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Norwegian Injustice

Aug 25, 2012 at 05:53:31 PM

There's good news and bad news from the Norwegian justice system.

The good news is that terrorist mass murderer Anders Breivik has been pronounced guilty of the brutal bomb and gun rampage that left 77 people dead last year – mostly kids at summer camp.

The bad news is that Breivik has been sentenced to a grand total of 21 years in prison. His incarceration will be in a three-room cell with a TV, exercise room and Ikea-style furniture.

This is shocking.

Although the sentence can later be extended (21 years is the maximum sentence allowed by Norwegian law, except for war crimes and genocide), given the beastly, premeditated, cold-blooded nature of the crime, justice has clearly not been served.

So what were the folks in Norway thinking over there? Before we Tweet our outrage and move on to the next piece of news, perhaps we should look a bit deeper and try to understand what might be behind this Norwegian system.

I believe the reason for our adverse reaction is because the American penal system is based on "punishment": Commit a crime, and you will suffer. But in Norway and other "progressive" countries, the purpose of incarceration is geared more toward rehabilitation – treating the psychological dysfunction which spurred the crime.

As Max Fisher reports in The Atlantic

The pleasant-sounding experience of being in Norwegian prison isn't some sign of Scandinavian weakness or naïveté; it's precisely the point. A comfortable cell, clean and relaxing environment, and nice daily activities such as cooking classes are all meant to prepare the criminal for potentially difficult or painful internal reformation. Incarceration, in this thinking, is the treatment for whatever social or psychological disease led them to transgress. The criminals are not primarily wrongdoers to be punished, but broken people to be fixed...

Here's the tough thing about restorative justice: it works, as long as you don't consider retribution to be its own inherent good. Despite the lighter sentences, restorative justice systems seem to reduce crime, reduce the cost of imprisoning criminals, and reduce recidivism... Proponents, such as University of Oslo professor Thomas Mathiesen, say it's better for society overall because it isn't about "revenge, but sober, dignified treatment."

In this instance, Breivik is an unrepentant murderer, and although the system maintains hope that he will come to his senses and reform, if he doesn’t, the sentence will be extended and he will likely remain behind bars for a lifetime.

Although one case cannot be compared to another, it is interesting to note that this rehabilitation approach – as opposed to the punishment system that Americans are used to – is discussed in the Torah.

The Torah prescribes that when one commits an act of theft and cannot repay, he must become a servant to the one he victimized. Though at first glance this might sound oppressive, it is anything but. The Torah (Leviticus 25:43) declares: "Do not oppress him" – a directive to treat the thief with utmost dignity and respect. Specifically, the thief cannot be given any demeaning jobs, and the master must provide high-quality food and accommodations – to the extent that if only one portion of food or one pillow is available, it goes to the servant.

Hence the basis of the Jewish "rehabilitation" model: By placing the criminal into a family atmosphere, he is exposed to a healthy environment of caring and sharing. For a thief, who displayed a stunning lack of respect for others and their property, this is a powerful mode of rehabilitation.

Of course, details of the Jewish method differ widely from what is practiced in Norway today (the Torah example refers to theft, not mass murder), and there is no question we should be justifiably outraged at Breivik's light sentence and comfortable conditions.

So before you press the comment and express outrage that is condoning the Norwegian decision… No – we are not condoning it. We condemn the heinous crime, and we are outraged at the Norwegian system that is giving a mass murderer comfortable treatment. We are simply saying that we can learn something from all this. Let's appreciate that in the criminal justice system, there can be room for a lofty belief in the power of a human being to reform and rehabilitate.

Visitor Comments: 46

(30) Anonymous, August 30, 2012 7:04 PM


The problem with the Norway judicial system is that it does not in any way teach that there are dire consequences for ones actions. It is not that I believe in an eye for an eye. It is that this society has become so violent in murdering and terrorizing people. Why does this happen so frequently in the world? Because no one suffers dire consequences for murder or terrorism. Kids grow up getting away with things that they do not learn what happens when you do these things. They also play these horrendous violent games and yes when you play and you kill you do not understand what you are doing. The next day, you start all over again with the same players. Children become immuned and grow up and kill without remorse. That needs to be taught.

