Has anyone in here ever had a disturbing moment at your kid’s soccer game? Some parents are notorious for being kicked off the field at these soccer games. They get really into and passionate. Thankfully, I haven’t seen much of that at our soccer games sponsored by our JCC, but I saw something far more disturbing.
It was one of my six-year-old’s games. Let’s just say, his co-ed team isn’t very competitive. They scored one goal…all season.
This week, though, they played against a team where the kids were a year older. It really wasn’t a fair competition, but they are just out there for fun. Well, that’s not how the older team saw things. They were competitive, like really competitive. At one point, one kid pushed my son down and started yelling at him with a very adult tone. But my son wasn’t the only kid pushed down. Then I noticed one of the kids do something that I’d never seen a 7- or 8-year-old do. He started staring the other kids down. When he had a corner kick, he raised his hand up in the air as if he was Lionel Messi and started screaming at his teammates.
And I wondered…why are these kids behaving like this? Where did they learn it from?
Oftentimes, we are worried that Big Brother is watching us, whether they be hackers or the government. But I know one thing — there are people watching us adults — our children. And they hear everything we say, and they remember it all, and it effects them.
There have been articles written recently about ‘The Trump Effect’, a term coined by a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center shines a light on a disturbing trend.
The results of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s survey of 2,000 K-12 teachers were the following:
- More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students — mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims — have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
- More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
- More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
- More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.
The Shabbat preceding Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol. I believe this Shabbat challenges us to rise to the challenge of Passover. How do we do this? I believe we can become great through acting as better role models for our children, and I think the answers are already out there: in last week’s parashah, Metzorah, where we read of the famous leper and how our rabbis explained this poor individual’s affliction; and in our Passover seders which might just be the way we reach our children to help them become great.
But first, I’d like to tell you a little more about how our children are affected because of this specific election.
The survey I quoted did not identify any candidates. But out of 5,000 total comments, more than 1,000 mentioned Donald Trump. In contrast, a total of fewer than 200 contained the names Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.
One middle school teacher told the Southern Poverty Law Center: “My students are terrified of Donald Trump. They think that if he’s elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa,”
Another teacher commented: “I have had Muslim students called terrorists.” A third teacher wrote: “There is a boy from Mexico, who is a citizen, who is terrified that the country will deport him if Trump wins. He is also scared that kids and grown-ups can and will hurt him.”
Overall, more than two-thirds of the teachers who took the survey reported that their students — mainly Muslims, immigrants and children of immigrants — were worried about what could happen to them and their families after the November election.
And more than one-third of the teachers said they’ve noticed a rise in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment among their students as well.
In our parashah, the main character is the Metzorah, as translated in our Humash, the leper. This person had a skin affliction on them. The Rabbis asked a question: why? What did this person do to receive this punishment? They took the word, Metzorah, and took it apart to read — Motzi Shem Rah — which literally means, “putting out a bad name.” This is slander and defamation which is a much greater sin than gossip.
The rabbis tell us that this person caused divisions within the camp, even within families, between husbands and wives, and between friends. But why the punishment of a physical deformity? The answer is, that it wasn’t a punishment, that it was a reflection of the nature of his true self. Aryeh Ben David, in his book, Around The Shabbat Table, says that the physical symptoms of tzara’at serve as a mirror of the person’s moral repulsiveness. The metzorah is forced to stare at the dissolution of his physical self with the understanding that it signifies his moral dissolution. The community witnesses the result of defamation — and the metzorah is compelled to repent.
This is a model of how a society should be: the person who says ugly words is looked at as ugly; but this is not the case in our society. The cruder one is, the more attention they receive, and the more people respect them because they are telling it like it is.
