87. Nitzavim II - ITS NO CINCH

THERE ARE PEOPLE who belittle what others are doing - until an emergency arises and they are forced to do it themselves. They see a baal melakha - a craftsman at work and they say either to themselves or to others, "Why there's nothing to it! It's a cinch!" But when circumstances force these people to perform the same task themselves they discover that the job they denigrated requires skill and meticulous care.

People watch a lecturer deliver an interesting talk and they think to themselves that public speaking is a cinch; that words just flow out of the mouth of the speaker, and appropriate gestures come as a matter of course. But when the time comes and those individuals are called upon to say a few words to a group - at a P.T.A. meeting or at a simchah in the family - they discover how tough a chore it is. Words come out of their mouths at a snail's pace; their knees buckle; their hearts pound; and after a few "ahems," "you knows" and coughs they manage to say something that makes no sense. It is then that they realize that public speaking is no cinch; that it takes a great deal of preparation and experience to be an accomplished speaker.

People like to talk these days about teachers. "Why, it's easy to conduct a class!" they say. "One just prepares a lesson, pours forth one's knowledge to the students, hands out assignments, gives quizzes, marks papers, and that's that!" Then there comes a time when they are asked to take care of a group of teenagers for an outing, and they learn very quickly what a problem it is to keep a dozen youngsters orderly and quiet. It then dawns on them that a teacher's job is not as sweet as they thought it to be; that wisdom, skill and experience are needed in the classroom situation.

This truth is especially applicable to the home. Many husbands think that wives have it very easy. They, themselves, work hard, of course. They have the responsibility of buying and selling, of dealing with capricious clients, mean competitors, and a lazy and inefficient office staff. But their wives, God bless them, enjoy gan eden on this earth. What is there to do in the home? Make up a few beds, sweep the floor, prepare meals, wash the dishes, take care of the laundry, and do a little shopping. Why, it's a cinch! Until one day, the wife gets sick and he - the big shot - is forced to take over. After three days of shopping, washing and taking care of the children, he is ready to collapse.

A fellow I know once rushed into the synagogue and pleaded with our sexton to recite the mi sheberach prayer for the speedy recovery of his ailing wife with special fervor, for he simply couldn't take the housework any more. Weeks after his wife's recovery, this man kept mumbling to himself about dishes, diapers, and suds.

I once watched a skit on television, where, after a heated debate on this subject, husband and wife agreed that she would go and do his work at the office and he would take care of the home. After one week, he pleaded with his wife to go back and take care of the home. He found out that housekeeping is not the cinch it was cracked up to be.

The same is true with respect to husbands. Leaders in the Womens' Lib movement keep telling us how wonderful it is to be a man and how a woman is nebach, discriminated against. While a number of their complaints are justified, there is no balance in their argument. Consider some of the facts. In order to provide for their families, men have to travel to and from work on crowded highways or subways. The strain and stress of their efforts are recorded in actual statistics. Men are subject to circulatory disorders and heart disease more than women. The average span of life for a male is 71 and for a female almost 76. And the wealth of the nation is mostly in the hands of the so-called weaker sex. Ah yes, it is no cinch to be a male! In fact, life is no cinch for most mortals.

Children think that it is easy to be a parent; that pop and mom can do what and when they please; that most of the time parents are unreasonable and the demands they make on their offspring are unreasonable - expecting their children to obey orders, to go to school on time, do well in their schoolwork, return from a date at a reasonable hour, be careful with whom they associate, etc. They hold to this opinion tenaciously, until they grow up themselves, get married and have children of their own. It is then that they find out that being a parent, especially a wise one, is no cinch at all. It is then that they begin to appreciate what their own parents went through to raise them into manhood and womanhood.

Among a group of people who went for a visit to the Soviet Union, there was an individual who always defended the policies of Russia and criticized everything in Amercia. When he returned from his trip, he said to me, "Rabbi, this is the first time in my life that I really appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in our land. While we were in Russia, we were watched, our hotel rooms were 'bugged,' and relatives were afraid to speak to us candidly in the privacy of their homes. The freedoms that I have taken for granted all these years are now very precious to me."

That life is no cinch is brought home to us by one of the commentaries on the sidrah of this week. In speaking about teshuvah - repentance - the Torah states, "And you will return unto your God and hearken to His voice" (Deut. 30:2). Six verses later, we are told, "And you will return and obey the voice of God, and observe all His commandments." Why the repetition? The Tiferet Shelomo explains the repetition as follows: When a person begins the process of teshuvah, he thinks that it is relatively easy to do it. As the days go by, however, he realizes how difficult it is to renounce an old life-style and adopt a new set of responsibilities and modes of behavior. He begins to understand the immensity of his sins, the seriousness of his deviations and the distance that he has removed himself from the presence of God. It is only after one has made the initial moves of teshuvah that one realizes the extent of the disarray of his life and the enormity of the task that lies ahead before he can attain true atonement.

The second stage of teshuva is alluded to in the latter verse. It reminds one that teshuvah is no cinch; that the task is formidable and arduous, and that the results are revolutionary. Teshuvah shelemah cleanses one's soul and restores the tzelem Elohim to the human personality. That kind of penitence is no cinch, but it elevates man and brings him back to stand in the presence of God.

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