Thoughts on Putin and Trump’s meeting in Helsinki– A Contrarian Point of View

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Some people may view this topic too incendiary to write about—I get it. Yet, it is an important issue—especially when we consider the high stakes that are at risk. My point of view is contrarian. Consider me a contrarian life-long Democrat who values truth and integrity above politics.

Admittedly, President Trump can be a lightning rod when it comes to some of the things that he says off the cuff. Yet, he has been surprisingly effective in the international arena. By “arena,” the images of the Roman Coliseum comes to mind. I thought President Obama or Bush had his detractors, but President Donald Trump is in a league of his own.

With this thought in mind, I would like to share some thoughts on the President’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, who in his own way, is every bit as complicated as our President.

Before Trump met with Putin, I could hear the naysayers say that having a summit with Putin was a bad idea. What could Trump gain from such a meeting? If he publicly confronts Putin about the Russians interfering in the American elections, then it is quite possible the critics of Trump would construe such a remark as an admission that he did not legitimately “win the election.” Conversely, if Trump did not publicly address the problem, then his critics would view him as weak—or worse argue that Trump is a puppet of Putin.

It reminds me of an old story—one, in fact, that is relevant to the holiday of Tisha’ b’Av

  • In Roman times, a Jew once walked in front of Emperor Hadrian and greeted him. The King asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am a Jew.” Hadrian exclaimed, “How dare a Jew to pass in front of Hadrian and greet him?” and he ordered his officers, “Off with his head!” Another Jew passed and, seeing what happened to the first man, did not greet him. Hadrian asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “A Jew.”
  • He exclaimed, “How dare a Jew pass in front of Hadrian without giving a greeting?” and again ordered his officers, “Off with his head!” His senators said, “We cannot understand your actions. He who greeted you was put to death, and he who did not greet you was put to death!”
  • Hadrian replied, “How dare you advise me on how I should execute those I hate?” And the Holy Spirit kept crying out, “You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause. You have seen all their malice, all their plots against me.” (Lam. 3:59-60).[1]

If you substitute “Democratic Party” (or even certain members of the Republican Party), and change “Jew” to “Trump,” you have an almost perfect parallel to the midrashic story mentioned above.

Arguably, Trump’s greatest criticisms come from two major groups: (1)  Those who hate Trump and who will criticize the President for anything he does. (2). Those few in the military and intelligence communities who are wholly bought and owned by the war industries, for it is in their financial interests to have the US and Russia armed to the teeth and at each other’s throats. Eisenhower warned us about the excesses of the American military complex.

One of the more objective Republican critics of President Trump is Rand Paul, whose fierce independence as a thinker and as a leader has challenged the President on numerous occasions in the past. He is sometimes known as the “the Republican who saved ObamaCare.” In an article he wrote for the Washington Post, his remarks on the Trump-Putin meeting impressed me as clear-headed and thought-provoking. Paul was supportive of both these men meeting. Paul further pointed out to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Trump’s legion of critics are motivated by a mutual animus they have for him. Comically, he even referred to the enemies of Trump as suffering from “a bit of Trump derangement syndrome.”

Now that was truly funny!

When Paul was asked by Blitzer “Who do you trust [on election meddling], the American intelligence community . . . or Putin?” Paul gave an interesting diplomatic answer, ““What I would say is that all power needs to have checks and balances, and I think our intelligence community has way too much power.”[2] . (This interview happened before Trump claimed Tuesday that he misspoke when he gave Putin the benefit of the doubt).” It is a pity Trump did not have Rand Paul coaching him. If I were him, I’d bring him along next time he meets with Putin.

Paul agrees with Trump that engaging pariah global powers is more productive than punishing them. This writer agrees with this objective. Shaming a world leader is a very dangerous thing to do—especially when it is guaranteed to escalate tensions and make a potential adversary. more hostile.

The world has become a very dangerous place over the last thirty years or more. The Iranian presence in Syria is so serious; a war between Israel and Iran is almost inevitable. The two most powerful leaders of the world have within their ability to take control of this dangerous situation.

The proliferation of nuclear technology is another serious problem that can engulf Western Civilization with destruction. Once again, the two leaders of the most powerful nuclear nations must establish a dialogue and address these issues. Remarkably, Trump’s diplomacy with China and North Korea has the potential of yielding positive fruit. Whether you hate Trump or not, at least give him credit for being innovative and bold—whereas leaders in the past, beginning with Clinton, Bush, and Obama and their underlings only appeased the North Korean dictators.

Give Trump credit for decimating the ranks of ISIS, who proved they are a presence that must be utterly defeated for world peace.

One of the most memorable lines Trump expressed—one that really ought to command our respect, “I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, than risk peace in pursuit of politics.” Once again, this statement comes from a man whose vision may help pave the way for a safer world for all of us to co-inhabit.

As my good Internet Indian friend, Imitz Mohummad, wrote to me, “These jerks want Trump to punch Putin in the nose and start a nuclear war with the other major nuclear force on Earth. I’m a patriot and a believer in a powerful America. I have also witnessed the body bags filled with the fruit of American youth when fat old saber rattlers play soldier. Trump was masterful in Helsinki. The Swamp Donkeys may scream but tonight the world is better off that these two men shook hands!”

Amen!

Postscript:

One of the most interesting remarks regarding the Russian meddling came from Putin who floated an offer for members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to “come and work” with Russian investigators and interrogate those individuals, whom Mueller recently indicted.  During the Monday press conference, Putin said Russia would allow the special counsel to “send an official request” to the Kremlin to question the 12 Russian intelligence officers who had been charged by Mueller with crimes related to election meddling just three days earlier. Moreover, there is an extradition policy that both the US and Russia have agreed to.

Trump’s reaction was cute, Putin “offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

Indeed it is.

But this is assuming that Mueller or his team take Putin up on his offer. I doubt it, much like the Roman senators could not persuade Hadrian to let go of his animus toward the Jews.

Lastly, and Putin also made an interesting counter-argument that should not be ignored. Putin accused U.S. officials of committing crimes against Russia and said his government would want to question them in return. Specifically, he mentioned an investor named Bill Browder, a  former high-level investor in Russia who has become one of Putin’s most oft-cited enemies for his role in lobbying for the U.S. sanctions bill known as the Magnitsky Act.

