July 19, 2023 by Lazer Brody
The old children’s expression says, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That does not come from a Torah source.
According the Torah, verbal abuse is a heinous transgression. It is so terrible that Hashem rejects the prayers of the abuser until the abuser plactes the victim. Why? Words don’t break bones, but they shatter souls. A mean word can rob a person of his or her joy in life or even will to live.
If regular verbal abuse is terrible and intolerable, verbally abusing a righteous convert is trebly so (see Lev. 19:33, Rashi’s commentary there, and Bava Metzia 58b).
With the above in mind, my heart broke when I received a letter from “Leah,” a righteous convert. She and her husband “Zev” (names changed to avoid embarrassing anyone) have been in contact with me for over a decade. I’ve witnessed their arduous journey from Southern Baptists to Noahides to Chassidic Orthodox Jews. It’s been a long road, and not at all simple. Leah and Zev are two of the most dedicated people I ever met.
Leah and Zev are a multi-racial family. She is black and he is white. Why dedicated? Leah’s dad is a leading pastor with a tremendous following. As a college student, Leah had everything – money, esteem and a bright future. She was the #1 catch that the brightest and best divinity students from the local university had their eyes on as a future wife. They knew that they’d have an intelligent, great-looking girl as well as a guaranteed position as dad-in-law’s assistant pastor in his very prestigious ministry. She gave it all up for the truth. She searched for Hashem and Hashem only. Today, she is on a spiritual level far beyond the average person who is born into an observant Jewish family. Zev is with her, hand and hand. They are incredible people.
Here is Leah’s email letter to me, unedited. I repeat, my heart broke when I read it. See for yourself:
Hope you are well.
Something keeps happening to me, in particular this past 6 weeks or so. Little children look at me and call me a goy/goyah [literally “non-Jew” but in this context, a derogatory connotation – LB]. It’s happened on Shabbat on the way home from shul and in a kosher supermarket during the week.
It literally just now happened as I was waking my 4-year-old home, when a family with little children no more than 6 years old look at each other and say, “goy” to each other, while a younger child looks at me and hides behind his mother’s leg. Before the lights changed, I turned around and said, “No I am not. I am a Jew, just like you,” and I walked across the road and didn’t look back.
Should I be taking these moments as reflections in a mirror? Is there something in me still blemished from the old life? Am I not yet a true Jew with a holy neshama [divine soul – LB]?
Or is just the innocence of young minds who only see faces like mine when the house-cleaner comes or the guard at their school gate. There’s no way those black faces could be Yidden [Yiddish for “Jews” – LB]…
If I told you all the incidents, it wouldn’t be easy reading. I try not to cry but it does sting Rav, this is my reality and my portion in this lifetime. Please guide me. I’d so appreciate your wisdom on this.
With much admiration and respect, Leah.
My heart breaks when I read this. I will console you with four facts:
1) According to Halacha, little kids have the status of fools, where they cannot be responsible for their actions. Yet, their parents are certainly responsible. If a parent heard the child insulting you and condoned the child’s behavior and said nothing, then it is considered in Shamayim as if the parent insulted you. Although the parent is not liable for damages in a religious court, he or she will certainly be responsible in the heavenly court, for it is their duty to educate their children.
2) Children receive their prejudices from their parents – “A child says in the marketplace what he heard from his mother or father” (Succa, 56a). The child lacks sense and only mimics what Mom and Dad say at the dinner table.
3) Imagine that you encountered a child with severe Down’s Syndrome. Would you be insulted if such a child stuck his tongue out at you? Definitely, not! Since the child who insulted you lacks reason, it’s as if you were “insulted” by the facial contortion of a child with severe special needs who cannot control his facial gestures.
4) Insult is a magnificent soul correction that doesn’t affect our health or income. I strongly suggest that you read The Serene Soul, my book on coping with verbal abuse.
May I reprint this letter without mentioning your name? I think it would be a tremendous help and encouragement to many. You’re in good company. If Moses and his remarkably lovely dark-skinned wife Tzipporah lived in your neighborhood, she would probably be suffering the same fate.
Hashem loves you so much, and I’m happy to vouch for that. The joy that the Almighty has from you, Zev and the children is unfathomable. Send them hugs from me.
With every blessing, LB
We’re now in the 9 days of mourning that culminate in Tisha B’Av, the day when our Holy Temple in Jerusalem burned to ashes. This was the terrible result of intramural hate among Jews. Now, more than ever, when the fire and smoke has not yet cleared even after 1,954 years of exile, we had better rectify this, fast. Hashem regards anyone who perpetuates racism, discrimination or ethnic hate (the Jewish People consists of multiple ethnic groups) in any way as being criminally responsible for destroying the Temple. Now is the time to be stringent on the mitzvah of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. We have too many enemies to afford the “luxury” of insult, injury and discrimation amongst ourselves. May Hashem wake us up before it’s too late.