Posts Tagged 'Trump'

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

 

Just Judges: Shoftim and Kamala

Last week Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his running mate. Soon after President Trump attacked Harris for being “extraordinarily nasty” to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings. It is true, Harris did aggressively question Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct allegations during the justice’s heated 2018 confirmation hearings. In her line of questioning she also touched on abortion laws and Trump’s reaction to the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Trump said, “She was extraordinarily nasty to Kavanaugh, Judge Kavanaugh, now Justice Kavanaugh. She was nasty to a level that was just a horrible thing the way she was, the way she treated now-Justice Kavanaugh. And I won’t forget that soon.” I am curious why Trump thinks her line of questioning of Judge Kavanaugh was a bad thing.

Brett Kavanaugh Struggles To Answer Kamala Harris' 'Simple ...

I was thinking about this in the context of him proudly holding a Bible.

The Bible is not a prop': Religious leaders, lawmakers outraged ...

Has Trump ever read the it? It is not just a prop, something to bring into class for show-and-tell, or a weapon to brandish.

I do not bring it up not just because Kamala Harris’s nomination was an important moment in our country’s history or that this week is the DNC, but because this week we read Shoftim, this week’s Torah reading. And yes the Torah, Five books of Moses, is in that Bible in the President’s hands.

Here in Shoftim Moses instructs the people of Israel to appoint judges and law enforcement officers in every city. There we read:

You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not set up a ashera– idolatrous tree —any kind of pole beside the altar of the Lord your God that you may make—or erect a stone pillar; for such the Lord your God detests. (Deuteronomy 16:18-22)

The Bible takes the appointment of judges and the human process of pursuing justice very seriously. But what do we make of the juxtaposition of the idea of creating a justice system to this ashera tree by the alter?

To answer this question we go to the Rabbis of the Talmud. There we learn:

Reish Lakish says: With regard to anyone who appoints over the community a judge who is not fit, it is as though he plants a tree used as part of idolatrous rites [ashera] among the Jewish people, as it is stated: “You shall make judges and officers for yourself” (Deuteronomy 16:18), and juxtaposed to it, it is written: “You shall not plant yourself an ashera of any kind of tree” (Deuteronomy 16:21). By implication, appointing unfit judges is akin to planting a tree for idolatry. (Sanhedrin 7b)

In Jewish thought the pursuit of justice and selection of good judges is central to our religious expression.

Why complain about Kamala Harris? As a former prosecutor she was doing her job and doing it well. She was faithfully fulfilling her mandate from the Bible to grill of Kavanaugh.

The Trump administration wants to hide behind a book. Those who support him because of the Bible are no different than Trump himself. What is the difference between devotion to a book made of wood and never opened and planting the ashera tree? They are all idol worshipers.

I wanted to invite all of the God-fearing Trump supporters to break from Trump’s doctrine of bullying and realize the religious importance of law. We must uproot the idolatry in our midst. Kamala Harris has proven that she will make sure that we have the right judges. We need to vote for Biden and Kamala. They will get our country back on track.

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

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

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.

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 done his presidency. I would hate to see a repeat of the Korach situation.


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