Rabbi Yaacov Haber's
for the Week
Friday is my busiest day, especially
since we changed the clock. Last Friday I received a call from someone who
needed to talk. It was a stranger who had been recommended to me by a local
therapist. I suggested some possible times for a meeting - Saturday night,
Monday afternoon but the man insisted: "It has to be today; I need to
talk!" At 12:30 Friday afternoon we met in my home. A nice, robust,
obviously intelligent man walked in. We made some small talk, but then I
rushed to ask him to tell me a little about himself and explain how I might
be able to help him. He introduced himself as an atheist. Not just an
amateur atheist, but a professional disbeliever. He teaches atheism, he has
written books on atheism, and he leads his life accordingly. "So why am
I coming to see a Rabbi?" A while ago he had experienced some pain in
his side. It was the beginning of a nightmare. Two days earlier he had been
diagnosed with a probable case of pancreatic cancer. That is a very bad
diagnosis. It was fifty-fifty - only surgery could tell. He looked at me
from the depth of his neshama
and said, "I am the atheist in the foxhole you have been hearing about
all your life!"
I remembered a Zohar.
When G-d evicted Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, He stationed an Angel
at the gate of the Garden with a "revolving, flaming sword." Why
was the sword revolving? The Zohar comments that man's disposition revolves.
Every person to some extent is a spiritual schizophrenic. It is this
schizophrenia that is the basis of Teshuvah.
Every human being has both a righteous personality and a sinful personality.
Behind every rasha hides a dormant tzadik.
Were this not so, teshuvah would be impossible. Because a person is composed
of these two personalities, he can bring out the righteous individual within
himself and subdue his evil inclination. Although this requires unusual
strength - it is possible.
The man was crying. He was scared, confused and embarrassed. I told him that
with his permission I would prefer to discuss not issues of faith, but
rather issues of character. I asked him if he could be humble enough to find
somewhere, amongst all the academic conclusions that he had ever drawn, the
possibility of a five per cent window of error. After some thought he
responded, "Of course, Rabbi, there is a five percent window of
error." "If that is so," I advised him, "forget
about the other ninety five percent and pray through that little five
percent opening to the Heavens." I took out a Tehilim and we davened
to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorra. Abraham challenged G-d,
"Far be it for You to act in this manner, to slay the righteous with
the wicked. Will the Judge of the earth not practice justice?"
that Abraham's original argument did not revolve around one hundred men or
fifty men or ten. It dealt with every man and women living in Sodom.
They must all have a little window for Teshuvah. You created them to
revolve. Let us bring out the good and the tzadik in them and not destroy
them. "Habeit LaTov - V'al tephen Layetzer" . Seek out their good;
not their evil!
The Torah does not tell us this story to teach us how irreparably bad the
Sodomites were. The story is told to teach us how a descendant of
Abraham must react. When someone seems so evil - let them revolve. Look
deeper. Human nature has us disqualifying our friends, relatives, partners
and even our spouses and children beyond repair. Life can get pretty lonely
when no one is left. There is a hidden side to people with faults, a side
that needs to be located, polished and loved. G-d blesses us with community,
friends, and family. We need to follow in the footsteps of Abraham to
realize that blessing. When you search deeply it is amazing what you will
find - even where you least expect it.
Let them revolve.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rabbi Haber is the OU's National Director of Jewish Education and
the spiritual leader of the OU's Pardes Program
I wrote the previous Drosha in November, 2000. Since that time the man in
this story transformed himself to become an observant Jew. Over the past
fifteen months he has struggled, written and taught about faith. His degrees
in law and philosophy, which at first presented challenges to his faith - at
the end served as critical tools in redeveloping his thinking. He was a man
of truth at any expense. This morning, he passed away, a baal Teshuvah. May
his merit be an inspiration to his family and to us all.
questions are very welcome
"A tree of life for those who embrace it"
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