HAPPY HEART

Typically, a visit to Israel for me consists of visiting relatives as well as taking in the sites. There were three sites I took in during this most recent trip, two of which I was totally unprepared for.

After dining at a pricey restaurant in Tel Aviv last Thursday night (not my style), rather than hail a cab, Shirah and I opted to embark on a 15 minute walk to the Arlozorov bus station to catch a bus back to Jerusalem (very much my style.) En route, we encountered a daughter pushing her elderly mother in a wheelchair. In all likelihood, the mother had sustained a stroke, given her unintelligible speech. It was however evident, that the mother had taken an immediate shine to me, in that she reached out to me with her good arm. Hand in hand,we walked for about 5 minutes, as I made small talk with the daughter. The daughter informed me that her mother’s native tongue was French. With the bus station across the street, it was time for daughter and mother to go their own way as well. Thereupon, I took the hand I had been holding, pressed it to my lips, turned to the mother and said, “Tres enchantez. Bon soir!” The smile on the mother’s face along with the smile on the daughter’s face was only equaled by the smile on my heart, knowing that I had made a difficult situation just that much better, even if it was only for a mere 5 minutes.

The bus to Jerusalem was already boarding. I handed the driver a 50 Shekel bill and said, “Two for Jerusalem.” “You’ll have to take your seats. You’re blocking the door. You can pay me later,” said the bus driver. Shirah and I took our seats and settled in for the 45 minute trip to Jerusalem. Upon arrival, I suggested to Shirah that we wait until everybody was off the bus, lest I hold anyone up as I paid the driver for the trip. “I owe you for the two of us,” I explained to the driver. “Look, I’m tired,” said the bus driver. “On your next trip to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, you’ll pay double.” Never in my life had this ever happened to me before! There was no way the bus driver could have known what transpired between me and the woman in the wheel chair. Was it an immediate reward from HaShem? But haven’t I taught any number of times, that HaShem does not interfere in interpersonal behavior, whether it be good or bad? And so, rather than rather than spend the rest of the evening trying to make sense of what just happened, I decided to add yet another smile  to my heart.

Little did I realize that I would be going for a trifecta that evening. The lobby of the hotel at which we typically stay is known for the “dating scene” that takes place in the Orthodox Jewish world. Because their culture is so unique, dating amounts to a one evening event – two evenings if absolutely necessary – on “neutral territory.” Hence the hotel lobby. While waiting for the elevator, I had the opportunity  to take in one particular scene. The young man was sartorial in dress; the young lady was clad in the very best of taste. A number of empty soda bottles on the little table in front of them, testified that they were enjoying each other’s company. The smiles on their faces confirmed this. And once again, there was yet another smile on my heart.

This time however the smile was different. Aside from shepping naches, that young love was very much in bloom, I could not help but wonder if marriage were in fact to ensue from this meeting, would the opportunity present itself over the years for either of them to have a smile on the heart because of a kindness done by either of them to a compete stranger? Alternately, would there be a smile on the heart because of a kindness done to either of them by a complete stranger?

Fifty years ago, Andy Williams hit the airwaves with a song known as “Happy Heart.” For me a happy heart became a reality – three times no less – within a very short period of time in Israel. Should any one ask me “How was Israel” I might just be inclined to respond: :Heartfelt and heart filled”.

 

BEAUTY IS VAIN

Sadie Hawkins Day, it isn’t. It’s much older with a totally different intent. The 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, otherwise known as Tu B’Av, which this year coincides with the 15th day of August, although mentioned in the Talmud, has received short shrift throughout Jewish history.

“There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av… The daughters of Jerusalem went out dressed in white and danced in the vineyards. ‘Young man’, they called. ‘Consider whom you choose to be your wife. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; a woman who revers HaShem is to be praised.’”

Times have changed, but traditionally speaking, what makes the hearts of young men and women go pitter-patter has remained the same ever since Adam and Eve. I believe it’s fair to say “I have nothing to wear” is an inter-generational lament on the part of the fairer sex. Even if it’s true, it’s a sad commentary about (male) society. Are those one wishes to impress more likely to remember the dress of the female or the demeanor of the female? Are those one wishes to win over more apt to recall the outfits or the outbursts. Clothing and comportment are diametrically opposite. Clothing is ephemeral; comportment is enduring.

If the fairer sex frets over what to wear, the male sex frets over where to go. No different than the one they invited out for the evening, the male also wishes to make an impression. Heaven forbid that the guy comes off looking cheap! Is it really so terrible to take a date walking through a windy park or take a drive along the beach? Does going to Chez Pierre guarantee a better time than Chef’s Pizza? Even more important, at which of the two places is one more apt to see the “real McCoy.” Isn’t it fair to say, that for the vast majority of us, our daily lives are more akin to a pizza parlor than to an expensive restaurant? Doesn’t the bright fluorescent lighting of the pizza parlor shed more light on the subject than the dimly lit candle of the expensive restaurant? Doesn’t it behoove us to enter a relationship with eyes wide open?

