Happiness with a dash of Tragedy


    The other day my one-year-old daughter broke a dish. As soon as the glass plate hit the tile floor it shattered into many pieces. No sooner had the sound echoed around the room, we all said in unison, “Mazal Tov! After cleaning up the shards of glass spread out around the entire room, I thought to myself about the whole incident and became quite amused.

I am no scholar in other religions and cultures, but I am pretty sure that Jewish people are the only ones who say mazal tov together with the sound of a smashing dish. What kind of crazy people are we that we celebrate the loss of our grandmother’s china?

It turns out that no matter how happy the occasion, we must always remember that we are not in our true homes. At a wedding which is possibly the happiest occasion a person can attend or experience, the groom must smash a glass to add just a grain of salt to this special moment. Somehow through the generations, the mazal tov got integrated with bubbe yente’s china as well.

Now this custom might seem nice and very logical. At fist glance it comes across as just what it is – a custom. However, if you examine the reason behind the breaking of the glass - experiencing one extreme together with the other-, you will see that there is much more than meets the eye.

You might have come across a Rabbi in your studies that has pointed out to you the anomaly of the existence of the Jewish people. Great nations with great monuments have no one to show and brag of their accomplishments. All we have left today are the monuments and some paintings on walls only a handful of people can understand. On the other hand, little Mosheleh the tailor has been around for thousands of years. While the Egyptians have the pyramids, Moshkeh has the clothes on his back always ready to leave at a moments notice with his special book.

Scientists and Rabbis have various explanations for this. One reason that touches me most is the Olive Theory. The Olive Theory states that only when you crush something do you get the best of what it had to offer. The Jewish people have been compared to olives for a few thousand years now.

We are a people that been excluded from every professional career until fifty years ago. We are the tailors, farmers and innkeepers that always have to have our bags packed because we never know who will come knocking on our door with an eviction notice or a death warrant. The banging at three o’clock am could be anyone from Pharaoh to Caesar to Ferdinand to Chmielmicki to Hitler or a boy in his late teens wearing a belt of dynamite.

Seemingly we should have been extinct with the cavemen. Our secret is in the olive. When they rose up to crush us that is when we have showed our best. Our best will for survival and endurance. True we have been crushed many times, but there always remain the sediments.

What is the driving force behind Mosheleh’s perseverance? That special book he carries with him wherever he goes. No matter the location or situation, he makes sure to grab that special book as he running out the door trying to save his life.

This book is the source for survival because it teaches that the key to endurance is not in monuments of the past but in the education of the children of the future. The book tells Moshekeh that even though there have been many that have tried to exterminate us, they will never succeed. He knows that even though he has to run today but there is a promise for true everlasting peace tomorrow.

For this reason when a Joseph Stalin arises and forbids the study of Torah, comes a leader of great charisma and vision to teach us to look to the Torah for the strength to go on. If that means establishing underground schools and mikvah; disguising teachers and ritual slaughterers, then so be it.

In a time of oppression and a mission of crushing Judaism, the Previous Rebbe – Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson – showed the best of what the Jewish people are. As if to say, we have been there before, we have prevailed, and we will do so now.

Today we appreciate visionaries like the Rebbe and the Previous Rebbe. All you have to do is open up the Wall Street Journal and read about the chief rabbi of Russia being a close confidant of the President.

However, the lesson that is the most striking is the one that we should never forget. From the beginning of time we are commanded to remember what our enemies have tried to accomplish. True, we look forward towards a better time of tranquility, but we can never forget Moshe running away from Stalin.

Just as we have holidays to celebrate the times we have come out on top, we have the fast days to remind us of the times we have not. There are the times we may not feel the pain and terror of that Moshe. Marriage is a time when we are excited about the future and potential. However, precisely in such a time we must smash a glass as if to say we have learned both lessons simultaneously. The lessons of hope for a better future and at the same time to never forget the tragedies of the past.

We are now in a time that we sad because of the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people through the centuries. Nevertheless, in the future the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, tisha bav, which is why we are smashing all our dishes in the first place, will be a great holiday.

The day will come when the third and final temple will be built which will be the greatest monument of all time. This monument will come to testify to man’s greatest achievement – the perfection of the world with the coming of Moshiach may he come speedily in our days.