It’s bedikat chometz time when I write this, and I am procrastinating. So let me share a good thought from Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, the Orthodox rabbi up the road in Baltimore. You might find it useful in coming days. It’s about saying “gotcha.” It’s longer than my usual, but there is a stopping point midway.
Wohlberg is an RK, a rabbi’s kid, a dubious honor, and asks how much worse it must be to be a PK – a President’s kid. Not just Tiffany Trump, whose law school applications somehow merited 2/3 of the front page of the Post Style section. Who cares, and who would want that? But would you want to be Ivanka and Jared Kushner? At first glance, who would NOT want to be Ivanka and Jared Kushner? From the day they were born, they had it made. Then, on their own, they made quite a name for themselves in real estate, publishing, fashion and design. Who would not want to be Ivanka and Jared? And then something happened. Donald Trump became President … and Ivanka and Jared became part of the Washington political scene. What’s not to like about that?
Here’s what’s not to like. Ivanka is not just a PK – that’s bad enough! But she’s a PKJ – Ivanka and Jared Kushner are Jewish … and that is a big problem. NOT because of the anti-Semites in America, but because of the Jews in America. For any other people, the Kushner/Trump marriage, or if you want, call it “merger,” is a beautiful, inspiring story. For any other people, at a time when intermarriage so threatens our future, here is a Jewish boy who insists that his Protestant girlfriend convert; and she agrees! She not only converts, but converts by an Orthodox rabbi and writes how beautiful she finds the Shabbos for the time it gives her family to be together. For any other people, what pride they would take when, in the fall of one year, newspapers carried a picture of Jared and Ivanka pushing their baby carriage home from shul, showing their child with what was described as “holding flowers,” not knowing it was their lulav and etrog. I mean, it doesn’t get better than that!
But we’re Jews, so why see something good when we can see something bad! Listen to some of the headlines from both the Jewish and general press regarding Ivanka and Jared as Jews:
– “Jewish World Weighs In on Ivanka and Jared’s piety on inauguration day.”
– Then there is: “Ivanka and Jared’s ride to church on Shabbos sparks controversy.”
– “Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump should cut the hypocrisy.”
– “Ivanka Trump fails the Queen Esther test.”
– CNN Panel discusses influence of Jared Kushner’s Shabbat observance on father-in-law, President Donald Trump’s, tweeting.
– And then there’s this one: Kushner and Trump arrive in West Palm Beach, Florida – Friday – 5:51 PM EST – candle lighting 5:51 PM – sunset – 6:09 PM.
So now let me ask you once again: Would you want to be Ivanka and Jared? They are not perfect, but would you want to be judged like this? And let me ask you: Is everything our business? Do we have to stand in judgement of what everyone else does? That, in itself, is bad enough. Even worse is the fact that very rarely when we judge do we find something good to say! We are always looking for the “gotcha,” pulling them down not building them up.
That’s what Reb Levi Yitzchak of Bereditchiv used to do. Rev Levi Yitzchak is one of the most beloved rabbis in Jewish folk lore. What made him so well liked? Listen to this story. Once he was walking with one of his Chassidim and they saw another of his followers greasing the axle on his wagon when he suddenly stopped to daven Mincha. The Chassid said to Reb Levi, “Look at his despicable behavior … while he davens Mincha he fixes his axle.” Reb Levi said, “No, no … look at what a beautiful Chassid he is. While fixing his axle he davens Mincha.” Reb Levi was able to see the best in everyone. Is it really asking too much to do the same in regard to Ivanka and Jared? And what about how, before moving to Washington, Ivanka and Jared came down to find a day school for their children and a shul that would be within walking distance of their home? Do we know that many Jews who do that? Why look for the bad in others when there is so much good to be found?
Ask yourselves honestly: When you talk with others about others, do you build them up or tear them down? At a party, restaurant, school parking lot, do you look for something good to say about others, or do you delight in pointing out their flaws? Tell the truth!
YOU CAN STOP HERE. Or you can read on about a candle that we use tonight. Every year on the night preceding the festival of Pesach, we have the ritual of Bedikat Chometz, the search for the chometz…that last ditch effort to make sure that there is no chometz in the house before Pesach arrives. Tradition has us go from room to room with a feather to sweep up any chometz we may find, a wooden spoon to sweep the chometz into, and a candle … a candle to provide illumination for the search.
And so now we’re left with this question: We dispose of (usually by burning) the chometz and the spoon and the feather, they are or they touched chometz. But we also dispose of the poor little candle. All it did was help us perform a mitzvah. Why do we dispose of it as well?
Wohlberg asked this question to his father when he was a child. The answer he has never forgotten: “That candle served only one purpose in life. To look for chometz. Something that was used just to look for faults, to look for imperfections, something whose sole purpose in life is to look for something wrong in every nook and cranny … THAT you have to get rid of before you can celebrate Pesach.” I like that thought, and I hope you do, too. That candle is only used for “gotcha!” That shouldn’t be around when we gather at the Seder table.
So at this season of spring housecleaning, let us clean house inside us as well. Let us burn out the evil impulse that makes us derive some kind of psychic satisfaction from pulling down people. Let’s look for other people’s virtues and not their flaws. Indeed, at the Pesach Seder, we’ll be sitting with family and friends — some we haven’t seen for a while. Are we going to be positive or negative? Are we going to use this family experience to “tell it like it is” or “to set the record straight?” Instead of criticizing “for their own good,” how about praising “for their own good?” Instead of “gotcha” how about “love to have you.”
Think about it. This week, let’s work on building ourselves up, not on pulling other people down. Then, indeed, we will be blessed with a “Chag sameach – a truly beautiful festival” – and maybe a better society as well.
Best to you and yours for a wonderful holiday. Bill Rudolph