19 Iyar 5779 / Friday, May 24, 2019 | Torah Reading: Bechukotai
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Standing Together

How do we react to another person's negative behavior that really turns us off? Maybe before being so quick on the trigger to condemn, we should do something constructive...


It was Shabbos night (Friday) before Purim in the little shtiebel (small synagogue) across from where I live. During the prayers that welcome the return of Shabbos to the world, the Rabbi took the prayer leader’s hand and within moments we were all holding hands and singing as we circled around the synagogue – except for one man.


Fast forward: It’s Shabbos afternoon about an hour before mincha (the afternoon prayer service)…


I arrived early to the synagogue hoping to have time to learn before praying.  On Shabbos, the atmosphere in the shtiebel is very lively and conducive to learning Torah. The place is packed with the men and boys of my community – people of all ages learning Torah with enthusiasm. Young boys with pure sweet voices singing the Talmud to moving melodies; men sitting with study partners loudly challenging each to find the truth in what they are learning; other boys were sitting with their fathers who fill them with love by patiently teaching them in a way that only loving fathers can do.


I took a seat behind a father and his two boys, one on each side of him.  Abba (father) was trying to get his sons to pay attention to him and it was obvious that he was having a lot of trouble. This was the same man who had refused to join the dancing the night before. The emotional disconnection between this father and his boys was painfully obvious.  The boys were hopelessly tuned out and uninterested in what their father was talking about and father was growing more frustrated and angry by the moment.


I heard the father tell one of his sons: “You don’t know anything” (knocking his knuckle on his son’s head).


Just then someone walked over: “Wasn’t that dancing last night amazing? We need more often – just to get the rust out. Don’t we?”


The man who didn’t dance said: “A synagogue is for praying. In my prayer book it doesn’t say anything about dancing during the evening prayers. It’s just some Chassidic thing so why should I do it?"


I thought to myself:  “What do you mean? Don’t you know what it means to exclude yourself from the unity of Israel - people who are praising G-d together! Don’t you see that the Rabbi himself is dancing with us? Do you think that you are more holy than he is?  The Divine Presence is with us and not with you when you stand outside the circle! When people hold hands and serve G-d in unity, the forces of evil have no power over them. By refusing to join us and judging us unfavorably you are holding back the redemption of our people! And you who publicly hit and shame your own children – I don’t believe for a moment that you refrained from dancing in the name of Heaven - you only did it to show that you are better than we are!”


Thank G-d I didn’t say a word of this out loud.


The man just continued learning with his boys: “You're sleeping…you’re not listening…you’re this and you’re that…” (Another knock on the head)


As the congregation prepared to start praying the afternoon prayers, I moved my seat to the other side of the synagogue to get away from the negative energy. I didn’t want it to affect my prayers.


Soon we began the afternoon prayers and the Torah was brought out for public reading. Even from the other side of the synagogue, I could hear that man speaking to someone during the reading of the Torah – something that is strictly forbidden to do.


As we began to pray I realized that G-d wanted me to pray for those two boys to grow and enjoy our Jewish way of life and remain loyal to G-d and his Torah. As I was leaving the synagogue I realized that I had not prayed for their father so I went up to him and shook his hand. I smiled and looked him in the eyes and wished him a good Shabbos. Moved by my friendly gesture, he smiled back and wished me a good Shabbos too.


That night, in my personal prayer, I prayed that G-d would make us friends and that the joy that G-d has given me though my Rabbi’s would pass on to him through our friendship. I also prayed for his marriage and that his children would never need psychotherapy.  May it be so.



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We invite you to visit Dr. Zev Ballen's popular daily web journal Spiritual Coaching.

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