Disclaimer: The views presented in the next three sections are not the views of the writer, his employers, or anyone he ever met. They are merely fictional and were created for the sole purpose of bringing out a point.
“Talking to the Russians? Talking to the Russians throughout the whole campaign? I’m telling you, this Trump is selling the country to the KGB, and he’s not even getting much for it! Just a little bit of orange face cream and some big shiny ties, and he’s selling the whole United States! I told you this was gonna happen! That’s what happens when you let a crook who bankrupted his companies four times to steal money from his investors run our country! Susan, you better start packing our bags, because I wanna be in Canada long before Trump’s buddy Putin comes to take delivery of this country!”
Susan took another sip of her coffee, and continued playing Candy Crush. It was like this on most mornings. She long ago learned to tune out the ranting, but she was concerned about Paul’s health. He had been losing hair and weight for close to a year now, and his ulcers were acting up again, even worse than they did during the financial crisis when they almost lost their house. He hadn’t slept well in over a year, constantly turning over in bed to check his phone for the latest news reports, and then often grumbling to himself about it until he drifted back to an unsettled sleep.
Using her favorite scissors, Annie Mae carefully cut the article out of the New York Times. This article definitely belonged on the Wall of Shame. Talking about the supposed dysfunction of the Trump administration, the entire article didn’t name a single source in the Trump administration! It only named three different “anonymous” sources, and a bunch of Left Coast professors of political science. There was not a shred of honesty in this report, and for that matter in anything the New York Times had to say! She didn’t even trust the weather section anymore, she watched Fox News for the local weather, what did the New York Times know? They predicted that President Trump had only a 14% chance of winning the presidency, and he won with a landslide!
Annie Mae was not the typical New York Times subscriber, she thought she might be the only New York Times subscriber in all North Dakota, except perhaps some of those commie professors at U of ND. But in August before the election she subscribed to the New York Times. Not just the Times, but the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the L.A. Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Boston Globe. While her husband was out working the Bakken oil fields, Annie Mae busied herself with defending the freedom of their country.
In September, she started the Wall of Shame in the local community center, a wall that would highlight the dishonesty of the media. Articles that included falsehood, “anonymous” sources, conjecture, or biased information were cut out, marked with red marker to highlight the most dishonest portions and hung on the Wall.
Annie Mae worked to refresh the entire wall once a week with new lies from the media, and it wasn’t hard, there was just so much out there. She found great pride whenever she walked into the community center, there were always a few people clustered around it, learning about the dangers of the media, and the falsehoods they were foisting on the public. Sure, this work was taking its toll on her. Her migraines were terrible, and often as she worked late at night poring over the newspapers she would get slight tremors in her forearms or eyelids, but no one said defending freedom came cheap.
For years, Josh Friedman had been an ardent Zionist. He was the chairman of the local AIPAC dinner, he went on missions to Israel at least once every three years, and he was involved in the local political scene as well, campaigning for his US Rep every other year. The last eight years had not been easy. The public Obama-Bibi feud had cost Israel a lot. The US abstention at the UN vote, was already hurting Israel, as nations around the world were gearing up to try some of Israel’s leaders in Human Rights Courts, and the BDS movement was only getting stronger.
Josh felt that Trump would be better toward Israel, and indeed Bibi was given much better treatment at his visit to the White House this week. But something Trump said made him worried. During the joint press conference with Trump and Netanyahu, Trump turned to Netanyahu and said, “As far as settlements, I would like to see you hold back on the settlements for a little bit…”
Is this really happening? Is Trump turning into another Obama, never giving Israel any room to breathe? How would Trump feel if someone was lobbing missiles at Trump Tower in Manhattan from Gaza? After that, you think he would tell Netanyahu to “hold off on the settlements?”
This president, who announced to the press on Thursday that he doesn’t think any other president in history has done as much as he has done in so short a timeframe, definitely didn’t do his homework on the Middle East conflicts. If he did, he would know that some Israeli family, building an extra bedroom onto their home in Beitar is not the cause of ISIS slaughtering the Yadizi. He would know that giving in to the Palestinian’s ridiculous demands will just help create Hamastan at the border of the US’s strongest and only democratic ally in the Middle East!
What was going to happen to Israel if Trump continued equivocating on his position?
On Wednesday, Bloomberg News reported that the stress levels in the US, as measured by the American Psychological Association, have just broke all the records and are at the highest they’ve ever been since the APA started measuring it in 2007! This is shocking, because on Wednesday (February 15), the stock market also broke records and was at an all-time high. Stress is higher today than during the financial crisis, higher today when the unemployment rate is below 5% than it was in Jan of 2010 when it crested at 10%!
The reason for this stress, as the APA reports, is the politics of the day. The left claims this is the most unworthy president ever, and the right claims the media bias is the worse than it has ever been. Families members from different political views have stopped to talking to each other, communities have been ripped apart, and the country is reeling under the stress of all this insanity!
