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Wednesday
Nov192014

FROM HEZBOLLAH TO BEN NOACH IN FIVE MINUTES

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryds encounters with non-Jews surrounding Mivtza Moshiach and Sheva Mitzvosincluding an excerpt from his new book, out just in time for the kinus: The Abraham Principle: Where Faith & Science Meet. Part 1.

Beis M You claim to have transformed a radical Muslim terrorist in training into a gentle Noachide in just 5 minutes – it doesn’t sound feasible. What actually happened?

AG: I think the story speaks for itself.

My wife and I were traveling on a Toronto subway, sitting and talking, when a young man took up a position in the aisle directly in front of us, holding an exceptionally well-worn copy of “Hezbollah: Party of God.”

At eighteen inches, I was uniquely situated to appreciate the intimate relationship that probably existed between the Mediterranean looking youth before me and the graying, dog-eared, spine-crumbled manifesto cradled in his hand. It seemed as if this may have been the only book he’d read and re-read in the past few years. And why did he choose to stand right here – directly opposite the only identifiable Jew on the subway car? A chill went up my spine.

As I looked up, his eyes met mine and our gazes locked. I knew I had to say something – why else would G-d have put me here? – But what? The Chassid within me spoke up, not quietly, but not loud. “It’s one G-d for the whole world, right?”

Surprised, he hesitated, “…Yeah.”

I went on, “He wants, goodness and kindness. Right?”

His gaze shifted, he glanced at me again, and then away, “…Yeah.”

Feeling hopeful, I extended my hand. “Let’s shake on it.”

“I cannot do that,” he said, raising both arms while stepping backward, as if I had offered to wrap him in a swine carcass.

“Only what we agree on,” and then I counted out the three points on my fingers. “G-d, goodness, and kindness. Nothing else.”

Big pause – a glare – two seconds… “I gotta think about it.” He turned and walked off. My heart was thumping. I tried not to look his way although my mind was on his jacket – was there a bulge around the waist? What if I had agitated him? A few minutes later, he returned. “I thought about it …Okay.”

Pleased, I offered my hand again. This time he took it, and we shook – almost held – hands for a good long while. In my fifty-odd years I’ve shaken a lot of hands. I’ve had limp fish handshakes, bone crusher handshakes, perfunctory up-down roboticals, and mazal-tov-reception-liners. This was different. I felt love. It felt like something between a long-lost relative and an estranged son coming back home. We let go and he walked away. A few minutes later, he was back again, just as the train was slowing down.

“Good evening sir, good evening madam,” he said. The train stopped and he was gone.

It’s a story with special relevance for our times and for all people – that’s why I chose it to start off my new book, The Abraham Principle: Where Faith & Science Meet.

Beis M This is a powerful story. But you didn’t mention Sheva Mitzvos and you didn’t mention Moshiach. Does it really fit the theme here?

AG: Everything has to be b’ofen ha’miskabel. I knew that this Muslim radical believed in G-d – that was our only common ground. When you speak to someone with whom you are in conflict you must start on common ground or else you won’t get anywhere. Where would I have gotten with him if I would have started by chanting Yechi Adoneinu or rhyming off the Sheva Mitzvos B’nei Noach? In any case, this is what the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach’s message is all about – G-d, goodness, kindness, people united, a better world.

Beis M How do you introduce non-Jews to the Rebbe and the idea that he is the Moshiach?

AG: Everything depends on context: Sometimes you can’t do more than smile and say good morning. But sometimes opportunity knocks. For example…

One freezing, snowy night I was getting gas at a full-serve station and the attendant kept walking back and forth as if looking for reasons to re-read all the details on the “Moshiach is On His Way” sign that was displayed on the roof of my car. Finally as we finished the transaction, he asks me, in his heavy Asian accent:

“Moshiac! What dat?”

“It’s a man who comes and saves the world.”

“Prophet? Or G-d?”

