Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stories of Shul Life From Inside The Beis Medrash

"The Night the Mule Lost Its Load"

My shul is a special place to which all sorts of Jews from the arba kanfos gather to pray and commune with The One Above.

It never fails to amaze me how very much of a truism, a big emes it is that ... well, you have heard it before under a variety of other forms: some say 1) never judge a book by its cover or in this case perhaps a more appropriate aphorism is .... 2) greet each man with a smile and an open hand as if he were the Moshiach because at that moment when you are interacting with him, you really have no idea that it might not really be He!

I freely admit that this is an area of my own middos that needs a lot of improvement. In other words, I am prejudicial about which years ago Ben Z'L rebuked me many the time. Certain behaviors bother me-okay I admit it!-and from which I tend to draw rather harsh conclusions about the individual in question. I guess I should wonder how it is that other folks view me? How do they perceive me? Does it coincide with my self-perception? Then again, my self-perception, like that of everyone else, is continuously evolving as I experience more of life and a myriad of opportunities that often remind me how wrong I am about so many things, especially people.

Now it isn't that I do not intellectually understand the lesson that one should not judge others. I mean, after all, how difficult is it really? Furthermore, how many folks-outside of our closest relatives-do we really know? I mean really, deeply, on a level that penetrates? Yes, of course, its a rhetorical question; we may even not know our closest relatives as closely as we think! We all retain an inner privacy we may never share with anyone-not a parent, sibling, best friend-not even a spouse.

Still it remains a fact after countless many instances that people whom I have prejudged or toward whom shown coldness or displeasure so often turn out to be genuinely choshever menschen.

I "met" another one of these individuals in shul tonight-a man I have known for less than a year, perhaps ten months at the most. He is the kind of fellow who is naturally gregarious, a schmoozer, who involves himself in seemingly private conversations just because he's interested, I suppose. Not so much as a busybody, it's simply who he is. He wants to share the moment with as many as possible, a very successful person socially because he takes the time and trouble to introduce himself to complete strangers. There is no hand he does not shake. Scientifically speaking he is of the genus "homo sapien politicus."

I guess it was this about him, his conviviality, the ease with which he smiles ... that frankly annoyed me. It is not, however, a matter of happenstance, I think, this evening coincided with this week's parashat Mishpatim about which Reb Louis shared a splendid shtickl Torah from the Medrash Tanchuma.

Mishpatim reminds us that should we happen across our neighbor whom we dislike but find that his mule has dropped his load that the Torah obligates us to assist him to schlep it atop the mule once again-no matter that you may have more regard for the chamor than you have for its owner. Meanwhile something "magical" begins to happen while the two of them share the laboriousness of reloading the mule. A conversation invariably takes place with the result that one realizes that the other guy is not the schmendrik and perhaps even a menuval that he had thought him to be.

So it makes sense that The One Above created this particular mitzvah with the intent of fostering shalom between and among Jews who might otherwise have labored each under the misconception of the other and in this way lends credibility to what we say by maariv: "ahavas olam Beis Yisroel ..."

So you want to know what he said? Well, between mincha and maariv the other fellow whose "donkey had dropped its load" very touchingly related to me that my book had made a deep impression on him ... that it evoked memories of his mother's passing not long before and, as it happens, on the same date, November 22, as Ben. I was touched by his sincerity and his genuinely empathic mien, but the knockout punch came several moments later when he walked back to where I was sitting. I guess he had something more he wished to say.

I regard his latter comment as the most meaningful remark anyone has thus far said to me about the book, and I'll tell you ... thankfully there have been many kind words uttered to me and many fine folks have taken the time to utter and write many wonderful accolades, but this fellow's remarks tugged at my heart strings.

"I felt so good, so warm about how it was that you portrayed your ex-wife throughout the book. Your treatment of her was balanced, kind, fair-nothing that would suggest any crass opportunism to take a swipe. I really appreciated that. It really came through."

"Well, thank you, Moishele (not his name) thank you very much. Yes, she was my wife for twenty-four years and remains the mother of my three children." As I spoke, I noticed his eyes tearing up and saw his genuine sincerity and sensitivity as inherent middos of this large man, as big as a brown bear but as gentle as a cub.

After the last Kaddish, I scurried out with the intent to get this story down on paper, as it were. I am once again reminded that The One Above is the one and only "dayan ha emes."

It occurred that Moishele is very much like my late son Ben who also kept the softness of a teddy bear next to his heart.

Alan D. Busch

January 28, 2008

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