Trump’s Communication: Intimate or disconnected?

Perhaps the most startling aspect of President Trump’s leadership both as Republican nominee in the election and even more so as President was the pointed and often offensive tweets that Trump chose to share with the world at large. The advantage of tweeting if of course the ability to disseminate one’s opinion and message instantaneously. He  no longer needs to be beholden to the overtures of the media and press. If anything they have all but become an irrelevance as he castigated them for hiding the truth.

Besides the controversial content of some of his statements, the very behaviour of the President has chosen to adopt utilising  Twitter to communicate raises interesting questions as the way he and we choose to communicate and to interact with other people in general. There seems to be a psyche of the necessity to respond instantly, it seems more important to respond rather than the quality of those responses. One cannot leave an email for twenty-four hours without some type of response. One may wonder where the thinking time has gone. The time to contemplate and give due care and consideration to the consequences of the options on the table.

The Gemorah in Megillah describes and incident in the Purim story. The tells us that after Vashti’s rebellion in defying Ahasuerus orders and refusing to appear at the party, a counsel was convened of seven wise men so as to advise the King what he should do with Vashti for failing to obey his command.

Rav Kamenetsky observes that Haman was the last name in that list indicating he was of the lowest stature of all the advisors. Yet he was the one who jumped up first and gave advice before anyone else. The Maharal explains that the reason those of lower stature blurt out their opinions is not that they wish to show off their brilliance, it is due to the fact they simply cannot contain their impulses.

I remember when I was growing up my father being a lawyer would share on countless occasions that he had written an important letter but had  purposely left it on his desk so that he could consider over night whether he was content to send it or not. After all once words are said they can never be retracted.

In late Chief Rabbi  Lord Jacobovitz, posed the question as to why when  we are about to start the Amidah we are required to  first take three steps back before taking three steps forward and commencing the Amidah. He explained that before one can expect to move forwards in life one first has to take three steps back to gain a true perspective of where one is so one can know where one is heading.

In the aftermath of the Chilcot enquiry, the former prime minster Tony Blair expressed his “deep regret and sorry over the invasion of Iraq” decisions that are made in the heat of the moment when under tremendous pressure so often lead to catastrophic consequences and a life of regret

In our own lives despite more and more means of communication we seem to struggle to connect in relationships. Arguably part of the issue must lay at the frenetic pace of life and the  impulsive and knee jerk means of communicating which we all resort to.

Taking those three steps back and having less but more qualitative interactions may enable us to become a more thoughtful generation.

Lecture – Heinz Dilemma: His money or her life?

Living by ethical priniciples in an imperfect world tests a person’s character.
How do we resolve tensions when moral principles conflict?
Lawrence Kohlberg presented the following dilemma:

1.In Europe, a woman was near death from a specialkind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what it cost him to make. He paid $400 for the radium and charged $4000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money and to try every legal means, but he could only get together about $2000, which is half of what it cost. He asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So, having tried every legal means, Heinze gets desperate and considers breaking into the man’s store to steal thedrug for his wife. Should Heinz steal the drug?!

2.In order to save his life during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, a man, under pressure from the SS, revealed the location of his brother’s hidden wealth. Should he have doneso? Both brothers survived the war and live in Israel. Must the man now compensate his brother for the losses he caused? May a person steal medication or money or food in order to save his life?

May a person steal medication or money or food in order to save his life?
Are moral dictates inviolate ? if not when can they be breached?
3. Regina v. Dudley & Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273 DC, where four shipwrecked sailors were cast adrift in a small boat without provisions. To save themselves, the three strongest decided to eat the fourth, the 17 year-old cabin boy. The court ruled that cannibalising the boy was not urgently necessary. Even though the cabin boy would almost certainly have died of natural causes, the sailors killed the boy intentionally and were guilty of murder. There was some degree of necessity arising from the threat of starvation but, at any moment, a ship could have sailed over the horizon to save them as, indeed, the three were rescued. Since they could never be sure that the killing was actually necessary from one minute to the next, the defence was denied. Cannibalism itself is not an offence so long as the death occurs naturally.
4. Philosopher Lord Francis Bacon took this prinicple to its extreme, stating
“If a man steals viands {food] to satisfy his present hunger, there is no felony or larceny.”
5. Baba Kamma 60b
King David consulted the Sanhedrin as to whetherhis army was permitted to destroy private property that the Philistines were using as camouflage in order to attack it.
The answer they dispatched to him was: [Generallyspeaking] it is forbidden to rescue oneself through the destruction of another’s property; you, however, are King, and a king may break [through fields belonging to private persons] to make a way [for his army], and
nobody is entitled to prevent him [from doing so].