(29) Steve Skeete, August 29, 2012 3:32 AM

Rehabilitation, we all win?

Originally, there was the idea that to give someone a sentence of life imprisonment was more humane than giving them the death penalty. Later it was realized just how "cruel and unusual" life imprisonment was as well, Now, there is hardly a sentence of "life behind bars anywhere" in the "civlized" world since many cannot stomach the thought of executing murderers, nor fathom the idea of someone becoming old, feeble and senile and still living in a prison cell. So since both execution and life behind bars without parole were considered equally cruel "twenty-one years to life" became the new "rehabilitation" model. And what difference does it make if someone kills one person or seventy-seven? That person still needs to be rehabilitated and/or given the opportunity, in time, to rejoin polite society. Since very few people really want to die, and murderers do not mind living in "comfortable" cells, and since many no longer want to identify with "state sponsored" executions, "twenty-one years to life" is viewed as a win-win scenario.

(28) Rivka Deutsch, August 28, 2012 12:25 PM

You're way off base on this one!

First of all- you are comparing apples and oranges here. As you say - the Torah is referring to theft, not murder. So why bring it up when it is actually not relevant to this situation? Second - you assume you understand the Torah's reason for creating an "eved ivri" (jewish slave), but consider this. Only a thief who is too poor to pay the penalty becomes a slave. So what are you saying? That the Torah only wants to rehabilitate poor people? Rich people can continue to be delinquent so long as they can pay the penalty if caught? Obviously there is more to it than meets the eye..... I respect the fact that you have an opinion on this issue, but you can't bring in the Torah to back you up on this one, certainly not with the eved ivri argument.

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Vile Attack in Jerusalem

Aug 22, 2012 at 07:14:48 AM

Last Thursday night, some Jewish teens were hanging out in Jerusalem looking for trouble. Emotions escalated and they viciously beat some Arab boys, leaving one in critical condition.

I, as well as the entire State of Israel, am outraged. Rabbis, educators and politicians across the spectrum have denounced this vile act. A special police committee is investigating, arrests have been made, and those responsible will assuredly be punished to the full extent of the law.

The Jewish people pride ourselves in being different. Violence is not the Jewish way – especially not targeting someone due to their nationality. This troubling incident indicates that we are not doing a sufficient job educating our children in the ways of tolerance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forcefully declared:

"This is something that we cannot accept – not as Jews, not as Israelis. This is not our way; this goes against our way, and we condemn it in word and deed. We will quickly bring to justice those responsible for this reprehensible incident.

"We say as clearly as possible: The State of Israel is a democratic and enlightened state in which when we come across acts such as these, the entire state and all of its leaders come out together against such phenomena, and we will continue to do so. This is what makes us unique in the environment around us and this will continue to make us unique. I hope that one day our environment will change as well. But we will be persistent in our complete opposition to racism and violence."

On the flip side, the fact that all sectors of Israeli society have so strongly condemned this outrageous act shows that even in our errant moments, our moral compass remains acute.

As Ruthie Blum writes in Israel Hayom, a society is not judged by immorality in its midst, but rather by the response of its leaders, educators and the general public to it.

Blum compares the current crime to another lynch that took place in October 2000, when two Israelis took a wrong turn and ended up in Ramallah by accident. A mob of 1,000 Palestinians attacked – choking, stabbing, disemboweling, and setting the Israelis on fire. One of the murderers proudly stood at an open window and displayed his bloody hands to the cheering crowd. In the aftermath of the lynch, the Palestinian Authority made no arrests, and uttered no condemnations. (Indeed, Palestinian police helped facilitate in the lynching, and the Palestinian Authority's primary concern was to prevent video footage of the atrocity from getting into the hands of Western media outlets.)

This is no way justifies or excuses Jewish acts of violence. Yet can we see the difference?

Palestinian society today is rife with rhetoric that vilifies Jews and encourages murderous violence against them. Suicide bombers are elevated to the pinnacle of Palestinian society – lionized with poems and immortalized with dozens of schools, roads and sporting events named in the bombers' honor. In a popular Palestinian children's program, a Mickey Mouse look-alike calls on children to "annihilate the Jews" and "commit martyrdom." Ahlam Tamimi, the woman who helped carry out the gruesome Sbarro Pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem that killed 15 civilians and wounded 130, is treated like a rock star in the Arab world.

These are just a few of the thousands of examples.

To make matters worse, the Western media downplays it all: The New York Times characterized Palestinian calls to genocide as merely an "insult to Jews" ("Hamas's Insults to Jews Complicate Peace Effort," April 1, 2008). And the Christian Science Monitor quoted a Palestinian TV director that encouraging kids to jihad "isn't for teaching hate. It's for teaching children to think in the right way, to socialize them in our culture's way of life." ("Hamas's Approach to Jihad: Start 'em Young," August 20, 2007)

For peace to exist, all parties need to accept the idea of tolerant, peaceful coexistence. A sincere condemnation of violence is a crucial first step.

Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, August 23, 2012 11:49 AM

Excellent article

I appreciate the excellent comments you made regarding this tragic event. Our Jewish nation can hang its head in shame that some of our children are capable of doing such a thing. It truly saddens me to think of it.

(3) Sarah, August 22, 2012 8:23 PM

I agree but...

Dear Rabbi, This was beyond reprehensible for Jews and it is good that everyone is condemning it but how do we explain all the people who witnessed this tragedy and made absolutely no attempt to stop it? Sarah

(2) Anonymous, August 22, 2012 7:40 PM

possible background material

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Penn State Needed a Pinchas

Jul 14, 2012 at 03:28:12 PM

My dear friend Harve Linder in Atlanta has done it again: found a deep Torah message in the headline news. The definitive Penn State investigation report was released just as we were reading the Torah portion of Pinchas, creating an amazing juxtaposition.

Recall the scene: A young graduate student walks in and sees an unspeakable incident taking place. What action does he take? Does he shout at the aggressor to stop it? Does he run out seeking help? Does he call either campus or local law enforcement officials? The answer to all these questions is "no."

Instead, he seeks out his leader, the head coach. But the coach himself doesn't know what to do. So nothing comes of it, and no one involved does the right thing for the victim, for future victims, for the university. The end result is that the abuse continues, people lose their jobs, others will go to prison, the university is harmed, and an extraordinary legacy forfeited.

Let's compare this to events in the Torah. An audacious sex crime has taken place, and a young man, Pinchas, witnesses the incident. He is incensed and knows the appropriate response. Yet before acting, he goes to the leader Moses for guidance. But Moses himself does not know what to do. And here our tales substantially diverge: Pinchas does not wait around for an investigation. He does not allow a conspiracy of silence to blanket the incident. No, he acts swiftly, precisely, and in accordance with the law. He stops the act, sends a clear public message, and ensures there are no future victims.

This is not to suggest that the Penn State graduate student should have become a vigilante, circumventing the courts. But he did lack Pinchas' passion and total commitment to doing the right thing. A bit of righteous indignation would have been well-placed, propelling him to cut through the layers of bureaucracy and malaise.

The Torah instructs us to act whenever danger is present: "Do not stand idly by your brother's blood" (Leviticus 19:16). We cannot wait for political posturing, for committee debates, or approval from public opinion. We cannot allow cover-ups and conspiracies of silence to develop. We must consistently do the right thing. Sometimes the proper action is not obvious. Even Moses occasionally forgot. But we have to learn the parameters, consult with our leaders, and act with confidence and determination. Only then will we fulfill our role of tikkun olam, and ensure there are no future victims.

Visitor Comments: 14

(12) elizabeth kosmerl, July 23, 2012 4:26 PM

let us all heed this message in Torah

Let us apply this zealousness to our own who betray our trust and the trust of our children. Let us not turn away because it is easier and by so doing help the victimizer. Let us prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the people who abuse the souls left in their charge.

(11) Rachel Garber, July 17, 2012 1:45 AM

Protecting the university, instead of the victim

As a former CPS (child protective services) worker, I followed this story with deep despair and sadness. To say nothing of anger. I can't believe that not only was this permitted to continue as long as it did, but when the story finally came out, and Joe Paterno was "let go" that the student body as well as alumni were incensed, that they wanted trustees removed. I just couldn't believe the comments about the victims, that seemed to be an aftethought. When Joe Paterno died while the investigation was ongoing, people said he died of a broken heart, what bull, what a travesty. Aside from the ongoing priest abuse drama, that was also covered up for decades, this has to be one of the most reprehensible stories of child abuse, that I have heard in a very long time. Sports Ilustrated and similiar magazine rushed to print special "tribute" issue for Paterno, I was so incensed, everytime I was in the magazine section in whichever store I was in, I took another magazine and covered up his picture.

(10) Anonymous, July 16, 2012 1:41 PM

Think About It

Having trouble making the analogy of Phineas stand for his G-d and his people and the Penn State situ. Hate that Penn State is forever marked by the act of an individual. Hate more for the precious children who suffered at the hand of that scallywag. One observation about people in my country is that their vision is for themselves and maybe a few others, but never think in terms of how everyone is affected by their actions. If Sandusky thought for a moment about the impact of his actions on the children, the University, our society, our nation, he could not have committed such crimes on innocent people, but he thought of one thing, his selfish lusts. The person walking by and seeing him in the act and simply reports to his upline is as quilty, as is his upline. Why. Because he wanted someone else to take the risks for doing the "right" thing. Paterno, I believe, knew about this problem, as I believe, they all did. We do a good job of living the life, but true character and integrity of heart are not there. Did we need a Phineas at Penn State? No doubt. More though, we need a righteous people who love and fear the one true G-d of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.

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Madonna in Israel

Jun 3, 2012 at 07:39:23 AM

The big news in Israel last Thursday was the Madonna concert attended by 40,000 fans in metropolitan Tel Aviv. Because this was the opening gig of her new world tour, media coverage was vast and global.

Welcome to Israel 2012.

Nineteen years ago I authored an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post entitled, "Madonna: Do We Really Wanna-Be?" It coincided with the pop star's first-ever concert in Israel.

At the time, Madonna was pushing the limits of public lewdness: promoting her album "Erotica" and a book entitled simply, "Sex."

My article bemoaned how Madonna's very un-Jewish values were being imported into Israel.

It is a myth that Madonna is the "great liberator." Rather, she has fostered a climate where sexism is the norm, and has thus set the women's movement back 30 years. She has built a career on obscenity, and admits to cultivating a reputation as "a tramp, a harlot... proud of my trashy image."

Jewish communities throughout the ages have always stood against such behavior. The Jewish people are the inventors and leading exporters of core human values such as dignity, modesty and discretion.

Israel in particular is a living workshop where lofty Jewish ideals can become reality. We have built our land so beautifully and have achieved so much. But to chase after the lowly elements of Western society? Is this the expression of "light unto the nations?" Is this the culmination of 2,000 years of struggle and suffering? Is this what IDF soldiers died for? Is this being "free in our land?"

Not so long ago Israeli society still held itself to a higher standard. In the 1960s when British rock legend Cliff Richard performed in Israel, parents protested the negative effects of the raucous atmosphere. No, I’m not a prude. But the point is that Israel – the model of morality for world Jewry, and the model for all humanity – had drawn a line.

Achad HaAm called Israel "the historic center of a roving spiritual idea." When Madonna kicks off her world tour and the world watches so closely, we have to wonder: Is this really what we want them to see?

Visitor Comments: 6

(5) Anonymous, June 5, 2012 2:12 PM

I agree with the commentors that Madonna is praiseworthy for coming to Israel

in face of the strong anti-Israel bigotry in Hollywood. But still, the PR gain for Israel is definitely not worth the tsunami of immorality that accompanies such a woman into our holy land of Israel.

(4) Moishe Montreal, June 4, 2012 6:16 PM

YES we want Madonna in Israel

With all the anti-semetic coward artists cancelling their shows in Israel due to fear of death from a-rubs, Madona shows stregnth and (here it comes) a love of Israel. Some of her Kaballah learning, traif as it is, has to have rub off in a positive way. Chazak to Madonna. PS its just a rock show and there are many worse influences in Israel today- like the atheist lefties.

(3) Lisa, June 4, 2012 3:51 PM

In defense of Madonna.

I would submit that Madonna has done more to present Israel and Judaism in a positive light- and reverse knee-jerk Israel-hatred and Jew-hatred- than any other one person, or private or public entity in recent times. To refer to her as "the lowest element of Western society" is to engage in ignorant, self-righteous, slander. Madonna's "art"- music, lyrics, choreography, costumes and concert themes have been in evolution for decades. She's a class A humanitarian advocating peace and understanding between all people, love of spirituality, celebration of sexuality, independence of thought and strength of character. As a woman, I don't feel demeaned by her colorful (and accurate) presentation of female sexuality one iota. While Orthodox Jews scoff at her interest in Kabbalah or taking the moniker "Sarah", her interest is sincere, and has created incalculable goodwill towards Jews, Judaism and Israel.

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The Quarter-Million-Dollar Gift

May 18, 2012 at 06:19:13 AM

I heard this inspiring story from my dear friend Jonathan Rosenblum.

Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg immigrated to the United States prior to World War II. He became involved in fundraising for a yeshiva, and in the course of these activities met a number of wealthy individuals.

One woman was so impressed with Rabbi Ginzberg that she included him in her will ― to the tune of $250,000. For Rabbi Ginzberg, who had a large family to support, that money was a huge financial relief. But Rabbi Ginzberg insisted that since he had met this wealthy woman as a representative of the yeshiva, the money rightfully belongs to the yeshiva, not to him.

When Rabbi Ginzberg's son heard this, he objected, pointing out his father's vast ongoing personal expenses. The son took upon himself to ask the great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein for a ruling.

Rabbi Feinstein said: Since the will named Rabbi Ginzberg specifically ― not the yeshiva ― the money does in fact belong to him.

The son raced home with the good news. When Rabbi Ginzberg heard, he erupted in joy.

"I am a man of modest means and I could never imagine being able to donate a quarter-million dollars to a yeshiva. But now that the money is rightfully mine, I can finally fulfill that dream!"

And with that, he promptly wrote a check to the yeshiva for $250,000.

This story highlights a sensation that only a lucky few enjoy: Working for an organization that likewise represents one's greatest personal aspirations. In this case, Rabbi Ginzberg was getting paid… for doing what he himself was willing to pay for. What a marvelous inspiration.

Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Anonymous, May 21, 2012 10:59 PM

Wonderful story

When a very large lottery prize was announced, people asked me what I would have done had I even participated and won all that money. "First, I would give my shul the money they need to pay off the mortgage, then I would pay off my mortgage. I'd create an endowment that would provide local food banks with GOOD foods, and another to make certain that a religious school I'm fond of would never have to worry about money and... " With that, my friend interrupted me. Your van is old enough to be a bar mitzvah, you live in a modest house, you need new teeth...what about YOU? Looking at my friend as though he's lost his mind I reminded him that what "I" needed was insignificant compared to what good the money could do. I'd consider myself after I had done if I had won...which I hadn't, so the entire conversation was moot. What a shame that eternal values are ignored in favor for temporary "toys" and conveniences. Sure, I'd love to replace the teeth I lost during a series of grand mal seizures. My van is just wonderful the way it is, not a single rattle or squeak; I like it. My home? Perfect the way it is and where it is. But to just imagine the joy of being able to pay off my shul's mortgage? Pardon my thinking; I think that money should provide joy for others, not just for an individual. After all, we're COMMANDED to love Hashem with all of our hearts, souls and RESOURCES. Yeah...that's the ticket even if it is imaginary.


Goldman Sachs’ Greed?

Mar 16, 2012 at 05:46:30 AM

In the seminal film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko declared: "Greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed… has marked the upward surge of mankind."

This week in a New York Times op-ed, an "anti-greed" crusader by the name of Greg Smith announced his resignation from the financial giant Goldman Sachs. Smith, whose clients had a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars, describes the firm's practice of "persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit." In other words, Goldman Sachs cares more about making money from its clients than making it for them.

Irrespective of whether the allegations are true or not, I don't know why we should find this surprising. When I hire a lawyer to represent me in a damage lawsuit, I am aware that he is primarily representing his own interests (profit, professional reputation, time constraints) than he is representing mine. In politics, too, the vast majority of elected officials are "looking out for number one," often at the expense of their constituencies.

Back to the financial sector. Capitalism is a wonderful institution. It improves the quality of life by fostering competition and yielding advances in many fields. Without competition we would be at the mercy of monopolists that would stifle progress and incentive for personal reward.

Yet let's be clear: The goal of capitalism is to make money. Period. Of course, many "capitalists" are caring, ethical human beings. But those values are distinct from the pure pursuit of wealth. And in a myriad of cases, the two goals will conflict.

That is why, if left unrestrained, many will choose the route of pure profit. The result, as we have tragically witnessed, is greed, corruption, and an erosion of trust that prevents the building of a fair and harmonious society.

The Jewish ideal ― built-in to Jewish law ― is that commerce must be balanced with genuine care for others. For example, the Torah (Deuteronomy 19:14) forbids a merchant from lowering his prices to the extent that it is not feasible for the competition to remain in business.

The Torah's goal is to create a just and compassionate society. Economic progress? Yes. Cutthroat competition and working against the interest of your own clients? No.

Maybe it's time to launch a Torah study revolution over on Wall Street.

Visitor Comments: 15

(11) Anonymous, March 21, 2012 1:28 PM

Attorney Bashing

Contrary to your comments, lawyers are NOT primarily interested in their own interests. When an attorney's fee is tied to a percentage of his/her client's recovery, that does not make the attorney's interest primarily their own. It allows for a client to be represented without having to pay an attorney unless the case yields damages. This is a fee schedule that greatly benefits those who could not otherwise pay an attorney to represent them. It should be noted that this fee arrangement is limited in many states to certain types of cases, and is not allowed usually in family law or criminal matters. Attorneys always have their clients' interests at the forefront, both by law, and by most states' Code of Professional Responsibility. Don't irresponsibly jump on the pop culture bandwagon of lawyer bashing.

Ron Kall, March 29, 2012 12:01 AM

Lawyer bashing

Saying good things about lawyers is the same as being a Muslim apologist. Both are so obviously wrong. The main use of contingent fee agreements is by people who are looking for a case, but wouldn't if they had to pay up front. Law suit abuse anyone!

(10) Anonymous, March 20, 2012 4:14 PM

If you light a candle in a dark, crowded room, who benefits?

Forbidding "a merchant from lowering his prices to the extent that it is not feasible for the competition to remain in business" is not "just and compassionate." This means that consumers, particularly the poor who would benefit most from lower prices, are forced to pay higher prices to keep uncompetitive merchants in business. While we should foster principled individuals whose actions are in concert with their values, the fact is a completely selfish person who lights a candle in a dark and crowded room for herself is still brightening the room for everyone else. This is the essence of free-market capitalism, in which the individual, by realizing their own potential, cannot help but benefit society.

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Animal Altruism?

Mar 12, 2012 at 07:01:59 AM

In various conversations I have about Judaism, the discussion often gets stuck on one basic point: How do we know we have a soul?

