Choosing Poorly: Esav and America Post Trump

Reading Toldot, this week’s Torah portion, you cannot help but empathize with Esav getting suckered our of his birthright by his brother Yaakov. There we read:

And Yaakov made pottage; and Esav came in from the field, and he was faint.  And Esav said to Yaakov: ‘Let me swallow, I pray of you, some of this red, red pottage; for I am faint.’ Therefore was his name called Edom. And Yaakov said: ‘Sell me first your birthright.’ And Esav said: ‘Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?’ And Yaakov said: ‘Swear to me first’; and he swore to him; and he sold his birthright to Yaakov. And Yaakov gave Esav bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esav despised his birthright.( Genesis 25:29-34)

On the simple level it seems that Esav was hungry and Yaakov used that as leverage to buy his birthright. But why did Esav despise this birthright in the end?

I can relate to Esav’s wanting to eat. What use is some distant reward when compared to the immanent need to eat? This is resonant with the Stanford marshmallow experiment. It seems to be as a nation when served two options of something that might take time and effort to materialize or something that promised imediate greatness- it is clear what we chose. Like Esav we too got duped into selecting the hot-headed twittering and smoldering orange bowl of lentils. Do we despise our birthright of liberty, freedom, and justice? We need to figure out if we will allow the Trump doctrine of hate, xenophobia,  and self-interest to become our new normal. Is already too late?

More on the Stanford marshmallow experiment

Once I was7 Years Old: Chaye Sarah

At the beginning of Chaye Sarah, this week’s Torah portion, we learn of Sarah’s passing away. We read:

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.( Genesis 23:1-2)

It seems strange that the text does not just say that Sarah was 127 when she died. On this Rashi quotes the Midrash which says:

The reason that the word “years” was written after every digit is to tell you that every digit is to be expounded upon individually: when she was one hundred years old, she was like a twenty-year-old regarding sin. Just as a twenty-year-old has not sinned, because she is not liable to punishment, so too when she was one hundred years old, she was without sin. And when she was twenty, she was like a seven-year-old as regards to beauty. (Genesis Rabbah 58:1)

Reaching the end of life makes one reflect about all of life’s stages.

This Midrash reminds me of 7 Years Old by Lukas Graham. Check out the video:

It is worth a reading all the lyrics of this song with the Midrash in mind. But for now I wanted to focus on:

Soon I’ll be 60 years old, will I think the world is cold
Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me
Soon I’ll be 60 years old

Once I was seven years old, my mama told me
Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely
Once I was seven years old

With the passing of time we cycle through our ages, stages, wishes, and aspirations. The wisdom of our elders is that they see the lives that they have lived in hindsight. The beauty of our youth is that we do not know how much we will mess up along the way. It is noteworthy in the song that at the beginning and end of life we are motivated to not be alone. Rashi also comments on the years of the life of Sarah, “All of them equally good.” We should all be blessed to live every stage of life equally full of good deeds and better company.

-Merry Turkey

Wake Up Call: Life After the Election

Last Wednesday morning when we woke up Yadid, our 12-year-old, he asked for the results of the election. In response to hearing that Donald J. Trump was elected by the electoral college as our 45th president he said, ” Wake Me Up in Four Years”. At first I encouraged him that we need to open-minded to the president he might yet prove to be and at the same time ever vigilant to ensure that the most vulnerable are not hurt. But then I let Yadid’s words sink in a bit more. I have so many privileges that I have been ignoring those who have been vulnerable for years.  I am a white heterosexual male educated blue-state elite. How long have I been asleep?

I have been living in unconsciously in the bubble of the American Dream.  Yadid’s comments reminded me of something that Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in his moving book Between the World and Me. There he wrote:

That Sunday, on that news show, I tried to explain this as best I could within the time allotted. But at the end of the segment, the host flashed a widely shared picture of a 12-year-old black boy tearfully hugging a white police officer. Then she asked me about “hope.” And I knew then that I had failed. And I remembered that I had expected to fail. And I wondered again at the indistinct sadness welling up in me. Why exactly was I sad? I came out of the studio and walked for a while. It was a calm late-November day. Families, believing themselves white, were out on the streets. Infants, raised to be white, were bundled in strollers. And I was sad for these people, much as I was sad for the host and sad for all the people out there watching and reveling in a specious hope. I realized then why I was sad. When the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream. I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is tree houses and the Cub Scouts. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option, because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world, I was sad for the host, I was sad for all those families, I was sad for my country, but above all, in that moment, I was sad for you. (Between the World and Me)

The election of Trump is a real wake up call. But it does not change the fact that for many of us, it is our fault that we have been slumbering through the misery of others.

Interestingly the Talmud deals with a related issue. There we read:

Rabbi Yohanan said: This righteous man [Honi] was throughout the whole of his life troubled about the meaning of the verse, A Song of Ascents, When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream. ( Psalms 126:1)   Is it possible for a man to dream continuously for seventy years? One day he was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then further asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children. Honi sat down to have a meal and sleep overcame him. As he slept a rocky formation enclosed upon him which hid him from sight and he continued to sleep for seventy years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he asked him, Are you the man who planted the tree? The man replied: I am his grandson. Thereupon he exclaimed: It is clear that I slept for seventy years. (Taanit 23a)

In the Talmud’s  version of the goes on to recount the Rip Van Winkle tale Honi is lost in his learning contemplating the 70 diaspora of the Jewish people. What does it mean that our diaspora could pass as a dream? As we have seen with the resurgence of antisemitism this is no dream. But have we been asleep and complacent while people have been targeting of Muslims, Mexicans, people of color, people with disabilities, the LGBT, and women? Like Yadid, I am tempted to roll over and try to sleep through the next four years, but we need to wake up.  I realize that I am somewhere between grumpy and bewildered about the amount of work that needs to be done. And shame on me because it was there to be done before the wake up call while I was sleeping in my cozy bed. Now that I am awake how will we ever bring about justice? As Rabbi Tarfon says,“You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.” (Avot 2:21) And as we learn from the grandfather planting the carob tree for his grandson, there is not quick fix for anything that we want to sustain. We must think in terms of generations if we want to do the work of bringing about true justice.

So I tell myself and my children, “Good morning. Wake up. There is much to do. We have to dig in deep and do the good work.”

Kristallnacht 2016

Today is Kristallnacht 2016 in too many ways. Like many of you, I have been feeling lost today. I am fighting back my emotions, tears, and fears. What will be our next step moving forward? Looking at my children I keep reminding myself to dig in deep and get the good work done.

This morning, I have been thinking about this Mishnah in Perkey Avot. There we learn:

Rabbi Chanina, assistant to the kohanim, would say: “Pray for the well-being of the government; for were it not for the fear of its authority, every man would swallow his neighbor alive.” (Perkey Avot 3:2)

What does it mean to pray for the well-being of the government that represents a level of hatred, bigotry, and “othering” that we associate with Kristallnacht? In the wake of this election, there is real reason to fear that we will swallow each other.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg in his book Sage Advice points out that Rabbi Chanina, who was an assistant to the kohanim in our Mishnah, was a transitional character in history. He was first a Kohen, a priest, in the Temple. When the Second Temple was destroyed, Rabbi Chanina survived and was involved in the rabbinic project of making meaning in our exile.  He had directly experienced the wrath of the Roman government.  So, for him to say that you need to pray for the well-being of the government is very meaningful. Even when the government does not represent us or our values, we need to dig in deep and do the work of ensuring that everyone can live with dignity and respect in our society.

I am honored to work at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. I take pride in the fact that through our work, we make it possible for thousands of young people to experience life in utopia. At camp, we are not worried about devouring our neighbor. There at camp, we are actually learning the lessons of Leviticus, that says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). With this experience of camp we start to see what the world could look like. We can start to imagine the way the world could eventually be.  So for now we need to dig in, pray hard, and do the good work.

Speaking For Me: With Her Against Trump

So I had trouble sleeping last night. I am afraid about the direction that this country might take today. I am sure that I am not alone. I am aware of my privileges in society. And while in general I am not afraid of what a Trump presidency would mean, I am terrified of evil that he voice has allowed to come to surface. While not being able to sleep I go to thinking, well maybe I am not so well off. I am afraid that I have been rather public about my critique of Trump and there is part of me that is actually worried about reprisal.

