The shooting in San Bernardino has been a shock to us all. Our hearts and prayers are with the victims of this terrible tragedy. And Americans are at a loss as to how to respond. Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, has issued the most sweeping statement of all, calling for a moratorium on the entry of Muslims into the US. His announcement has been condemned by Democrats and Republicans, Muslim, Christians, and Jews alike. What would prompt a smart man like Trump to issue such an offensive statement?
In Parshat Mikeitz, Yosef is appointed viceroy of Egypt after successfully interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams. As prime minister, he gathers food over the seven years of plenty and fills the storehouses with enough grain to last through the seven years of famine. The ensuing famine spreads throughout the region, including the land of Canaan. Yaakov hears there is food in Egypt and sends his sons to seek sustenance for the family. Once there, however, Yosef recognizes them and accuses them of spying. Following their second visit, he sends them away, but hides his royal goblet in Binyamin’s bag. Yosef sends his son, Menashe, in hot pursuit. Catching up to them, he accuses them of stealing the goblet. The brothers respond, “With whoever of your servants it be found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.”
Sound like a familiar story? If you answered yes, it’s because of the similar account we had just a few weeks ago. When Yaakov left Lavan’s home with his wives and children, Lavan pursued him and accused him of stealing his terafim (idols). Yaakov, having no idea who took them and thinking that no one actually did, declared, “With whoever you find your gods, he shall not live!” Our Sages say that as a result of this declaration, Rachel, who had taken the terafim died prematurely.
Since Yaakov declared that someone will die the words of the tzaddik needed to be fulfilled. In our parsha, we have a similar occurrence. Assuming the goblet would not be found in their bags, they have the same reaction as their father: “with whoever it will be found, let him die.” Why would they repeat the same declaration if they already knew the outcome from the last time they were accused? Why would they take that chance?!
Children learn the ways of their parents. They’re like sponges and repeat and act everything a parent does. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Children use foul language because it’s what they hear at home. They in turn use foul language in front of their own children, and the vicious cycle continues. When a parent is constantly negative and a child is brought up hearing negativity, they repeat the negative comments to their children. This is what the sons of Yaakov did. They heard Yaakov declare death so they did the same.
After 9/11, President Bush’s reaction was to announce that the US was to embark on a “crusade.” Can you imagine the horror of Muslims (and Jews) hearing these words? But he didn’t invent the term. It followed a millennium and a half of Christian-Muslim conflict. It was the message he had heard from his Christian forebears. And so that was his kneejerk reaction.
But it was completely unacceptable in twenty-first century America – a time and place where we recognize that not all Muslims are evil. And so, in his second inaugural address, Bush declared, “America’s ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character – on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives . . . sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people.”
Trump’s reaction is not surprising. He has a habit of saying what millions of Americans are thinking. But that doesn’t make it acceptable. Just because your parents said things time and again doesn’t make it right. We have to choose the right attitudes of our parents and repeat them; while discarding the inappropriate attitudes of our parents. Negativity and brush stroking must end with us.
Negativity is not only about being offensive towards other cultures and religions. Some people will find something positive to say in every situation; others will always criticize and see the glass half empty. Such attitudes are hard to change, but no matter what impressions our parents gave us, we have the power to decide our own outlook on life.
We need to break the cycle. As adults who know good from bad, there’s no excuse to behave or talk pessimistically. We are responsible for our own actions. We should only take the positive from our upbringing and leave the cynicism behind. Otherwise we will be responsible when our children talk and act the same way. May we be a source of nachas for our parents and if unfortunately, we have some negativity in our upbringing, may we not be afraid to leave it behind and focus only on the good attitudes our parents have given us.