By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
Imagine this heartrending scene: You come to visit a frail old man, he is your father, grandfather or uncle. His mind is so addled and ravaged by Alzheimer’s that he doesn’t recognize his visitors, sadder still; the disease has so deleted or distorted his memory that he doesn’t “recognize” himself. For those who knew him as he once was his current desecrated state unleashes a torrent of clashing emotions ranging from pity, to contempt to revulsion to anxiety (this could happen to me!) to (shudder) thoughts that, if directed towards healthy members of our society, would be considered homicidal and criminal (Is he even himself anymore? Is he still a human being? What a lousy quality of life. Why doesn’t someone just put the poor old geezer out of his [our] misery?) Some of us have actually lived through scenes like this and don’t need to imagine it.
Now let’s modify the scene. Imagine if we could project a 3D hologram of the same person in the full flush and dynamism of his youth with his arm around the shoulder of, or, better yet, superimposed upon the entire body of, the ruined shell of a human being before us. Imagine further that these two images permanently fused so that we couldn’t look at the old man without concurrently seeing his younger clone. How might that change our attitude and emotional reaction? I believe it would cause a drastic change in the entire gamut of our auto-emotional responses. All euthanasia-cal designs would immediately cease. In spite of the wretched reality that meets our eyes we would begin relating to the patient with a dignity, respect and humanity more closely approximating what we used to accord to the man he once was than the Alzheimer’s patient he is today.
Among the tragedies that we lament on Shiva Asar B’Tamuz (today!) is the shattering of the Luchos (the tablets upon which the Decalogue was engraved). Although they were the wages of our most odious national sin the shards of these Luchos were cherished. Our sages teach us “Be wary of (the honor you proffer to) the (aged) sage who forgot his Torah, for the shards of the first tablets rest in the holy ark alongside the (unbroken) second tablets”.
Vis a Vis the level of Torah we would still posses absent the shattering of the first luchos we Jews have devolved into, on a collective/national level, the proverbial “sage who forgot his Torah”. This has been true since that first fateful 17th of Tamuz and is even truer today when we are in our national dotage, shambling our way towards histories finish line and the national fountain of youth we all thirst to drink deeply of in the Messianic era. Still, when relating to other Jews and, more importantly, when looking in the mirror, we’d do well to remember what our sages taught us about how we ought to treat the “sage who forgot his Torah”. The fire of Torah sears us, brands us, so that even when the branding iron leaves our hearts the mark of Torah endures. Such is the nature of the Torah’s holiness that the nation that accepted it deserves the same dignity accorded to a Talmid Chochom possessing an active and engaged relationship with the Torah even though all that might remain seems to be a ruin and an empty husk. Oftentimes, when observing the Jewish People today what you look at is ground zero yet what you ought to see are the Twin Towers.
The modern Kiruv movement was informed by more than pity for Jews that were, nebich, robbed of their heritage. It was informed by a righteous indignation that the “sage who forgot his Torah” must be accorded the respect accruing to him for the Torah that formerly inflamed his mind and forever emblazoned itself upon his heart. Obviously, if this respect is heartfelt and sincere, it demands that we restore as much of the Torah of the “sage who forgot his Torah” to him as is humanly possible. Let us hope and pray that if we redouble our efforts in this sacred pursuit that we evoke a divine sympathetic vibration that will allow the “Teacher of Torah to His nation Israel” to restore the first tablets to us so that we celebrate next year’s Shiva Asar B’Tamuz with feasting and rejoicing instead of fasting.