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Rabbi's Weekly Message

Guns, Rights and Other Obigations - February 16

Dear Chaverim,

Yesterday, the news was dominated by the eighth US school shooting of 2018. The eyewitnesses' narratives - their text messages ­- were simply heartbreaking. Even those of us who are not epidemiologists or criminologists feel like it is unlikely that two months will pass without a mass shooting. In October it was the Las Vegas massacre. In November there was the mass shooting in a church in Sutherland, Texas. It seems like this glut of evidence on violence has inspired few, if any, epiphanies about how to manage the problem. Predictably, those on the political left are calling for stricter gun limits, and those on the right are calling for harsher justice for those who kill.

It would be easy enough here to condemn political inaction or blame the gun lobby and assault weapon industry. However, such a discussion would hardly advance the discourse. It would simply be another partisan chest thump on my part. Instead, I would like to look at this issue from a different perspective.

There are facts about the shooting this past week which make it seem particularly preventable. They highlight the challenges inherent to public safety in a gun-toting culture. There was this YouTube comment that was posted under the name Nikolas Cruz on September 24th: "I am going to become a professional school shooter." Mr. Cruz, had been expelled for bringing a knife to school. It would seem that those two facts would not only disqualify Cruz from buying a gun, but would prompt a visit from law enforcement.   

The problem in this case is about privacy and autonomy. The YouTube comment was reported to the FBI by a user in Mississippi with no connections at all to Mr. Cruz. I assume there was not enough probable cause for a warrant to compel YouTube to help police find a would-be shooter with a particular name. Legal privacy protections ensured the obscurity of 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz from among hundreds of others named Nikolas Cruz in Florida alone.

Some might argue that a person who demonstrated violent tendencies and other mental health concerns should have been committed to a mental health facility. His actions should have warranted medical intervention against his will. However, committing adults to mental health facilities is very difficult. Perhaps with good reason. Autonomy is a person's most fundamental right. Thus, the evidence and need to commit a person has to be overwhelming.  

In sum, we value privacy and autonomy. I know of few who are ready to hand law enforcement the keys to social media or ready access to their internet usage information. There are few who would hand over their autonomy to prying neighbors or overburdened police officers.

What about guns? Some would argue that gun rights are equal to free speech rights. Such a case is not without merit. I have heard rhetorically strong arguments that conflate the right to own an assault weapon with the right to protect oneself from criminals or armed authority run amok. They advocate that the right to carry a gun in public is the guarantor against ever being in a situation where they would be unable to defend the innocent and themselves.

The right to own an assault weapon is not for freedom to take down militarized moose and elk. It is simply part of one's right to self-defence. Advocates of gun ownership believe that curtailing such a right makes the people vulnerable both to the tyranny of government and of malicious elements, criminals, and thugs. Gun advocates protect that right just like the ACLU protects the right for free speech.

So, what might the Torah have to say about all of this? The first and perhaps most important point in this analysis is that Torah does not advocate for rights. In place of a system of rights the Torah has a system of obligations.

For example, where Western legal systems have a right to privacy, the Talmud has a tort called Hezek Rei'ah - which would translate literally to damage by sight. In practice, this tort is expressed by the court's ability to compel a would-be voyeur to build a wall to ensure their neighbour's privacy. Ultimately, the Torah's law sees privacy as an active responsibility, not a as passive entitlement. The well-known verse "מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל - how great are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!" celebrates how the Jewish people in the desert observed the halachic imperative of privacy in the way they arranged their tents.

The United States Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment. In Canada, there is no constitutional right to own guns. However, laws and legislation uphold a kind of common-sense notion that guns are private property, and gun ownership is essentially legal.

Jewish law has no such right to own a weapon. It does, however, have a very strong obligation to save lives. The obligation to save a life is paramount in Jewish law. It supersedes every other obligation under the law, except in cases of betrayal of faith, sexual abuse, and the taking of a life in self-defence. Thus, one may violate the Sabbath or Yom Kippur, or suspend property rights in order to save a life. However, one may not jeopardize even one life in practice to potentially, theoretically save many lives.

How does Torah law translate to the question of guns? On the one hand we might be advocates for gun ownership. In Israel, many rabbis and devout individuals carry handguns. The synagogues in areas historically targeted by terrorists might be some of the safest places in the country because of the high number of gun owners. In Israel, then, the Torah injunction to protect innocent lives, and the practice of 'open carry' is a deterrent to mass murder.

On the other hand, in the US the many school shootings in the first seven weeks of 2018 would suggest that pervasive gun ownership is not an effective deterrent. Halachically then, this may be a question of facts more than principles. Or, as my editor is fond of reminding me, "in theory, practice always works all of the time, but in practice theory never works all of the time." If the facts on the ground do not support the principles of the constitution, then we must err to the side of caution based on the facts.

To de-escalate the conflict between rights and restrictions, we might suggest that we approach this epidemiologically. We could consider the case of automobile cruise control. If that technology reduces motor vehicle accidents, we should install more cruise controls and do more to make sure that they are employed. On the other hand,if cruise controls increase accidents, then we should stop using the technology, or improve it.

Such an analysis leads to a startling finding. Nearly two thirds of all gun deaths in the United States have nothing to do with gang violence, inner-city crime, mass-shootings, accidental firings,  or terrorism. Two thirds of gun deaths are suicides. Yes, suicides. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, states with more liberal gun laws have higher suicide rates.

It also turns out that it is faulty logic to argue that those attempting suicide will find another method if they cannot get a gun. Guns are efficient at killing quickly. In suicide, time is the ally of saving lives. The longer suicide takes, the greater the chances of survival. Guns are, sadly, the most effective method of suicide. Limiting the sale of guns would reduce deaths by suicide over current levels.

The gun rights policy question is highly charged. I am not going to pursue some false dichotomy between the moral imperatives of the Torah and the legislative imperatives of constitutional government and law enforcement. Therefore, I will refrain from making conclusions about policy. However, to postpone the question of community safety and guns out of respect to victims and families of the latest tragedies would be misplaced. Is the question of school shootings - which garners high coverage in the media - more worthy of our respect than the constant - unreported - stream of suicides?  

Mass shootings invite ideological posturing. The Torah obligates us to save lives. We have to ask what the best way is to do that. To know, we have to consider where the evidence leads us. We might also have to ask if we are risking lives to save lives. We might also need to ask if the self defense argument outweighs the inherent dangers of guns, especially when most gun deaths are self-inflicted.

