Friday, January 22, 2021

Making Deposits

No matter what side of the political aisle you stand on, this week was quite significant. The changing of administrations is always a big deal, but this year, it was quite the event. For the sake of the country, we hope and pray that our new President and his administration successfully respond to a nation in crisis. I have observed how many people were so emotionally invested in the recent election season. Declarations such as "we will not have a country if the other candidate gets elected" were heard throughout the long election cycle. While it's essential to participate in the democratic process and advocate our voice to elected officials, it can become all-consuming. Now that the election and recent inauguration are in the rearview mirror, I believe it's important to reflect on how and where we invest so much emotional energy. I would like to humbly recommend that perhaps we pivot away much of our emotional energy to the relationships and people in our lives that actually can benefit from it. We can get a much better return on investment from the time we spend on cultivating and improving these relationships. I am referring to the most important relationships in our lives that include our spouses, parents, and children. With our spouses, there is a wide range of how successful or not a marriage can be. It can vary from excellent and hitting on all cylinders to a failed union that's headed towards divorce. In the middle are a vast number of marriages that have some sort of peaceful coexistence. The couple may share a house and even a bedroom, but they might be coexisting and not thriving. I think it's worthwhile to reflect on how we all can go from good to great in this most important area. I want to share an important lesson in this area I learned from John Gottman, a noted expert in this field. He describes that it's important to build a joint Emotional Bank Account for your marriage. Every time you are generous with your spouse's feelings, you are depositing in the Emotional Bank Account. And when you turn away from your spouse, you make a withdrawal. Like a real bank account, a zero balance is trouble, and a negative balance is the real danger zone. An Emotional Bank Account grows when spouses make more deposits than withdrawals. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is how they manage their Emotional Bank Account. When the Emotional Bank Account is in the red, spouses tend to question each other's intentions and feel disconnected, or even lonely. But when the Emotional Bank Account is in the green, spouses tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt during the conflict. They keep their relationship in a positive perspective. A withdrawal from the Emotional Bank Account is inevitably going to happen with all the stress in life. That is why I believe it is essential to be aware of the regular need to make these necessary deposits. This week, we observed that presidents come and go (every four years or eight years), and our influence on that process is rather limited. Let's refocus our attention on the most important relationship in our lives where our investment into the Emotional Bank Account can really make a difference.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Finding Our Voice

The story of our people forming into a nation comes into sharp focus in this week’s Parsha. G-d told Moshe to communicate a message of hope, optimism, and redemption. G-d communicates the loftiest message of what would be known later as the four expressions of redemption. The Exodus of Egypt would be followed by G-d formally taking us as his nation and the Jewish People entering the Holy Land as its eternal homeland. Just reading this thousand of years later sometimes gives me goosebumps. Moshe arrives to tell his oppressed flock this uplifting message. The reaction he received was terribly disappointing. The Torah teaches us that the people didn’t listen to Moshe from shortness of breath and from hard labor. The response to this overwhelming positive message is nothing short of astounding. A nation that had been slaves for so long and suffered much oppression was finally turning the corner, and they were unable to hear the message of redemption! The condition of shortness of breath is the result of a person living in a hyper stressed environment. A person suffers not only in an emotional manner but also spiritually and physically. This high level of stress and anxiety can become so overwhelming that we lose our ability to listen and process positive news in our daily lives. I believe there is a parallel in our current lives of the condition referred to as shortness of breath. America is a nation under stress. The real-time images of Capitol Hill are nothing short of traumatic. We are witnessing armed troops displaying a very heavy presence in our nation’s capital. All this is to ensure a peaceful transition of power as a new administration comes into office. It was not too long ago if someone saw the images, they might conclude this was in Afghanistan or Iraq. No, this is the United States of America in 2021. No matter which side of the political fence one is on, this turn of events should be saddening for all. Another image coming out of Washington is that all lawmakers go are wearing masks as they conduct their legislative business. That’s another grim reminder of the pandemic and the toll it’s taking on our lives. The accumulative effect of armed troops and masked Members of Congress contributes to our collective state of shortness of breath. Our ancestors ultimately prevailed, and their state shortness of breath proved to be a bump in the road that they overcame. Their journey to redemption was uneven and messy. Their prayers and faith helped them be resilient in their struggles as they overcame their shortness of breath. Let us continue to pray for America's welfare that it be resilient in its state of shortness of breath.

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Unthinkable Occurs in America

The unthinkable has occurred in America. The United States of America, long revered as the beacon of freedom, liberty, and democracy, has a moral stain that will not easily go away. A hallmark feature of democracy is a peaceful transition of power, and our great sadness is that it did not occur this week. As our adversaries around the globe have pointed out, it will be unacceptable for America to lecture any country about the need to have a peaceful transition in their government. The millions of people worldwide who have always looked to America for inspiration in their own quest for liberty and freedom are dispirited and saddened. That is only one consequence of many that may be felt for years into the future. It was traumatic for us to see the citadel of liberty-- the United States Capitol run over by a violent mob that intended to disrupt the legislative proceedings of certifying the presidential election results. It is not just enough to condemn the violence or the individuals that ransacked the Capitol. Moments like these do not occur in a vacuum and require some reflection as to how we got here. We must all undergo a national exercise of soul searching and reflect on what areas of improvement we can all focus on to move forward in a positive way. These are some areas of inflection for me that I would like to share. Two wrongs do not make a right: I found it distressing to hear from people that while this violence may be inappropriate, there is a double standard in acts of rioting or violence by other groups that are tolerated. It's important to acknowledge and take responsibility for any situation in life without equivocating or making any qualifying statements. The first King of Israel, Shaul, was not removed from his position simply because he erred in the battle with Amaleik. It was because he was reticent to take responsibility. His successor, King David, committed multiple infractions and remained King for forty years because he was able to take responsibility for his actions. The Death of Nuance: Over the last several years, as we have slipped more into a caustic polarized environment, the art of nuance has been a casualty. Many issues have become binary choices. One is forced to choose between unlimited gun rights with no limitations or a mandatory confiscation of firearms. One is forced to choose between not allowing any immigrants into the country or complete open borders. As a student of Halacha, I have learned the importance of nuance, even in the most sacred Jewish obligations. One is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur or keep the Shabbos but some situations would exempt one from these Mitzvahs. A casualty of the rhetoric and charged discourse has been thoughtful and a nuanced approach to complex issues, and we must work on improving the nature of the discourse. Losing with Dignity: Nobody likes to lose or be associated with the losing side but the reality in life is that we don't always get everything we desire. The Orthodox Jewish community overwhelmingly voted for President Trump. There was considerable disappointment in many of our circles when he did not prevail at the ballot box. I have heard many voices in our community of despair as if somehow our republic has entered a death spiral with no hope of redemption. At a moment like this, I recall the story of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who at the throes of the destruction of our Second Temple in Jerusalem, had a climactic meeting with the Roman general Vespasian. During the meeting, Vespasian was informed about the Roman Emperor's death and the authorities in Rome nominated him to become the new emperor. Vespasian was impressed with Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai and asked him if there was anything that he can do for him. The Rabbi responded with three seemingly unimportant requests to which Vespasian agreed to. For about two thousand years, a nagging question has been why didn't the Rabbi ask the new emperor to call off the siege of Jerusalem and spare the Temple ?? I once heard a powerful insight from Rabbi Yisroel Reisman to this question. The Rabbi was teaching us a powerful lesson that is hard to internalize. He was teaching us how to lose with dignity. Rabbi Yochanan realized that Jerusalem was already doomed to its fate, and there was no way to reverse that catastrophic event. He also felt it was imperative at that moment to be pragmatic and gracious in defeat. My favorite part of NFL games is what occurs immediately after the game. The losing coach congratulates the winning coach and they usually offer each other warm words of encouragement for a good game played. In my opinion, the post-game ritual should be modeled by all of us in all areas of life. A silver lining to this traumatic season can be if we use this as an inflection point. It is not by looking outwards and pointing fingers at different people or groups but by looking inward and reflecting on what we can all do to engage in healing and reconciliation.

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...