Posts Tagged 'Trump'

The Kind of Story We Need Right Now: Love Without Cause

This year we will observe Tisha B’Av this Saturday night and Sunday. On Tisha B’Av we remember the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is a time of mourning for our exile from our political, spiritual, and ancestral homeland. On Tisha B’Av we spend a day collectively reflecting on the plight of our ancestors—now refugees who were forced to migrate. But only spending time reconnecting with our own long history of persecution, we are missing a profound lesson of the day. We also reconnect to these memories so that we can empathize with others who are experiencing pain and suffering. In the words of Dr.Brené Brown, “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”

Maybe if we took some time to better understand why the Temples were destroyed we would empathize with other people who are currently suffering. While,the Rabbis provide us with a number of different rationales, the most famous of reasons for our destruction and exile was Sinat Chinam, hatred without cause. In the Talmud we learn:

But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, observing the laws, and giving tzedakah? Because therein prevailed Sinat Chinam,hatred without cause. That teaches you that senseless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together (Yoma 9b)

This is making a big claim as to the severity of Sinat Chinam, but what is hatred without cause? It seems to be groundless animosity brought on without provocation. I would not say that hatred as a response to something with a rationale is good, but at least in that situation there is a pathway to reconciliation. The challenge of Sinat Chinam is that it origin seems to be without cause and so it the recovery.

In many ways the paradigm of Sinat Chinam is found in the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. There in the Talmud we learn:

Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza. This is as there was a certain man whose friend was named Kamtza and whose enemy was named bar Kamtza. He once made a large feast and said to his servant: Go bring me my friend Kamtza. The servant went and mistakenly brought him his enemy bar Kamtza. The man who was hosting the feast came and found bar Kamtza sitting at the feast. The host said to bar Kamtza. That man is the enemy [ba’al devava] of that man, that is, you are my enemy. What then do you want here? Arise and leave. Bar Kamtza said to him: Since I have already come, let me stay and I will give you money for whatever I eat and drink. Just do not embarrass me by sending me out.The host said to him: No, you must leave. Bar Kamtza said to him: I will give you money for half of the feast; just do not send me away. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Bar Kamtza then said to him: I will give you money for the entire feast; just let me stay. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Finally, the host took bar Kamtza by his hand, stood him up, and took him out.After having been cast out from the feast, bar Kamtza said to himself: Since the Sages were sitting there and did not protest the actions of the host, although they saw how he humiliated me, learn from it that they were content with what he did. I will therefore go and inform [eikhul kurtza] against them to the king. He went and said to the emperor: The Jews have rebelled against you. The emperor said to him: Who says that this is the case? Bar Kamtza said to him: Go and test them; send them an offering to be brought in honor of the government, and see whether they will sacrifice it. (Gittin 55b- 56a)

Here is a great Bim Bam take on this classic story of hatred without cause.

For no obvious reason the host would not allow Bar Kamtza to stay at the party. And in response to this hatred without cause bar Kamtza helped set into motion the destruction of the Temple. What could have happened if bar Kamtza was allowed to stay at the party? Nothing bad and that is for sure.

Juxtaposed this story of someone not being allowed to show up at party I wanted to share with you a clip from Seth Meyers in a segment he calls, “The King of Story we Need Right Now.” This is an amazing story:

While bar Kamtza was told to leave the party, this guy showed up and showed up in a big way for a complete stranger. This is a story of love with no cause.  I share this with you because this is truly a story we need right now.

Unlike any time in recent history, we are living in a world of hatred without cause. We are seeing a tremendous spike in anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, incitement, acts of hatred, and a general lack of civility like no other time in recent American history. Right now, we are still reeling from the most recent wave of hate-fueled gun violence. It is especially clear that the toxic combination of hateful rhetoric and easily available weapons present a national crisis. Many of these shootings were influenced by white supremacist ideology, the aim of which is to annihilate “others”; in this case, immigrants and communities of color (or “invaders” as the El Paso perpetrator said). Hateful supremacist doctrine is an affront to us as Jews, who deeply empathize with the experience of being “othered.”

In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” In this era of alternative-facts it seems that there is no real cause for any of this hatred. Before we react we need to ensure that we know the facts and that we act with due cause. Anything else runs the risk of being divisive and destructive. And since it has no cause it is not clear how we might address what happened and repair what gets broken. In the mean time it would never hurt for all of us to share our love without cause.

As a companion to the resource of text and discussion to reflect on the immigrant experience in the spirit of the Three Weeks in the context of today’s events me and my team wanted to share other modalities to help people explore issues of xenophobia and senseless hatred on Tisha B’Av.

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Holding Leaders Accountable: Words Matter

In Matot Masai, this week’s Torah portion, Moshe teaches the leaders of the tribes of Israel the laws governing the annulment of vows. I understanding the need these laws. We all make commitments that we cannot keep. As the saying goes, “A fellow who says he has never told a lie has just told one.” There in the parsha we read:

Moshe spoke to the heads of the Israelite tribes, saying: This is what the Lord has commanded: If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips. ( Numbers 30:2-3)

While there is plenty one could say about the challenges of setting additional limitations for oneself, I am more interested in the value of words to create commitment and to set up a system of accountability. While all of Israel was told “do not render a false oath in My name and thereby desecrate it”(Leviticus 19,12), why does the leadership get a special communication here?

Rashi’s answer to this is simple. He write:

This does not mean that he spoke only to the princes of the children of Israel and not to the people also, but that he showed respect to the princes by teaching them first and that afterwards he taught the children of Israel. ( Rashi on Numbers 30:2)

It seems by design politicians tell people what they need to get into power. It is hard not to see that our leaders always need additional instruction when it comes to over-promising and under-delivering. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian writer and outspoken critic of the Soviet Union , said, “In our country the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.” Here in the United States under our current alternative-facts administration we see that lying has again become a pillar of the State. Is this message in our Torah portion really about showing “respect to the princes”?

Our leaders need to know that words do matter. They routinely make oaths, create obligations, and make pledges, that other people need to pay for with their effort, money, or even their lives. Maybe the”respect to the princes” is that our leaders need to know that we are listening and watching. Our leaders need to know that ultimately they will be held accountable for their words, their deeds, and their leadership.

The Depths of Tisha B’Av

On Saturday night we will start the observation of Tisha B’Av, commemorating many other calamities that have befallen our people throughout history including the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. For thousands of years prior to 1948 the Temples represented the seat of the autonomous Jewish state. The Sages famously asked why were the Temples destroyed? The logical answer would have been that it met the needs of our oppressors subduing and conquering our ancestors, but our Rabbis went in another direction. In the Talmud we learn:

Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three evils in it: idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed . . . But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that during the time it stood people occupied themselves with Torah, with observance of precepts, and with the practice of charity? Because during the time it stood, sinat chinam, baseless hatred, prevailed. This is to teach you that baseless hatred is deemed as grave as all the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed together. (Yoma 9b)

While the rites of the Temple and what it signified for our people seem very distant and irrelevant to modern life, strangely the issues of baseless hatred discussed in Tisha B’Av seem rather prescient to our current social and political environment.

Given our long history of struggling with issues of  baseless hatred, what might Jewish thought offer us today? To this I share the oft quoted teaching of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine. He wrote:

The depth of the evil and its greatness of its roots are found in the depth of the good, we find there that the depth of the hatred is commensurate to the depths of love. If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love.(Orot HaKodesh vol. 3, p. 324)

Our society in embroiled in a very dark chapter of baseless hatred, what does it mean that we need to face this with the depths of baseless love? Like many millions of people around the world I could not stop reading and watching the emergent story of rescue of the Thai soccer team and their coach.  They were literally stuck a mile underground and three miles through a flooded cave. People from around the world rushed to put themselves at risk in order to save these people who they never met. I think that the truth of Rav Kook’s comments comes from the literal meaning of his figurative flourish of the word “depth”. The measure of the communities we build are how we create environments where people regularly dig in deep, give of themselves, and share their baseless love with people the do not even know. We clearly have a lot of work to do. On this Tisha B’Av we need to reflect on how we need to invest in building  less walls and more communities.

Image result for new yorker cartoon thai rescue

How do you say Treason?

How do you say treason  in Russian? Evidently the answer is “измена- IZMENA.” In Hebrew the word is ” בגידה- BEGIDAH.” It has the same root at BEGED- meaning clothing. So in many ways the act of treason is figuratively the act of being a turncoat, changing closes to move your agenda forward. 

I was thinking about all of this in wake of a comment made by John O. Brennan the  former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from March 2013 to January 2017.  Recently he tweeted:

Brennan seems to know a lot about national security. I would trust that he knows the definition of treason. 
So the better question is not how you say treason in Russian or Hebrew, but how do you say treason in Republican? Our republic depends on their patriotism.  We can only hope that they act on in before it is too late.

Image result for new yorker cartoon thai rescue

The Trump Holy Bible: Lessons from the Red Heffer

At the start of Chukat, this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moshe and Aaron to instruct the Israelites regarding the ritual law of the Red Heifer (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה‬) used to create the water of lustration. The cow was to be without blemish, have no defect, and not have borne a  yoke. Eleazar the priest was to take it outside the camp, observe its slaughter, and take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the Tabernacle. The cow was to be burned in its entirety along with cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson stuff. The priest and the one who burned the cow were both to wash their garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. The ashes of the cow were to be used to create the water for purification from having had contact with death.

It is noteworthy that all other communal sacrifices were of male animals, but the Red Cow was of a female animal. Rabbi Aibu explained the difference with a parable: When a handmaiden’s boy polluted a king’s palace, the king called on the boy’s mother to clear away the filth. In the same way, God called on the Red Cow to come and atone for the incident of the Golden Calf. (Numbers Rabbah 19:8)

To me this parable is relevant in at least four ways to the horrid events from this last week when the Trump administration took to separating children of immigrants from their parents. On the most basic level, this Midrash suggests the sense of connection between a mother and her child. Just as the Red Cow has to clean up for the Golden Calf, children cannot be separated from their parents. On a second level it points to the fact that it will take a miracle for this administration to cleanse themselves  of their sins. Ain’t no magic burnt dust going to help them at this point. Thirdly we need to have more female leadership to clean up Washington. I am having trouble believing that a female commander-in-chief would have suggested this idea.I might be wrong about the gendered assumption, but we do need to clean up our government.  Finally this use of this Midrash comes to point that you could take almost any proof texts from almost any where to prove almost anything you want. AG Sessions will be damned by any God he believes in.  Immorality is immorality, it has no place to hide behind religion or scripture.

 

Seeking Affirmation: Korach and Trump

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we see the most brazen challenge to Moshe’s authority. For Korach there was no Arab spring. His uprising against Moshe is put down, way down. Korach and his band get swallowed up by the ground.

It is interesting to juxtapose this story to Aaron’s appointment to becoming the High Priest that we read at the end of the Torah portion. There we read:

17 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shalt write every man’s name upon his rod. 18 And you shall write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. 19 And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 20 And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ 21 And Moshe spoke to the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. 22 And Moshe laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 23 And it came to pass tomorrow, that Moshe went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 24 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord unto all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod.25 And the Lord said unto Moshe: ‘Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept there, for a token against the rebellious children; that there may be made an end of their murmurings against Me, that they die not. Numbers 17: 17-25

As compared to the story with Korach, this process of determining leadership is marked by transparency. While many people died with Korach for the restoration of Moshe’s authority Aaron’s authority was established with no harm done to anyone. Korach was seeking affirmation and with that many people died.

From a moral perspective the story of almond blossom seems a lot better than the loss of human life, but in another context it is much worse. When Korach is gone there is no evidence. The miracle of Aaron’s authority is kept as a reminder of his authority. It resonates with the whole tragedy of the sin of the Golden Calf. The Israelite could not sit with the trust in a God or a leader which they could not see, touch, or hold. It was Aaron himself that helped them craft the Golden Calf.

But, it is not just the Israelites. We all seek confirmation and validation in our lives. While compliments are great, a physical representation of that affirmation makes all the difference. It is hard to live with ideas, we all seek a physical manifestation in our lives.  It is interesting to see in our own lives that we keep these things as totems of our achievements, but at the same time it could be idolatry.

I have no idea what Mueller will find in his effort for transparency in his investigation of Trump’s presidential campaign. I am not saying that the Russian handed Trump the election, but I think we can safely say that it is was not as clear as a budding almond staff. It is really weird how Trump is always looking for compliments, physical representation, and affirmation of his leadership. This was very apparent when you look at his response to the comparison between attendance at  his and at Obama’s inaugurations.

Image result for obama trump comparison inauguration

No one was denying that Trump is the President, but it was clear that Obama’s was bigger. Trump’s profound narcissism makes me afraid that we will not see a peaceful transfer of power when he is down his presidency. I would hate to see a repeat of the Korach situation.

Purim Today: Xenophobia, Sexism, and Violence

At a town hall meeting last Wednesday night, Senator Marco Rubio was grilled over gun control by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people. On Comedy Central’s Daily Show, Trevor Noah argued that Rubio was “totally out of sync with the entire room,” also pointing out the clip about assault-rifle loopholes. “That was such an epic fail. Rubio said the solution like it was the problem.”

Then Noah related the moment to the “Me Too” movement: “It reminded me of the reaction that a lot of men had to  the ‘Me Too’ movement, you know, when people were like, ‘If we carry on like this, we’re going to live in a world where men can’t even hit on their female staff. Oh, that is what we want? Okay. OK, fair enough, I misunderstood.'”

I was thinking of this when reading Megilat Esther. At the start of the story Achashverosh is having a series of parties. Amidst the revelry the king instructs his wife Vashti the Queen to show up to his party to display her beauty. She refuses and a crisis ensues. The king has no idea what to do when she refuses to obey him and calls on his advisers. Memuchan steps forward and advises that the king.  He warns: “Queen Vashti has committed an offense not only against Your Majesty but also against all the officials and against all the peoples in all the provinces of King Achashverosh. For the queen’s behavior will make all wives despise their husbands…“( Esther 1:20). The fear is that the Queens sleight of her husband’s unreasonable request will have implications all over the kingdom that women will not obey men.

This in turn becomes interesting in that one of the critical moments of the Megilah is when Mordecai beseeches Esther to proactively meet with the king without being asked and reveal her hidden identity to save her people. After the whole Vashti affair Esther knows that it is risky but relents on the condition that the people fast with her in solidarity. There we read:

“Go, assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan, and fast in my behalf; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will observe the same fast. Then I shall go to the king, though it is contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish!” So Mordecai went about [the city] and did just as Esther had commanded him. (Esther 4:16-17)

Esther is courageous and as we know the whole plan comes together and the people are saved. The story turns on Esther’s leaning in and also Mordecai doing what he was commanded to do. At the start of the story the fear was that women would not obey men, and here in the end we see that we were saved because a man obeyed a woman. Like Rubio and Trevor Noah’s making fun of Rubio, the perceived problem is actually the solution. Throughout history  xenophobia, sexism, and violence are mixed together to distract people from the real problems facing their lives. The more things change the more they stay the same. These forces of division are just out of sync.


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