As Jews, we have been surrounded by societies that, at times, devolve into the lowest common denominator. When Hellenism began to spread throughout the world around the time of the Second Temple, the practice of the Symposium became very popular among the elite of society including the ruling class. The Symposium was a gathering of intellectual men who would drink alcohol, usually four cups of wine, and have a large feast. They would debate, boast, or revel in each other. The participants had to recline on pillows. Entertainment was provided, and depending on the occasion could include games, songs, flute-girls or boys, slaves performing various acts, and hired entertainment. They would discuss philosophy, love, the differences between men and women, or why men were better. We know from art that the symposiums often times got out of hand — it was a party.
When we think of Pesach, we often times think of the seder first, but when the Temple stood, the Pesach offering, the lamb, was the most important ritual. Family and friends feasted on the Pascal lamb, but no seder is mentioned in the Torah. It was around the time of the Second Temple, and especially after the destruction of the Second Temple when Judaism changed dramatically, and with it, Passover. Baruch Boxer, in his book, The Origins of the Seder, writes, “The transformation in Passover is part of a larger change in Judaism from a religious life ideally based on a central cult and temple to one structured around the individual home and the synagogue. This development, through which Jews came to perceive their religious activities in their own homes as the highest form of piety, took place gradually and represents one of the major contributions of early rabbinic Judaism.”
The home became the Temple.
Something tells me that the rabbis might have seen their community’s children looking at these symposiums. It’s hard to outlaw something so fun, so what did they do? They made it holy. They turned the symposium into the foremost ritual of Pesach. The Pesach offering was no longer brought to the Temple, but the home turned into the Temple, and the seder became the offering.
If the Symposium served four cups of wine, so would the seder. If there was a feast at the symposium, there would also be a feast at the seder. At the symposium, they discussed philosophy, but also much cruder things; but at the seder, the participants would discuss their history — how they journeyed from slavery to freedom; how freedom is not just for the rich, but for the poor and even the stranger. That you too were once strangers in a strange land, so you must welcome the stranger. That we have to look at ourselves as slaves being freed every year so we savor the gifts we have.
At the Greek symposium, women were not allowed; it was made for men. The seder, though, is made for children. We read about the four sons and the purpose of the seder to elicit questions from our children. The Torah requires that we remember the Exodus from Egypt every day of our lives (Deuteronomy. 15:3). But there is an additional biblical commandment to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt to our children on Seder night (Exodus 13:8) — ‘vehigadta l’vincha’ — you shall tell your children. The difference between the two obligations is simple — on the seder, we need the child to help fulfill our obligation to tell the story.
I see us at a similar moment in time. We are looking at the Symposium, the crudeness, the revelry. Those who publicly defame, the Motzi Shem Rah, aren’t shunned — they are celebrated.
And our children are watching, and our children our learning, and like I saw on the soccer field, and like we see in our schools and gymnasiums — they are acting.
That’s why I’m so thankful for the gift of the seder that our rabbis gave us — a time to go against the nasty trends while still embracing the fun of the society we live in.
During our seder, we do not revel in each other, we focus on our gratitude to God for the freedoms we enjoy.
During our seder, we do not keep our women and children away; rather, we invite everyone and make our children the centerpiece of our offering to God. We focus on teaching them and telling them their story of journeying from slavery to freedom, and how we must embrace the stranger because we know that they are listening.
The parashah not only talks about a person with Tzara’at, this affliction, but a house with a nega tz’ara’t, an eruptive plague. Plagues can spread to our homes, and when they do, they can infect our children.
And so the home became the Temple, the Mikdash Me’at, and it remains one of the holiest places in Judaism.
On Friday night, 80% of Jews in the world will celebrate Passover not by coming to shul, but by attending a seder. We will read the Haggadah, but we will also have meaningful conversations. The question we have to ask ourselves is, what do we want our children to learn during our seders? Because what they learn at our seders, they will take with them to the rest of the world.
My blessing for you is that you teach them the true meaning of greatness — that you don’t have to put others down to be great. On the contrary, our rabbis taught us that to be great, we must make others great, especially those need to be lifted up.