WHISTLE BLOWER

A week ago, there was much ado in our national news about the Whistle Blower. Americans were reminded, yet again, of how divided this country has become. Regardless of how you feel about events last week, I sincerely hope that there is not just agreement, but unity as well, among our people when we bring to mind a “whistle blower” of a totally different nature. The “whistle blower” who appeared before our people this past Monday and Tuesday, typically during synagogue services, is accorded the honorific title of Ba’al Tokea. Unlike the Washington Whistle Blower, our Ba’al Tokea does not make national news, nor does our Ba’al Tokea provide fodder for talk show hosts.

Our “Whistle Blower” is positioned for all to see and for all to hear. There is nothing secretive or furtive about him. More important, however, our “whistle Blower” succeeds in uniting the masses rather than dividing them. However well intentioned, many a rabbi has been known to create acrimony among congregants because of his sermons. However well thought out, many a rabbi has been known to take on the role of Hypnos, the Greek deity of sleep, because of his sermon. But the Ba’al Tokea? Before even setting his lips to the shofar, the Ba’al Tokea has created an aura of riveting silence, as those assembled wait to hear those age-old notes that speak volumes.

Unlike the “Whistle Blower” who divulges, the Ba’al Tokea indulges. Hearing those holy sounds emanating from a hollowed horn,  HaShem is both figuratively and literally, in seventh heaven.

There are no doubt those who will insist that the “Whistle Blower” betrayed a confidence. Others will argue the exact opposite. In contradistinction to whether or not a confidence was in fact betrayed, suffice it to say that all who heard the shofar being sounded Monday and Tuesday, will agree that the Ba’al Tokea displayed confidence. Because the T’kiah, Shvarim and Truah flowing from the shofar are both age-old and time-tested, the Ba’al Tokea has every reason to feel confident that the holy sounds will be a resounding success, as they find their way to the very soul of the Master of the Universe. As powerful and moving as the High Holy day liturgy is, it can be said that the wordless prayer offered by the Shofar speaks to our creator, in ways that defy our imagination.

Unlike the “Whistle Blower,” it is  highly doubtful any Ba’al Tokea makes headlines in the press. Nor is this the purpose of any Ba’al Tokea. Rather than make any headline, the goal of the Ba’al Tokea is to make a beeline to the depths of the soul – both human and divine. Most of us would agree, that the sound of the shofar is spine chilling. However true that may be, the sound of the shofar ought to be soul stirring as well. Let those who hear that haunting inter-generational sound of the shofar, realize what a potential source of naches we are to the Creator of the Universe, as the Ba’al Tokea communicates with Him through the horn of a descendant of the ram caught in the thicket on Mount Moriah. Conversely, let the Creator of the Universe be reminded through the horn of a descendant of the ram caught in the thicket on Mount Moriah, that He is a unique source of naches to His people as well.

Headline or a beeline, betraying a confidence or displaying confidence, dividing or uniting, the  Ba’al Tokea is the antithesis to the “Whistle Blower.”

Let’s leave “whistleblowing” – necessary or unnecessary – to those who believe that they have an obligation to society. Let’s approach the Ba’al Tokea – a master of the skill or not – with a belief that he has an obligation to his people. Just as HaShem breathed the breath of life into the ground on the first Rosh Hashana of creation, so too does the Ba’al Tokea breathe a breath of life toward heaven on every Rosh Hashana thereafter of celebration.

MOORE AND McCAIN

It’s been close to half a century since Annie Johnson planned her own funeral. Annie Johnson was the black housekeeper played by actress Juanita Moore in the remake of the all-time tear-jerker movie “Imitation of Life.” Knowing that her death was imminent, Annie – much to the chagrin of Miss Lora (played by Lana Turner) – leaves no stone unturned, as she prepares for her final journey. I thought about Annie Johnson ever since I learned that for the last several months, John McCain, two-time presidential aspirant has been doing precisely the same in anticipation of his own demise. Senator McCain’s penchant for details is both understandable, as well as justified, given the fact that for five years he was a P.O.W. where he had no control over his own life as he suffered under the most inhumane conditions, including torture. I therefore begrudge neither the fictitious Annie Johnson, nor the true to life John McCain for attending to such arrangements. In fact, their doing so has provided me with much insight and understanding.
For every Annie Johnson and John McCain who were so very particular about their own death, there are innumerable individuals who are so very carefree about their own life. Despite a culture that is built around career choice, independent of the fact that our society seems to be saturated with planners urging that we look out for our financial future, there are a goodly number in our country who prefer to cast their fate to the wind. How ironic, that one’s send off from this world, one’s farewell from the land of the living which typically lasts but a few short hours, merits such time and effort and meticulous planning, yet a life which will hopefully continue for years, if not decades, is guided by the attitude of que sera, sera!
Yes, it is true that more often than not, life is filled with the unexpected, as well as the unknown. But it is also true that playing life’s cards that are dealt us, requires forethought, as well as contingencies. Neither ought to be relegated to decisions that are made on the spur of the moment. “Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser” are quite likely among the most misunderstood lyrics. Rather than refer to the five cards dealt us, “every hand” refers to our own five-fingered hand and how we use it to respond to that which life hands us. Those of us who have taken the time to plan and prepare will come off as winners; those of us who fail to take the time to plan and prepare will come off as losers.
In less than a week, we pray that the heavenly hand will be inscribing and ultimately sealing our names in the heavenly Book of Life. Both the inscribing, as well as the sealing, ought to serve as a sign that our prayers have been answered. Yet, before HaShem affixes His imprimatur, He has every right to ask us about our plans for the future. It makes perfect sense for HaShem to turn to each of us and ask what plans, if any, we have for the year that He has granted us. It’s totally understandable for HaShem to want to know whether the plans we have are general in nature or have been thought ought to the minutest detail.  For those of you who take the exact opposite approach and cite the Yiddish aphorism “a mentsch tracht un Gott lacht” or “HaShem chuckles as we plan and prepare,” I would add yet one more component. As much as HaShem might chuckle at our planning, HaShem cries at those who fail to plan, in that it shows that they fail to take life seriously.
Let’s applaud the fictitious Annie Johnson played by Juanita Moore and the very real John McCain for planning their funerals. Despite the twists, turns and detours on the paths we take during our years here on earth, despite the unexpected pockets of turbulence that jolt us along the way, let’s laud those who plan their lives.

A STAIN ON HUMANITY

Israel is a stain on humanity. As incredulous a charge as this may be, there are a goodly number of Jews both in Israel as well as in the diaspora who believe this to be true. Furthermore, these Jews feel it a mitzvah of the highest order to convince you that their belief is sacrosanct. For Palestinian nationalists to hurl such a charge is expected; for anti-Semites to hurl such a charge is understandable. But what causes Jews to view Israel as being a stain on humanity?

For them, it is impossible to replace Jewish plight with Jewish might. Lessons of downtrodden, obsequious and subservient Jews of the shtetl have been firmly etched in their minds and perhaps even in their souls. It is therefore unthinkable to expect these lessons to be replaced in a mere seven decades with the existence of a Jewish state. For them, the term Jew is synonymous with underdog. Their weltanschauung is one where the Jew is the nail and not the hammer. As such, I cannot help but wonder if such Jews celebrate Chanukah, the quintessential festival where a minority population with a ragtag army musters the audacity to go up against a Roman army with state-of-the-art armament.  In their view, Jews do not rock the boat; in their view, Jews seek to ameliorate situations by begging the foreign overlord to find it in his heart to accommodate the Jew. And if such heart-searching is stimulated by financial persuasion, so be it. That’s the price one pays for being a Jew.

Jews, non-observant Jews may have abandoned the teachings of the Torah, but the teachings of the Torah have never abandoned them. It’s no wonder then, that Jews, particularly in this country have been in the forefront when it comes to social action. Show them an oppressed people, either real or perceived; show them suffering masses – it makes no difference whether that suffering was brought on by an outside force or by the sufferers themselves – and such Jews will be among the first to take up the cudgel. They view the widow, the fatherless and the stranger mentioned in Torah in absolute terms. Who turned them into widows, who rendered them fatherless and why they are the stranger is totally irrelevant. For those who recall the definition of chutzpah as being where one murders his mother and mother and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan, such Jews would find it totally incredulous how the court could remain so stone-hearted.

Jews seem to have a knee-jerk reaction when their Judaism is questioned or challenged. And so, the asinine response “I’ll have you know that I’m proud to be a Jew” came into vogue. For a born Jew, being proud to be a Jew makes no more sense than being proud to have black hair and brown eyes. Pride comes about because of what one has worked for and achieved. Pride is commensurate with blood sweat and tears. Unlike those born Jews who parrot “I’m proud to be a Jew,” I cannot help but feel that Jews who charge that Israel is a stain on humanity, are ill at ease at being Jews. Because there is nothing particularly Jewish about their daily lives, their Judaism becomes de facto synonymous with Israel. Because they are uncomfortable with their own Jewishness (Here I go playing psychologist without a license again) they are uncomfortable with the State of Israel. The very same individuals who make a conscious effort not to associate with other Jews and certainly not to incorporate any negative Jewish stereotypes into their behavior, are known for subconsciously maligning Israel on a regular basis.

As of this past Sunday, we have begun to sound the shofar daily. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the minds of those who regard Israel as a stain on humanity so that they recognize that that it’s high time they held their heads high, rather than cowering at the sight of the non-Jews. As far as Mah Yomru HaGoyim – what will the other nations say? Quite frankly I don’t give a damn. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the hearts of those who regard Israel as a stain on humanity, so that those hearts do not go out instinctively to the widow, the fatherless and the stranger in Qabatiya, Qalqas and Qalqilya without first scrutinizing the reason why the widow, the fatherless and the stranger exist in the first place. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the souls who regard Israel as a stain on humanity, so that they become more comfortable with being Jewish through learning and doing. Only then will Israel cease serving as their whipping boy when they engage in self-flagellation. If only the blast of the shofar would cause them to see Israel as a bright spot for humanitarianism, instead of a stain on humanity.