Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

All Too Human: Why We Care About Oprah’s Twitter Blunder

On Tuesday Oprah Winfrey made headlines. She did not give away cars or a cruise. She did not even land an interview with the First Lady or President Obama.

Rather, she shared a seemingly innocuous message on her Twitter account. She revealed that she loves “that SURFACE (referring to Microsoft’s new Surface tablet) Have bought 12 already for Christmas gifts.”

It seems like a normal message. Except for one thing. The bottom of the tweet revealed that it was sent from an iPad! Oprah praised Microsoft’s Tablet while using Apple’s iPad. It was as if she had said how much she loved drinking Pepsi while sipping a can of Coke.

So what?

Were this a friend or even a typical celebrity, we might laugh it off. But it’s Oprah! She represents much more.

First and foremost, she represents integrity. Oprah is famous for saying how she really feels. In interviews, her own integrity helps get others to open up. We trusted her book club choices because we knew she was not trying to win points for elitism or popularity. She is honest and authentic.

Thus, when we see her endorsing a product she is clearly not using, we begin to question her other choices. We wonder if we were being played.

Saving Grace

Even so, Oprah has a saving grace. We can relate to her. She represents our community humanity. Forgetting that she is a billionaire celebrity, we see ourselves in her. This  ”everyman” quality is the source of her unique influence.

It also lets us empathize with her twitter mishap. All of us have done something accidental or embarrassing with our phones or computers. We’ve sent an email to someone we didn’t mean to. We’ve accidentally called someone when we told them we weren’t available. We’ve hit “reply all” after having been reminded dozens of times not to do so.

Oprah (or someone on her staff) did something we all might do. In doing so, she inadvertantly reminded us of a core truth. We are all human, even Oprah Winfrey.

A Challenge: What Is Your Most Embarrassing Technological Mishap? 

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Read More from Rabbi Moffic, subscribe to his free weekly nugget of spiritual wisdom here.

 

How To Teach Your Kids About Gratitude

An episode of The Simpsons inspired this article. The entire Simpson family is seated around the dinner table. Bart is asked to say grace. He offers the following words: “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.”

Bart’s words capture what so many often feel. We’re entitled to what we have. We earned it. Why should we thank anyone for it?

A consumerist culture reinforces this message. “Buy this product,” we are told, “because you need it. You deserve it.”

An Ongoing Challenge

As a parent, I think a lot about how to cultivate in my young children a sense of gratitude. How can I convey to them how lucky we are to live in America, to have a roof over heads, to have toys to play with, good schools to attend, an extended and loving family to visit?

Experience and study has taught me the following:

1. Example teaches the most: Gratitude is not only taught by words. It is caught by example. If I take things for granted; if I act entitled; if I look at other people as means to satisfying my needs, rather than ends in themselves; then so will my children. Actions speak louder than words.

2. Pray: Something about prayer changes the way we look at the world. It highlights what we often forget. As Rabbi Sidney Greenberg put it, ”Prayers of thanksgiving bring to the foreground what is usually in the background.”

“They remind us that without the dominance of kindness we would be indifferent to cruelty. Without faithfulness we would be unmoved by betrayal. Around us everywhere, flooding us with light, is the dazzling goodness of creation.” 

3. Give to others: Experience has taught me that, paradoxically, when we give something away, we benefit, sometimes even more than the recipient of our gift. By responding to the needs of another, we recognize that our needs are not the only ones that matter.

At my synagogue, we have a program where children in need anonymously post what they would like for holiday gifts. Families from the synagogue agree to “adopt” one child and get them their desired gifts. When my family did it, I saw the excitement and joy in my childrens’ faces.

Transformation

Giving to others helped them appreciate what we give to them. And it helped us realize how important gratitude is. It is the secret sauce of happiness. It can lift our spirits and transform the way we see the world. It’s the closest we get to the meaning of life.

An anonymous poet put it eloquently in a verse I plan to share at our Thanskgiving table: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.”

“It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

To express gratitude is a gift life gives us. Let us be grateful for it.

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Read More from Rabbi Moffic, subscribe to his free weekly blog of uplifting Jewish wisdom.

Why Israel Matters to Me

As tension rises once again in Israel, I share with you a most powerful story. It is told by Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

A Tour Guide

It begins with Wiesel describing a visit he made in to Saragossa, Spain. Saragossa was a center of Jewish life around the year 1000 C.E. When Wiesel visited, however, no Jews had lived there in over 500 years.

As Wiesel toured its magnificant cathedral, a man approached him. He started speaking to him in French and offered to be his tour guide for free. He was proud of his town. After a while they started talking. It soon came out that Wiesel was Jewish and knew how to speak Hebrew.

The man exclaimed, “I’ve never met a Jewish person but I have something I want to show you and you can tell me what it is.” The two men walked to the guide’s small apartment on the third floor of nearby building. The man took out a fragment of a yellowed parchment and asked Wiesel if it was Hebrew. It was.

A 500-Year-Old Parchment

Wiesel took the parchment, and as he read it, he began to tremble. He realized that it was not only Hebrew, but the words were more than 500 years old. He started to read and translate for the man. This is what it said:

“I, Moshe Ben Avraham (Moses, the son of Abraham), forced to break all ties with my people and my faith, leave these lines to the children of my children and theirs, in order that on the day when Israel will be able to walk again, it’s head held high under the sun without fear and without remorse, they will know where their roots lie. Written at Saragossa, the 9th day of the month of Av, in the year of punishment and exile.”

A Family Treasure

The man then explained to Wiesel that this letter had been passed on in his family. It was treasured, so much so that his parents and all those before him had said if it was lost, a curse would come upon the entire family.

After hearing the words of the letter, the man realized that he was in some way connected to a Jew named named Moshe Ben Avraham. He asked Wiesel  to read it again, which he did. He then asked Wiesel to explain what it might mean.

Jews in Spain

Wiesel described the Jewish history of Spain. After several centuries of persecution and torture, Jews were forced to either convert or leave. On the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av in year 1492, the day referenced in the letter, all Jews were expelled from Spain. His relative Moses, the son of Abraham, must have been forced to convert in order to avoid expulsion.

The guide couldn’t believe it. He had Wiesel write down the translation before he left.

A Trip to Jerusalem

Fast forward five years. Wiesel is visiting Jerusalem. He is accosted by a man on the street. The man says, “Hello! Don’t you remember me, Saragossa? Saragossa?” Wiesel hesitated. The man was speaking Hebrew, not French. He couldn’t place him.

Then the man said “I have something to show you.” He took Wiesel to his apartment. They walked up three flights of stairs. He opened the door.

There in a picture frame was the yellowed parchment. But this time the man read it to Wiesel. “From Moses Ben Avraham, to his descendents….” He had learned Hebrew. He had left Spain and moved to Israel. He had reclaimed his Jewish heritage.

Alive After 500 Years

Wiesel said, “You know I’m ashamed. I didn’t recognize you.” They spoke for a while, and soon Wiesel got up to leave.

As he was leaving, the man stopped him. He said, “You forgot to ask me my name. I want you to know my name. It is Moshe Ben Avraham, Moses, son of Abraham. He is alive after 500 years.”

Israel is the place that keeps my faith alive.

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Read More from Rabbi Moffic, subscribe to his free weekly blog of uplifting Jewish wisdom.

Did General Petraeus Need to Resign?

“Who is strong? One who conquers his own impulses.”  Ethics of the Sages, 4:1

David Petraeus was hailed as the greatest soldier of his generation. His abrupt resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency has led to more questions than answers. How could someone renowned for his discipline make such an impulsive choice?  Can he be forgiven? Did he need to resign?

A Lack of Discipline

When Bill Clinton admitted to extra-marital affairs, few were surprised. It was not out of character.

For General Petraeus, however, it went against the image most had of him. From his five-mile daily runs in Afghanistan to his detailed analysis of what worked in combatting militias, he conveyed buttoned-up discipline.

Yet, as all religions teach, appearances often conceal more than they reveal. In Hebrew the word for deception is begidut. The word for clothing has is begedim, which comes from the same root letters. How we appear does not always reflect who we are. The forces that motivate our behavior are complex and rarely fit easy categories.

Furthermore, as psychologists often teach, we sometimes do not even know ourselves. People make decisions they know are wrong, and afterwards wonder how in the world they could have done so. I suspect this may be true of General Petraeus.

Can He Be Forgiven?

Of course. Even as investigators determine whether he violated military or civil law, General Petraeus can find forgiveness. The speed and manner in which he does so depends upon his sense of contrition, his self-evaluation, and relationship with his family.

Indeed, Judaism holds out the potential for forgiveness for all those who seek it with sincerity and resolution. Faith and forgiveness go hand in hand.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it, “Forgiveness demands real change on the part of two people. The perpetrator needs the courage to acknowledge his or her wrong. And the victim needs the courage to let go of animosity and revenge. It’s the supreme test of human freedom, and it’s one of the greatest gifts Judaism and Christianity brought to the moral imagination of humankind.”

Did He Need to Resign?

I think so. First, he believed he needed to do so, and that understanding may reflect his own assessment of what he needs to find reconciliation and forgiveness.

Second, in Jewish law, leaders are held to the highest standards. While having an affair may not disqualify someone from doing a job well, the loss of credibility or reputation affects one’s influence. What a leader does communicates much more than what a leader says.

Some may suggest that General Patraeus had such a unique set of skills that accepting his resignation undermines American security. While I am not qualified to assess this view from the perspective of the military, I can say that America’s greatest security does not lay with one particular individual or insitution. It ultimately rests in our sense of right and wrong, and the moral framework we sustain.

As Alexis de Tocqueville put it so beautifully 200 years ago, “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in the fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits, aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Read More from Rabbi Moffic, subscribe to his free weekly blog of uplifting Jewish wisdom.

What Do You Think? Did General Petraeus Need to Resign? 

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