When G-d seems like He’s out to lunch…
It seems like G-d is either asleep at the wheel or out to lunch.
The United Nations condemned Israel 17 times in 2020, compared to a total of 6 condemnations against the rest of the world combined! That means that dictatorships like North Korea, shameless terror sponsors like Iran, and countries in the midst of committing genocide, like Syria, have received barely a slap on the wrist; while Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is singled out for endless condemnation!
There are zero Synagogues in Syria, and Jews aren’t even allowed into Saudi Arabia. Yet Israel, which has countless mosques, and Arabs serving in the army, police, as judges, and even in the government, is singled out as the “Apartheid State,” accused in the court of public opinion as being modern day Nazis!
A Chabad rabbi was stabbed last night in Boston by a person whose social media status calls for revenge against the “oppressors of Palestine”! How can such crazy things be happening in our world today? Where is G-d when we need him? It feels as if He’s asleep at the wheel!
In a stunning talk on Purim 1962, the Rebbe clarified the true cause for anti-Semitism and how empowered we are to put an end to it.
He quoted an enigmatic statement in the Talmud (Kiddushin 33b) which states that the reason anti-Semites attack the Jews is our violating the sin of possessing false weights. When purchasing a pound of produce or meat, we assume that the measurements are precise. But when one party is deceitful, they will use a false weight to measure the product to their advantage. The Torah prohibits us from even having a false weight in our possession, never mind using one in a devious transaction.
The Talmud’s statement seems to make no sense! Why on earth would possession of false weights have any connection at all with anti-Semites attacking us?!
But the Rebbe’s explanation put it all in crystal clear perspective: As modern-day American Jews, we tend to have double standards in the balance of material and spiritual pursuits—we will leave no stone unturned in our attempts to support our financial needs, but when we discover that Kosher meat is slightly more expensive than treif, suddenly we get cold feet. We wouldn’t be caught dead using an old iPhone, yet we have no qualms in using our grandfather’s Tefillin because we “can’t afford” to buy a new pair.
We are sure to be fluent in Shakespeare, the Wall Street Journal or, at the very least, all the movies that came out in the past 30 years, but when it comes to Talmud, we’ve barely given it five minutes of our attention. We’ll vigorously endure a painful gym membership to ensure the health of our body, but we don’t even bother to ask what the needs of our soul are.
We’ll “religiously” pursue every cruise and vacation, but we can count on one hand the number of times we’ve visited the Holy Land and her sacred sites. We wouldn’t miss out on a Bruce Springsteen concert for the world, but Shabbos in Shul is something we squeeze in only if nothing more interesting is happening. Our kids will be given the finest education in nothing less than Ivy League schools, but their Jewish education suddenly ended at twelve years of age.
It is these double standards that we all exercise in our personal lives that are the cause of the double standards in how the gentiles perceive us!
When we carry “false weights” within us, giving unfair weight to our material needs over our spiritual ones, the nations of the world hold us to a far harsher standard than they use against anyone else! It is important that we are scrupulously honest not just in the external physical world but also in our internal spiritual world, for they are intrinsically connected.
Don’t shoot the messenger—solve the problem at its root!
The Torah instructs us to remember the anti-Semites in every generation (just after it teaches us the law of the false weights) so that we can remember the key to solving anti-Semitism in every generation. Condemning nations that persecute us and educating politicians who oppress us is nothing more than shooting the messenger! If we are to really cure anti-Semitism, we have to uproot it at its core—within the double standards that we harbor in our hearts with our own spiritual responsibilities!
Needless to say, the perpetrators of anti-Semitism need to be prosecuted for their crimes to the fullest extent of the law, but the Talmud is exposing us to a far greater awareness of the spiritual context of what is happening around us. Instead of being filled with fear and anxiety, we can find peace and serenity in knowing that G-d is always there watching, though we can’t see Him, in order to allow us the opportunity to get our act together!
Below is a touching story that illustrates the point of how we are never alone, even though it seems like we are:
Simon & Garfunkel’s hit “The Sound of Silence” topped the US charts and went platinum in the UK. It was named among the 20 most performed songs of the 20th century, included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and provided the unforgettable soundtrack to 1967 film classic “The Graduate.” But to one man, “The Sound of Silence” means much more than just a No 1 song on the radio with its poignant opening lines: “Hello Darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.”
Sanford “Sandy” Greenberg is Art Garfunkel’s best friend, and reveals in a moving new memoir, named after that lyric, that the song was a touching tribute to their undying bond and the singer’s sacrifice that saved Sandy’s life when he unexpectedly lost his sight.
“He lifted me out of the grave,” says Sandy, aged 79, who recounts his plunge into sudden blindness, and how Art Garfunkel’s selfless devotion gave him a reason to live again. Sandy and Arthur, as Art was then known, met during their first week as students at the prestigious Columbia University in New York.
“A young man wearing an Argyle sweater and corduroy pants and blond hair with a crew cut came over and said, “Hi, I’m Arthur Garfunkel,” Sandy recalls. They became roommates, bonding over a shared taste in books, poetry, and music.