Putin countered that Browder’s associates sent $400 million in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 election.[3]

As always, follow the money trail. Corruption in American politics is a problem no honest American can ignore. Perhaps the inescapable moral comes from the famous proverb, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Do not criticize others if you have similar weaknesses yourself. None of us can afford the sin of self-righteousness.

[1] Lamentations Rabba 3:60,

[2] I would only like to add that the subject of election meddling by the Russians is a topic I would love to address at another time. Simply stated, strong nations do this when it affects a country’s political interest to do so. The Obama administration interfered in the Ukraine elections, which led to Russia’s predictable takeover of the area which holds Russia’s major naval base and sea outlet. The Obama administration interfered in the election of Israel. Lastly, The alleged Russian interference that occurred during the Obama administration did not elicit any criticism from our Commander in Chief, President Obama. The United States, like Russia, has a long history of interfering with elections elsewhere around the globe. See Ishaan Tharoor’s informative article on this subject in the Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/10/13/the-long-history-of-the-u-s-interfering-with-elections-elsewhere/?utm_term=.00572c6d89da.

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via Michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com 

 

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/16/putin-asked-special-counsel-to-come-and-work-with-russia-trump-says.html

Nature Reflects God’s Justice in the Animal Kingdom

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The story is a familiar one. Once a man went out for a walk through the forest. To his sudden surprise, he sees a grizzly bear chasing him. After the bear traps him, he prepares himself for his last rites, he says the Shema Prayer, and to his surprise he sees the bear praying with his eyes closed! But to his surprise, the bear is not reciting the Shema—he is instead saying the blessing, “HaMotzi lechem min ha’aretz!”

By now, most of you heard about how a pride of lions killed suspected poachers at a game reserve in Africa. A field guide found human remains the next day. “Clearly, the poachers had walked into a pride of six lions and some, if not all had been killed,” according to a Facebook post by Fox.

“They were armed with, amongst other things, a high powered rifle with a silencer, an ax, wire cutters and had food supplies for a number of days – all the hallmarks of a gang intent on killing a rhino and removing their horns,” said Fox.

I am reminded of an old medieval aphorism, “Man proposes, but God disposes”

Pious Jews recite Psalm 145:14-17 every day

The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
You give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
You, LORD, are just in all your ways,
faithful in all your works.

After the reading the news story from Africa, this passage took on new meaning for me. Yes, the ways of God are truly just. God not only provides His creatures with an appetizer, but also with main-course and dessert!

Jewish tradition has much to say about hunting.

  • Abbahu said: A man should always strive to identify with the persecuted than of the persecutors as there is none among the birds more persecuted than doves and pigeons, and yet Scripture made them [alone] eligible for the altar (Lev. 1:14).[1]

As Jews, we, in particular, have much to comiserate about whenever we see God’s endangered species being threatened. Anti-Semites, too, have often hunted Jews, throughout history. The Nazis paid a premium for capturing Jews—whether dead or alive.

In the Tanakh, God beckoned Noah to preserve the animal species. The Book of Leviticus tells us “You shall not slaughter an ox or a sheep on one and the same day with its young” (Lev. 22:28). Both Philo of Alexandria and Ramban believe the purpose of this prohibition aims to prevent the destruction of a species. In one famous midrashic text we read:

  • When the Holy Blessed One created the first man, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, “Look at my handiwork, see how beautiful and excellent they are! Everything I have created, I created for you! Be careful that you do not corrupt and destroy My world, for if you corrupt it there is no one to repair it after you.[2]

One of the principle reasons why the Torah limited animals for human consumption that had two kosher characteristics (animals that have split hooves and chew their cud) is to preserve the animal species as a whole. Thus, the Torah imposed limitations upon the human appetite.

Rabbinic law reflects this disdain toward hunting.

  • “How can a man from Israel actively kill an animal for no need other than to fulfill his desire to spend his time hunting? We do not find that people in the Torah are hunters except with Nimrod and Esau. This is not the way of descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…”[3]

One 17th century noted,  “…It is certain that those who shoot arrows after birds and beasts for no purpose at all other than to learn archery, and kill animals for no reason, are destined to stand in judgment for it; for it is not the way of Israel, the holy congregation, to commit evil to any creature for no reason. . .  Killing an animal in order for the joy of pure sport is sheer cruelty “[4]

Anyone who goes to the San Diego Zoo might be surprised at a large number of endangered species that the zoo and other similar habitats are trying to preserve. Unfortunately, there are some people who will do anything to kill these species, for rhino horns are often used in Chinese medicine and their price is considered more valuable than gold.

In my conversation with some Orthodox rabbis, I was surprised to see a number of them argue that there is a place for “big game” centers provided the monies go to promote animal growth in African communities. While this may be true in theory, the corruption and lust for profit may prove to be counterproductive; aside from this, poachers will always try to find a way to circumvent existing laws.

Furthermore, popularizing these big-game trophies only serves to motivate other would be hunters who live for the thrill of the moment.

As Jews who love animals, we cannot stand idly by as malignant people attempt to depopulate the world of these magnificent creatures. Instead of justifying the barbarism of these hunters with contrived Halakhic arguments, we need to remember that God expects human beings and animals to live in a world peaceably with these rare creatures.

One of the great 20th century Jewish mystics, R. Abraham Isaac Kook expressed an ethical thought that people need to hear and consider today:

  • It goes against the clear emotions of the heart that a talmid hakham (Torah scholar), a spiritual man, should be permanently engaged in the taking of animals’ lives. Though shechitah (ritual slaughter)—and in general the consumption of animals—remains a necessity in this world, nevertheless, it would be fitting that this work performed by men who have not yet evolved to the level of refinement of feeling. However, those endowed with ethical sensitivity ought to serve as supervisors (pekidim) in order that the killing of the animals must not become a  barbaric act. Let there be a light that will enter into the heart of meat-eaters–a light that will someday illuminate the world. For those who truly understand the significance of kosher slaughtering, this light is truly contained in the laws of shehitah and tereifot (unfit animals), as is well known to us.[5]

[1] BT Bava Kama 93a

 

[2] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:20.