To me, the evidence about suicide reveals that most people have formed opinions based on the observations skewed by media coverage. News media ratings are driven by the public's appetites for stories about carnage, or for their desire for stories of heroism - like the recent one of a rifle instructor who disabled the Texas church shooter. Yet, most were completely disconnected from the relevant, related issue of suicide. Our obligation is to save lives, how best to do that should be driven by the facts and the science.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt

 

Dear Poland...February 9

Dear Chaverim,
 
This week's installment is a joint message from Rabbi Rosenblatt and Dr. Neiman about an emerging issue that has troubled many in our community.
 
Many in the Jewish community are utterly shocked by the passage of a Polish law that makes it illegal to associate the government or state of Poland with the Holocaust. For example, those who refer to places like Auschwitz as Polishdeath camps can go to prison for up three years. The rationale for this law is that the death camps in Poland were created by Nazi Germany, not by the Polish government or Polish people.
 
The government of Poland is not the first to try to distance itself from an association with the atrocities of the 20th Century. Japan's government has yet to explicitly accept responsibility for its colonial occupation of much of Asia. Turkey's government denies that there was an Armenian Genocide. We should be shocked that Poland would take a similar tack by denying the overwhelming evidence of its role in the largest, most murderous act of anti-Semitism in modern times. However, we believe people should be shocked for the right reasons. We should be shocked that the Poles think that this law is going to fool anyone.  
 
As  Edna Friedberg of the U.S. Holocaust Museum argues, the Poles were no more the mere victims of the Nazis, than they were exclusively villains to the Jews. The Polish role in the Holocaust is complicated. Poland was occupied by a brutal Nazi regime that made Poland the geographic centre of Nazi dirty work. On the other hand, as Polish historian Barbara Engelking describes, many Poles were willing accomplices in the murder of Jews. Some did so for sport, and others for profit. They would engage in 'Jew hunts' to break the monotony of life. Poles often hid Jews who gave Polish 'hosts' their valuables. When there were no more valuables to surrender, the Poles would turn in their so-called 'guests' and collect a reward from the Nazis.
 
Friedberg explains the difficulty in characterizing the Polish response to the Holocaust in a single stroke. "It is not uniformly one of complicity or innocence." There are more Poles recognized by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations than from any other nationality. The Nazis tried to decapitate the Polish leadership, removing tens of thousands of intellectuals, priests, politicians and other authority figures. 1.5 Million Poles were deported to Germany as slave laborers and 2 million non-Jewish Poles and soldiers died in the course of the war. The Zegota was a Polish committee organized to provide false papers to Jews and secure their rescue. Some estimate that the Zegota had a hand in saving almost half of the Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust.
 
The Polish government wants to make it illegal "to publicly and untruthfully assign responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish Nation or the Polish State for Nazi crimes [emphasis added]." They may be technically correct about the Polish government, but are they certain about the veracity of a claim of innocence with regard to the Polish Nation? Furthermore, it is facile to refer to these crimes as Nazi crimes, as if anything originated by Nazis is solely the responsibility of Hitler.
 
No matter what the intention of the law, we believe it fundamentally misses the point of what might be in the best interest of the current Polish government. The law looks like an attempt to whitewash the past, to engage in a form - however benignly motivated ­- of denial of an essential part of the Holocaust. Historically, limiting free speech like this makes a government look regressive and afraid of the truth. Will tour guides to Polish sites be prosecuted for telling the history of the Blue Police - those 20,000 Polish officers who were responsible for the liquidation of the ghettos in Poland? Will Jewish historical tourism to Poland become a crime? If anything, this law will be the dog whistle to white nationalists around the world.
 
Author and bullying expert Barbara Coloroso argues that evil cannot be enacted on a large scale without the active and passive consent of both ordinary people and those who are in charge. In Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide, she makes essential distinctions between different actors in the Polish chapter of the Holocaust. The Nazis were in her terms, instigators and perpetrators. The Polish government and police played various official roles as perpetrators and active supporters. Ordinary citizens acted in various roles as perpetrators, active supporters, passive supporters, henchmen, and witnesses [who did nothing to stop the violence]. Coloroso traces how the same dynamics existed in the Armenian Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide, and Darfur.
 
Timothy Snyder is a Professor of History at Yale University. In Black Earth: the Holocaust as History and Warning, Snyder argues that stripping groups of their citizenship is a key enabler of governments that perpetrate genocide. During World War 2, he notes, Poles were keen to set up governments that collaborated with their occupiers to persecute Jews. This happened under both Soviet occupation and Nazi occupation. It was possible to kill Jews and take their property, precisely because there was a duly constituted national government, and Jews were not considered to be subject to their laws. An exception that proves the rule of European collaboration with the Nazi genocide was Denmark. There, the government under occupation resisted turning over Jews. The Nazis allowed the Danes to let Jews escape en masse.
 
We believe our reaction to Poland needs to maintain a strong tether to the truth and complexity of the Polish story. The Torah says, "לא תתעב מצרי כי גר היית בארצו - do not be cross with the Egyptian for you were a sojourner in his land." To this Rashi adds, "the Egyptians gave us refuge in time of need." The Torah is teaching an important lesson about characterizations: appreciate the complexity of even the oppressive relationships. In particular, while one generation of Egyptians was welcoming, another was cruel. In other words, it's complex. We must remain cognizant of both Hitler's willing partners and of the many righteous Polish gentiles. We remember the Nazi subjugation of Poland, and the fertile anti-Semitic soil in which the Germans sowed their hatred.
 
Furthemore, the Torah in this week's reading teaches, "לא תהיה אחרי רבים לרעת ולא תענה על רב לנטת אחרי רבים להטת­ ­- do not be a follower of the majority to do evil, and do not answer the majority by bending to their mistake." Sometimes it is important to reject groupthink, to reject the simple, binary characterization of good versus evil when there is an unvoiced exonerating argument or evidence. Our political and ideological discourse has too often devolved to a false dichotomy of good guys and bad guys, of sanitized and dishonest political correctness, and cruel sensationalized examples that should not be extrapolated to a whole group. We don't accept Jewish stereotypes, nor will we condone Polish stereotypes.
 
This is captured in the words of Holocaust survivor Aaron Elster, who was sheltered by sympathetic Polish farmers.
 
I was grateful for them, but I was afraid of them because they were constantly demeaning me, and threatening me, and telling me what a terrible thing I did to come there to cause them that kind of problem ... That's what she constantly said to us, my sister and I. 'If the Germans catch you, you're gonna say who helped you and they're gonna kill us.' So it was a dichotomy of things: She wanted to help but she wanted to get rid of us, she couldn't get rid of us, you know.
 
The historical Polish relationship to our people is painful and complex. It has Polish heroes and villains. It is a story of many governments and average people who behaved in self-serving ways and altruistic ways to do both good and extraordinary evil. Your history is complex, Poland, and your choice is simple. If you maintain this law, you will become in 2018 the very government that you deny you were in 1939. Instead, we call on the Polish government to understand that the only way to keep their good reputation is to be honest about the truth and complexity of the story, to learn from it, and to prevent it from happening again.
 
 
Good Shabbos,
 
Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt and Dr. Terry Neiman
 
 

Why Gd Does Not Talk to Us - February 2

Dear Chaverim,

One day, waiting outside of the Vancouver Talmud Torah, a child who was about five years old asked me, "rabbi, why doesn't Hashem talk to us anymore?" The question caught me off guard. I had no solid answer, certainly not one that would work for a five-year-old.

Last week, I found a portion of the answer in Pashsat B'Shalach. B'Shalach has 116 verses. It divides neatly two 58 verse parts. The first contains the splitting of the sea and the Song of Moses. It is the basis for the name of this special Shabbat: Shabbat Shira - the Shabbat of the Song. However, the other half, the second 58 verses, is full of complaints about the lack of water and food. Variations on the Hebrew root י-ל-ן appear at least ten times in the second half of the parsha. Furthermore, the root י-ר-ב, to quarrel with, or even to fight with appears four times. Had the halves of the Parsha been split into two separate weeks, we might have called the second shabbat, the Sabbath of Kvetching.  

Not only is the shift from singing to quarreling a form of literary whiplash, it raises an important question. The very people who saw the splitting of the sea, who walked between walls of water, who saw Egypt laid low through ten impressive plagues, and who watched the most powerful military in the world drown in the seabed they had just crossed, were the voices of complaint. What happened to all of their inspiration?

The Midrash intensifies this question. It says that Moshe had to forcibly move the Children of Israel from the seaside. It says that the Egyptian army was adorned with precious stones that were washing up on the shore and the Children of Israel were picking over the spoils. I imagine this Midrash may be expressing a behavior that is still told about grandparents and great grandparents who survived the scarcity of the Pale of Settlement or the early days of the State of Israel. Within my own family is the story of a relative who would wash paper towels and roll up aluminum foil into a ball to be reused. The Children of Israel, who had been scavenging scraps from Egyptian tables for nearly 200 years, had trouble unlearning the habits of picking up scraps discarded by their masters.

One insight may help us to better understand this behavior. In 1982 two professors from Yale University, Richard Nelson and Sidney Winter, published An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change. Their central premise is that a company's behavior is not so much governed by the org chart and the decisions of the CEO and middle managers, as it is by the culture and habits that it had formed. The habits of the past determine behavior more than the cerebral decisions of management.   

The underlying psychology of the power of habit is detailed in a book by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow.Kahneman describes two systems: one which works quickly, and one which works slowly. The fast thinking process completes phrases like "bread and ...."  It adds 2+3 without pausing to consider what it is doing. It can detect anger in a voice and aggression in a face. It can localize sound.   

On the other hand, the slow system is engaged to calculate 17 x 24. It can figure out the number of occurrences of the word the in this email, or compose a grammatically correct sentence in a new language. The slow system is also engaged in learning to play an instrument.

Activities handled by the slow system can become fast. People learn to play an instrument as if it is automatic. Immersion in a language makes the speaker fluent. Most of our decisions and behaviors become coded into the fast system. It is the repository of our reactions and routines.   Daily life requires a fast system. We need to adapt with speed to the challenge of the moment, whether it is the wolf in the grass or the rapid calculation for a stock trade. Who we become over the course of a lifetime is in large measure the sum of the behaviors we consciously     train into our fast system.

The Torah is not like much of the other works of the ancient world. Many were written only to celebrate and cheerlead the enormity of some victory. However, the Torah is also interested in human frailties and how to overcome them. The Book of Jonah is a case in point. Rabbi Benny Lau has said that in all of Tanach, the one prophet whose words were heeded by his audience was Jonah. And Jonah's prophecy was delivered to non-Jews! In other words, when Gd spoke, the people simply did not listen.

The same is true with wondrous miracles like those in this week's parsha - they just don't seem to change the people. The Children of Israel, fresh from a miraculous experience, seem unmoved. However, the rabbis in the Mechilta say ראתה שפחה על הים מה שלא ראה יחזקאל בן בוזי  - the lowly maidservant who crossed the sea had prophecy greater than the prophet Ezekiel. Gd spoke to a whole generation - at what was then the greatest moment of Divine revelation in our history, and we did not fully listen. How could we be expected to do any better today, if Hashem were to talk to us?

Perhaps we can understand this in terms of the idea of habit. Personality is shaped by the sum of repeated action, no so much by cerebral revelations. One might speculate that the reason Gd does not speak to us any more is because prophecy does not work. It takes more than a miracle to attain Gd's signs and wonders; it takes regular, repeated effort.

The Torah knows that to effectively shape character, one needs the routine of Mitzvot that build character. The ideas put forth prominently in the Shema, "and you shall repeat them to your children, and speak of them when you lay down and rise up" are a testimony to the idea that the formation of good habit is the modality of shaping character. The regularity of Shabbat, and the consistency of Torah study are the real catalysts of change. Furthermore, Gd puts the change process in our hands, asking us to take responsibility by being disciplined with our behaviors rather than waiting for inspiration, orders, or deliverance from without.