  1. Bava Kama 79b
    Reb Yehudah and Reb Yosi were walking together when a ravenous hunger seized Reb Yehudah. He seized a shepherd and devoured his bread. Reb Yosi said to him “ You have robbed the shepherd.
  2. Raavad Hilchot Chivel Umazik 8:4
    The Rambam said that if someone coerces you to pass him someone else’s property under the threat you must do so to save your life and you must pay back the loss. Nothing stands in the way of saving life and therefore once one is obligated to save life one would be exempt from repayment.
  3. Sanhedrin 74a
    For Rava said: If a man was pursuing after his fellow(to slay him) and broke some utensils, whether of the pursued or of some other person,he (the pursuer) is free from liability. Why so? He is liable to be killed
    (kim Lei) receives more severe of punishments
    If the pursued broke utensils, if they belonged to the pursuer,he is not liable for them, if to someone else he is liable. If they belonged to the pursuer he is not liable because (the pursuer’s) property is not more precious than (the pursuer’s life( which the pursued is allowed to take in self defense). If they belonged to someone else he is liable because he saved himself at his neighbours expense

So third approach may take anothers property to save life but must compensate the owner.
The Talmud then goes on to discuss the situation of the good Samaritan

But if one pursuer (a third party) was pursuing a pursuer to save the victims life and broke some utensils whether of the pursuer or the pursued or any other person he is not liable for them.

  1. Yad Ramah

Saving oneself with another’s property is permissible at the time since he doesn’t have access to his own funds to save life since has obligation to save life and no alternative he is permitted to use the others money to save life
But after successful rescue he will have access to his personal resources and no longer under duress and thus the temporary exemption from paying disappears

Exodus – ‘Shemot’: Please remove your shoes

The first encounter with the Almighty by Moshe is one we are all familiar with. Moshe finds himself alone in the desert and noticing an extraordinary phenomena of a Bush burning yet not being consumed by the fire he turns aside to examine this remarkable occurrence. On drawing closer Hashem commands Moshe to remove his shoes because it is “admat kodesh”  hallowed ground.

Rav Yosef Salant raises the question as to what was the significance of Moshe being asked to remove his shoes. He quotes a statement from the siddur of the Shlah that the blessing that we recite every morning at the start of shacharit  service “ Sheasi li kol tzarki”  is a blessing we recite on wearing shoes. King David observed that there is a hierarchical structure to creation with four levels starting with inanimate objects the next level up is foliage a higher level still is animal kingdom and the climax of creation is humans.

Humankind eat and benefit from everything in the world and therefore when a person takes the skin of an animal and makes shoes to tread on with his feet  it symbolises and demonstrates his dominion over the rest of creation. Therefore the blessing of sheasa li kol tzarki is recognition of the fact we as humans should act in a fashion that highlights that we are above all other aspects of creation. By contrast when Moshe was standing in the presence of the Almighty it was a time he was required not to recall dominion over creation but to recognise the need to subjugate himself in the presence of Hashem. It was for that reason Moshe was told to remove his shoes signalling that he would be willing to completely subjugate himself in the eyes of Hashem without any separation.

Rav Salant sees in the wearing and removal of Moshe’s shoes  here two facets to  mankind , on the one hand an awareness that we are expected to  transcend  our physical selves and constantly be vigilant to ensure we do not lower ourselves to act in an animalistic fashion. Secondly to be mindful to remove any vestige of pride or self- worth in the service of Hashem represented by the shoes

Rav Dessler develops this approach further by suggesting that the command to Moshe to remove his shoes hinted to the notion of removing the covering which is hiding your character defects and faults from yourself. Only then says Rav Dessler will the “place you are standing “be “holy ground” and from there you begin your spiritual ascent.

This idea challenges us to strike a balance between recognising the greatness of humankind that should be manifest in the way we act in contrast to the rest of creation, but at the same time we should have a sense of humility and modesty being cognisant that we stand in the presence of the Almighty.

Genesis – ‘Vayeshev’: Standing strong in the face of evil

And how can I perpetrate this great evil and sin against G-d?

Yosef   resists the advances of his master Potiphar’s wife.  He rebuts her stating that it was improper for him, on two counts firstly when bearing in mind the debt of gratitude that he owed Potiphar”. Secondly it would be a terrible sin against G-d in committing adultery.

Rav Gifter  raises an interesting question   why  when responding to Potiphar’s wife’s advances did he not  tell her why it was wrong and inappropriate for her rather than him to commit such an act? Rashi quotes a Talmudic statement that even before the torah was given, non-Jews were commanded against immorality.