It is interesting that all these reports came out this week, as it ties in to the weekly Torah potion quite clearly. In this week’s Parsha, Yisro, we read the most fundamental Jewish text, the Ten Commandments. In it we read (Exodus, 20:1-4): “You shall have no other gods before Me… You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them…” The Second Commandment is the commandment against idol worship, a commandment that seems almost irrelevant to us in 2017. We don’t have idols, we don’t feel pressured to serve idols, we barely know anyone who serves idols! Could it be that the Second Commandment doesn’t really apply to us in our days?
Idols come in many forms, and they’re not all seven handed goddesses from India, or smiling roly-poly buddhas from Cambodia. The root of idol worship is believing that something other than God controls our world. If a farmer believes that gods of rain can bring down the proper rain on his field and make sure he has what to eat, that is idol worship. When a Japanese family gets a new car and has the Shinto priest perform a ceremony on it, and believes that now it is not going to get into a car accident, that is idol worship.
But it is also idol worship when we believe that Donald J. Trump has the ability to affect your life in a way that God doesn’t want it to. That is ascribing power over your life to someone other than God. No matter whether you love Trump or hate Trump, whether you read his tweets as a source of wisdom and inspiration or a source of comedy and case studies on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, he is not all that powerful in the end. He is only a human being, and God trumps Trump.
Yes, Donald Trump has free will (his tweets indicate that much!), but our sages teach us that the free will of a king or ruler is actually limited by God because they have such an outsized effect on God’s world. This is made quite clear by a verse in Proverbs (21:1), “A king’s heart is like rivulets of water in the Lord’s hand; wherever He wishes, He turns it.” Thinking that Donald Trump can change your economic situation, thinking that Donald Trump can save or hurt Israel, is nothing but idol worship.
In a divorce between feuding spouses, insanity often rules. Protracted legal battles take place over who gets the silverware, and how much of the children’s cell phone bills should be covered by whom. Who’s the winner? The lawyers. They are perfectly happy charging you $400 an hour to fight for your $250 silverware set. Who are the losers? Everyone.
In this world, where Americans are driving themselves to the greatest levels of stress in ten years, who is winning? The media. Both conservative and liberal media is having a field day, hyping up the “disasters,” and we are tuning in like suckers, and getting stressed out by it every day. All day long, the radio, TV, and blogosphere churns out article after article, trying to get you to believe that your life and liberty is at risk over here, and we alarmingly tune it. It’s time to stop believing in this idolatrous practice, it’s time for us to take out lives back, it’s time to trust in G-d, and no one else.
This does not mean that we need to be ignorant about current events, we do have the right to know what’s going on, and especially to use it to direct our prayers to G-d, the One who does control world affairs. But this overconsumption of media, this constant reading of every article touting the meltdown of America as we know it, this belief that human beings like Donald J. Trump, Diane Feinstein, Mitch McConnell, Bernie Sanders or anyone else can make or break our world, is idol worship, and it is hurting in ways that may not be apparent at the surface, but are deeply stressing the health of American society.
Let’s be free. Let’s let G-d take care of His world, and let’s do what we can to actually make it better!
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s Parsha starts with the arrival of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law to the Jew’s encampment in the desert. When Moshe came to Egypt he sent back his wife and children to Midian so as not to bring more people into a land committing atrocities against the Jews. Now, after the Jews were freed, Moshe’s father-in-law came to joint them, bringing with him Moshe’s wife and children. When he got there, he converted, and joined the Jewish people.
The events leading up to Yisro’s arrival are described in the first verse of the parsha. “Now Moses’ father in law, Yisro, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, His people that the Lord had taken Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 18:1) Rashi asks what exactly it was that Yisro heard which prompted him to come to the desert and join the Jews, instead of just sending his daughter and grandchildren. He answers that he heard about the splitting of the sea and the war that the Jews had fought with Amalek.
One part of this answer seems to makes perfect sense, while the other seems troubling. G-d splitting a sea and allowing the Jews to walk through on dry land is something spectacular, and a good reason for someone to come and join the nation. But the fact that they had fought a war with Amalek and won doesn’t seem to be such a compelling reason for a person to uproot himself from a land where he is well respected and come out to the desert and join a new nation! If Rashi had told us that Yisro heard about the splitting sea and the 10 plagues, or the splitting sea and the exodus from Egypt, I would understand, but what is so significant about the war with Amalek that Rashi tells us that this caused Yisro to radically change his life?
An answer offered is that Yisro realized that if a nation is so desperate to go after Israel as to attack them in a Kamikaze fashion so soon after they got out of Egypt, that nation must have something of value, and he wanted to have it too. A simple analogy would be watching how much protection an item of value needs and to what great lengths thieves will go to try to circumvent the security procure the item. Thieves don’t round up sophisticated gangs to rob the local fruit store, but they will devote an enormous amount of resources, and even risk their lives, in order to get at a vault containing numerous precious gems and diamonds.
