Sunday, July 26, 2015
Tisha B'av: kvetchiness, small cruelties, and why my mother was right
....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.
We have suffered enough from the outside world.
We don't need to suffer more from within.
(Previous years' posts: 2006: here, 2009: here, 2010: here, 2011: here, 2012: here, 2013: here, and 2014 (nu, it's enough already!) here)