("Let's table the discussion" is a new Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children.)
Once upon a time there was a certain plantation owner in the South. The plantation owner knew that his farm was far from the city and, as a result, his children were isolated from schools and other learning opportunities.
Seeking to address the problem, the man traveled to the big city. He entered a university library and sought out one of the young students there. “Do you want to earn some money and live comfortably to boot?” he asked one of the philosophy students. “Certainly,” came the quick reply from the philosophy student (who was considering how he would tell his parents that PhD meant he WOULD indeed earn a living), “what will I have to do?”
“Well, I have 3 boys whom I’d love you to teach. I’d like them to learn how to read and write, how to speak and articulate and above all, how to act ethically and morally,” the man said. “In return, I will give you a generous salary, a nice place to live near the plantation and all mornings and evenings off so that you can work on your dissertation.”
The student agreed. He packed up and traveled with the man to the plantation. He was soon set up in quite adequate quarters and settled back to rest, relax, write and teach.
The next afternoon, the owner went to pick up his new teacher to bring him to the house. As they entered the grounds of the plantation, they saw a wild dog, chained at 4 sides being handled by 2 farm hands. The dog was fighting and snarling and clearly quite upset.
“What are you doing to that dog?” the student/teacher asked.
“That dog is dangerous,” came the quick reply. “If we do not chain it up and watch it closely, it will attack again,” said the plantation owner.
“Nonsense,” said the student, “that dog only needs love.” With that, he reached into his vest pocket and removed a sugar cube which he tossed toward the dog who immediately stopped thrashing long enough to sniff it and swallow the cube. “See,” said the student/teacher. “All he needed was to be treated well.”
The plantation owner smiled at the naiveté of the doctoral student. He said nothing and brought the teacher to the house for his lessons. In the meantime, he instructed his farmhands to let the rabid dog loose temporarily until his say so. After the lesson, he told his boys to remain in the house and let the teacher head home himself. Needless to say, a few moments after departing the house, everyone heard the commotion and screams for help. They ran outside to the student/teacher only to find him with ripped clothes and wounds oozing blood. Almost breathlessly, he screamed toward the dog; “how do you let a mongrel like that outside to run freely without a chain or at least a leash?”
Rav Volch highlights the concerns that many have about the merits of Bilaam’s Berachos. After all, a man who could offer such wonderful blessings, one who was a staunch prophet of Hashem could be that bad could he?
Alas, if Hashem had let go of him for a single moment, Bilaam’s wicked nature would have shone through. Hashem allowed Bilaam’s advice to penetrate for a single moment and the episode with Moav occurred causing the death of 24,000 Jewish people.
Freedom too, is the type of thing that we admire with care. After all, without freedom we would not be able to choose to honor Hashem in our lives. We are totally blessed to live in a country which preserves the basic freedoms of man. At the same time, too much freedom can be enslaving. We can become so free that we can get carefree which can have disastrous effects on our lives, our focus and our future – both spiritually and materially.
Who I can marry or relate to, how I present myself (in dress and verse), business ethics, when I can do certain activities of work and play, when –how and if I daven are all areas in current Jewish life that are directly related to the tension between freedom and structure.
How much freedom is good freedom?
When and what type of rules do WE need? What about our children?
How do we balance rules and freedom in our lives? How do we encourage our children to do the same in their lives as well?
Let’s “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting discussion into our homes and community.