Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Lord Acton famously said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men ."
Why is it that great men, predominantly, become bad men?
Research published recently in Psychological Science showed that power tends to corrupt and to promote a hypocritical tendency to hold other people to a higher standard than oneself. The research also demonstrated that powerful people not only abuse the system but also feel entitled to abuse it.
According to Professor Deborah Gruenfeld, a social psychologist at Stanford University who focuses on the study of power, "When people feel powerful, they stop trying to control themselves."
An article in the San Francisco Chronicle summed up the research as follows: People with power tend to be more oblivious to what others think, more likely to pursue the satisfaction of their own appetites, poorer judges of other people's reactions, more likely to hold stereotypes, overly optimistic and more likely to take risks.
In other words, Gruenfeld and her colleagues discovered that powerful people tend to have a heightened sensitivity to their own internal states and a reduced sensitivity to others.
Perhaps this is why the Torah's regulations for a Jewish king are so strict. For instance, a Jewish king must keep in his possession a Torah scroll (according to several meforshim it was worn as an amulet) to remind him of his subservience to the Law, "lest his heart becomes haughty over his brethren and he departs from God's commandments right or left " (Devarim 17:20).
The king was only allowed to divest himself of his personal Torah when attending to personal needs, such as using the lavatory (see Maimonides, Hilchos Melachim 3:1). The Torah scroll functioned as a perpetual admonition to the king not to abuse power, behave superciliously, or act above the law.
It seems from Sefer HaChinuch that arrogance and self-centeredness is the prime cause for turpitude in a leader's rule. The Jewish king, or leader, is commanded to place every self-interest aside and act solely in the service of the people, following the law of the Torah.
Reporters were astounded at the estimated 300,000-500,000 people who attended Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach's funeral in 1995. Most of the journalists had never heard of him. After a thorough search of encyclopedias and computerized archives for information on this heretofore uncelebrated personality, they were baffled that they came up with virtually no information.
The quintessential Jewish leader throughout the ages - whether it was Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, Maimonides, the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (or any one in the constellation of illustrious rabbinic personalities that have graced the Jewish world throughout the millennia) - was not necessarily renowned for charisma, elocution, or popularity (there is no ballot that elects a Jewish leader). Rather, it is the intense sincerity, integrity, selflessness, and, above all, infusion of Torah into their lifeblood that are responsible for the seemingly gratuitous selection and adulation of these outstanding men.
Nor does education or knowledge insure a leader's virtue, tenacious commitment to morality or lack of corruptibility. This fact is poignantly illustrated by the following accounts.
Michael Wildt of Hamburg University, in his book Generation Des Unbedingten, chronicles that the SS forces, those who ran the concentration camps, were comprised of some of the most educated people in German society. An elite of intellectuals and academics - a consortium of Ph.D.s in literature, philosophy, law, history, and science - directed the genocide.
A famous story is told about Bertrand Russell when he was professor of ethics at Harvard. Russell was engaged in eyebrow-raising sexual antics that were highly unacceptable in Boston in the early 20th century. The dean, especially irate that a professor of ethics should be acting so unethically, summoned him and excoriated him for his behavior. Russell rejoined: "I was a professor of geometry at Cambridge, but no one ever expected me to be a triangle or a square."
Russell, one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was maintaining that what a person studies and teaches need have no bearing on his behavior.
This is the polar opposite of the Torah viewpoint. Torah knowledge and Jewish leadership is sine qua non with Torah living. Torah study is not so much about pedantic learning, flawless logic and cerebral chess as it is about refining and purifying one's rudimentary, crude being.
According to the Vilna Gaon the raison d'être of Torah is self-perfection - to serve as a vehicle for rectifying one's character traits. The objective of Torah study is to form a Torah-ingrained personality. What one studies and teaches must become an integral part of his or her life.
The first Jewish powerhouse was Avraham Avinu. The progenitor of the Jewish people and the world's first disseminator of monotheism had no tradition about God. His immediate forebears were pagans, as was the culture in which he lived. Avraham operated without any initial revelation. It was necessary for him to engage in a scientifically objective quest to find God.
Interestingly, the written Torah is entirely mute on the subject of how Avraham discovers God. Avraham is mentioned only in the context of his first spiritual assignment, but his entire spiritual saga of discerning God remains shrouded in mystery.
Why is that? Why should Avraham's intellectual drama be so obscured? Perhaps it is to teach that one's individual metamorphosis is too personal of a subject to be broadcast publicly. To decipher truth amid decadence and hedonism is a formidable challenge.
The emotional and intellectual rigor, turmoil, and anguish of refining one's instincts and imperfections is a battle waged in the innermost recesses of one's heart. Mustering the courage to let go of long-held doctrines and beliefs, and forgoing illicitness one has become ingrained with, is a deeply private exercise. And it is the most important exercise.
In our current chinuch system, we often lose the forest for the trees and get derailed by extolling the didactic, pedagogic, and technical instead of celebrating the work and spirit that goes into shaping an ethical and altruistic conscience.
Our true leaders, like Avraham, never succumbed to the temptation of power. They knew that real power is defined not by one's clout or material worth but is achieved by perfecting one's character and living a life of empowering, enabling, and honoring others.
Lord Acton was right - to an extent. Power does tend to corrupt, but only when in the hands of mediocre leaders. Great men fall not because they are innately bad men but because they have not become intrinsically good men.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Are you an empiricist or a rationalist? How does science prove something to be true? Can we use such a tool to ascertain whether there is a God?
Join Rabbi Fingerer in this 8 minute Godcast for a fascinating perspective on whether science can offers evidence for God's existence.
What is the most consequential question of all time? Does God actually exist? Why doesn't Judaism speak about the word "God"? What would the world be like without God? What is wrong with spontaneous generation? What is the anthropic principle?
Join Rabbi Fingerer on this fascinating Godcast. In less then 8 minutes you will learn a great deal about Judaism's different take on God.
What does "Change" mean? Why is it so hard to let go of things? How does one undergo a transformation? How are human beings different than animals? Why was the first human being called "Adam", which means earth? Why was Abraham not religious? What type of change is the hardest: Changing a career? A spouse? Or changing one's ideology and behavior? Discover the answer and discover yourself.
Join Rabbi Fingerer on this fascinating Godcast. In less than six minutes you may discover a component of yourself that you never new existed.
Who was the most influential person in world history? Why is Judaism not necessarily a Religion? Who was Abraham the first proponent of Monotheism? Why is his identity so obscured?
Join Rabbi Fingerer on this fascinating "Godcast." It's less then six minutes but you may receive an eternity of information.
Monday, February 22, 2010
A New Denial Of Traditional Judaism
Op-ED in The Jewish Press (February 17, 2010)By: Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer
For thousands of years of Jewish history there wasn't a unique nomenclature classifying Torah-deviant Jews. Denominations like Conservative, Reform and Orthodox were non-existent. One was either more observant, less observant, or, in highly atypical cases, nonobservant.
The reason for this is that history is immutable. Sinai was a historical fact that was irrefutable and unassailable.
Perhaps no other nation has such an explicit and unequivocal historical chain. Rambam (in his introduction to Mishneh Torah) delineates a clear, incontestable chain of teachers from Moshe Rabbeinu until Rav Ashi, redactor of the Talmud. Conclusive studies have traced contemporary Torah leaders back to Rav Ashi, bringing the chain of tradition full circle.
Obscuring the divinely endowed roles of man and woman is tantamount to denying God's Omniscience. As we stand at the precipice of a new threat to tradition, it is incumbent on us to reaffirm our fealty to the Omniscient Knowledge of our Creator.
OP-ED in The Jewish Press (February, 3, 2010)
by Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer
I was apprised of the fact that a renowned rav and posek in Flatbush dedicated his Shabbos morning drasha to the plight of a young lady who was recently dismissed from her Brooklyn Bais Yaakov. It seems she vexed the administration because she asked her teacher incisive questions about the nature of Gan Eden. Thankfully, due to the intervention of this prominent rav, she was reinstated to her school.
The value of shakla vetarya, the dynamicof the exchange of questions and answers, is paramount in Judaism. Every Jewish toddler is educated with the four questions of Pesach. Upon death every Jew is asked four crucial, fateful questions. The only way to ensure that these last questions are answered appropriately is to espouse an open-communication "questions welcome" environment throughout a person's life.
for further information please visit www.searchjudaism.com