As I got into my car to work this morning, I made a calculation.
Normally in the morning, it takes me 15 – 20 minutes to drive to the Mizrachi office in Hendon from Edgware. As I wiped the fresh snow of my car I estimated today’s journey would take 30 mins with all the extra traffic caused by the conditions.
I was in the office within 10 minutes!
As I was cruising through the empty roads, I realised what had happened – many people had decided, it’s Friday, it’s snowing – working from home. Some schools were closed, bottom line – very few people on the roads!
So for those of us who were willing to brave the weather, we were rewarded with a smooth and quick journey to work!
An initial reaction could be ‘how ridiculous other people are, why aren’t they driving in to work, people give up far too easily’.
However we don’t know – maybe many people left much earlier to work, so by the time I drove, the roads were clearer than normal. Maybe many people were told by their bosses or places of work – we are not opening the offices today, please work from home.
Bottom line – we don’t know why. Yes, it was good for me, but we can’t criticise others if we don’t know their personal situation.
This concept has wider implications for the state of Judaism today.
I remember many years ago a certain person came up to me in shul. ‘Rabbi’ he said, ‘Over the last few years me and my family have been getting more involved in the shul and I feel I want to do something for the shul. I would like to learn a Haftorah, I haven’t done one since my Bar Mitzvah and I never thought I would again, but I feel I want to do something for the shul and God. Will you help me?’
I was very touched, this man was not a religious person and his Hebrew reading wasn’t fluent but he wanted to make the effort. Of course, I agreed to assist.
So, we arranged a date – a few months off, and he began practising.
The Shabbat came and he was very nervous, as was I! He went up and did the Haftorah – he made a couple of small mistakes but overall it was great.
However, during the Haftorah when he made the small mistakes, I saw and heard someone tutting. This person was a regular congregant, dati and well read, who expected perfection from those reciting the Haftorah.
He saw someone reciting a less than perfect Haftorah – and tutted.
I saw someone achieving something unheard of a few years ago – I was inspired.
In the Parsha we read: “Do not say cruel things to a stranger nor oppress him for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. [Shemot 22:20].
The Torah tells us why we should not taunt a stranger: “Because we were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Now what would the law be if we had never been strangers in Egypt? Would it then have been okay for us to taunt a stranger? Surely, it should just say ‘don’t taunt strangers, because that is wrong’. The reason we must be good to them is because the Torah teaches us compassion. We should be good to them because that is the proper way to behave!
There is an amazing psychological answer to why we have the words “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” – which relates back to what we have been saying.
Psychologically, people who have been through difficult circumstances sometimes want others to experience what they had to experience. Or, they believe people in a younger generation are exactly like them. This is how I am – you should be like me. The fact that the situation may be different makes no difference to them.
“For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“I did it. You should be able to do it. I can do this with no problem. You should also do it easily.”
This is what the Torah is saying: “Don’t oppress the stranger.” Don’t try to impose your situation, your exact circumstances on other people. Appreciate that the world changes, some people don’t have the opportunities that you have been given, we all have our own challenges.
We are taught that every person and every generation have their own tests. For my friend it was struggling through a Haftorah, which my other friend could do with his eyes closed. As we move into the 21st century with an assimilating community, we must realise that the latter needs to help the former – not judge them.
We are all different – different talents and aptitudes and therefore before we jump to judge we need to know the whole background, which is almost impossible.
Therefore, the only one who can truly judge us is ourselves and Hashem.