Stealings and Piercings

Mishpotim

We all must discipline our children. One of the most popular methods of the day is the “time-out”. ‎Parenting books suggest that these ‘jail-times’ vary according the age of the child and the severity ‎of the crime. There are tell-tale signs when the sentence is unsuccessful. If a kid emerges from her “cell” grinning from ear to ear, something is wrong. ‎

The child thinks, Ha! It was worth it!‎

In accordance with Jewish law, when a convicted burglar lacks the funds to repay the victim of his ‎robbery, he is sold by the court into slavery. The funds raised from the sale are used to make up for ‎the loss. After six years of labor, the slave is freed. If the slave chooses, and his master agrees, he ‎may remain in servitude after the six years, until the jubilee. However, the court will administer ‎minor surgery before allowing him stay in slavery. His right ear is pierced with an awl. ‎

“Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said: The ear that heard on Mount Sinai, ‘You shall not ‎steal’ and then went and stole, shall be bored.” ‎ (Rashi Shemos 21:6)

This seems problematic. ‎

First, we puncture his ear after completing his six-year term. At this juncture, he is no longer guilty ‎of theft. He has repaid the debt. Yet, at this point that we pierce his ear that did not heed, “You ‎shall not steal”. ‎

Secondly, if his act of theft is the basis for subjecting him to the awl, then let us bore every thief at ‎the very moment that his guilt is established.‎

As a rule, it is not in the spirit of Jewish law to leave an everlasting physical imprint on one who ‎sins. Jewish law does not advocate marking one as “evil” for an eternity. The court does not ‎brand with fire, tattoo, or body-pierce. ‎

The door to repentance is always open. Hashem wishes to give his children a reason to feel that ‎they can – once again – earn their way back into his nurturing embrace. ‎

Therefore, Beis Din does not implement the awl in the case of rape, heresy, desertion, or ‎manslaughter. ‎

The thief, however, is an exception. And even then, the court only utilizes the awl when the ‎offender desires to remain in servitude past the completion of his sentence. The conscripted slave who wishes to stay beyond his penal duty presents a problem in the moral ‎arena. ‎

Since he finds comfort in his current situation, he will look favorably upon the circumstances that ‎afforded it. He will never regret his earlier crime.‎

Ha, it was worth it!

This is terrible. ‎

The perception that theft is evil will be further dulled. ‎

Therefore, in an effort to reinstate the severity of stealing, the Torah dictates that we “bore the ‎ear of a crook that heard, “You shall not steal”. ‎

The thief who chooses to remain in servitude, past the allotted time dictated by his sentence, is ‎made to live with a constant reminder about his failure to heed one of the Ten Commandments.‎ Not because he should suffer an eternal punishment, but so that he is aware of the moral ‎background of his sin. This will act as a deterrent from committing infractions in the future.‎

Talking so People Listen

Yisro

GPS devices supply audio directions via speaker. A pre-recorded human voice announces forthcoming ‎instructions. These voices come in a variety of languages and a choice of accents, catering to different ‎countries. Imagine you missed the highway exit because the Texan drawl sounded like Public Address at the ‎Super Bowl. Other options include gender; do you want hear a male or female voice? Not everyone can ‎take directions from a woman – especially when she knows what she is talking about. Personally, I’m fed ‎up of monotones instructing ‘in a tenth of a mile take the exit left’, I’d much prefer a zippy six-year-old ‎telling me ‘zoom-up and then swing over left’ or better still random voices.‎

Technology has moved forward from basic audio instructions to Interactive Voice Response. IVR is the ‎software that enables humans to interact with a computer generated voice. It is commonly used when ‎calling Banks, Utilities and Airlines. Recently, it has gained prominence due to interactive smart-phone ‎voices, such as Siri on iPhone. ‎

Basic studies on IVR have looked at differences between male and female voices, to discover which are ‎more usable. More research is necessary. Are sympathetic voices better than professional ones? What are ‎the effects of tone and tempo? Do men want to listen to men, and women to women? Are there certain ‎keywords and phrases which are attractive to the teenage ear?‎

