The Stranger

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A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small town. From the very beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer, and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later.

As I grew up, I never questioned his place in our family. Mom taught me to love the word of G-d, and dad taught me to obey it. But the stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries and comedies were his daily conversations.

He would hold our whole family spellbound for hours on end. He was like a friend to the whole family. He took Dad, Yaacov and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars.

The stranger was an incessant talker. Dad didn’t seem to mind, but sometimes Mom would quietly get up – while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places – go to her room, read the Bible, and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave.

You see, my dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt an obligation to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our house – not from us, from our friends, or others. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four letter words that burned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge, the stranger was never confronted. He even took us to see other religious services which were not part of our own religion.

My Dad did not permit alcohol in our home even for cooking. But the stranger felt like we needed exposure and enlightened us to other ways of life. He offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages often. He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished. He talked freely about things that were sometimes embarrassing and forbidden to us and tried to influence us to do things that were improper. Time and time again he opposed the values of my parents and my yeshivah, yet he was seldom rebuked and never asked to leave.

More than twenty years have passed since the stranger moved in with us and continues to influence us in all the ways of ancient Egypt and teaches us the morals of Sdom. While my rebbi at yeshiva tries to tell us not to listen to him, his stories sound far more interesting and enjoyable than those I hear in class. In fact, the other day I decided to take his advice and drank a few bottles of that booze he kept recommending would make my life so much better and enjoyable. A little latter I decided to take a drive with some of my friends. We were going out to party. That’s when I saw two lights coming toward me. I thought it was two motorcycles coming my way so I decided to go in the middle. There was a loud crash and the next thing I knew was laying in a hospital bed in agonizing pain with tubes and machines connected to every part of my body, and wondering if they’ll ever be able to piece me back together again. I was told that my friends are dead. Just then I saw the stranger once again. He’d come to visit me in my hospital bed. I flicked off his switch in great anger, hatred and disgust. If only my parents had thrown him out of the house many years ago my friends would still be alive today! As for me, I still don’t know if I’ll come out of this alive. I offer you just one piece of advice. If this stranger dares step into your house, throw him out before he ruins your life as well!Eliyahu once asked Rebbi Nehoroi, why earthquakes come upon the world. Rabbi Nehoroi answered as follows “When Hakodosh Boruch Hu looks down upon the world and sees the theaters and stadiums standing erect in great peace and tranquility, while His own Bais Hamikdosh lies in ruins, He immediately wants to destroy the world. However, the moment the Jews enter their shuls and study halls and declare the unity of His Holy Name by crying out the Shema Yisroel… Hashem echod, the heavenly angels assemble before Him and give Him great praise. Thereupon Hashem is appeased.”

This Gemara teaches us the great power of Krias Shma. If not for our daily cry of Shema Yisroel. the world would turn into a heap of rubble. Perhaps if we’d be aware of the great power these words wield, then we’d surely say them with as much kavonah as we can. The Gemara tells us that had the nations of the world known of the great benefits they derived from the sacrifices that the Jews brought in the Bais Hamikdosh, they would have sent their armies to defend and protect it! If only we ourselves would realize the great power of our Shma Yisroel! How tragic it is to see that the same theaters and stadiums that threaten the world’s existence, have now gained access into many Jewish homes and steal away those precious and valuable minutes and hours that one could have better spent studying our Holy Torah. Even worse, they attack our own moral values as well as those of our children. How painful it must be when Hakodosh Boruch Hu sees a Jew who should be using his every spare moment immersed in the wellsprings of Torah, drowning instead in a sea of entertainment whose waves are filled with polluted sewer water. For this the prophet Yermiyahu cries out in deep pain “Ki sh’tayim ra’os osoh ami” – two evils has my nation done. “Osi ozva mekor mayim chayim” -Me they have forsaken, the source of fresh water. “lachtzov bohem be’ros, be’rous nishborous.” – To dig for themselves wells, wells that are broken. It’s bad enough that we have abandoned the source of pure fresh water. How much worse is it to see that we have exchanged them for wells that are polluted with poison!

When the study halls are nearly deserted while most homes have been turned into miniature theaters and stadiums, is it a wonder, that ever so often, Hashem gives the earth a very hard jolt?