The aging process is in many cases unkind to one’s looks. It is the exception, rather than the rule, that one becomes better looking with the passage of time. The above cited quote, “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain” which is intoned at the Shabbat table each Friday night, serves as reminder that beauty must never be skin deep. Pirkei Avot or Ethics of Our Fathers is famous for laying out combinations of four. One such combination that never made it into Pirkei Avot, reads as follows:

There are four types of people: Those who are attractive to behold but are inwardly repulsive; those who are repulsive to behold but are inwardly attractive; those who are repulsive, both to behold as well as inwardly; there are those who are attractive, both to behold as well as inwardly.

Yes, it is possible for people to have beautiful personalities as well as beautiful physical features, but bear in mind that personalities rarely, if ever, change. Alternately, physical features – facial  and otherwise, rarely, if ever stay the same.

Our rabbinic sages were on to something, when they designated the 15th of the month of Av as a date for establishing relationships. With Tisha B’Av still fresh in our minds, they were keenly aware that relationships (in the case of Tisha B’Av, the relationship between HaShem and His people) undergo great strain. For there to be any hope at all to withstand the strain, it is essential that those relationships be founded upon comportment and not clothing, sensation and not location, alluring and not luring. May love – true love, sincere and genuine love – conquer all.

BROKENHEARTED PARITY

I was still in the single digits when Sarah Vaughn’s “Broken Hearted Melody” hit the airwaves. Although the concept of brokenhearted was well beyond my comprehension at the time, the melody made an impression on me. So much so, that I thought of “brokenhearted” earlier this week, just as chocolate manufacturers, florists, and jewelers were (hopefully) enjoying their busiest season of the year. As one who lives in a Jewish world, I began to reflect on three (though there were others, as well) in the Torah who were brokenhearted.

“I will descend to the grave mourning for my son,” laments a distraught Jacob, as he identifies  a blood-stained, torn tunic. Yes, parents should not have favorites, but the Torah does not hesitate to point that what “should be” and what “is” differentiates the ideal world from the real world. And it is clear, that living in a real world, Joseph is Jacob’s favorite child. The loss of any child is a tragedy; the loss of a favorite child is a disaster. Because it was a disaster, Jacob refused to be comforted, despite any and all attempts on the part of his other children. The next time the Torah focuses in on Jacob is when he chastises his sons, exclaiming “Don’t just stand there. There’s a famine raging. I heard that there is food available in Egypt. Why don’t you make yourselves useful for a change!” Caustic, accusatory words coming from a brokenhearted father, whose ability to smile and share a kind word, died when he learned that Joseph died.

“Give me children, or I’ll die,” pleads a frantic and frustrated Rachel, as she sees her sister Leah bring four sons into this world. The bitter irony of it all! Leah, for whom Jacob had no love, ends up having his babies. Rachel, for whom Jacob’s love knew no bounds, was unable to return that love in the form of offspring.  Rachel remains barren. She also remains bitter. Yet, neither Jacob nor Rachel can be held responsible for Rachel’s plight. Jacob so much as says so, as he unleashes his anger at his beloved. “What am I? G-d? Don’t you dare complain to me. If it were up to me, you would have been a mother long ago!” Jacob may have excelled when it came to blessing Ephraim and Menashe, the two grandsons ultimately born to him and Rachel, but Jacob’s ability to provide comfort to his brokenhearted wife was an entirely different story.

“And HaShem saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was nothing but evil.” HaShem was beside Himself! It was one thing to grant mankind freedom of choice. Mankind consistently choosing evil over good as a result of freedom of choice, was quite something else! Was it that mankind was inherently evil, or was it that mankind was oblivious to the multitude of blessings that HaShem set forth in this world, that were mankind’s for the taking? Either way, HaShem had second thoughts about having created mankind. HaShem was brokenhearted.

Jacob is brokenhearted, Rachel is brokenhearted, HaShem is brokenhearted. Although all three scenarios differ from one another, a certain parity exists. In all three cases, an injustice prevails; in all three cases the hurt that is felt is unmerited. Brokenheartedness is a direct result of undeserved hurt. Had Jacob’s children fawned over their respective mothers while ignoring their father, we might have made sense of it all, by accepting  what goes around, comes around. Had Leah withheld her love from Jacob, we might have found comfort knowing that you reap what you sow. Had HaShem deprived mankind of free will, because mankind did not know how to use free will responsibly, we might have been secure in knowing that justice has prevailed. But none of this happened. Neither Jacob, nor Rachel, nor HaShem deserved what they received. All three gave love which was unrequited. As a result, all three were brokenhearted.

Let true love be brought about because of Valentine’s Day. Yet, I cannot help but feel, that true love can only be celebrated when we no longer break the hearts of others.