INFAMY

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941— a date which will live in infamy— the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” So spoke the 32nd president of this country to a joint session of Congress 78 years ago.

Meaning no disrespect to FDR, it can be argued that there was nothing infamous about the pre-meditated attack on Pearl Harbor whatsoever. What the Japanese carried out was an act of war, not an act of infamy.

“Have you no sense of decency?” would have been an excellent question to have posed to our Patriarch Jacob. When directed by Rebecca to go to the flock to fetch two choice young goats, so that she might prepare them according to Isaac’s tastes, thereby enabling her favorite son to usurp the blessing intended for Esau, Jacob offers up a most feeble response. Jacob is concerned that their ruse be discovered! Surely, one would have expected Jacob to protest that such a shenanigan was patently wrong. But Jacob failed to do so. When a  patriarch of our people is unable to see that he was about to engage moral turpitude, that is a day that will live in infamy.  

Yet, it only took one generation for yet another day to live in infamy. And no, it wasn’t Jacob’s ten sons casting Joseph into a pit only to sell him to a caravan of traders bound for Egypt. While such behavior was totally criminal and inexcusable on the part of the brethren, it was never the less understandable. The infamy came about while Joseph was left to languish in the pit. The infamy came about when the brothers sat down to eat bread. While in no way illegal, their decision to dine as though no altercation had ever taken place was unacceptable as well as inexcusable. Other brothers would have been too enraged and upset to eat. Other brothers would have lost their appetite and blamed Joseph for making them sick to their stomachs. But Jacob’s ten sons were not other brothers. Jacob’s sons lacked emotions. That’s why their eating of bread was a dastardly act. That’s why their eating of bread ought to have been a meal that will live on in infamy!

Among important biblical figures who have been given short shrift for far too long is the Prophet Natan. Sent by HaShem to give King David a dressing-down for his ignoble behavior with the wife of Uriah the Hittite (arguably of star general status), the Prophet Natan misses the point. However eloquent his analogy was (there are so many damsels to dally with who are at your beck and call, why start up with the wife of one of your most loyal military men) the Prophet Natan was remiss in not pointing out King David’s most egregious shortcoming. However necessary it was to convey to King David that adultery (Bat Sheva was a married woman) is amoral, the Prophet Natan was derelict in taking the King to task for his ultimate failure. However inexpiable it was on King David’s part to send Uriah out on a suicide mission so that King David could marry the woman, pregnant with his child, the Prophet Natan failed to shed light on King David’s unforgivable sin vis a vis the Jewish people. And that is how totally reprehensible it was for King David not to show the slightest bit of remorse when receiving the inevitable news from a messenger that Uriah had died in battle. It was King David’s unconcerned reaction to a death for which he was ultimately responsible, that made for a day that will live in infamy.

“Heroes often fail,” reminds us of the songwriter and recording artist Gordon Lightfoot. It would be unrealistic for the masses to expect heroes not to fall from the pedestals to which they have been elevated. After all,  they are human and are therefore prone to mistakes and misjudgments. When those very same humans do fail, yet neglect to show contrition and remorse, then that is a day that will live in infamy.