Jethro I - SPIRITUAL BLEMISHES
OUR SAGES INFORM us that as a result of centuries of enslavement in Egypt, many of our ancestors became afflicted with handicaps. And God said eno deen she'eten et torati lebaalei mumim. "it is not right that I give the Torah to those who are afflicted with blemishes. And miraculously the blind began to see, the mute began to speak and the deaf began to hear" (Yalkut Exod. 300).
A similar allusion is made in a chapter in the Psalms which we recite every Shabbos and Yomtov. King David describes the utter helplessness of the idols of silver and gold which were worshipped by misguided people in his day. "They have a mouth but do not speak. They have eyes but do not see. They have ears but do nor hear" (Ps. 135: 16-17). And lest we conclude that this description applies only to idols, David adds a postscript. "Those who make them shall become like them, everyone who trusts in them" (Ibid. 18).
I believe that these texts are to be taken in a spiritual rather than a physical sense. God does not discriminate against those who are afflicted with physical problems. On the contrary, He has a special concern and love for them.
Let us, therefore, see how the rabbinic text and the biblical verses apply to events and experiences of our age.
We live at a time when speech is more prominently and frequently used than ever before. By means of brilliant techniques and masterful devices the human voice can be projected instantly to all corners of the earth. Yet how speechless many become when the occasion demands that they speak up. How few were the voices in and out of Congress that were raised against Senator Fulbright and Gen. Brown when they vilified American Jewry and the State of Israel. How strangely silent were the Tom Wickers and the Anthony Lewises, editorial writers of The New York Times, when the State of Israel was in danger of destruction by the Arabs on the day of Yom Kippur! Even more shocking and painful was the close-mouthednen of the so-called religious leaders of Christendom at that time.
This also applies to a number of our own people. Frequently, derisive and insulting remarks are made about the sharp business practices and uncouth manners of Jews, as if the Jewish people has a monopoly on shady and boisterous characters. Those who stand by these virulent attacks and do not challenge such calumny, are acting Iike the idols in David's psalm --peh lahem velo yedaberu. "They have a mouth but do not speak."
Someone has interpreted the phrase lefoom tzaara agra, "According to the effort is the reward" (Ethics 5:25), in a novel manner. The original meaning of the word lefoom is "in the mouth." The mouth, he said. can bring tzaar -- trouble and pain. When used wrongfully --to malign and vilify-- it can cause untold suffering and sorrow. But the mouth can also bring agra, reward and joy. When used properly --to promote friendship, piety and peac-- the mouth can bring blessedness and happiness to man.
Let us now examine other spiritual deformities mentioned in the Psalm. Enayim lahem velo yiroo. "They have eyes, but do not see." Television has narrowed the world. The telescope has brought stars, planets and other heavenly bodies billions of light years away, close to us. Think of it! We can see from immeasurable distances and at the same time fail to notice the plight of a brother who lives next door.
People have told me that since the Yom Kippur war they avoid reading about Israel because it depresses them to hear of the losses of young lives, the grief of the bereaved families, and the callous indifference or outright antagonism of the rest of the world. Ah, if instead of closing their eyes they would open them and be moved with deeds of compassion!
And need I refer to the willful blindness of parents toward their children? A judge in Children' Court remarked the other day that the problem is not so much with delinquent children as with delinquent parents who will not look after their own flesh and blood. As the verse in the Bible puts it, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the teeth of their children are set on edge" (Jeremiah 31: 28). By neglecting the religious and moral training of their offspring, fathers and mothers are helping produce a generation of ignorant and disloyal Jews who are nisht tzu gott und nisht tzu leit.
The Psalmist also speaks of those who have ears but do not hear. Oznayim lahem velo yishmau. The inventive genius of man has extended the scope of human hearing enormously. We receive instantaneous messages not only from every part of the globe but also from outer space. But there are millons of people who are stone-deaf to calls for hell, that come from relatively close quarters. Appeals are made for beleaguered Israel, Yeshivoths facing bankruptcy, and other benevolences, to which only a segment of the people respond. The rest simply "do not hear," or as the vernacular puts it "sit on their hands."
At gatherings one meets people who talk but will not listen --men and women who are ready with motions, suggestions and criticism. They monopolize the time at meetings and seldom give anyone else an opportunity to respond. They simply will not listen! There is the classic anecdote of a visitor at the home of a rabbi who did just that. He talked on and on without giving anyone else an opportunity to interpose. In the course of his marathon talk, the visitor quoted a comment on a verse in the Torah he claimed he had heard from a renowned scholar. The host expressed serious doubt as to the veracity of his guest's statement. When asked why, the rabbi said, "You see that this man keeps talking all the time and refuses to listen to others. How then could he have heard anyone make a comment on the Torah?"
In our daily prayers we repeat the verse Shma Yisrael which, for many generations has served as the clarion call of our people and our Faith. The usual translation of these two words is "Hear, O Israel." Actually it means much more. It means, "Listen, O Israel." Listen with all your heart, with all your soul. with all your might. Listen to God. Listen to your conscience. Listen to the teachings of your forefathers. Listen to the pleas of your brethren in need.
Let us hope and pray that just as in the time of mattan Torah, the spiritual misfits will be cured of their ills and aberrations: that those who have eyes will see, who have mouths will speak, who have ears will listen. Thus will a new era of happiness and peace be ushered in for the enjoyment of man.