I haven’t been writing recently. Both here and my regular blog. There were several reasons, including the birth of my third daughter, things getting busy at work, getting very active in a new hobby, etc. But I think the one overwhelming reason was an incident I had just before Rosh Hashana last year.
A group I belong to has an email list, and we began sending each other “Shana Tova” greetings. One person sent out “Have an easy fast!” Now let me back up a little bit here. I’m sometimes a bit of a jokester. I like making people laugh, usually with light teasing, with emphasis on the light, I never try for mean humor, demeaning someone.
So I sent an e-mail out pointing out that Yom Kippur was in 10 days, and tonight (it was the day of Erev Rosh Hashana) “I plan to Feast, not Fast!” I had just meant it as a joke in the similarity between, yet totally opposite meanings of, the words ‘Feast’ and ‘Fast.’ However, while the group I belong to is a Jewish group, I’m the only observant member, and most of them know I became observant a few years ago (I was a member before I became observant).
My friend took my message not as a joke, but as if I was scolding him about not knowing the difference between the holidays, and also protested that because he was diabetic, he doesn’t fast as it causes medical problems for him. While his message wasn’t scathing, it was harsh enough that I knew I must have really hurt him and led him to think I was telling him he needed to fast. I quickly sent him an apology, and told him I was only joking, again, about the ‘fast’ and ‘feast’ thing, I knew about his medical issues, and that I was by no means telling him what he should or shouldn’t do, nor did I have any right or desire to do so. I worried about it all during the Yom Tov, and quickly checked my email after it was over. He had replied back that he understood, and probably took it the wrong way, and there were no hard feelings.
However, it still really struck me that a casual remark, meant to be a joke, brought such a reaction. I have tried very hard to be sure I was not judging others, not making them feel they should become more observant as well, etc. But I guess there’s always the underlying feeling that someone more observant is trying to force others to be as well.
Your story was very touching…Hashem sends messages at opportune times, and you heard and responded thoughtfully. I am also thinking more about this topic lately, maybe due to aging, maybe due to learning shmiras haloshon. I added daily davening to be careful about what I say.
Judy, thanks for your stories and kind words. The 3 daughters and a wife, well, I have more gray hair which I blame on them, but I’m loving every minute of it. ;-) Hopefully I’ll have more to write soon. My family will soon be moving to an area with a LARGE Jewish community, and even better, a Jewish Deaf community! We’re already running into things that are seeds for write-ups for me. I just need to let the ideas grow a little. With the hot summer, vacation, and schlepping the kids around, I haven’t had much use of the motorcycle this year, but now that the weather is cooler, hopefully I’ll get it out more.
Don’t beat yourself up over this. There’s a similar story told about a noted Rav, Rabbi XYZ. Rabbi XYZ was at a Seudas Mitzvah when he made a comment to another man, “Mach a brocha.” That’s a common Yiddish expression which literally means, “Go make a blessing,” but simply means, “Hey, the food’s out, let’s all go eat.” The other man was offended. He thought Rabbi XYZ was reminding him to say a brocha due to assuming he was not religious and would not make a brocha before eating. Rabbi XYZ had to spend quite some time mollifying the man’s (unjustified) anger and reassuring him that it was just colloquial Yiddish for, “Go eat, enjoy.”
The other person should have judged you “Dan l’chaf zechus,” without immediately jumping to the wrong conclusions. He should have realized that your casual remark was not meant to be offensive or critical. Chazal have spoken about people who get angry over nothing and then refuse to accept sincere apologies: they are the ones at fault.
Another story, just to close out this comment: Years ago, my bills to clients used to include the phrase, “Happy to be of service to you.” One client came in fuming. Why? He started ranting about how “of service” meant “off service” and we were going to drop him, et cetera. Obviously that client was a little bit meshuga to interpret an innocuous courtesy as some kind of a warning message. But this is just to illustrate that some people will go to all kinds of lengths to twist around jokes or innocent remarks into some kind of sinister statement.
Just a valedictory to note that I really like reading the postings from Jewish Deaf Motorcycle Dad and would like to see more from JDMD. How’s life going with three daughters, a wife, frumkeit and a motorcycle? Did you have a nice Sukkos holiday?
Your friend could have avoided the problem by being less cryptic in the first place.