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Weekly Newsletter Message

Fixing Society's Ills

I received the following response to last weeks Shabbos email:

“Dear Rabbi Benjy.

I am not a member of Chabad but I receive your weekly newsletters and find them thoughtful and inspiring.  I was therefore surprised at your comment that you declined to comment on gun control for fear of upsetting someone.  It seems to me that after the horror of Orlando a spiritual leader should take that risk.”

Very true, and I appreciate the feedback.

However, while a spiritual leader should speak the truth, whether it is popular or not, the question is, what should a spiritual leader be speaking about to begin with. What is his or her role? Is the role of a spiritual leader to address symptoms or the root cause?

Allow me to explain using health as a metaphor.

In medicine it is important to treat the cause and not just address the symptoms with drugs.

While Tylenol may be helpful for a headache, if the headache is chronic and accompanied by other symptoms, the root cause must be addressed, not just the symptoms.

Society works the same way. A variety of “ailments” in a society is an indication of a deeper and more systemic problem, which must be addressed.

Drug violence, mass shootings, corporate corruption, terrorism, depression, a broken justice system, global warming, racism, sexism and broken families are just some of the challenges we face today. However, these are not isolated problems but rather symptoms of a deeper problem, a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution.

Judaism believes that all of society’s problems are actually connected. They are all symptoms of the same “disease”. 

Just as in medicine, it is crucial to address the root cause in addition to treating the symptoms.

The way to address the root cause is by inspiring more people to appreciate that every life is created in the Divine image, which is the source of the uncompromising sanctity of human life. As deliberate creations of G-d, we have responsibilities not only rights. We have a responsibility to give, to share and to care, not just the right to take and ignore. A society that understands this is a society with less killing, less greed and corruption, more happiness and more wholesome families.

We each have our unique role. While politicians deal primarily with symptoms, the role of a spiritual leader is to deal primarily with root causes. To uplift, inspire and remind humanity of the infinite value of life and our moral responsibilities to our creator.

As a result, whenever I write about current or political events, my goal is only to draw a moral lesson that we can apply to our lives.

The moral lesson for today is to focus on root causes not just symptoms. Posting on Facebook, signing petitions and calling your congressman are all important, but ultimately they only address the symptoms.

Appreciate the Divine spark within every human being, treat everyone with respect and concern, give more than you take, and consider what you are needed for more than what you need. This will inspire a ripple effect all around you. We are presented with countless encounters each day to uplift and inspire, and these encounters can be the catalyst to a better world.

 Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

The Right to Bear Arms

Gun control is once again front and center in the national conversation after the horrific attack in Orlando earlier this week.

I’m not going to comment on gun control because no matter what I say someone will be upset with me :) Rather, I’d like to focus on the “right to bear arms” and all our other rights for that matter.

We often confuse rights with being entitled to. But the Bill of Rights is not a Bill of Entitlements. It is actually more about the limitations and responsibilities of the government then it is about our rights.

Take for example the right to the pursuit of happiness. This does not mean that I am entitled to happiness; it means that the government cannot intrude on my ability to pursue happiness. I am not entitled to happiness. No one owes it to me.

The entitled attitude produces a self-centered society. The world owes me. My mindset is, “I deserve to be served by others” rather than “I am here to serve others.”

It also produces an angry, bitter and depressed society. If I am entitled to certain things rather than see them as gifts to cherish I take them for granted and get angry or sad when I don’t get what I “rightfully deserve”

I don’t think this is the type of society that our founding fathers envisioned.

The truth is, that we are not entitled to anything. Not even life and definitely not a good life. Nowhere in the universe is it written that I am entitled to a good life. No one owes it to me. It’s all a gift.  

When I see everything as a gift, rather than something that I am entitled to,  I am able to fully appreciate and enjoy all that I do have and not get so angry about that which I don’t have.  The “gift mindset”, as opposed to the “entitled mindset”, is the gateway to happiness.  

Each morning, immediately upon awakening, we recite the Modeh Ani, thanking Hashem for granting us life. We recognize that we are not entitled to life, but rather it is a gift and should not be taken for granted, and therefore we thank Hashem. With this attitude everything we receive throughout the day; our health, family and livelihood is seen as a gift and becomes a source of tremendous joy. So many gifts in one day :)

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

PS. Join us on Sunday morning 10 am for the Gratitude Seminar

The Stanford Rape Case

Much has already been written about what seems to be the ridiculously light sentencing of Brock Turner, and the disparity between his sentencing and the sentencing of Cory Batey earlier this year (Cory Batey, and African American, was a 19-year-old standout football player at Vanderbilt when he raped an unconscious woman. He was recently sentenced to a minimum of 15 to 25 years in prison.)

It’s an outrage and I have nothing to add to the conversation.

What I would like to talk about though, is the psychology behind the disparity and what it teaches us.

I don’t believe that this was a case of deliberate racism; “Batey is an African American, let’s throw him in jail for as long as we can”,   but rather,  it was the result of a more subconscious, subtler, and therefore more dangerous, form of prejudice.

Once found guilty, Batey was seen as a rapist while Turner was seen as a student that raped. There’s a world of a difference between the two.  

The Talmud states “A person does not sin unless a spirit of folly enters his mind”.  This statement underscores the Jewish belief that we are not “born in sin” but rather are inherently pure and good. Our sins are aberrations that need to be explained. In other words evil is not who we are but what we do.

While this doesn’t in anyway justify the light sentence, I believe that this is how the judge viewed Turner. With his comment “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him" the judge disclosed that he saw Turner not as a terrible Human-Being but rather a Human-Being who did a terrible thing.

Batey, on the other hand was given no such consideration. He was seen as a terrible Human-Being, a rapist, underserving of any concern as to whether “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him”. A terrible Human-Beings’ life has no value or concern to us.

I’m not a sentencing expert and I have no clue as to what the appropriate sentence in a case like Baley or Turner should be, but one thing is for sure, there should be equality and compassion in our justice system.

There’s an important lesson here in how we ought to view the people around us. While Turners sentence is far  too lenient, he is not a rapist but a student that raped.  And so is Batey.

The Torah instructs us to  “Love your fellow as you love yourself”. We all have flaws, we all mess up, but we see our flaws and mistakes in their proper context. We don’t allow them to define us. We are inherently good people, the negatives are aberrations that we still need to work on. They don’t diminish our inherent value.

Often, though we don’t afford that same luxury to the people around us. We catch them lying or being nasty and immediately write them off  for life. Therefore the Torah says “Love others as yourself” just like you see your flaws against the backdrop of your inherent goodness see others the same way.

There was once a professor that who once complained to the Rebbe about the nature of people.

“From my encounters, I have noticed that people can seem nice and charming at the outset. They may express concern for you, show interest in your life, and even openly admit that they love you! But if one digs just a little deeper than the outer surface—some require more digging than others—at their core everyone is exactly the same: selfish, arrogant and egotistic. When you get to really know them you realize they aren’t so good after all!  Why is this the nature of mankind?”

The Rebbe responded with a parable:

“When one walks on the street, things often look so elegant and appealing: tall flowery trees, fancy houses, paved roads and expensive cars. But if one takes a hoe and begins digging beneath the surface, he discovers dirt and mud, nothing like the beautiful but ‘deceptive’ world above ground.”

At this point the professor was nodding his head in agreement, not fully realizing where this was going.

“But if he weren’t to give up,” the Rebbe concluded, “and would continue digging deeper, he would eventually encounter precious minerals and diamonds.”

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

P.S. See you on Sunday 11 am for the Ten Commandments and Cheesecake/Ice Cream celebration.

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TSA

All of us have heard about it. Many of us have actually experienced it. I’m referring to those ridiculously long TSA security lines at the airport. 

What makes this most frustrating is that this is happening in the wealthiest and most advanced country and in 2016. There’s really no reason for it.  You would think that with all our technological advances we’d have figured out a way to do this better. Is it really so hard to predict how many people are going to be traveling this summer? Why can’t we hire enough screeners in advance, is there really such a shortage of potential workers out there; what, all of a sudden everyone’s employed? Is there really no better way to use technology to speed up the process? We can and should be doing better and that’s what’s so frustrating.

The days leading up to Shavuot, known as the Sefirah, are focused on self-improvement. When it comes to evaluating ourselves we often compare ourselves to the people around us “I’m doing pretty well, compared to him or her” But it doesn’t really matter how everyone else is doing. What matters is whether I can be doing any better. The question we need to ask ourselves each and every day is “Am I living up to my potential”

Reb Zushe of Anipoli would say “When I appear before the Heavenly court, they will not ask me why I was not like Moses, for I will simply say that I didn’t have his spiritual qualities. I am afraid that they will ask me Zushe – why weren’t you Zushe?” Why weren’t you the best Zushe you could be?

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

PS. Join us tonight at 6:30 pm for uplifting services followed by a gourmet Kiddush

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