My Bubie gets upset when she comes to our home in Mea Shearim and sees writing on the walls that say hateful things about other Jews. She knows that most people do not agree with what is written but, every time she comes, the writing is still there. This story is one about the power of words, to hurt or to heal. It is in three parts, one for the next three weeks. My Bubie says words are more powerful than weapons and we must always be careful with how we use them.
There was once a boy named Yossi. Yossi loved to play, he loved to laugh, and he loved to learn. The only problem was he had trouble reading and when it is difficult to read, it can also be difficult to learn. His parents sent him to special doctors to check his eyes and special tutors to help him to learn how to read. All these things did make a difference, but it did not really solve the problem and so he continued to struggle with his reading.
One day, while Yossi was walking home, he noticed something written on the wall outside the building across from his school. Normally Yossi did not stop to read notices or graffiti on walls because he needed to stop and concentrate in order to read, and he was usually in a rush. However, there was something about the writing that attracted Yossi’s attention, and so he paused, looked at it and read it.
What he read was a hateful statement about another group in his community. Yossi was bothered by what he read and almost wished that his reading would not be improving if it meant he could now read things that hurt other people. Yossi stood closer to the words on the wall, stared at them and began to feel angry.
Without Yossi intending it, something began to happen to his eyes. Suddenly, he could not see; everything became white and bright, and he felt his eyes vibrating. Something began shooting out from his eyeballs! It happened so quickly that Yossi did not have time to become scared. He fell backwards, with his eyes shut tight, and slowly he began to open his eyelids.
At first it was difficult to focus, but then everything became clear, and Yossi regained his normal eyesight. “What happened to me?” He thought. It was a strange feeling, and, in some ways, Yossi felt afraid, except it happened very quickly and he regained the eyesight he lost before this strange incident. He felt fine. He did not hurt himself when he fell backwards, so he stood up, brushed himself off and decided to continue walking home.
Just as he was about to turn around, he looked at the writing on the wall again, focused his eyes and much to his surprise, the words that had been written before, which were hateful, had turned to words of love! Now, instead of saying, “Death to…..” the words read, “Love….. with all of your heart.”
How could that have happened? The writing was in a non-erasable black paint on a stone wall! The only way that those words could have changed would be to paint over them in white paint and then write over the white paint with new black paint. There was no white paint and those words looked like the original ones that were written on the stones of the wall.
Yossi began to doubt what he had originally read. “Perhaps,” he thought to himself, “my reading has not improved that much, and I misread what was written from the beginning.”
In any case, Yossi was much happier with what was written on the wall now and he decided that he had made a reading mistake (not the first time that it had happened to him) and he went on his way. He wanted to get home, eat dinner, and go to his clarinet lesson.
The next few days were uneventful for Yossi. He went to Yeshiva, went to the Shul (Synagogue) to pray, learned with his Chevruta (his learning partner), and practiced his clarinet. One evening, on the way home from his clarinet lesson, Yossi noticed writing on the stone wall across from where his clarinet teacher lived. As he approached the writing on the wall, he noticed another negative sentence about another group of Jews. Yossi knew that the holiday of Tisha B’Av was soon approaching and that it commemorated the loss of two Holy Temples of the Jews in the city of Jerusalem. The Rabbis agreed that the Temples were destroyed because of the hatred that different groups of Jews had for one another and here Yossi was faced with the same situation! On the wall, in black paint was a horrible sentence calling for the death of Jews who did not agree with other Jews!
Suddenly, Yossi could not control himself. Anger welled up inside of him, his eyes only saw white flashes and he felt something strong shooting out from his eyes towards the wall. Before he even knew what was happening, he fell backwards, eyes closed, and he felt very tired. When after a few minutes he opened his eyes, he looked up at the wall and instead of some hateful words he saw words encouraging his fellow Jews to accept one another and embrace each other with love, not hate.
“What was going on here?” Yossi thought to himself. He had always had problems with his eyes, focusing and reading. “Who was doing this to him?” He wondered. Yossi, knew for sure that he was the one changing the writing on the wall, and he looked around to see if anyone else had seen what had happened. There did not seem to be anyone else around, which he was grateful for, but still he felt nervous, uncertain, and even afraid, because of this strange beam that came from his eyes without any warning.
Yossi thought about the two times that this had happened to him, trying to figure out what brought it on and if he could in any way control it. He remembered reading the messages on the walls and becoming angry because they were hateful messages towards other Jews. Yossi did not agree with every group of Jews in Israel, but he also felt that to show hatred towards fellow Jews was not the answer. He was not sure what the answer was, maybe meeting and talking with each other or maybe not meeting, staying away from each other. But he knew, in his heart, hatred was not the answer.
Yossi was not a person who was known to lose his temper easily. Sometimes his sisters made him angry. He might yell or chase them but never hurt them. He remembered that before he saw the bright, shining light in his eyes he felt great anger, even a kind of rage, which was not a familiar emotion for Yossi.
Yossi decided that he needed to talk to his Rabbi and try to discover what was happening to him and why. The next day, he went to the Rabbi’s office to make an appointment to meet with him. He was not sure that he could explain what had happened to him and he was also concerned that the Rabbi would not believe him. Would you believe someone who told you that his eyes became like laser beams and re-wrote words in black paint on stone walls? It is kind of unbelievable!
The Rabbi set an appointment for the next day to meet with Yossi and he decided that he would just tell his Rabbi what he had experienced, what he saw, before his eyes saw bright shining lights, and what he saw on the wall after his eyesight returned. What could he do? He could only tell the truth of what he experienced.
The next day, during a break from his Yeshiva studies, Yossi walked to the Rabbi’s office, knocked on the door and went in.
“Welcome,” said his Rabbi. “What can I do for you, Yossi?” He asked.
Yossi sat down and began to explain to the Rabbi what had occurred the last two times he had seen hateful writing on the walls of his neighborhood, how it had angered him, and how he seemed to lose control as some kind of laser beam shot out from his eyes.
The Rabbi listened silently as Yossi told his story. He did not show surprise or any other kind of emotion, he just listened. When Yossi finished talking, the Rabbi looked into his eyes and asked,
“Yossi, this beam that comes from your eyes, has it ever come out when you are angry at a person?”
“No, God forbid!” Answered Yossi. “I don’t know what I would do if I hurt someone. I don’t think that I could ever forgive myself!”
“Alright. Let us not worry about this now. There are stories of people who have special kinds of power. We read about them in the stories in the Bible and in the Rabbinic literature. The problem with a special power, is that it can be used for good purposes or evil purposes. It is especially dangerous if the person who has the power is not in control of it. Do you understand what I am saying to you Yossi?”
“Yes”, Yossi answered. On the one hand he was relieved that his Rabbi believed him, but on the other hand, he now understood that whatever was happening to him, when he became angry, he was not in control and the results could be very devastating. Yossi could really end up seriously hurting someone!
“What should I do?” Yossi asked his Rabbi. “How can I get rid of this power? How can I make it go away?”
“I have not had experience in these things, Yossi, however, from what I have read this is not something you can get rid of. This is something, a gift or a curse, that you must learn to live with and learn to control.”
Yossi became quiet and sad. He sat in front of his Rabbi and could not think of what to say. Finally, he looked up and asked, “What can I do to learn to control this?”
His Rabbi thought and responded, “you said this occurs when you feel angry, very angry. Perhaps the answer is to learn how to control your anger, Yossi. If you can control your anger, then you might be able to control the laser beams. There are two positive things I see here. One is that you are not a person who easily becomes angry, that is very good. In addition, you do not only erase or destroy the hateful writing, but you also replace the hateful words with words of love and unity. This is a very good sign.”
Yossi thought about what the Rabbi said, and it caused him to become calmer and more hopeful that he would learn how to control this ability and only use it for the good.
“I think Yossi, that I would like to speak with a friend of mine who may be able to help. In the meantime, let us keep this between each other. I do not think that it is a good idea to speak to others about what you have discovered about yourself. I am happy that you have come to me. We will work on this together. Now go home, do you homework, practice your clarinet, and try not to look up at the walls in the street to read what is written, at least for now. We will talk again soon.”
Yossi was happy that he had spoken to his Rabbi. Now he did not feel alone with his problem. He was still worried about hurting someone, but he tried to focus on his work, his music and all the blessings which he had in his life.
(Part II of Yossi and the Laser Beam Eyes will be published next week)