Politically Incorrect and Factually Correct

Nowadays the fashion is to avoid offending anybody's sensitivities. Therefore, stating positions that may not be in vogue can be hazardous to your career. Just ask Miss California.

But actually, a certain amount of political correctness is imperative to Judaism.

"Do not despise an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land." We are commanded to not oppress the stranger, not mistreat members of other nations. Imagine, even the Egyptians who enslaved us were not to be despised.

Certainly, then, we must show respect to other faiths and ethnicities, never causing them conscious insult. I have NO tolerance for those Jews who use racial slurs. Chanting against Arabs and so forth is against the rules of Judaism, and certainly against our spirit. Fortunately, it is only a few misguided souls, and not a real representation of the by-and-large respectful Jewish majority. Nonetheless, if it exists, it must be stamped out.

Furthermore, on a personal level, Jews are forbidden to insult one another. It is called "Onaat devarim" and it is a sin. It is even forbidden to use a nickname that may embarass the other person. To call them "pickles" as a term of endearment is OK if they don't mind, but to call the "bus" if they have a weight problem is really wrong. Any insulting nickname or racial slur is out of bounds.

Where I diverge from political correctness is when it comes to stifling one's legitimate views to avoid offending people who disagree. This isn't political correctness or sensitivity. It's "kissing up" and it's disgusting.

I say that anyone who is offended by a different point of view is at best a baby and at worst a fascist. Beware the thought police.

A prime example is the issue of settlements and Israel. It is eminently clear that the settlements are a convenient excuse for the Arabs to not make peace. True, they cause the Arabs some inconvenience in their traveling, but that isn't due to settlements. It's due to terrorism. If there were no terrorism, there'd be no need for those roadblocks to protect settlements.

But that's not the politically correct, so don't you dare say it. Otherwise, you'll be roundly condemned and not invited back. Don't blame the lack of peace on terrorists who blow up buses and make war every day. Don't blame war on the warriors, only on the "settlers," who happen to be ordinary people like you and me. They work for a living, give the kids piano lessons, and don't ever hurt anybody. What makes them settlers?

They live in the West Bank.

Oh, and here's another politically incorrect but factually correct tidbit. Mahmoud Abbas, the supposed moderate Palestinian president, earned his PhD with a thesis DENYING THE HOLOCAUST.

But I can't say he's not a sincere peace partner, because that would be politically incorrect. But factually...

On Jealousy and the Sabbatical Year

Sometimes, we can be very clever. We can figure out ways to avoid the straightforward observance of a commandment. At times, this can be critical, such as the sale of chometz to a non-Jew before Passover. It is legitimate, utilizing a real loophole to save people for whom Passover could be financially ruinous (eg. a supermarket owner).

On such loophole relates to the prohibition of working the fields in the 7th year. The Rabbinate instituted a similar sale of the land for that year, enabling the Jewish "previous" owner to continue to till the fields. In the early years of the state, this measure may have saved some settlements from ruin.

But now, I believe, it is time to stop it. It is time to observe the shemita-sabbatical literally. This is because we are losing out on the most important perspective of our nationhood by using a loophole. We are missing the point, and I don't believe Hashem wants us to miss this point!

Example. This year, my family did not sell chometz. We got rid of it all, and it was an uplifting experience. We felt truly the pressure to clean and the sense of accomplishment when we fulfilled the mitzva in its purest sense. We can only wish the same for the farmers in the Sabbatical! There is a message of true happiness hidden in the Shemita.

You see, the Shemita tells us that the Earth is God's and that all of our accomplishments are with His help. We should never say "It is my actions that have brought me this wealth." By stopping to work the fields, we acknowledge God's ownership of the land, and we state, by our passivity, that we believe it is Him who has given us the blessings of the Earth.

Why is this crucial? What if I really did work super hard? Maybe it WAS my efforts?

No! Once we believe it was our efforts, we fall into the pit of possessiveness. We develop a sense of entitlement, and when others are more successful than us, we become jealous. God is reminding us of a basic truth: Our success is because of the gifts He gave us, including health, talent, land and creativity. Yes, we USED those gifts successfully, but He gave them to us in the first case.

Therefore, there is no need to look at others who succeed and feel jealous. After all, that came from God as well, so why be bitter? Rather, if you feel you have underachieved, look upwards and try harder, or smarter.

By eliminating the sense of possessiveness which leads to entitlement, we inoculate ourselves from jealousy, the most destructive emotion. That is the true message of the Sabbatical year, and a lesson that can only be learned viscerally by observing it properly.

