If you want to rocket from 0-60 miles per hour in 2.3 seconds you need to buy a Bugatti Chiron. With 1,500 horsies pumping out of sixteen cylinders, Bugatti Chirons don’t come cheap, they run about 3 million dollars. Surprisingly then, to go from 0-120 MPH in less than four seconds, all you need is $50.
Fifty dollars is enough to buy you a ticket to the Cedar Point amusement park. Once there, the Top Thrill Dragster ride will shoot you from 0-120 MPH in less than four seconds as you are launched 420 feet into the sky, only to come crashing back to earth in a terrifying, twisting, stomach dropping descent. The whole ride is only 17 seconds, but you may see your entire life flash before your eyes in slow motion while riding this death defying roller coaster.
You need not stop there. For the same $50 you can go on the other 73 rides that make Cedar Point the amusement park with more rides than any other in the world. You can go on the 310-foot Millennium Force, the #1 rated roller coaster in the world, or the Maverick which will twist you upside down and around so many times that you fear that all your blood will be centrifugally sent to your feet. You can ride the Magnum XL from which you can see Canada (surprisingly, it looks just like the US), or the Skyhawk which is like a playground swing, only it’s not like a playground swing because it swings 40 people at once, and it swings you from 150 feet to the ground at 70 MPH again and again, and again. People who already ate lunch need not apply.
If you’re like me, this makes Cedar Point the clear choice for where you want to start out an wedding anniversary mini-cation. My wife and I both love roller coasters and rarely get to ride on them, what with most of our children afraid of any ride more than 12 feet high. It was a cool day in the spring when we figured the lines would be really short, and what could be a more symbolic way to celebrate ten years of marriage than to go up really high, nice and slow, then drop like a stone, and repeat that hundreds of times?
I bought our tickets online the night before to expedite the process. As I was checking out, a screen popped up asking me if I wanted to buy the Fast Lane wristband that allows you to essentially cut most of the lines. The pass costs $80, which is more than the entire general admission price, so I obviously wasn’t interested. After all school was not out yet, the lines were going to be short, and besides, it felt wrong. Why should some people be able to cut the lines just because they have a bit more money? It seemed unfair, un-American, and it cost $80!
We arrived at Cedar Point around noon, and as soon as we got on line for our first coaster, The Raptor (“We’ll drop you Fastor!”), we quickly realized that our theory about the lines being short were about as scientifically valid as the flat earth theories. It turns out that the Indiana public school systems starts summer vacation sometime in mid May (raise your hand if you think that is insane!), and it also turns out that high school kids in Ohio don’t always go to school. The line was an hour long, and we were just on the first roller coaster!
While standing on line, I kept seeing this big yellow and black sign for the Fast Lane, and I let all my waiting-on-line-rage out on the Fast Lane. Here is a sampling of my thoughts:
How dare Cedar Point allow some people to cut the lines? Everyone paid a lot of money to get into the park, and just to make more money they let rich people cut the lines? Where’s the decency? Why don’t we just call it the Bourgeoisie Lane? The One Percent Lane? Didn’t amusement parks used to be the great societal equalizer, the one place where the Goldman Sachs manager’s kid stands on line for two hours next to the fire fighter’s kid?
By the time we finally got on to the We Drop You Fastor Raptor, I did a little math. Here’s how it went. My wife and I never get to go on roller coasters + with lines in the 1-2 hour range we would probably only get to go on 3-4 rides before having to leave at 6pm + this was a special occasion and a little extra expenditures were called for + I really wanted to go on lots of rides = we’re going to buy the Fast Lane pass.