My wife’s maternal grandfather, Shmuel (Rudolph) Tauber, was hard of hearing. In an effort to make ‎ourselves heard, family members would bellow ‘Good morning’ and scream ‘How are you today?’ It felt ‎like an odd way of exchanging pleasantries but Opa Tauber never minded. One noticeable fact was ‎discernible in his conversations, he understood men more quickly than women, requiring them to repeat ‎themselves less often. Perhaps, suggested my father-in-law, he has an easier time hearing the deeper ‎timbre of male voices, than the higher female pitch. ‎

As soon as the Jews encamped at Sinai preparations were underway for the momentous Giving of the ‎Torah. Moshe, as leader of the nation was constantly shuttling between Hashem and the people, relaying ‎messages from one to the other. On the second day at Sinai, Moshe ascended the mountain towards ‎Hashem, and Hashem spoke to him: ‎

‎“So you shall say to the House of Yaakov and tell the sons of Yisroel”‎

Why does G-d seemingly repeat Himself? Aren’t the ‘House of Yaakov’ and the ‘sons of Yisroel’ one and ‎the same? Secondly, the verbs modifying his statement, vary: the first instruction employed the word ‘say’ ‎while the second utilized the verb ‘tell’. ‎

Rashi quoting the Mechilta explains:‎

The House of Yaakov – these are the women. ‘Say’ – in a gentle language
Tell the sons of Yisroel – explain to the men harsh punishments and detailed laws.‎

G-d’s precise instruction “So you shall say” meant that Moshe should provide both men and women exactly ‎the same message. However, even though the content was identical, Moshe was to stress different angles ‎when relaying the information to the men and women. Be’er Yitzchok explains, Moshe told the women the ‎significance of accepting and following the Torah – he left them to deduce the depressing consequences of ‎refusal. Whereas, when talking to the men, Moshe left nothing to the imagination, it was necessary to ‎explain both positions, the outcome of accepting or – G-d forbid – rejecting the Torah. Thus the message ‎was identical, but how he conveyed the content differed.‎

When speaking to other people we have to think how the other person would enjoy hearing it. What might ‎sound pleasing to your ears might not necessarily be as well received by the listener. In addition to tone ‎and word choice, we should pay attention to present our ideas with optimism and positivity.‎

Follies of Freedom

Beshalach

You’ve won the lottery. You have just won the opportunity to wreck your life, it is a ‎fact that instant winners rapidly acquire new problems: Marital disharmony, drug ‎problems and lack of purpose. Many wind-up losing their newfound wealth, ‎squandering money on lavish clothes, fancy cars and alcohol (and drug) fueled ‎parties. Why is this the fate of otherwise sensible people? What happened to their ‎deliberate decisions and common sense?‎

Africa is a mixture of the exotic, the primitive and the dangerous. I dream of the day ‎I will be able to visit this exquisite continent. When I think of South Africa – in ‎particular – I have mixed feelings. The landscape is breathtaking, blending beautiful ‎flora with a magnificent mountain vista. This is nature in its glory. Just thinking ‎about this fills me with a longing and a desire to feast my eyes on these treasures. ‎But, I am also filled with sadness. South Africa is not a safe place; crime is rampant, ‎and locals live with a siege mentality. It wasn’t always like that, in the space of a ‎single generation, the country has dangerously descended from law-abiding to ‎lawlessness. Why did South Africa degenerate so rapidly? ‎

Hashem performed miracles for the Jews in Mitzrayim on a scale never hitherto ‎seen. Each and every one of these miracles bore an obvious message. ‎

‎“In order you should know I’m G-d in the midst of the land.”‎ (Shemos 8: 18) 

“In order you should know there is none like Me in the entire world.”  (Shemos 9:14)‎

“In order you should know the earth is G-d’s.” ‎ (Shemos 9 :29)

These messages were seared into their consciousness and ingrained forever in their ‎memories. By the time the Jews left Egypt there were no doubters in their ranks.

Their departure route from Egypt was circuitous. G-d deliberately avoided the ‎shorter route, which would have led them near the Philistines. G-d said, lest the ‎people be afraid of war – with the Philistines – and return to Egypt. ‎

How could these Jews possibly be scared of waging battle? These people had just ‎witnessed 10 miracles on their behalf, i.e. ten cataclysmic nature-altering ‎phenomena. Is it possible that after such experiences they will be afraid of war? ‎Hashem promised to take them from Egypt to Canaan – He took them out of Egypt, ‎who would doubt His bringing them to Canaan? ‎

The goal of every parent is to make their child independent. A parent wishes to see ‎their children complete their education, hold down a job, build a family and be a ‎contributing member of society. Let’s be honest, parents – as well as children – need ‎it for their mental health. To be successful, parents begin by giving the child small ‎responsibilities. Little by little, these responsibilities increase until the child is ‎capable of sailing his own boat. ‎

A friend of mine was asked by his son, to sign a homework assignment. The father ‎was preoccupied with watching the Yankees and promised to see to it later. Dad ‎forgot. Attempting to make amends, he defended his child to the teacher and ‎accepted the blame. The teacher did not excuse the child. “In fifth-grade,” said the ‎teacher “I expect the child to ensure his homework is signed. If dad is busy he ‎should ask again later.” The teacher was teaching the child – and the parent – ‎responsibility. This child is old enough to procure his father’s signature. This is a ‎youngster guided towards independence. ‎

Chicks that leap out of the nest, before they are ready to fly – die. A child who is ‎thrust in the deep-end too early will flounder. It is impossible to change overnight ‎from dependence to independence. Every incremental step of autonomy has to be ‎achieved gradually. Too much freedom too soon is harmful, thus care should be ‎taken to cut the apron strings one fiber at a time. This long process takes a ‎generation, literally. Most children reach independence concurrently with ‎parenthood. ‎

Sadly, lack of correct implementation of this concept, contributed to South-Africa’s ‎undoing. Slavery and servitude were to be abolished; no longer should one man lord ‎over another. All men would have equal opportunity to education, land ownership ‎and arms. These rights, and many others, were granted in an instant. But at what ‎cost? South Africa has now become a dangerous place. A gradual easing of ‎restrictions would have been far more beneficial. It would have given them time to ‎acclimate to total freedom. ‎

Overnight, lottery winners change from rags to riches. Shortly after collecting their ‎checks, they are proud owners of fancy cars and large mansions. They act ‎benevolently too, dishing out loans to friends in need. Rapidly, they whittle down ‎their seemingly unlimited funds. Others find their wealth incites jealousy; quarrels ‎develop in a family which until previously got along. All these pitfalls are avoided by ‎those who become rich gradually. Their increased spending dovetails their ‎incremental growth in wealth. There is no sudden influx of demands for loans and ‎gifts. Friends and relatives don’t sense they ‘deserve’ a piece of the pie. Rich people, ‎by and large, are capable of living within their means.Financial independence is ‎most secure when it develops in stages. ‎

To be a soldier means to fight. To fight means to subjugate the enemy. Winning a ‎war requires this specific mentality of subjugation. It behooves the soldiers to ‎overcome, nay, crush the enemy. Some cultures take this to the extreme by abusing ‎enemy females – all in the spirit of suppressing their foes. This conquering attitude – ‎which is crucial to win – is diametrically opposed to the mindset of a slave. A slave is ‎constantly on the receiving end and depends on his master for all his needs. A slave ‎is the ultimate subordinate; over lorded by his master he has little self discretion ‎and independence.‎

The generation that departed Egypt were a people who were born into slavery. ‎Nurtured in a slave environment, fighting a war was antithetical to their way of ‎thinking. True, they witnessed mighty miracles wrought in Mitzrayim, and as a result ‎of these phenomena they were firm believers, but a believer is not a warrior. At the ‎sight of war they would be inclined to flee rather than fight. G-d, therefore, took ‎them a circuitous route so they would not be able to run back to Egypt. Their ‎children, however, who were born into freedom, lived a life of liberty, and indeed ‎successfully fought the Kings of Canaan. ‎

Shoes and Matzos

Bo

For Pesach 2006, our family flew to England to spend Yom- Tov with my parents. Soon2 after our arrival, ‎my mother presented her two-year-old granddaughter with a gift for Pesach – a new pair of shoes. We ‎were grateful to put the kids to bed after our tiring trip. Once the children were soundly asleep, the adults ‎took the opportunity to reacquaint and socialize. My daughter awoke in a dark unfamiliar house. Carefully, ‎she buckled her new white dress shoes. Kitted in her Yom-tov shoes and pajamas, she was ready. ‎Cautiously, she trekked down two flights of stairs to the bottom floor and burst into to kitchen screaming ‎and howling – supposedly from fear at being left alone upstairs. None of the adults were fooled. If you ‎were so scared, why wait to don your pretty shoes?‎

I am reminded of transitioning my son to his first pair of shoes. This was a nightmare. He was unhappy to ‎have his feet clad, preferring to go barefoot – Tarzan style. Taking matters into his own hands, literally and ‎figuratively, he constantly tugged at the offending appendages. Often, his efforts met with success. Many ‎a bleary eyed morning found us franticly hunting his missing footwear; a blood-hound would have helped. ‎Time marched on and he was ripe for his second pair of shoes. By now, he had made peace with the reality ‎of wearing shoes. Pleased as punch, he would not go to sleep without wearing his new shoes. ‎

The Jews, too, expressed the same sentiment when they left Egypt. ‎

In recounting the Exodus, we are told that the people carried last night’s leftover meal on their shoulders ‎‎(Exodus 12, 34). Tradition tells us, that every single Jew who left Mitzrayim owned several donkeys laden ‎with treasures (Esther Rabbah 7). Yet the people chose to burden themselves with their leftover food, not ‎their newly acquired gold, silver and valuables. With all this energy at their disposal why carry anything? ‎Why did they lug the leftover meal in their backpacks?‎

My son elected to sleep in his shoes because he loved his new shoes and could bear to be parted from ‎them. The Mechilta explains, the Jews who left Egypt clutched their leftover Matzos out of love. Last night, ‎they fondly recalled, these same Matzos were utilized for a Mitzvah – a Divine instruction. This is not for ‎packing on a donkey’s back. Let the animals carry the gold and silver – I want to shoulder these special ‎items myself.‎

Yirmiyahu, (2:2) recounts the temperament of the Nation on leaving Egypt. The people followed Hashem, ‎he prophesied, with the feeling a bride has towards her groom. This emotion found poignant expression in ‎cherishing the leftover Mitzvah food. ‎

Mitzvahs are not dry acts, formalities or duties. They are actions to be charged with positive emotion. The ‎early 1900’s saw a significant drop in Shabbos observance amongst new immigrants. Back then, keeping ‎Shabbos was challenging, most jobs required work on Saturday, and many were fired on a weekly basis. ‎Rabbi Moshe Feinstein famously said: The decline in Shabbos observance was not because keeping ‎Shabbos was difficult. The people withstood the test. Rather, because Jews krechtzed in response to the ‎sacrifices, the next generation rejected the krechtz that accompanies Shmiras Shabbos. Performance ‎without positive feeling has no future.‎

More Equal than Others

Va’eiro

Question: Are the front wheels of a car more important than the rear wheels? ‎

Answer: Back wheels supply balance – and in some cars forward propulsion. Front ‎wheels provide steering and direction. Despite their differences, most people maintain that both axle units are to be equally regarded. ‎

The Rationale: The purpose of a car is to travel. A car missing any one of its four wheels will – at best – ‎furnish an uncomfortable ride. Comparison becomes moot.‎

This example proves, that although items have differing functions, one ingredient is not necessarily ‎better than, or superior to, another. Where several elements contribute to a greater good, each ‎component is equally valuable. The totality could not be achieved without the input of all the various ‎elements.‎

In Judaism, men and women have been allotted dissimilar roles. Women are obligated in fewer commandments. Many have misinterpreted these ‎differences and mistakenly assume that the Torah values the accomplishments of men over women. This is ‎a fallacy. More responsibility is not synonymous with more importance. Prizing men over women is tantamount to ‎prizing the front wheels over the rear wheels. Both genders are critical for the Nation, both contribute in their ‎unique ways to building and sustaining the Jewish People. ‎‎

In some places, The Torah mentions Aharon before Moshe, and in other places it mentions Moshe ‎before Aharon, to teach us that they were equal. (Rashi, Shemos 6:26) ‎

Without much thought we can easily name a few of Moshe’s achievements. Moshe was undoubtedly the ‎greatest prophet that ever lived. The Torah attests that his humility was unrivaled. Moshe was the law-‎giver taught by G-d himself. Yet, Aharon was equal to Moshe. How is this possible?‎

