Making a Difference – Good and Bad
Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
Normally at the end of Shul in the morning, I put my tefillin away, say a few ‘have a good day’ to people and head out.
Today was different.
I davened Shacharit at Terenure Shul in Dublin. I am here to visit my uncle who is recovering in hospital. My family has been involved in the Dublin community for over a century and so as I was davening this morning, I was wondering if any of the other people davening in the shul had known my dad?
So, at the end of davening, after the shaliach welcomed me, someone came up to me. ‘I knew your dad very well’ he said. ‘He was my leader at Maccabi when I was 10 or 11, he looked after me, made me feel welcome’.
He was discussing events that had happened almost 70 years ago, and I could see, by the way he spoke that my dad had made a difference to him. It was a special encounter.
You never know the impact one person can have on another and what it can lead to.
Both positively and negatively.
I remember when I once officiated at a Shiva house where the son, who was then in his 60’s, told me that he married out when he was 11! Intrigued I asked him what he meant, and he told me that he attended Cheder back in the 1950’s. The class were taught by an elderly teacher from Stamford Hill who always rewarded the top 5 Hebrew readers in the class each Sunday.
He explained to me, that the same five kids from religious homes always got sweets, which upset the other children. So, the following Sunday, he went to the local newsagents and bought a packet of sweets. At the end of Cheder, when the same five children received the sweets from the teachers, he announced that other children could get sweets from him!
He was immediately sent to the Head Teachers office and suspended for one week for bringing non-kosher sweets to Cheder! (They could have applauded his gesture and explained that he needed to purchase kosher sweets.)
The Cheder told his parents that he was not to come the following week. Two weeks later he was allowed to return, he left his house to walk to Cheder, but he just sat in the park until the end of Cheder and then went home.
‘I never went back, not after the way they treated me. The Cheder didn’t care enough to tell my parents I wasn’t coming, and my parents didn’t care that much about Judaism to ever ask me what we were learning, so that was the end of my Jewish education – I married out when I was 11.’
Two stories about 11-year-olds, young boys at the start of their young adult lives.
One who was cared about, one who was turned off.
Huge impacts – both positive and negative.
We meet another young man in this week’s Parsha, which teaches us the above idea and also forms the basis of why we have created Yehudi.
כִּי־יִֽהְיֶ֣ה לְאִ֗ישׁ בֵּ֚ן סוֹרֵ֣ר וּמוֹרֶ֔ה
If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not harken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they discipline him, but he does not harken to them; then his father and mother shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of the city and the gate of his place. They shall say to the elders of his city: “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not harken to our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard!” All the men of his city shall then pelt him with stones and he shall die; and you shall remove the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear and they shall fear. (Devarim 21:18-21)
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a) cites Rabbi Shimon, who maintains that there never was an actual case of a disobedient son, nor will there ever be, because the circumstances required for convicting the child are far too complex.
If that’s the case, why then is it recorded in the Torah? The answer given is: “D’rosh v’ka’bayl s’char,” “We should be rewarded for our study”.
The placement of the Ben sorer u morer in the Torah can teach us a vital lesson as Rashi explains at the start of the Parsha with the episode of the Captive woman – Isha Yefat Toar.
You may take [her] for yourself as a wife: [Not that you are commanded to take this woman as a wife,] but Scripture [in permitting this marriage] is speaking only against the evil inclination [which drives him to desire her]. For if the Holy One, blessed is He, would not permit her to him, he would take her illicitly. [The Torah teaches us, however, that] if he marries her, he will ultimately come to despise her, as it says after this, “If a man has [two wives-one beloved and the other despised]” (verse 15); [moreover] he will ultimately father through her a wayward and rebellious son (see verse 18). For this reason, these passages are juxtaposed. [Tanchuma 1]
What is Rashi explaining? That actions have consequences.
The Gemara also adds, that we also are concerned about the future, i.e. it would get much worse.
It is understood that he will continue on this path, and in the end he will squander his father’s property, and then, seeking the pleasures to which he had become accustomed but not finding them, he will go out to the crossroads and rob people.
Our job in life is to positively affect the lives of all those we come into contact with. We don’t know what a positive comment, friendly smile or encouraging message can do for someone. Conversely negative experiences can lead people down a tragic path many years later.
As we saw above, a mixture of a negative episode, lack of care from an educational institution and apathy from home – all combined years later to create an intermarriage, but the problem had been created years before.
Yehudi has been created to supply multiple inspiring Jewish experiences from relatable role models to 11-year-old children and up. To please God make those impacts on thousands of Jewish boys and girls to help influence the trajectory of their lives in a positive way.
So, in this place 70 years ago, my father helped a young boy to feel part of the Jewish community.
70 years later his son joined by hundreds of young men and women is trying to do that for a generation of children.
Please God we should be successful.