Posts

Cancel the Cancel Culture

To see all of Rabbi Wildes' posts, click here -> Rabbi Mark Wildes' Blog

NOW FEATURED ON TIMES OF ISRAEL

For many years, actress Felicity Huffman played a “Desperate Housewife” on TV. But it was for something she did in real life that made her even more famous. Last year, Huffman was charged in a nationwide college entrance exam cheating scandal. Among other things, she paid for someone else to take her daughter’s SAT test. Huffman eventually pleaded guilty, spent some time in jail and is serving 250 hours of community service.

Like many celebrities who engage in misconduct, her career came to a screeching halt. She was, for all intents and purposes, “cancelled.”

Indeed, there are plenty of celebrities who engage in long-standing patterns of misbehavior who probably deserve to be cancelled. But along comes a person like Huffman, a devoted mother and wife – an otherwise decent person – who makes one very bad moral mistake, and her career is over. Nothing could be further from Jewish values which emphasize second chances and believes deeply in the concept of “teshuva” or repentance.

The period of time on the Jewish calendar in which we now find ourselves, is devoted to this very kind of self-reflection and rectification of our past misdeeds. The Jewish Sages established the Three Weeks and Nine Day period leading up to Tisha Bav – the day both Jewish Temples were destroyed – as a time to look back and ask ourselves: where did we go wrong? What mistakes have we made that we can improve upon? What transgressions did our ancestor’s make, which brought about the Temple’s destruction, that we still commit today? We disengage from certain joyous activities such as live music and weddings and we fast – all so we can learn from our past mistakes but not be buried or cancelled by them.

The Talmud teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred – a breakdown in the respect and love we were meant to have for one another. This is why, at this time on the Jewish calendar, many take upon themselves to act in a kinder and more sensitive manner to others. As such, MJE has launched a Rebuilding Together Challenge to help restore and rebuild that love and unity. I urge you to join us at: https://forms.gle/SaG1LPVbX99ptrcN6

As Jews we believe in second chances. Individually, we are given a second chance every year on every Yom Kippur and nationally we have this time every summer to reflect upon and fix our past misdeeds. God didn’t give up on us after one mistake and we should expect no less from each other. We have become so unforgiving as a society. We need to stop cancelling otherwise good people if they sincerely feel remorse and try to do better.

The Jewish belief in second chances was much better seen in the example of Jimmy Fallon. The late-night talk show host is beloved by many and one of my personal favorites. Earlier this year, people started sharing a 20-year-old “Saturday Night Live” skit he had done in blackface and there was an immediate knee-jerk reaction that his career should be canceled. But eventually, cooler heads prevailed. Fallon admitted he had made a mistake, expressing remorse and telling his audience: “There is no excuse for this. I am very sorry for making this unquestionably offensive decision and thank all of you for holding me accountable.” It was a one-time mistake, he apologized, and there’s nothing in his history to suggest that his actions were part of a larger pattern.

To err is human. To immediately cancel someone who commits a wrongdoing is to deny that humanity. Ultimately, it is the growth that comes from our mistakes that helps us become the best version of ourselves, both individually and nationally. So, rather than cancelling one another, let’s encourage each other to right the wrong and move on. In doing so, may we merit to see the Temple rebuilt.

A Grasshopper Among Men

To see all of Rabbi Wildes' posts, click here -> Rabbi Mark Wildes' Blog

NOW FEATURED ON TIMES OF ISRAEL

On May 29, 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to climb Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. What is incredible to me though, is that since that time over 4,000 people have successfully climbed Everest, including an 81-year-old man from Nepal! Similarly, within weeks of Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, others also followed suit.

Simply knowing something is possible can help make the improbable possible. Conversely, not believing in one’s own abilities can prevent important things from happening. No story illustrates this lesson better than the incident of the spies recorded in this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Shlach:

Moshe sends in the spies to scout out the land of Israel and they return with a negative report.

The spies report back that the cities they visited were powerfully fortified. They share that they encountered the offspring of giants and that the fierce nation of Amalek dwells together with the other Canaanite nations. Despite Caleb’s efforts to calm the people, the ten scouts declare: “We cannot ascend to that people for they are too strong for us…the land through which we have passed to spy it out is a land that devours its inhabitants…”(Numbers 13:31,32).

Where is the people’s faith?  Are they not the same people who witnessed the ten plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea? Did they not stand at Sinai and hear God revealing the Torah? Why then did the people not believe they could handle the nations who inhabited the land of Israel?!

I believe the answer lies in the famous line with which the spies ended their negative report:
Vnehi b’aineinu kachgavim – “and in our own eyes we were grasshoppers”, v’chain hayinu b’aineihem” “and so we were in their eyes”. (Numbers 13:33)

What the spies were saying was that because “in our own eyes we are like grasshoppers” – because we see ourselves in this way, others see us in that way too. Perhaps without even realizing, the spies were able to explain why their enemies looked upon them as small and insignificant, as grasshoppers. The spies, distinguished princes from each Jewish tribe, were men of great stature but they lacked self-esteem.  They saw themselves as weak and impotent and therefore were unable to inspire the people to go forward.  Despite all miracles they had witnessed, they deemed themselves unworthy of God’s intervention. Perhaps, as my teacher Rabbi Buchwald suggests, their self-esteem had been beaten out of them by the many years of slavery or perhaps they had become so reliant on God’s intervention that they saw themselves as helpless. Either way, since they had a low self-opinion, so would everyone else.

So much of what others think of us comes from the way we think of ourselves. Our self-perception so often determines our behavior and how others perceive us. If we are small in our own eyes, we will be small in others.

In our professional lives, if we question our own skills and abilities – if we doubt how much value we bring to the table – then the people with whom we work will do the same.

The same applies in our social and romantic lives. If we are unhappy with ourselves, if we are lacking in our own self-esteem, then when we present ourselves to other people that, that too will, no doubt, present itself. This is perhaps why the Torah famously tells us: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). If we don’t sufficiently love ourselves it will be very hard to love someone else.

In our religious lives, perhaps without a formal Jewish day school education, many feel unable to go further in their Jewish knowledge and observance. However, as many of my students at MJE have demonstrated, being Jewish is about showing up.  Living as a Jew means exerting oneself to learn more, attending an online Torah class, improving one’s Hebrew or gaining a mastery over a part of Judaism we didn’t even know existed. One MJE participant, who had virtually no Jewish educational background, went on-line every day to study a page of Talmud. After seven years, he completed the entire Talmud and just a few months ago, we celebrated together at the Siyum Hashas event at Met Life Stadium. He saw himself as able and capable and so he was able to do it.

So much of what we accomplish comes down to the way we look at ourselves. Are we takers or are we givers? Are we giants or are we grasshoppers? As the Jewish people, do we look at ourselves as a proud nation entrusted with a Divine mission or are we apologetic for our very existence? Are we sinners or people with great potential who sometimes fail?

The answer to these questions will, no doubt, determine how our friends and our enemies perceive us, but it all starts inside. If we can get the inside right, the outside will fall into place and the extraordinary and uplifting person we know we can be, will become a reality.