I just listened to Rabbi Orlofsky speaking in Yerushalaim this morning (thank you torahanytime.com) and he was speaking about how we find the huge cruelties so impossible and unrelateable - and yet we are guilty constantly of small cruelties...
....like cutting someone off in traffic...
....not greeting others...
....giving a little kvetch when shul is crowded and we don't have enough room to be comfortable....
...and so on.
I've been thinking about some small cruelties I've been seeing lately, and I'm sad to say where I've been seeing them:
It's well documented how Facebook in general gives positive reinforcement to the kvetchiest, loudest, outrageous posts, much more than the neutral or happy ones.
But I assume that religious Jews should have some natural or learned filters that prevent them from falling into the same trap.
But of course, we are not immune.
There is a cycle of pernicious kvetchiness about other people I have seen repeated again and again, where people will post things that make them feel better ("Hey, I got that off MY chest!") or that they delude themselves into believing they are constructive ("Hey, how else will everyone know this guy is a cheat / has poor hygiene / wouldn't listen to reason?"). "How else can we bring about change," they say, "if we don't expose the problems for all to see?"
But with my kids, we have a rule:
We insist upon magic words, like please. We disallow whiny cadences. We make them ask, instead of tell. We make them modulate their voices, cause "we can't hear you when you're screaming."
...When did all that become optional for adults?
My mother always told me:
You don't have to say everything you know.
And I will add:
Loving your fellow Jew can often be passive; that is, it can mean keeping your mouth shut.
You may have a noble purpose, like encouraging change.
But if the way you say it will make anyone wince.... don't say it.
No positive change can come from hurting someone.
Why is this on my mind on Tisha B'av?
Tisha B'av only began because of... kvetching. The spies toured the land of Israel, and came home, and... kvetched. They whined. It was going to be too hard to conquer the land! It wasn't what they wanted it to be!!
And so Hashem said - you are crying for no reason? I shall give you a reason to cry.
I live here in Israel. It's an amazing, thousands-of-years-in-the-making privilege.
But alas, the impulse to kvetch about it hasn't gone. Just look at Facebook.
And it's worse yet, because any one of the people who post their kvetches about other people (I don't want to give more examples, but there's too, too many examples) will claim 1000% that they believe in ahavat yisroel, in loving your fellow Jew. This is a priority for them!!
...but they do not see the words they post qualify as small cruelties.
They are tiny. "I was just trying to make a point!" or "It was just a joke!" or "I know, I know, I'm exaggerating, but..."
These small cruelties prevent the positive change and dialogue that you claim you're trying to create, because when you hurt me, I cannot hear you. When I am trying to defend myself or others, I cannot focus on your legitimate point. In fact, your hurtfulness causes your complaint, and even yourself, to seem LESS worthy, LESS legitimate, and actually lessens MY own love for you, my fellow Jew, because through the medium of my computer or my phone you have marched into my living room (on the screen) and hurt my feelings.
So back to my mother's aphorisms
Think before you say something. You don't have to say everything you know.
And for heaven's sake (literally) examine your own words and actions to see if you are promulgating those small cruelties in your online or real world sphere.
Because we will never achieve the peace and lovingkindness you seek in that way. Never.
Facebook, and all social media and email and so on, have SO much power to connect, involve, crowdsource, share, grow and develop!! We the Jewish nation have been dispersed for thousands of years, much of which we had no close connection with our brethren outside of our communities - but now we can, wow! And much good comes as a result, whether it's davening or fundraising or helping each other across the globe.
But this pernicious kvetchiness sneaks in, like the lice we like to complain about.
But we don't hurt the louse's feelings when we complain about him...
...we do hurt someone's feelings when we post "WHY can't some mothers take care of their children????"
See the difference?
This year, we don't have a war.
This year, we don't have a single huge human tragedy like we have had other 9 days.
(Not complaining, Hashem!)
(Okay, sure, so we have a massively disastrous Iranian situation but it's still somewhat theoretical.)
So I think it's an opportunity for us all to focus on obliterating those small cruelties from our actions, our words, our thoughts... and our public Facebook posts.
I cannot find the book just now (and my Google Fu fails me), but in Elizabeth Berg's book 'Open House' the mother is going through her son's room, and she finds a book she used to read him when he was little. Countless times she read it to him, him sitting in her lap.
But of course, one of those times was the last time.
The character says she wishes she knew that the last time was going to be, truly, the last time, when it happened.
... I think about this often as my girls are bli ayin hara growing and changing and moving away from their little childhood.
(Example: I have decided Sroch is officially, now at age 9, graduated from 'young childhood.' What comes next is all tween and adolescence and other scary things, but she is officially done with Childhood, which means... we didn't mess it up. Shhhhhh... but like, goal accomplished, eh? Achievement unlocked - you didn't screw up your kid's early childhood! But I digress....)
I mean, the last times I nursed them, those I recognized as the last times pretty much.
And graduations from gan, yeah, I knew those were final.
But not much else is signaled as Last... until you look back, often years later, and go - oh. Oh. That was it.
When the babies were babies I sang to them every night, and lots of naps besides. When they got older there would be bedtimes without singing, but there were still lots.
Books, stories - those are rare now (they read their own books), but still occasional. Ditto saying shema with them; sometimes they say it on their own, sometimes they read it, and sometimes I still say it with Llama.
If they want singing, they will usually ask for a CD. Not for me.
(and to my shame, by the time they go to bed I'm usually so ready for them to go to bed, I don't volunteer)
Last night the girlies were a little fractious, and when I - with great relief - closed the bedroom door to do Ultra Grownup Things (translation = fold laundry), I was singing. The girls called me back and asked me to sing "something nice for us to listen to."
So I stood in the living room, folding countless uniform shirts and sizes 7-10 and 12-14 (!) tights - and I sang my girlies to sleep.
It may be the last time.
And that is a kind of sad, but it's also a little like my mental checkbox that Sroch finished being little without us breaking her: I can look back at all the times I did sing to them, and know I Did It Right. That stage may be over, but it was Accomplished, not just Finished.
Of course, I'm still crying onto my desk while I'm writing this.
(I cheer up as I recall last times I don't MIND being in the past- wiping comes to mind....)
There are lots of last times that will come soon, all the last times of Now, like we'll get to the last time I brush their hair out - the last time I help them in the shower - the last time I put their tights on them (that can be now, mmmkay girls??). And there are still first times, even if they are scarier (first times crossing streets ... first times babysitting for money... first times they drive (way in the future, thank God, they can't even always successfully eat with a fork)).
But it may be the last time I sing them to sleep after all.
... So, no pressure to give me grandkids, okay girls? Okay.