Hmm, I thought. If I tell him, Moshiach is a prophet, he’ll think that’s all Moshiach is, and that’s not right. If I tell him he’s not G-d, he will assume that he is merely human, and that’s not right either. So I took option number three.

“He’s a king.”

“King? Or King of Kings?”

Well, I thought, if I say he is a king, he’ll think he’s only a king and if I tell him he’s the King of Kings, again he’s going to think that he’s G-d Himself and that’s not right. I realized that a short answer is not going to cut it. This is going to take some elaboration.

“Look,” I said. “There’s only one King of Kings. That’s G-d. He doesn’t have a body and He isn’t a soul. He was around before the universe existed and if it ever ends, He will be there still. But He has a way of showing Himself through a man and this man is born from mother and father. He’s descended from King David through his son Solomon, father to son all the way down. That’s who Moshiach is.” I was sure that would make it clear, but not for long.

“Je….!” the guy exclaimed, thinking he finally figured it out.

Oy vei, I thought, how are we going to fix this? Alright, let’s start with common ground.

“Let’s say you think the Messiah is somebody and I think it’s somebody else. Fair? Now imagine that time passes and the Messiah comes – right here on earth. What’s going to happen then? There will be no more war. No more poverty. No more sickness. Eternal life. Everybody happy, right?”

At this point the gas hop is nodding vigorously, “Yeh, yeh!”

“Now let’s say you were right and I was wrong about who it is. I get really upset. How could I be wrong? I was so sure! But how long could I be upset under conditions like that? G-d is revealed, the whole world is happy… am I going to be the only miserable person in the whole world? How long will it take me to get over it? Five minutes? Ten minutes?…”

Now he’s getting excited… “Yeh! Yeh! Yeh!” Good, I thought. He bit the bait.

“And what about you?” He looked puzzled. “What if you were wrong?”

Long pause.

“What your numba?”

Our friend called me the next day and made an appointment to see me in my office. He came prepared with his first question: “What church do you pray at?”

Wow, this guy has no clue about Jews.

“It’s called a synagogue. The place is called Chabad. I mean, you can come there and pray if you want, but we pray in Hebrew and everybody else there is Jewish. I’m not sure it’s for you.” He definitely looked disappointed.

“The good news is – you don’t have to be Jewish to be G-d’s best friend. You just need to keep the Seven Noachide Laws.” I gave him a Sheva Mitzvos Card and explained the rules. “But don’t keep them because they are smart. Keep them because G-d commanded them at Sinai to Moses. Then you will be considered saintly and you will have reward in the World to Come like the reward of a Jewish High Priest.”

He really liked that. But unfortunately, at that time there was no reliable, active society of true Noachides. I’m not really sure there is much of one now either, although people like Rabbis Boaz Kali, Michoel Schulman and Yaakov Cohen would know better.

Beis M Do non-Jews always take to the Rebbe’s message so well?

AG: Yes and no. I’ve spoken to well over 1,000 non-Jews face to face about the Rebbe, Moshiach and their obligations to G-d, both one on one and in group situations. I would say about 95% take to it extremely well.

Twice it happened that I was present when groups of children were accosted by an anti-Semite that intimidated them with pure hatred and terrible verbal abuse. Once it was on a bus and once it was at an amusement park. Right or wrong, smart or not, I stepped in and spoke right up.

“Who are you to say these things! There is one G-d for the whole world and He made you and He made them. They are accountable to G-d and you are accountable to G-d. Every human being must acknowledge One G-d and be a moral person and that means you too! You should be ashamed of yourself! Now leave them alone!”

Both times, miraculously, it worked. I wouldn’t say they were happy with the message, but they stopped the harassment immediately.

Beis M You mentioned speaking for groups. What are some of the venues where you spoke about the Rebbe MH”M or the Sheva Mitzvos for groups of non-Jews?

AG: I’ve spoken in high schools, universities, government seminars, and public meetings about education and social services. If you explain things properly, people are very receptive.

Beis M What was your first experience speaking to a group of non-Jews?

AG: My first experience was when a teenager on my block asked if I could address his class in his Catholic School on the subject of Shavuot. I consulted shluchim and was told I must go, for two reasons: First, there are many Jewish students in those schools, and second, they need to know about the Noachide Laws. Non-Jews need to understand about Mattan Torah to know where their obligations come from just like Jews do. Of course I went and Baruch Hashem it went over like a hot knife through butter.

Beis M These non-Jews have their own beliefs, values, and lifestyle that have nothing to do with Yiddishkait. Why are they so accepting when they hear the Rebbe’s message?

AG: There are several reasons for this, which the Rebbe himself has addressed.

First of all, it’s the times we live in. The Noachide Laws have been ‘on the books’ for millennia getting dusty because who would use them? The Rambam placed them at the end of Mishneh Torah right before the laws about Moshiach for a reason. In earlier generations we would have been risking our lives to tell non-Jews how to live, but in the footsteps of Moshiach, says the Rebbe, they thank us for doing our job and enlightening them about the Rebbe and what they can do to get ready for Geula.

Second, it’s not really all so foreign to them. One G-d, moral living, it’s very familiar; it sounds like the ‘Ten Commandments.’

Third, everyone wants a meaningful life. There are countless books about it these days. Let me give you an example – another subway story.

I was sitting on the subway, learning Chumash, and beside me sits a very distinguished and well-dressed gentleman with a fine leather briefcase out of which he pulls a leather-bound legal pad and starts slowly flipping through his notes.

Of course, I’m just learning Chumash, but after all, he’s sitting right beside me and every once in a while I glance over to his binder to see phrases like “murder weapon,” “affidavit,” and “blood on the floor.”

After a while I realize I’m not learning much anyway and I strike up a conversation: “I couldn’t help but notice your legal pad. Are you a lawyer?”

“Actually I’m a judge.”

“Criminal trial today?”

“Yes, it’s a murder.”

“Have you ever heard of the Seven Noachide Laws?”

“Noachide Laws? No, what’s that?”

“In Judaism we have a tradition that there are seven universal laws for all mankind…” And I gave him a little dissertation plus some encouragement as well, concluding with, “so when you go to work, you are not only making the world a more civilized place – you are fulfilling a Divine Command from the Bible for justice in the courts.”

We talked about that for a bit and before we parted company, he said, “Thank you for giving me a reason to go to work today.”

Beis M Not everyone has such a gift for finding the right words on the spur of the moment. What about a regular Lubavitcher guy who doesn’t feel comfortable striking up a conversation about religion with a complete stranger? How can he get involved in Sheva Mitzvos?

AG: First of all, who says that you don’t make an impression? Just the sight of a Lubavitcher Chassid makes a person think about G-d, about his purpose, about being accountable. Don’t underestimate your impact. Still the Rebbe does want us to open up our mouths and communicate. The hardest part is to start. But once you start, it gets a lot easier.

Thirty years ago, I had already heard the Rebbe say many sichos on the subject of Sheva Mitzvos. In fact, in the early ‘80’s, when the Rebbe’s farbrengens were broadcast by satellite some five times a year, pretty much every farbrengen started with a sicha on the Sheva Mitzvos.

Nonetheless, I too just couldn’t get up the gumption to open a conversation with any non-Jew about the Sheva Mitzvos.

Beis M What happened that you finally got out of your shell and started engaging the public?

AG: In two words – Mendel Kummer. Mendel is a mechanech in Tzfas but back when he was still in the Toronto area, he farbrenged with me once for two hours, explaining how to fulfill this mivtza. What are the key messages, what do you say in a bank, what do you say at the store, what do you say to your neighbor. Simple things. What if they answer like this, what if they answer like that, he played out all the scenarios.

By the time he was done, I had no more objections and it all seemed so much less daunting. Until today, I don’t think he knows what a major impact he had on my mentality regarding promoting the Sheva Mitzvos.

I think we all need a push to get us going. I hope this article will be your push – and I hope that you in turn will kindle the next person’s initiative.

(To be continued)

 

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