Sunday, November 26, 2006

Squeaky Wheel or Lashon Hara?

“The wheel that squeaks the loudest

Is the one that gets the grease.”

Josh Billings, ca. 1870
I don’t like being a squeaky wheel. Don’t like it, don’t want to do it. There’s a reason (actually there are several) why I play a rabbi on paper instead of taking it to the next level. There’s a reason why I write instead of speaking publicly. (For the record, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the couple of divrei Torah I’ve given, but both were well-researched and written long before being delivered.) I’ve never been one to loudly “toot my own horn.”

This puts me in a very difficult situation as an author and a publisher. It’s my biggest challenge to date. Because horn-tooting and modest behavior just don’t seem to go hand in hand, and if they do, I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. (Any suggestions?)

Consequently, I thought long and hard about posting my support crises of last week. What were my real motivations? What did I want to accomplish with those posts? How was I going to try to accomplish my goal without hurting anyone in the process? Who else, if anyone, was going to benefit from this? Ultimately, how do I become the squeaky wheel without crossing the line into lashon hara?

Opinions may differ, but here’s what I did:
  • Before writing anything, I asked for the opinion of someone qualified whom I respect, who also is objective and completely separate from my community.
  • I determined that there was no point at all in just venting on the blog; something good (aside from my personal feelings) had to come of it that benefited more than me.
  • I had already tried to resolve the various yet related issues on the telephone or in person with the people involved, without much success.
  • I did everything I could to generalize, obscure, or otherwise conceal the identities of those involved, short of not writing about it at all.
  • I wrote only about things I had personally said, heard, or experienced.
  • I verified that there are others who are in similar positions, not feeling particularly supported within their local Jewish community, even when they’ve asked for said support directly.
  • I thought that writing was worth the risk if it alerted communities that supporting each other within our local communities is an unmet need (may I be so bold), and/or let others who felt unsupported know they they’re not alone.
I don’t know if there’s more I could have done, while still getting the message out. I don’t know if it will spark changes on a broader scale. I tried hard not to cross that line.

What I do know is that there are people who are active in their synagogues, active in their communities, who feel slighted, isolated, unappreciated or worse, because few people – if anyone at all – have told them that they and their contributions are valued. The message they get is that no one cares, or no one can be bothered to take the time.

What I want to say is that I care. I care because I know how that feels. And I care because I believe we have a responsibility to each other, not only in times of trouble and distress but also in times of joy.

When the community is in trouble let not a man say, “I will go to my house and I will eat and drink and all will be well with me.” . . . But rather a man should share in the distress of the community, for so we find that Moses, our teacher, shared in the distress of the community, as it is said, “But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon” [Exodus 17:12]. Did not then Moses have a bolster or a cushion to sit on? This is then what Moses meant [to convey], “As Israel are in distress I too will share with them. He who shares in the distress of the community will merit to behold its consolation.” (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 11a)
If we are obligated to come together as a community in distress, how much worse is it then if we turn away during times of joy and, as a direct result, cause distress?

And based on Rashi’s interpretation of kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh (all Jews are responsible for one another) that all are held responsible even for the sins of a few, it seems to me that if our actions can bring each other down, so too our actions can elevate each other.

I’m still learning this, and I’m by no means innocent. Still, I think of the good we can do by encouraging each other. And not just our friends and family and people we know well, but also the marginalized, the passed over, the ignored, the forgotten.

We have the ability to impact lives in a positive way, and sometimes all it takes is a “mazal tov.”

Thanks, Rabbi.







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