Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Av 5760 - August 9, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
"A Rod for the Fool's Back" (Mishlei 26:3)

by Yochonon Dovid

A person involved in kiruv told me the following story:

I once chanced upon the booklet "Back to the Source" and found it to be an astounding piece of work. This is a collection of essays written by top- notch, internationally renowned experts in all areas of science: astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry, psychology, zoology, archaeology, and genetics. Each article comes to the decisive conclusion affirming the truth of the Tanach, the existence of G- d, and the fact that the world is directed by a Supreme Intelligence above and beyond man's understanding.

"That's just what I need for Opher," I thought to myself with satisfaction. Opher is a secular young man who I am trying to help back to Yiddishkeit.

"Instead of endless debates, all I have to do is show him this pamphlet. The evidence brought forward in these essays proves the truth beyond the shadow of a doubt. The names and credentials of these professionals alone should be sufficient to make an impression on him. How could Opher possibly refute the assertion of these prestigious scientists who logically arrived at the conclusion that there is One G-d, based on their extensive knowledge?!"

And so, at the very first opportunity, I handed the publication to Opher and waited for (what I thought was) the inevitable. I couldn't have been more naive.

A week later I received a letter from Opher. While opening the envelope my thoughts were focused on one thing: how to get a hold of a pair of kosher tefillin for the Jewish nation's latest returnee to the fold. The bitter reality hit me, however, as the words on the page registered in my mind. Opher totally dismissed everything that was written in the booklet. "It's all nonsense," he claimed. "As a thinking individual," he went on, "I had no problem exposing all the errors. For example, the professor, who lectures at the science faculty, wrote that there are approximately 100 elements. That's ridiculous since it is known today that there are 116 elements!"

He mocked the article, which discussed the wonders of the human body. "If this is so," Opher retorted, "then why is there sickness and death?"

He argued that it is dishonest to print a publication whose sole purpose is to promote the idea that there is a G-d. "This is an advertisement and it should be stated as such explicitly on the jacket!"

I felt my anger swelling inside of me. What arrogance, what chutzpah! I couldn't remember ever having met such a die-hard atheist who insisted on enslaving his brain to this dubious "ideal." Incredible! I could finally comprehend the great heretics of history such as Nimrod, Pharaoh and their cohorts. No amount of facts or logic could make a dent in their (anti-)belief. Their brains went into neutral; locked the doors and pulled down the blinds; disconnected the phone; went into hibernation! From this point on you could talk yourself blue in the face with words of wisdom and insight but it would be as if you had said nothing.

Without extremely strong faith in the tenacity of the Jewish soul, and in zechus ovos -- the merit that one has by virtue of his righteous forefathers -- one would be tempted to sink into the pessimistic assumption that this was a lost cause and any effort toward opening Opher's eyes would be nothing but a waste of time.

I won't bother telling you about my last-resort attempts with him that failed and consequently led to our parting of ways. Let's skip forward to the day I happened to meet Opher at a Torah lecture. I did not recognize him since even his facial features and expressions had undergone a transformation, not to mention the fact that that was the last place I would ever expect to find him. After the lecture a young bearded man with a large kippa, tzitzis hanging from underneath his shirt, and a gemora sticking out from under his arm, approached me. To my utter surprise he introduced himself to me as none other than Opher.

"Who brought you here?" I asked in wonder. I wanted to hear who had succeeded where I had failed and how exactly the miracle occurred.

His answer was totally unexpected: "Hashem spoke to me!"

"Oy vey," I thought to myself sadly. "The guy's gone mad. Opher has joined the ranks of those who delude themselves into believing that they have received a Divine revelation."

Opher quickly caught on that I was shocked by his answer and hurried to continue: "Please allow me to explain myself. Today I realize that what prevented me from hearing you out, in spite of all your proofs and logical arguments, was my egotism. Ever since I was a little kid I have enjoyed reading magazines and books on popular science, and in high school I took physics and chemistry. I felt like I knew it all and behaved like a know-it-all, looking down on others who, in my opinion, were steeped in primitive notions based on imagination and ignorance. I considered myself an intellectual, superior to others in knowledge and intelligence.

"Now, I am ashamed every time I recall how I jeered at the scientist who wrote that all the modern technological developments point to One Source, the One and Only who holds the key to all creation, who hides behind the utter complexity and perfect harmony of nature from the animal/vegetable kingdom all the way to the cosmic system. I couldn't relate to that professor because he learned Torah. I saw science and Torah as direct opposites.

"At that point I began to receive hints from above. They were small at first; I began to feel a general weakness for no apparent reason. I tried to take it easy, ate more nutritiously, and swallowed vitamins -- but nothing helped. After a while I began to suffer from headaches and rheumatic and muscular pain. My digestive system stopped functioning properly and other disorders caused me to lose weight drastically until I was a shadow of my former self.

"This, of course, did not happen all at once. At the first sign of weakness I immediately ran to my doctor who ordered a series of tests. I was startled to hear over and over that the test results did not point to anything conclusive. They did not know the reason for my illness, and could not diagnose it since it did not even have a name!

"From then on it was downhill all the way. I stopped all activities outside of the house and found even reading to be difficult. I had a lot of free time to think. I was aware of the fact that I was slowly losing my grip on life but I had nothing to hold onto.

"And then the miracle happened. Like a flash of lightening in the middle of the night, I felt the realization illuminate my consciousness: I was being sent a message, nonverbal but extremely potent nevertheless! The message was hidden in all that I was going through and it was up to me to recognize it for what it was. It took me quite a while but eventually I deciphered it: `Who do you think you are, you overblown, egotistical fool? What makes you so self-satisfied?! What do you have to say for yourself when your every breath, thought, movement and morsel of food originate from the One Above whose very existence you deny with arguments based on faulty logic and contradiction?! You refuse to believe that there is Someone in charge? Fine, so please take matters in your own hands and we'll see how far you get!'

"Whoever does not believe in miracles is welcome to come and talk to me. From the moment that I understood the message I began to get better. All my thoughts and actions took a 180 degree turn. I began to reevaluate everything that I had previously denied. What a shame though, that I was unable to appreciate the beauty of the Torah in the first place and had to learn the hard way!

"In light of my experience, is it really pretentious of me to say that Hashem spoke to me? Suffering is the Divine language that needs no translation and that cannot be ignored. It is the means of communication used with those who plug their ears to reproof and mussar. However, this too requires a certain merit. Just as a father disciplines his child out of love, so too our Heavenly Father, Hashem, only rebukes those whom he loves. I must have had zchus ovos that caused me to take the course I did and arrive at where I am today."

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