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Saliva Off a Ducks Back!

Thursday, 17 May, 2018 - 5:17 pm

Blessing? Curse? Or someplace in between? 

Are our reactions to upsetting experiences always justified? How much of our response is due to something beyond our own control? Caused by the actions and behaviours of another, who has consciously or subconsciously trampled our space, rights and sensitivities?

Do we ever consider that perhaps the other has far less of a role to play and our reaction is really based on our own prejudice and bias?

Or do we just lack the maturity and confidence to even consider that question at all?

And just to help us consider the question, the media/internet has Laurel vs Yannie gone viral. I got Yannie on my phone at home, while I got Laurel from the same phone on campus! Talk about perspectives! (Did I lose you? Google Laurel vs Yannie).

A couple of stories. 

Last Shabbat, in the Parsha of Bechukotai, we read the 49 curses that make up the harsh rebuke, warnings of exile, persecution and other evils that will befall the Jewish people if they abandon their covenant with G-d.  A similar, even more intense reading can be found in the portion of Ki Tavo, consisting of 98 curses, and read annually on the second to last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana.

In fact, as discussed in this week’s Pizza n Parsha class, (Watch it hear https://www.facebook.com/ZalmanShterna/videos/10156639837499396), these readings are specifically read in the lead up to Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah, though always cushioned with another reading in between the curses and the actual Festival.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first leader of the Chabad movement, was the regular Torah-reader in his Synagogue. One year, on Shabbat Ki Tavo when the portion of 98 curses is read, he was out of town, so another member of the community filled the role of Torah reader.  His son Dovber, future leader of Chabad, who was then not yet Bar Mitzvah, was in attendance at the Synagogue.  Hearing the curses caused profound anguish to the boy, leaving him physically unwell, to the extent that more than two weeks later, his father was concerned whether he had recovered sufficiently to be able to fast on Yom Kippur.

Considering that the young prodigy had been hearing and comprehending the Torah reading for some years now, the Chassidim asked why it was that he suffered such intense anguish on this occasion. To which he replied "When Father reads, one hears no curses."

Are they really negative curses, or do we misread life’s experiences? 

At 6:45am last Friday morning, returning from having dropped off Raizel, Mendel and Shmulik at Brighton station for their journey to school in London, I noticed a fellow who I’d identify as a construction site worker, due to his hard hat, attire and backpack, walking across the main road.  Although some distance from me, the fellow noticed me and began aggressively spitting in my direction.

To be honest, I felt sorry for the chap. He had to get up early to face another day of work, only to have the misfortune of having to almost cross paths with a Jew! How frustrating for him. As I drove round the corner towards the Chabad House, I watched the guy continue towards the path through ‘The Level’ park, all the while continuing his strange, angry spitting in my direction.

Please, please! Take the time to read to the end of this entry. I will consider deleting this entire post if I get any sympathy messages! He was quite a few meters from me, and no chance that his saliva could have assisted at all with the removal of the seagull stains on my once-pristine car.

Making the quick decision to attempt a photo of the fellow, just in case we cross paths again, I pulled over to park near the bus-stop.  Although also close to the house, we generally park in the next section of parking, further south along the road, as it is easier to get the younger kids to those spaces. We only park north of the bus-stop when there are no spaces at all in the southern section.  By the time I had parked, the guy had disappeared between the amusement rides of the annual May Bank Holiday fair, so I promptly headed home, mildly confused as well as amused by the odd, and I will admit somewhat uncomfortable encounter. Nope, I have no intention of reporting it, to the CST, Sussex Police or anyone else for that matter.  By the time my coffee was made, I’d completely forgotten about it.  Keep on reading…

Later that morning, on a quick pre-Shabbat shop at Sainsbury’s, a middle-aged woman pushing a loaded shopping cart passed me in the isle, and as she did so, barely giving me the chance to register, she softly wished me ‘Good Shabbos’.  I don’t believe we’ve met before, though judging by the brief encounter, I’d venture that she lives locally. This time, I’d enjoyed a pleasant experience, and the contrast compared to the episode earlier that morning, left me with food-for-thought as I headed to the checkouts.

And then I promptly filed away both experiences somewhere in the back of my mind, soon to be entirely forgotten. Or so I thought.

Mid-afternoon, the doorbell rings. I open the door to find Gil, a Brighton University student, standing there offering me a small, plush toy Torah, wrapped in some cloth.

Gil: “I found this at the bus stop. Is it yours?”.

Me: “Hmmm. Who else in this neighborhood would drop a toy Torah in the street??! Yup, looks like one of ours”.

At which point, I hear Shterna’s voice behind me saying “oh, I wondered where Levi had dropped that this morning on the way to the car”.

Me: “Gil. We usually see you on a Friday night or evening social. Seeing as you’re here, would you like to pop in and put on Tefillin?”.

My narrow, prejudiced perspective had made me confidently assume that I was seeing individual and isolated moments last Friday. But as Gil was reciting the Shema in the Chabad House library, the full picture of this strange chain of events slowly came in to focus. 

4 year old Levi drops a very Jewish looking toy at the bus stop, which he usually doesn’t pass on his way to the car. Later that day, Gil passes the bus stop (he wouldn’t have passed the parking spaces further south).  Does a Mitzvah and returns the toy, and winds up bagging another Mitzvah - Tefillin.

And only because some deeply prejudiced guy gave me some negative attitude earlier that morning, causing me to park differently than usual.

Thank you Mr. ‘Angry Construction-Site Worker’ for being in the right place, at the right time, with the right attitude. It’s in your merit that a Jew did another Mitzvah. 

And thank you also for reminding me of the importance of constantly recognizing that you, and I, are just pawns in G-d’s masterplan.

Curse?! No way! More like revealed blessing.

Saliva off a ducks back.

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