Posts Tagged 'Trust'

Rebuilding Trust: Sotah and Society

Recently I saw a great TED talk by Frances Frei, a professor of technology and operations management at the Harvard Business School. In her talk she discusses how to build and (even more importantly) how to rebuild trust. She outlines three component parts of trust: empathy, logic, and authenticity. She says:

Now, trust, if we’re going to rebuild it, we have to understand its component parts. The component parts of trust are super well understood. There’s three things about trust. If you sense that I am being authentic, you are much more likely to trust me. If you sense that I have real rigor in my logic, you are far more likely to trust me. And if you believe that my empathy is directed towards you, you are far more likely to trust me. When all three of these things are working, we have great trust. But if any one of these three gets shaky, if any one of these three wobbles, trust is threatened.

How to build (and rebuild) trust

It is worth watching the whole talk:

When we wobble with empathy we need to eliminate the distractions so we can be truly present and connected. It is pretty easy to do this, we just need to express to people that they matter. We need to do this by focusing on them. In this way technology is really eating away at our social fabric of trust luring us away with distractions.

When we have issues with logic- it is often not actually a question of the quality of our logic, but rather is an issue with our ability to communicate how we are thinking. Frei advises us to move away from the meandering narrative that leads to the main point to front loading the point and then following that with the supporting points.

And finally we get to the wobbles around authenticity. It is quoted in the name of Jean Giraudoux , “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” It is extremely hard to fake authenticity. We have to do our best to create a culture which encourages all of us to live as our true selves.

With this we will have the three legs of the table of trust standing. These three ideas nicely line up with the wisdom of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel from Perkei Avot. He says, “On three things the world stands: on judgment, on truth and on peace, as it is said (Zachariah 8:16), ‘Judge truth and the justice of peace in your gates.'” ( Avot 1:18 ) It is easy enough to draw the lines between judgement and logic, truth and authenticity, and finally peace and empathy. The world and trust stand on these three things.

I was thinking about these questions of rebuilding trust in reading Naso, this week’s Torah portion. In Naso we learn about the case when a woman who are suspected of committing adultery. Trust has been broken between a husband and a wife. Sotah is the term for a woman suspected of adultery. She must undergo an ordeal that will establish her guilt or innocence. Numbers 5:11–31 describes in detail the ritual, which a priest performs in the Tabernacle to determine whether a woman whose husband suspects her of adultery is indeed guilty. The Torah determines that a husband who suffers from “a spirit of jealousy” and suspects his wife must bring her to the priest at the Tabernacle. There the priest performs a series of ritual acts: he offers a “meal-offering of jealousy,” an offering of ground barley without oil or frankincense, unbinds the woman’s hair, makes her swear an oath that she had sexual relations with no man other than her husband, writes the oath in a scroll and erases it in water mixed with dust from the Tabernacle, and finally makes the woman drink the mixture.

This mixture, which the Torah calls “the bitter, curse-causing waters,” contains the oath and the curses that accompany it, and ultimately determines the woman’s fate. As the woman drinks the potion, the outcome of the trial appears on her body, confirming or refuting her husband’s suspicions: If she is guilty, the water will cause the woman to become infertile (the expressions “her thigh falls” and “her belly distends” are probably euphemisms for harm to the sexual organs), but if she is innocent the water will do her no harm and even cause her to become fertile.

In the case of the Sotah trust is clearly wobbly. How does this ritual/ordeal try to rebuild trust? I am not sure how this ritual evokes empathy or any logic, but I can only imagine that it would reaffirm authenticity to help rebuild that relationship. That said, I am suspect that their marital issues are irreconcilable by this point. Maybe we need to learn from what does not work for the Sotah what we need to rebuild trust in society.


Beyond Just Right and Left: On the Authority of Law

We learn in  Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion, the basic elements of the justice system. There we read:

You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left.

Deuteronomy 17:11

While we need to believe in the Torah, the Torah itself is asking us to follow the interpretation of the Judges. The rule of law is not limited to the given word, but rather predicated by following the Judges interpretation of the law. This idea continues from the Judges to the Rabbis as they become the interpreters of the law. This idea is echoed in one of three wonderful story about a non-Jew who wants to convert with a condition. There we read:

There was an incident involving one gentile who came before Shammai. The gentile said to Shammai: How many Torahs do you have? He said to him: Two, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. The gentile said to him: With regard to the Written Torah, I believe you, but with regard to the Oral Torah, I do not believe you. Convert me on condition that you will teach me only the Written Torah. Shammai scolded him and cast him out with reprimand. The same gentile came before Hillel, who converted him and began teaching him Torah. On the first day, he showed him the letters of the alphabet and said to him: Alef, bet, gimmel, dalet. The next day he reversed the order of the letters and told him that an alef is a tav and so on. The convert said to him: But yesterday you did not tell me that. Hillel said to him: You see that it is impossible to learn what is written without relying on an oral tradition. Didn’t you rely on me? Therefore, you should also rely on me with regard to the matter of the Oral Torah, and accept the interpretations that it contains.

Shabbat 31a

The would-be convert wants to accept the Torah but not the Rabbis’ interpretation. While Shammai is not having it at all, Hillel is willing to play. Just as in our Torah portion one would have to accept left as right and right as left, Hillel is pushing him to accept Alef as Taf and Taf as Alef. In this context the convert realizes that it is a package deal. To have access to the written Torah he will also need to trust the Rabbis and accept their interpretation for better and for worse. To become a Jew is predicated by accepting Rabbinic Authority. We see in the would-be convert a character that I often find in myself. I think I know what is right and what is wrong and I am not willing to trust an external authority. I often get stuck there. I have a feeling I am not the only one who gets stuck in this place.

This is profoundly similar to the Avraham’s situation at the Akedah, binding of his son Yitzhak. God told him to sacrifice his beloved son. Just as Avraham is about to go through with it an Angel tell him not to do it. Is this message the truth or just an interpretation. Should he go through with it? What is he to do? There we read:

When Avraham looked up, his eye fell upon a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.

Genesis 22:13
Genesis 22 vers 13. De ram op de berg Moria. | Genesis bible, Bible  pictures, Biblical art

Avraham did not know which authority to follow. He did not turn his head to “either to the right or to the left “. He lifts his head and he sees a ram caught in the thicket. In the ram he sees himself. Will he go to the right or to the left or will he lift his head and see another path through the situation? We all get stuck between A and B. We do not always find a way to back up, analyze, and make a plan C. To live a life within the law we cannot deviate from the path. The path itself demands that we trust our Rabbis AND think for ourselves.

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