Posts Tagged 'Biden'

Essential Numbers

During the Democratic National Convention Rabbi Michael Beals shared a great story about Vice President Biden. In 2006 the friends and family of Sylvia Greenhouse showed up to honor the life of the 84-year-old congregant of Congregation of Beth Shalom. Rabbi Beals who led the service recounts that Joe Biden joined them.“He just showed up, unannounced,” said Beals.“You would not expect to see a U.S. senator there.” Here is another video that recounts the event that he shared at the DNC. It is worth watching this short video:

Beals recounts how Biden showed up at the service to honor Greenhouse’s memory. She had been a longtime Biden supporter, contributing $18 to each of his Senate races going back to 1972. The number 18 is a symbolic number in Judaism corresponding to the Hebrew word for “life.” This great story got me thinking about what is in a number?

I have always joked when it comes to numbers and giving tzedaka– people should be encouraged to give Mavet מוות-  death which has a symbolic number in Judaism corresponding to 452. The would increase each contribution by over 2500%. 

Then I saw this imagine and I realized that there are a lot of numbers that have meaning in our lives.

When it comes to numbers, this is so true. This year be it 2020 or 5780 have been rough and will be remembered. And still today the number 9/11 sticks out even more as a particularly painful number. 

I pause today to realize that numbers are important to us because they are symbolic. Be it a humble gift of 18 dollars or a horrific memory of 19 years later 9/11,  there is something clear about these numbers the reveal something true about their essence. After 5780 is over the next big number we will be looking for is 11/3/2020. As a nation it seems that our essence will be revealed with that number as well.

Stuttering Club: Empathy and Leadership

As I have explored in the paststuttering, also known as stammering, is most commonly associated with involuntary sound repetition, but it also encompasses the abnormal hesitation, blocks,  or pausing before speech. Stuttering is generally not a problem with the physical production of speech sounds or putting thoughts into words. Despite popular perceptions to the contrary, stuttering does not affect and has no bearing on intelligence. Apart from their speech impairment, people who stutter are normal. Anxiety, low confidence, nervousness, and stress therefore do not cause stuttering, although they are very often the result of living with a highly stigmatized disability.

Although the exact etiology of stuttering is unknown, both genetics and neurophysiology are thought to contribute. A variety of hypotheses and theories suggests multiple factors contributing to stuttering. Here I want to forward two theories as to the cause of stuttering. There is evidence that stuttering is more common in children who also have concomitant speech, language, learning or motor difficulties. Auditory processing deficits have also been proposed as a cause of stuttering. The evidence for this is that stuttering is less prevalent in deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, and stuttering may be improved when auditory feedback is altered. Although there are many treatments and speech therapy techniques available that may help increase fluency in some stutterers, there is essentially no “cure” for the disorder at present.

I was thinking about this last night when watching the Democratic National Convention. There thirteen-year-old Brayden Harrington  spoke to millions of people tuning into the convention. In February Brayden met Vice President Joe Biden at a rally in New Hampshire. When Biden, a fellow stutterer, learned about Brayden’s speech difficulties at the rally, he invited him backstage. There, Biden showed him the speech he had just delivered and the annotations he used to signal when to breathe, and gave him advice and exercises for overcoming his stutter. Watch this video:

“It was really amazing to hear that someone like me became vice-president. He told me about a book of poems by Yeats he would read out loud to practice,” Brayden said. “He showed me how he marks his addresses to make them easier to say out loud. So I did the same thing today. And now I’m here talking to you today about the future, about our future.” As Dan Rather described, Brayden’s speech as “pure, unvarnished courage.”

In Brayden’s address, the teenager said that “without Joe Biden I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” and that during their first meeting, Biden had told him they were “members of the same club”. This amazing story of courage of thirteen-year-old conquering his fear and talking to millions of people made me think of another very important leader in history who is part of that club- Moshe.

When Moshe is called to be God’s messenger, he resists saying, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words…. I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10). From this the Rabbis concluded that Moshe had a stutter.  Rashi  explains k’vad peh, “heavy of mouth,” and k’vad lashon, “heavy of tongue,” by which Moshe describes himself, as stuttering. Rashi translated it into medieval French word balbus, stuttering or stammering (from which comes the modern French verb balbutier, to stutter).

This issue is particularly interesting to me this week due to Brayden’s story and the timely reading of Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion. There we read about the establishment of the court system and the most famous quote:

Tzedek Tzedek-Justice, justice shalt you pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you. ( Deuteronomy 16:20)

Why the repeating word, “Justice”? Most commonly it translated to assume that it is emphatic. As to say, “Justice you will surely pursue”. But, I think this reading overlooks the speaker. As we know, Moshe was a member of the club and had a stutter, and this is the text recording his stammer.

If this is true, why does the Torah represents Moshe’s stuttering in print at this moment? Maybe it has something to do with the pursuit of justice itself. In the past I have explored other ideas , but this week Brayden’s story inspired a different reading. As we heard in his story and many other’s shared at the DNC, Biden’s leadership is founded on his empathy born out of personal hardships. We all know bullies prey on people who are different or weak. To truly pursue justice we need to connect to our own experiences of being marginalized. Like Moshe before him, Biden’s commitment to pursue justice is founded on his own experience of stuttering.  There is a profound strength of leadership founded on vulnerability.

We should never make fun of people just because they are different than us. To work for justice we need to have empathy for those who are experiencing hardship.  Let’s surely vote out the bully on November 3rd.

-Also see Stammering Justice

-Also see Revisiting Stammering Justice

 

Seeing the Choice: Re’eh and 2020 Election

The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less is a 2004 book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz. In the book, Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. He writes:

Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically. (The Paradox of Choice)

On some level we suffer from having too much choice. There is no doubt to me that this is part of the peril of democracy. Our elections demand that we make choices. Throughout history we have been tempted by strongmen who horde power for themselves with the promise that they will make the right choices for us.

I got to thinking about this in the context of the start of Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

See, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you shall hearken to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day;and the curse, if you shall not hearken to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside, out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known. ( Deuteronomy 11: 26-28)

The Torah is asking us to see the impact of all of our choices. Sight is central to the human conception of causality. Before us are always choices to be made between blessings or curses. At the same time we are empowered to make choices and we are held responsible for the consequences of these choices. The Torah does not leave open the possibility of a pareve , neutral, choice. We are being asked to have the vision to realize the consequences of all of our choices. We are forced to get past the analysis paralysis. We need to live and be happy with our choices.

I was thinking about this idea of choice this week with Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate. This is a historic moment to have a woman of color on the ticket. In the context of our Torah portion it is striking to realize the role that sight plays in our perception of race.

Biden and Harris Make First Appearance as Running Mates as Trump ...Donald Trump and Mike Pence: Tensions at the top

Now that we know who is running we need to make a choice. On one level we need to make sure that we all have access to the polls. Democracy will only work when we all get to make that choice in the act of voting. Trump’s profound narcissism makes me afraid that we will not see a peaceful transfer of power when he is done his presidency. We cannot stand idly and tolerate Trump’s various efforts to suppress voting.

On a deeper level we need to choose to not outsource our lives to tyrants or religious fanatics who are anti-Choice. Their offer is to trade autonomy and freedom for psychological well being is a lie. Under the Trump Pence administration we have seen a dramatic reduction or autonomy and freedom and a skyrocketing rate of Mental Health issues.  This does not seem to be a good choice.

May the choice me make on November 3rd be for a blessing.

-also on choices :Slow Choices

#rabbisforbiden


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