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Thought for the Day: Doing the Right Thing, Not the Expedient Thing

My brother, he should rest in peace, spent one reasonably uncomfortable summer in a cast that covered his entire chest.  He had been riding his bike and -- like most 10 year old boys -- not paying a lot of attention to where he was going.  He ended up running into a parked car (don't ask, but if you had known my brother, you would just be smiling and thinking "that's so him") and breaking his collar bone.  He was really sorry that he had done it, he was determined to be more careful in the future, and he was definitely very sorry that he had to wear that heavy cast all summer.  Unfortunately, reality is reality; all the good intentions in the world couldn't change that.

Even more unfortunately, there are religions that define themselves by ignoring reality.  Here's a cool quote from one of them:
One of the hallmarks of modern living, including modern Jewish living, is the opportunity we have to either follow tradition or invent new traditions.
Here's one they made up: a foot washing ceremony for little girls on the second Sunday of their life.  To add "balance" for baby girls, who are not physically equipped for a mila,  they invented a "new tradition" (I love the ironic inconsistency of that phrase) to wash the little lady's feet.  Why on the second Sunday?  Because making it the 8th day is often inconvenient.  So they went to their bible, picked up a random ceremony (Avraham Avinu was actually washing away their avoda zara; that part has a nice irony to it, as well) and then make Sunday a holy day.  Brilliant.

Hmm... as a physicist that statement and its consequences just strikes me wrong in so many ways.  It would not be considered a hallmark of modern physics is to decide to either follow Newtonian physics or modern physics.  Nor would any credence be given to a person who claimed to make up new laws.  Even if he made his own university and gave his own Ph.D. degrees to anyone who wanted to follow him; no real physicist would give him a second thought.  As a Jew who just tries to live up to Reality, it doesn't sit any better.

I recently heard a story that exemplifies how a Torah Jew approaches the world.  An rabbi was traveling to America to collect money to buy a new building for his yeshiva.  On the plane, a non-Jew sitting next to him struck up a conversation.  He (the non-Jew) was very impressed by his dedication a thought the idea of passing on tradition so accurately was a worthwhile cause; he wanted to give a sizable donation to the endeavor.  The rabbi, however, had a psak halacha from his rabbi not to accept donations for a religious institution from non-Jews.  So he thanked businessman, but demurred; even explaining his reasons.  The business man was not upset nor put off, but gave him the name of Jewish friend (not Orthodox) who was also a big philanthropist whom he was sure would also want to help.

The rabbi looked at this as quite a show of Divine Providence; so he called Jewish businessman to make an appointment.  The Jewish businessman was way off the beaten (Orthodox) track, but one does not ignore such providence.  On the day of the appointment, the rabbi (already in out-of-town town) called to confirm his appointment.  The Jewish businessman confirmed, but then asked, "You're not Orthodox, are you?  I believe in pluralism and the Orthodox are so divisive, so I never give money to Orthodox organizations."  The rabbi, again true to Reality, said that he was, indeed Orthodox.  He said that while he disagreed with his opinion, but respected his right to his beliefs and would not seek a donation from him.  Intrigued by the whole craziness of the providence, though, the rabbi asked if he could still come to the appointment -- absolutely, he assured the Jewish businessman, just to visit and not to ask for money.  The Jewish businessman agreed, as the time was already allotted.

The rabbi (who had been born in America and moved to Israel as an infant with his parents) and the businessman had a pleasant conversation.  As often happens the conversation turned to how they got to America.  The Jewish businessman's father had come to America before the war.  His father had struggled for years in Europe, then was loaned a building and a substantial sum of money to get himself on his feet.  The father had done very well, eventually buying the building and repaying the loan, but when he felt the environment in Europe going sour, he had moved to America and had continued success in his business, which the son (our Jewish businessman) had inherited and was now running.  The Jewish businessman asked the rabbi about his family history.  The rabbi mentioned the town in Poland where his grandparents had lived; and that he was named for this grandfather.  The Jewish businessman's breath came a little short as he realized that this Orthodox rabbi in his office was the grandson of his father's benefactor.  The rabbi left with a nice check.

The rabbi seemingly made several mistakes in fund raising; but what could he do... halacha is halacha.  (By the way, some poskim allow using non-Jewish donations for secular parts of the yeshiva -- dining hall and whatnot; but his posek didn't.)  A Torah Jew bases his actions and decision on Reality, not on his philosophy du jour.  Those actions are decisions are always rewarded... and sometimes, like the rabbi of our story, you also collect interest in this world.


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