the letter reader

Friday, 2 July, 2021 - 5:54 am

 Once upon a time there was such a profession as a “letter reader”. This reader would sit by the village’s post office and for the price of a couple of kopeks would read or write letters for the illiterate. (Today it would probably be dubbed “The Reading and Writing Co., Ltd.)

One day a young man came to the reader; he had just emerged from the post office, having just received a letter from his parents who lived far away. The reader, with a suitably self-important expression on his face, opened the letter and began to read it slowly, with proper enunciation. But suddenly he noticed that the young customer had burst out sobbing and had even fainted. 

He aroused him from his faint and asked, “What happened, young man? Why are you crying and fainting?”

The young man was astonished. “Did you really pay no attention to what you just read? It’s a letter from my mother telling me to return home immediately, because my beloved father has just died, and I have to sit Shiva… is it any wonder that I cried?! And you’re wondering at my fainting?!”

The wise reader asked him, “but wait a minute, you don’t know how to read at all, and all the information you have, you got from me – so why did you cry and I didn’t?”

“Foolish man,” answered the young man. “You don’t care about a man who died yesterday, far away. You didn’t know him, so why should you cry? But I – it’s my own father!”

Dear friends, Parashat Pinchas has many messages in it for us, but allow me to bring forth one central message that the story of Pinchas has for us: Pinchas cared!

Zimri ben Salu was from the tribe of Shimon, and he did what he did with Cozbi bat Tzur, who was a Midianite. What does that have to do with Pinchas? Why should it touch him? Why should it hurt him when something is happening to someone else from a different tribe? He’s not a close relative of his, and certainly not his father!

But Pinchas showed us that one should care. If something happens, even if it’s in another place, even it’s far away, it should touch us. We should care!

We should not read the letter like that letter reader.

The days of Bein Hametzarim (the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av) are days when one should look upon the Jewish People favorably. I think that we have inherited from Pinchas this trait of caring. I live in Switzerland, but visit Israel a lot, and the differences are quite clear. The people in Israel care very much. They will be happy to direct you to your destination, will tell you what your mistake is, where the best falafel is sold and what’s best for you – even if they met you for the first time exactly one minute ago. 

Because that’s what we’re like. We care. And it’s good that we care. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Zalmen Wishedski

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