwalk through life, believing that the cover actually does say something about the book!
We pass by a young man hobbled by a physical deformity and simply presume that his limitations extend to his imagination, intellect and dreams. We see a tall, powerfully-built lad and we bestow upon him the presumption of courage and inner-strength. We see a teenager in a hoodie…
We judge, we presume, we anticipate and we react based on what? a cursory glance at the surface? There is the story of a young executive, driving his late model Jaguar through neighborhood streets, his thoughts on recent business decisions. He was aware enough to keep his eyes watching for children darting out from between the cars parked along the road.
He slowed when he thought he saw something but then began to speed up again when it appeared to be nothing. Suddenly, a thud sounded against the side of his car. He slammed on his brakes and jumped from the car. He looked at his precious car to see a deep dent in the door. And there, on the street alongside the car, was a brick. He grabbed the first youngster he saw and shoved him against a park car.
“What was that all about?” he shouted.
“Please,” the youngster sobbed. “I… I didn’t know what else to do. No one would stop.”
The man leaned closer to the youngster, his expression more menacing. “What?”
The youngster, tears streaming down his cheeks, pointed toward a parked car. “My brother… my brother rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair. He’s hurt. I can’t lift him up. I need help. Please, help me…”
The man looked over and he saw, there on the road between two parked cars, a toppled over wheelchair and a boy maybe twelve years old lying on the street.
“No one would stop. I didn’t know what to do…”
The driver felt a lump form in his throat. Forgetting about his car, he went over to the hurt boy and did what he could to help.
“God bless you,” the youngster said as he pushed his brother in the wheelchair. “God bless you and thank you.”
The man was still too shaken to speak. He simply watched the youngster as he moved down the sidewalk.
Although the damage to his cherished car was obvious, the man never repaired the dent. It remained a reminder to him to not go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at him to look beyond.
God whispers in our souls and speaks to our hearts. Sometimes, when we think we don’t have time to listen, He has to throw a brick…
How ironic that we Jews, who have been so unfairly judged, are often guilty of seeing only the surface! We judge so much around us by the chitzoniyus – by externals. We see one in Chassidic garb and exclaim, “Oh, he must be pious!” The black hat? “He must be learned!” The gray hat? “Ha! Where is he from?”
Recently, a fine Chassidisheyungermanshared with me the story of a meaningful Torah gathering and celebration of major Torah writings where, “a clean shaven man with a bend down hat”gave a deep Talmudic discourse in Seder Kodshim. He was then followed by a young man with a kipa seruga who captivated the learned audience, “with novel chidushim in Z’vachim.”
But that was “just too much to handle.” Chidushim from a kipa seruga! Cannot be! Oh, yes we have become very chitzoniyus-oriented indeed. Our reality is what is in front of us. Black suit, great! Gray suit, ha! Kapote, great! Colored shirt, ha!
On and on. In every aspect of Jewish life and practice, we see the superficial, the external, the “apparent” and presume from that something more. But in doing so, we never use our eyes’ spiritual pupils, only our weak physical eyes. As a result, we see not with our spectacles but with our prejudice, with our negius. We view the world and all that’s in it as we would have it be rather than as it is. We shun everyone who is “not like me” and embrace everyone who looks like we do.
I have heard Chassidishechildren see a man in a suit and tie, with a bend-down hat, ask, “Iz er a yid?” They see a man, but they do not see a Jew.
* * *
Parshas Shlach begins and ends with seeing. The Meragliminstructed to spy on the land, are specifically told, U’reisemeshaArtetz – “and you shall look at the Land.” The parsha concludes with the mitzvah of tzizis. U’reisem oso – “and you shall look at the tzizis.”
The Meraglim were without tzizis? The mitzvah of tzizisis instructive; it teaches the Jew how to look and see. To the uninitiated, the Jew with tzizisis a silly man who has forgotten to remove the sales tags from his garment! On the surface, tzizizare little more than hanging strings. Or… or they are constant reminder of all “the mitzvos haShem.
The tzizis do not change. How they are viewed, how they are seen, does!
The Talmud in Menachoscomments on the techeles, the blue thread in the tzizis. The techelesis like the sea; and the sea looks like the sky; and the sky calls to mind theKiseh haKavod– the Divine Throne. To call to mind the Divine Throne is to call to mind all of God’s commandments. Imagine! All of God’s commandments from a single blue thread amidst the other tzizis strings.
The techeles doesn’t change. How you look at it does! Is it merely a blue thread that contrasts and highlights the white threads? Or is it a direct connection to the sea, the sky, the Heavenly Throne and God’s commandments?
