Ethics and Morality

The Balance Scale of Baghdad

Today's 8-minute podcast is a 4-in-1:

1. It's a preparation for Succoth, telling about the significance of the Four Species;

2. It tells a traditional story, well known to Iraqi Jewry;

3. It's an ethics lesson, and -

4. It has a special message about rescinding the harsh decree of the Corona-virus pandemic.

Enjoy it, and feel free to share and download it at no charge, thanks to our wonderful supporters.


Eyes that Don't See

136. Payos LH
Today's lesson is about the Torah's commandment of judging another person fairly. Some people wonder why they have troubles in their life, especially when on the whole, they are mitzva-observant people. The Gemara says that they should double-check themselves in the mitzva of judging others fairly, because people violate it right and left without even thinking. What's worse, the EI (Evil Inclination) gives them the sanctimonious feeling that they're doing a mitzva, talking about how someone else isn't learning Torah or serving Hashem properly. The Chofetz Chaim reminds us in his classic Shmiras Halashon Guard your Tongue – that judging others fairly is one of the 31 mitzvoth involved in wholesome speech. In Klal Gimel, rule 3, he says that the terrible aspect of failing to judge another person fairly is that the person is simultaneously guilty of Lashon Hara – evil speech. The Gemara in tractate Arachin 15b stresses that Lashon Hara is worse than idolatry, debauchery and bloodshed combined. Therefore, many of a person's tribulations can be traced back to forbidden speech that he or she never atoned for.

King David says twice, in Psalm 115 and in Psalm 135, "They have eyes but they don't see." Jeremiah the Prophet repeated the same passage. On surface value, it looks like they're talking about idols made out of wood and stone. The Dubner Maggid and many other of our sages point to the universality of this passage that it applies to our generation. "They have eyes but they don't see." In other words, they don't see things the way that Hashem and His Torah want them to see. They forget about such mitzvoth like judging others fairly. Our sages say that the difference between a wise man and a fool is that while the wise man sees the world through eyes of Torah, the fool sees the world with no understanding of what he sees. Therefore, Hashem cannot share the secrets of the Torah with a fool but freely shares the secrets of Torah with a person who is not only wise but refrains from evil speech and always looks for the good in others. You know what this means? If you see a rabbi or apparent Torah scholar who talks bad about others, then his knowledge if far from the truth and he's not the real deal.

Don't think that I'm speaking theoretically. Let me tell about something that happened to me just days ago, and you'll see how serious judging others fairly and refraining from slander are, especially in the era of social media.

Between 2 wars and 20 years of combat-duty service that included extreme exposure to gunfire, artillery and explosions - and now, having hit my seventies - I suffered an acute hearing loss. I tried all kinds of recommended hearing aids from leading companies and they just didn't seem to help. I don't have a problem with volume, but I lost over 80% of high-frequency hearing that you need to differentiate between consonants. I couldn't tell the difference between a bear and a pear or between a sheep and a creep. I finally discovered the Israeli representative of a wonderful Swiss firm named Phonac. They made a custom in-the-ear hearing aid for me (image, above) that brought my hearing back from an overall score of 50% up to 90% - what a joy! The problem was, that since they are so sensitive, every time my payos (sidecurls) would brush up against them, I get static that sounded like a hurricane wind blowing through the treetops. I didn't know what to do until Hashem gave me the simple idea to tuck my payos behind my ears like the Lithuanian world does. Voila! All of a sudden, I heard crystal clear! I could hear paper rustling, the clock in my office ticking, my keyboard clicking, the birds chirping and things I haven't heard for 40 years. For me, that's the Irish lottery! Like they say in the British Parliament, the Ayes have it! From now on, the payos go behind the ears!

This is only the beginning of the story. I now posted new profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter (image, right). One person starts an SeaSunset LBavalanche, with a tiny little snowball of a comment, "Where's Lazer's payos?" Usually, when people call me "Lazer" instead of Rabbi Brody or RebLazer, I can expect incoming fire of sarcasm or disparagement, because some joker has decided to strip me of my hard-earned ordinations. That's par for the course, because anyone who sincerely teaches emuna is a target for the EI. At any rate, someone else says, "Wow, he must have gone off the derech." I don't even want to repeat what the third, fourth and fifth people had to say. Thousands of people saw this thread before I deleted it. Only one righteous woman told everyone to shutup and she gave a simple explanation, "I'm sure his payos are behind his ears." Young lady, you were 100% right. The Gemara promises that just as you have judged me fairly, Hashem will judge you fairly – that's a signed check from the Gemara and the Chafetz Chaim. If you look at the photo on today's Emuna Beams, you'll see just how correct you were.

Now, stop and consider the troubles in your life. Stop and think about the instant judgments you might have made about other people or the things you might have said about them that disregard a load of facts that you're not aware of and just don't reflect the truth. The Heavenly Court regards that as tantamount to idolatry and punishes in accordance. Very few people take this into account when, even when they assess themselves and do teshuva daily. Why? Because they don't think they did anything wrong! These types of transgressions are unthinkably dangerous, especially with a seemingly innocent comment on social media turns into a jamboree of insult that thousands of people see. To make effective teshuva, you have to find every one of those people that heard what you said or read what you wrote and tell them that you made a terrible mistake. Who can do that! Is it worth the terrible punishments? No way…

Psalm 34 tells us that if we want good lives then we must guard our tongues and the Chafetz Chaim stresses that judging others fairly is an integral part of guarding our tongue.

What's the best advice, especially with Rosh Hashana right around the corner? If you can't judge a person fairly, don't judge at all. And if you can't speak complimentary about others, don't speak at all. Don't listen to lashon hara either because it's just as bad as speaking it. That's the healthiest and safest road to travel. Hashem wants us to be human, not statues of wood and stone that have eyes but cannot see. Really, the only way to completely maintain a clean tongue is to strengthen emuna, because if a person believes that Hashem is with him or her, and knows everything that they are thinking, much less saying, then they'll never speak or write or even think a derogatory thing about anyone.

If we all commit to judge others fairly, we uproot the intramural hate that destroyed the Second Holy Temple and invoke such Divine mercy where Hashem will get rid of Coronavirus and all the suffering of exile and bring us home to our rebuilt Holy Temple with Moshiach and the full redemption of our people, speedily and in our days, amen! G-d bless and have a wonderful Shabbat.

Hear the above lesson on the mp3 player below, or download it here:


An End to Exile; The First Step to Redemption

132. Take the First Step

A group of friends once made a trip together. On the way to their destination, they saw someone standing with a backpack on a desert crossroads. Seven days later, on their way home, they encountered the same person with the backpack standing on the same desert crossroads in the hot sun. The group of friends asked the backpacker, "Why are you standing here?"

"I want to go to Jerusalem," responded the backpacker. "I'm waiting for a ride."

"How long have you been waiting?" they asked.

"More than a week," he answered.

They laughed. "Jerusalem's only a two-day walk from here. If you'd have started walking, you could have been there and back four times already!"

Many of us want to change, yet we expect it to happen automatically, with no effort on our part. Life doesn't work that way. An old Hebrew expression says, "Even a journey of a thousand kilometers begins with a first step."

The Yerushalmi Gemara in tractate Yoma 5a says that a generation that fails to build the Holy Temple is as if it destroyed the Holy Temple. People think that the Gemara is a little too severe here; let's see...

The Babylonian Gemara in tractate Yoma 9b says that the generation of the Second Temple was learned in Torah and exacting in mitzva observance. The Gemara even tells us that they engaged in charitable deeds. Despite all that, the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam, baseless hate.

The first Diaspora, the period that lasted for seventy years between the destruction of the First Holy Temple and the rebuilding of the Second Holy Temple, was an atonement for the three terrible sins that led to the destruction of the First Holy Temple - idolatry, bloodshed and debauchery. According to the Gemara in tractate Sanhedrin 74a, these are the three worst sins in the Torah, which a person must give up his own life rather than violate. Yet, the generation of the First Temple was punished for 70 years only? In the Second Temple, there was none of those three. On the contrary, people were super observant and learned too. Yet, they've been in Diaspora for almost 2000 years, with Inquisitions, pogroms, Holocausts and pandemics on the way. Is that fair? Where's the proportionality? We're still part of that prolonged exile and Diaspora! We must ask ourselves, why is the punishment and subsequent exile of the Second Temple already thirty times worse than the first. And it's not over yet!

The generation of the Second Temple they hated each other. Sure, they fed the poor, built luxurious mikvas and study halls and educated the orphans, but they were jealous of each other and they spoke slander day and night. Comes along the Gemara in tractate Arachin 15b and tells us that lashon hara is just as bad as idolatry, bloodshed and debauchery put together. Even worse, the Yerushalmi in Tractate Pe'ah says that those who speak evil are punished in this world and the next, and their punishment is no less severe that the punishment for the three nasty sins that one should die rather than violate.

It's therefore easy to understand while we're still in Diaspora - our generation is still full of lashon hara and sinas chinam, slander and intramural hate. We can now realize what the Gemara means when it says that a generation that fails to build the Holy Temple is as if it destroyed the Holy Temple. Hashem won't rebuild the Temple another time and then let it be destroyed again because the core sin is still there. So we have to get rid of the core sin!

A person called me this week, very upset. He told me that his boss is so cruel to him that he's constantly nervous and he's lost his joy in life. I asked him why he doesn't sit down and discuss the ill treatment with the boss. He said it won't help, because the boss treats all the workers like that. I then asked why he doesn't seek the advice of a local rabbi who might be able to influence the boss. He told me that no one will believe him, because his boss gives millions of dollars to charity. The organizations think he's an angel. That's the type of thing that went on in the Second Temple - people would fund yeshiva and kollelim but they'd murder their employees or their competitors.

Anyone you ask will say that they await Moshiach and the Geula, with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, once and for all. Yet, we have to ask ourselves: have we taken the first step to bring Moshiach? Have we done the very first thing to reduce the lashon hara or the sinas chinam in the world? How many groups within Judaism carry a flag of hate? For one group, it's a mitzva to hate Zionist Jews. For another group, it's a mitzva to hate non-Zionist Jews. A third group hates people who wear a different style kippa than they do and a fourth group hates all Jews who wear kippas while a fifth group hates all Jews who don't wear kippas. All these groups don't call it hate - they call it ideology. How can the Chassidim get along with the Litvaks if they can't get along with each other? I could go on and on, but this is distasteful.

It's a lot easier to sit on the floor and lament with tearful eyes about the destruction of our Temple and the calamities that have befallen our people than it is to commit to refrain from saying anything derogatory about a fellow human. This Tisha B'av, I am deciding to take the first step. I'm not going to wait for anyone else but you're more than welcome to join me. I ask Hashem to help me avoid saying or writing anything uncomplimentary about a fellow human, much less a fellow Jew. I ask Hashem that not a single syllable of slander or evil speech should appear in my blog or podcast, or anything else I say or write. Hashem, I don't want to perpetuate the exile and Diaspora. I do want Moshiach, redemption, the ingathering of the exiles and our rebuilt Holy Temple. Help me take this first step, Hashem, and help all my wonderful brothers and sisters who are joining me. Show us Your mercy and Your miraculous salvation, and bring us all home to our rebuilt Holy Temple and the glory of Your Holy Presence in Zion, speedily and in our days, amen!

Hear the above lesson on mp3, which you are welcome to download, courtesy of Emuna Beams:


Meek or Macho?

99% of movies, TV and Modern Society will tell you that its much better to be a macho than a meek person. We all know what Macho's are like – tough guys on the surface, a lot of bravado and all-too-often tyrannical. Girls ooh and ahh at the Macho, but the ones who marry one end up miserable. Here's some important character-development food-for-thought:


Curing the Age-Old Plague

At this time of the year during the Counting of the Omer, Rebbe Akiva's 24,000 students died because they didn't properly respect one another. We still mourn them, almost 2,000 later, because we haven't yet corrected their sin. We're all still guilty of intramural hate. Do you know why? We haven't yet learned the lesson of the Four Sons on Seder night. Let me explain, with an amazing story from fifty years ago, about my father, of blessed memory...


Save the Children

Today's podcast is all about the nasty "A" word – abortion. What we say here is very politically incorrect with the contemporary liberal norms that turn what the Torah calls abominations into ideology, but I don't care because I'm not running for office and am not trying to garner votes. Hopefully, though, today's podcast will save lives; even if it saves one unborn child, it's more than worth it.

The Gemara in tractate Sanhedrin, page 37a says that anyone who causes the loss of one life is equivalent to someone who has destroyed an entire world. And conversely, anyone who saves one life is equivalent to someone who has saved an entire world...

You too can help save lives - download this podcast - it doesn't cost you a cent - and spread it far and wide. If you need urgent help in a crisis related to contemplating abortion, contact the wonderful people at Efrat.

Click here to  obtain your free mp3 download of today's podcast.


Bullseye

A person can score a bullseye in one of two ways. Either he or she can invest years of effort and training to become a champion archer, or he or she can be a slouch, grab a bow, shoot an arrow in the general direction of the target, and then draw the bullseye around wherever his or her arrow lands. Truth-seeking is the same way, as we'll hear in today's podcast...

Click here for your free mp3 download of this podcast; you are entitled to listen to it on your own device and to pass it on to others as well, courtesy of "Emuna Beams.


Rosh Hashanah and Political Correctness

Zachariah's Tomb
Flattery in Judaism doesn't mean that you tell your wife that she's gorgeous when she really is rather plain looking. Flattery in Judaism means telling a wicked person what a nice guy he is. In that vein, flattery is a serious lie. The Gemara in tractate Sota therefore says that flatterers are one of the four groups that cannot receive the Divine Presence. In contemporary jargon, the term for such flattery is "political correctness." Insofar as political correctness fits the Halachic definition of flattery, we can conclude that the politically correct are shunned from the Divine Presence. That means that they forfeit inestimable spiritual abundance and blessings as well as round-the-clock Divine protection.

The above statement sounds stiff, doesn't it? Let's see an example of the devastation that political correctness causes us (For the whole story, see Kings II 12:17-18; Chronicles II 24:15-22; Gittin 57b):

Zachariah the Prophet lived during the time of the First Temple around 9th Century BCE. King Joash reigned in Judea at the time. King Joash, who was raised by his uncle, Zachariah's father the righteous High Priest Jehoyada, at first ruled in accordance with Torah – in truth, justice and in emuna. But, when Jehoyada died at the ripe old age of 130, Joash came under the influence of self-seeking nobles, idolatrous priests and false prophets who encouraged the king to cast aside the ways of Torah for luxury and licentiousness.

Seeing the terrible pit of immorality and idolatry that Joash had fallen into, Hashem sent Jehoyada's son the holy prophet Zachariah to chastise him and influence him to mend his ways. In the Holy Temple, Zachariah admonished both the populace and the ruling mafia for their evil ways and heinous breach of Hashem's Torah. This was in complete contrast to the false prophets who controlled public opinion at the time (much like today's media), telling the populace that everything was fine. It wasn't, as the destruction of the Holy Temple proved several years later.

At any rate, Zechariah's message didn't get many "likes" in the King's Palace, among the bureaucracy or among the general populace. At the nod of King Joash, Zechariah's first cousin who owed his life to Zechariah's father, Zechariah was stoned to death in the premises of the Holy Temple on Yom Kippur that turned out on a Shabbat that year! This was the most despicable deed imaginable, performed on the holiest imaginable day in the holiest imaginable place on earth.

When the Babylonian (ancient Iraq) Army seized Jerusalem and captured the Temple Mount, General Nebuzadran entered the inner chamber of the Holy Temple where the altar is and found the blood of Zachariah boiling on the floor. He asked the priests what that blood was and they told him that it was the remnant of the previous day's sacrifices. He didn't believe them, so he slaughtered a goat to see if the two types of blood were comparable. They were not. Nebuzadran then threatened the priests that he'd rake their flesh if they didn't tell him the truth…

The priests answered, "What can we tell you, sir! There was a prophet among us who rebuked us about matters pertaining to Heavenly service. We ganged up against him and killed him. Alas, for years now his blood has not come to rest."

The General said, "I shall be the one to appease his blood." Nebuzadran then butchered all the members of the Great Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) and the Lesser Sanhedrin, but Zechariah's blood still boiled. He then slaughtered thousands of young priests and young people from priestly families. The blood still boiled. The blood flowed from the Temple Mount down the Kidron Valley like a river. Nebuzadran then spoke to Zachariah's blood and said, "Zachariah, Zachariah! I have destroyed the best of them. Do you want me to kill them all?" The blood immediately came to rest.

When Nebuzadran saw this awesome miracle, he said to himself, "If they, who only killed a single person, were punished in such a way, what will become of me?"

On the spot he fled, giving up his entire lofty station in life and all his property, and became a righteous convert.

***

Don't think that the above episode was a lone one. When King Zedekiah and his false prophets turned to an alliance with Egypt in order to defeat the Babylonians, Jeremiah warned that instead, they should turn to Hashem. He warned that the Temple would be imminently destroyed if the people and the government continue in their evil ways. Politically, this wasn't at all popular. Jeremiah was beaten and thrown into a dungeon (see Jeremiah, ch. 37-38). He paid the price of his political incorrectness, but King Zedekiah and the populace paid a bigger price: Zedekiah's eyes were gouged out (ibid., 52) and the Holy Temple was completely destroyed.

***

Let's do some soul-searching this Rosh Hashanah: has anything changed? Are we any different than Zachariah's generation? Are we too afraid to speak up for truth and justice? Does anyone dare today to be politically incorrect and blow the whistle on public-sanctioned exhibitions of things that the Torah calls abominations? Does anyone dare lift a voice against politically-powerful people who are proven serial child molesters? Does anyone protest the unethical business practices that go on in the workplace?

Iran, Hezbolla and Hamas don't scare me in the least. The lie of political correctness should terrify all of us, for its outcome has been devastating throughout our history. As a New Year's resolution for 5780, we should commit to seek the truth, heed our true spiritual leaders and come back to Hashem. I pray that Hashem will always give us the boldness to buck social convention and immorality and the courage to cling to the truth of His Torah, no matter what the odds or how politically incorrect it may be. My heartfelt blessings for a signature in the Book of Life for a wonderful New Year, 5780, amen!