Posts Tagged 'Dump Trump'

Good Riddance

At the start of this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bo, we hear God instructing Moshe to go to visit Pharaoh to warn him of the plague of locusts. It is curious that God does not tell him to go, rather, to come to Pharaoh. We read, “God said to Moshe, ’Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst.’” (Exodus 10:1). It is even more confusing for Moshe who grew up in the house of Pharaoh assuming the Pharaoh himself was a god. What does it mean that God might be with Pharaoh?

This question gets even more complicated next week in Beshalach. There we see that it is Pharaoh who sent the Israelites from Egypt and God that did not allow them to take the most direct route to the Promised Land. Is it possible that Pharaoh has the power to release the Israelites and God is the obstruction?

It is clear that God is everywhere, and that Pharaoh is not a god. But it is still challenging to think that God stands with evil or next week God gets in the way of a clear path toward justice. It would have been much easier for Moshe to exact the plagues against Pharaoh, his court, and all of Egypt without having to be reminded that God is to be found in evil people. Even if Pharaoh is evil he can be a source of redemption. We are all created in the image of God. Evil when confronting injustice we must be reminded of the divine potential of the oppressor.

Moshe loyally follows God’s directions, but that does not absolve him from having to navigate his own moral compass. Yes, we need to find a way to speak truth to power. In life’s journey, we can never forget our sense of direction. If we forget this, we will not know if we are coming or going.

Pictures Show Donald Trump Leaving the White House for the Final Time As  President

Like many others I am relieved and even thrilled that we had a peaceful transition of power and Trump is gone. In the spirit of this lesson we contemplate the good in saying, “Good Riddance”. He is no righteous person, but still he deserves a blessing. I am reminded of something my Oma used to say, ” Gehe mit Gott, aber geh! – Go with God, but please do go”.

Merit of Female Leadership: Exodus and Our Generation

Recently I have found myself listening to to Kings & Queens by Ava Max. Yes it is pop, but I do think it has a powerful messages here about female leadership. Give it a listen:

But why have I been thinking about this song? Yes, I am also excited for Vice President Harris’s inauguration. There is also the line “Disobey me, then baby, it’s off with your head” is taken from the 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by the Queen of Hearts . This is resonating for me with Pelosi‘s handing Trump his second impeachment. And how much do we owe Stacey Abrams for getting Georgia to give the Democrats the Senate.

In light of the insurrection in DC this song took on new meaning after the I heard U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) speech on January 6th. A combat veteran of the Iraq War, Duckworth served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. In 2004, after her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents, she suffered severe combat wounds, which caused her to lose both of her legs and some mobility in her right arm. She was the first female double amputee from the war. Despite her grievous injuries, she sought and obtained a medical waiver that allowed her to continue serving in the Illinois Army National Guard until she retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2014. Standing in the Senate floor in front of her “Law and Order” Republican colleagues she said:

I earned my wounds, proudly fighting in a war I did not support, on the orders of a president that I did not vote for – because I believed in, and still believe in, the values of our nation… I regret that I have no rucksack to pack for my country, no Black Hawk to pilot, nor am I asking for any grand gesture to my Republican colleagues. All that I’m asking of you is to reflect on the oath that you have sworn, the damages done to our union today, and the sacrifices that have given so much to this nation.

Hearing the depth of what she was saying I found myself singing the line from Kings & Queens when she sings:

And you might think I’m weak without a sword
But if I had one, it’d be bigger than yours

In the Torah portions we read around now we read about the lives of the Israelites in slavery and their exodus from Egypt. We learn in the Talmud:

In the merit of the righteous women who were in that generation, [the children of] Israel were redeemed from Egypt. (Sotah 11b)

Again it is clear that redemption will come from the merit of the righteous women female leaders of our generation. Thank you.

The Righteous of Sodom: A Glimmer of Hope After the Insurrection

A week ago we saw something grievous in the Washington D.C. The events of January 6, 2021 were not a protest—it was a seditious insurrection again democracy. It brought to our attention the evils and consequences of unchecked reality of white supremacy and the power hungry perversion of truth. For most of us, seeing this reality makes us doubt in the future of the republic. Will our democracy survive?