[3] Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, Shailos U’Teshuvot Noda B’Yehudah, Mehadurah Tinyana, Yoreh De’ah 10.

[4]  Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaidanover, Kav HaYashar 83.

[5] Igrot Rayah, vol. I, p. 230.

Natalie Portman’s Thoughts on the Holocaust

 

Natalie Portman attends the “Sicario” Premiere during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2015 in Cannes, France. /VILLARD_2007034/Credit:VILLARD/NIVIERE/SIPA/1505192039 (Sipa via AP Images)

Natalie Portman lately has developed a penchant for creating headlines about the Jews. This past week, she went on record saying, “The Shoah is no more tragic than other genocides, and that she questioned its prominence in Jewish education.”

When I first read her comment, I had to dig deeper into the story. In a country where over a third of the people no longer know about the Holocaust, I think it is important that Jews especially never forget what happened to our people.

She recalls that in her education in Israel, she was shocked to learn about the Rwandan Genocide.

  • “I was shocked that that [genocide] was going on while I was in school. We were learning only about the Holocaust and it was never mentioned and it was happening while I was in school. That is exactly the type of problem with the way it’s taught. I think it needs to be taught, and I can’t speak for everyone because this was my personal education,” she told The Independent.

In a way, I cannot blame Ms. Portman for expressing herself the way she did. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, and being from a large family of Holocaust we often heard growing up hearing about international tragedies, “What’s in it for the Jews?” Or, “What does it mean for the Jews?” As Jews, we tend to see the outside world only as it relates to the Jewish people. Some of my Orthodox and Hassidic friends acted at times that they could care less if something bad happens to someone else—only if it doesn’t happen to the Jews.

But is this behavior really unique to Jews? Do we see Armenians complaining about the Holocaust of the Jews? Or American Indians complain about the deaths of black African slaves? Do we hear any protest from certain Democratic black leaders about the black slave practice that is taking place in over 22 Arab and African countries today?

Nada. Zip. Not a whimper.

Perhaps it is natural for ethnic groups who have experienced great suffering to stay focused on their own experiences, rather than speak out about other people’s experiences. This, of course, does not make it right, but perhaps the Jews are no different from the other peoples of our world.

Or are we really the same? Not all wars of genocide are necessarily the same.

WHY IS THE HOLOCAUST DIFFERENT?

Actually, in many ways, the Holocaust of the Jews was different because Germany was not some backward third-world country we see in the world today. Germany was one of the leading technologically advanced nations in the world—yet their technology yielded to an animus that was savage—even atavistic. Germany was also the leader in culture, the arts, the sciences, philosophy—even in biblical studies! Rudolph Kittel’s brilliant NT Greek lexicon of the New Testament remains one of my favorite reference texts, but Kittel was an avowed supporter of Hitler. Even Carl Jung, one of the most brilliant psychologists who had numerous Jewish disciples endorsed the Hitlerian view that the Jew is a parasite that subsists upon European culture to survive.

The systematic and bureaucratic management of the Holocaust, employing the newly minted IBM computer technology to quickly but efficiently identify and round up Jews and other minorities, used them as slave laborers and ultimately exterminating them.[1] Therefore, Ms. Portman, the Holocaust is different from that perspective.

Nazi Germany proves that technological evolution and moral evolution are not conjoined, as we would wish it to be. This is a valuable lesson—especially today.

ISRAEL IS NOT PERFECT

Now, as far as Israel goes, Israel has always tried to live by this ethical principle; it has gone out of its way to help any people who have suffered catastrophic loses, whether through natural disasters or disasters that are man-made. We could expect no less from a people who suffered from the Holocaust.

Is Israel perfect? Of course not. No country is.

But I suspect Natalie Portman believes that as Jews, we ought to act better. Moreover, on this point, I think she is correct. Israeli education has not always lived up to its potential—and it ought to teach its citizens about the history of genocide in high school history classes.

THE MATTER OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE

Natalie Portman might have made a much stronger point, was she more familiar with 21st-century history. In fact, most of Israel would have applauded her had she made the following point.

For decades, the State of Israel has refused to recognize the Armenian genocide in 1915-1917—at least officially. Although over 85 % of Israelis recognize this historical reality as having taken place, Israel—because of its tepid relationship with Turkey—rejected a bill sponsored by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid to have Israel recognize the Armenian Genocide, in a preliminary vote on February 14th, 2018. Lapid said, “There is no reason that the Knesset, which represents a nation that went through the Holocaust, shouldn’t recognize the Armenian Genocide and have a remembrance day for it.”[2] For the record, neither did US President Barack Obama ever use the word “genocide” in connection with what happened to the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.[3]

My father Leo Israel Samuel, who lost five brothers, sisters, and parents, worked in several concentration camps as a tailor. Some of you may recall the movie about Oscar Schindler, where he said, “Where can I find a good tailor?” Well, my father’s tailoring skills saved his life. For a short time toward the end of the war, my father worked for Amon Leopold Göth was an Austrian SS commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp in Płaszów, (better known to you as the villain of Schindler’s List) located in German-occupied Poland. Göth was once boasting, “We Germans showed the Turks how to kill the Armenians.” My father sheepishly asked, “Who were the Armenians?” He snarled, “they were a type of Jew.”

All genocides are interrelated. Had Hitler seen a true war crime tribunal carry out justice, perhaps he might have reconsidered his plans to destroy the Jews. Then again, maybe not.

Regarding the Armenian genocide, the world refused to do anything to the Ottoman Turks responsible for committing the genocide; nor did they stand trial. Political pressure stymied all Allied forces to establish an international tribunal in Malta from 1919-1920, where Ottoman war criminals held in detention. No justice was ever given to the poor Armenian people.[4] I am convinced Israel will eventually do the right thing and acknowledge this terrible genocide; but to do so, it must risk deteriorating its relationship with Turkey.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

On a personal note, I have often co-written Yom HaShoah programs with my rabbinic and non-Jewish ministers at Yom Hashoah events in Iowa and Illinois, which sometimes drew about 700 people! We dedicated an entire week to exploring the different historical, ethical, and theological aspects of the Shoah. Every year, we crafted a mission statement for the program that addressed the various genocides taking place along with the traditional enemies of the Jewish people who still dream of destroying our people in a second Holocaust.

In all the years I attended the Yom HaShoah events here in San Diego, I do not recall ever hearing local Jews address the kind of moral issues Natalie Portman brought up. That needs to change.

The real question we must ask ourselves is, are we willing to act as our “brothers’ and sisters’” keepers? Perhaps the most profound Christian interpretation of this question comes from the early 19th-century Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), where he writes about Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

  • I put it to the consciences of many silent Christians, who have never yet made known to others what God has made known to them—How can you be clear from guilt in this matter? Do not say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” for I shall have to give you a horrible answer if you do. I shall have to say, “No, Cain, you are not your brother’s keeper, but you are your brother’s killer.” If, by your effort, you have not sought his good, by your neglect you have destroyed him.”[5]

I would just like to give Natalie Portman one reason why Jews today should never forget the Holocaust. As recently as April 21, 2018, some Gazans sent large swastika kite bombs over Israel, some of which caused considerable damage, in honor of Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Practically on the day of Yom HaShoah itself, the Iranian general Seyyed Abdolrahim Mousavi, who is currently acting as the Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, issued a threatening statement against Israel. He said, “We will destroy the Zionist entity at lightning speed, and thus shorten the 25 years it still has left . . .”

Hitler’s ghost lives on—whether American Jews want to admit it or not.

Once again, I want to extend kudos to Natalie Portman for bringing up a topic that Jews ought to discuss. Because each of us is our brother’s and sister’s keeper, we must remember the wise aphorism of George Santayana who taught, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

[1]https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/01/03/18/reviews/010318.18schoent.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Edwin%2520Black%2520IBM%2520and%2520the%2520Holocaust&st=cse

[2] https://anca.org/israeli-knesset-committee-recognizes-armenian-genocide/

[3] Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3052102/Harrowing-photo-collection-shows-world-true-horror-Armenian-genocide.html#ixzz5ETMKtAju

[4] Turkey’s EU Minister, Judge Giovanni Bonello And the Armenian Genocide – ‘Claim about Malta Trials is nonsense’. The Malta Independent. 19 April 2012. Retrieved 10 August 2013

[5] C.H. Spurgeon and T. Carter, 2,200 Quotations: From the writings of Charles H. Spurgeon: Arranged topically or textually and indexed by subject, Scripture, and people (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), 228. Vol. 33. 672.

An Ancient Ethical Controversy: Preserving Human Life and Its Moral Implications

Image result for shipwreck holding on to a plank pictures images

 Another one of the most interesting questions found in the Talmud dealing with the matter of human survival in a hostile environment where the possibilities of survival remain limited. [1]

Two are walking on the road. In the hand of one of them is a canteen of water. If they both drink-both will die. If only one drinks—he will reach his destination alive. Ben Petura contends that it is better for both to drink and die, rather than for one to see the death of his fellow. This was the accepted teaching until Rabbi Akiba came and interpreted the verse from “That thy brother may live with thee,” (Leviticus 25:36), i.e., “your life precedes the life of your fellow.” [2]

There is an interesting parallel to the Ben Petura and Rabbi Akiba debate that may be found in the Stoic writings of Cicero, who cites the Stoic philosopher Hecataeus, regarding two equally wise men who survived a shipwreck and were holding to the same wooden spar that was capable of supporting one of them. The question posed was this: Should one relinquish his hold and save the other, and if so, which one? The Stoic thinkers reasoned that the decision had to be made based on the individual’s utility to society. The person whose objective value is less to the republic has the duty to sacrifice himself for the more “valuable” citizen. [3]

Lest we think this discussion has no relevance for our modern age, think again. When the famous Titanic sunk in 1912, 1,514 people drowned out of a total 2,224 people on board – impacted mostly the lower class passengers it’s now revealed by experts who point to the very rich as being saved first over women and children–according to Don Lynch, the historian of the Titanic Historical Society.

Yes, first class has its benefits.

This Stoic position disagrees with both Ben Petura and Rabbi Akiba, for at no point in their deliberations does the utilitarian value of the individual ever come into play in the Talmudic discussion regarding the canteen of water.

Beyond that, it is important to note that Ben Petura does not say that say that the owner of the canteen is obligated to relinquish his portion of the water to save the life of his fellow—only that they must share it.  One could surmise that according to Ben Petura the fact that we have two human beings in need of water for their survival, respecting the image of God demands that one must do his best to preserve the life of his fellow while not endangering his own life in the process for perhaps both individuals will forage their way to civilization in the nick of time.  Rabbi Akiba, on the other hand, seems to think that the individual has the responsibility to preserve one’s own life, for who is to say that the life of his neighbor is more important than his own?

Inevitably, the Ben Petura/Rabbi Akiba controversy invites comparison to yet another perspective championed by Jesus in the first century, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man gives up his life for his friends”  (John 15:13). Every act of heroism and self-sacrifice epitomizes the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching. Ben Petura beckons us to rise above self-interest. I for one do not believe Jesus recommended that someone must morally sacrifice himself to save another’s life; rather, in real life, we see people like soldiers falling on hand-grenades to save their platoon; firemen running into blazing buildings to rescue human–and sometimes even animal life! Heroism can never be commanded, but those who unilaterally give themselves to save others–they are truly deserving of our praise because they remind us why the heroes of our society are very special.

Ultimately, nobody in an ethical dilemma is going to say, “Time out! I need to look this up in the Code of Jewish Law!” Rather the problems we examined call for a response from our conscience.

Like philosopher Emmanuel Levinas observes, “the human face commands us to respond ethically toward our neighbor.”  In short, it is my opinion that Ben Petura’s view offers a more enlightened ethical view and in practice, the halacha has almost invariably followed Ben Petura rather than Rabbi Akiba.


Notes:

[1]   BT  Baba Metzia 62a, Sifra, ed. Weiss, Behar VI, p. 109 c.

[2] Ben Petura’s view does definitely not represent the typical  Jewish outlook on life and love that is later expressed in rabbinic literature; in fact, Ben Petura’s opinion reminds us of the Christian interpretation of love which claims to be universal. It, therefore, does not come as a complete surprise that some scholars have expressed the opinion that Ben Petura is, in fact, a corruption of the name Ben Pandora or Ben Pantera. Pandora or Pantera is the name of Joseph, the father of Jesus. (See Targum 11 on the scroll of Esther ) If so, it is quite possible that Ben Petura is none other than Jesus himself (See also Tosefta Chullin 2:22,24)! In that case, the Talmud states both opinions so as to counteract early Christian interpretations of the Torah.