Yisro noted that Amalek came to attack the Jews right after they were saved from Egypt, and he realized that the Jews must have something special. In truth, this is the biggest lesson in Jewish history. Why is it that the Jews have always been persecuted, attacked, and threatened? Is it just because this nation of extraordinary people has really bad luck again, and again, and again, and again, and again? No, it is not our bad luck that brings all this down upon us, rather it is the incredible gift that we have, the Torah, and our unique relationship with G-d that causes the hatred of the other nations. Subconsciously, other nations know that we have the gold, that we have the sparkling diamonds of the world, and persecute us in a hope that they can snuff it out so that no one will have it.
Of course, our job is to make it shine so brightly that everyone either tries to join us (like Yisro did), or at least aids us in out mission of carrying it aloft. May G-d bless us with those days speedily in our time!
This week’s Parsha starts with the arrival of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law. Yisro’s biggest contribution to the Jewish people was the judging system which he instituted. He noticed that Moshe would sit all day judging people, while the line of those waiting to see him grew and grew. Yisro told Moshe that this system would burn out both Moshe and the people. He suggested that Moshe create a hierarchy of judges, with the most minor judges only responsible for 10 people, the next over 50, 100, and finally 1,000 people. The big questions and cases that couldn’t be dealt with by those judges would come to Moshe.
Moshe asked G-d, and with G-d’s permission, he appointed judges who met the following criteria; G-d fearing, accomplished, despises money, and men of integrity. He appointed them according to the positions mentioned above, and the new judicial system ran as smoothly as butter on a hot skillet!
The next part of the Parsha deals with the Jews’ arrival at Mount Sinai, and the revelation they experiences there. I will break the events down by days.
Day 1: The Jews arrive at Mount Sinai with a unity that is unmatched in their entire 40 years in the desert.
Day 2: Moshe goes up the mountain to talk to G-d. G-d tells him to tell the Jews that they have seen G-d’s miracles and His affection for them, and now He is making them an offer. If they want, they can accept the Torah and become a “Treasured Nation,” but they have to remember that it comes with a lot of responsibilities. Moshe comes down and tell the people who respond with a unanimous, “Whatever G-d says we will do!”
Day 3: Moshe goes back up, and delivers the Jews’ answer (G-d already knew it, but this teaches us that when one is sent to deliver a message they should always bring back the reply). G-d tells Moshe that He will speak from within a dark cloud to Moshe, but all the people would hear Him talking, and this would be a way for the people to know that Moshe was a true prophet. Moshe goes down and tells the people.
Day 4: Moshe ascends the mountain again and tells G-d that the people want to hear G-d talking directly to them. They said that hearing from an emissary doesn’t compare to hearing from a king! G-d tells Moshe to go back and tell the people to prepare for two days (by purifying themselves), for on the third G-d would talk to them. He also warns them not to touch the mountain or try to climb it, as it has a special holiness. Moshe gives the message, but, according to one view in the Talmud, he adds a third day of purification (this is the topic of some very deep insights, but it’s not within the scope of our Parsha Summary).
Day 5: Moshe builds an altar at the bottom of the mountain, as well as twelve pillar as monuments. He brings sacrifices on the altar and eats with the people.
Day 6: On this day, according to some, the revelation took place. According to others this was the extra day of preparation that Moshe added.
Day 7: G-d reveals himself in all His glory to the people. They hear Him talking directly to them and speaking out the first two of the Ten Commandments (which would be more appropriately translated as the Ten Statements). The event is too powerful for the mortal humans to handle, and the people ask that Moshe tell them the last 8 instead of having G-d directly speaking to them. This is the only time in all of recorded history where G-d spoke to a mass assembly. Never, ever, has any other religion even claimed this. (This is one of the proofs of Judaism’s validity over all other faiths in which only individuals such as J.C., Mohammed, the Buddha, or Joseph Smith claim to have had personal revelations.)
Here are the Big Ten:
1. I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of Egypt (belief in one G-d).
2. You may not serve any other gods.
3. You may not take the name of G-d in vain.
4. Keep Shabbos.
5. Honor your mother and father.
6. Don’t kill.
7. Don’t commit adultery.
8. Don’t steal.
9. Don’t testify falsely.
10. Don’t covet that which belongs to others.
After this momentous event, G-d commanded Moshe to tell the people that they had seen and heard G-d speak to them (one of the miracles of the revelation was that people saw sounds), and they had better not make or worship any other deities. He also commanded them to make an alter, but not to use stones hewn with iron. Iron is the material used to fashion weapons, and an altar needs to be a paradigm of peace.
That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: Worry is as useless as a handle on a snowball. ~ Mitzi Chandler
Random Fact of the Week: Pound for pound, a hummingbird consumes the caloric equivalent of 228 milkshakes per day!
Funny Line of the Week: A bicycle can’t stand alone; it is two tired.
Have a Snazzy Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham