Strangers Look Out for Strangers: Mishpatim and Trans Rights

In Mishpatim, this week’s Torah portion, we read one of the many times in the about how we are supposed to treat the stranger. There we read:

And a stranger you shall not wrong, neither shalt you oppress him; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way–for if they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry– My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:20-23)

We are charged to look out for the needs of the stranger for the very reason that we had the same experience.  On this Rashi commented:

for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: If you taunt him, he can also taunt you and say to you, “You too emanate from strangers.” Do not reproach your neighbor with a fault that is also yours (Mechilta, B.M. 59b). Every expression of a stranger (גֵּר) means a person who was not born in that country but has come from another country to sojourn there.

The fact that our national story is born in Diaspora in Egypt means that we have a mandate to empathize and care for other strangers.

I was thinking about this on Wednesday night when reading about the Trump administration’s withdrew of Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that let them use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity. In a recent study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics. The study suggested an association between the drop in teen suicide attempts and the implementation of same-sex marriage policies. Suicide is the ultimate expression of the feeling of being a stranger. While the study did not prove the drop in teen suicide attempts was caused by the implementation of same-sex marriage policies, it would seem that even the possibility that more open policies would drive down the number of people committing suicide would create a moral mandate to extend these policies.

As descendant of strangers I feel that it is our mandate to look out for people who are foreigners, be they not born to this country or to their birth sex.  Social conservatives love to talk about the primacy of life, it is strange in that they clearly do not mean it.

Poor Zeidi: Trump and Yitro

Like many other I watched with amazement as Ami Magazine’s chief political correspondent Jake Turx asked what seemed to be a very respectful and respectable question.

The Haredi  reporter began by telling the president that no one in the Jewish community where he lives has accused him or his staff of anti-Semitism. Most obviously reminding everyone that Trump has Jewish grandchildren. Turx even threw in that Trump is their zeidi. At which point Turx asked about the rise in anti-Semitism since the Trump victory last November which has included 48 recent bomb threats against Jewish centers. He said:

What we are concerned about and what we haven’t heard you address, is an uptake in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.

A belligerent Trump had enough, was anything but respectful and respectable, and ordered Turx to sit down. The President went on to misunderstand the question as an attack on his fidelity to the Jewish community as compared an opportunity to set it clear that his administration is there to take action and make the country safe for its citizens ( including his daughter and grandchildren). Now, Trump bumbled on to say:

So here’s the story folks. No. one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. No. two, racism. The least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.

When will Trump stop running for office and actually just focus on filling the office? Turx knows that Trump is “least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life”. The Jewish community is looking for a solution(other than any final one) to keep our kids safe.

It is interesting to contrast Trump to Yitro from this week’s Torah portion. At the start of our reading Yitro, Moshe’s non-Israelite father-in-law, coming to visit. There we read:

Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moshe, and for Israel God’s people, how that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moshe’s wife, after he had sent her away, and her two sons; of whom the name of the one was Gershom; for he said: ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land’; and the name of the other was Eliezer: ‘for the God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.’ And Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moshe to the wilderness where he was encamped, at the mount of God. (Exodus 18:1- 5 )

It makes sense that in response to hearing about all of the trials, travails, miracles, and wonders that happened to his son-in-law that Yitro came to see Moshe. It even makes sense that he brought Moshe’s family for a reunion. What would not make sense is that Yitro would be so narcissistic to change the conversation to be about himself. I do not actually think that Trump is anti-Semitic, but it is clear that this zeidi is not up the job and should probably retire to Florida.

Half Full: Let’s Stop Complaining

We read in the Psalms:

Our fathers in Egypt did not contemplate Your wonders, they were not mindful of Your abundant kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea at Red Sea. (Tehillim 106:7)

What does it mean that they “rebelled by the sea at the Red Sea”. The second sea seems redundant. The midrash suggests that there might have been two rebellions. The first rebellion was marked by the fact that no one wanted to descend into the Red Sea. The second rebellion involved complaining about the muddy ground which they had to walk through after the Red Sea split.

But was it muddy? In parshat B’Shalach, this week’s Torah portion, that the ground was yavash, dry. Was the ground wet or dry?

Obviously compared to the wall of water to their left and right of them it was dry,  but it seems reasonable to assume that it was muddy. It seems crazy but the midrash depicts the Israelites as though despite experiencing a miracle like no other they were complaining that they had to get their shoes muddy. If it were in fact dry you might even count it as a whole other miracle. When faced with the possibility of being killed by Pharaoh’s approaching chariots or drowning in the sea, a huge miracle happens and that is not enough. They are complaining about their shoes.

This reminds me of one of my favorite lines by Woody Allen. As the old joke goes:

Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.

Even if it is hard to relate to the generation that experienced the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, we can all relate to the fact that if we were there we would have found something about which to complain.

Recently I read an article that said that according to science complaining Is terrible for you. Steven Parton the author of this article is a student of human nature and explains how complaining not only alters your brain for the worse but also has serious negative repercussions for your mental health. In fact, he goes so far as to say complaining can literally kill you. Here are three of the ways he claims that complaining harms your health:

  1. Complaining beget more complaining
  2. You are whom you hang out with
  3. Stress is terrible for your body, too.

There are two types of people in the world — those who see the glass as half empty and those who see the glass as half full. Some see a thorny rose-bush and admire the beautiful roses, and some see it and complain about the fact that the roses have thorns.

This week with the reading of the miracle of the Red Sea we are reminded to take stock of the wonders and abundant kindnesses we experience in our lives. What would it take to rebel against the urge to complain and just enjoy these miracles?  And yet still I have Woody Allen’s voice replying, “No, you’re wrong. I see the glass half full, but of poison. “

Pepe POTUS

Last week in parshat VaEra we learned about the plague of the frogs. There we read:

This is what the great Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs. The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will go up on you and your people and all your officials. ( Exodus 8:1–4)

A Midrash taught that the frogs were the most grievous of the ten plagues. The Midrash taught that the frogs destroyed the Egyptians’ bodies,  says “frogs . . . destroyed them” (Psalm 78:45) The frogs emasculated the Egyptians, as it says that the frogs would “come into . . . [the Egyptians’] bed-chamber, and upon [their] bed.” (Exodus 7:28)

The image of the emasculation and destruction from the frog has returned with Pepe a symbol of the alt-right.

I found a new one

Now more then ever we have reason to assume that the hatred, violence, and bigotry of the alt-right is going to continue to teem. Trump used the alt-right to get into power and I do not trust that he will be able to control it over his tenure as president, or maybe he does not want to control it. It seems that this time the frogs are not just all over the people and the officials, but that the frog is the official.

Heavy Stuff : The Weight of Our Current Situation

In the book of Exodus in an effort to free the Israelite slaves Moshe enacts plague after plague. It seems that just when Pharaoh might let them go, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and he holds back from letting them go.  Here is VaEra, this week’s torah portion,  we read:

And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not so much as one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was kaved- heavy, and he did not let the people go. (Exodus 9:7)

A couple of week’s ago in Vayechi we read about the end of Israel’s life when he has gathered his children to give them blessings. There we read:

Now the eyes of Israel were kavdo – heavy for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them. (Genesis 48:10)

What is the connection between Pharaoh’s heart being kaved- heavy and Israel the kavdo – of Isreal’s eyes?

In the strange days we are living I am acutely aware of the echo chambers we have created for ourselves. We give the voices the conform to our beliefs more weight then those that challenge us.  We rarely come into contact with ideas or people that push back and make us see opinions other then those we already hold sacred. We are blinded and stuck in our ideological silos. Regardless if our intentions are for a blessing like Israel with his children or for a curse like Pharaoh to his Israelite slaves, we are stuck under the weight of our own limited experience of the world.  We will only return to civil discourse when we seek out voices different then our own. Through this discourse we will rebuild trust. It is only through this trust that we can all tell the difference between truth and lies. It is only when we listen with empathy to the other that we will see how we might find our way out of our current situation.

 

Rose Bud and Thorn

Every week at our Friday night Shabbat dinner table we go around the whole family sharing our “rose, bud, and thorn” from the week.  This was a tough week with a lot of thorns. It started with a family visit to my mother in Philadelphia. She has been sick so it was important for all of us to spend time with her. While there it was clear that Libi had come down with something. On Monday we came back from Philly to find out that Jessica our Au Pair who had gone home to Mexico for vacation was not allowed back into the country despite all of the work in advance to ensure that this would not be an issue. Libi was still sick so Adina stayed home with her on Tuesday. In the morning she called the doctor to get them to take a look at Libi. I got an emergency call from Adina after the doctor’s appointment that I needed to come back to be with the other children because she needed to take Libi to the hospital. I dropped everything and ran home. It was gross and raining. Right when I got home Adina ran out with Libi. Soon after I realized that the roof was leaking and I just had to laugh.

Adina spent the night in the emergency room with Libi. I came to relieve Adina Wednesday morning. In the afternoon I got a call from Yadid. He convinced the office to let him call because he wanted to know how his sister was doing. Wow that was so sweet. But then he pressed me and asked, ” Abba I am glad that she is doing better, did she get better around 9 this morning?” When I asked why he explained that spent 30 minutes prayer for her health that morning. Wow- Yadid is a Tzadik. We must be doing something right with our children. This is clearly my rose from the week.

I just got home 20 minutes ago with Libi from the hospital. Her full recovery is my bud for the coming week. Having a full week has reminded me to appreciate the entire flower of life. Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Psychoanalysis And Hanukah for Everyone

How do we light candles on Hanukah? On this there is a famous dispute between Hillel and Shammai. There we read:

Our Rabbis taught: The mitzva of Hanukah is one light for a man and his household. The zealous kindle a light for each person [in the household]. And for the extremely zealous, Shammai says: On the first day, light eight and thereafter, gradually reduce; but Hillel says: On the first day, light one and thereafter progressively increase … two sages differ [about the reasons]. One maintains that Shammai’s reason is that lights should correspond to the days still to come, and that of Beth Hillel is that lights should correspond to the days that are past. The other maintains that Shammai’s reason is that the lights should correspond to the bull sacrifices of Sukkot; while Hillel’s reason is that we increase in matters of sanctity, not reduce. (Shabbat 21b)

It is clear that we follow Hillel’s view regarding how the extremely zealous ought to light. There is much that has been and could be said to defend the view of Shammai, but what about the view the ordinary zealous person ? Why does the Gemara entertain the opinion to kindle a light for each person in the household? What is the significance of this stance?

An answer might come from Proverbs where we learn, “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inward parts.”(Mishlei 20:27) Here we depict that every person uniquely holds a divine flame. Some how this lamp is used to search all around the person. This resonates with much of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis assumes that a person’s development is determined by often forgotten events in early childhood rather than by inherited traits alone. In order to liberate the elements of the unconscious one has to bring this material into the conscious mind.

This practice echoes the Rabbinic story of Hanukkah. There we read:

What is Hanukah? As the Rabbis taught: The twenty-fifth of Kislev begins the eight days of Hanukah. When the Greeks entered the Holy Temple they defiled all the oil that was in the Temple. And when the rulers of the House of Hashmonean succeeded in gaining the upper hand and vanquished them, the Holy Temple was searched and but one flask of oil was found with the seal of the high priest still intact. There was only enough oil to last but one day. A miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days. The following year these days were established and made into festive days of Hallel and thanksgiving. (Shabbat 21b)

The story of Hanukah it the discovery of that which was hidden. Metaphorically we bring the unconscious hidden material into the conscious to ensure that live enlightened lives.

As a nation a miracle happened in the Temple. And on the simplest level we relive this by recreating our homes as the Temple by the lighting of a menorah with just ” one light for a man and his household”. The more zealous observance is to make sure that each and every member of the house does the work of exploring our collective and individual past. When we do this work we will surely increase and not decrease in light.


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