[3] Cited from Ephraim E. Urbach,  The Halakhah: The Sources and Development  (Jerusalem: Masada Lmtd. Yad LaTamid 1986), p. 204.

You Shall not Covet: Getting Caught Within the Web of Desire Part 2

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(Picture: Nathan the Prophet confronts King David’s theft of Bathsheba)

The covetous road often entangles numerous other prohibition in its web. Below is a famous medieval parable about the dangers of coveting, and how the covetous person may ultimately get much more than he originally bargained.

On Shabbat eve, he went and broke down a thin wall between them, thus transgressing “Remember and observe the Sabbath.” As if that weren’t enough, he then rapes the woman whom he lusted after, and in the process, he violated the proscriptions of “Do not covet,’ and “Do not commit adultery.”

Alas, his appetite for the forbidden knew no bounds. After having his way with his neighbor’s wife, he helps himself to the family jewels.  The woman cried out, “Is there no end to your base character?” To silence her, the sinful man murders her, thus violating the law, “You shall not murder.”

After breaking a medley of biblical precepts found in the Ten Commandments, the man’s parents castigated him. And in defiance, the sinful son struck his parents, thus violating the precept commanding him to “Honor your father and mother.”

When he was arrested, he was taken to court and he cleverly testifies falsely with the help of his friends, that he had taken only his own property (i.e., also known as “The O.J. Simpson Defense”). He claimed that everything he took, was really his. Until now, he could not reclaim his property. However, once the robbers had broken the wall and killed his wife,  the opportunity was ripe for him to collect his property. Such a person has also transgressed, “Do not testify falsely.”

And kept on denying the accusations, one after the other. In doing so, he also transgressed “Do not swear falsely.” But in the end, his evil was revealed and his offense publicized. His shame was so great that he gave himself up to corruption and denied the Living God, thus transgressing “I am the LORD your God.” Finally, he became addicted to idol worship and bowed down to and served idols, thus transgressing “Do not have any other Gods beside me” and “Do not bow down to them and do not serve them.” And all this was caused by coveting. We see, then, that he who is covetous is close to transgressing the entire Torah. [1]

And now you know the rest of the story . . .

=========

Notes:

[1] Orchot HaTsadikim, Chapter 14: The Gate of Jealousy.

You Shall not Covet: Is it Possible to Legislate a Feeling? Part 1.

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From Maimonides’ description, it is clear that the man who covets is someone who has an unhealthy soul and may not realize it. By being unconscious of this problem, his behavior embarks on a path of self-destruction and moral ruin. Based on this reading of Maimonides, it becomes clear the role of Nathan the Prophet played in confronting King David for his illicit affair with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11). From a purely Maimonidean perspective, Nathan acted as a physician of the soul for David by prescribing him a regimen for David’s complete moral and spiritual rehabilitation. It is always intriguing to see how Maimonides’ exposition of coveting compares with other famous Judaic thinkers of history. Some of these scholars also examined the psychological component in the negative imperative “You shall not covet.” Yet, it is strange Maimonides did not illustrate his point by mentioning this famous biblical story!

Abraham Ibn Ezra: Now I shall present a parable: Know that a peasant who is of sound mind, and who sees a princess who is beautiful, will not covet her in his heart, to lie with her, for he knows that it is impossible. Do not consider this peasant to be like a lunatic, who would desire wings to fly to heaven, even though it is impossible. Likewise, a person does not desire to lie with his mother, although she may be beautiful, for he has been accustomed since his youth to know that she is forbidden to him.

In the same way, an intelligent person must know that he will not find a beautiful woman or wealth because of his wisdom or knowledge, but only if God allows it to him… and therefore an intelligent person does not desire it or covet it. When he knows that God has forbidden his neighbor’s wife to him, then she is more elevated in his eyes than the princess in the eyes of the peasant. Therefore, he is satisfied with his portion and does not allow his heart to covet and desire something that is not his, for he knows that God does not wish to give it to him; he cannot take it by force or by his thoughts or schemes. He has faith in his Creator, that He will provide for him and do what is good in His eyes.”[1]

Philo of Alexandria: While Philo‘s explanation is similar to Maimonides, but he expands much further on the proscription’s psychological aspects:

This commandment aims to curtail desire, the fountain of all iniquity, which from it flows all the most serious offenses—whether of individuals or of states; whether important or trivial; whether they relate to one’s life and soul; or whether the coveting pertains just to external objects. Like fire consuming wood, desire expands, consuming, destroying everything that is in its path. Indeed, many other subordinate sins subsumed under this proscription. These laws exist in order to correct those persons who are receptive to improvement; these other laws also serve to chastise those stubborn people who dedicate their entire lives to the indulgence of passion.[2]

The law here aims to curtail desire, the fountain of all iniquity, which from it flows all the most serious offenses—whether of individuals or of states; whether important or trivial; whether they relate to one’s life and soul; or whether the coveting pertains just to external objects. Like fire consuming wood, desire expands, consuming, destroying everything that is in its path. Indeed, many other subordinate sins subsumed under this restriction. These laws exist in order to correct those persons who are receptive to improvement; these other laws also serve to chastise those stubborn people who dedicate their entire lives to the indulgence of passion.[3]



[1] Ibn Ezra on Exodus 20:17.

[2] The Decalogue 173-174.

[3] The Decalogue 173-174.

From Medieval Book Burning to Modern Internet Censorship

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 Information is the currency of democracy. —Thomas Jefferson

When I was a young sixteen-year-old, I remember becoming involved in the Chabad movement in Los Angelos, CA. I remember purchasing a translation of Judah Halevi’s classic theological work, “The Kuzari” that was translated by the early 20th-centuryOriental scholar Hartwig Hirschfeld. When an Orthodox rabbi looked over the book, he declared it, “heresy”, and ordered me to burn my newly purchased book. At the time, I protested and asked, “Could I merely pull out the Introduction and burn that section, but keep the book?” He said that would be fine.

For many years, I felt ashamed of my behavior. Several decades later I decided to use this personal anecdote as a teachable lesson. Often, I have long since pointed out to my students, burning ideas is a cowardly approach to dealing with personal insecurities about faith, as Freud observed long ago in his book, The Future of an Illusion. The only way to defeat ideas you don’t like is to come up with better and more convincing ideas and solutions.

The historian Norman Bentwich (1883-1971) wrote, “Philosophers tend to be viewed with suspicion by a large part of the community. Philosophers, by the very excellence of their thought, have in all races towered above the comprehension of the people, and have often aroused the suspicion of the religious teachers.” [1]

Bentwich makes a valid point. In the history of Judaism over the last 1900 years, Talmudists often viewed Jewish philosophers with a measure of mistrust, accusing them of harboring beliefs that were too dangerous for the masses. Throughout much of the yeshiva world, from the 18th century to the 21st century, no rabbinic student dared pick up the Guide to study—at least during the daytime, but you could see students huddled in their rooms, or sometimes even under a table reading the Guide clandestinely.

Maimonides’ philosophical ideas met considerable resistance in his day, and in the year 1233, not long after his death, Jewish leaders solicited the Dominican inquisitors and claimed Maimonides’ “heretical” teachings threatened to undermine all faiths. As one might expect, they burnt Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed at Montpellier, in southern France.

But a change of heart even amongst Maimonides’ greatest critics occurred once they realized they inadvertently made themselves vulnerable to future Dominican incursions. Within almost a decade, Pope Gregory IX led a campaign to burn other books held sacred by Jews, such as the Talmud. In the year 1242, the Catholic clergy collected twenty-four wagons of the Talmud, which they burnt in Rome. Thus, a dangerous precedent became established.

This condemnation was all the more ironic, considering how the Dominican theologians Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) each appropriated many ideas from Maimonides.[2] In the Summa, Aquinas quotes R. Moses twenty-four times, always reverently referring to him as, “Rabbi Moses.”  Aquinas, in particular, was an Italian Dominican priest and Doctor of the Church.

After Aquinas’ death, William of Ockham (1285-1321) and John Duns Scotus attempted to ban Thomas’ works as dangerous to the Church. Yet, the quest for a pure and acceptable theology did not end with William of Ockham’s condemnation of Aquinas, for in 1324, the Catholic Church later condemned some of Ockham’s works as containing heretical ideas,[3] thus proving that Bentwich’s point was correct, as mentioned above.

Back to the Present

You may ask: Is this relevant? It definitely is! The above historical discussion about censorship proved to be one of many indictments for the medieval Church and rabbis who engaged in that kind of intellectual internecine warfare against their faith’s freethinkers and other intrepid intellectual explorers. But nowadays, with the benefit of hindsight, it is all the atrocious for Facebook and Twitter to engage in blocking political content of ideas its leaders and engineers find “offensive.”

Today, James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas released a surprise but damning report on Thursday that shows Twitter employees admitting they censor people’s’ right-leaning accounts, including banning them from the network because they do not agree with their political views! Had this happened in Russia, Iran, or China, none of us would be surprised—but in the 21st century United States? This is truly an affront to our society!

One Twitter employee named Pranay Singh, admitted that the majority of their algorithms are geared in such a manner that they target people with certain political views. Their method is insidious, they “shadow ban” right-leaning accounts, which essentially bans them from the platform without letting them know that they have been banned while allowing left-leaning accounts to slip through without the same scrutiny.” And they unabashedly admit:

  • “Yeah you look for Trump, or America, and you have like five thousand keywords to describe a redneck,” Singh explained. “Then you look and parse all the messages, all the pictures, and then you look for stuff that matches that stuff.” “I would say majority of it are for Republicans,” he confirmed. [4]

Many friends of mine on Facebook often get in the Facebook jail for asserting political views that the Facebook leadership does not like or approve. Let us hope that a class action suit is initiated. This is a battle that anyone along the political spectrum ought to agree upon. The Left would not like it if the political right behaved this way. Ideas deserve to be heard and debated in the public forum.



[1] Norman Bentwich, Philo of Alexandria (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1910), p. 7.

[2] See Jeremiah M. Hackett (ed.), A Companion to Meister Eckhart: Brill’s Companions to the  Christian Tradition (Boston: Brill, 2013).

[3] Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999), p. 350.

[4] https://www.projectveritas.com/video/hidden-camera-twitter-engineers-to-ban-a-way-of-talking-through-shadow-banning/

 

 

Trump and Jerusalem

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Don’t worry about Trump’s motives. His actions count

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel 

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — The theme of brotherhood is central to the entire Book of Genesis. On Shabbat we chant the words, “Hinei ma tov uma na’im, shevet achim gam yachad.” (“Look how good and pleasurable it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”

Yet Genesis did not begin that way. The Cain and Abel story embodies the story of Western Civilization in a nutshell. “Am I supposed to be my brother’s keeper?” Cain’s defiant question does not merit a response from God because the answer is all too obvious.

Ironically, it is the worship of God that leads to the first fratricide. What was true then is no less true today as fanatics threaten Israel today—especially since Trump’s announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Once a dying king said to his two sons: “Get on your horses and travel to Jerusalem. The one whose horse arrives last will inherit my kingdom.” So off they went. Due to their love for one another, the brothers stopped at the outskirts of Jerusalem; neither one wanted to win at the expense of the other. So what did they do? They rode together on one horse! This story ought to serve as an inspiration for today.

Unfortunately, the wisdom of the past fails to inspire us as it should.

Some of my congregants wondered whether Trump was “playing the Jewish and Evangelical card” for the 2020 election. When King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, did he act out of the sincerity of his heart? Or did he act out of political considerations? In any event, God called Cyrus, “My shepherd” for God utilized a weak human being to serve a divine resolve. In fact, biblical theology always shows how God utilizes weak mortals to serve His purpose—perhaps even someone like President Trump!

Who cares about motives?  It’s the actions that count!

The Catholic Church along with the Protestants have long taught their followers to say to the Jew, the Latin insult “Hep! Hep!” an acronym for the words, “Hierosolyma est perdita,” ‘”Jerusalem is lost.” Historically, the Vatican moved to improve relations with Jews in 1965; and, eventually, the Vatican formally recognized Israel in 1993. By 1998, the Vatican issued an apology for the Catholic failure to do more for the Jewish people during the Holocaust. But Jerusalem is another matter—since the days of the Early Church Fathers, the Catholic Church believed that the Jew is condemned to wander the world; bereft of their ancestral home, bereft of their ancient Temple, bereft of their city of Jerusalem. I think David Ben-Gurion said it best: “The Catholic Church has a 2,000 years old reckoning with the Jews. The Vatican doesn’t want Israel to rule. There is a dogma (replacement theology, ed.) which has existed for 1,800 years and we gave it the coup de grace by establishing the State of Israel.”

Islamic armies have often tried to change the narrative of peoples they have conquered. The history of Jerusalem as the spiritual epicenter of Jewish life; Israel has always honored all faiths to worship in the spirit of brotherhood in Jerusalem. The Muslim intolerance toward the Coptic Christians, the Zoroastrians, the Armenians, the native African faiths, Yazidis, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and Confucians tells an altogether opposite story.

In the spirit of fellowship, there is no reason why the Arab quarter of East Jerusalem may not serve as a future capital for a peaceful Palestinian state—for peace is only possible if there is mutual respect for the Other.

Let us not forget that over a year ago, one of President Obama’s most unfortunate legacies was his decision to change American policy by supporting the United Nations Security Council resolution declaring Judaism’s holiest places in Jerusalem to be occupied territory and a “flagrant violation under international law.” He did so because of his personal animus of the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

This strident decision ignored the fact, as Allan Dershowitz observed, “Before June 4, 1967, Jews were forbidden from praying at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. They were forbidden to attend classes at the Hebrew University at Mt. Scopus, which had been opened in 1925 and was supported by Albert Einstein. Jews could not seek medical care at the Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus, which had treated Jews and Arabs alike since 1918. Jews could not live in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, where their forbearers had built homes and synagogues for thousands of years.”

Thank God, President Trump has corrected the record.

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

Novel ideas needed for Simchat Torah

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Simchat Torah is a relatively new holiday. Nowhere is it mentioned in the Talmud; nor is it mentioned in Maimonides or the Tur Shulchan Aruch. But it is explicitly mentioned in the Zohar,[1] a work that dates back to about 1270—although it is a holiday that probably began many centuries earlier when the Babylonian and Palestinian communities finished reading their Torah cycles. Undoubtedly, just as the conclusion of Talmudic tractate always served as a festive occasion—it is a certainty Jews rejoiced in deed whenever their communities finished reading the Torah.[2]

And now for my story . . .

One of my Modern Orthodox colleagues, who works as a day-school teacher  in New York, surprised many of us with a candid remark about his experience of Simchat Torah. He confessed that he struggled with the holiday more so than any of the other High Holidays of the year. He felt that its celebration felt “mailed in and tired.”

Interestingly enough, several other Orthodox friends chimed in and expressed similar thoughts. Some complained about the length of the service. Some people felt they preferred making their own “personal” Simchat Torah concluding a Talmudic tractate or section of the Mishnah. Others thought the synagogues lengthen the Hakafot beyond the realm of sensibility.

As I thought about this discussion, I realized that many people may feel simply overwhelmed with the plethora of holidays we celebrate this time of the year. In other words, people’s ambivalence may in fact reflect tiredness.

Here at Chula Vista’s Temple Beth Shalom, most of our growing congregation is made up of Spanish members who have re-embraced Judaism over the last several years. I often like to tell them about how marvelous their spiritual journey has been for them. Despite several centuries of efforts to forcibly convert the Spanish Jews to Christianity, the Church failed. The fact they are here among us is proof positive that the Jewish spark of their ancestral identities could not ever be destroyed. So it remained dormant—but on one unexpected day, something awoke from within them.

Reclaiming the “lost children” of Latin American countries can help revitalize any Jewish community that is willing to welcome them back. One of my favorite newly minted Spanish Jews went with his friend to a Chabad store on Fairfax Ave. The rabbi had no problem asking the Jewish woman to say a blessing over the lulav, but when her Spanish friend asked to say the blessing, the rabbi looked at this dark-skinned Spanish looking Jew in total disbelief. “Are YOU Jewish?” he asked. “Yes I am,” and he took the lulav and etrog and said the appropriate blessing—while the Rabbi looked astonished.

It is high time we welcome back our Spanish Jews. We are the “Jewish people” and not “The Jewish Club.” It is time to welcome back all the lost Jewish tribes. That is debt we owe to our ancestors. We can do no less.

At our shul on Simchat Torah night, you could see all the Spanish Jewish men and women lost in a state of ecstasy, as they danced with the Torah. Since we have trouble getting a Minyan on the second day of Yom Tov, I instituted that we finish the Torah on Simchat Torah night; everyone celebrated with clapping and dancing, as we danced throughout the synagogues with our Torah scrolls, and on the sidewalk facing the shul for the whole world to see.

This modern custom actually dates back to the time when Russian Jews lived under the yoke of Soviet tyranny. The Russian government allowed Jews to affirm their Jewish identity by letting them dance in the streets. Elie Wiesel once commented that he was deeply amazed by the joy these Jews exhibited whenever he visited Moscow when he joined them in their celebration of Simchat Torah.[3]

For obvious reasons, this was something all the Spanish Jews of TBS could easily relate to; and so too, they all danced.

Even on Shabbat, at the end of the Torah reading, we took out all the Torah scrolls so that everyone who could not make it to the Shul on Simchat Torah could dance on Shabbat Bereishit—the first new parsha of the year. I explained that Shabbat absorbs the holiness of all the other days of the week, and that the lesson of Simchat Torah reminds us that everyone needs to celebrate the study of the Torah not only once a year—but throughout the year as well.

As rabbis, we need to think more imaginatively of how we can make the holidays more meaningful; sometimes, thinking outside the box can go a long way in improving the spirit of this most remarkable holiday.

*

[1]Zohar 1:33; Raya Mehemna  Vol. 3; Parshat Pinchas 256b; Tikunei Zohar 56a.

[2] Other rabbinic sources record the observance  of Simchat Torah in a number of communities.   The Machzor Vitri 185 (an important 11th Halakhic work) describes the observance in clear detail and it corresponds exactly to how we nowadays observe Simchat Torah. In one passage he describes how the Second Day of Shimini Atsereth was observed in the French communities. The name “Simchat Torah” came only later.

[3]Elie Wiesel, The Jews of Silence, ch. 5.

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista, California.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

The Power of “The Between” — A Lesson for Rosh Hashanah

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Once a judge was interviewing a woman regarding her pending divorce, and asked, “What are the grounds for your divorce?” She replied, “About four acres and a nice little home in the middle of the property with a stream running by.” “No,” he said, “I mean what is the foundation of this case?” “It is made of concrete, brick and mortar,” she responded.

“I mean,” he continued, “What are your relations like?” “I have an aunt and uncle living here in town, and so do my husband’s parents.”
He said, “Do you have a real grudge?” “No,” she replied, “We have a two-car carport and have never really needed one.”

“Please,” he tried again, “is there any infidelity in your marriage?” “Yes, both my son and daughter have hi-fidelity stereo sets. We don’t necessarily like the music, but the answer to your questions is yes.”

“Ma’am, does your husband ever beat you up?” “Yes,” she responded, “about twice a week he gets up earlier than I do.” Finally, in frustration, the judge asked, “Lady, why do you want a divorce?” “Oh, I don’t want a divorce,” she replied. “I’ve never wanted a divorce. My husband does. He said he can’t communicate with me!”

One of the greatest gifts we give to one another is the gift of listening. Nothing hurts us more than the sense that the people we care about aren’t really listening to us when we wish to say something. We never outgrow the need to have our feelings known. This truth may help us understand why a sympathetic ear is such a powerful force in human relationships—and why the failure to be understood is so painful. Indeed, many relationships end because each partner fails to be emotionally present to the Other.

When a man whose marriage was in trouble sought his advice, the Sufi Master said, “You must learn to listen to your wife.” The man took this advice to heart and returned after a month to say he had learned to listen to every word his wife was saying. The Master with a smile, “Now go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”
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LISTENING TO WHAT IS NOT BEING SAID
Listening seems to be such an important part of the Rosh Hashanah holiday. In our prayers, we try to listen to God and “the still small voice” in the solitude of our souls. I think the problems of much of our world could be partially solved if we took one step back to listen to what people who think or feel differently have to say.

A few days ago illustrates this point better than any university classroom, where diversity of opinion is often squashed.

AN UNEXPECTED EPIPHANY

Last Saturday, Washington D.C. featured a Trump rally, pegged by many as the “Mother of All Rallies. The Black Lives Matter supporters decided to counter with a rally against bigotry and police violence against young blacks. While each side was doing their best to ignore the Other, a black Trump supporter named Henry Davis had a sudden inspiration.

Spontaneously, he decided to invite the BLM activists to join him, but he quickly changed his mind. He made the following challenge:  “So you guys know that the ‘Mother of All Rallies’ was to end the political violence,” he told the BLM group. “It’s about freedom of speech. It’s about celebration.

“So what we’re going to do is something you’re not used to, and we’re going to give you two minutes of our platform to put your message out. Whether they disagree or agree with your message is irrelevant. It’s the fact that you have the right to have the message. “It’s your right to say what you believe,” Davis told the group. “And it’s their right [referring to the pro-Trump crowd] to let you know what they think about what you’re saying.”

Then he handed the microphone to Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. Newsome told the crowd, “I am an American,” eliciting cheers and applause.  “And the beauty of America is that when you see something broke in your country, you can mobilize to fix it.

“So you ask why there’s a Black Lives Matter,” Newsome continued. “Because you can watch a black man die and be choked to death on television and nothing happens. We need to address that.” To be sure, the crowd wasn’t willing to accept all of Newsome’s speech. At times they booed him and yelled out “BS” and “All lives matter!”

But there were moments when the crowd accepted the black rights activist’s message. When Newsome said he was a Christian and was taught to “Love thy neighbor,” the crowd cheered. And the crowd responded with a mix of cheers and groans when Newsome proclaimed he was not “anti-cop.” “We are anti-bad cop,” he said. “We say if a cop is bad, he needs to get fired like a bad plumber, a bad lawyer, like a bad f…g politician!”

When Newsome said “All lives matter, right? But when a black life is lost, we get no justice,” some people called him a liar. Newsome’s speech did end with a message of unity: “If we really want America great, then we do it together.”

At that moment, everyone cheered.

In that special exchange, conservative Trumspters and BLM found common ground. After the speech, journalists wanted to know what the BLM leader had to say. Newsome said the moment the Trumpsters “restored my faith in some of those people,” by allowing let him speak. “I feel like we made progress. Two sides that never listen to each other actually made progress today,” he said. “If not on a grander level, but just person to person, I think we really made some substantial steps without either side yielding anything.”

All this takes us back to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Relationships often get frayed and unraveled because in relationships we fail to listen to each other.

The great 20th century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber developed an entire ethical philosophy of Judaism known as the “I and Thou.” According to Buber the magic of interpersonal transformation occurs in the moment of what he calls “The Between” where each party turns toward the other and enters into an undivided relationship.

This is where true communication and community emerges from a relationship. Often in my years of doing marital counseling, one of the first rules of engagement is to have a struggling couple to really listen to one another.

True listening is a listening of soul. It involves making eye contact. If involves respecting the other person’s space; it involves a willingness to listen. Authentic listening requires that we not judge, or pre-judge. It is in those moments of actual authentic meeting, healing can often occur because nobody wants to feel as if they are a non-entity and unimportant. These are but a few of the challenges Rosh Hashanah encourages us to travel along the road less traveled, and boldly go where we have never gone before.

If our communities can learn to teach the respect of “The Between” as Buber advocated, then not only will our own personal lives, relationships, and friendships improve—but so will our communities and maybe our country.

This is every bit a spiritual challenge—one which will allow us to consciously feel as though God is speaking to us and through us as we focus on healing ourselves and our world.
The Chinese say, “The journey of a 1000 miles begins with the first step,” and today on Rosh Hashanah, you have already taken that first step. But we need to continue the next steps as we make our spiritual journey