So, to my young friend, I guess Gd does not speak to us anymore because Gd believes we can do more by using the Torah to train ourselves. This is a powerful lesson because it says if you wish to be a kind person, you must make kindness a regular part of your own behavior. If you wish to be charitable, you must build charitable habits. If you want to be wise, you must ensure that study is fixed in your schedule. Maybe the focus is not so much on how much Gd talks, but on how much we listen. That is why we say the Shema - the listen - over and over again.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt

 

Bitcoins, Bullets, Bylaws and Blessings - January 26

Dear Chaverim,

Long before writing was used to convey language, it was invented to record quantities of commodities. The earliest financial pages were clay tablets. Their numbers represented real things that people traded and exchanged, like wheat and livestock. Today's financial pages post exchange rates for virtual holdings represented by money and shares in businesses. Here you will find Bitcoin listed alongside the Dow, the TSX, oil, and the dollar.

Bitcoin may have many advantages. Since it does not exist in a tradable form like cash, you don't have to worry about losing it in the washing machine or from having a hole in your pocket. You also don't have to worry about the government peeking into your private pocketbook because it regulates the banks. However,Greg Leffler the Senior Software Editor of LinkedIn suggests that this virtual currency is popular for one reason: stealth. It is good for moving money out of currency-controlled regions, hiding earnings, buying cocaine, and for malware ransoms. Bitcoin helps individuals evade law enforcement more efficiently than hiding money in suitcase linings, or burying gold in the garden. Bitcoin is thus the technology of choice for criminals who wish to keep the meddling eyes of government far away from their finances.

Bitcoin is not the only technology that serves such a purpose. Cody Wilson is a young law student at the University of Texas who has started a revolution using nothing more than a computer printer. He published the plans to manufacture a pistol called the Liberator using a 3D printer. When one buys a gun from a gun shop or gun show, or from Glock or Smith and Wesson, the gun comes with a serial number. One must obtain a licence, and go through a background check. Cody has made it possible for anyone with a 3D printer, regardless of their persuasion or state of mental fitness, to evade such scrutiny and produce an untraceable gun on their kitchen table.

Cody sees himself as a warrior for free speech and privacy in the spirit of open-source code and internet neutrality. He argues, "I'm not making guns for you, I'm shipping the possibility to make it for yourself." In America, many citizens believe that they can only be free from an oppressive government if they can have guns that are beyond the control of government.

Bitcoin and 3D printing are two examples of technologies that are boosting the possibilities of freedom in our world. But are they also bringing us closer to a version of anarchy?

Some would argue that the Ten Commandments form the basic substance of Jewish law. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai would disagree. Consider the following verse from Exodus 15:25.

ויצעק אל יהוה ויורהו יהוה עץ וישלך אל המים וימתקו המים שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו And he [Moshe] cried unto the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, and he cast it into the waters, and the waters were made sweet. There He gave them statute and ordinance, and they tested Hashem;

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai understands that Hashem gave them civil law, or the rules of interpersonal conduct. However, before they could receive the Torah at Sinai, they had to learn to interact appropriately with one another.  

I think about what it must have been like to leave Egypt and its heavy veil of authoritarianism. The other side of the sea was a land without police. It must have also looked like a land without consequences. It might have felt like Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Imagine three million people all suggesting different routes home. That comes at the end of a three-day journey in which the newly freed people could not find clean water. The verse describing it begins with Moshe making the water that they did find potable. Imagine the crowd, the elbows, the pushing as people clamored for water. As the old joke goes, ask two Jews - get three opinions. Imagine three million Jews.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's interpretation teaches us that without the basic laws of civil cooperation, there can be no successful absorption of Torah. The Ten Commandments would be lost in the chaos that comes with autonomy. The people first needed the laws of interpersonal relationships. It was through such laws that people came to peaceful coexistence.

Perhaps another analogy is instructive. We all curse traffic lights from time to time. They seem to curtail our freedom to drive as we please. It seems ridiculous to me to have to wait at a red light in the middle of the night when there is no other car in sight. However, traffic lights make street traffic efficient around the clock. Anyone who has used the four-way stop procedure during a power outage will soon come to bless traffic lights and how efficient they are at moving the traffic along.

I think this is a powerful lesson. It teaches that forfeiting total personal freedom preserves freedom for all. It teaches that the civil code of the Torah had to come before the direct utterances of Gd in the Ten Commandments. It is similarly taught in (Vayikrah Rabbah 9:3)  דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה that civility had to predate the Torah.  

For a moment, think about what money really is. It is the chief instrument of cooperation. We each trade our goods or services for money. Its value is ensured by our consensus to use it. There are many laws about money: taxes, government disclosures, banking rules, to name a few. Bitcoin may be less scrutinized by the prying eyes of government, but it is less safe for society. It is harder to protect one's assets in a lightly governed environment. Those who have lost their electronic keys, or their computers, have lost all of their bitcoins. At the Bitcoin ATM there is no customer service department, no deposit insurance.

We live in a time of more choices and freedoms than any other time in history. Even so, there are those such as Cody Wilson pushing to bring us new and potentially dangerous freedoms. In such a world Torah and Judaism offer a set of figurative traffic lights that give us the structure to enjoy our freedoms. The Torah offers a steady heading with which to navigate an ever-dizzying world. We are given the disciplines to make to make the most of the freedom rather than to become corrupted by it.   

Jews can feel fortunate to be among those for whom there is a day of rest and refrain from work. Jews can feel fortunate to be among those for whom freedom of speech is limited by a prohibition against gossip (i.e., loshon hara, which is the use of true speech for a wrongful purpose). Jews can feel fortunate to be among those who believe that not all income is for personal consumption, because Gd has laid claim to a portion designated for charity. Think about the common form for blessings over commandments: "Blessed are you Hashem who has sanctified us in the commandments, and commanded us to..." It is constant a reminder that it is truly a blessing to have direction. 

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt

 

Smart As A Billionaire - January 19

Dear Chaverim,

Two of the most admired names in the world, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, have something in common with legendary figures like Benjamin Franklin and Barak Obama, when he was in the midst of a frenzied presidency. They all set aside an hour a day or more for reading. Charlie Munger, the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has said " in my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn't read all the time, none -- zero."

When Elon Musk was asked how he intends to build rockets, he said, "I read books." Business insider.com has listed the 14 books that inspired Musk.

When Warren Buffet was asked about the secret to his success, he pointed to a stack of books. Buffet said that he spends about 80% of his day reading - which translates to 600-1000 pages per day.

I have had occasion to visit one of Vancouver's greatest zero-to-billionaire successes. Every night he reads five or six newspapers cover to cover. He is not reading Facebook or Instagram. He reads the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

If you want to get ahead, if you want to succeed, if you want an asset that will be impervious to market swings and political inversions, then you need the learning that is found in print. It wasn't always like this. Over 2,300 years ago, Plato argued that memory - which is essential to wisdom - would be ruined by writing things down. In the 15th century Catholic leaders opposed Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, fearing that print would be the death of their safeguarding of the transmission and interpretation of their bible. Mark Twain is widely quoted in print as having said four centuries later, "the whole world admits unhesitatingly; and there can be no doubt about this, that Gutenberg's invention is the incomparably greatest event in the history of the world."

Twain also marvelled at the timeless success of the Jews.

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away. The Greek and Roman followed, made a vast noise and they are gone. Other peoples have sprung up, and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out and they sit in twilight now or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal, but the Jew. All other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality? (Harper's Magazine, 1899)

Perhaps the answer can be found in the success secrets of Buffet and Gates. One thousand years before Plato argued against writing things down, Moshe and Joshua were given the final commandment - to commit the Torah to writing. From the very moment that the Jewish people crossed the Jordan to enter the land of Israel they have been charged with the task of constant Torah study. Joshua would later say the following.

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy ways prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Are these words from the Book of Joshua not a recipe for success? It would seem that our strength has always been in our being known as "the people of the Book" through our dedication to learning. Musk, Gates, Buffet, and Franklin were dedicated to reading books on history, nature, business, art, and philosophy. There is much to be gained from that kind of secular wisdom.   

The charge of Joshua is to study divine wisdom by reading and learning Torah. The idea of Torah is multifaceted. It penetrates the heart. This is expressed in the story of Rabbi Akiva - who noted that drops of water will eventually carve out a stone. Akiva understood that daily Torah learning works slowly, gradually like drops of water on a stone. In other words, study is a formative act, a sculpting enterprise through which the individual is refined. This dimension of Torah is similar to the lifelong educational idea of Buffet or Musk, but with the added advantage that the Torah also refines character traits. That, in turn, enriches one's spiritual investment portfolio.

The study of Torah has an additional advantage; it makes Gd present in our world. In the words of Rabbi Meir Solovietchik,

How does finite, physical, fallible man relate to an infinite, immaterial, and almighty God? For Christians, that gap is bridged through the Incarnation-through God becoming man. [This concept is clearly at odds with everything Judaics believes in, an infinite Gd and a non-corporeal Gd. So how then do we bridge the gap with the infinite?] The Jewish rejection of incarnation, though, does not leave Gd at a distance, remote and inaccessible. Judaism approaches Gd through the observance of his commandments, the most important of which, equal to all the others combined, is Torah learning: the intellectual engagement with the divine author of the commandments. . . Torah learning elicits a divine-human partnership, a continuing relationship of teacher and taught, of lover and beloved. It is not submission but communion, in which the engagement of the intellect is essential to approaching Gd.

Torah makes Gd real and tangible in our world. Soloveitchik sees this as the Jewish version of Incarnation of Gd in our lives.   

I think we as a community need to be studying more, reading more, learning more. We need to do so for all the reasons I've given. We want to succeed like Buffet and Gates. We want to shape our character like Akiva. We want to connect to Gd like Soloveitchik. We also strive to achieve the virtue articulated by the Shema - to "teach them thoroughly to (y)our children." We want to have answers when those children ask the questions.

 We, at Schara Tzedeck, are committed to providing better and more engaging access to Torah. We have classes almost every day of the week.  We have also partnered with Vancouver Torah Learning Centre for expanded access. And now, from the comfort of your own home, you can now receive our Torah Primer.

For those of you not interested in tapping into the wisdom of Franklin, the success of Buffet, the character development of Rabbi Akiva, or the spirituality of Soloveitchik, I leave you with the fact that Gd sets aside time for the study of Torah. The Midrashic work Tanna D'Be Eliyahu says that Gd spends a third of each day in the study of Torah. The other two thirds are spent in judgement and acts of charity. Are you better than Gd? If not, then go and learn.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt

 

Obverse of Adverse - January 12

Dear Chaverim,

The Golden Globe Awards this week dealt very directly with the issue of sexual harassment and showcased even to the point of caricature how celebrity has been conflated with wisdom, insight, and moral leadership. It could easily be argued that the three institutions most rife with sexual misconduct today are politics, the media, and entertainment. Hollywood is the home of what has been called the culture industry. Culture industry is a term coined by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheim in the 1940s to describe how popular culture is mass-produced to lull the public into a state of complacency. The chief danger of this is that people become distracted by movies, TV, and related merchandising instead of caring about the erosion of artistic culture, social justice, and democracy. In light of what we know in 2018, Hollywood's orchestrating itself as the agent of change may be both hugely ironic and a big case of too little, too late.

I am generally of the opinion that those who specialize in body image, acting (an art of deception), and self-promotion should not be looked to for wisdom and leadership. However, Perkei Avot teaches, "איזהוחכםהלומדמכלאדם - Who is wise? One who learns from all." Thus, I must put aside my cynicism every once in awhile, and ask myself what can be learned from even the creators of such cultural touchstones as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), and Women Behind Bars (1975).

CBC Radio shared a story about Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman in which a troll (one who uses insulting and abusive language anonymously online when it would be untenable to use such language in the open) says something abusive to her on Twitter. Typically, the response to trolling is to block the abuser, or to react with abuse or indignation. Silverman took a different approach. She responded, "I believe in you. I read ur timeline & I see what ur doing & your rage is thinly veiled pain. But u know that. I know this feeling. Ps My back [really hurts too]. see what happens when u choose love. I see it in you."

What followed was a Twitter exchange in which the troll let down his guard, disclosed that he was in emotional pain and was also abusing painkillers. Silverman helped him get help with his abuse of pain medication.

The moral of the story is that often anger is about something different from what it appears to be about. The best response may be what psychologists call non-complementary behaviour. In other words, don't fight fire with fire. Meet anger with a different emotion. Sometimes it is best to ask what is behind the fire, address the fuel source, ask where the pain is.  

Not every adversary needs to be adversarial. They can be helpful. There is a very subtle way in which this message is announced in Parshat Vaera. Moshe has come to introduce Pharaoh to the notion of Gd's dominion over nature. He begins with the sign of the staff turning into a serpent and then returning to a staff. Pharaoh is unconvinced. He shows that his magicians can fool people into thinking that they can turn staffs into snakes. Moshe's staff then devours the staff of Pharaoh's magicians. Pharaoh is stubborn. In failing to heed Moshe, he willingly incurs the burden of the plague of blood.

     

הדגה אשר ביאר מתה ויבאש היאר ולא יכלו מצרים לשתות מים מן היאר ויהי הדם בכל ארץ מצרים . ויעשו כן חרטמי מצרים בלטיהם ויחזק לב פרעה ולא שמע אלהם כאשר דבר יהוה. ויפן פרעה ויבא אל ביתו ולא שת לבו גם לזאת. ויחפרו כל מצרים סביבת 

היאר מים לשתות כי לא יכלו לשתת ממימי היאר 

 

And the fish in the river died, the river became putrid and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river and there was blood in all Egypt. The Egyptian magicians did similarly with their magic and the heart of Pharaoh was strengthened and he did not heed them as Gd had warned. And Pharaoh turned into his house and paid no heed to this. And all of Egypt dug [wells] around the river for drinking water, for they could not drink from the river.

The great 19th century commentator Rabbi Meir Leibush says that this passage should be understood in terms of a binary choice. Pharaoh and Egypt could have recognized that Moshe was not the enemy. Moshe represented Gd and offered the keys to the water problem. Pharaoh knew his options, and knew Moshe could solve his problems. He also knew Moshe wanted to solve them. Pharaoh chose instead to pay no heed to Moshe and to literally dig everywhere else for a remedy. I believe that the Torah is mocking the 'strength' of Pharaoh at this moment as a sort of silly puffery that prefers the appearance of strength to progress and what is really best for the people of Egypt.  Moshe remains at the ready to assist Pharaoh. It is Pharaoh who chooses to play the adversary.

I think these two stories are concrete examples of how to reframe negative encounters. If we can take a moment and see past the anger that might be coming out, then we may be able to find the obverse of the adverse. We can channel expressions of anger into indications of a problem, and thus work to a solution.  

I have witnessed many angry exchanges between spouses, siblings, parents and children, even colleagues. I count myself among the offenders. Channelling our anger into curiosity may provide remarkable gifts to us.

For over a year now, the culture industry has been waging its version of a culture war. However, this is about more than Hollywood, sexual assault, or politics. The spirit of our time is rife with ad hominem political attacks, blaming, shaming, and vilification. Liberals and conservatives both are guilty of doing what the trolls do. They shout to please their own base, to win likes and points with those who are already converted. The problem with mass media warfare is that it is exactly the opposite of what Sarah Silverman did on a personal level.

Remember, Pharaoh refused to see Moshe as his advocate. He took the easy road framing Moshe as the enemy. The current culture is in danger of failing the same way Pharaoh did by escalating the blame game. Instead, we all need to listen to what is behind the anger, discover where the disconnect exists, and work to a solution.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt

 

Personality and Leadership - January 6

Dear Chaverim,
Contrary to the sabre-rattling rhetoric of certain national leaders, the size of the nuclear missile launch button is the least relevant thing about a potential nuclear engagement. Kim Jung Un is widely believed to promote the North Korean nuclear program as a pathway to legitimacy in the international community. I am genuinely puzzled by the idea that his tough talk would be a strategy to gain respect. To me it rings of narcissism and drips with insecurity. I would be more swayed by the philosophy of Theodore Roosevelt: speak softly and carry a big stick. 

On the other hand, contrary to my own distaste for it, narcissists seem to be a popular leadership choice in Russia, the Philippines, Turkey, and North Korea to name a few. Even open democracies have freely chosen overpoweringly narcissistic leaders.

While the research is highly critical of narcissistic leadership in both business and political contexts, narcissism does seem to have an occasional advantage. Dr. Jerrold M Post, a professor of Psychiatry at George Washington University argues, "at moments of societal crisis, otherwise mature and psychologically healthy individuals may temporarily come to feel overwhelmed and in need of a strong and self-assured leader. But when the historical moment passes, so too does the need." (see Post, Jerrold M. "Narcissism and the Charismatic Leader-Follower Relationship." Political Psychology, vol. 7 1986).   

Post's prime example of the benefits of narcissistic leadership was Turkey in crisis at the beginning of the 20th century. Post considers Ataturk the ideal leader for his time because he was able to use his dominant personality to be "a force for healing." The founder of modern Turkey imparted on a fractured society a sense of wholeness by forging a "special relationship with his 'ideal-hungry' followers."


Could we say the same of the today's elected [or quasi-elected] narcissists? Is Putin the answer to a Russia struggling for progress and legitimacy after the fall of communism? Is Duterte the tonic for a Philippines beset by poverty and corruption? I think Post is onto something arguing that when people perceive themselves to be in crisis, anyone who seems ultra-sure of himself provides comfort and security regardless of how ill-informed or badly conceived his plan. However, the confidence that such men [always men] broadcast to the masses is merely 'fake news'.

Things were no better in ancient times. Pharaoh was a narcissist, projecting himself as a god. The Book of Ezekiel says that he described himself as the Great Crocodile that patrolled the river Nile. Like today's despots, he had to create a crisis from which to save his subjects. He created paranoia of extreme proportions by forecasting a future alliance between the growing Jewish population and a fictitious enemy. Worst of all, Pharaoh clung to his 'divine' authority and rejected the ever-clearer pattern of the "signs and wonders" of the Gd of Heaven and Earth. In the face of such evidence, people then were no more fooled than we are today by the bluster of our own dictators and autocrats. The Egyptians said to Pharaoh, "we will soon know that Egypt is lost."

Moshe represents the diametric opposite of Pharaoh. Moshe is the humble and self-critical leader. He refuses to believe in himself as the source of his power. He refuses to take all the credit. Moshe's selection as leader is based on his ability to feel the pain of others and to intervene on their behalf to his detriment. He gives up his palace career and status to save the oppressed. Moshe does not own the treasure taken out of Egypt. He must solicit gifts from the tribes, for he is beholden to them. Moshe will wear a tunic with no pockets, because he wishes to demonstrate that he has not taken for himself even a shekel. Pharaoh owned it all. Moshe owned nothing.  

Throughout the narratives of the Bible, Moshe is humble. He will reveal to the daughters of Tzelafchad that he does not know the answer to the question of their inheritance. He will reveal in the case of the wood-chopper who gathered wood on the Sabbath that he does not know how to proceed. He will also confess his ignorance to those prevented from taking part in the Passover offering because of impurity. In each case, he must ask Gd for an answer. He could have faked it - who would have known? The Torah tells us that the single most important leader in Jewish history is thus defined by humility not by arrogance.


In light of the stark differences between Pharaoh and Moshe, I stand by my gut instinct that humility trumps self-confidence in leadership. Moshe inherited a crisis that could match that of any leader. As Jerrold Post says about the virtue of narcissism in leaders "when the historical moment passes, so too does the need." Moshe's leadership needed to be enduring. Thus, there was no place for leadership based on "it's all about me" because that is just plain narcissism. Moshe is the opposite of the poor players of history who strut and fret their hour upon the stage and then are heard no more. Those are the leaders full of sound and fury - full of themselves ­- who will ultimately signify nothing. That the leadership style exemplified by Moshe has preserved the Jewish people since the Exodus is proof that humility is Gd's archetype for enduring leadership.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt

 

Please note: The new Weekly Torah Primer will be sent on Mondays, going forward.

 

Vacation Primer #2 - December 29

Dear Chaverim,

Last week we published our first Vacation Torah Primer and we set a new record for Schara Tzedeck, the highest click through rate in our history!!  We learned a little about what people enjoyed and what they passed over.  We have tried to include a slightly more refined list for Parshat Shemot.  

We encourage you to take the opportunity to do some individual learning. To further this effort I have compiled some sources on the Torah reading of the following week, Shemot, Shabbat of January 6, 2018.

The Mitzvah of Torah study is a daily one, you might choose to pick one of these sources for each day of the week to build a steady diet of Torah study.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt

Print

Rav Shimon Klein

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Dr. Yael Shemesh


For Kids Torah Tots--a page for younger children

Parsha Pages for Youth (a multi page packet, with English, Hebrew, Sudoku and Cartoons on the Parsha)

Audio Torah From Yeshiva University

Parshat Shemot: From Elastigirl to Excalibur - Moshe's Origin Story

Canadian

Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner: Mental Health in Jewish Law - Canadian

Dr. Yael Ziegler

Vancouver Torah Learning Centre

Rabbi Ari Federgrun's classes:

Why Bury? Different Perspectives on the Body After Death

Life After Death: Perspectives on the Soul


 

 

 

Vacation Torah Study Primer - December 23

Dear Chaverim,

The next couple weeks often offer some extra time off work and school with both statutory holidays, school holidays and a general slowdown in the pace of business in most professions.  We encourage you to take the opportunity to do some individual learning. To further this effort I have compiled some sources on the Torah reading of the following week, The Shabbat of December 30th, Parshat Vayechi.   This is really just a sample of the vast world of electronic Torah.  In this sampling you will find, video, audio and print sources, local, Israeli and North American content.  We have also included a special site for kids, Torah Tots.

The Mitzvah of Torah study is a daily one, you might choose to pick one of these sources for each day of the week to build a steady diet of Torah study.

Print

Rav Yoel Bin Nun

http://etzion.org.il/en/yaakov%E2%80%99s-blessings-menashe-and-efraim

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

http://rabbisacks.org/parsha/vayechi/

For Kids

Torah Tots--a page for younger children

http://www.torahtots.com/parsha.htm

Parsha Pages for Youth (a multi page packet, with English, Hebrew, Sudoku and Cartoons on the Parsha)

https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/87a86f_27996fa5757d4d278b88ffbbb9a5fbde.pdf

Audio Torah From Yeshiva University

Did Joseph Forgive His Brothers?

http://www.yutorah.org/sidebar/lecture.cfm/891493/rabbi-yehuda-turetsky/machshava-on-the-parsha-did-yosef-ever-forgive-his-brothers-rabbeinu-bechayeh-ohr-hachaim-and-rav-shteinman/

On Wills and Estates

http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/870733/rabbi-daniel-stein/wills-and-estate-planning/

Shani Taragin--Yosef and Yehuda the first Religious Zionists.

http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/870855/mrs-shani-taragin/yosef-and-yehudah-the-first-religious-zionist-leaders/

Canadian

Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner  

http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/801766/rabbi-mordechai-torczyner-yu-torah-mitzion-toronto-kollel

 

Vancouver Torah Learning Centre


 

iBelieve?: The Age of the Universe by Rabbi Federgrun of the Vancouver Torah Learning Centre

http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/891567/rabbi-ari-federgrun/ibelieve-the-age-of-the-universe/

The Housing Crisis and the Ethics of Rent Control by Rabbi Federgrun (VTLC)

http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/891568/rabbi-ari-federgrun/the-housing-crisis-and-the-ethics-of-rent-control/

Video

Rav Shlomo Riskin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4DDEEbKy6o  

Rav Yitzchak Breitowitz

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4xziGHkpaM  

Rav Benny Lau (Hebrew)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_PkWaYSyLY

Print (Hebrew / English toggle is available) Torah From the Bar Ilan Faculty

https://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/vayechi/vayechi.shtml

 

 

 

Chanukah Stories - December 15
 

Dear Chaverim,

The following is a modified version of the Yizkor Sermon of Yom Kippur 5778 - reproduced here for its connection to Chanukah.

There is a story told of many generations of the Hasidic masters:

When the Baal Shem Tov had a difficult task before him, he would go to a certain place in the woods, light a fire and meditate in prayer - and what he had set out to perform was done. A generation later, when the Maggid of Mezeritch was faced with the same task he would go to the same place in the words and say, "we can no longer light the fire, but we can still speak the prayers - and what he wanted done became reality. Again, a generation later, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov had to perform this task. He too went into the woods and said, "we can no longer light a fire, no more do we know the secret meditations belonging to the prayer, but we do know the place in the woods to which it all belongs and that must be sufficient." And sufficient it was. But when another generation had passed and Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin was called upon to perform the task, he sat down on his golden chair in his castle and said, "we cannot light the fire, we cannot speak the prayers, we do not know the place, but we can tell the story of how it was done."  And the storyteller adds, the story which he told had the same effect as the actions of the other three.  