Related this question I got to thinking about God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. Three men came to Avraham in the plains of Mamre. After the angels received the hospitality of Avraham and Sarah, the Lord reveals to Avraham God’s plan. God will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah “because their sin is very grievous.” Avraham boldly steps forward and argues with God. There we read:

Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? ( Genesis 18:23-25 )

It seems to be essence of human agency is our capacity to argue for justice. The argument continues, will God spare the city should fifty righteous people be found within it, to which the Lord agrees. Avraham then pleads for mercy at successively lower numbers—first forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, and finally ten—with the Lord agreeing each time.(Genesis 18:23-32) The city was evil, but God would have spared it if there were ten righteous people.

Sodom and Gomorrah
Jacob Jacobsz. de Wet 

On January 6th we saw a violent invasion on the seat of our democracy in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election. It was a failed coup—our democracy is in peril. 

Today we saw a glimmer of hope. The Congress held the President accountable for his role in inciting this violent attack on democracy. Trump will be remembered as the only President to be impeached twice. The article of impeachment charges the President with “incitement of insurrection” for “spreading false statements” about the election and challenging the Electoral College results. Though Republicans were united in opposing the first impeachment of Trump in 2019, a record number stepped forward and broke ranks when they voted alongside Democrats to impeach the president. They included the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. She was joined by:

  • Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y. 
  • Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
  • Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.
  • Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.
  • Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich.
  • Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C.
  • Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.
  • Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio

Trump is a problem, but he is only a symptom of a much larger evil in our midst. While there is still a tremendous amount of work we need to do to heal our republic, there is a glimmer of hope when we have 10 righteous Republicans who voted for accountability and justice. We need to all step forward to demand that we do not “sweep away the innocent along with the guilty”.

Go with God: Yaakov and Trump in Transition

In Torah portion two weeks ago, Yaakov steals the blessing and the birthright from his brother Esav. In the beginning of VaYetzeh, last week’s portion, Yaakov is running to his uncle’s house to evade his brother’s wrath. The portion start off:

Yaakov left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran. ( Genesis  28:10)

On this language VaYetzeh, left, Rashi writes:

It need have written simply “And Yaakov went to Haran’’; why then does it mention his departure from Beersheba? But it intends to tell us that the departure of a righteous person from his city makes an impression. As long as a righteous man is in his city he is its glory and splendor and beauty; when he leaves it, there depart also its glory, its splendor and its beauty. This, too, is the meaning of  “And she went forth out of the place”(Ruth 1:7), stated in reference to Naomi and Ruth (Genesis Rabbah 68:6).

I was thinking about Yaakov last week in the context of our lingering democratic process. Like the young Yaakov, Trump is trickster who is seeking to evade consequences of his actions.

The differences between the person of Yaakov and Trump are many, but there are two of note. The first is that Yaakov spends this life learning to repair the misdeeds of his youth. Trump’s character flaws cannot be chalked up to the tempestuous ways of youth.

Another difference is how how Trump did in his home town. In Manhattan Trump lost 14.5% to Biden’s 84.5%. Trump also lost his city of Washington,D.C 5.2% to Biden’s 92.6%. It does not seem that Manhattan or D.C. will be missing the glory, splendor, or beauty of Trump when he goes to Mara Lago.

When we think about the message of VaYetzeh we should be thrilled if Trump leaves and there is a transition of power. He is no righteous person, but I still want to offer him a blessing from my Oma for his leaving She always used to say, ” Gehe mit Gott, aber geh! – Go with God, but please do go”.

Donald the Great: The Truth About MAGA

This past Sunday I had to take one of our children to urgent care down town to get a PCR Covid-19 test for school. As we were walking out there was a large motorcade of Trump supporters driving, screaming, and honking through White Plains. They were all wearing their red hats and their cars were covered with pro-Trump signs. Those hats did not say “Make America Great Again” anymore, but “Keep America Great”. Their loud and abrasive actions rattled my kid. This show of support for Trump only gave the people on the street a reason to express their disinterest in a second Trump term. Their parade seemed like less of an effort to support this campaign and more of ugly display of (hopefully fleeting) power. This got me thinking about their fetishization of “greatness”. What is so great about Donald Trump?

In exploring this “greatness” I found interesting parallels between Donald Trump and Herod the Great. Herod was an Edomite born in Judaea with connections to the Jewish community. He ascended to become a Roman client king of Judea. The history of his legacy has polarized opinion, as he is known for his colossal building projects throughout Judea, including his renovation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the expansion of the Temple Mount towards its north, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, the fortress at Masada, and Herodium. And on the other side Herod was responsible for the death of many people. Thousands of subjects who died in his brutal campaign to claim a country they believed he had no right to rule. He had many rabbis and their students executed for tearing down the Roman eagle that was desecrating the Temple gate. He also had 45 members of the Sanhedrin murdered. Herod appears in the Christian Gospel of Matthew as the ruler of Judea who orders the Massacre of the Innocents at the time of the birth of Jesus. Herod had many wives and many children. Herod had hundreds of family and staff whom he had suspected of plotting against him killed.

And ultimately Herod lay dying in his opulent palace. He had been seriously ill for a long time. From the description in Josephus’ writings, Herod had gangrene, severe itching, convulsions, and ulcers. His feet were covered with tumors, and he had constant fevers. The stadium was filled with loved ones and important people from around his land who were to be killed at the moment of his death. So so sad.

Report: No One Wants to Live in Trump's Decrepit, Tainted Tower | Vanity  Fair

Like Herod, Trump has his name on a huge number of colossal buildings. He also has many wives and many children. He also appears to plays a bit role in some Christians’ theology. I am still not sure why it is positive.

Like Herod, Trump’s administration is packed with an endless supply of palace intrigue. Trump lives in fear that his allies will turn against him to remove him from power. How many has he fired?

Due to his horrible administration, neglect, and misinformation Trump is responsible for over 220,000 innocent people dying from Covid-19. It is clear that having a family connection to Jews does not mean you cannot be responsible for horrible acts of anti-Semitism. The violence due to racial tension seems to make more sense in the time of Herod than our own. There are not good people on both sides of this one.

Like Herod’s killing of the Sanhedrin, Trump is poised to destroy the high court of the land. He will do what ever he has to to stay in power. In the end Trump is less the president of the American people than a client king of Russia.

I still do not know how this story will end, but Trump’s administration sure seems malignant, gangrenous, and scary. So so sad. And what ever it will be, it’s surely not so “great”.

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.

Death and Taxes

Benjamin Franklin famously wrote in a letter:

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

I was thinking about this quote recently in as much as the current administration is testing the very permanence of our Constitution and our republic.

Death and tax hikes | Nevada Policy Research Institute

I was also thinking about in the context of Ki Tavo, this week’s Torah portion. There we discuss the obligation to give tithes, our form of taxes. And we read:

When you have set aside in full the tenth part of your yield—in the third year, the year of the tithe—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat their fill in your settlements, you shall declare before the Lord your God: “I have cleared out the consecrated portion from the house; and I have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, just as You commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor neglected any of Your commandments:I have not eaten of it while in mourning, I have not cleared out any of it while I was unclean, and I have not deposited any of it with the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God; I have done just as You commanded me. (Deuteronomy 26: 12-14)

It is curious. Why is it not enough to pay your taxes? You also need to make a public declaration.

In the Torah giving tithes is not just a civil obligation. Paying your taxes is a public and even a religious experience. While giving taxes might be inevitable, it is also an honor. We should proud of our ability to participate in a just society, support the needy, and the institutions of state.

When we think about taxes we should think of the words if President Kennedy. He said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” It is all too clear that for our current President it is all about what the country can do for him. And it is of note that he has still yet to share his tax returns. It is clear that he has no honor or respect for anything other than himself, let alone religion. For Trump we might be able to add to Franklin’s adage on death and taxes. In the end it is certain that history will not be kind to him.

Stubborn and Rebellious Son: The Fear of Fascism

In Ki Tetzei, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the strange case of the Stubborn and Rebellious Son. There we read:

18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, that will not hearken to the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and though they chasten him, will not hearken unto them; 19 then his father and his mother shall lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; 20 and they shall say unto the elders of his city: ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he does not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.’ 21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die; so you shall put away the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deutoronomy 21:18-21)

There are many peculiar elements of this case. One aspect that stands out if the extra language around the voice of the father and the the voice of the mother. What is the significance of their voices?

On this topic the Talmud comments. There we read:

Rabbi Yehudah said: If his mother is not like his father in voice, appearance and stature, he does not become a rebellious son. Why so? — The Torah said, he will not obey our voice, and since they must be alike in voice, they must be also in appearance and stature. With whom does the following Baraisa agree: There never has been a ‘stubborn and rebellious son’,  and never will be. Why then was the law written? That you may study it and receive reward… Rabbi Yonatan said: ‘I saw him and sat on his grave’. (Sanhedrin 71a)

This seems to be the tipping point of their imagination of case ever being a real case. But, why is the unification of their voices the straw that broke the camel’s back?

In some ways this singular voice resonates with the story of the Tower of Babel. There we read:

Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.”—Brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar.— And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.” ( Genesis 11:1-4)

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna) - Google Art Project.jpg

They all had the same language and for this their tower was toppled? Like the Stubborn and Rebellious Son they are judged on their ends. Both stories show the Torah’s fear of fascism. The diversity of humanity is the source of our richness. If we silence people and demand a uniformity of voices we are doomed. We need to stand watch at this critical moment in history to safeguard our democracy from falling like a Tower and our education system creating stubborn and rebellious children.

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

 

The Failure of Democracy

In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we read of many commandments. The list includes owning slaves, manslaughter, property law, loans, the Sabbath, and the holidays.  Amidst this litany of commandments we read:

You shall neither side with the mighty to do wrong—you shall not give perverse testimony in a dispute -after the majority must one incline —nor shall you show deference to a poor man in his dispute. (Exodus 23:2-3)

Simply put it is suggesting that justice cannot be political. The adjudication of what it right or wrong cannot be defined by what is popular. The law to follow the majority is the birthplace of democracy.

This principle comes into play in the story of Tanor Shel Aknai. The story starts with a debate over the halakhic status of a new type of oven but ends with a crazy disagreement of the nature of law and authority. Rabbi Eliezer standing by himself uses miracles and even a Bat Kol to prove his side of the debate. The Rabbis hold their ground saying that God does not have authority over the Torah after giving it to humanity and the law must follow the majority. Check out this video from Godcast z”l on the story:

There in the Gemara we learn:

Said Rabbi Yeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Bat Kol, because You have long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, “After the majority must one incline”.( Exodus 23:2) (Baba Meitzia 59b)

This means that we need to follow the majority and overlook the divine will expressed in miracles. The power and authority sits with those who debate within the walls of the yeshiva. We literally silence the divine voice to make room for the voice of the human majority.

This reminds me of a story that my brother Daniel shared with me. He was an avid rower in college and even coached. A while back he sent me the following joke:

Yeshiva University decided to field a rowing team. Unfortunately, they lose race after race. Even though they practice and practice for hours every day, they never manage to come in any better than dead last.

Finally, the team decides to send Morris Fishbein, its captain, to spy on Harvard, the perennial championship team. So Morris schlepps off to Cambridge, Mass. , and hides in the bushes next to the Charles River, where he carefully watches the Harvard team at its daily practice.

After a week, Morris returns to Yeshiva. “Well, I figured out their secret,” he announces.
“What? Tell us! Tell us!” his teammates shout.
“We should have only one guy yelling. The other eight should row.” 

Who is rowing and who is leading? Too often we think we are leading by screaming and not just rowing. Successful rowing is by definition not a democracy.

These stories have a strange relevance to this moment in our politics. For right now we see the Democratic candidates all screaming at each other and no one is driving the boat toward the finish line. We are at a scary moment in our democracy where an impeached president is going unchecked. This is leading him to continue to behave as if his voice is divinely ordained, he necessarily in the right, and should win every debate. With Russian meddling in the news again many fear that they will pervert the voting process again. People do not trust that their vote represents their voice. How might we go “after the majority” if we do not trust our capacity to hear their voice? This is the failure of democracy.

As Churchill wisely said:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… (House of Commons, 11 November 1947)

Let’s just try to scream a little less.

– For more on this story of the Tanor Shel Aknai- check out this source sheet


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