The people of the Burmese village were terrified. An elephant was loose and had already trampled someone to death. They rushed to the nearest British police office and a young officer was sent to “handle” the situation. The boy soldier took a small rifle with him and ran to the elephant with the entire villager in tow. The great beast was calmly grazing near the body of his crushed victim. The villagers were yelling for the policeman to shoot the killer elephant. He reluctantly took aim with his rifle and shot the animal in the head. Small caliber rifles have limited effect on a two thousand pound animal. The soldier shot again and again until he emptied his rifle and another, larger gun, sent from the station. The elephant finally died. The boy was heartbroken. He realized that he knew all along that the animal was calm and that they could wait for his owner to handle the elephant. He shot the animal to prove his strength and courage to the villagers. The experience changed him and his understanding of Britain’s role in India. “And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him.” He left the army as soon as he could and wrote a book about people in power. It was called 1984 & he chose George Orwellas his pseudonym.
There were two elephants on the village: the killer beast and the British need to prove they were tough. The latter is the far scarier beast.
People go to strange lengths to prove their bonafides to others. I remember a fellow yeshiva student who hated praying but, when chosen to lead the prayers, was the model of pious prayer. He was desperate to prove his piety. I know people who base their lives on this elephant in the room and do everything based on how they will be perceived by others.
There is an elephant in the room but God seems to be missing.
The Foundation Stone is a communal effort to chase the elephant out of the room and find God in our prayers, Torah study and observance. The prophet Micah discussed the challenges of living a spiritual life with integrity in Variations on a Theme. Table Talk Chukat and Balak, and the Links to Parah Adumah all are part of our quest to find God in the room. The Music of Halacha: Telling It Like It Isaddresses the terrifying beast of Rebuke. Forms of Prayer helps us hold on to God when we find Him. Rabbi Yaakov Shlomo Weinberg’s Torah Connection, Rabbi Chaim Goldberger’s The Voice of Torah, the Heileger Chana Chaya’s Life Lessons: Do It Anyway and Are You Missing the Miracles?, and Bentzion of Medziboz’s Stories of the Baal Shem Tov and Keter Shem Tov, all are part of the elephant chasing brigade so we can clear the room and find God all around us.
I invite you to visit The Foundation Stone Blog to read: Balak & Balaam: As Others See Us, Cutting Up An Ox: The Artistry of Walking, What Would Moshe Have Done?, The Switch, and much more are all excellent elephant ridding strategies.
No elephant guns are necessary; just an open mind.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg