Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Color-War Dilema. Dvar Torah Parshas Vayeishev

A D'var Torah from my father Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum OB"M.

Some win. Some lose. Yet overall, it’s the exciting contest that finishes off the summer with a bang in all camps.
It brings out lots of hidden talent that would otherwise lie dormant. It’s an outlet that reveals what many of us can accomplish when we concentrate our efforts, energy and desires towards a challenging goal. The accomplishments are enormous. And when learning itself becomes a contest, and there are points to be earned for each Mishnah or Halacha studied, the hidden talents suddenly emerge and burst forth like a powerfully erupting volcano, whose mighty strength one never knew existed. Color War, even though no more than a childish game, seems to muster our innermost strength and powers and reveals our real potential if we give it all we have.
Yet, in accordance with a kind of Murphy’s law, the greater the Torah accomplishment, the more reason for the Soton to join the fun. You may not have noticed him, but that’s only because of his clever camouflage. But you needn't worry! He’s there all right, laughing hysterically at our blindness and inability to detect his clever masquerade. But where is he, you ask? Let me help you find him...
During the morning Dvar Halacha a talented counselor gave a dramatic and masterful Halacha speech (worth 25 points) on the topic of "One who shames his friend in public loses his share in the world to come". His delivery was superb and his content inspiring. He touched everyone’s heart. He left everyone convinced of the danger of shaming another person. All was fine and well until the lunch skit began.
It was a comedy that matched Abbott and Costello. Even the opposing team, that tried its very best to keep a serious face, was forced to burst out in uncontrollable laughter. The skit was a parody of some of the counselors of the opposite team, done with superb impersonation. It sent everybody toppling off their chairs and rolling on the floor. But the one laughing hardest was none other than the Soton himself.
Laughing at another's expense 
Interestingly enough, the main actor was none other than the very same counselor who had so ably preached during his morning Halacha about the danger of shaming another person publicly. What hetter could he now have found to get up in front of more than 300 boys and ridicule, shame, and embarrass some counselors of the opposing team?
His rationalization must have been quite simple. "It’s all in fun. Nobody really minds." It’s quite difficult to digest such simplistic answers. Can one actually get up and insult others in public and claim that it’s all in jest? Even when the target laughs along, how can one know his inner feelings? Or how can one know what he will feel when people throw those funny lines at him long after Color War is over?
But let’s take it a step further. Even when the person gave his full sincere consent to poke fun at him, it still sends a dangerous message to the listener. It clearly tells everyone that making fun of people is permissible as long as it’s done "only in jest." What a horrifying lesson these 300 young boys went away with, especially when they see the adult judges, who may even include some of their rebbeyim, sitting up front and laughing along. The message is obvious. This very live, real-life, hands-on lesson far outweighs any mussar shmues or Dvar Torah they may hear later. Even the best classroom lesson is no match for what the child sees in real life. Children learn more from example, than from sermons.
Perhaps this is what chazal mean when they say that "To serve a Tzaddik is even greater than learning from him." Observing a great Tzaddik is of greater value than his teachings. That’s because, as we all know, "Action speaks louder than words."
Just imagine what goes through the mind of a child when he hears one of his rebbeyim belittled in public. Perhaps the rebbi can swallow his pride, or may not mind at all. Yet, in a child’s mind, the ridicule has triggered a permanent loss of respect that may never be corrected. Children are extremely impressionable. The damage may last forever.
Who hasn't witnessed the deep pain inflicted by embarrassing "grammen" hurled in "innocent jest." The victim’s red face is a dead giveaway of the real hurt concealed in his heart. Long after the burst of laughter subsides, the wounded victim continues to suffer in silent shame. He may smile and laugh in everyone’s presence, but the hurt lingers on.
"It’s better to jump into the flames of a raging fire than to embarrass someone in public," is the lesson our Chazal derive from the story in this week’s Parsha of Yehuda and Tamar. The court had sentenced her to be burned, according to the laws that applied in those days. She had every reason in the world to reveal her secret and not only save her own life but also the life of the two children she was bearing. Had Yehuda not admitted his guilt, she would have been burned, and died a shameful, tragic, painful - and innocent - death. Yet Tamar preferred death to the sin of shaming someone in public.
For that reason, many camps require that all "grammen" go through strict censorship, but I’m afraid that even with the tightest control something is bound to slip by. When it is over - and too late - we say, "If only we had had the sense to eliminate it entirely!" A Grand Sing is far more beautiful if laitzonus is left out. After all, not all counselors have the fifth sense to distinguish between good and bad taste. If even one person’s feelings is hurt then the entire Color War was not worth it. After all, who would trade his share in Olam Habo for a couple of extra points for his team?
So, let’s remember. Color War is a beautiful game, but let’s not choose the Yetzer Hora into it, for if you allow him to sneak in through the back door you’ll soon find him taking center stage.

Published by:
Dovid Teitelbaum
Director, Camp Sdei Chemed International
“A summer camp in Israel for boys and girls (two separate programs)”



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