The Clothing and the Man

At the beginning of the service of the Tabernacle, on the joyous day of its dedication, tragedy struck. "And Nadav and Avihu took a fire that was not commanded of them .. and a fire came forth from the Lord and they were consumed." Nadav and Avihu were Aaron's two elder sons. They perished on that day for the unclear sin of bringing a "fire that was not commanded of them." What did they do wrong?

There are many different explanations, but one sticks out as being seemingly completely irrelevant: That they remained unmarried. Since when is being single a mortal sin? And what does that have to do with the uncommanded fire on the day of the Tabernacle's dedication? Very strange.

One commentary gives more depth to this by explaining WHY they were unmarried. They reasoned that, since their father was Aaron, their mother was the sister of the Prince of Judah (Nachshon), and their uncle was Moses, no woman would be of high enough stature for them. Thus, their singlehood was a sin of pride. But still, what does this have to do with the fire?

Actually, I never really understood the question to begin with, since the scripture says that they brought an unwarranted fire to the altar. I'm sure we can imagine how that is possible. So why all the different explanations (e.g. they made legal decisions without consulting Moses, they were intoxicated, etc..)?

Rather, I think that the sin was the fire, but that was the RESULT of all the other theories. So with our explanation, we can say that because they were not married, and for status reasons, they were tempted to bring this uncommanded fire. And I think there is a small detail in the story that supports my theory. What detail, Sherlock?

After they had died, their bodies were removed "in their garments." In other words, even though they were burned to death, their garments were untouched. That, indeed, is a miracle. Rashi tells us this explicitly, describing how two beams of fire entered their nostrils and took their souls, without any external burning. The fact that the garments were spared tells us a lot. In other words, they allowed themselves to define themselves by their garments, ie., by their external status.

The first humans were naked, and they were not ashamed. Adam and Eve, before the sin, had no need for clothing. I do not think that the "were not ashamed" aspect refers to sexuality at all. I believe it is more fundamental. They had not clothing, no external status. All they had was closeness to God, and that was enough. Once they sinned, they felt ashamed about who they were, and had a need to lift themselves up through externalities, through clothing.

To a certain extent, as we said, that is normal, and even required. Honor and dignity are part of human life. Modesty does not mean that I think I'm nothing. it means I do not think I am any more than I am. Moses was the most humble human ever, and yet he certainly knew that he was the leader, and he stepped up to the plate.

But when the person is so insecure as to believe that they ARE their status, that it is their identity and not just their job, as it were, then they have a problem. Nadav and Avihu fell into this trap. They felt that their priestly garments made them more than they were. No woman was good enough, and even the commanded sacrifices on the day of Dedication weren't enough. They were special, they had to bring their own fire, a fire that was not commanded.

Tradition, Values and Societal Change

The transfer of authority from Aaron as high priest to his son Elazar involve a miracle. The symbol of the transfer was the giving to Elazar of the priestly garments. Normally, when a person gives his clothing to another, he takes off the outer garments and then the inner garments. The other fellow waits to put on the inner garments and then the outer garments. But in this case, Elazar put them on in reverse order. Everything that Aaron took off, Elazar immediately put on. Thus, it would seem he was wearing the undergarments on the outside!

And so a miracle occurred, and when Elazar emerged from the cave where Aaron was to die, the clothing reversed itself. Many commentators question the need for this miracle. Why not let Elazar wait a few more seconds to put the clothing on in the proper order?

One answer I saw was quite satisfying. This was done to stress the importance of continual tradition. There should not even be a moment's break. Somebody must be wearing the garments of the high priest at every second. Tradition must be embraced with energy and vigor, not in a lackluster fashion. It would not be appropriate for Elazar to sit around waiting, he must eagerly grab the vestments of the high priest in order to keep the tradition continuous.

We can learn a lot from babies. A young child may become attached to a doll or a blanket. I warn you, do not try and take that doll or blanket away! You will see how powerful the toddler can become. Especially when bringing the child to a new framework, day care or a nursery, it is important that the child bring the doll or blanket with them. This is call they "transitional object." It provides a tremendous sense of security, and allows the child to move with confidence into unfamiliar surroundings.

This is the role of tradition. The traditions may be as seemingly unimportant as a recipe for Haroset on Passover, or as central as how you pronounce the Hebrew prayers. In any case, connecting to the tradition of your fathers and grandfathers creates a tremendous sense of security. This is, after all, who we are. Tradition may even supersede a better halakhic practice. Case in point:

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik once gave a detailed explanation as to why it is halachically preferable to sit down during the Kiddush prayer on Sabbath. Some have the custom of standing for that prayer, and Rabbi Soloveitchik felt that this was not the proper opinion.

The next Sabbath, the rabbi was staying in the Yeshiva. At the Friday night table, he recited the Kiddush standing up. His students came to him completely puzzled. Didn't the rabbi just tell them a few days before that it is better to sit for the Kiddush? "What can I do," responded Rabbi Soloveitchik, "this is the tradition of my fathers."

Now, mind you, standing or sitting for Kiddush is not a violation of Halakha. Nobody can say that they have a tradition to violate the Sabbath! But when faced with a question of a better halakhic practice or a tradition, tradition wins. This is because tradition connects us to Mount Sinai. Tradition connects us to the Jewish people in the Jewish faith. Tradition is the security blanket that lets us go boldly into a changing world, remaining ever young.

I think there is another significance to the reversed transferal of garments. At some point, the baby out grows the blanket. Does this mean that tradition is only important when a person is young? Not at all. What it means is that the tradition becomes internalized. The baby is no longer holding the blanket, because the blanket has become part of the baby's person.

There are two parts of a tradition. The external part is the physical action of the tradition, the preparing of the food, the performance of the ritual. The internal part is the security and connection to Judaism that the tradition brings. I believe that the outer garments of the High Priest represents the physical fulfillment of the traditions. The inner garments represent the emotional and spiritual connections.

At first, Aaron gives over the outer garments, the external symbols of tradition. Elazar grasps these and brings them to his flesh. Then he receives the inner garments, the emotional and spiritual dimension of tradition. These do not immediately touch his flesh, they remain outside of him. But as he continues to fulfill the physical elements of tradition, the emotional connection grows and comes closer to his flesh. Finally, he is wearing the clothes in order.

And once he has the external clothing on the outside, they become available to everyone else with whom he has contact. He thus continues to influence others to embrace the physical traditions of Judaism, which will, with time, become part of their person.

A responsible parent knows the time to pamper, and the time to step back. They know when the baby needs the blanket, and when to allow the child to proceed without it.

The children of Israel required water. After 40 years in the desert, they were getting close to the point of entering the Promised Land. When there well ran dry, they complained, and God told Moses and Aaron speak to the rock "and it shall give forth water." Moses, however, did not speak to the rock, but rather hit it with his stick. God immediately punished him by decreeing that he would not enter the Land with the people. What did he do that was so terrible, especially if it worked?

Years before, when the Israelites had just left Egypt, there was a similar need for water and a similar mini rebellion. At that time, Moses was commanded to hit the rock in order to bring forth the water. So Moses simply repeated what he had done successfully a generation before. So terrible?

Yes, because it was the equivalent of forcing the grown child to take his security blanket with him. When the Israelites were new, they needed to be taken care of. They had just emerged from slavery, and were easily frightened and insecure. They were putting on new traditions, but still lacks the internal connections and security they needed. So when they needed water, Moses achieved it from a top-down perspective. He hit the rock, and the rock obeyed.

Similarly, when the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites, it was God who commanded Moses to put Joshua in command and to stand on the high place raising his arms. Again, a top-down response to a challenge. Moses and Joshua lead, the people follow.

But now, a new generation has already grown up, and their underwear is on the inside. They have internalized the blanket, they are secure and connected. All Moses needed to do was to speak to the rock, to show it respect and allow it to bring forth the water on its own. And, similarly, after Aaron passes on, the Israelites are attacked by Canaanites. This time, however, Moses and Joshua are not even mentioned in the fight. Instead, the Israelites themselves swear to destroy their enemy. They have, indeed, grown up and changed. Moses no longer needs to hold their hand, no longer is needed to be their leader.

And this is the historical process of the Jewish people. The peak of prophecy was Moses, but throughout the generations it declined. At one point, prophecy stopped altogether. That's not because the people were bad, it's because the people were growing up.

We have a responsibility to keep our traditions alive, and to keep our faith the young and vibrant. By embracing the physical traditions, the foods, the melodies, the special ways to fulfill the commandments, we start the process by which are inner security and connection becomes stronger. By embracing the old, we become renewed.

Our generations may look different, and may inhabit different worlds, but we must be grounded by tradition. Then we will be able to go forth into unfamiliar surroundings and find the proper way to continue fixing the world.

The Wild World Went Wrong

There is a fascinating discussion in the Talmud regarding the blessing that God gives when the people follow His Torah. "And I will cause the bad animals (i.e. dangerous ones) to cease from the land." Rabbi Yehuda opines that they will migrate elsewhere. Lions and tigers and bears (oh my) will relocate, and there will be no animals to fear in the Land of Israel. Rabbi Shimon, on the other hand, claims the animals will all remain, but cease to be dangerous, in the spirit of "The lion will lie down with the lamb."

Ramban endorses this view, and brings a number of supports. The main one is his claim that animals, by their very nature, are NOT carnivores at all. In the creation story, God says that he has given the animals the "grasses and vegetables" to eat. Only after the flood did it become permissible for humans to consume flesh. All creation, in its natural state, is vegetarian.

So what changed? Man. Man introduced violence into the world. Man cause a ripple in the peaceful fabric of life. Man corrupted the animals. Honi the Circle maker once encountered a venomous creature. Honi touched it, and it died. He explained to his amazed friends that, "It is sin that kills, not the animals." Man has a transformative power over nature, and this power is exercised by man's moral behavior.

What is the deeper meaning of this debate between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon? Why does one see the animals leaving, while the other sees them being transformed?

After the flood, man became permitted to eat meat. Why this change? Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski, in his book "Spirituality," questions why a person would hate someone they had never met or known. Why is there something called "Sin'at hinam," baseless hatred?

It is because of the subconscious. The subconscious functions with the assumption that the part equals the whole. Thus, if one aspect of a person triggers a negative response, e.g. someone I just met has the same family name as a bitter enemy, we immediately develop a subconscious dislike of that person. It isn't fair at all, but it is how we work. What is needed to be done is for the conscious to overrule the subconscious.

There is a technique called "sublimation." This means taking a bad urge and channeling it into an accepted activity. Someone with an inner hostility, for example, might be great at sports, rather than working as a hit man. In these cases, the subconscious continues to exist, but the conscious channels it in a healthier way.

That is why God allowed man to eat flesh, in order to sublimate his violent subconscious urges in a healthier way. In an ideal world, however, the subconscious is transformed. And as man goeth, so goeth the wild kingdom. Sublimation is important, but it is a compromise. It is not a transformation. That only comes when Israel becomes completely committed to God's Law and morality. Then, the world is truly transformed.

Thus, Rabbi Yehuda is dealing with the world as it is. The best we can hope for is sublimation, and thus the "bad" animals will have to leave. Rabbi Shimon sees a perfect world, and thus claims the animals will change, because man will change. We will all be as Honi the Circle Maker.

Rudy Giuliani, New York's famous mayor, stopped crime in many areas through a policy of "zero tolerance." He denied what his predecessor had done when there were the Crown Heights riots, namely, to let the rioters vent their anger for a couple of days. Rudy believed that such venting is not sublimation at all, but rather an invitation to bloodshed. Instead, zero tolerance teaches us an important lesson:

Sublimation is when you divert a bad urge to an acceptable expression. It is NOT allowing a little bit of bad behavior in the hopes it will prevent worse behavior. It is not a compromise in that sense, it is a redirection. You can launch a campaign, you can give speeches and work for justice, but you may not throw a single stone.

So with us. Even sublimation means to change the behavior, not to accept small quantities of it. If done well, sublimation can lead to transformation. That is the goal of Torah. We sublimate - the Torah allows something in every area of human drives - in order to eventually become transformed. We work towards rebuilding our subconscious to desire the true and the good.

The Rebellious Son and School Safe Spaces

This commandment is a deeply troubling one, and commentaries have been wrestling with it from time immemorial. It is the commandments of the Rebellious Son. This child refuses to listen to his father and mother, and despite their disciplining him, he persists in his ways. He is to be brought to the court, and, possibly, given capital punishment.

The rabbis have worked hard to make this seemingly excessively harsh commandment makes some sense. First of all, they teach us that the Torah has limited application of this commandment so much that, perhaps, never such a case arose. By interpreting every word, we receive requirements such as: the child must be exactly at the bridge age of maturity, a period that lasts about three months, and he must have stolen a certain amount of meat and consumed a certain amount of wine, and that his parents must have similar voices, and that they must be able to walk.

Yet, even by limiting it, it still seems a difficult commandment to understand. Where is the guilt? Why is this child / man being put to death? The sages claim that it is a preemptive punishment. Based on these behaviors, it is a certainty that this young man will grow up to be a criminal of violent nature. It is better for him to die now, while he still is innocent. In this, the sages see a strong proof of the concept of reward and punishment in the world to come.

Nonetheless, this answer raises the question of free will versus God's foreknowledge. How can we be sure that the child will grow up to be a violent criminal, if there is free choice? Perhaps he will repent! One commentary suggests that the phrase, "He doesn't listen to his father's voice and his mother's voice," does not just referred to his biological father and mother. His Father, refers to Our Heavenly Father, and his mother refers to the assembly of Israel. In other words, this child has already rebelled against God and against the people of Israel.

But still, perhaps he will repent? Should we kill him and remove that possibility?

There is a verse in the Psalms that reads,."..[God] Understands to all of their actions." It does not say, "God understands all their actions," rather, "TO all their actions." In other words, God's knowledge of each person is so complete that he can know with certainty how they will behave in every future situation. It seems that the same is true of the rebellious son. The Torah is telling us that, if these symptoms are in place, there is no chance that he will not become a violent criminal.

The commentary Ohr Hachaim points to one word which may be the key to this entire, unusual, mitzvah. The rebellious son, "does not listen." In truth, however, the word for this is mistranslated. Literally, it means, "he is not someone who hears." It's to be compared to the King's guards, who are robbing the citizens. When the citizens come to complain to the King, will these guards allow them in? Of course not. This is what happens when one allows one's evil inclination to be one's ruler, such as is the case with the rebellious son.

I believe that this is the hidden message in the requirement that the rebellious son have eaten a certain quantity of meat and consumed a certain quantity of wine. The eating of meat itself is no great sin! When it is stolen, it becomes a sin. But when the young man drinks wine, he is drowning the spark of conscience with it. This is how he ensures that he will never hear "the voice of his father and the voice of his mother," whether it refers to his biological parents or to God and the Jewish people.

To be sure that indeed it is the young man himself that was the problem, the Torah requires the parents to be speaking with a unified voice. It requires them to attempt to discipline this child. And it requires them to be physically capable of carrying out such discipline. Clearly, their parenting was not perfect, since they are victims of the young man's punishment as well. But it is the young man who has chosen, despite being given an opportunity to grow up in a proper educational environment, to stop listening. If the parents were negligent or incapable of disciplining the child, he would not be deemed a rebellious son. That rebellion must come from within, must include a conscious decision to listen to no one but his own desires.

As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the message of this commandment is clear: Listen! Seek out lectures on ethical improvements, on Torah values. Listen to the needs and insights of those close to you. And, most of all, listen to the sound of the shofar, for the shofar is the voice of conscience.

Jealousy and the Evil Eye

The long and the short of it is that we do, with reservations. European Jews are always saying, "keneyna hara.” That means, "Let there be no evil eye!" It's even mentioned in the Talmud. And the Talmud gives us a remedy as well. What is it?

The Talmud instructs us to clasp our hands and recite the following formula: "I am a descendent of Joseph the righteous, and therefore the evil eye has no power over me." Then a biblical verse is to be recited, and the person has nothing to fear.

How does this work?

Abraham was given the power to bless. He was, for all intents and purposes, God's conduit for blessing. How was this so?

In order for a blessing to take place, there must be some good to begin with. Blessing means increase, as we have previously noted in another entry, so it increases an already existing good.

Other people may see the blessings we have and react to them in one of two ways. They can either be jealous of the blessing, or rejoice in our good fortune. The jealous types will curse, and the generous types will bless. The former wants to destroy our blessing, the latter wants to increase it.

When a jealous person sees another's success, their jealousy is the equivalent of the evil eye. In fact, it is the definition of it. An eye looks at something, examines it. The evil eye, in effect, is asking a very difficult question: "Does this person really deserve this blessing?"

And then, in heaven, ever sensitive to the needs of fairness, this person's blessing is examined. Just like a blessing requires something to grow from, so, too, a curse requires something to destroy from. If there is anything imperfect in the blessing, or its recipient, the evil eye's curse has upon what to take hold. Heaven may remove the blessing because of the accusation called "evil eye".

Abraham always saw the good in others, and thus had the power to bless. He found the good points, was generous of nature, and was God's conduit for blessing. Joseph, however, was even more powerful. He defeated the evil eye time and time again. Let's look at his story briefly.

Starting with his father's favoritism, Joseph was the victim of the evil eye of his brothers. He could have been bitter towards them, thus creating the negative energy that their evil eye could use to destroy him. He didn't, and his first example of immunity to the evil eye was demonstrated. Later, when Potiphar's wife cast her eye upon him, he defeated it by not succumbing to her temptations.

Finally, when he was blessed with the leadership of Egypt, he never gave in to pettiness, never resented anyone else's success, and never sought to take revenge against those who caused him harm. Thus, he defeated the evil eye at every turn.

That is how we can, too. By always being positive, never being vindictive or jealous, we following Joseph's footsteps. This little Talmudic gesture is meant to remind us of that, and not simply a "counter voodoo technique."

Never hesitate to bless, never hesitate to rejoice in others success. Always be a conduit of positive energy, and you will be immune to the evil eye when success comes your way! May this happen soon!

The Honor of the Elderly

There are two types of seniors mentioned in the verse: the white-haired and the old one. Likewise, there are two actions mentioned in the verse: to rise up, and to honor or glorify. Rising, or standing up, is mandated for the white-haired, and glorifying is mandated for the old one. Who are we talking about, and what are these behaviors teaching us?

The commentaries explain that the white-haired one is simply an aged person, regardless of their knowledge or character. If they have reached old age, we are to rise up before them. The old one, in Hebrew "zaken," refers to one who has "acquired wisdom." Because they are not just elderly, but also wise and righteous, a higher level of honor must be accorded, we must "glorify the countenance of the old one."

The sages read the verse in a way that implies that both the white-haired and the sage deserve both forms of respect, rising up and being glorified. If so, we need to understand why the elderly one, who is not a scholar or an exceptionally righteous one, receives the same treatment as the older sage. And more, the verse could've been rewritten simply, as follows: "You shall rise up and glorify the white-haired one and the elderly sage."

A possible reason they are both worthy of standing and glorifying is that they both teach us important life lessons. The Torah never tells us to bow to them, because that action is exclusively for the benefit of these elderly people. The Torah wants us to honor them not just for them, but for ourselves as well. It is obvious what we can learn from the elderly sage, as they have much wisdom to impart. But what about the white-haired non-sage?

First of all, any human being who reaches an elderly age, has amassed a wealth of life experience. For sure, elderly people can hold wrong opinions, and can even be of evil character. But generally, their life wisdom is something that younger people need to access.

Some commentaries bring a negative reason to honor them, in that we learn from imperfect older people in an inverse way. We learn from them how not to be. Hugh Hefner, as an extreme example, is a tragic elderly figure. His entire life was given over to lust. Well into his 80s, he felt forced to keep up that illusion, hosting parties at his mansion as if he were 30 years old, although now he was fueled by Viagra. How tragic! Do we really need to honor him?

Certainly not, but we do need to learn from him. We need to learn the lesson that a life wasted on lust and passion brings no fulfillment. When the contrast his example with that of an elderly Torah scholar, our own correct path in life becomes clearer. We have a choice to make.

I believe that is the deep meaning of this verse, and why it was written in two parts. If we rise up for the imperfect elderly one, and learn from their example even in a negative way, we will come to glorify the countenance of the elderly sage. That negative learning may be the most valuable lesson of life! Our sages teach us in the Mishna, "whoever learns even one thing from his friend must show him respect." Learning by seeing the negative consequences of poor life choices is learning, and even though the subject is not an exceptionally worthy one, they have done us a great service. We honor them because of the lesson they are teaching us, even if it is not intentional.

But in most cases, they can teach us an intentional lesson. In most cases, a simple elderly person may have a powerful spiritual message to impart. I recall reading of a pastor who had been kidnapped and nearly killed as a child by a sexual predator. Years later, after he grew up, he became aware that this criminal, who had never been convicted, was living in an old age home. He mustered his strength, and went to meet the man who had left him for dead when he was just a young boy.

At first, the man denied that he had anything to do with the event, and claimed not to know who this pastor was. The pastor, who had every moment of that encounter of his youth engraved in his memory, told him the story step by step. Finally, the old man broke down in tears, and began begging for forgiveness. And that is the most powerful lesson of old age, the lesson of repentance.

For this, we have our patriarch Abraham to thank. According to the sages, Abraham was the first human being to grow old. The reason given was that until he introduced old age, people couldn't tell the fathers from the sons apart. An explanation that I heard relates directly to the issue of repentance. Why do old people repent, and gained such wisdom? Because of two things: 1. They become more aware of their legacy, and 2. Their passions and drives become weaker, allowing their spirituality to become strong.

Aging is the gift of Abraham. And, so, many rabbis interpret this verse to refer to Abraham himself. They focus on the phrase "to rise up," and interpreted to mean "repent." Thus, the verse becomes a blueprint for life: Repent before you become white-haired, and as a result you will have a glorified old age.

I wish to add that "rising up" is an important instruction to us. When a person is sitting, they are not accomplishing or changing. When they stand up, they are now ready to move, change things in the world and accomplish. Rise up before it's too late, and learn from the example of the glorious old one, Abraham. Abraham never tired of spreading God's name in the world. When he was in pain after his circumcision, he forced himself to run out to the road to welcome in guests. When guests came to Abraham's tent, he taught them to give thanks to God for the food they eat and the blessings they have. Abraham traveled the land in every direction, calling out in the name of the Lord.

If was this Abraham who consciously chose to age, so that his lessons would continue to posterity. They must inspire us to rise up, throw off the laziness that paralyzes us, and begin following his example of spreading God's name and filling the world with loving kindness.

The Ten Commandments and Civilization Today

Rabbi Akiva was once asked to explain the entire Torah to someone as they stood on one foot. Rabbi Akiva immediately replied, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The rest is all commentary. Now go and study it."

Now certainly loving one's neighbor is important and beautiful, but is it really enough? Why did he not teach him the 10 commandments? I can stand on one foot for the two minutes it takes to recite them. And in the Ten Commandments, you also have faith in God. In fact, it's the first of them! Where is faith in God mentioned in the verse in Leviticus that Rabbi Akiva chooses to represent the whole Torah?

A different question may shed some light. The third of the commandments receives special mention in rabbinic literature, for they claim that when this commandment was given, the whole world trembled. "Thou shalt not take the Name of The Lord in vain." Why did this commandment, out of all of them, cause the whole world to tremble?

The Kli Yakar commentary compares this third commandment to lifting up a tree by the trunk. All of the branches will shake. God's Name is like the trunk of the tree. It is the interface between the Divine and the Earthly. When one utters it, one rises to connect to Hashem. When one utters it in order NOT to connect to Hashem, it is unsupported, unbalanced, disconnected. Everything shakes and becomes unstable. A world without God's connection to it is deeply unstable. And, by converse, if you see a society that is unstable, know that God's presence there is weak. The tree is shaking, the branches trembling.

An oh-so-true commentary I saw put things in very stark terms. Yes, the commandments forbidding killing, stealing, and so forth SHOULD be crystal clear, but are not. Why? Because of man's incredible ability to rationalize. He can find justification from WITHIN faith to kill, steal, rape, pillage and do whatever comes to his basest nature. He can use God's Name as his cover. We are killing the kuffar, the infidel, he will say.

To this, God says in the third commandment, "Thou shalt NOT take the Name of the Lord in vain!" You may not use Me as a justification for your evil actions. Thus, says this commentary, the whole world trembled, because now they know they would be culpable for all the murder and pillaging, rape and theft.

All of these things come from a disconnect with God, leading to a lethal disconnect from their fellow man. Ultimately, they disconnect from their own humanity and become the monsters we have seen on the news. It is clear and obvious and real.

Rabbi Akiva was interested in something else when he gave his answer of loving one's neighbor. He wanted to get people on the path to CONNECTION, to One-ness, to God. God is One, He desires all humanity to be as one. When Israel arrived at Sinai to receive the Torah, they arrived "as one man with one heart."

Character is the most determining factor in one's righteousness or lack thereof. Evil character, a hateful nature, gives one the impetus to disconnect from one's fellow, from one's self, from one's humanity. Good character, on the other hand, a loving nature, leads one to connect to one's fellow, to nature, to humanity, and, yes, to God. Be connected, says Rabbi Akiva, be a lover. Open your arms and your heart to others. When you do that, you will come to love yourself, and you will come to love God.

So Rabbi Akiva did not expressly mention faith, but he showed us the express path to it. The whole world shook when it heard about keeping God's Name connected. Imagine how wonderful the world WILL BE when we take God's Name, lift it up and connect it to all creation!

Bragging and the Evil Eye

The Talmud says that if a person fears the evil eye, they should wrap their thumbs in the palms of their hands and say, "I, so-and-so the child of so-and-so, am a descendent of the seed of Joseph. The evil eye has no power over me." There then follows a verse from the Bible implying that Joseph was above the evil eye.

This is just strange. First of all, most Jews today are not the descendents of Joseph at all, but rather from Judah or Levi. Why, then, does the Talmud encourage every individual to claim Joseph's lineage?

But what puzzles me more is the assumption that Joseph, above all others, surpasses the evil eye. When reading the stories, it seems that he suffered from it more than anyone else. He bragged about his dreams, he flaunted his colorful coat, and the evil eye came back to haunt him. His brothers sold him off the slavery in Egypt. His master's wife framed him and had him thrown in jail. And when he gave a favorable dream interpretation to the king's butler, the butler forgot all about him and he languished in jail for two more years. That sounds to me like the consequences of evil eye, which draws its power from jealousy.