Feeling a bit hypocritical, I went up to one of the many counters with that distinctive Fast Lane black and yellow sign, and bought two wristbands. I swiped my credit card, signed the ungodly $160 reciept, and received two yellow and black magical wristbands. With these magical wristbands, we would be able to fly around the park going on ride after ride. Instead of going on 4 rides all day we could go on 14 or 24, it was amazing! And here is the new internal dialogue I started hearing:
Most of these kids have season passes (they only cost$105), and for them hanging out on lines is part of the fun! They come here all the time, we only get to come out once every ten years! Hey, we live in a capitalist society, and everything has a price tag. Do you have to feel guilty every time you take a flight to LA or Miami just because many people can’t afford it? This is really for my wife, I want her to have the most fun, it’s not about me… Some people spend a lot of money on food, drinks, and carnival games, we’re not doing any of that, we’re just choosing to spend our extra cash on shorter lines. (I’m saving the best for last, here goes:) We are actually helping all the non-Fast Lane people, because when a few people pay so much more, it helps keep the prices down for everyone else!
As we walked from one thrill to the next, I realized just how frail my sense of reasoning is. It was amazing how I went from being a violent opponent of the Fast Lane to a staunch supporter in just ten minutes! Where’s my intellectual integrity? Is it right or is it wrong?
I honestly don’t think I’m qualified to pass ethical judgment on the Fast Lane anymore, I’m too biased. What I can do is talk about the incredibly strength of personal bias. Most of us see the world through the prism of our experiences, and have a very hard time seeing any other position. If we are waiting on line, Fast Lane is the devil, if we are cutting the lines, Fast Lane is an angel in yellow and black. Bias is so strong that it rips families apart, destroys organizations, and taints our political process.
There are families that have been feuding for decades, sibling who won’t talk to each other, and each side is totally convinced that the other is totally at fault. You’ll hear statements like “I don’t know how he lives with himself!” They can’t see any other possibilities. There are sometimes disagreements on what direction a synagogue or school should take, and COVID only made that much more common. Reason dictates that both sides are good people, trying to find solutions to a complex problem, in different ways. Bias makes it that the two parties start to see each other as malicious, evil, and willfully destructive. Democrats who deplored the use of separate children’s facilities under Donald Trump (they’re locking kids up in cages!!!) now laud it under Joe Biden (children’s containment facilities). Republicans who blocked a Supreme Court nominee under Obama pushed it through under Trump. Bias is so blinding that people fail to notice their blatant hypocrisies.
I recently got a call from one of the nation’s premiere polling companies. Some underpaid employee spat questions to me off a computer screen and entered my responses. Despite wanting to be part of the poll, I quit halfway through. The questions gave no room for moderation. Here’s an example: for the question “Who do you think is responsible for the legislative gridlock in Washington?” there were only two answers, Republicans or Democrats. Have we become so biased that no one sees room for the obvious answer, Both? Why does the world need to be split between angels and demons?
Bias is a terrifyingly powerful force, but simply recognizing it is the first step to seeing the world with a more nuanced and honest view. If we want to be able to live at peace with others, if we want to have harmony in our marriages, families, and workplaces, we need to recognize the bias in our arguments, and we need to make a supreme effort to see things not only from our side, but from the other side as well.
Recognizing our personal biases for what they are is the Fast Lane to reason, peace, and a more stable world. Sure there will be less roller coasters, less super high highs, and stomach dropping lows, but that may just be a good thing.
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this week’s portion, Shelach, we read about the meraglim, the spies that the Jews sent forth to reconnoiter the land of Israel before they would enter it. The meraglim came back to the desert and gave a negative report, causing the Jews to lose spirit, and even suggest that they should return to Egypt. G-d was very angry that the Jews believed the spies’ slander on the land He had promised would be good, and He decreed that the Jews would wander in the desert for 40 years. During that time, all the people who had cried all night long bemoaning their fate, and asking to die in the desert, would die in the desert. Their children would be the only ones to enter the land, and witness the goodness of a land filled with G-d’s blessing.
The morning after this decree, a group of Jews decided that they had made a drastic error, and that they would rectify it by leaving immediately for the land of Israel. Moshe sent word that they should not go, as G-d had decreed that they must stay in the desert. If they were to go, G-d would not be with them, and they would fall in battle to the Amalekites and Canaanites. The group refused to listen to Moshe and charged forward. As I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, they were met by a welcome party of Amalekite and Canaanite commandos who massacred them.
The commentators point to something strange in the storyline. One night earlier these people had been so sure that Israel was a death trap that they begged to go back to the slavery of Egypt rather than to go to that dangerous land. Can it really be that the very next morning they are so sure that Israel is the greatest place in the world that they are willing to risk their lives to get there?
