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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Thinking Bigger

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Rav Ovadiah Yosef was once rushed to the hospital. Israel’s top surgeons examined him and determined that the only solution was a risky surgery. They scheduled it for that afternoon. Since there were three hours left until the surgery, Rav Ovadiah asked to be taken home and brought back in three hours.

There was a woman – an agunah - whose husband had disappeared. Halachically it was unclear if she would be able to remarry. Rav Ovadiah was in the middle of researching and writing a ruling that would allow her to get remarried halachically. He knew that if he died ‘under the knife’ there would be nobody else with the authority and the knowledge to write the ruling to help that woman.

That is what it means to be a dedicated rabbi and a concerned human being.

That is what it means to care about someone, in this case to help a woman remarry.

There is a modern phenomenon called the ‘Google bubble’. Technology has gotten to the point where we only see what want to see and only find about things that affect our immediate circle of associates. That is how Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp survive. Even an innocuous Google search knows what you are interested in and shows you the results that you want to see. The aim of Google news is to show you only the news that you really care about and only the opinions that you want to read.

This is great from a technological perspective and it is also great for people who want to avoid certain parts of the internet. It is not a great trend for the world. What kind of a world would it be if we only saw the news that our friends were posting a liking? What kind of people would we be if we only read the opinions and thoughts that we want to hear.

Hashem told Avraham Lech Lecha. Go for yourself and for your own good. He went for himself and for his own good but he went about that by opening his tent on all four sides. He even brought Lot with him. Lot was not a good person and Hashem did not talk with Avraham as long as Lot was with him. Still, Avraham tolerated him for a long period of time. After they finally split and Lot got into trouble, it was Avraham who went and rescued him. That is what it means to think about others.

I just finished reading a book about a Bedouin who is a diplomat on behalf of the state of Israel. He talks about how he left Israel as a young man and came to America with just one phone number in his pocket. It turned out to be a wrong number. Stranded in New York, the Bedouin started to look for Jewish people. He found one and he helped him get food and a place to sleep. Eventually, the Bedouin moved to Boro Park because the people there were the most hospitable. Today he is one of the few Muslims in the political word that represents and defends Israel and the Jews. Bedouins pride themselves in their hospitality but when this Bedouin needed hospitality himself he looked for the Jews. That is the reputation that we need to have and the people we need to be.

I was privileged to meet Rav Ovadiah and receive a blessing from him.  On one occasion I attended a class that he gave each Motzei Shabbos in the Yazdim shul.

It was Parshas Vayera, almost exactly fourteen years ago. Rav Ovadiah was famous for making political statements at the end of his shiur and as he wrapped up everyone started to lean forward. He made one point about Ethiopian Jews and a second point about coming on time to davening. His third point was from the Parsha:

“We need to be careful”, he said, “to treat our guests well”.

In Parshas Vayera, Avraham was approached by three men who appeared to be idol worshippers. He was sick and he was in the middle of a conversation with G-d but he ran to greet those strangers. Sarah started to bake a loaf of bread and Avraham went and slaughtered three cows so that he could serve tongue to each one of them. In the words of Rav Ovadiah: “Avraham didn’t run to get falafel for his guests, he ran to get steak”.

We need to think of others and we need to help others. We need to look outside of our own lives and into the lives of the people around us.

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