I was pondering something the other day: I can understand how Rav Berland is the last test before Moshiach comes for the Jews who have actually heard of him, but outside of Israel, and outside of the religious Jewish community, there aren’t a lot of Jews that you could say that about.
So what’s going to be their main test of emuna, before Moshiach comes?
As I was pondering this, I started to think about how these days, there’s barely a family who doesn’t have their own ‘frummer’ to contend with.
How an otherwise secular or irreligious person deals with their frum family members speaks volumes about that person’s value system and character. For example, if someone likes to refer to their observant relatives (and other observant people…) as ‘parasites’ and ‘scroungers’ that tells us that compassion, respect for a fellow human being and broad-minded acceptance and tolerance of differences are all sorely lacking in that particular individual.
Anyone who can dismiss a whole swathe of Jewish society as ‘parasites’ and ‘scroungers’ is simply mentally ill, and there’s no other way of putting it.
Then, there’s the people who aren’t that obvious about their dislike of observant Jews and Judaism. These individuals usually try to couch their criticism of their frum relatives in softer language. They’ll make comments about them looking like ‘penguins’, or mock them for not being able to wear anything except a white shirt.
They’ll also make a lot of side-ways comments about ‘unnecessary rules’, feeling sorry for the children who have to grow up in such ‘bigoted’ households, mutter about ‘narrow-minded religious people’ – but then they’ll hurry to reassure you that of course, they don’t mean you! You’re not like all those other narrow-minded religious hypocrites who like to think they’re better than everyone else just because they keep the Torah’s commandments! No siree!
While it’s a more sneaky approach, it’s also still mentally ill, unaccepting, critical and fundamentally dishonest.
In the first case, at least you know you’re dealing with someone who hates you, and what you stand for. In the second, you have the uncomfortable feeling that something isn’t quite right here, but it’s much harder to pin it down.
And then we have the emotionally-healthy way of accepting a frum (or different…) relative: Easy-going acceptance. Love. Sincere interest in why they like their lifestyle, and what they believe it’s giving them. Respect for the other person’s ideas and opinions. Honest discussion, without barbed comments, criticism and insults.
In my life, I’ve experienced all three of these modes, and I can tell you that emotionally healthy people have a fundamental respect for a fellow human being that doesn’t depend on how that person looks, or how much money they make, or how many family events they show up to.
Of course, the opposite is also true: it also happens in the frum community that people don’t respect others just because their skirt is too short, or they don’t have a kippa on their heads, or they aren’t related to the right people.
We often don’t like to admit it, but this is also mentally ill behaviour.
So what does all this have to do with the last tests of emuna before Moshiach comes?
I think it boils down to this: God is checking us out on the small stuff right now, the stuff that many of us don’t pay anywhere near enough attention to. He’s looking to see:
- Do we respect our fellow Jew, our ‘different from us’ relatives, or not?
- Do we mock them, and their hopes and dreams?
- Do we speak badly about them, and also crucially, to them?
- Do we try to build them up, or try to tear them down?
- Can we see the other person? Can we hear them? Can we get where they’re really coming from, even when it’s a very different place from where we’re coming from?
- Can we accept that we’re sometimes wrong about things? That we don’t have all the answers? That maybe, we need to apologise? That God is running the world, not us?
These are all the small, but really big, tests of emuna that every single one of us is going to have pass at this period of time.
In the orthodox Israeli world, many of these tests will focus on Rav Berland, because a person can’t get to the stage of speaking badly of him in a public forum if they aren’t already failing all these other ‘smaller’ tests, repeatedly, in their own private lives.
But outside of Israel, and outside of orthodox circles, it seems to me that the tests of emuna that decides who’s ‘in’ and who isn’t are going to be exclusively closer to home – and they are not going to be at all easy to pass.