Rav Gifter suggests that Yosef sensing the severity of the test, felt that he was partially responsible for the situation at hand due to some shortcoming in his own personality. If he had been living on the high level of sanctity befitting the favoured son of Yaakov, Potiphar’s wife would never have imagined that she could sway the mind of such a tsaddik, and she would thus not have tried to do so.

Yosef’s greatness here is highlighted in his open admission that the situation he found himself in was not merely a victim of circumstance but it was a gradual and subtle lowering of his own guard which resulted in him finding himself in the testing situation presented by Potiphar’s wife.

This has relevance to us as individuals and as members of society, the response and excuse that people are just victims of circumstance and therefore had little or no choice in their unethical and immoral behaviour and personal conduct is.Yosef’s response to the overtures of Potiphar’s wife is insightful in how we should react .find ourselves in challenging circumstances that tempt and test our spiritual and ethical values, we should reflect on our past conduct and will realise in a similar vein to Yosef that we are only finding the circumstance a challenge due to our failure to enact the appropriate boundaries and fences to protect and pre-empt such a situation ever developing in the first place.

Genesis -‘Vayeitzei’: The Artists Way

Hashem is the ultimate Artist. During our lifetime, we see one fragment of the master piece

milky way, human, lake

Yaakov awakens from his prophetic vision  and made a vow “ ושבתי בשלום אל בית אבי והיה ד לי לאלוקים ”-  and I will return in peace to my father’s house and Hashem will be a G-d to me..

Rashi on this posuk comments  that His name will rest upon me from beginning to end.

The medrash  states  that Hakadosh Baruch Hu took the discussions of the Avos and  transformed  them into the key for  the geulah of his children. Said Hakadosh Baruch Hu “You (Yaakov) stated : והיה ד לי לאלוקים” by your life all the tovos and brachos and nechamos that I give to your children I will only give in this language…. And it will be on that day that  the great shofar will be blown.

The Sefas Emes offers a majestic explanation of this cryptic medrash. In reality any nechama that is in the hands of mankind is not a true consolation since its main purpose it to ensure that the tzarah should be merely forgotten,  Hashem on the other hand is the Baal Hanechamos . The reason for this is that in regards to Hashem nechama, consolation is something radically different in that He is able to console the individual by holding up a mirror and showing retrospectively that there never was a tzarah in the first place. What appeared at the time as a tzarah was in fact for the individuals ultimate benefit this is a true nechama. In the future when we will usher in the Geulah Sheleimah the  final redemption it will be revealed in  the eyes of all of humanity that  the catalogue of tragedies and persecution our darkest moments that have  beset our nation in exile  over the course of the millennia, were in fact for our ultimate benefit. In the future it will be clarified for us that Hashem never left our side and all the tzaros which appeared as bad were in reality for our long term benefit.

Rav Gedaliah Schorr avers that this notion is hinted to in the very first word that Yaakov stated in his vow. The word  והיה, the root   being “היה” refers to the past, yet with the letter vav preceding it,  the word is transformed from past to the future and therefore all the prophecies concerning the redemption are written in this form since at the time of the  future redemption it will be revealed to us the sorrow of golus was truly for our benefit.

With this remarkable insight we can understand the posuk in In Devarim ( 4/)  ki mi goy gadol asher lo elokim kerovim elav  kehahsem elokenu  bechol karenu elav- for which is  a great nation that has a G-d close to it as is Hashem our G-d  whenever we call to Him. In describing the close relationship enjoyed between the klal yisrael  and Hahsem, the posuk employs the term Elokim which is middas hadin the  attribute of strict justice, thereby  underscoring  the fact that even when Hashem is forced to exercise His attribute of strict justice in relation to our people He is still close to us and we are close to Him. It is all performed for our ultimate benefit and underlying the attribute of justice is Hashem really acting in a compassionate and merciful manner towards us despite appearances to the contrary at the time we experience the hardship. For this reason we find it expressed in Tehillim that retrospectively at the time of the redemption we will see everything in the correct perspective and appreciate it was all for our benefit and thus the idea that we suffered in exile will be reappraised and  determined as “hayinu kecholmim” it was like a dream something that is unreal that had no basis.

This principle to recognise that we are only seeing and experiencing one fragment in the cosmic  picture  being painted and cannot expect to comprehend the true chesed that Hashem performs in every aspect of our lives is reflected in an idea from Shmuel.  The  posuk says  איו צור כאלוקנו- Rashi famously commented  אין צייר כאלוקנו  there is no artist like Hashem.

Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelovitz- explained the idea of Hashem being an Artist by way of a moshul There was once a king who commissioned the greatest artist alive to create a master piece for him. The artist agreed on condition that during the six months that he would be working no one was permitted to view the canvas. After two months the king became impatient and in the middle of the night the king secretly viewed the picture but to his shock and horror it looked a mess with smudges of paint across it .The next day furious  he called in the artist and demanded an explanation. The artist explained that a true masterpiece has different shades and textures and one cannot appreciate it until it is completed. After six months the king was invited to a viewing and was amazed at its beauty he now was able to see the colours in the correct perspective and appreciate that what had appeared earlier as smudges were in fact shadows from the beautiful sun shining down on the trees and now he was able to see a true master piece in all its glory.

This is the meaning of Hashem being the ultimate Artist, we view during our lifetime’s one fragment of the master piece being created over six thousand years and like the king in the moshol we become frustrated at not understanding it.

May we be zocheh to experience the geulah shelemah when we will appreciate that Hashem is the Baal Hanechamos.

Never just a number

Sir_Lawrence_Alma-Tadema,_English_(born_Netherlands)_-_A_Reading_from_Homer_-_Google_Art_Project

Stories, rather than numbers, are where we can find rich meaning in life.

The UK’s death toll has reached over 10,000 – in a little over 5 weeks. The sheer enormity of these numbers overwhelms each personal tragedy.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the youngest survivor of Bergen Belsen who had survived the horrors of the camps and witnessed the murder of countless people, wondered about the popularity of Anne Frank’s Diary. Later he came to understand.  It is the story of an individual. Learning about individuals and their own stories transforms the numeric horror of uncountable deaths into an identification with one name, from a statistic, to a person, with a life lived, and leaving people who miss them.

“Let us attempt to hear the individual stories of some of those who have become victims to help bring meaning in a time of crisis.”

Jews are forbidden to count people. During a census in Biblical times, a person was counted through the contribution of a half shekel. The Torah was clear, we count by the individual contribution that person makes to society. Treating people as a total number devalues them and devalues human life.

In the coming days it is expected that the numbers will rise as the virus peaks in this country. Rather than obsessing around the numbers and statistics let us attempt to hear the individual stories of some of those who have become victims to this horrendous pandemic, it won’t diminish the sorrow, but it will allow a life lost to have meaning and provide inspiration for the nation as a whole.

Wide open space

Looking at a written Sefer Torah, there are intentional spaces and gaps that are left in specific places between key events and various laws. Our sages tell us, that these gaps are intended for us to pause, to think, to consider carefully the impact and implications for us of what we have read.

“An opportunity now presents itself to take stock, consider our priorities and look to blend some of the thoughts that have emerged into our post Coronavirus lives.”

Prior to our “lock down” we were all moving at a frenetic pace, often failing to savour the moment or absorb an experience into our consciousness.

Whilst some are undoubtedly sadly dealing with stressful situations caused by this situation, many others now find they have more time to find these “spaces in-between” and an opportunity now presents itself to take stock, consider our priorities and look to blend some of the thoughts that have emerged into our post Coronavirus lives.

This pandemic is teaching us about the fragility and sacredness of every life and the importance for us to value and treasure every G-d given second that we are blessed with. It is natural to always seek positives from the most challenging of situations, and having some space to pause, reflect and appreciate is one positive that I for one will attempt to hold on to when life returns to a more normal reality.

The silver lining of Covid

What Positives from the Coronavirus?

A couple of weeks ago, travelling on the underground, I stared in disbelief at the spectacle of a couple of Chinese commuters with masks over their faces, in London, I thought? Absurd!?

Fast forward a few weeks, and commuters, whether in London, New York or Paris are filled with growing anxiety as to how to protect themselves from the potentially deadly spread of the Coronavirus, and sales of face masks are rising steadily.

What began in Wuhan in China, a place that few of us have heard of let alone ever visited, has now earned daily awareness in our lives. With 37,000 people, worldwide affected, and the death toll at over 800 spread to 24 countries across East Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America – and it’s still rising, and spreading.

The main strategy to prevent the continued spread is isolation, quarantine, and the curtailment of movement.

This highlights how interconnected we have become. A British businessman managed to pass on the virus to no less than eleven people in two different countries without ever stepping foot in the epicentre in China. From a business conference in Singapore, to tourists while on holiday in the French Alps, to his local Pub on his return home and to the medical staff at his doctor’s surgery when he was eventually diagnosed, and quarantined.