The Alter of Kelm, (1842-1898, Lithuania) [the father of the Kelm yeshiva, a bastion of the mussar movement which focused intensely on character development], answers this question with a fascinating insight. Many times we are on the cusp of greatness, and the evil inclination, the negative force inside of us, senses this, and puts up a magnificent fight, using every weapon it has. However, when we are on the way to do the wrong thing, the evil inclination is noticeably missing. If anything, the fact that everything is going our way easily can sometimes be a sign we’re heading the wrong way.
The Jews were about to enter the Land of Israel, and begin living on a new plane of existence, incomparable to any previously experienced by the Jewish people. The evil inclination put up a massive fight, the spies came back with a negative report, and the people fell for it. The next morning, the Jews were no longer supposed to go to Israel, au contraire, they were supposed to stay in the desert. Now the evil inclination lifts the wool off the eyes of the Jews and they see how wrong they had been. All the doubts and distortions they were shown the night before dissipate, and they see the truth. Now they want to go to Israel, and the evil inclination stays real quiet, because he knows it is the wrong thing. Sure enough, they fell for it again, and suffered the unfortunate consequences.
This teaches us a big lesson about our daily life. When we are just coasting along with no challenges, we need to recognize that we are probably in the wrong lane, or possibly even heading in the wrong direction. If we were heading toward greatness, our negative inner forces would be putting up every roadblock possible. Our growth comes from overcoming challenges, and if we’re not experiencing them, then we’re not on the path of growth.
When all is quiet on the Eastern Front, it probably because we belong on the Western Front.
As mentioned above, this Parsha speaks about the spies the Jews sent into Israel. When the people came to Moshe with a request to send spies, Moshe asked G-d. G-d replied, if you want to send spies, go ahead, but I see no reason for it, as I told you the land would be good. From here we see that right from the get-go, this spy idea wasn’t too hot. We also learn that G-d will not prevent you from doing something bad. He gave us free will, and if we desire a wicked path, He will not bar us from walking down it.
Next, Moshe picked the leaders of the tribes, amongst them his best disciple Hoshea. Moshe changed Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua, which is an acronym for “G-d should save you (from the counsel of the meraglim).” He gave the spies instructions as to where to go exactly and what to look for. Moshe told the spies to study at the cities they would encounter. If they were heavily fortified with many defenses, it would be a sign that the people are weak. However, if the cities were open, it would show that the inhabitants are strong and have nothing to fear. This is often also true in human psychology. Sometimes we see people who, due to unfortunate events in their past, put up strong walls of defense, almost never allowing their true emotions to show. Although some might view this as a strength, in reality, it is a sign of emotional weakness. The person who has emotional strength learns to overcome difficult events, and to slowly open themselves up to the entire range of emotions, even though at times it will be painful. (Thanks Wurzweiller School of Social Work, I am using you for the first time this year!)
The spies went, and came back bearing the fruit of the land. They described the land to the Jews as the ultimate Super Sized country; the fruit was huge (eight people were needed to carry one cluster of grapes), the people were gigantic, and inhabitants were dying all over the place (As a favor to the spies, G-d arranged that a lot of people should die so that, due to their grief, no one would notice the spies. However, when someone is looking for bad, they will find it even in the good being done for them). The Jews began to fear going to Israel, and started talking about going back to Egypt, ignoring the protests of Yehoshua and Caleb, the two righteous spies, who tried to tell the people how good the land was. The Jews became so hysterical that the entire nation wept all night long.
G-d was so angry that He threatened to destroy the entire nation and rebuild it from Moshe alone, but Moshe prayed very hard. He said that if G-d did so, all the nations would claim that G-d could only beat one king (Pharaoh), but not the 31 kings living in Israel so He killed His people before they got to Israel. Moshe also used the 13 Attributes of Mercy, a special formula for praying which G-d had told Moshe never returns without results. In the end, G-d acquiesced and said that He would not wipe out the Jewish nation for their grievous sin of not believing in Him and His promises about the Holy Land. However, G-d swore that all the adults who did not believe Him would never see the land – they would die out slowly over forty years of wandering in the desert. (The forty years paralleled the forty days the spies spent in the Holy Land gathering evil information to tell the Jews.)