Seeing that tomorrow is also Kristallnacht, I wanted to speak now.  I recall the words of

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

So I am afraid and still I speak out. So when they come looking for me- I wanted to make it easy. So here are those pieces:

Image result for anti trump swastika

All of that speaks to why we need to vote for Hillary if for no other reason then to ensure that Trump will not be our future president. I truly hope that Hillary wins, but I also know that tomorrow we have to start the hard work of rebuilding this country. On the positive side, when I got out of the shower this morning I saw Adina dressed in her Pantsuit holding our 15 month old. And I got all teary realizing that if things work out today our daughter Libi will never have a memory of a glass ceiling.   To rebuild our country we need all hands on deck. But with everyone working together the sky is the limit. So yes, I am with her.


The Tower of Trump: On Civic Ignorance

In a 2012 appearance in New Hampshire  former Supreme Court Justice David Souter made some striking and prescient remarks about the dangers of “civic ignorance”. This video has been circulating and worth seeing:

 I was most struck when he said:
I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’… That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.
Civics is important. We need to know who is responsible and then we can demand performance from those people. If we are ignorant of civics, we are at risk of peril. This is not a risk from the outside, but the inside. Like Augustus, with little regard for democratic norms and political institutions, Donald Trump has come forward seeking power, assuring the public that he’ll solve our problems, exploiting fears and civic ignorance. Trump will not make American great again. He is an outgrowth of our civic ignorance. Trump really just wants to make his name great.
I was thinking about this in the context of Noah, this week’s Torah portion, where we learn about the Tower of Babel. There is says:
And they said one to another: ‘Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ (Genesis 11: 3-4)
Modeled on his gauche Trump Towers his campaign is built on the disturbing idea of building a wall on the Mexican border.  Trump is not offering solutions to real problems, rather he is offering the confused ( read here mivubal) masses a just a place to  ” let us make us a name”.
In Souter ‘s remarks he references a quote from Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson said:
If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.
I think we need to reflect on this before we vote on Tuesday. We need to vote against the bigoted  anti-Intellectualism of Trump.  I am not saying that Hillary is beyond critique, but she is no Augustus. To save our republic we need to elect Hillary and bring down this Tower of Babel on which Trump is trying to put his name. On Wednesday we will have to do the hard work of dealing with our widespread civic ignorance.

Limitless: Möbius Torah 2.0

I love rereading Parshat Bereshit, this week’s Torah portion, anew every year. My one issue is that it really needs months to really get through all of the issues and themes brought up. But alas I wanted to share one thought of many. Here we read:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying: ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.’ (Genesis 2:16-17)

In the Garden of Eden, the man had no limits, except for not eating from the  tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It seems that our nature to strive to be  limitless, but it is this very innate drive that brings death.

The definition of our  humanity is our being limited by our mortality. What are the implications of  for our morality? How do limits, both mortal and moral, help us create meaning in our lives?

Similar to what Shalom Orzach and I did when we created  Möbius Torah: The Media and Message of Torah and Teshuva we were inspired by McLuhan’s  “The medium is the message“ of the Möbius medium and the advent of the Book of Genesis.  This inspired our creation of Limitless: Möbius Torah 2.0 which explores some ideas in the Divine infinitude and our human limits.

To make a Möbius Torah please:

  1. Print this page our on Ledger (11×17) sized paper. This will ensure it is big enough to read.
  2. Cut out the table on the sheet.
  3. Fold along the dotted line with the writing facing outwards.
  4. Bend Paper  into a circular shaped cuff.
  5. Tape the ends to create a möbius strip as in this picture.Image result for mobius strip
  6. As you learn it turn it and turn it again because there is no beginning and no end to learning Torah.
  7. Alternatively you can just learn the text without the arts and crafts project, but that would not be as much fun.

With Möbius Torah we hope to create a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message the Torah is perceived. Please print this out and enjoy. It has been a pleasure playing with Shalom in the bringing you this Torah. As always I would love your input and ideas for other ways to make revelation relevant, engaging,  and more accessible. So please do be in touch.

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