Due to a series of unfortunate events, I have ended up in court far too many times in my life. Luckily those unfortunate events were mostly speeding or failure to obey a traffic device as opposed to homicide, assault and battery, or any of the other “events” that would result in me staying in a high-security lodging away from my laptop, my bowling shoes and my beloved family for a long time. In the course of my time spent in court I have seen some strange things, such as a man getting jail time for buying peach shnapps for a minor, a doofus charged with lighting his friend’s dog’s tail on fire, and all kinds of weird things. However this morning while in traffic court I got to see Alan Dershowitz! Or at least someone a young woman who thought she was Alan Dershowitz.
From the get go, it was clear that our judge was kind and considerate, but also a lady who didn’t want to waste her time, or our time. When each person stood up, she asked them kindly,”so tell me, what happened exactly,” and after hearing their plight, she would give them a reduced sentence. She was quick and efficient going through about a case a minute until she called out “Case #76-054645, Alan Dershowitz” and up got a young lady with a defiant face that said “I will eat you up and spit the pieces into a pot of lime, you government person!” (I think that was actually what her T-shirt said, she was one of those brilliant people who think coming to court in jeans and a T-shirt will get you a favorable judgment.)
The judge starts the dialogue, “so, are you still on probation?” (I realize this is not the first unfortunate event for Alan). No clear intelligible answer. The judge asked her what happened, and Alan pulls out Infallible Logic Exhibit #1:
“You see the cop pulled me over on Oak Park Blvd. right by Cloverlawn St. He said I was doing 35 in a 25 zone. Now I live on Gardner St. I’ve been living there for twenty years since 1990 (no, I am not exaggerating, she said that) and Cloverlawn is only one small block up from Gardner so how’s it possible that I could be doing 35 if I just turned the corner from Gardner, I can’t turn a corner going 35!” At this point she leans back and folds her arms on her chest, as if waiting for this complex proof to sink into the judge’s head, so that the judge can let her go, and end this ridiculous case.
Everyone who thinks Alan has a good point, raise your hand. O.K. now put it down, you were wrong, the logic makes no sense (don’t worry I didn’t see your raised hand), because who says she was coming from her home on Gardner street where she has been living for the last twenty years since 1990, could be she was coming from a 24 hour drinking marathon at her best friends house! The judge tries to explain to her that her logic has one big glaring hole in it, and that she will let her go with a reduced sentence or she can request to see the cop. She asks for the cop to come in.
It happened to be that the cop was in the building and a few minutes later he comes in. He recounts the whole story, how he was sitting in the library parking lot, and as she was driving past Parklawn Ave., he shot her with his Laser Speed Measuring Device and it registered 35 MPH, and by the time he pulled her over she was at Cloverlawn.
At this point, Alan sees a huge fallacy in the cop’s story and she decides to once and for all prove that he is a maligning fraud, prevaricator, and liar. She says “Howz is it that he got me with his laser on Parklawn, and then pulled me over on Cloverlawn, that isn’t possible because Cloverlawn is before Parklawn!” (That was said with a lot of emphasis, a bit on the loud side, and with just a tinge of anger showing in her voice. I’m no psychic but I started getting the distinct feeling she didn’t like this cop or the judge too much.) Here we go, I’m going to use my great brain to show the absurdity of Infallible Logic Exhibit #2: On any two way street, the order of the streets gets reversed depending on which direction you are traveling, so Parklawn actually is before Cloverlawn half the time!
In any case at this point the judge throws the whole book at her, and gives her the full fine, no reduction or anything. The great Alan Dershowitz went down in a blaze of smoke and muttered criticisms.
What do we learn from this? Even though we have the famous adage “don’t judge someone until you’re in his shoes,” it’s important to recognize that when you are in those shoes, it is best that you ask a second opinion. Alan’s problem was that she was so convinced of her innocence that she used the most preposterous arguments, which to everyone in the courtroom but her, sounded downright comical. She never even entertained the idea that possibly she was wrong, and that she could do a lot better for herself by being polite, apologetic, and wearing her Sunday best. This is the danger of looking at things from a subjective perspective.
When in the process of making a significant and momentous decision, something that we have a strong personal feeling about, the chances of us being able to see it 100% clearly are very slim. We may come up with the craziest explanations, excuses, rationalizations, because we want so badly to be able to think one way. That is why it is so important to ask someone objective to help you with some of the big decisions. It doesn’t have to be a Rabbi, (although a Rabbi is a great first choice) but it has to be someone totally objective.
We have all seen others make foolish decisions, whether in picking the wrong spouse, the wrong career, or the wrong place to invest their nests egg (Hi Sam Bankman-Fraud!). Let’s learn from them, what Alan should have known, which is that even when you are convinced you are right, ask an objective third party. The Sages in Ethics of Our Fathers tell us (Avos 1:6), “Make for yourself a teacher, and acquire for yourself a friend.” The teacher role is filled by someone with more knowledge than you, hence the word Rav, which in Hebrew means, a lot, or more. You should find someone with more knowledge than you, more fear of G-d than you, and learn from him.
But you should also acquire a friend. A friend is someone who is on your level, they may not have any more knowledge or wisdom than you, but they have a different advantage, they are objective. They don’t see the world painted by all of your personal biases. And as such they can give you great advice that you can’t see because you’re so sold on your own story and your own needs. And that kind of advice and perspective is worth its weight in gold.
Parsha Dvar Torah
In the end of this week’s Parsha, we find Yosef, stuck in an Egyptian jail. There, with G-d’s help, he deciphers the dreams of two of the prisoners. He tells the king’s butler that he will be returned to his position, while telling the baker that he will be hung (both of which come true immediately). As the king’s butler is about to be returned to his position, Yosef tells him, ” But remember me when things go well with you. Please deal kindly with me, and mention me to Pharaoh, and take me out of this house.” (Gen. 40:14)
We find that Rashi later comments that for a man of Yosef’s stature to put so much faith in a human being to get him out of prison was considered a sin (because he should have had more faith in G-d to get him out when the time was right) and for that Yosef was punished with two more years. As Rashi says on verse 23: “Because Yoseif depended on him (the butler) to remember him it necessitated his remaining imprisoned for two years, as is stated: “Fortunate is the man who has made G-d his trust, and has not turned to the arrogant.” [I.e.,] and does not put his trust in the Egyptians who are called arrogant.”
Rabbenu Bachaye states that Yosef had two requests, mention me to Pharaoh and and take me out of here. Because of that he was punished with two years. It is said that R’ Chaim of Brisk once asked R’ Shimon Skopp the following question “If Yosef made only one request mention me to Pharaoh, how long would he have sat in prison?” R’ Shimon answered that Yosef would have only sat for one year. R’ Chaim of Brisk, said “no, he would not have gone to prison at all, because even a tzaddik (a righteous person) who knows that everything comes from G-d, needs to show some hishtadlus, some physical effort to get what he needs, and cannot sit around waiting for G-d to make miracles for him all the time.
But if that is the case, that even Yosef should have made one request, and instead he made two, he should have only had to sit in prison for one year? The answer is that had Yosef asked only once, it would have been evident that he is one who puts his full faith in G-d, but in order to not sit around waiting for a miracle, which is something we are not allowed to do, he did his hishtadlus, his required effort, and the rest he left to G-d. However once he does more than his required effort, we see that everything he did was not to fulfill his requirement but out of a desire to get human help, and then he can be held accountable for each request.
A practical way to understand this is to look at people and their careers. Why should a person abandon his children and spouse to go to work? Isn’t our most important job in this world to be good parents and spouses? The only proper answer is that he or she needs money to help support their family, and maybe also to be able to give charity. However, when a person starts working very long hours, way beyond the time needed to support his family comfortably and give charity, we see that he wants the money for money’s sake. Once you realize that, you understand that even the hours that he works that are required to support aren’t being done for the proper reason, and the biggest proof is that he doesn’t stop when he should.
The same applies to Yosef, once he made two requests we see that even the first request was for the wrong reason, because had it been for the right reason he would have stopped there. This lesson applies in many areas of life. It can be the strictness we use to discipline our children, the amount of time we work, or the way we interact with family members. We may tell ourselves that we are doing it for one reason, but if we see we are going too far to fit the aforementioned reason, chances are, we need to rethink our entire approach to the issue.
This week’s Parsha sort of breaks new ground by beginning to discuss in depth the lives of people other than the patriarchs. Now we start to talk about the lives of their children, the Twelve Tribes. This week’s Parsha begins with the tense relationship between Yosef and his siblings. He felt they were doing certain things wrong, and told his father about it. The brothers became angry with him. Then he had two dreams, the gist of which were that all the brothers were bowing down to him, and these dreams further infuriated the brothers as they felt he was trying to force his rule over them.
One time when Yosef was sent to check on them, while they were tending sheep in Shechem, they made an ad hoc court and condemned him to death for what they felt were serious crimes. Reuven persuaded them out of it, convincing them to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s plans was to come back and get Yosef out, but while Reuven went back to serve his father, Yehuda convinced the brothers to sell Yosef to a passing caravan of Ismaelites. Yosef was traded from one group to the next until eventually he was bought by Potiphar, the Chamberlain of Pharaoh.
The brothers brought back Yosef’s tunic to their father covered in blood, which made Yaakov believe that his son was killed by a wild animal. He was deeply grieved and no one was able to properly console him. At this point, Yehuda fell out of favor in the eyes of his brothers for his role in the sale of Yosef, so he moves away from them. In his new land, he marries and builds a family. Through an interesting twist of events, Yehuda ends up living with someone, who he thought was someone else, and one of the resulting offspring ends up being the ancestor of King David and by definition, Moshiach.
In the meantime, Yosef runs into some trouble at his new workplace. He is enormously successful as a servant and soon Potiphar’s house is being run by Yosef. However Potiphar’s wife was attracted to Yosef who was very beautiful and she tried daily to seduce him. Finally one day when everyone was at a pagan festival she came home and tried to force herself onto him. He ran out leaving his coat in her hands. She made a big stink claiming that it was Yosef who tried to force himself onto her, and Yosef gets thrown into jail.
Even in jail he wass very successful and soon he was in charge of the whole jail. One day he notices two of his fellow inmates, the royal butler and baker look depressed. He asked them what was wrong and they said that they had dreams they couldn’t interpret. Yosef interprets them both properly. The Parsha concludes with Yosef asking the butler to remind Pharaoh about his, and to get him out of jail, however the butler totally forget Yosef for two years! That’s all Folks!
Quote of the week: The more you say, the less people remember.- François Fénelon
Random Fact of the Week: The average bank teller loses about $250 a year!
Have a Glowing Shabbos,R’ Leiby Burnham