Additionally, the night that the Jews cried for no reason was the night of Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av), and G-d declared that it would be the night on which Jews would cry forever. Sure enough, on Tisha B’Av we lost both our first and second Temples, the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, World War I began — a war whose outcome triggered World War II and its Holocaust, The Final Solution was decreed and signed by Goring YS’V the day before Tisha B’Av 1941, and the cattle cars left Warsaw, the largest ghetto with 400,000 Jews, on Tisha B’Av 1942. Although this seems like an awful lot of punishment for one sin, we need to understand that the underlying mistake of the Jews’ tears was their lack of complete faith that G-d can deliver on His promises. This lack of faith in G-d’s ability continues to be the cause of our pain and suffering as a nation.
After G-d spelled out the decree, a number of Jews suddenly felt remorse, and decided to go up and conquer Israel. Moshe told them not to go, as G-d had just decreed forty years of wandering. They went anyway, but G-d was not with them, and they were easily defeated by an army of Canaanites that they encountered immediately.
The Torah next describes the libations (offerings of wine and flour) which were brought along with the different sacrifices offered in the Temple. O.K. I was a teacher for eight years in NYC, and old habits die hard, so for homework I’m asking you to email me an answer as to what is the significance of the juxtaposition of the story of the spies and the libations. They seem to be totally unrelated, so why are they right next to each other in the Torah?
The Torah then describes the mitzvah of challah, which is the commandment to take a bit of dough off any dough we make and give it to the Kohen. Today we don’t give it to the Kohen, because they don’t have the level of ritual purity necessary to eat it, but we do take off a piece from our dough, (and if the dough is 5 lbs or more, we even make a blessing on doing this special mitzvah!) Today, being that we don’t give the Challah to a Cohen, and we can’t eat, we instead simply burn it. The Torah then discusses the atonement process for different forms of idol worship including intentional individual, unintentional individual, and unintentional public (when the High Court makes an erroneous ruling that allows a practice which is actually idol worship.) The last story in the Parsha is about a person who went out and desecrated Shabbos publicly, even though he was warned not to do so, and the punishment he received.
The Parsha concludes with the commandment to wear tzitzis, the fringes we wear on four cornered garments. They are there to serve as a constant reminder of our obligations to G-d. Here’s a quick story to illustrate this, which happened to a close friend of mine, Rabbi Aaron Eisemann, of Passaic, NJ. Once, when he was on a campus out in the West Coast doing outreach, he saw a big commotion. After going out to see what was going on, he sees a number of PETA activists (who advocate for animal rights and veganism) with a huge sign reading, “Stop the Holocaust on your plate; become a vegetarian!” Understandably, there was a large group of people standing around demanding that they take down this offensive sign which so minimized the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Fist were about to fly, when, suddenly, the leader of the PETAniks shows up. Sure enough, he is this little timid looking Jewish guy, and he averts the danger by telling his troop to take down the sign. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to reach out to another Jew, Rabbi E went to talk to him. He noticed that the fellow had a massive tattoo on his arm with some kind of message saying “Never Forget the Other Animals of this World” which the boy told Rabbi E he had drilled into him to ensure that he never forgets his responsibilities to the other animals of the planet. (I assume getting that tattoo should probably be considered cruelty to humans, getting tattoos hurts!) Rabbi E then told him that all Jews have a similar thing to remind them constantly of their responsibility to G-d and he showed him his tzitzit. The boy actually became interested in learning more about Judaism but, unfortunately, every time they were supposed to get together to learn, this boy was in jail for some illegal demonstration or other. That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: “The world is like a mirror; frown at it, and it frowns at you. Smile, and it smiles too.” – Renwo Tejrael
Random Fact of the Week: The average person will spend 2 weeks over their lifetime waiting for the traffic light to change.
Funny Line of the Week: If G-d wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Have a Swell Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham