Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Keep Hope Alive

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha opens with the tragic episode of the meraglim sent to scout Eretz Yisroel. The posuk relates that the perpetrators were all great men. The mission ended in disaster, with ten of the twelve spies returning from the mission telling the people that they were facing insurmountable difficulties and that it would be impossible for them to enter and capture Eretz Yisroel. Feeling that they were doomed, the people were disconsolate and voiced their anger at Moshe, Aharon and Hashem (Bamidbar 14:1-3) for directing them into a quagmire that would lead to their death. “If only we had stayed in Mitzrayim,” they proclaimed, “we would have been better off” (ibid. 4).

For all time, these individuals are remembered with derision. People wonder how ten great men, chosen by Moshe Rabbeinu to conduct a review of the land Hashem had promised to the avos, could have gone so wrong. What lies at the root of their sin and how were they able to convince the nation that their trek to the Promised Land was doomed?

How was it that the people who experienced Yetzias Mitzrayim and Krias Yam Suf lost their faith? The same people who recently experienced the tragedy of the Eigel and begged forgiveness, and who complained about the monn and were plagued by the slov in last week’s parsha, still doubted the ability of Hashem to fulfill His promises. How are we to understand that?

The first Rashi in the parsha holds a key to comprehending this. Quoting from the Medrash Tanchuma, Rashi explains that the parsha of the meraglim follows the parsha of Miriam because Miriam was punished for the gossip she spoke about her brother, Moshe, and although the meraglim witnessed this, they failed to learn anything from it.

The common explanation of this is that witnessing the painful consequences of Miriam’s lashon hora should have deterred the meraglim from speaking lashon hora on the Land of Israel. I’d like to offer a different explanation of why Parshas Shelach follows Parshas Behaaloscha.

Miriam criticized her brother, Moshe, and said to Aharon, “Halo gam bonu diber Hashem. Why does Moshe think he is superior to us? Hashem spoke to us as well, not only to him.” She erred in thinking that she had reached the pinnacle of human achievement, as Hashem had spoken directly to her. She didn’t understand that there is always a higher level to aim for. Man must never be satisfied with his achievements. Rather, he should continuously seek to grow more and reach a greater position of holiness and purity.

This theme runs through last week’s parsha. The people who were tomei and unable to participate in the Korban Pesach complained to Moshe about their exclusion from the mitzvah. Their distress is understandable, but what compensation could Moshe offer them? The Torah clearly states that an impure person cannot participate in the bringing of korbanos.

We see from here that a person should never allow his limited understanding to interfere with his desire to grow and improve and seek to perform mitzvos. Although there was no apparent way for them to be able to bring a Korban Pesach, they appealed to Moshe anyway. They said, “While it may be obvious that we have to be excluded due to our impurity, we are making our hishtadlus to do the mitzvah and have faith that Hashem will discern our sincerity and find a way to make it happen.” And indeed, their wish was granted.

We see that people should never complacently accept their situation and be satisfied with the minimum. We must always aim for more and be ambitious in our pursuit of fulfilling Hashem’s command. Even if by rules of logic there is no way for us to perform the obligation, we must seek to do the maximum.

The meraglim were sent to scout out the land that had been promised to the Jewish people centuries earlier. Since the days of the avos, Hashem had been telling them that this blessed land would be inhabited by the Jewish people. While they were enslaved in Mitzrayim, they dreamed of the fulfillment of Hashem’s promise that He would remove the Jews from the land of their oppressors and bring them to the Holy Land.

When they were redeemed from slavery and miraculously left Mitzrayim, they were told all along that they were on their way to Eretz Yisroel, the land that had been promised to the avos. Many of the laws that are included in the Torah, which was given to them on their way to Eretz Yisroel, are only relevant in that Promised Land.

Here they were, on the cusp of entering the coveted land, and the meraglim decided that it was a no-go. It wouldn’t work. The Jewish people would not be able to enter.

If the meraglim would have been conscious about their prime obligation in life to serve Hakadosh Boruch Hu and to grow in kedusha, they would not have seen the land in a way that led them to conclude that the Jewish people would not be able to enter there.

Had they been thinking as they walked through the country, from south to north and west to east, about how blessed they were to be able to follow in the footsteps of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, how could they not have been overjoyed just to be there? How could they have found fault with the land that Hashem promised flows with milk and honey? If their motivation in life was to grow in mitzvos, how could they have found fault with the land in which many of the mitzvos of the Torah can only be performed there?

Apparently, the nesi’im, as leaders of their tribes, felt that they had reached the apex of their ambition and there was no higher designation they could attain. Had they been constantly seeking to improve, they would have jumped at the opportunity to do the mitzvos of terumah and maaser, for it would lead them to higher levels of avodah and kedusha. They didn’t learn the lesson from Miriam’s error and didn’t seek to attain higher levels than they already reached.

They didn’t learn from the impure people who sought to be included in the Korban Pesach and seek added chiyuvim, even though according to their understanding there was no way that it would work. Had the nesi’im learned from them, they would have sought to go beyond their understanding of the situation. They would have changed their perspective and sought guidance from a higher authority to better comprehend the situation. With their faulty vision and appraisal abilities, it appeared that the Jewish people would not be able to beat back their enemies, but they had an obligation to do their hishtadlus and have faith that Hashem would keep His word and not leave His people to die in the desert or succumb to battle on the border of the land He promised them.

The nesi’im also made the error of presuming how they were viewed by the inhabitants of the land they were scouting. They reported back to the Bnei Yisroel (ibid. 13:33), “In their eyes, we were like grasshoppers.” As bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, recipients of the Torah and Hashem’s chosen people, we don’t pay attention to how we are perceived by the nations of the world if it will cause us to falter in obeying the word of Hashem. If Hashem has told us that He will lead us to this land, why are we attempting to judge the strength of the people there? It is of no consequence to us.

We proudly perform the mitzvos that Hashem has commanded us and follow in the path He has laid for us, conducting ourselves as befitting a priestly people.

They were standing at a crossroad. On one side, they had the promises of Hashem, made repeatedly over many years, that the Jews would inherit the Land of Israel and prosper there. On the other side, they feared that the nations presently in the country would not let them in. This, coupled with their uncertainty as to what their positions would be in the new country, led them to fear the change and seek to malign it.

When we fear change, when we see things that cause us to panic over what the future has in store for us, we must not lose our Torah perspective and faith in the goodness of Hashem.

We are currently living in a fearful time. We worry about being affected by the coronavirus. We worry about the future of this great country in which we live. We must never lose our faith, as prescribed in the sefer Chovos Halevavos. We must never feel that we understand better than our forefathers and better than those who came before us who faced similar situations, only to be saved by Hashem.

When things that we don’t understand occur, we have to know that there is a higher purpose for all that transpires in this world and that nothing happens by itself. Hakadosh Boruch Hu tests us from time to time, and those who remain loyal and faithful are rewarded, while those who lose faith face the consequence of ruination and being cut off from a sublime future. When faced with a perceived difficulty, sometimes what we need to do is examine our prejudices and influences that lead us to think that we are in a hopeless situation. If we remember that nothing in this world occurs by happenstance and everything that happens is for a reason, it forces us to change our negative perspective, helping us out of the predicament.

Torah study, coupled with emunah and bitachon, helps us maintain a positive disposition and a positive outlook on all that befalls us, preventing us from sinking into depression and thinking that we are in a hopeless situation. Positivity not only reduces stress and dispels sadness. It also helps a person escape negative situations. When you maintain your faith, you retain your equilibrium and don’t become so overwhelmed by fear, grief and panic that you are unable to think straight and extricate yourself from a difficult situation.

Yehoshua and Caleiv pointed the way for Am Yisroel. They didn’t pay attention to the nations. They didn’t let their emotions guide them. They didn’t forget Hashem’s promises. Wherever they went, they saw potential for kedusha, for gadlus, and for more mitzvos. They perceived that every step they took as they were fulfilling their shlichus in the eretz ha’avos was a mitzvah. Thus, they retained their greatness and merited to enter the Holy Land along with the next generation of the Bnei Yisroel, who had not become despondent and dejected after hearing the frightful report of the meraglim.

A story is told about a water carrier. A famous tzaddik came to town and met an old man weighed down by pails full of water on each shoulder, with a very sad look on his face. The rov went over to the man and asked about his welfare. The water carrier told the rov his tale of woe, explaining that he had no money and had to work so hard despite his advanced age. The tzaddik blessed the man and went about his business.

The townspeople waited to see if the water carrier’s situation would change. Alas, it did not. Every day, he would trudge about, carrying water to people and getting paid pennies for his intense labor.

Several months later, the tzaddik was back in town, and again he met the water carrier. He went over to him and asked him how he was doing. The man’s face lit up. “Boruch Hashem, I am able to support myself, even at my age. How blessed I am to have a source of income and the strength to carry the water pails.”

Word quickly spread through the town and the tzaddik’s reputation remained intact after all. His brocha actually worked. He had blessed the man that he should have a positive outlook and find happiness in all he does.

Rav Nechemia of Bichov was the son of the rebbe Rav Bunim of Peschischa. He would recite the Mishnah (Brachos, Chapter 6) which states, “V’al kulom im omar shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro yotza,” if a person makes the brocha of shehakol on any food product, he has fulfilled the obligation to recite a brocha before consuming the food.

With a play on the Hebrew words, the rebbe would tell people who were sad, “If a person says shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro on whatever happens to him, believing that all is from Hashem, then yotza, he will be able to leave his sadness behind and be redeemed in the merit of his bitachon in Hashem and His goodness.

Positivity breeds confidence in the present and the future. People who go through catastrophic experiences and maintain their faith and positive outlook are able to rebuild and regenerate what they lost. People who lose their faith become negative and are unable to resuscitate themselves. They become embittered and unproductive, unable to overcome the catastrophe that befell them. Our nation has known great tragedy throughout the ages, enough to destroy any other people, but we have persevered.

When all was dark and the future seemed bleak, we kept our faith and belief in a better day to come. When evicted from our homes, we moved on, and established ourselves in a different and strange land. We rebuilt from destruction. We never despaired. We never became overly despondent. It’s in our DNA. We are people of faith. We have ideals and we have spirit. We have a fabled past and a glorious future.

We are living in difficult times and are at a difficult crossroad, but that is not a reason to panic and lose hope. We must remember that in golus, we are like the Jews in the desert, on the way to the Promised Land. Hakadosh Boruch Hu has brought us here, and He will redeem us from here in the proper time with the coming of Moshiach, may it be speedily in our day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

My Fear

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

If you have ever wondered how dictatorships take root in once-great republics, recent occurrences in this still great country could help you understand how it happens. It is beating a dead horse to examine how the fear of a new virus allowed people to willingly give up their rights in the belief that by doing so they were helping to prevent a pandemic from killing millions of people.

Trusting people they had never previously heard of, as well as government, which they rarely trust, citizens of this country, as well as of virtually every country in the world, accepted that they must lock themselves in their homes and cut off human contact. They were told that doing so would flatten the curve of illness and death until it would approach a manageable level. At that point, they would be allowed to return to their normal lives, albeit with safety precautions until a vaccine could be developed.

Schools closed, houses of worship shut down, and nearly every form of commerce was put on hold. Markets crashed, people lost their sources of income, and billions of dollars were gone, all in the name of flattening the curve. Anybody who dared to deviate from the firm lockdown laws was immediately shunned, publicly embarrassed, and slammed with severe penalties.

After some time, the virus stopped spreading, the curve had been flattened, and certain states began reopening and resurrecting their moribund citizens. Slowly but surely, life returned, morale picked up, and things were returning to quasi normal.

However, other states stubbornly refused to let go of the chokehold and kept their emergency stay-at-home laws in effect. They continued to punish people who ventured out without a mask, shutting down weddings, funerals and gatherings of any kind. Worship in groups remained banned, shopkeepers desperate for income could not open their stores, and children were chased from parks.

People in the shut states quietly accepted the situation without voicing protest. The fact that the entire citizenry was cowed into going along with the shutdown, which was no longer supported by science or medicine, is a fearful indication that the time is ripe for an effective, charming demagogue to take hold of the country.

New Jersey whistleblowers revealed that the governor of the Garden State, who last week renewed his state of emergency for another month, is not guided by science as he keeps the state in lockdown. Instead, he is “making things up as they proceed or making decisions and justifying them on the back end.” The revelation was not noticed by many and certainly did not cause anyone to rise up and demand an explanation.

Even as over half of the states successfully reopened, people in the closed states continued to willingly give up their rights to live freely, practice their religion, educate their children and earn a living. That should strike fear into you that one day, someone can come along and goad people into suspending the constitution and democracy that separate this country from all others. And then, from out of nowhere, a perfect storm hit, blowing Covid-19 out of the headlines and exposing even more glaringly the hypocrisy and insincerity of the governors and mayors who are maintaining their chokehold on the law-abiding citizens of their states and cities.

A horrific crime perpetrated in broad daylight in front of incredulous witnesses was caught on video. A white Minneapolis policeman choked an unarmed black man to death. As the man, George Floyd, pleaded for his life, the callous murderer kept his knee on the man’s throat for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, snuffing the life out of him. Three other policemen stood by and watched, without attempting to interfere to save the man’s life.

After simmering for a couple of days, the video engendered much grief, pain and anger among all those who watched it. A nation of laws cannot tolerate blatant murder, especially when it is perpetrated by someone sworn to uphold the law. Protests began in Minneapolis, the city where the crime was committed, and then began spreading throughout the country and then to cities around the world. Along with the protests came rioting and looting in 145 American cities.

Coining A New Mantra

Egged on by Democrat politicians and the media, the riots continued night after night. They gained steam as voices began decrying the “systemic racism” of the United States, its white citizens and the police. Together with the charge that cops kill black people, it became a rallying cry, and soon, talking heads began repeating the allegations over and over as fact. In the words of National Geographic, “The nature of Floyd’s death forces America to confront an immoral reality: the United States remains stubbornly committed to a long-standing practice of violent and often lethal policing of African Americans.”

This country does have a racist past, and blacks were brought here to serve as slaves to white masters. But the country has come a long way since then. The nation fought a civil war over slavery many years ago, and when the anti-slavery forces emerged victorious in 1865, all the slaves were freed. It has been a long march for equality, but the way the country treated blacks a generation ago has no reflection in the nation’s current culture. Sweeping civil rights laws passed in 1964 and 1965 granted blacks equality in many areas that had been closed to them. Lynchings are a thing of the past, as meaningful social progress has come a long way. Everything in this country is integrated, and billions of dollars have been poured into black communities in a bid to effect change.

Police killings of blacks are extremely rare. Blacks have been elected to every political office in this country, including the presidency. Blacks are represented in every level of society and endeavor, and many have achieved great success in this democratic country.

At a memorial for Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis, the family’s lawyer, Ben Crump, inflamed the passions, telling the crowd, “It was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd, I want to make it clear. It was that other pandemic that we’re far too familiar with in America - that pandemic of racism and discrimination - that killed George Floyd.”

Noted race-baiter Al Sharpton spoke with characteristic demagoguery. He intoned, “George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks. Ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck.”

What happened to Floyd, he said, “happens every day in this country - in education, in health services and in every area of American life.” His voice rising to a crescendo, he proclaimed, “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks.’”

The self-victimization of black people has not gained them much. Those who are successful have taken advantage of all this country has to offer. They were educated and worked to provide for themselves and their families, as so many others do here. To say that there is no racism is foolish, but it is also foolish to deny that anyone with a good education and work ethic can get ahead in this country, no matter the color of their skin or their background.

The Facts

Facts happen to be stubborn things, and the fact is that overall, in the year 2019, a total of ten unarmed black people were killed by police. Eight of the killings were found to be justified, and in the other two cases, the culprits were brought to justice. But that doesn’t matter. Nor does the fact that more unarmed whites are killed by cops than unarmed blacks. Nor does the fact that thousands of blacks are killed by blacks, and the only reason that more aren’t is because of the police. Invariably, when protests such as those going on now are over, police pull back and crime in the inner city rises. But that all has nothing to do with the prevailing narrative that the country suffers from systemic racism and that police are prejudiced against blacks and love to kill them.

Mayors encouraged the protesters to carry on, as their cities were being systematically destroyed. Look at Manhattan for example, New York State’s engine of tax income and worldwide bastion of commerce. The city has been devastated; its prominent downtown and midtown avenues covered with miles of plywood as 90% of stores are boarded up.

As cities burned, and as family-owned businesses stifled by the corona lockdown were emptied and trashed by people posturing over the “evils” of this country and its 800,000 police officers, the same authorities who threatened people with jail if they violated the stay-at-home rules the week before the murder took hypocrisy to a new level.

They kneeled in front of protesters and encouraged people to join the demonstrations.

These are the same people who put a giant padlock on schools and shuls, and didn’t let people die with any relative present or be buried with a respectable funeral service. These same people played down the violence committed by the protesters who were disobeying all the Covid rules. These same people, who wouldn’t let you celebrate a decent wedding or bar mitzvah, a siyum or bris, because of the terrible danger they presented, encouraged people to join large protest gatherings of thousands of people standing shoulder to shoulder. Does that make any sense?

The New Rallying Cry

It should scare us how fast the “systemic racism” and police-kill-blacks narratives spread and were adopted by people of all stripes across the country. This has led to the new rallying cry: Defund the police.

As the nation sees what happens when police are handcuffed and prevented from doing their job, protestors and politicians are touting their latest solution to ending racism in the United States: stopping the flow of money to police departments. It sounds like the far-fetched rumination of an out-of-touch-with-reality conspiracy theorist, but it is the truth and it is already happening.

A veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis city council promised to dismantle their police department. They said that they would create a new public safety system. No word yet on what they have in mind.

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, a city wracked by savage looting, announced that he is slashing up to $150 million from the city’s police force. In New York, 40 Democrat politicians called for a $250 million annual cut to the NYPD budget. They said that the allocated money would be better served funding summer youth employment programs. New York City’s failed mayor, Bill de Blasio, joined the “defund the police” campaign on Sunday, saying, “I want people to understand that we are committed to shifting resources to ensure that the focus is on our young people.”

Similar moves are being strongly advocated in Philadelphia, Dallas and Nashville. After all, in the words of Mayor Garcetti, the recent unrest is “a movement to change who we are in America when it comes to black America and our criminal justice system.”

It should be obvious that without a system of laws and people enforcing them, a civilized society cannot exist, as Chazal teach (Avos 3:2) that if not for fear of government, men would swallow each other alive. By defunding the people who enforce the laws and protect the innocent, the only result can be increased crime.

But word has gone out and the narrative has been repeated so many times by so many people that it sticks, and anyone who dares voice any opposition is quickly silenced. Drew Brees, a New Orleans hero, quickly lost that status when he said in an interview that he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.” He added, “I love and respect my teammates, and I stand right there with them in regard to fighting for racial equality and justice. I also stand with my grandfathers, who risked their lives for this country, and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”

Brees was roundly condemned and forced to repeatedly apologize. He said that his comments were “insensitive and completely missed the mark… They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy.” His wife also apologized and said, “We are the problem.”

Echoing State Propaganda 

The New York Times, formerly the undisputed newspaper of record famed for its news coverage, went into a meltdown over the weekend for publishing an op-ed written by Republican Senator Tim Cotton in support of bringing in federal troops to help quell the rioting and looting if all else fails. The publication of an opinion piece, on the opinion page, not in keeping with the politically correct narrative caused a revolt in the ranks. The newspaper, which had claimed to be journalistically impartial, lost all pretense and apologized for publishing the article. The editorial page editor was pushed out and the publisher issued a statement saying that he agrees “that it will take a new team to lead the department through a period of considerable change.”

The chief editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer was sent packing. Over there, the article itself was kosher, as it justified black anger. The problem was the headline, which read, “Buildings Matter, Too.” A play on “Black Lives Matter,” it was found to be insensitive.

A Sacramento sportscaster was also fired. He tweeted, “All Lives Matter.” No, no, you’re out.

This country is slipping towards socialism, where everyone lives at the mercy of the state, which feeds them and tells them how and what to think and say. Millions of people here are now being paid not to work and attempts at protest of the corona-inspired lockdown were quickly shut down. Only protests that are in line with the agenda of the powers that be and can be used to overturn the present White House administration are sanctioned and supported. People are scared into silence and then acquiescence, lest they be shamed and ostracized for disobeying the state and violating political correctness.

Regrettably, in our community as well, people feel forced to toe a party line. You don’t hear many askonim advocating for a reopening of schools and stores. Tens of thousands of children are regressing, and nobody sees that as a cause to rally around and remedy. Storekeepers and small businessmen are suffering, yet we don’t hear anyone taking up their cause and pointing out the hypocrisy of what is being perpetrated clearly for political gains.

There is an insurrection taking place. The left is fighting to change this country and it is getting scary. Should they assume power, they will blame all the ills of the country on conservatives, Republicans, whites, and of course President Trump.

President Trump is a convenient scapegoat for now. Democrats and protesters blame him for everything. They twist his words and make up quotes to make him look like a fool. Last Friday, the president held a press conference to crow about the unemployment numbers. His prediction that the economy would bounce back from the ravages of the Covid shutdown as soon as states would open was borne out and he was proud of the accomplishment.

In his remarks, the president spoke about the ongoing protests over the murder of George Floyd. He said, “Equal justice under the law must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement, regardless of race, gender, color or creed; they have to receive equal treatment from law enforcement. We all saw what happened last week. We can’t let that happen. Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. It’s a great day for him; it’s a great day for everybody in terms of equality. It’s really what our constitution requires and that is what our country is all about.”

The media went on to report that Trump said that Floyd was looking down from heaven and was proud of the job numbers. They castigated the president as a self-absorbed, callous fool. Joe Biden also got into the act, remarking that what Trump said was “despicable.” He never said it. They made up the quote and then condemned the president. How is anyone to know that the quote was bogus.

But Donald Trump will not remain in office forever. He may not even be there past January 20th. The liberal policies which the leftists will institute will be of little help to the poor blacks - and whites. Their promised utopia will not materialize, and they will need someone to blame. Who will they blame for their failures? Who will they turn on then?

Historic Scapegoat In The Wings?

Sorry to say, but historically, the people who have been blamed when things do not go right are the Jews. Presently, this golus is the most comfortable in our long and painful history, but you see how fast the narrative can change. With the snap of some fingers, the country has gone mad over “systemic racism.” A new orthodoxy has taken root and nobody can argue.

If you have ever wondered how Hitler took over a largely docile German people and turned them into rabid murderers, these past few weeks should help explain how that metamorphosis occurred. A seed was planted and a story germinated about a deadly group of people who had to be exterminated for the state to survive. It doesn’t take long for people to become frightened about their lives and convinced that they must do everything in their power to stamp out the evil and the threat, be it systemic racism, police brutality, or people who disobey the Covid lockdown rules.

Chof Sivan, the day that commemorates the Gezeiros Tach V’tat of the Crusades, is this weekend. Klal Yisroel in years past would fast and do teshuvah on that day, but as memories of the murderous period of the years 1648-9 receded, the practice ended. Perhaps, as we now see the potential for destruction and the direction in which this country is headed, on that day we should we should reflect and daven that the horrors of the past not be repeated, r”l.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Chaos and Confusion

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This year is turning out to be quite a difficult one. A new virus that emanated from China is affecting millions of people around the world and has caused more than 100,000 deaths in this country alone. As the country began crawling out of the government-enforced stay-at-home lockdown, riots erupted in cities across the United States. Forty million people are out of work and businesses are closed, their proprietors desperately trying to hold on somehow. Schools are closed, children are missing out on vital studies and social contact, and their parents are at their wits’ end.

Storekeepers attempting to open are shut down by police armed with executive orders of politicians who set capricious rules based on arbitrary numbers. People such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warn shopkeepers that if they disobey his order to remain closed, he will go after them mercilessly and shut them down for good. While Republican states are open for business and their citizens are free to resume normal lives, residents of Democrat states are still under emergency orders, expected to remain in their homes except for vital outings.

Then a bad cop, who served on an unprofessional police force with improperly trained officers, killed an unarmed man and resulted in cities across the country being set ablaze. Law and order disintegrated, and cops who had been expending their energies shutting down mom-and-pop stores were now confronted with high-octane police work and coming up empty.

Plunder, carnage and savagery have supplanted the talk about the importance of maintaining social distancing and wearing masks, if for no other reason than “as a symbol,” in the words of Dr. Fauci. The terrifying collapse of the rule of law has sucked out the oxygen of stubborn governors who still claim that a shutdown is in order.

De Blasio Demands ‘A Light Touch’

On the same weekend, both the best and the worst this country has to offer were on display: in a new milestone, a rocketship blasted off for outer space; at the same time, a black man was murdered by a Minneapolis policeman, triggering rioting, arson and looting in dozens of cities, ostensibly in protest.

Nearly every major city in America saw crowds face off against police, burning businesses, police cars and anything else they could throw a match at. Chaos reigned for six nights, as thousands of protesters, claiming to be grieving over a man senselessly killed by a policeman, created mayhem.

New York City was no exception, and when police responded forcefully against the criminal elements threatening them and destroying property, the mayor pushed back. “The anger out there is real and, unfortunately, very justified,” Mayor de Blasio said. “I really believe that the NYPD knows how to handle protests and respect whoever is protesting, but I want to see a light touch, because people are undeniably angry for a reason.”

The same mayor who was quick to drop everything and run off to a Brooklyn levayah to enforce social distancing, tweet about how dangerous the Jews are and how they must be dealt with forcefully, felt comfortable condemning the actions of police fighting back against violent demonstrators who of course were not social distancing. Not to defend anyone’s actions, but he legitimized the anger of the looters, while not doing the same when it came to the pain of law-abiding people who wanted to pay last respects to a revered leader. There was no room for any compassion and understanding that day in Williamsburg. Nor was there any compassion for the people struggling to keep their heads above water and opened their shops on Lee Avenue and Thirteenth Avenue. Talk about a double standard.

Rampaging groups ran through New York City’s poshest areas, emptying one store after the other, setting fires, causing mayhem and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. There were no police in sight; nobody was there to stop them. But don’t take that as an indication that the NYPD is soft on crime. On Monday afternoon, cops chased young Chassidic children from a city playground in Williamsburg. They were disobeying the law. Parks are closed, as are small businesses of all types, unless you happen to be protesting the death of George Floyd.

De Blasio went further in his condemnation of the police, saying, “Anytime you see a protestor just arbitrarily thrown to the ground by a police officer, that does not reflect our values and there need to be consequences. The NYPD has to do better. We’ve seen some videos that do not reflect the philosophy of this city; the values of this city; the values of this administration. That is not neighborhood policing, and we will not accept any of that behavior.”

The Sergeants Benevolent Association responded to the mayor via Twitter: “If Mayor de Blasio wants a light touch, then let him stand in front and take the first brick to the face. Or perhaps he can sit in a police vehicle and catch the Molotov cocktail that’s thrown into it.”

Over Shabbos in New York City, at least 345 people were arrested, at least 47 police vehicles were damaged or destroyed, and 33 police officers were injured. In Beverly Hills, 2,000 people stood on Rodeo Drive chanting, “Eat the rich,” as stores were looted. Over the first six days of the rioting, at least 5,600 people were arrested in 145 cities. National guardsmen were deployed in 15 states in a bid to get an upper hand on the riots. At least 60 Secret Service agents were hurt protecting the White House from rioters. In a dramatic portrayal of the chaos, confusion and anarchy which is reigning supreme in America’s cities, on Friday night the president of the United States was whisked to an underground bunker for his protection.

Lessons From the Past

In 1967, Detroit and Newark exploded in racial rioting. Those cities never came back, still sitting in a state of disrepair, with poverty and hopelessness everywhere. The riots left lasting scars in the cities of this country, and now, all these years later, the same images are being flashed again. Protesting inequality and injustice, people all across this country have taken to the streets, burning businesses and police vehicles. Mobs have taken control of the streets and government officials stand by, not knowing how to put a stop to the chaos.

We see the pictures and wonder what’s going on here. After all this country has been through, how can a policeman be so callous to purposefully kill an unarmed black man? Setting aside the officer’s personal views and racism, did he not know that an act such as the one he perpetrated would lead to no good? Did he not realize that it would cause billions of dollars of damage, hundreds of people will lose their livelihoods, hundreds would be injured, and deep wounds would be created and not easily healed? What could he have been thinking?

What about the three officers who stood by and witnessed the murder, without attempting to intercede to save the life of another human being? Isn’t their job to protect, defend and serve?

Rudolph Giuliani took control of New York City at a time when crime was rampant. During the infamous Crown Heights riots, his predecessor allowed rioters to let off steam for a couple of days, as properties went up in flames and Jewish lives were threatened. Giuliani instituted the “broken windows theory” of policing and turned around the city. The thinking behind the theory is that if you look aside from small crimes, such as people breaking windows and jumping subway turnstiles to escape paying, the criminals will escalate the severity of their crimes. To make the city safe again, it would be necessary to show zero tolerance for crime, petty as well as severe. It worked, and Giuliani was on his way to becoming a hero. His leadership following 9/11 cemented his stardom.

Apparently, it works the other way, as well. Assuming policemen join the force for the right reasons, to serve the community, this zero tolerance can cause them to slowly begin looking down at the people they are paid to protect. Invariably, their interactions with the community usually involve stopping people for traffic infractions and engaging in crimes. Slowly, they lose their sympathy for the “little” people and begin viewing themselves as superior. When they give a traffic ticket, very rarely is there any compassion or kindness. When they encounter a person they think is a criminal, courtesy goes out the window, lest it be perceived as weakness. Eventually, some of them are overtaken by a callous mentality.

Treating Fellow Citizens as People 

When they engage in actions such as shutting down stores at the behest of a doltish mayor or governor, some show compassion for the people whose livelihood is being hurt, but others are heartless and cruel as they go about their duty. The superiority mentality festers and grows if not kept in check by supervisors and a system that reminds the men and women who carry a gun and badge that they are public servants. They are hired to serve, not to act as cruel and oppressive tyrants who wield power unjustly.

It is the responsibility of governors, mayors, police chiefs, and district captains to maintain discipline, but also to establish lines of communication between their men and the people they serve, known as “community policing.” This ensures that police become familiar with the citizens so that when it comes time to interact, the theory goes, they will treat their fellow citizens as people, not subjects.

This country has come a long way in race relations and the way it treats Jews and other minorities. Blacks have been elected to every office including the presidency. But at least once a year, an incident occurs such as the one in Minneapolis, where an out-of-control cop demonstrates that he has so little regard for a citizen’s life, he can casually snuff it out. Murder should not be tolerated, no matter who does it, and racism should have no place in the modern world. But when perpetrated by men in blue, the impact is far greater. Because rabble rousers, rumor mongers and political opportunists invariably exploit the crime to inflame the masses for their own reasons. The poor suffer. Storekeepers suffer. Schools suffer. Everyone suffers. Then things simmer down for a while until the next eruption caused by a bigoted arrogant lawman.

The unrest has brought people to streets rendered empty by the coronavirus, lumping together all police, and blaming them and prosecutors for the actions of a few. Despite the great progress the country has made in leveling the playing field for all races, when an incident like the Minneapolis episode occurs, the Sisyphean wheel rolls everything decades back.

Encouraging Anarchy

The mayor of Minneapolis fed the rioting, issuing a statement that said, “The city urges everyone to exercise caution and stay safe, while participating in demonstrations, including wearing masks and physical distancing as much as possible to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The city has made hundreds of masks available to protesters this week” - as if the lack of masks and social distancing was the problem and violence is an acceptable way to address issues.

If there are no consequences for the looting and violence, if anarchy takes hold of the streets and police stand back offering masks, their fear of acting is seen by the rampaging thugs as a signal that they can act with impunity. Billions of dollars of damage is caused across the country, as rioters let off steam and “express their pain”. Stores that fed and clothed their own communities will be forever shut. Businesses will close and take their jobs and services with them to safer pastures.

Eventually, the rioting quells and peace and quiet return to the currently shuttered cities. People store what happened in the recesses of their brains and return to their daily activities. But if nothing is done and the broken windows theory of policing is not brought to the police precincts, training the men and women to serve with compassion and dignity, then, inevitably, another policeman whose arrogance causes him to see people as objects will become unhinged and the story will repeat itself again and again, just as it has since 1967.

Government has to be more effective. Police need to be more empathetic and justice has to be more just. In this day and age, the people won’t settle for anything less.

As the country battles multiple crises at once, we can use the current period as a reminder to always carry ourselves in a pristine fashion, not permitting the callousness, chaos, confusion and unruliness around us to affect us and our families. We are expected to conduct ourselves on a higher level, with refinement, respect and dignity at all times.

May Hashem continue to protect us each and every day, and may our actions, both public and private, be a source of nachas to Him.