June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

One day this past week, my son was playing basketball in our driveway when I came out the front door. As I stood on the porch, he asked me if I wanted to take a shot. After I answered affirmatively, he threw the ball up to me and I subsequently shot and missed. The ball hit the rim and headed straight for the street. Since we live up a hill, the ball started rolling down the block and my son started running after it. The ball picked up speed as it traveled down the street, and I was transformed back to my childhood watching my son chase the ball. I would regularly use a tennis ball as a baseball, pitching in my imaginary way against the front steps at our house. Frequently, I would find myself chasing a tennis ball down the street as it always took a different journey when ricocheting off the steps. The ball would move so fast and I would try to pursue it, but the faster and farther the ball went the more I said to myself, “It’s only a tennis ball,” and gave up, because in my mind it was destined to be lost in the sewer. Needless to say, my mother, a”h, regularly purchased tennis balls even though her son never played tennis. It came to a point where she told me I had to be more careful and that my regular supply was running out. I then began to become more diligent in my efforts to chase down the errant tennis ball, and would treat each one preciously, pursuing the ball until I caught it, rarely giving up. How often do we find ourselves just giving up in the moment instead of pursuing what we want?

It was a standoff and a pattern. When Chaim and Devorah would disagree, at times they did so in a very personal way. The disagreement would tend to escalate to the point where they began to hurl personal insults at one another. When Chaim left the room, the message was clear that the fight was over for the time being. For the next several hours and then days there was a cold business-like interaction between the two of them. “Who is driving carpool today? Did you pay the electric bill? What time are we leaving to the wedding?” Yet, neither Chaim nor Devorah were able to speak about what had happened and how they could repair their discord. It seemed as if they both dug their feet in and were too angry to listen to or engage with one another beneath the surface. Was there more percolating here than what meets the eye? Both Chaim and Devorah were in a position many couples find themselves in. Each spouse feels that if they are the one to engage a repair of the relationship, they will be admitting that they caused the fight or friction. Any good negotiator would say that the first person to offer their position in negotiation is the loser. Could it be that in marriage we can become so self-immersed that we fear being the losers of the battle?

The story is told of one such person who realized that if he was the winner of the fight, his wife would obviously be the loser. He reasoned that it was beneath him to be married to a perpetual loser so he decided that she should be the winner. In this situation, Chaim and Devorah had a choice, as many couples do. They could become fixated with the justness and validity of their respective positions, or they can engage with a sense of humility and deescalate their conflict.

Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest leader in the history of the Jewish people. Yet, Moshe did not succeed in sustaining peace among the people at all times. One would think that a great leader would have the talent and ability to successfully restore peace in any situation. A simple lesson is that as great as Moshe was, he was also human. R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshischa explains that Moshe lost out on the chance to achieve peace in our parsha by virtue of his response to the machloket with Korach. The pasuk tells us that Moshe summoned Datan and Aviram, who were Korach’s conspirators, to come to him and explain their actions. Had Moshe himself pursued them instead of summoning them, he may have had more success at pointing out their error and resolving the conflict all together. This approach may have spared the lives of Korach’s entire assembly. A lesson is present here for all of us when it comes to conflict. If we truly want peace, we have to go out of our way to find it. The pasuk in Tehillim says “Bakesh shalom v’radfehu,” “seek peace and pursue it.” When it comes to conflict, we may at times resort to the words “I tried,” when asked if we attempted to make shalom. These words must carry a sincerity when it describes our efforts. David Hamelech teaches us in Tehillim that it’s not good enough to simply try, but that we have to pursue the possibility. May we be cognizant of the true sincerity in our words and run after peace in all areas of our lives as a child would chase a precious ball down the street.

By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler

 Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, New Jersey, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected].

 

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