Aharon, too, excelled in many areas. His most outstanding attribute was functioning as ‎‎‘National Peacemaker’. Aharon strived to ensure both social harmony and marital peace. Both Moshe and Aharon were instrumental in developing the nation. Thus, although Moshe was ‎the king, providing the people with direction, Aharon ‎played an equally important role. Aharon gelled the masses into a cohesive unit which could then act as a ‎vehicle for Moshe’s leadership. ‎

Moshe and Aharon were different but equal. ‎

Beat The System

Shemos

‎“Any last requests?” questioned the officer. ‎

‎“A glass of water please,” answered the inmate.‎

‎“We can certainly provide that.” ‎

A cup of water was promptly served. The prisoner accepted the beverage with quavering hands. A few ‎minutes passed, and the prisoner still trembling, had not yet taken a sip. The contents of the glass began ‎to slop from side to side. ‎

‎“What’s the matter?” asked the officer

‎“I’m nervous,” responded the prisoner. “I worry that you will shoot me before I finish my drink.”‎

‎“You can calm down; there is no need to fear. Take as much time as you need.”‎

‎“Will you promise,” implored the prisoner “that you won’t shoot me until I have finished drinking this ‎entire cup of water?”‎

‎“I promise.”‎

Buoyed by the officer’s assurances, the prisoner promptly turned the cup up-side-down, emptying its ‎contents. The water quickly seeped into the dirt floor. The convict gleefully jumped up and down, pointing ‎his finger at the officer. “You swore to stay the execution until I finish that glass!”‎

Pharaoh, King of Egypt, seems to suffer the same bird-brained mentality. This wicked tyrant sought to ‎persecute the Jews in a manner which would escape G-d’s discipline.‎

‎“R. Chama ben Chanina said: Pharaoh said ‘Come and let us outwit the Saviour of Israel’. With what ‎shall we afflict them? ‎
If we afflict them with fire, it is written: ‘Behold the Lord will come with fire.’‎
If we afflict them with the sword, it is written: ‘By His sword with all flesh.’ ‎
Let us afflict them with water, because G-d has already sworn that he will not bring a flood upon ‎the world.” (Sotah 11a)‎

Hashem metes out justice Midah K’Neged Midah – measure for measure. Accordingly, if the Egyptians ‎were to hurt the Jews by fire, there was reason to fear retribution by fire. Egyptian thinking expected ‎Hashem to be restricted by Midah K’Neged Midah; G-d can only evoke the appropriate corollary. ‎Therefore, the Egyptian’s worked backwards – from punishment to crime. Since Hashem had promised ‎long ago – in the days of Noach – not to flood the planet, they incorrectly argued, that there would be no ‎Divine consequence for drowning Jewish children. ‎

But surely, G-d’s control of the universe is not constrained, by the process of Midah K’neged Midah. A case ‎in point is executing a murderer. G-d’s will – as recorded in the Torah – codifies an appropriate punishment ‎for killing, yet, if necessary, the Beis Din are empowered to use alternate methods. ‎

I only know that a murderer may be executed with the death that is decreed for him; if you cannot ‎execute him with that death, you may execute him with any other death. ‘He that smote him shall ‎surely be put to death’, implying in any manner possible (Sanhedrin 72b)‎

How can this mortal despot, Pharaoh, honestly believe that he is beyond the Divine grasp? And even if we ‎were to accept, that no judgment can be rendered in this-world, undoubtedly, in the World-to-come, ‎justice awaits. ‎

Egypt was thoroughly convinced in the justice of their cause. If we do not destroy the Jews, they reasoned, ‎the Jews will unite with our enemies and overcome Egypt. This warped logic justified genocide. ‎Nonetheless, one notion disturbed their conscience. Pharaoh was aware that interpersonal actions ‎between man-and-man are not to be taken lightly. It is possible to act with the loftiest intentions, but, if ‎they cause pain to other humans, there will be repercussions. The ends do not justify the means.‎

Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz explains the rationale for this concept. Just as one who places their hand in fire will ‎be burnt, one who hurts his fellowman will suffer. These are realities engineered into the universe, they are ‎not punishments. ‎

He cites the example of Penina who provoked and embarrassed Chana so that she should pray for children. ‎Although Penina had pious intentions she did not escape punishment – her ten children died. (Paraphrase from Sichos ‎Mussar)‎

This same issue concerned Pharaoh and plagued him to no end. Even though he was thoroughly convinced ‎of his moral, ethical and lawful rights to purging Jews, Pharaoh was worried. It might be the responsible ‎thing to do, but if I kill, proverbially, I will be sticking my hand into the fire. ‎

Pharaoh, however, realized, that there is a Divine method to punishment. The punitive measures follow a ‎chartered course – Middah K’negged Middah. The responses have been plotted in Creation and subsequent ‎natural order. Every action brings a reaction: A does not cause B, A cause’s negative-A, or the reflection ‎A. Thus Pharaoh erroneously thought he could evade the system: If Hashem had already promised He ‎would not bring a flood, that there will be no means of chastening Egypt for throwing Jewish boys into the ‎Nile.‎

Watery Advice

Vayechi

My infant son was tugging on his ear and‏ ‏was just not looking himself. A thermometer reading revealed ‎that he had a bit of a fever and I was convinced that he had an ear infection. Off we went to the ‎pediatrician for an anticipated prescription of antibiotics. ‎

The doctor – a gentleman who had been at his craft for many years – walked briskly into the examining ‎room with a classic no-nonsense attitude. “What’s wrong?” he asked, after the briefest of greetings. His ‎bedside manner nowhere to be found. ‎

‎“My son has an ear infection.” I replied, expecting him to whip out his otoscope and squint into his ears.‎

‎“How do you know?” quizzed the doctor. “He told you?!”‎

I later discovered that this doctor is easily infuriated by visiting parents who volunteer their own diagnoses. ‎The message was clear: Tell me the symptoms and I’ll decide what’s wrong.‎

It is not only the layman and the ignorant that need professional advice. Experts, too, need other experts, ‎just as a dentist’s teeth require treatment from another dentist. Many situations are difficult to self-‎diagnose and self-treat. Experts can objectively consider the situation and are uniquely equipped to resolve ‎the problem. Political consultants, psychologists, and tax advisors all provide counsel. In virtually every ‎field, holy or mundane, there are specialists to help us keep our lives on track.‎

The benefit of consulting is honed by the following vignette. An American company that manufactured ‎lights for photocopiers began losing their market share to cheaper Japanese competition. With an increasingly bleak ‎outlook, the American company reluctantly called in a consultant to all but confirm that there was no ‎future. What the experts discovered was that they weren’t losing customers because of cheaper ‎alternatives. It was the competition’s admirable customer service that was attracting an impressive ‎following. The American company listened to the advice and instantly their ‎business began growing. 

When Rachel passed away, Reuvain stood up for his mother honor. He moved Yaakov’s bed from ‎Bilah’s tent to Leah’s tent. Reuvain reasoned, if my mother’s sister (Rachel) was her rival, should my ‎mother sister’s handmaiden (Bilah) also be my mother’s rival (Shabbos 55b). His rashness had catastrophic ‎results; the Shechinah departed from atop Yaakov’s bed. ‎

On Yaakov’s deathbed, he tells Reuvain that because you interfered with my bed, you lost the rights to ‎Kingship and Priesthood. This might seem an overly harsh punishment for a single crime. However, a look at ‎Yaakov’s criticism reveals a deeper reason. ‎

‎“Impetuous as water, therefore you shall not have superiority” (Bereishis 49:4)‎

It was the not the action that merited the punishment. Nor was it Reuvain’s underlying character trait – ‎anger – which yielded such a response. It was the speed with which he acted upon his anger. Perhaps, ‎Reuvain was entitled to feel angry, but that doesn’t automatically translate into taking ‎steps without first taking advice. ‎

It was because Reuvain was quick to act with the tempo of water that he was stripped of honors. His ‎hastiness rendered him unfit for kingship or priesthood. These are positions of leadership that ‎require patience and counsel from others prior to taking action. But, before one takes advice from the ‎wise, one has to consult oneself first, a person who acts on impulse cannot function as a leader. ‎

 Yaakov did not punish Reuvain by stripping him of his due. His ‎rebuke centered on the origin not the symptom. Yaakov, an expert from the outside, was able to look at the root cause of Reuvain’s error. He was telling Reuvain his nature was not one that was suited to leadership. ‎