I have told this before, but I need to tell it again. I find it sums up so much of what animates my own Judaism, my own life. There is something about the act of telling our stories that is powerfully animating.

There is some research that reflects the power of narrative as a tool for attaining resilience. Psychologist Dan McAdams of Northwestern University found that people who feel they live meaningful lives and contribute to society share a narrative pattern. They tell stories that focus on redemption. The act of telling stories of redemption is itself redemptive. These stories are transformative because they teach us how to move from trouble to rescue, from adversity to strength, and from bad to good. Redemptive stories turn suffering into a positive emotional state. In our Canadian lexicon of heroes the best-known versions of these stories are of Terry Fox and Rick Hanson ­- both of whom turned a life-changing diagnosis into meaningful action.   

The Torah teaches the lesson of meaningful narrative in the negative example of the prophet Jonah. Jonah ends up in the belly of the great fish because he refuses to believe in transformation and change. He is disgusted by the idea that Gd would forgive the people of Nineveh, because in his estimation their transformation is only a veneer. Jonah paraphrases the covenant of forgiveness in which Gd is described as patient, slow to anger, merciful and truthful. However, Jonah cannot utter the word truthful in the context of Gd's judgement of Nineveh and swaps in the words, forgiving of evil in place of truthful.

As a Jewish community, we have been bequeathed millions of stories of redemption. They are the stories of immigrants from Nazi-occupied lands, Russia, the Soviet Union, Iraq, Morocco, and Egypt. They are the stories of people who fought Hitler and communism and who built the State of Israel and the institutions of our community.

The stories of our grandparents are redemptive. They are about bravery, perseverance, and faith. We are sometimes made jealous by their stories, because we know that we are not as tough as they were. We know that we live pampered and coddled lives compared to the adversity they overcame.  

When we begin our narratives with, "my bubbe used to, or my zeyde used to..."  we become bound to them through their stories. They connect us to something important. They help us understand our place of belonging in the broader world. They help us to make their story our own. They help us to be the continuation of their acts of redemption.

The declaration of this is how my grandparents did this is a transformative moment. It is when their action becomes mine. It is when the signature of a ritual, recipe, or act of charity becomes more than an instant. It becomes a signature of identity.

As we connect with a particular story from bubbe and zeyde, they connect us to the larger transformative narrative of the Jewish people. Passover, Chanukah, Shavuot, and the catalogue of Jewish holidays articulate our resonance with a transformative history.

A limitation of Jewish education in the classroom is that it does not completely connect the student to the transformative narrative of the Jewish people. When the stories are told only in the classroom they run the risk of just being academic exercises.

This is an unfortunate truth of Jewish supplementary schooling in North America. One of the prevailing themes of religious education in the baby boom era was that parents wanted to drop their children off to soak up Jewish content in their education. The most satisfied parents were those who felt that by sending their children to a Jewish school, they were free to do as they pleased at home, work, and in the community at large. This sentiment was summed up by a participant of a landmark study of the Chicago suburbs - the Lakeville Study - reported anonymously to shield the Chicago community from embarrassment. "I like [it]. It gives my boy a good Hebrew education. And they've left me alone - I've never been inside." Another acknowledged: "We joined for the kids. The kids like it. We are satisfied. We feel no need for religion." (Wertheimer, Jack. "Jewish Education in the United States: Recent Trends and Issues." The American Jewish Year Book, 1999,3-115).

The authors of the study said the following.

Parents who hold to a pattern of minimal ritualism appear to rely primarily, and in some cases, almost exclusively, on the religious school for the Jewish socialization of their children. This dependence on the Jewish school constitutes a radical departure from the traditional approach to the rearing of the Jewish child. In past eras, the effort of the school to transmit the culture to their children represented merely a continuation of efforts already initiated by the parents. In North America that changed and the function of socialization into Jewish life, knowledge and culture has been separated from its traditional moorings in the family.

Our job is to connect the future generations to an ongoing story to ensure that they know we are all connected to the great story of Jewish transformation.  

One more story that captures the idea.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz recounted that the first year after his zeyde died, he went to his bubbe to light Chanukah candles. He lit them and saw that his bubbe was sad. "Bubbe, I know why you are sad. You miss zeyde. I also miss zeyde." "No," said bubbe, "that's not why I'm sad." "Did I make a mistake in the lighting? Did I do anything wrong?" "No. What you did was fine." "So, bubbe, why are you sad?" "Because," said Rabbi Steinsaltz's bubbie, "zeyde would dance after he lit the candles. You lit the candles but you didn't dance."

I think what has been lost is best told by a story. Yeshivot and day schools are indispensable. They are a cornerstone of Jewish life. They are part of the future of the Jewish diaspora. We would be entirely hopeless without them. However, we must remember they are a supplement to - not a substitute for - the transmission of our Messorah, tradition, Torah, Jewish identity, and our story.

It is hard to imagine schools being able to deliver that kind of memory and transcendence of the moment when zeyde dances. Connection of that magnitude is nearly irreproducible in the school context.

We must make our Jewish education vertical and integrated. Jewish education cannot be the alternative to the family. Jewish education must be an extension of Jewish family and community.  

We feel a little sheepish. Who dances after lighting Chanukah candles? Do we even feel worthy or authentic dancing at the Chanukah candles? I am not sure we have a choice. We need to recapture those stories, those moments. We have to ensure that we sing the kiddush and dance at Friday night services. We have to get our hands messy together making challah. We have to cry together at Yom Hashoah and Tisha B'av. We have to sing together when we make the charoset and dine at the seder table. We have to tell the story of how our grandparents built the schools and saved Israel in '48 and '67. We have to tell the story of how they survived Lodz and Warsaw, how they sang Selichot on the chain gangs, and how they resettled refugees and gave immigrants jobs. We have to know we are all vehicles of Jewish education. We are all links in the chain and, yes, we do need to dance after lighting the Chanukah candles.

I have written many eulogies for bubbes and the zeydes - enough to know that we have the stories and the moments to keep the narrative going.  

We cannot light the fire - that generation has faded. We cannot speak the prayers - that generation has gone silent. We do not know the place - that generation has passed through. However, we can tell the story of how it all was done. Each generation's storytellers add to the story to the same effect as those who went before. In the telling, across the thread of time and place, we all dance around the light of the Menorah.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt 

Sun, 18 February 2018 3 Adar 5778