So how can Joseph be the ultimate evil eye conqueror? One answer lies in the idea that a person most truly possesses a trait that they have earned, not inherited. Joseph suffering at the hands of the evil eye caused by jealous people was in the first part of his life. Once he arrived at Pharaoh's throne, there was no more evil eye. From then on, Joseph was truly ascendant. He had earned his trophy for defeating the evil eye.

That is a possible explanation, however it doesn't give me the information I need to know. How did Joseph eventually transcend the evil eye? And why does Joe Israeli have the right to claim that he is a descendent of Joseph, when that is genealogically questionable at best?

In order to achieve a more resounding answer, I would like to raise another question. Joseph was a smart fellow. When he had his childhood dreams of the corn stalks and stars bowing to him, he must have known that this would inflame his brothers. He must have known that they were already deeply jealous of him for being his father's favorite son, and that they resented the favoritism. His colored coat made his brothers see red.

So why did Joseph insist on telling his brothers these dreams? Was he trying to make them even more jealous? And why did Jacob make the classic parenting error of showing favoritism to one child over the others?

The answer sheds light on Joseph's entire worldview, and a glorious one it is! Let's start with Jacob. Most parents wish for their children to be more successful than they. Isaac, for example, placed great hope in Esau, because he felt that Esau was more capable of succeeding in the world than he had been. Isaac had been a fairly passive person, and so Esau, the hunter and man of the world, gave Isaac hope.

Jacob had suffered hatred. Esau wanted to kill him. Laban tricked him and took advantage of him. He struggled with angels and men. He did not feel loved at all. So along comes Joseph, the son of his beloved wife Rachel. Joseph is a very good-looking boy. It is a known fact that people are positively inclined towards attractive people. Jacob wanted to enhance this, by giving his son a beautiful coat. He was doing everything he could to ensure that Joseph would succeed where he failed, being loved. Because, reasoned Jacob, if the world loves you, you can influence it. Joseph could be another Abraham, beloved, influential.

And Jacob was right. In the end, Joseph's grace won out and he was able to save an entire empire. He saved countless lives, and if some historical theories are to be believed, made monotheism a popular belief in pagan Egypt.

So why did he tell the dreams to his jealous brothers? According to the Or Hachaim commentary, he did it precisely so that they would not be jealous. Joseph understood why his father favored him. He was possessed with a sense of mission, and nothing will deter him from that mission. At the end of the episode, Joseph comforts his brothers with the assurance that their selling him into slavery merely fulfilled God's plan. They need feel no guilt. This is Joseph's life theme: everything that happens is God's plan. I put my personal feelings aside, and seek out God's mission in every life situation.

By telling them the dreams, Joseph was saying that their father's favoritism had God's sanction. God gave the dreams to prove it was part of the divine mission that he should be the powerful one. The brothers must rise above their personal jealousies and see the glory of God's tasks.

Joseph walked the walk. Everywhere he went, whether he was second to the king or just an anonymous prisoner, he devoted himself to helping all he could. During his years in prison, he served the other prisoners. This is where God put him, this is where he would serve. The only time that Joseph allowed himself to put his personal feelings in play brought about a punishment. He had asked the butler to tell Pharaoh about him so that he may be released. This amounted to Joseph questioning the value of his being in jail. As a result, the Torah stresses that the butler forgot, and Joseph languished two more years in that prison.

The evil eye is a result of jealousy. Jealousy is a feeling of "Him versus me." It is a win or lose mindset. Thus, when one boasts of their accomplishments and their possessions, those who have less hear in those words a claim of victory. They hear, "I have more than you, I win."

Joseph, on the other hand, says with his whole life, "I win, we win. No one loses." He was pleading with his brothers to recognize that his success was their success. Jacob was looking out for all of them by giving Joseph every opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Abraham and lead humanity, together, to God.

Thus, when we claim to be the descendents of Joseph, we are accessing this exact worldview. A parent is never jealous of their children. We are Joseph's children, meaning that we reject jealousy. The Talmud requires a physical gesture, wrapping our thumbs around each other and inside the palms of our hands. Without this gesture, the statement does not have power. The gesture, to my mind, indicates Joseph's worldview. It is saying a big, loud, "Us!" We wrap our thumbs around each other, we embrace each other. If I have success, it is yours as well. I live outward, not inward. When a person commits to this ideal, they become like the children of Joseph, immune to petty jealousy.

One third observation. I could say that Joseph did indeed suffer from the evil eye, but this Talmudic statement does not guarantee immunity. It guarantees that whatever the evil eye could wreak, it could not derail me from my mission. Whenever Joseph suffered, he used the opportunity to fulfill his mission. Whether in jail or the king's mansion, no evil eye could stop Joseph from trying to lead humanity together to God.