Why Babies Cry
Parshas Ki Savo
We have a few very big Mazel Tovs today. First, we’ll start with a birthday. Today is Barry List’s birthday. Happy Birthday! Who would have thought that two weeks in a row we would celebrate somebody’s 95th birthday? Last week was Jerry Scherr and this week we’re celebrating Barry’s 95th birthday as well!
Now you have to understand that a president of a shul ages a lot quicker than the average human being. Happy Birthday Barry!
We also have a Mazel Tov to the Singerman’s and the Baumer’s on their wedding anniversary and of course we have a very big Mazel Tov to the Orange family on the recent birth and today’s bris of their new son. Mazel Tov!
Doesn’t G-d have a great sense of humor. In fifteen years from now this little boy is going to turn to his dad, to Israel, and say, “Dad, you’re a photographer. You take pictures of everyone’s celebrations. How could it be that you have no pictures from my bris?”
But before we get ahead of ourselves and start to discuss your teenage son, I want to focus on your son b’asher hu sham, the way he is right now. Now I don’t think I need to give any parenting tips to the Orange’s. I think it’s safe to say that Israel and Joella are two of the nicest, kindest, and considerate people I know and I’m sure that’s not only outside the house, I’m sure it’s true inside as well. But today I just want to remind you about one of the very challenging stages in child-rearing.
Personally, I think the most difficult part of raising children is the stage your baby is in right now; the stage of infancy. It’s three in the morning and the baby wakes up. First you hear a little whimper and before you know it, it’s a full-blown WAH WAH WAH. You know what I’m talking about? So you run to get the baby so that the neighbors don’t think you’re a bad parent. And first you try feeding the baby. WAH WAH WAH. It doesn’t work. Then you move on to the diaper change. WAH WAH WAH. Nothing doing. So you try rocking the baby, but again, WAH WAH WAH. Before you know it, it’s 4 AM and the only thing going through the parent’s mind, “Why can’t you just tell me what you want?!” Wouldn’t it be great if babies could speak and they could just tell you what they need?
Anyway, it got me thinking. Why in the world did G-d create us in a way that as babies we cannot communicate? Life would be so much simpler if my baby could just tell me, “Dad, could you please stop nursing me, changing me and shaking me? All I really want is a nice back massage!” Done! Life would be so simple. So why? What do we have to learn from this?
I try to distract myself with this question while I’m rocking the baby to sleep at 3 in the morning and perhaps because of the late hour I didn’t come up with a very profound answer. But perhaps, at the very least, seeing the baby have such a difficult time communicating makes us appreciate the fact that we are capable of communication; that you and I can have a conversation. Imagine we communicated like babies. Imagine I was standing up here and just crying and you would have to guess what I’m trying to say. Life would be like one long game of Charades! You would all just stare at me while I would be crying and you would have to guess: “Is the Rabbi saying that we should be nicer people or is he saying that we should be giving charity? I can’t tell.”
In all seriousness, our ability to communicate, according to our Sages, is the defining feature of a human being. When the Torah writes that G-d blew a ‘spirit of life’ into Adam, the Targum Onkelos, the first commentary on the Torah, explains that the ‘spirit of life’ was actually a spirit of speech; an ability to communicate.
And I think that we live in a day and age that we could really take a moment or two to appreciate this great gift call communication.
Thanks to Edward Snowden, we recently learned that 75% of digital communication can be seen by the NSA. We could discuss if this is ethical, we could discuss if this is in line with the Constitution, but I’d like to leave that of to the side for now. I want to share with you a snippet or two from an article by Peggy Noonan, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
She begins her article by asking, “What is privacy? Why should we want to hold onto it? Why is it important, necessary, precious?
Is it just some prissy relic of the pre-technological past?”
She continues: “Privacy is connected to personhood. It has to do with intimate things—the innards of your head and heart, the workings of your mind—and the boundary between those things and the world outside.”
And to that point I certainly agree. The MaHaRaL of Prague explains that speech does not belong to this world. It’s something that truly transcends this physical world of objects and items. Speech, he explains, takes our highest ideals, desires, and ideas which are all expressions of our soul, and somehow brings them down to earth; speech is the portal that connects the spiritual and physical – our soul and this world. That’s pretty heavy.
But Mrs. Noonan continues, “NSA surveillance will ultimately make citizens increasingly concerned about what they say, do, and think.”
Now I don’t know about you, but that may not be the worst thing in the world. Because you see, while the Edward Snowden saga continues to unfold there is a very ironic story that is unfolding side by side. At precisely the same time so many are arguing that their privacy is being invaded, we as a nation are invading our own privacy willingly and deliberately. I’ll take Facebook as one example – But first full disclosure, I am on Facebook and am proud to be one of the few rabbis I know who will field Halachic questions via email, text message and Facebook messenger. For those who don’t know how communication on Facebook works, allow me to explain. If you and I had Facebook accounts, we could communicate privately. I could send you a message that only you would see, much like email, and you could respond in a way that only I could see. However, one of the novelties of Facebook is that we could have public conversations as well. I could write something to you on what is known as your “wall” and have a conversation that every one of our friends can read as well. On Facebook, I have seen couples break up on Facebook. Literally, “Lisa, I don’t think this is going to work out. Maybe it’s time we took a break.” And on the opposite side of the spectrum I’ve seen people have the most intimate conversations possible that were right there for all to see. Back in the day, if I wanted to speak to someone I would either go into my home or go into a phone booth – remember those things? It was private. Now, I hear people having custody battles with their ex-wife on a cell phone in Seven Mile! Really?!
So I’m not sure Mrs. Noonan, if it’s such a bad thing if people were to think before they spoke, or acted. Because we live in a world where the concept of thinking before speaking has fallen by the wayside.
This week’s Torah portion begins with the section of Bikkurim. When the Temple stood, an individual is commanded to take their first fruit and bring them to the Temple and standing there they would make a loud proclamation, thanking G-d for all the good things that He has blessed us with. When we are thanking G-d we do so on top of our lungs, we tell it to the world. However, the Torah Portion concludes with the Tochacha, curses that G-d will bring upon the Jewish People if they don’t act appropriately. And if you noticed, when Dr. Hendel read the Tochacha, he did so in an undertone. And that’s because we are embarrassed and we are ashamed of the fact that these bad things can happen to us.
There’s a time to be loud and there’s a time to be quiet. There’s a time to share what’s on your mind and a there’s a time to bite your tongue. There’s a time to use a harsh tone of voice and a time to speak softly. Communication is precious. It can build and it can destroy.
Now I know it’s not “in” to bite your tongue. Our culture, led by the world of mental health which I am a part of, tells us to bare and share all. It’s healthy. It’s good for you. And perhaps that’s true. But is it good for the person that you’re speaking to? How will it make them feel?
There’s a time to share what’s on your mind and a there’s a time to bite your tongue.
And even if one must share what’s on their mind, how are we sharing it? I’ve seen people destroyed by comments that were made to them; comments which were absolutely true and had to be shared, but the tone of voice was just so harsh. And I also have met people who were transformed but a well-placed word. People who were so broken due to the stresses of life and someone came over to them and said, “You look down. What’s wrong?” And those words alone, without any actual assistance, but words which conveyed a sense of compassion, made the broken individual feel like a million dollars.
There’s a time to use a harsh tone of voice and a time to speak softly. Communication can build and it can destroy.
We’ve cheapened our speech. If it’s on our mind, then it comes out of our mouth, or on to the computer screen. Speech has lost its value and we’ve lost sight of speech’s power. We’ve lost sight of the fact that our speech defines us, collectively and as individuals.
I think there’s another byproduct of this attitude which I’d like to share with you. But allow me to introduce it with a story. It’s a story that took place in the early 1900’s. There was a modest settlement of Jews living in what was then Palestine. And one year there was a terrible drought. And so the Jews decided they would all join together and pray at the Western Wall. They gathered the men, women, and children, for a day of prayer, begging and pleading from G-d for some rain.
There was this one eight year old boy, Chaim, who came with his father. And as they started to pray, little Chaim tugged on his father’s sleeve. The father gave him a stern look and Chaim stopped. A few minutes later, Chaim once again tugged on his father’s sleeve and this time the father whispered to Chaim, “Not now!” Two minutes later, the same thing. Finally, Chaim’s father said, “What? What do you want? Don’t you see we’re praying for rain?”
And Chaim, with all the innocence of an eight year old said, “Aba, if we’re praying for rain, then why didn’t anyone bring an umbrella?”
You see Chaim took prayer seriously. He understood that our words, our communication with G-d, is powerful; it can shake the heavens, it could change the world. One of the greatest tragedies of the fact that we have cheapened the value of communication is that we fail to appreciate the value of our communication with G-d. No wonder we don’t take prayer seriously, we don’t appreciate the fact that words can build and words can destroy.
In a few moments we will be observing a bris and we will all hear that precious little baby cry. When we hear those cries let’s take a moment to appreciate the gift that we were given; the ability to speak and the ability to communicate. Let’s treat our words with proper respect, using them carefully and deliberately. Let’s use our words to build and not to destroy. Let’s use our words to reach out to the downcast person sitting next to us and let’s use our words to reach out and connect to G-d. And in doing so, may we all learn to appreciate the incredible power of speech.