“Every night Arthur and I would sing. He would play his guitar and I would be the DJ. The air was always filled with music.”
Still teenagers, they made a pact to always be there for each other in times of trouble.
“If one was in extremis, the other would come to his rescue,” says Sandy. They had no idea their promise would be tested so soon. Just months later, Sandy recalls: “I was at a baseball game and suddenly my eyes became cloudy and my vision became unhinged. Shortly after that darkness descended.”
Doctors diagnosed conjunctivitis, assuring him that it would pass. But days later, Sandy went blind, and doctors realized that glaucoma had destroyed his optic nerves. Sandy was the son of a rag-and-bone man. His family, Jewish immigrants in Buffalo, New York, had no money to help him, so he dropped out of college, gave up his dream of becoming a lawyer, and plunged into depression.
“I wouldn’t see anyone, I just refused to talk to anybody,” says Sandy. “And then unexpectedly Arthur flew in, saying he had to talk to me. He said, ‘You’re gonna come back, aren’t you?'” I said, “No. There’s no conceivable way. He was pretty insistent, and finally said, ‘Look, I don’t think you get it. I need you back there. That’s the pact we made together: we would be there for the other in times of crisis. I will help you.”
Together they returned to Columbia University, where Sandy became dependent on Garfunkel’s support. Art would walk Sandy to class, bandage his wounds when he fell, and even filled out his graduate school applications. Garfunkel called himself “Darkness” in a show of empathy. The singer explained: “I was saying, ‘I want to be together where you are, in the black.'”
Sandy recalls: “He would come in and say, ‘Darkness is going to read to you now.'”
“Then he would take me to class and back. He would take me around the city. He altered his entire life so that it would accommodate me.”
Garfunkel would talk about Sandy with his high-school friend Paul Simon, from Queens, New York, as the folk-rock duo struggled to launch their musical careers, performing at local parties and clubs. Though Simon wrote the song, the lyrics to The Sound of Silence are infused with Garfunkel’s compassion as Darkness, Sandy’s old friend. Guiding Sandy through New York one day, as they stood in the vast forecourt of bustling Grand Central Station, Garfunkel said that he had to leave for an assignment, abandoning his blind friend alone in the rush-hour crowd, terrified, stumbling and falling.
“I cut my forehead,” says Sandy. “I cut my shins. My socks were bloodied. I had my hands out and bumped into a woman’s breasts. It was a horrendous feeling of shame and humiliation. I started running forward, knocking over coffee cups and briefcases, and finally, I got to the local train to Columbia University. It was the worst couple of hours in my life.” Back on campus, he bumped into a man, who apologized.
“I knew that it was Arthur’s voice,” says Sandy. “For a moment I was enraged, and then I understood what happened: that his colossally insightful, the brilliant yet wildly risky strategy had worked.”
Garfunkel had not abandoned Sandy at the station, but had followed him the entire way home, watching over him. “Arthur knew it was only when I could prove to myself I could do it that I would have real independence,” says Sandy. “And it worked because after that I felt that I could do anything. That moment was the spark that caused me to live a completely different life, without fear, without doubt. For that I am tremendously grateful to my friend.”
Sandy not only graduated but went on to study for a master’s degree at Harvard and Oxford. While in Britain, he received a phone call from his friend – and with it the chance to keep his side of their pact. Garfunkel wanted to drop out of architecture school and record his first album with Paul Simon but explained: “I need $400 to get started.” Sandy, by then married to his high school sweetheart, says: “We had $404 in our current account. I said, ‘Arthur, you will have your check.'”It was an instant reaction because he had helped me restart my life, and his request was the first time that I had been able to live up to half of our solemn covenant.”
The 1964 album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, was a critical and commercial flop, but one of the tracks was The Sound of Silence, which was released as a single the following year and went to No 1 across the world. “The Sound of Silence meant a lot because it started out with the words ‘Hello darkness’ and this was Darkness singing, the guy who read to me after I returned to Columbia blind,” says Sandy.
Simon & Garfunkel went on to have four smash albums, with hits including Mrs. Robinson, The Boxer, and Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Amazingly, Sandy went on to extraordinary success as an inventor, entrepreneur, investor, presidential adviser, and philanthropist.
The father of three, who launched a $3M prize to find a cure for blindness, has always refused to use a white cane or guide dog. “I don’t want to be ‘the blind guy,'” he says. “I wanted to be Sandy Greenberg, the human being.”
Six decades later the two men remain best friends, and Garfunkel credits Sandy with transforming his life. With Sandy, “my real life emerged,” says the singer. “I became a better guy in my own eyes and began to see who I was – somebody who gives to a friend. I blush to find myself within his dimension. My friend is the gold standard of decency.” Says Sandy: “I am the luckiest man in the world.”
Just like Sandy’s fear in the train station was unjustified because Garfunkel was watching him closely, when we feel alone and afraid, the Talmudic explanation of anti-Semitism reminds us that we are truly never alone and we have nothing to fear!