One thing I can say about the Baba Sali is that it’s never dull.
For some reason, I decided I just HAD to go to the Baba Sali this time with my good friend S.
I don’t know why. I’m very happy going all over the place by myself usually, and especially to kivrei tzaddikim. But Sunday night, I was on the phone to S., persuading her to come with me to Netivot.
She lives in the South, so it wasn’t a big shlep, and she likes to go to the Baba Sali herself, plus she’d been ‘locked down’ for three months, and really needed a break.
Problem was, S. is married to a Cohen, and had a small son that she couldn’t find a babysitter for. Cohens aren’t allowed into graveyards, and the Baba Sali is buried on the edge of the main cemetery in Netivot.
I’ll babysit him, while you go in, and we’ll switch off, I found myself saying.
Even though I haven’t babysit for anyone small for around 7 years now. But how hard could it be…. I mean, I could just wheel the kid around in its stroller for half an hour, even if it was bawling that would still be OK.
So we get there, and we agreed that S. would go in first while I walked around Netivot a little with her son in the stroller, so by the time he got cranky she’d be back to deal with him.
She took off for the kever, and I started pushing.
Something on the pavement caught my eye – it was a leaflet with a psak din on it, printed both sides. I walked on, and there were more of these leaflets scattered all over the floor. So I bent down to pick one up – and I was totally disgusted to find it was the psak din against Rav Berland and Shuvu Banim, printed in color and spread all over the streets of chareidi Netivot by his persecutors.
What can I tell you?
I started feeling really, really angry, and upset and judgmental – and all the other negative emotions and bad middot that you can basically classify as ‘hakpada’ or harsh judgment.
Just that morning, I’d read something on the RavBerland.com website where the Rav had said it’s assur – forbidden! – to get harshly judgmental against anyone, even a Jew who is up to his neck in wickedness.
Yet walking around Netivot, I totally forgot all about the Rav’s holy words, and as I spotted more of these infernal leaflets scattered all over the place, I started to fume more and more.
By the bus stop, there was a stack of about 30 leaflets. I walked past them – then decided I was going to go back, rip them into pieces, dramatically, then shove them in the waiting rubbish bin.
My small charge was talking happily to himself, so I parked him in the bus stop, three paces away, and pushed down on the stroller’s brake, to keep him anchored in place while I went on my ‘holy’ rampage.
What can I tell you?
In the two seconds I turned my back to gather the leaflets up, the stroller unbraked itself, and then tipped over on to its side. The small kid started shrieking, and my heart started beating in that wild, uncontrolled way that occurs when you think you may just have done something really bad, however unintentionally.
I ran over, picked the stroller and kid back up, and tried to shush him soothingly, while I found somewhere shaded to sit, where I could take him out and cuddle him. Two minutes later, he was on my lap – and that’s when I noticed he had a small, bruised egg on the front of his head.
My heart sank again.
I called his mum, explained what had happened, and she was so understanding.
Is he puking?
No. Thank God.
Is he awake and aware?
Yes. Thank God.
Rivka, I think it’s OK. He gets a lot of knocks at home, too, don’t worry.
But of course, it was too late for that.
I have a history of ‘interesting things’ happening at the Baba Sali, including the massive car crash that got me to move to Jerusalem back in 2014. This wasn’t that extreme… but I was still feeling pretty shaken up at this stage.
The kid had calmed down enough for me to put him back in the stroller and to walk around a bit more. So I buckled him in again, and started circling Netivot, trying to figure out why I couldn’t even keep a small child in my care for 2 minutes safe…
The answer wafted over to me from the Baba Sali’s kever:
Hakpada. Harsh judgment. Anger. Self-righteousness. Arrogance.
All things that I’d been totally guilty of, when I picked up those leaflets and started thinking dark thoughts about the poor frum community of Netivot.
God, I’m really sorry! Please just let the kid be OK, and I’ll do my best to try to steer clear of those things from now on. But please help me! Because I’m going to find it really hard to uproot those bad middot from my heart, even though I really want to!
God was basically showing me just how dangerous hakpada really is. Even just two seconds of self-righteous anger can lead to a lot of bad things happening…
And the people who get the most hurt by it are you, and the people closest to you.
My friend came back, and I told her that I wouldn’t need long at the tomb, as I’d already got the clarity I’d come for. In typical Baba Sali fashion, I’d got a real slap across the face again, and I’d learned my lesson before I even got into the compound there.
My friend told me that the ‘rules’ for visiting were that you had to wear a mask, get your temperature taken, and avoid kissing the tomb.
So, I decided to skip the tomb itself, and to just throw two packs of candles into the yahrtzeit candle pyre that is nearly always burning strong by the Baba Sali.
God, just as these candles are melting, please melt my hakpada. Please get rid of my self-righteous anger. Please uproot my arrogance.
I threw them in, slowly, one by one.
In the car home, I was in a somber mood.
There’s so much harsh judgment in the world right now.
The government in Israel is talking about passing a bill that will enable the police to break into homes and forcibly remove people deemed to be ‘corona risks’ if they have a warrant.
Which of course, they will have for anyone they want to target, so all this emphasis on having a warrant is a meaningless piece of propaganda designed to lull people into thinking they still have any civil rights or legal protection in the State of Israel.
Things are crumbling all around.
If I didn’t keep my head in the sand as much as possible at the moment, I’d probably be totally freaking it.
As it is, we need all the judgment, all the hakpada to be sweetened.
And I guess that each of us are responsible for trying to do that in our own dalet amot.
Which means trying to seeing the good in the other person. Trying to let go of all our anger and indignation. And to quit hating people who act differently from us, or believe different, or even, that hurt us and those we love, intentionally or otherwise.
It’s a big ask, honestly.
But if I got one thing from my trip to the Baba Sali, it’s just how dangerous all that hakpada really is.
Especially to ourselves.
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