He borrowed a knife from the funeral director to help everyone tear kriah in mourning, then returned it to the director.
With the deceased's few children & grandchildren in attendance, plus standing under a burning sun, the rabbi found the experience draining, both physically & emotionally.
He genuinely empathized with their grief & did his best to honor the deceased & comfort her descendants.
On his way out of the cemetery, the funeral director stopped the rabbi and accused him of borrowing & not returning his knife, claiming it was his only one.
Judaism holds strict prohibitions against any kind of stealing, even something as minor as a knife.
Distressed by the accusation, the rabbi struggled to remember where he put it. It was weird because he was sure he'd returned it. But he figured it must be true because why would the funeral director make it up?
After searching his own pockets & not finding it, he returned to assisting the mourners then headed over to the funeral director to apologize & write down his address so the rabbi could send him a new knife.
But the director responded with belligerence, insisting that he had a whole list of qualms against the rabbi.
The rabbi had only known this man for 2 hours.
His mind raced to figure out what he could have done during these past 2 hours (most of which was taken up with conducting the funeral).
Finally, with total sincerity, the rabbi apologized and asked the director what had offended him so severely?
At that point, the director grinned and said, "Nothing." Still grinning, he explained that he likes to joke around with people in that way.
And then he reassured the rabbi that the missing knife had been part of the joke.
"You did give it back to me," he said.
The rabbi left the encounter shaking.
Here's What's Wrong with This Picture
Not that he's a full-blown psychopath, but he shows a tendency to enjoy hurting people.
After all, how could he miss the rabbi's genuine distress over possibly not returning the knife & that the rabbi might have seriously offended the guy somehow?
Did he miss how perspiring, overheated, and exhausted the rabbi looked?
He saw the rabbi's distress, including the search for the knife when the rabbi was already overheated & exhausted...and thought it was funny.
In truth, such behavior is sickening. And his whole "joke" trampled all over the prohibition of ona'at devarim—a prohibition stated outright in the Torah itself.
(I also wonder if pretending someone stole something they didn't falls under the prohibition of geneivat hadaat—the prohibition of deceiving someone.)
The director was Jewish and with any kind of Orthodox Jewish schooling, he really should have known better despite his lesser tendencies.
The rabbi concluded the article with a gentle & intelligent description of what was wrong with the "joke" and what this shows about society today.
According to halacha, everything the rabbi did at that time and explained in the article's conclusion was correct.
But the comment section of the article was full of criticism—against the rabbi.
That's right. They had teinos against the victim.
Yay Sadistic Jerks! Boo Pained Victims! Rah-Rah-Rah!
They even lectured the rabbi, as if the rabbi was an ignoramus who lacks understanding of such things. After all, how could the rabbi be so lacking in empathy toward the director?
One accused the rabbi of overacting & not being able to take a joke. Another expressed "disappointment" in the rabbi and criticized the rabbi, both for not empathizing with the funeral director AND for not leaving the readers with a positive message!
Another went so far as to criticize the rabbi for looking for more things to be sad about when the world is already sad about the Beis HaMikdash and the numerous tragedies that have followed (????). This comment insisted that we only feel sad at the prescribed times (Tisha B'Av, etc.) and not "look for more sadness"—implying that the rabbi's response to the ona'at devarim at the end of a funeral when the rabbi was physically & emotionally drained...was simply to make problems for himself and others.
It's true that black humor develops among paramedics, doctors, undertakers, commandos, and other such professions.
But this isn't black humor.
When people in difficult professions talk ABOUT their situations or in the midst of dealing DIRECTLY WITH a situation, they lace it with humor to make it more bearable.
But this director went out of his way to cause distress to a fellow Jew for absolutely NO reason—other than to amuse himself. (And it's not amusing unless you are a bit of a sadist. This is not what people in the above professions do to deal with their pain. It's not normal, even for the above.)
He pranked the rabbi in an ugly way during a physically & emotionally draining moment.
And people defend this!
How is that possible?
After all, the rabbi even explained WHY it was wrong.
Yet many commenters apparently could not comprehend the rabbis explanation.
(BTW, several commenters defended the rabbi's point of view and gently tried to educate his detractors.)
But even if you don't know halacha, it's still very disturbing.
The sincere, intelligent, gentle, knowledgeable rabbi got kicked in the teeth in the comments section.
The immature, sadistic jerk of a director received impassioned defense.
And we all know that response doesn't only happen in the comment section...
Turn to Torah
As discussed in previous posts (HERE & HERE), the generations of Sodom, the Flood, and the Dispersion reincarnate before Mashiach comes, plus the Erev Rav increases & strengthens...and that's what we're seeing now.
And those of us who grow up in this society can't escape the influence—at least, not right away.
The more you immerse yourself in the frum world, associate with truly decent people, and read Torah books, and listen to Torah lectures (that reflect REAL Torah hashkafah & not just a mix of the Torah's truth & the speaker's blind spots), the more you change internally.
You start to feel the difference between what is actually right and what you formerly thought was right.
I remember when I first became frum, I ran into frum responses that I did not understand (but thought I understood) because they were so foreign to the environment in which I'd been brought up.
Combine that with the presumption that frum people are out of it and need to be educated about lots of things, and you have a prescription for condescending self-righteous lecturing.
However, even when I was secular, I did not think people like the funeral director were okay. I knew that was wrong.
But there were other things.
We all have our "other things" to work on.
And some of these wildly wrong comments expressed their wrongness with gentleness & tact—clearly, they thought their support of anti-Torah behavior would be very helpful to the rabbi. They so sincerely wish to help him understand so he would no longer "look for sadness" and "stop taking himself so seriously" and so on.
These people lecture you on why an outright Torah prohibition is justified. (They could do this regarding ona'at devarim as above, or lashon hara or abortion or same-gender marriage or immodesty, and so on.)
And many of us have done the same thing at some point.
All that Glitters is Not Gold
The truth is that we live in a very sick society that strives to always present itself in the most appealing manner.
If you sprinkle enough glitter & perfume on the most repugnant pile of filth, it won't even smell or look like what it is.
But despite all the pretty glitter & expensive perfume, you definitely shouldn't step in it.
It still is what it is.
The glitter & perfume does nothing to change its basic putrid nature.
The Unfunny Side of Funny
They mocked him for thinking that wrong behavior was—well—WRONG.
"Ha-ha, Noach! You think there's going to be a flood? You think we're all going to be punished? Lighten up! Stop taking sin so seriously! Eat, drink, and be merry, ya old stick-in-the-mud!"
Later in Sodom, the court of law forced the victim to pay his assailant.
"He did you a favor by assaulting you with a rock," said the judge. "Pay him for the blood-letting treatment."
Yes, penalize the victim & empathize with the assailant—hasn't that become an upstanding value in Western society today?
Or ha-ha, isn't it funny that Sodomites took a short wayfarer (who innocently wandered into Sodom looking for lodgings & refreshment) and torturously stretched him to fit the long bed?
You & I think that's sick.
Sodom thought it was funny.
And just imagine the finger-waggers of ancient Mesopotamia: "Why did you wander into Sodom, anyway? You should have known!"
Sodom looked so nice from the outside—lush, cultured, abundant, fashionable, stylish, modern, progressive, luxurious...why not look to them for lodgings when you're exhausted from your journey and, anyway, there is nowhere else to turn?
After all, Sodom had so much to spare.
But they tortured the hapless wayfarers to death and gave coins to the starving homeless instead of food. (Each Sodomite kept a coin with his name engraved in it so that when the starving person keeled over in death, each Sodomite returned and took his coin back.)
So much ugliness lurked beneath the appearance of Paradise.
Be Patient...and Give Yourself Credit for even Trying
Defend & empathize with the victimizer while rebuking the victim.
Tell the victim (who is suffering emotionally & physically) to lighten up, understand the victimizer, stop spreading sadness..."Don't take yourself so seriously, victim!"
Just joking! Just kidding! Just fooling around! Just trying to lighten things up! Can't you take a joke? Ha-ha-ha.
Ona'at devarim? What, you can't handle a little bit of black humor? Hey, some people need to let off steam, ya know. And THAT takes a backseat to some quaint, old-fashioned Torah prohibition!
Having said all that, all the people who rebuked, lectured, and criticized the victim in the article can do teshuvah.
They developed their wonky views from their wonky surrounding society.
Like I said, most of us have had to contend with doing a 180-degree turn with our value system in at least one area.
So there is definitely hope.
It also means that we need to be patient with others—not validating their anti-Torah views, but realizing that they need help getting to where they need to be. (Like all the commenters who wrote in to gently correct the views of the onaat devarim supporters.)
I remember the people who maintained their patience with me, explaining their side gently, compassionately, and without demonizing me for being wrong.
And just as importantly, we need to be patient with ourselves.
Not demonizing ourselves for thinking wrongly, making a mistake, or responding wrongly.
There's no need to demonize—just correct. Correct the direction. It's a journey. It's a process.
It's like you're trapped in a rushing mudflow—and you need to swim against a debris-laden, suffocating current.
Give yourself credit just for TRYING!