The Meraglimtoo were told to go and see… to see what? A land promised to each of our Avot, the land promised to a people born into slavery only to be redeemed by the Hand of God. What else could they have seen but a land blessed by God Himself. Yet, ten of the twelve saw only the chitzoniyus. They saw hats – shtreimels, kipot srugot; they saw beards and payos; they saw wigs, snoods – they saw the external.
They saw much to frighten them. Big people, strong people. Giants! They saw fortified cities, a land of mentschen fressers, aneretz ocheles yoshveia. It was all so intimidating. The ten, they saw the giants and the danger but none of God’s providence. They were blind to the holiness all around them.
Has anything changed, even today? How many refuse to see all that is holy on every street corner of Eretz Yisrael? How many speak only of a secular state, of anon-religious government, of a depraved, Western culture? Of an eretz ocheles yoshveia – of bureaucracy, of the hassles of integrating into this tough, sabra society?
They see with the eyes of the ten spies!
Jews, where are your tzizis? Ureiesem es haAretz!
Where are your tzizis? Your vision is limited because of your chitzoniyus approach….
Sadly, and frighteningly, seeing Israel with such narrow vision is not just a flaw of Jews and, specifically, the Orthodox; it is a flaw shared by the world at large. Since the State’s birth in 1948, we have been viewed and characterized with every negative connotation imaginable, with new ones added regularly. In just the last few months, “apartheid” has been added to the long list of condemnations. Israel is a war monger, a brutal occupier, an oppressor of human rights; intolerant, insensitive, militaristic brutes incapable of even the slightest sympathy for the suffering Palestinians…
Where are the tzizis?
Recently, Marcella Rosen decided, Enough! She would help the world and interested Jews too,to see the real Israel. She decided that she teach the world of another way of seeing the incomparable State of Israel. That the media creates an overriding negative impression of Israel does not make that impression true. So, turning her back on “the ten”, she aligned herself with Yehoshua and Caleb. Marcella decided to tell and share Untold News (www.untoldnews.org).
She gathers and disseminates the positive, glorious, and miraculous ways that Israeli innovation brings help, hope and healing to the world. “While everyone has been focused on the country’s decades of military conflicts, Israel has quietly become the most energetic, ambitious, go-go incubator of entrepreneurialism and inventionthe planet has ever seen. It’s true: Israel is a barrier-breaking dynamo of a kind never before witnessed in history. Acre for acre, citizen for citizen, no place is churning out more ideas, more products, more procedures and devices and technologies than this tiny strip of land along the Mediterranean. And the work that Israel is turning out is saving and improving lives around the world, every day.”
While the world has seen Israel as one-dimensional, a function of its relation with its Arab and Palestinian neighbors, something profoundly different has been happening “below the radar.” Israel has quietly become the little country that changed the world – and your life – for the better… without you even knowing about it.
In the online magazine ‘Frontpage Mag,’ Jim Fletcher wrote about just two such innovations. We know that hospital infections are potentially deadly, yet sometimes hand washing, clean door handles and antibacterial aerosol are not enough. So, Aharon Gedanken, achemist at the Bar-Ilan University Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materialsfocused on the fabrics used in hospitals – pajamas, sheets, gowns – and created an anti-bacterial “coating” that soaks into the very fabric, rendering it bacteria free.
We know the world is becoming drier. The need for water is defined as one of the great national security issues of our time. So, consider the stunning achievements Israelis have made with drip irrigation. In a region where water is a prized and rare commodity, Israeli agriculturalists have been able to grow vast crops, using a fraction of the water supply other countries use.
Israel, a land of creativity, genius and innovation! Israel, a land where more Torah is being learned today than ever before in Jewish history; where there is a renewal and rejuvenation of every major Chassidic community, a proliferation of every category of Jewish scholarship from every segment of the Jewish community! Israel, this tiny land that others see as an eretz ocheles yoshveia, is doing more for the world than countries one hundred times its size!
The myopic, limited view of Israel is put forth by “the ten”. And not only the New York Times or CNN. These “ten” are all anashim, men and women of distinction; leaders, celebrities. But when all is said and done, their ability to see was limited by their refusal to see beyond the obvious and superficial.
It is time for everyone to add the blue techeles to their tzizis; to join luminaries like Warren Buffett (“If you go to the Middle East looking for oil you don’t need to stop in Israel. If you go looking for brains, energy, integrity, it’s the only stop you need to make in the Middle East”) and Bill Gates (“Israel is by many measures the country relative to its population that has done the most to contribute to the technology revolution”) and to see with the eyes of Yehoshua and Caleb; see a land flowing with milk and honey, with creativity, innovation and genius; a land astonishing in its Torah learning and yiddishkeit; a land promised to God’s people and a gift to the world!