Friday, May 11, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat—B’har-B’khukotai 5778–Row, Row, Row Your Boat

קֹרֵ֤א דָגַר֙ וְלֹ֣א יָלָ֔ד עֹ֥שֶׂה עֹ֖שֶׁר וְלֹ֣א בְמִשְׁפָּ֑ט בַּחֲצִ֤י ימו [יָמָיו֙] יַעַזְבֶ֔נּוּ וּבְאַחֲרִית֖וֹ יִהְיֶ֥ה נָבָֽל׃

Like a partridge hatching what she did not lay, So is one who amasses wealth by unjust means; In the middle of his life it will leave him, And in the end he will be proved a fool. (Jeremiah 17:11)

Were I to give in to my inclinations at this moment, that would be my entire musing. Or simply repeating this verse from the haftarah for parashat B’har-B’khukotai from Jeremiah 17:11 over and over.

Warning: this gets political.

However, I can’t leave it just sitting there. I’m not fully comfortable with this end-of-life judgment thing, and other pithy aphorisms that suggest that those who do not do right by others will eventually suffer some form of retributive justice at the hands of G”d. History and experience have shown us otherwise. This is not a new discovery – the inclusion of the book of Job in our canon is proof not only that people have felt this way for a very long time, but also that they feel so strongly about it that the rabbis were, for all intents and purposes, forced into retaining Job in the canon or risk the wrath of the people.

We are living in a time when the need to believe that the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked will suffer the consequences of their wickedness is needed by so many people simply to get through the mounting horrors all around us in this country, and on our planet. At the same time, I think, perhaps, that we may need around us those who are called by their recognition of the reality of the absence of retributive justice meted out by a deity or the universe to stand up in open defiance to the evil and wicked among us – who are not content to stay silent, to sit on the sidelines, and who provide the occasionally-needed slap in the face to those of us who wait patiently for the long arc of justice.

“Drain the swamp” was the cry. The swamp has been replaced by a cesspool. We have reaped what we have sown. Why are we letting history repeat itself? Our ancient ancestors knew the truth: wealth corrupts, excessive wealth corrupts excessively. In more recent U.S. history, we realized, during the time of the railroad, steel, and oil barons, that concentration of wealth amongst a few was not best for the overall health and good of the country. Somehow, we have forgotten this lesson. In an inexplicable desire to return to some imagined idyllic past, we ignore the realities of that past to which we aspire (or, in the case of some, the realities aren’t ignored, they are embraced.) Worse yet, we have elected a leader who has delusions of being a member of that small coterie of the vastly wealthy who run the world, and, in an effort to get himself elected into the club, is allowing U.S. oligarchs to run roughshod over our country – glorying in the repeal and elimination of the bothersome people-protecting regulations that hinder their accumulation of even more wealth.

The next time you play Monopoly, play by the actual rules. Go and learn how the game was originally created to help people understand the unfairness of landlords deriving excessive economic benefit from non-productive factors, and how they can conspire with each other and with others to maximize that excess. Then stop and think about where our current POTUS and his father before him acquired their wealth (even if it doesn’t put them in the top tier like they think it does.)

The political aspects aside, and whatever may come of them legally, these corporate payments to Michael Cohen reveal a deep sickness in the way things work. Shyster or not, they very fact that corporations felt they needed to curry favor or seek assistance from him is telling. If it turns out they he simply duped them into thinking he could provide access, that’s no better a reality. If, on the other hand, Cohen’s activities were part of a deliberate strategy in conspiracy with others then we will have reached a whole new level of corruption. Yet I fear that, even if this were proven to be the case, he and his conspirators still might escape any retributive justice. Even after spending time in jail, paying fines and legal costs, many of these people could still live lives of relative ease and comfort compared to the average citizen.

As it says at the very beginning of this haftarah:

יְהוָ֞ה עֻזִּ֧י וּמָעֻזִּ֛י וּמְנוּסִ֖י בְּי֣וֹם צָרָ֑ה אֵלֶ֗יךָ גּוֹיִ֤ם יָבֹ֙אוּ֙ מֵֽאַפְסֵי־אָ֔רֶץ וְיֹאמְר֗וּ אַךְ־שֶׁ֙קֶר֙ נָחֲל֣וּ אֲבוֹתֵ֔ינוּ הֶ֖בֶל וְאֵֽין־בָּ֥ם מוֹעִֽיל׃

O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, My refuge in a day of trouble, To You nations shall come From the ends of the earth and say: Our fathers inherited utter delusions, Things that are futile and worthless. (ibid 16:19)

Guess what folks? This applies equally to the wicked and aspiring wealthy, and to those of us who allow ourselves to be controlled by them! I’d like to believe that G”d might rescue us from these harsh realities of life, but I fear a few millennia of history have shown how stubbornly we refuse to heed some of the wise words and advice we find in our holy texts. “Pray to G”d but row toward shore” is the oft-cited aphorism. In times like these, I wonder if the balance between the praying and the rowing needs to adjust to be primarily on the rowing side. No disrespect intended there, G”d. After all, as “they” say, “G”d helps those who help themselves.”

Wait a minute. There’s something sneaky about that aphorism. If you think about it, doesn’t it actually support the position and proclivities of the wealthy, the oligarchs, and their ilk? Is this but another example of how the upper classes have maintained control over the lower classes by feeding them self-serving ideas clothed in a religious or other positive veneer?

In that “praying/rowing” example, I’d be happier if I saw not just the crew, but also the officers all praying and grabbing oars. Yes, yes, every crew needs to leader to work efficiently. This efficiency can be achieved even when using a servant leadership model.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are many people who can and do rise above the challenge of their wealth to be good and decent people. Perhaps there are more than we realize, but from my vantage point, they are few and far between.

I’d like to  compare these two verses from the haftarah

כֹּ֣ה ׀ אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֗ה אָר֤וּר הַגֶּ֙בֶר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִבְטַ֣ח בָּֽאָדָ֔ם וְשָׂ֥ם בָּשָׂ֖ר זְרֹע֑וֹ וּמִן־יְהוָ֖ה יָס֥וּר לִבּֽוֹ׃

Thus said the LORD: Cursed is he who trusts in man, Who makes mere flesh his strength, And turns his thoughts from the LORD. (ibid 17:5)


בָּר֣וּךְ הַגֶּ֔בֶר אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִבְטַ֖ח בַּֽיהוָ֑ה וְהָיָ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה מִבְטַחֽוֹ׃

Blessed is he who trusts in the LORD, Whose trust is the LORD alone. (ibid 17:7)

If verse 5 is the case, G”d, then why did You create us? If it was only to worship You, I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason to exist. I understand what the verse is saying – that we should not be vain, and not assume that all we have is the result of only our own effort. Yet is not some of the effort ours, G”d? That’s where verse 7 fails for me. Trust G”d alone? G”d, whose silence has been deafening lo these last few millennia? G”d, who gives us free will and then uses that same free will to explain G”d’s own failures to bring about a world of peace and truth and justice?

It is tiring and tiresome, G”d. The realities of today are beginning to require more effort than even the staunchest among us can muster. Are you listening G”d? Where is the G”d that will do as it says at the end of this hafatarah?

רְפָאֵ֤נִי יְהוָה֙ וְאֵ֣רָפֵ֔א הוֹשִׁיעֵ֖נִי וְאִוָּשֵׁ֑עָה כִּ֥י תְהִלָּתִ֖י אָֽתָּה׃

Heal me, O LORD, and let me be healed; Save me, and let me be saved; For You are my glory. (ibid 17:14)

It hurts so much G”d. Living and watching this world, this nation destroy itself, I can’t stand around waiting for Your healing to happen. If G”d is the physician of the universe, then physician heal Thyself!

I’m going to go row for a while. It’d be nice if you’d pitch in, too, G”d.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musing on this Parasha:

B'har-B'khukotai 5777 - Keri Is So Very... (Revisited 5763)
B'har B'khukotai 5773 - In Smite Of It All
B'har-B'khukotai 5772 - Scared of Leaves (Redux & Revised 5769)
B'har-B'khukotai 5770 - Bad Parenting 301
Behar-Bekhukotai 5769- Scared of Leaves?
Behar-Bekhukotai 5767-A Partridge in a Tree of Life
Behar-Bekhukotai 5766-Only An Instant
Behar-Bekhukotai 5764 - The Price of Walls
Behar-Bekhukotai 5762 - Tough Love
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761-The Big Book (Bottoming Out Gd's Way)

B'har 5774 - Avadim hayinu v'ata Avadim Heim
Behar 5765-Ki Gerim v'Toshavim Atem Imadi
Behar 5763-Ownership
Behar 5760-Slaves to Gd

B'khukotai 5774 - Taking the Hard Way Yet Again
Bekhukotai 5771 - The Long Road Ahead
Bekhukotai 5765-I'll Take the Hard Way
Bechukotai 5763-Keri Is So Very...
Bekhukotai 5760-Repugnant Realities

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