Wednesday, October 29, 2008
What I Want For My Birthday
One of the days this week is my birthday. People often ask me how old I am and when I do, I usually give them my pat answer of 97. Of course, I'm not actually that old -- in reality I'm well over three millenia. :)
People often ask me what I want for my birthday. Well, B"H, I have most of what I could really want. I have a wonderful, understand (and beautiful) wife, I have kids who are good (most of the time) and whom I am proud of (most of the time). I have a wonderful extended family, a job which brings in a salary (although I could always use more :) ), and am doing pretty well in school. In short, I don't have much that I can really complain about personally.
However, that doesn't mean that I don't have things that I want for my birthday. Eeees, in particular, has been asking me what I want for my birthday. Allow me to elaborate on what I want by telling a short family story first.
About a year or two ago, we as a family decided to go out to eat for my birthday. We went to a local Chinese restaurant. Unfortunately, this was a day when Walter, George and Wilma decided that bickering was the national pastime. So there we were, sitting in the restaurant, looking at the menus with "stop it," "don't hit me" and "Mooooooom!" piping up every twenty seconds or so. Finally, Eeees turns to me and asks me if I've decided what I want. I looked at her, pointed at the menu and said "I'd like a happy family.*" She understood the double meaning right away -- it took the kids a few seconds to catch on, but they did and we actually ended up having a pleasant meal.
So, here's my birthday wish -- I want a happy family. And, by family, I don't mean only Eeees and my kids, or even my parents, Skipper and her family or my extended family. I mean all of K'lal Yisroel. Modern Orthodox, Chassidish, Litvish, Yeshivish, Chareidi, and yes, even Conservative, Reform, et al. Let's all try to be one happy family. That doesn't mean that you have to agree on everything -- heck, I have serious disagreements on lots of issues with members of my family -- but they're still my family. I'll vigorously argue points with them, but I won't denigrate or attack them. I can try to tell them six ways to Sunday that they're wrong, but, at the end of the day, I won't attack them personally for their actions. I have relatives who are not Shomer Shabbos. I have relatives who are intermarried. They all know how strongly I feel about these issues, and yet, I won't attack them personally**. I won't throw rocks at their cars because they drive on Shabbos. I won't throw acid in thier faces because they don't dress up to my level of tznius. And the fact that I don't attack them on these issues doesn't mean that in any way I validate them. And yes, it works the other way too. I have friends and relatives whom I would classify as "frummer" than me (despite the fact that I *hate* that word), some very much so. I may disagree with them, and again, sometimes vehemently so, on the way things should be done. I may have very different opinions than they do on halachic and hashkafic issues. Yet, at the end of the day, they are still my family and friends. We get along fine. There are no wars between us over my failure to keep up to their particular standards.
If I can have this among my family and friends, why can't we have this in the K'lal in general? Why must there be these little wars between the various sects of our community? We don't have to agree. Heck, we don't even have to validate each other's opinions. I'm not asking that chareidim validate or even respect the position of those who drive on Shabbos. But not respecting someone's actions is different than attacking them personally. Likewise, I'm not asking that anyone has to agree everytime a gadol tries to ban something or other. If you're not going to listen to the ban, then fine, don't. But there is no reason for calls of "Taliban" and the like. Make your argument, forcefully if you must, but make it respectfully. There's no reason to mock or insult gratuitously. There's no reason to disagree on anything more than theological grounds.
So, that's what I want for my birthday. Shalom in K'lal Yisroel. A pipe dream? Maybe. But I like to follow this approach. Reach for the stars. You may not get them, but at least you'll end up higher up than when you started.
*Just for clarification... there is a Chinese dish called Happy Family.
** Es chatoai ani mazkir hayom -- there was one case of a relative who intermarried and I did handle it very poorly. Let's say that I've learned a lot from my mistakes.