From the Rabbi
From Rabbi Becker March 2019
A journalist was walking through a park in Manchester when he saw a teenager with his younger brother up ahead. Suddenly a vicious dog appeared and started to attack the younger boy. The teenager grabbed the dog by his collar desperately trying save his brother. In the fierce struggle that followed the dog choked to death. Recognising a good story when he sees it the reporter wrote “Heroic youth kills a vicious dog while saving his brother.” Wanting more colour for the story he approaches the teenager and says “That was amazing, but tell me, are you a United or a City fan?” “Actually sir” he relied “I support Liverpool” The story appeared under the title of “Teenage lout kills family pet”.
Loyalty is something of a mixed blessing. The teenager's loyalty to his brother inspired him to save his brother from a vicious at the risk his own life and well being.
Throughout history countless people have sacrificed everything out of loyalty to a family, a people, a country, a religion or a political ideology. But too often the recipient of this loyalty was unworthy of the trust, perverting the good that might have been to evil. Loyalty to an ideal embracing “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” led me to become a member of a kibbutz, one of the most important experiences of my life. Out of a loyalty to this same idea thousands of individuals were convinced by Stalin to help to kill approximately 22 million fellow human beings to force the creation of Soviet communal farms. I remember Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writing how even in the Gulag there were people so committed that they were willing to accept the injustices done to them, that were stealing away their lives, in the name of serving what had become a warped ideology.
Even now I have friends who are definitely not anti-Semitic, who refuse to even look at the evidence against those whose ideology, be it of the far left or far right, is deeply embedded in personal bigotry.
The journalist in this story demonstrates another form in which excessive loyalty, even if on the surface less dangerous, can corrupt. In this case, as I fear in too many real life examples, one's own integrity can be eroded and one's word become of little value. I frankly don't like or even want to remember the number of times I have read articles that slant, through omission and commission, stories so that what actually happened is misrepresented, to the point of dishonesty. The internet did not invent false news.
From the Rabbi November 2018
Lily Tomlin once asked “Why is it that when we talk to God we are said to be praying, but when God talks to us we’re schizophrenic?”
If one believes that there is no god or that God is so transcendent that communication is impossible then this question implies that prayer, at least sincere prayer is a form of mental illness. I do sincerely pray but I do not view this as a sign of mental illness. My defence is that I believe that that which we call God does exist but that it is impossible to prove this belief true or not. Nor can I possibly begin to understand what this label truly refers to nor Its nature. Nor can I truly know if my prayers have a destination beyond myself. What I do know is the effect they have on me and that this effect is beneficial.
The second part of the question is even more problematic. Were the prophets insane? Many people, Jew and non-Jew alike draw great meaning from their words, though I suspect many who praise the prophets have either never read them or are selective in their reading. Can their sanity be identified by what they said, by whether their predictions came true, or perhaps the effect they had on their contemporaries or later generations. What about Paul, Mohamed, Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Mary Baker Eddy (Church of Christ Scientist), Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses,) Bahá'u'lláh (Bahai), Zoraster or Gautama Buddha and others who founded what are now considered mainstream religions? Do we judge them by what we judge their words to have been, the good their followers have done or by the evils their words have sometimes inspired? Do we judge them by the veracity of their historical claims or by which of their prophesies have come true or do we judge them by how closely their ideas match our own. Or do we in reality judge them by the number of adherents they have. How do we distinguish them from “cults” or other more recent movements like the Church of Scientology, the Branch Davidians, and others too many to name here. Which are/were sincere and benign attempts to reach an ultimate truth, which mere exploitation and which a reflection mental health problems?