Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Paternity Leave

Dear readers and friends,
As you may already know, one week ago today my daughter, Caroline Dena was born. My wife and I are overjoyed and so grateful, as we now begin the craziest journey of our lives.

For the next three weeks, I will be on paternity leave, and will therefore not be writing blog posts. Rest assured, once I'm back at work, the blogging shall resume. Thank you for your understanding. I hope you'll come back to the blog when I return; I look forward to seeing you all then. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of Carrie (though in general I don't intend to make the blog a forum for me to showcase my child...). Bye for now!

Rabbi Gerber

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Shemot: What Power Does to Our Hearts

What is it about power that makes it so blinding? As long as human beings have existed on this earth, we have been plagued by corrupt, insecure, power-hungry leaders who never learn from the mistakes of
their predecessors, and who will do anything necessary to remain in power. Why is it so intoxicating? Why does it corrupt to easily and completely? Too many times, we've seen a 'people's champion' who starts out caring only about the plight of the average person, but who almost instantaneously becomes a despot when given the chance. It's been true on nearly every continent, in every stage of our history, and in every ethnic group. Will we ever learn to change?

In Woody Allen's wonderfully satirical movie, 'Bananas' (1971), the main character (played by Allen, of course) accidentally joins a revolution in Latin America. At the very moment the revolution succeeds, its new leader goes insane, declaring: "From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now... 16 years old!" 
It's funny because it's only a slight exaggeration of the truth. Even if we go back to the time of the Bible and this week's Torah reading, we still see that the arbitrary and insane decrees of Pharaoh in Egypt are essentially no more logical than those pronounced by the character in 'Bananas.' In Exodus, chapter 5, verses 7-8, Pharaoh issues a charge to his taskmasters: "You shall no longer provide the people with straw for making bricks as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But impose upon them the same quota of bricks as they had been making until now; do not reduce it, for they are shirkers." What madness! And pathetic insecurity to boot. Is he any different than the rulers of Syria or China today, who shut down the Internet, spy on their citizens, and imprison anyone who so much as criticizes the government?

And none of them learn from history, from the lesson of Pharaoh. You cannot win! In the long run, when people have begun to imagine freedom or thirst for rights, you cannot beat
them down hard enough to make them forget. The call of 'let my people go' will never stop ringing in your ears, nor in any of theirs. But power corrupts, doesn't it? It blinds and deadens, both the heart and the mind. The Torah may tell us that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, but I believe it was the lure of power that was the real culprit. God gave us the ability to govern, to place one person above the rest to make decisions on our behalf.  WE harden our own hearts. We allow ourselves to be thoroughly led astray by self-centered aspirations and delusions of grandeur. 

This malady is unfortunately not limited to evil tyrants and Biblical bad-guys. On smaller scales, it happens in our own communities, and in everyday social situations, where small amounts of power still make us drunk with aspirations of supremacy. Our Congress is certainly struck with this disease; using aid for Hurricane victims as a pawn in a political gameAt its core, I believe the temptation
of power is about narcissism, focusing on MY needs above those of anyone else. No matter the damage, suffering, destruction, or death that it causes others, I will forge ahead to make a 'great name' for myself. And where does it lead? Nowhere. Pharaoh and Bashar al-Assad may represent the most extreme instances of this, but you and I remain at risk. Let us learn from all these examples - ancient, modern, satirical, and congressional - and embrace our responsibility for one another. Our hearts can be hardened, just as Pharaoh's was. Only when we learn from our history, and when we acknowledge the allure of power that must constantly be overcome, will we be able to keep our hearts and our souls soft and open to helping those around us.

Photos in this blog post:

1. CC image courtesy SportsAngle.com on Flickr

2.CC image courtesy of Luiz Fernando / Sonia Maria on Flickr

3. CC image courtesy of gnomonic on Flickr

4. CC image courtesy of Jeriff Cheng on Flickr