Sivan Rahav-Meir
Sivan Rahav-Meir David Salem

* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (http://yehoshuasiskin.blogspot.com)

I am still trying to digest the number of participants and its significance. More that 12,000 girls and mothers registered during the last three days for a special zoom meeting on self-protection as part of the Nifgashot workshop series.

Ayala Barnea from the Latet Peh (speak up) organization that offers programs on self-protection for children and teenagers, opened the session with a question that surprised me: "What are the most important values in your lives, values that you will always preserve?" What's the connection to self-protection, I thought to myself as, meanwhile, thousands of answers appeared in the chat box: family, friendship, joyfulness, caring, volunteering.

"You see?" Ayala said, "Look at how much good there is in the world. So many good values and good people. Most of the world is good. This is where we begin. And one of the important values that help preserve the good in the world is to guard the body's privacy, whether it's our body or someone else's."

And then she gave a series of rules for self-protection, including these two:

1. No one has the right to touch us in a private place. It does not matter who it is, even if it's a family member, a famous person, a teacher, or the big brother of a friend.

2. We are at an age when it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between right and wrong. Therefore, we should become familiar with the word "confusing." If something confusing happens that we are uncertain about, it is necessary to simply tell an adult whom we trust (and then each girl was asked to think of five adults to whom she could turn).

I looked at Ayala as she was giving the girls exercises, I looked at the thousands of girls and mothers from Israel, London, the U.S., Russia, and many other places. I understood that the quantity of participants testified to the importance of the subject: Our session was a statement, a shout, an expression of a deep longing for change.

When we learn this week's Torah portion, parashat Bo, it is customary to say that every generation needs to leave Egypt, to go out from slavery to freedom. It seems to me that uprooting this problem is essential to uprooting ourselves from confusion to redemption.

May everyone have a good month with much good news. And here is a piece of advice to help us see the good and achieve it, even during corona waves.

I spoke yesterday afternoon by zoom with staff of a school and learned that half of their teachers and students had tested positive for the coronavirus. Try to imagine such a mess. The principal gave the staff a simple message that helped me get through the day: "A person should always be soft like a reed and never hard like a cedar tree."

This idea is highly appropriate for us at this time. Whoever is as hard as a cedar, rigid and inflexible, will find himself in crisis mode. Whoever knows how to be soft like a reed, to bow, to humble himself to constantly changing circumstances, will prevail. The strong do not survive; the flexible do.

Several hours later, a member of my own family also tested positive. This disrupted his plans as well as ours for the coming days. And then a meeting was canceled after one of the participants got stuck in a long line waiting to be tested.

Again and again I was reminded of the need for flexibility as our fifth wave begins. Our internal stability and tranquility could be undermined once again. Yet instead of dwelling on disappointment due to circumstances, we need to accept that plans are likely to change at any moment, and that we need to just relax.

The virtue of the reed, the Talmud continues, is that it is made into a soft pen for writing Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot. Softness leads to holiness.

And holiness is epitomized by holy people such as the Baba Sali, whose yahrzeit was this week: 38 years ago, the Baba Sali, Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, passed away. Rabbi Zevik Harel wrote about him and how he turned personal anguish into sensitivity toward others:

"We speak a lot about the Torah and the miraculous doings of the Baba Sali, but I want to talk about what he experienced in his life, which is not to be believed. At the age of 18 he was orphaned from his father, who was also his rabbi. From that moment he became attached to an uncle, Rav Yitzhak, the older brother of his father, but four years later Rav Yitzhak was murdered by robbers. Baba Sali's older brother, the town rabbi, was murdered by the Moroccan government, and so leadership of the Jewish community fell upon the shoulders of the Baba Sali himself. Baba Sali's first wife died while giving birth to a daughter, who did not survive either. He married again, but for ten years the couple was childless. Several years later, his younger beloved brother came to visit him and was killed in a traffic accident.

This is not the end of the list, yet one of these disasters alone could have made a lesser person bitter and gloomy. But the Baba Sali only grew and transcended and purified himself through all this pain. It would seem that there are two possibilities in life: either to become broken by suffering or to become more sensitive and more understanding of the suffering of others. The Baba Sali felt everything acutely - from the pain of every poor and anguished person that came to him for help to the pain of the Divine Presence.

Perhaps tens of thousands of people found solace in him since he understood what it was like to lose a father, or a wife, or what it's like to have to wait to have children. His prayers and his love for everyone, due to his own anguish, came from a warm and expansive heart.

Once on Hanukkah the Baba Sali saw that Hanukkah gelt in the form of paper money was being distributed to some children. He insisted that they receive the same amount of money, but in coins. When he was asked why, he said that a child is more excited by shiny coins than pieces of paper. True greatness is reflected in sensitivity toward those of little, if any, stature. Such greatness was Baba Sali's, whose acute sensitivity reached deep into the hearts of children."

May all who have tested positive make a complete recovery and may everyone hear only good news and learn how to deal with adversity in a flexible and positive way.