The Smarmy Guys Win

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In the movie “Clear and Present Danger”, a square-jawed Harrison Ford angrily confronts his deceitful CIA supervisor.  The supervisor has lied to Ford’s character and to Congress, and has secretly authorized a guerilla war which leads to the death of several American soldiers.  Upon discovering the deceit, Ford storms into his supervisors’ office and says “You’re going to jail, pal!”.  The supervisor, with a smarmy smile across his face, waves a sheet of papers and says “I already  have a Presidential pardon-you have one of these, buddy”?   All Ford can do is leave the room.  At the end of the movie Ford bravely testifies to Congress, knowing that he will be indicted as well, but honesty and truth will out, and Ford is a hero.

Absolute fiction.  In real life, the smarmy supervisor not only will escape all justice, but be promoted, move into a high paying job in the private sector, and write a book that will make him millions.  Few high ranking politicos or their smarmy  appointees “go to jail, pal” and have not for many, many years.  We have raised a generation of Americans for whom honesty, honor, integrity and decency are meaningless.  It is no wonder that in nearby Sayreville,NJ  a cowardly fellow  named George Najjar,  the “coach” of the football players who have now been arrested for sexual violence against younger players has remained absolutely silent.  Why risk anything by speaking out?  Why jeopardize himself by expressing sympathy for the victimized young men under his care?  The smarmy guys have truly won.

We are Sayreville

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The assault\bullying\hazing scandal involving the  Sayreville NJ High School Varsity football team will only get worse.  That much is certain.  It appears that something systematically took place in the locker room that has frightened administrators enough that the entire season is now cancelled.   It does not take great imagination to realize that this was not simple “hazing” of younger players by seniors.  It appears to be something far more serious, possibly violent and sexual in nature.   What is instructive is carefully  reading the responses of the parents of the players:

1. Our kids are innocent, followed by-

2.Some kids are guilty, but not mine-followed by-

3.Ok, my kid may be guilty, followed by-

4.It’s the fault of the coaches and teachers.

The mealy-mouthed responses by the parents are alarming, but the fault is entirely ours.  As a society, over the last few decades, we have tended to excuse and “forgive”  the worst behavior in others and in ourselves.  If you are popular, politically powerful, well known, and financially secure or influential  the chances of any real punishment are just about nil. If you become the media story of the week, maybe something will happen, but that is rare.   Yes, the response of the Sayreville football parents is pretty disgusting, but is it any worse than what we have permitted and encouraged and enabled for a very long time?  Hard to blame the football parents for expecting for themselves and their sons what they see in the papers and in the media every day.  Well respected people get away with pretty egregious crimes all the time.  Why not our kids?

“Yasher Koach” to faithful Christians

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“Yasher Koach” is a common Hebrew phrase, uttered as a compliment to a person who has performed a mitzvah, a commandment.   Multiple news stories have reported in recent days that charitable giving has decreased among the wealthy, while it has increased among the poor and middle class.  (So much for the “makers” vs the “takers”) Most notably, charitable giving has increased in the Evangelical  “Bible Belt” and in Utah (lots of Mormons).  It has decreased in the “Yankee” states of New Hampshire and Maine.  It appears, to this unsophisticated eye, that serious and faithful Christians continue to step up and help, regardless of their personal financial situation.  To my Christian brothers and sisters, yasher koach!

The Woodchoppers and Waterdrawers are not doing so well in the Garden State

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In the Torah portion for this week, Nitzvavim-Vayelekh, we are told that all are standing before God to enter the Covenant-“your leaders, your elders, your officers, men, your children and women, the stranger amongst you, the woodchopper and the water-drawer-all the community of Israel”- (Deut 29:9-10).

The ancient rabbis and the later commentators drew an obvious conclusion: that the Torah intends to tell us that those at the bottom of the social and economic order-the stranger, the woodchopper and the water-drawer; are just as significant and important as the leaders, elders and officers.  Unfortunately, that message has not only been typically lost, at least in the state of New Jersey it is getting worse for those at the bottom.   While the overall poverty rate has declined in the nation as a whole-New Jersey is one of three states in which it has risen. (the other two are New Mexico and Washington).   While the tendency in recent years is to blame the poor for their poverty and the economically miserable for their misery, as a religious person who values the Torah, it is hard not to feel a certain shame that my state remains one of the few where poverty is on the increase.

Mazal Tov New Jersey-we’re number three!

We are God’s Avatar-So Act Like It

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One of the ongoing debates among Bible scholars and Bible readers is understanding what it means that human beings are made “in the image of God”. (Gen 1:27)

Often “made in the image of God” is meant to indicate that human beings have an innate dignity, that there is worth to every one. Or, alternatively, that there is an aspect of God’s essence embedded in every one of us. Some Bible scholars argue for a more straightforward response. The Hebrew word for “image, “tzelem” literally means “sculpture”-therefore human beings are, quite literally God’s walking, talking icon. A sculpture of God.
Or, as we might put it, God’s avatar. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that the reason we are forbidden to make an image of God is because God already has an image-us. Imagine life if we really treated one another like a walking, talking, breathing, moving avatar for God. We would be more solicitous and respectful of one another; we would cut each other a lot more slack; we would have more kindness and compassion for one another-and maybe, just maybe, just maybe; we would think twice, or maybe more than twice, before doing physical harm to one another.

As we bid goodbye to another week of pain in the world and the unbelievable cruelty of human beings one to the other-shabbat shalom