It was only after Kevin McNally got in his car and switched on his Uber app that he saw the words that would upend his life; “You’ve been deactivated.” Kevin had been driving for Uber for the last seven months, it was a job that gave him the flexibility he needed to raise his two children, take care of his wife who was undergoing chemo radiation at a nearby hospital, and earn just enough to make it all work. Prior to the pandemic he worked as a sous chef, but the restaurant attempted twice to reopen and eventually shut down for good. He tried to do all the things would make him a better Uber driver; he invested in a nicer car, he offered all his passengers a water bottle, he smiled, he obligingly chatted with any customer who wanted to chat, but somehow it wasn’t enough.
He knew exactly what the immediate cause of his deactivation was. The previous night, he worked the Saturday night graveyard shift, a shift known for surge pricing (Uber’s way of raising prices when there are lots of customers and few drivers) but also known for drunk and unruly customers. He had picked up a ride at 3AM from South Beach to Aventura, and as soon as he pulled up he wished he had not accepted the fare.
Three guys were standing outside a large villa in various states of inebriation, and one of them was holding a Big Red Cup. He was firm with them, telling them that he could take them but they had to pour out the alcohol first. They got belligerent, said some very rude things, but eventually complied and got in the car, knowing that getting another Uber at that late hour would take fifteen minutes. Clearly, they had given him a rating of 1.0 bringing down his average rating below 4.6, the point where Uber automatically deactivates you.
Getting below 4.6 wasn’t only their fault, they were just the last in string of people who had downrated him. There was the woman who was late to pick up her child from her ex and kept yelling at him to go faster during rush hour traffic, the guy who kept calling him bro and asking for a discount, the teenagers who were angry because he wouldn’t let 5 of them pile into his Honda Accord. When you drive for Uber, everyone is your boss, everyone expects Ritz Carlton service at Red Roof Inn prices, and anyone can seriously mess up your rating just because they were in a bad mood.
Melanie was walking to her car after a long shift at the hospital where she worked as a Certified Nurse Assistant when she got a call from Unknown Number. She picked up the phone and began what could only be described as one of the most bizarre phone calls in her life.
UN: Hi, is this Melanie Townsley?
MT: Yes, who is this?
UN: My name is Jonathan, and I work with the Breakup Shop, a new service that helps breakups be smooth and seamless. I’m sorry, but I’m calling today to tell you that your boyfriend Jared is breaking up with you. He thinks the world of you and…
MT: Are you serious? Is this some kind of a joke?
UN: I’m afraid not, this is very real, you can look up our website at…
MT: You’re kidding me! Is this one of those phone scams from the radio?
UN: No, I’m very much not kidding you, you can look up our website at Breakup4me.com, Anyway, Jared said that he thinks the world of you, but he feels like you are too controlling, want too much of his time, and don’t care about his needs, and he wants you to know…
MT: Too controlling and want too much of his time? We’ve been dating for three years!
UN: I understand, but sometimes people need space even after being in a relationship for a while. I do need to hurry a bit, because all of our calls are limited to one minute. Jared said that he already took all of his stuff back home to his parents, so you shouldn’t have to worry about that, and he wishes you the best of luck in all your future endeavors.
MT: So, he’s not going to say anything to my face? This is insane!
UN: I’m afraid not, but I can recommend that you check out our gift shop, where we have a carefully curated selection of things to help you get through this difficult time, such as wine glasses, Netflix gift cards, video games, and Chips Ahoy Rainbow cookies. In any case, I need to be going now, so I’m so sorry for this breakup, and I wish you the best of luck. Click.
The best is yet to come. The latest website/app, due out in late November or early December is Peeple, a site that promises to be a Yelp, but for humans. Just like you check out a restaurant before making reservations, or a hotel before booking, don’t you want to know more about people before you begin a relationship with them, business or personal?
Peeple, which calls itself an app for people goes under the tagline, “Learn about people. By the people. For the people.” It promises to allow all users to review and rate people they know. You won’t have control over who adds you, anyone who knows you will be able to add you to the system, rate you on a scale of 1-10 and then review your personality based on how they feel about you. Learn what others think about your neighbors, your friends, your spouse or your kids! By the people. For the people.
The fun will be coming to every internet connected device near you, and coming soon.
Over the past few years, the power given to people to publicly or privately rate other people, their businesses, and services have given people an alarmingly wide platform to hurt other people or their livelihoods, all without exposing themselves to the possibility of harm. What started out innocently as rating sellers on eBay, moved on to rating customer service reps, to rating businesses, to now rating your about-to-be-ex, to soon rating your neighbors, your children’s teachers, or the guy who you think took your spot in the parking lot!
When humans are able to rate other humans a 3.6 and explain that they’re usually nice, but also apt to fly of the handle at the slightest provocation, and then continue with a few anecdotes to prove your point, it may be time to rate humanity, and I’m not sure how we’ll do!
The sharing economy is not always the caring economy.
Interestingly, Judaism has a different rating system. It’s a self-rating system and the way we rate ourselves is based on how we rate others. The Talmud tells us (Kiddushin, 70A) “Anyone who disqualifies others, with his own lacking he disqualifies.” This means that if I constantly see others as haughty, it’s because I’m arrogant myself, if I think everyone is dishonest and always trying to cheat people, it’s probably because my integrity is not great. If you wear red glasses, everyone appears red.
Great people display the inverse of that statement, “All who praise others, with their own qualities they praise.” When people are constantly seeing the good in others, it is usually a sign that they are inherently good, and that is why they see the good in others. I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of really great people, and it always amazes me how much good they see in everyone they come in contact with! When you wear golden glasses, everyone appears golden.
This is a powerful tool for learning about ourselves. How do I view others? Is there a particular negative trait that I frequently see in others? The results can be surprising, as traits that lie deep in our psyche can be revealed through this tool.
Some may say that the people who always see the good in others are more likely to be taken advantage of, and people who are naturally wary and distrusting are less likely to be taken for a ride. I would respond, that may be true, but I would rather be a person who sees the world in a positive light, and occasionally gets ripped off, than be the person who sees everyone else as out to get him and never gets ripped off. I’d rather wear golden glasses, than red glasses even if it may at times cause me minor losses, because that would mean that I’m golden and not red.
If we do see that we are frequently critical of others, and realize that it must be a reflection of a deficiencies inside of us, we can work on it with a simple tool. Every day, find 3 things nice to say about other people, and make verbalize them! Slowly, the more we verbalize positive things about others, the more positive people we become. And slowly the red turns golden!
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about Jacob and Esav, the twin brothers born to Isaac and Rebecca, who began fighting while in utero, as the Torah relates, “The children agitated inside her [Rebecca]” (Genesis 25:22). In his commentary, Rashi explains that “They were struggling with one another, and fighting over the inheritance of two worlds (this world and the World to Come).”
Clearly, Jacob and Esav had very different values and interests. Their fighting is therefore difficult to comprehend. Esav loved hunting, killing, stealing, and adultery. He enjoyed this world, without any concern for the World to Come. He sold his spiritual birthright for a bowl of lentil-stew, indicating that even a minute pleasure in this world was worth more to him than the spiritual benefits of the firstborn. Jacob on the other hand, sat in the tents and studied. He spent his entire life focused on the World to Come, totally dismissing the delights of this world.
What then were they fighting about? Why couldn’t they simply agree that Esav would get the pleasures of this world, while Jacob would get the lofty World to Come?
In truth, however, both worlds are indelibly linked, and each brother needed components of both worlds. Esav wanted to indulge in the physical pleasures of this world – yet couldn’t do so completely, because he understood the value of the World to Come. This knowledge alone creates a profound dissatisfaction with living a purely material life and a desire to seek something deeper. As John D. Rockefeller once said, “I can think of nothing less pleasurable than a life devoted to pleasure.”
The soul (our spiritual side) only finds pleasure in spiritual accomplishments. This explains why people are always looking to add meaning to their lives, even when they are quite comfortable physically. Esav’s soul was therefore not fully satiated. He wanted to dominate the next world as well, so that he could somehow have his cake and eat it too.
In the same vein, while Jacob recognized that the ultimate goal of our lives is to develop our spiritual side and to focus on the World to Come, we nevertheless need this world to truly earn our full-spirited portion. This world is necessary precisely because G-d isn’t apparent here and doing the right thing often doesn’t come easy. A soul not having to contend with the challenges of this world has no battles to fight and never can really become great. Jacob therefore wanted to dominate this world so that he could fully enjoy the spiritual pleasures of the World to Come.
The final irony is that in the end, the spiritual path of Jacob not only earned him a great World to Come, but also gave him a meaningful life in this world, proudly raising the twelve tribes, and in the end, living in Goshen surrounded by righteous children and grandchildren. He ultimately “won” by dominating both worlds.
It is interesting to note that scientific studies show a strong link between a person’s spiritual beliefs and practices, and his ability to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. While it is validating to see this data in prestigious journals, we already knew from Jacob and Esav that a life lived by blending both worlds is a life best lived.
The Parsha begins with Yitzchak and his wife Rivka, praying fervently for a child as they didn’t have one in twenty years of marriage. G-d grants them their wish and grants them twins. One of them is great and every time Rivka passes a Yeshiva he kicks indicating that he wants to learn. However, when she passes an idolatrous temple, the other guy is kicking away! This confuses Rivka, who didn’t know she had twins, so she goes to ask two scholars, Shem and Aver. They, through Divine Knowledge explain to her that she has two babies in her womb, both of who will be the father of great nations. They further tell her that there will be an inverse relationship between them, with one gaining power when the other loses it.
Soon two babies are born. The first comes out fully formed, and with a hairy coat of reddish hair, and he is called Eisov, which means “made.” His brother comes out holding onto the heel of his twin, and he earns the name Yaakov, which alludes to the heel he was pulling out in his attempt to get out first.
The twins as kids are pretty similar as babies (you know how it is, babies, they all look and act the same! They cry, dirty their diapers, and eat!) But when they get older, it becomes painfully obvious that these fellas couldn’t be farther apart. One spends his time learning in the tents, and one goes of hunting and robbing people in a way that would only make Ted Nugent proud. On the day they turn thirteen, Avraham dies right before his grandson, Eisov has his debut as All-Mesopotamian Bad Guy, as he spends his Bar Mitzvah committing all three of the Big Three sins, Adultery, Idolatry, and Homicide.
Arriving home from a day of high crimes, Eisov is famished and finds Yaakov cooking a lentil dish for his fathers (mourners are supposed to eat round things to remember that life is a cycle, and although they are in a down right now, things will turn up again). Eisov sells his birthright to his brother for a bowl of beans that was poured into his mouth and some bread, thus showing that he has zero appreciation for the finer things in life such as a fork and spirituality (the birthright is primarily a spiritual function as it designated who was supposed to serve in the Temple).
Then there is a famine in the Land of Israel and Yitzchak and his wife must go to Gerar to live amongst the Pilishtim, where food is abundant. Using a trick he learned from his father, Yitzchak tells his wife Rivka to tell everyone that she is his sister, to avoid getting killed by someone trying to steal his wife. When Avimelech, the King of Gerar finds out that they are actually married, he scolds Yitzchak, saying that one of the nation (himself) almost took Rivka as a wife, and then asks them to leave town. They pack up and move to the neighboring valley, where they successfully dig up some wells that Avraham’s servants dug when Avraham was there. There are a number of fights between the local servants and Yitzchak’s servants over the wells, until finally they come to an agreement regarding one of the wells on which they made a treaty, and it was named Be’er Sheva.
Yitzchak has enormous agricultural success producing 100 times the amount his fields were assessed to produce, and eventually realizing that Yitzchak obviously has G-d on his side, comes and makes a treaty with Yitzchak.
There has been a longstanding difference between Yitzchak and his wife, Rivka. Yitzchak displays more affection toward Eisov, hoping that the extra love showered on him will turn him around, while Rivka knows that Eisov is a no-goodnik, whose not coming back so fast and she loves Yaakov more. As Yitzchak is getting older, he decides that he must bless his children before he dies. Yitzchak decides that he should give the bulk of the blessings to Eisov hoping that success will breed success. But Rivka seeing her son with the deeper understanding that women possess, understands that Eisov will take the powers and use them for the other sides and she sets up a plan to circumvent the situation in a way that Yaakov will get the blessings. (It is interesting to note that both Avraham and his son Yitzchak had a son who was wicked, and each times their wives were the ones who realized how harmful they were, and took the necessary steps to ensure that the good children got whatever they needed.)
Yitzchak calls Eisov and tells him to bring him a good meal so that he can bless him out of appreciation. Rivka sees the opportunity and tells Yaakov to bring her two young kids (the goat kind) and she makes them into a dish she knows her husband loves. She then puts some of the goat skins on Yaakov’s smooth hands and neck so that they should feel like Eisov’s hairy ones. Yaakov brings the food into his father who asks him who he is. Yaakov, understanding the importance of his getting these blessing, needs to twist the truth a bit, and claims to be Eisov. His father unsure beckons him close to feel him, and feeling the skins thinks it is Eisov, and announces “The hands are the hands of Eisov, but the voice is the voice of Yaakov!” (This hints to the powers of the respective nations. Edom the progeny of Eisov, has their power in their hands, their physical strength, while the Jewish people, the offspring of Yaakov, has their power in their mouths, through prayer and Torah study!) Yitzchak then continues to give Yaakov all the blessings.
Soon after Eisov comes to his father with the meal he prepared for him, but when he arrives it becomes immediately clear that he has been tricked and that the blessing have already been given away. Eisov cries to his father, “have you left me at least one blessing?” Yitzchak tells him that he really gave all the good blessings to Yaakov, but he gives one blessing to Eisov, that his land should be fertile, that he shall live by his sword, and that although he will serve his brother, when his brother does the wrong things, Eisov will throw off his yoke, and dominate his brother.
Eisov furious that his brother stole his blessings begins to plan for the day his father will die so that he can kill his brother. Rivka realizing the danger facing her favored son, sends him off to the land she came from to get away from his murderous brother, and to get married with someone from her family. The parsha ends by telling us how Eisov seeing how much his parents dislike the local Canaanite women, marries himself a non-Canaanite woman, the daughter of Yishmael. Of course he keeps the Canaanite women, marrying a different wife was just a PR ploy to get parental approval.
Quote of the Week: “But” is a fence over which few leap. ~ G. Yelnats
Random Fact of the Week: Pteronophobia is the fear of being tickled with feathers.
Funny Line of the Week: I’ll be back in five minutes, but if not, just read this message again.
Have a Splendid Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham