The Weirdest Things One Could Do

The story of the weirdest of peoples - the Jews - trumps all the phony, hollow and ultimately inadequate human philosophies and ideals ever devised.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

Several years ago, I wrote a dvar Torah titled “Imagining Chanukah” (a terrible title, as Chanukah is, as the dvar Torah shows, anti-Imagination. To set the record straight, it wasn’t my title, as I had written two divrei Torah, entitled “Imagination I” and “Imagination II”; but like death and taxes, editorial authority is beyond man’s control).

In that piece, I told of my family’s pre-Aliya tour through the American South, and how, on the way back north, we stopped in Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Grand Ol’ Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

After checking into our hotel, which featured a guitar-shaped swimming pool, we headed to the CM Hall of Fame. Among the musical exhibits was a life-sized robot replica of Johnny Cash. The robot began talking to us in that famous Appalachian drawl, and then broke out in his famous song, “I Walk the Line”.

Famous, that is, to the forty other tourists standing there; to my intrepid crew, this was an obvious imposter, a fraud who didn’t know the words at all. So my crew of 12-year-olds and under, proceeded to belt out the takeoff, what they thought are the “real” words, at the top of their lungs- the Country Yossi words, complete with chicken clucking sounds, about the custom of kapparot before Yom Kippur. Here they are:

Once a year, I wave a chicken over my head, (cluck,cluck,cluck,cluck,cluck)
And it wouldn’t be so bad, if it were dead,
I do the weirdest things a man could ever do
I do that too, ‘cause I’m a Jew (Country Yossi Wallfish; sung to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “ I Walk the Line”)

Their father, frantically and unsuccessfully, tried to cup one pair of hands to the mouths of four future Olim,mumbling : “ Not here- NOT HERE!”, not in front of a crowd of Southern rednecks. Ah, the joys of rearing the Four Sons [of the Haggadah, ed.]

This last Shabbat Hagadol, [the name for the Sabbath preceding Passover, ed.], some 23 years later, I found myself back in Nashville. At the Shabbat table, I was the featured Israeli settler, and a young teacher asked me what I thought of the “situation” on the “West Bank”, aka Judea and Samaria.

I replied that it was only a matter of time till Israel resumes sovereignty over the area and restores peace by kicking out the PLO (aka PA).

The young man was aghast: “But: demography? And the right to vote- where will PA Arabs exercise their fundamental human right to vote? Your Jewish Homeland cannot trump their basic rights of self-determination?”

Ah, thank you, young man- pitranu mil’hagid Ma Nishtana( Talmud Pesachim 116a)- you’ve exempted us from the reciting of the formulaic Ma Nishtana, Four Qoestions, and we can go straight to the answer.

The answer starts with the fact that most people misread the story of Pesach (aka Passover). They think it’s some story of a great Emancipation, of Deliverance. But that, despite Cecille B. De Mille and Steven Spielberg et al, is a side issue.

The real story is that a man called Ha’Ivri (Man from the other side of the Euphrates River, and symbolically, a man who was willing to be alone on the other side, the side of what he believed in, ed.) separated himself from all of society and went to settle in the wilderness of pagan Canaan.

This Abraham did the weirdest things a man could ever do, refusing to judge by the norms of his society, and to be judged by them. He stood up against the Emperor (Nimrod) who wanted to kill him for that iconoclastic behavior, and to Empires( War of the Four Against the Five), and with the help of some invisible Force/G-d, Abraham prevailed.

Finally, after settling in the Promised Land, he looked to the future and asked his G-d: “OK, I’ve done it. Done it all.But what of my children? How do I know that they will never forsake this Land, and no matter where in the world they find themselves, and how estranged they are from You, they will repeat my journey to this Land and to Your side(Ha’Ivri)? Bame Eida Ki Irashena (Genesis 15;8)?

Avraham wanted children who would wear tzitzit, and kapatahs, and shtreimels [fringed garments, hassidic robes and fur hats, ed.], and knitted kippot- and no kippot- and still remain loyal to the cause, to the One.

The story of Pesach is the story of what Rav Chaim Drukman calls the Yichud , the one of a kind uniqueness of the Jewish people, linked to its unique Land and its unique G-d.

Jews are not in any way like any other people, and are not to be judged by the standards of any other people. Our national birthday, Passover, celebrates the birth of the one people who for millennia have been loyal to this cause, and this G-d; and we will be loyal till the coming of Moshiach with his reestablishment of the Davidic dynasty, the rebuilding of the Temple, the destruction of Amalek/Evil (including PLO/PA’s and their ilk), and the Resurrection of the Dead.

The story of this weird people takes hours to retell (at the Seder), from its beginning, through Kingdoms, Exiles, Crusades, Inquisitions, pogroms, Holocausts, returns, and Statehood.

And it takes lifetimes to impress the Jewish people with the idea that the story of the weirdest of peoples trumps all the phony, hollow and ultimately inadequate human philosophies and ideals ever devised.

But such an impression is very hard to accomplish. We are a stubborn people. Note this story for Pesach from Rav Yehoshua Eichenstein of Chicago, the Zidichoiver Rebbe, for proof:

Decades ago, the Mashgiach Ruchani [spiritual mentor] of the Ponovicher Yeshiva of Bnei Brak got into a taxi. The young bare-headed driver noted the Rav’s hareidi garb, and said to the Rav that he wanted to tell the Rav a story that he was sure that the Rav would appreciate:

Several years earlier, the driver and several friends finished their army stint, and went on a trip, back-packing through the far East. One night, the group was camping out, far from civilization, and suddenly they were awakened by the screams of one of the chevra (group). By the light of the campfire, they saw their screaming friend engulfed in the coils of a giant python.

No one had the means to save their young comrade, and they all stood by in shock, as the terrifying screams continued, and the snake wound tighter. Suddenly, one of them remembered a teaching from his youth:

“I’ve heard that if a Jew is in trouble, he should yell out ‘ShmaYisrael’, and he could be saved”.

The young man shouted out :” Shma Yisrael HaShem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, Hear Oh Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is One”.

And behold, a miracle. The snake lifted his head, and slowly began to unwind his coils from the body of the young Israeli Jew. He was saved.

But there was more, said the driver. The man redid his whole life. He returned to Israel, put on a kippah, went to learn Judaism in a Yeshiva, married a religious woman, and today is a Rabbi in Israel.

Responded the Mashgiach of Ponovich: "But what of you? You saw the whole thing happen, why are you still a bare-headed, secular cabbie?"

Answered the driver: “It happened to HIM, Rabbi, not to me”.

It is to forestall responses like the one above that the Haggadah says that one should view oneself as if he himself left Egypt with the Israelites, to keep the impression fresh in his heart and mind.

We are, indeed, a stiff-necked people. Thousands of Seder nights have not been enough to inculcate these lessons. Maybe Country Yossi can help?