Don’t worry, be happy!
Is it possible to command emotions? It would seem that physical actions can indeed be legislated and ordered by a higher power, yet how can feelings be ordained? Well, the Torah, in several places, actually does tell us how we should, or must, feel. We are commanded to love the convert, to hate injustice, to refrain from coveting someone else’s property. But perhaps the most unique example of this phenomenon comes on the holiday of Sukkot, when we are told, “V’hayita ach sameah! – You shall only be happy!”
In fact, this whole holiday – the longest of all the biblical holidays – is referred to in rabbinic literature as “the Season of Our Happiness,” and is capped off by Simhat Torah, when we “let it all out” and dance and sing for hours while holding the Torah.
From where does this happiness derive? Some suggest that it comes from the release of tension and anxiety that has built up over the preceding weeks, when, day and night, we examined our past actions and prayed fervently for forgiveness. Now, confident of a new lease on life, we can relax and be joyful.
I propose that God understood that His people would constantly be living on the edge, battling a hostile world and struggling for survival. As such, we would constantly be worrying – we are world-class complainers – and would have to be told explicitly: “People! Calm down, stop worrying and just be happy!” This divine prescription is particularly appropriate for Israel, where we seem to live in a state of constant crisis, and two recent events have brought me to a new state of aggravation and frustration.
The first, of course, is the murder of Ari Fuld. An American oleh (immigrant to Israel) like myself, an irrepressible champion of Israel and Jewish pride, he died as he lived – fighting until his last breath against the forces seeking to destroy us. But what makes Fuld’s death so much more painful is our government’s inability to stem the problem at its source.
Despite the Palestinian Authority’s praise of the murderer, and subsequent payment to him of hundreds of thousands of shekels – typical of their evil, despicable nature – we hesitate to implement the recently passed “Pay to Slay” law which mandates the equal deduction of funds from moneys we collect for the Palestinians. And absurdly, hundreds of Israeli trucks continue daily bringing supplies into Gaza, facilitating the existence of the Nazi-like Hamas rulers sworn to our extinction.
This is an insult to Fuld’s memory, and, as a bereaved father who lost his own Ari in battle against Hamas, an insult to all those who paid the ultimate price to stop terror and keep Israel safe.
And then there is the case of David Keyes, the now-former foreign press spokesman for the Netanyahu government. Accused of past inappropriate behavior with several women, Keyes has stepped down and is trying to clear his name.
I KNOW the Keyes family well, and never a finer family have I met. They left a thriving home and career in Los Angeles to come to Israel, because they strongly believe it is the greatest, if not the only hope for Judaism’s survival. David, a brilliant strategist and expert in social media, was wildly successful in bringing the prime minister’s message to world Jewry and international attention.
And then, on Rosh Hashanah, came two claims of past impropriety, one from a person of questionable veracity, who released her unsubstantiated statement just two days before her election as New York state senator, in an obvious bid for sympathy votes. Another claim followed on its heels, and then a dozen more “anonymous” reports that Keyes had been “overly aggressive” in his behavior with women.
Now, I am not clairvoyant. I do not know what transpired in liaisons Keyes had with women in his past, before he moved to Israel. I only know David now as a charming, happily married indefatigable spokesman for Israel. And what I also know is that no one ever reported his actions to the police, and no charges were ever brought against him. In fact, several of the women who supposedly complained about him subsequently went out with him after the incident.
Since when are people presumed guilty until proven innocent? Do people not understand that lashon hara – harmful gossip or slander – can destroy a person’s name and reputation, ruin a career and devastate an entire family? Is character assassination not in itself a form of murder? If there was inappropriate behavior, then one must search his conscience and seek forgiveness, to be sure. But as there were absolutely no claims of misbehavior for several years, is it not possible that if these events did occur, teshuva was done?
The #MeToo movement seeks to redress past wrongs to women and caution men about future misbehavior. I get that. But by painting sins with too wide a brush, they cast an extreme net of guilt that sometimes borders on the ludicrous. One of Keyes’s accusers allegedly castigated him for “over-active flirting” at a wedding party. Now I myself am thinking back about the time in kindergarten, when I pulled a girl’s pigtails and she cried; am I the next victim?
The Talmud (Ketubot 13b) understands the propensity men have to be sexually aggressive, and therefore Judaism wisely instituted certain strictures on men and women to help safeguard their proper behavior. These include prohibiting men from touching other women in a sensual manner, and women refraining from wearing seductive clothing or secluding themselves alone in a man’s apartment. Still, in today’s world of promiscuity and heightened sexuality, lines are crossed and liberties taken. But if we do not temper justice with reason and compassion, then we have lost the game.
As I prepared for Sukkot, I tried, for at least a week, to put all this out of my mind and gratefully followed the commandment, “Just be happy.” I hope it worked.
If we do not temper justice with reason and compassion, then we have lost the game
‘WHAT MAKES Ari [Fuld]’s death so much more painful is our government’s inability to stem the problem at its source.’