Thursday, April 28, 2011

Learning to Speak: George VI and Moses

In Torah, we read about Moses, who reluctantly accepted the mission of redeeming our people.

Moses flatly told Hashem that he wasn’t up to the task. Now a question: what excuse could Moses possibly have used with the Creator of heaven and earth?

He said he was heavy of speech. According to tradition, Moses stammered. We don’t know if that was the case, just that he was reluctant to speak: he didn’t think he could.

A recent Oscar nominee, The Kings Speech, describes a reluctant king, George VI of the United Kingdom. There are interesting parallels between the story of Moses and the British king:
• Neither wanted the job
• Both understood they were obligated to accept the job
• Both Moses and King George were brought up in royal courts
• Both men came to their careers at the time of historical crises: for the king, WWII was breaking out; for Moses, Egyptian slavery had become intolerable to both the people of Israel and to Hashem
• Neither was born to his mission – Moses had no idea that God would call on him; George VI had an older brother who was destined to be king
• And both had trouble speaking. George VI, known as Bertie, definitely stammered.

Neither one could possibly fulfill his mission if he couldn’t speak.

The story of King George certainly doesn’t have the religious meaning and depth of the story of Moses. Still, The King’s Speech is a compelling story of a person who took great risks to overcome serious obstacles. One obstacle is learning to speak; the other obstacle? Finding his humanity.

At this point, I should issue a spoiler alert. However, this is history.

Bertie didn’t start out as the world’s most likeable person. After all, Bertie was raised in a royal court. He only knew a world of privilege and title. He had a sense of entitlement – because he was entitled… to so much.

Now, compare this to Moses. His first trip out of the royal palace led him to encounter his enslaved Jewish brethren. His anger at their condition led Moses to kill the taskmaster and flee for his life.

Bertie had no such experience. He didn’t know how to be a “real” person. Therefore, humility wasn’t his strong suit.

Bertie’s speech impediment embarrassed him no end. Seeking help also embarrassed him no end.

Bertie’s wife Elizabeth took matters into her own hands. She’d watched her husband go from therapist to therapist and still, get no relief. She’d watched – and shared – his abject fear every time he spoke in public.

Without telling her husband, Elizabeth visited a speech therapist who used unorthodox methods. Her love and support proved crucial to her husband’s growth.

Critical to the process: the patience and skill of the therapist, Lionel Logue. He took on a difficult patient for whom the stakes were really high!

Without going into much detail – I hope you see the movie! – Bertie embarked upon a difficult process of growth and learning.

An important component of the movie: we see fantasies shredded: the life of royalty may seem fantastic, but its difficulties overshadowed any so-called glamour.

George VI had little control over the shape of his life. He didn’t want to be king. When his elder brother abdicated the throne, Bertie had no choice. He had to be king.

As with all of us, we often come to life events we cannot control. It’s often difficult, but often, the only thing we can manage is … our response—our attitude.

We can give up… or rise to great challenge.

For George VI, hostilities were breaking out with Hitler. The timing couldn’t be worse. His speaking difficulties loomed even greater.

A king has to speak.

Mr. Logue became the first “commoner” that Bertie had known. They became close friends. And Logue remained his lifelong coach.

George VI did learn to speak because of his:
• Supportive wife
• Amazing coach
• Personal courage in facing obstacles.
• And sense of duty to something far greater than himself

During WWII, King George VI became a tower of strength and comfort for his people during WWII.

For Bertie, the task was difficult, yet through an incredible act of courage and will, he overcame tremendous obstacles.

The story of Moses learning to speak … of King George learning to speak … isn’t just a story about famous people.

We can apply these lessons to ourselves.

For both of these men, speaking wasn’t just a matter of diction.

They had to learn to speak to minds and hearts.

To accomplish this, they had to overcome their own fears.

Perhaps most difficult of all, they had to humble themselves in order to grow.

For both Moses and King George, heavy obstacles provided opportunities for incredible growth.

We can learn and be inspired by both of these men who lived in very different worlds.

We don’t have to let our “flaws” define us. We don’t have to let obstacles deter us from accomplishment.

If we are to grow, we must serve a higher good – one that is found in community – and with God.

And finally, a highly recommend this movie!

B'shalom u'vrachah,in peace and blessing,

Rabbi Shaina Bacharach

Goldstone and Operation Cast Lead a Year Later

Do you remember Israel’s military operation, Operation Cast Lead? It happened two years ago, when Israel retaliated against Hamas for an eight-year rocket barrage attacking southern Israel.

Many of us hailed Operation Cast Lead by saying: it’s about time that Israel defended her people.

The world cried out against Israeli brutality.

The United Nations immediately “investigated.”

The UN Human Rights Council appointed Judge Richard Goldstone – a prominent, respected Jew from South Africa – to lead the investigation.

Surely that was good news, asking a Jew to lead the investigation…
But it wasn’t good news … because it came from the UN Human Rights Council.

The UN Human Rights Council is blatantly anti-Israel – and not at all a favorable arena for promoting human rights. An example, in late February the Council commended Libya for its human rights efforts!

As a human rights watchdog, the group is a bad … macabre … joke. So, to no one’s surprise, the Goldstone report branded Israel as blatantly guilty of war crimes.
Goldstone did accuse both Hamas and Israel of these war crimes. However, this report made Israel sound a lot worse than Hamas.

Goldstone accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians.
Fact: Israeli policy was to warn civilians of every military action.
Fact: there were significant civilian casualties in Gaza.
Fact: Hamas used civilians as human shields.
Fact: War is brutal and chaotic and mistakes are always made. War is horrible.

Forget that Hamas targets are always civilian. Forget that Hamas had attacked Israelis for years. Forget that Israel spent years resisting even adequate self-defense, let alone retaliation.

Israel was the bad guy, a terrorist nation. Naturally, the world hailed the Goldstone Report as further proof of Israeli atrocities. The damage to Israel – and to Jews – has been far-reaching and incalculable. I bring this upfor two reasons:

1. The Middle East is more dangerous than ever. There are multiple rebellions and we have no idea who – if any – are the good guys. The vilification of Israel makes our situation even more precarious.
2.And because Judge Goldstone recently issued a semi-retraction in the Washington Post.

On April 1st – yes, April Fool’s Day – Judge Goldstone wrote: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
Goldstone explained that “today we know more” than they did at the time of his investigation.

We could ask: why didn’t you wait and make sure all the facts were in?
In his semi mea culpa, Goldstone blamed the victim. He complained that Israel didn’t cooperate. He also expressed the hope that both Israel and Gaza would investigate the war on their own.

Israel has been investigating Operation Cast Lead for two years. Goldstone expressed surprise and disappointment that no such investigation came from Hamas.
In his article, Goldstone further expressed the hope that his criticism of Gaza would lead them to “curtail their attacks.”

Hamas has recently renewed their attacks on Israel, the most recent target a school bus with children. Yes, Israeli retaliation was swift and strong – but Hamas rocket attacks shouldn’t be happening at all.

Was Hamas encouraged by Goldstone’s mild criticism the world directed toward them – coupled with the unrelenting accusations of Israel for war crimes?

Goldstone’s admission is astounding and tragic. While he excuses the bias, he seems to understand that he operated without facts.

However, our question is this: can any amount of teshuvah, repentance, undo the damage Goldstone unleashed?

Let’s take a moment to look at how seriously Judaism takes lashon harah – often considered to be gossip, but literally defined as evil speech. This week’s parshah, Metzorah, is ostensibly about skin disease and matters of ritual impurity.

My colleague – Rabbi/Doctor Leonard Sharzer points out that there is nothing medical about the parshah. There are deep truths. One of the hidden messages of Metzorah relates to lashon harah. According to tradition, speaking lashon harah leads to the skin afflictions detailed in the Torah.

Do note: Jewish theology does NOT blame a sick person for getting sick. The connection between disease and speech cannot be taken literally.
What the Torah does teach: if a person spreads distortions and lies, his inner essence will become evident to all. This doesn’t mean through physical disease – just that the truth will eventually come out.

People will know. The person speaking lashon harah is liable to be shunned and isolated.

After all, speaking lashon harah does eventually put one outside the community….
Moses Maimonides, the Rambam, taught that slandering a community makes complete repentance virtually impossible.

Repentance – teshuvah –requires restitution. How can you do that with an entire community, let alone a nation? Further, suppose others were harmed as a result?
The damage can go a long way.

Our world loves rhetoric and often shuns serious fact-checking. News comes to us in snippets – lacking context and history. We forg the art of reading between the lines to see what information we’re missing.

Unfortunately, Richard Goldstone’s original report did so much damage, Israel’s reputation … and safety … cannot be assured with even the deepest of apologies.
We must carefully weigh our statements and pronouncements. Goldstone didn’t do that, and needlessly caused a lot of damage to Israel and the Jewish people.

We can easily do the same thing by repeating lies and distortions we hear in the media.

We must always be mindful of Torah – which teaches us to be cautious, just, and compassionate in even our daily speech.

In other words, God really does require fact-checking… may we guard our own speech and carefully weigh that of others as we prepare to re-enact our journey to freedom and holiness.

B'shalom u'vrachah, in peace and blessing,
Rabbi Shaina Bacharach