One of the greatest transformations between the world that was, and the world we live in today, is the transformation from living a shtetl existence, isolated and cut off from the world around us, only being affected by and having an effect on those amongst whom we lived. By contrast today we are part of a global village. The coronavirus has put into stark relief the negatives of such a situation, along with the spread of unsavoury political extremes, financial crises and so on. What happens in one country will sooner rather than later impact a population on the other side of the world.

It’s easy to forget the positives of the flip side to this new reality of globalisation.  Businesses can tap worldwide revenue potential, the ability to help more people through charity, technology, religion, medicine, to have greater access to worldwide talent to drive innovations and discoveries forward faster and more successfully, gaining greater understanding of other cultures and so on. This presents us with a tremendous opportunity to have a positive impact and make a lasting contribution and effect on humanity as a whole.

Chris Rosati was diagnosed with ALS in 2010 yet despite the debilitating nature of his illness he was determined to dedicate himself to performing acts of kindness for others.

He was especially fascinated by the butterfly effect, a small occurrence that snowballs and results in larger, unexpected occurrences. Chris tested his theory in real life. Chris headed to a local diner and gave two random girls $50 each, along with the request to do something good with the money. He left the diner and forgot all about it — until he received an email with an attached photo of a village in Africa. In the photo, smiling people held handmade signs that read, “Thanks a lot for spreading kindness, Chris Rosati.” The village had recently become free of the Ebola disease, so the girls decided to pay for a celebration for everyone in the village to enjoy. The butterfly effect had indeed spread across the world. This was just the first of many butterfly initiatives by Chris who remarkably inspired thousands of children to spread kindness around the world.

So, as the spread of the coronavirus gives us a visual reminder as to how small and interconnected we are, remember too that we also have an opportunity now to have a positive and meaningful impact and contribute in a myriad of ways to the human race worldwide.

The Viral Virus

My insights on COVID so far…

031920_ts_covid-conspiracies_feat-1028x579

A couple of weeks ago, travelling on the underground, I stared in disbelief at the spectacle of a couple of Chinese commuters with masks over their faces, in London, I thought? Absurd!?

Fast forward a few weeks, and commuters, whether in London, New York or Paris are filled with growing anxiety as to how to protect themselves from the potentially deadly spread of the Coronavirus, and sales of face masks are rising steadily.

What began in Wuhan in China, a place that few of us have heard of let alone ever visited, has now earned daily awareness in our lives. With 37,000 people, worldwide affected, and the death toll at over 800 spread to 24 countries across East Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America – and it’s still rising, and spreading.

The main strategy to prevent the continued spread is isolation, quarantine, and the curtailment of movement.

This highlights how interconnected we have become. A British businessman managed to pass on the virus to no less than eleven people in two different countries without ever stepping foot in the epicentre in China. From a business conference in Singapore, to tourists while on holiday in the French Alps, to his local Pub on his return home and to the medical staff at his doctor’s surgery when he was eventually diagnosed, and quarantined.

One of the greatest transformations between the world that was, and the world we live in today, is the transformation from living a shtetl existence, isolated and cut off from the world around us, only being affected by and having an effect on those amongst whom we lived. By contrast today we are part of a global village. The coronavirus has put into stark relief the negatives of such a situation, along with the spread of unsavoury political extremes, financial crises and so on. What happens in one country will sooner rather than later impact a population on the other side of the world.

It’s easy to forget the positives of the flip side to this new reality of globalisation.  Businesses can tap worldwide revenue potential, the ability to help more people through charity, technology, religion, medicine, to have greater access to worldwide talent to drive innovations and discoveries forward faster and more successfully, gaining greater understanding of other cultures and so on. This presents us with a tremendous opportunity to have a positive impact and make a lasting contribution and effect on humanity as a whole.

Chris Rosati was diagnosed with ALS in 2010 yet despite the debilitating nature of his illness he was determined to dedicate himself to performing acts of kindness for others.

He was especially fascinated by the butterfly effect, a small occurrence that snowballs and results in larger, unexpected occurrences. Chris tested his theory in real life. Chris headed to a local diner and gave two random girls $50 each, along with the request to do something good with the money. He left the diner and forgot all about it — until he received an email with an attached photo of a village in Africa. In the photo, smiling people held handmade signs that read, “Thanks a lot for spreading kindness, Chris Rosati.” The village had recently become free of the Ebola disease, so the girls decided to pay for a celebration for everyone in the village to enjoy. The butterfly effect had indeed spread across the world. This was just the first of many butterfly initiatives by Chris who remarkably inspired thousands of children to spread kindness around the world.

So, as the spread of the coronavirus gives us a visual reminder as to how small and interconnected we are, remember too that we also have an opportunity now to have a positive and meaningful impact and contribute in a myriad of ways to the human race worldwide.