Tag Archives: Ethics of our fathers

The Blessings some people are missing


For too many people this has been an awful time.  There are those who have lost their lives, left relatives behind who are restricted from mourning properly, and in some cases also stricken with the Coronavirus.  And for those who are sick or recovering, although your recovery is something to be thankful for, I recognize, to the best of my ability, your ordeal as a very serious one and one not to be taken lightly.

But then there are those who just don’t realize how lucky they really are.  Having your life turned upside down, economic uncertainty, and having to stay mostly at home, is not something to celebrate, but not realizing the blessings you have is a failing that needs to be addressed. Not merely for the impact on one’s own life, but for the impact on society as a whole.

A few weeks back I wrote a piece about the lessons we can learn from Holocaust survivors entitled, During the Coronavirus crisis, the lives of Holocaust survivors can offer us some much needed perspective.  In that piece I spoke about my late parents, who not only survived the Nazi occupation of Holland, they went on to live happy and productive lives.  As I listen to, or read about some people who are seeing being stuck at home as the worst thing that ever happened, I feel compelled to virtually grab them and shake them. I get it. You have cabin fever. You’re bored. Or your kids are driving you nuts. And yes, not knowing what the future holds for you financially is very disconcerting.  Believe me I know.  But what all those things should tell you is that if you are blessed with health, you feel well enough to feel boredom rather than illness.  If you have cabin fever you should acknowledge that you have a roof over your head.  If your kids are driving you nuts you have a family that gives you purpose and an opportunity to get closer to them.  And if you are worried about how you are going to manage financially in the future, although I recognize the seriousness of the issue and I say again that I really do understand, it implies that you have a future to work with, albeit one with challenges.

The teaching from the Jewish Oral Law, the Mishna, that I consider to be the foundation of my own personal philosophy towards life, is a teaching I encourage everyone to pay attention to at this time, regardless of your belief in God or any subsequent religion.  It is the teaching from Ethics of our Fathers that states, “Who is the wealthy one? The one who is happy with his portion.”  An easy concept to adapt when things are going your way, but to really internalize this idea means to see and appreciate what you have even when times are rough.  And although it’s been common to compare our current situation to times in the past when evil rulers or empires restricted our freedoms, what we are experiencing today is very different. Being encouraged or even mandated to take precautions for the safety and well-being of ourselves and those around us is by no means comparable to slavery and persecution.  A fact we really need to understand.

There certainly is a health issue to be cognizant of and an illness to fear.  But at the same time, if we have food in our home, a roof over our head, and the physical strength to go on, should we really be complaining? This does not mean we do not feel terrible sadness for the victims and closest people to those who have been lost.  But it does mean that all of us need to aspire to reach a strength of character in which we acknowledge life’s blessings.  And yes, not only will everyone around us be better off if we do, but so will we. If you wake up every day with the conviction to be happy with your portion, then most days you will wake up happy.  It is hard to imagine anyone having a problem with that recommendation.  Especially now.

Happy holidays to anyone celebrating and wishing strength and happiness to everyone in need.






How the lesson of Kobe Bryant’s life can be connected to a Jewish teaching

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game

After a few days of reflecting over the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and 7 others this past weekend, I felt compelled to share my thoughts as to why Kobe’s death had such a huge global impact on society. I came to the conclusion that in many ways it had to do with an old Jewish lesson of how to live a successful and happy life.

Although Kobe Bryant grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia and even once was quoted as saying “I wouldn’t mind being Jewish. I wouldn’t mind. Really.”, I tend to think that the philosophy he had that made his presence so powerful and his life so appealing was likely more a product of a good upbringing and life’s experiences.  Ultimately I believe that what drew people to Kobe more than anything was the fact that he appeared to be a truly happy man.

The blemish, for lack of a better word, in the Kobe story deals with the Colorado rape accusation.  I generally have little tolerance and no respect for celebrities involved in situations where they hurt others, particularly when they chalk it up to a “mistake”.  They get on the airways or social media and often even go as far as portraying themselves as a victim, in many instances displaying behavior showing that rather than being a mistake, what they did was indicative of their character.   In the case of Kobe Bryant, it truly appears as though at worst he did make a terrible mistake and did a terrible thing, at best there are aspects of this story we may never know and tell at least a somewhat different and significantly less incriminating story.   I do not say this to challenge the woman in Colorado’s claims. I say this because in every thing he has appeared to do since that time, Kobe Bryant was not only a model citizen, but everywhere you turn you see a man who not only treated women well, he advanced their causes.  Whether it was reporters, friends, athletes or celebrities, every single woman who has spoken of him since his death has done so in loving admiration, respect and gratitude. So Kobe was either never that bad, or his growth from a true mistake was significant and profound.

The most powerful images of Kobe were with his family.  This was clearly a man who was surrounded by a wife and daughters whose lives were wonderful, to no small part because of what he gave them.  And in every single photograph you see with his family, you see a truly happy man.  This was a man who adored his family, valued them in a way you would hope everyone would, and always seemed to want for nothing more, while always working to accomplish more.

It is my belief in seeing these images and learning more about this man that the old Jewish teaching Kobe lived by was the teaching that is the foundation of a happy life.  It comes from Ethics of our Fathers and states,  “Who is Rich? Those who are happy with their portion”.  In Kobe Bryant you clearly saw a man who was grateful for everything he had, from the time he had less to the time he had more.  This man appeared to always be happy with his portion in a manner that so many fail to reach.

Those close to him are devastated because they lost him and his beautiful 13 year old daughter from their lives.  Basketball fans are saddened by the loss of an all time great and wonderful global ambassador of the game.  And everyone with any degree of compassion knows how tragic the helicopter accident was that took the lives of Kobe, his daughter and 7 other people.  But what I believe is the reason this has had such an impact on the world is that because of the aura of happiness that appeared to be all around Kobe Bryant, people who struggle to be happy felt a sense of hope.  He was a tremendously gifted and talented man, but the center of his happiness seemed to revolve around those he loved, and the commitment to excellence that was manifested in hard work and determination.  Things that are more attainable to the every day person than the ability to play basketball.   And his death, as tragic as it was, happened in the pursuit of something pure, something that reflected positive values.  In seeing the pictures of him with his daughter Gianna, I can’t help but think that the 2 of them died in the company of their best friend, each other.

I would offer this lesson to be learned from this tragedy.   Rather than asking why, make your pursuits the reason why.  Look at a man who improved himself constantly, strengthened his character and values, and was truly happy with his portion. Try to emulate those positive attributes. Become a better person, a happier person.  Become someone who, if you are not already, is happy with their portion.  Do this and hope does not ever have to die with the loss of someone you idolize or even when in your life it is the loss of someone you love.








Who am I to advocate Force?

idfI often feel guilty when I come out in favor of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) taking the harshest of approaches.  After all, who am I to say this?  I live in New York.  I do not live in Israel, I do not live in Judea, Samaria, or Southern Israel.  I do not have children being called up to fight and risking their life to do the things I comfortably encourage from a safe air-conditioned home in the United States.

Who am I?  I am a human being, I am a Jew, and I am the son of Holocaust survivors.  I have made every attempt in my life, both in practicality and in theory to learn lessons from the past.  Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  If there is one lesson I have learned, and I truly believe it may be the most important lesson of our time, one that could mean the difference between the death or survival of modern civilization, it’s that we can not apply rational standards to irrationally thinking people.  Do I believe the answer is to wipe out anyone who lives by those irrational standards?  Of course not.  Do I believe re-education of the greatest kind is needed. I do.  I also believe that sometimes the only way to begin that re-education is by a show of force of the most enormous proportions.

Two of the most civilized nations today, and strong American allies, are Germany and Japan.  Go back 70 years ago to the year 1944 and no one would have thought that to be realistic.  Yet the world was saved, at least temporarily by the drastic change in direction initiated by the allied forces basically pounding the two nations into submission.   Many people who wanted nothing more but to live a decent life died in the process, on both sides, but the fact remains that with the strong force brought on to both of these nations, history was changed for the better.

We face a similar threat today, at least as far as its potential danger, even if the landscape is very different.  Many people such as myself, who believe a powerful approach is needed against our enemies, are getting criticized for our viewpoints.  “Jews don’t act like that, the enemies do”, is one of the things I have heard.  To that I reply, yes, in the past we did not.  But we also say Never Again.

I find the murder of any innocent person to be tragic.  But I also believe in the phrase coined by our ancient Rabbis in Ethics of our Fathers, “im ain ani li mi li”, which translated into English means, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me.”   As a Jew, my sad assumption is that as a collective, there will be no one. There are many righteous people who have and would sacrifice their lives to protect innocent people, Jew and non-Jew alike, but there are no nations or groups who will look after the Jewish people any better than their fellow Jews will.

So although I feel somewhat guilty for sitting in comfort and speaking in favor of force by the IDF, as a Jew who has learned from history I would feel more guilty if I did not.