The answer, I believe, is quite intuitive. Imagine a hungry wolf and a piece of meat. The wolf will do whatever he can ― even injure other wolves ― to get that meat. For an animal, there is no concept of altruism, of "Let's stand in line," or "Perhaps that other wolf is more hungry than I," or "Maybe there are handicapped wolves back at the camp." None of that.

Some people argue that we do see animals "doing kindness" ― e.g. taking care of their young. But that is just another survival instinct. Just as animals run from danger, so too survival instincts often manifest in protecting young and in forming social groups. But altruism will never override an animal's survival instincts.

Indeed, a study of chimpanzees showed that while chimps exhibit group cooperation, when it comes to helping those not in their group, they inevitably choose the selfish option. The experiment demonstrated that "chimps don't share the same concern for the welfare of others as do humans, who routinely donate blood... volunteer for military duty, and perform other acts that benefit perfect strangers," said Joan Silk, an anthropologist at UCLA.

A soul, on the other hand, has higher needs ― love, meaning, justice ― that often run contrary to survival instincts. For example: On a pure survival level, if I have a thousand dollars, it's in my best interest to keep it for myself. To go ahead and give that away to a stranger on the other side of the world is actually contrary to my survival instinct, since reducing my resources increases the chance of becoming destitute myself.

So what does all this have to do with a soul? It is the nature of all living beings ― both humans and animals ― to seek pleasure. If we decide to give charity or help a poor person who doesn't have food, even if that means going hungry ourselves, that's a form of pleasure. There are many stories from the Holocaust of people who gave their morsel of bread to somebody else. That's the human being going beyond the "bodily pleasure" of a wolf and connecting to the altruistic giving that characterizes God.

As Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt"l points out in his classic essay, "Five Levels of Pleasure," to maximize our pleasure in life, we need to make wise choices of what pleasures to seek. Pizza on the beach is nice, but it's not the ultimate. Caring for others, or making a difficult decision to do the right thing ― these are high-level pleasures, unique to the human being.

That, in a word, indicates a Divine soul.

Visitor Comments: 2

(1) Ilan, March 12, 2012 2:49 PM

What on Earth does that have to do with a soul?

It's a nice philosophy but hardly proof of a divine soul

Anonymous, March 14, 2012 5:35 PM

Do you pray?

If you pray, why bother? What do you pray for? WHY do you pray? We are all made in the image of Gd and even if an animal has a soul, is it in the image of Gd? No. Only human beings have a soul that is constantly connected to our creator. I am disabled. I frequently fall if I am not in my wheelchair. People rush to my aid. Why? Total strangers are instantly turned from what they were doing to help me get up; why should they? Because they have a divine soul. I have seen other people fall and immediately try to go to their aid.It does not even occur to me that by hastening to help that person, I may fall and hurt myself. That comes only because we are given the ability to imitate our maker. Even though I am perfectly capable of opening doors for myself, people will rush to open a door for me. I used to say, "Thanks, but I have it." Then it occurred to me that I was stealing the good feeling that people receive from doing a kind deed for someone they don't know. I always give them that pleasure now. How do I know it is a pleasure? Because before I became disabled, that is how I felt when I could help someone else. It isn't a "nice philosophy" my friend. How we act, even against our own best interests, is what, to me, proves we have souls. And those souls are gifts from our Creator.


The Super Finger

Feb 8, 2012 at 12:42:12 PM by:

Of the six closest Super Bowls of all-time, the New York Giants have won three of them, and this year was spectacularly close. But the real buzz in the news grinder is M.I.A.’s finger malfunction. The rapper’s impromptu salute during the halftime show has got the Parents Television Council and others up in arms about indecency during family programming. 

The Vince Lombardi Trophy I'm not a TV watcher, but something tells me that children today are exposed to a lot worse than an errant finger gesture. Of course, this doesn’t mean that watching an episode of Glee will turn a child into a social delinquent. But in Judaism we have a saying: “You are what you see.” Images that enter the mind have a lasting effect – at the least, subconsciously desensitizing us to whatever “indecency” we’re exposed to. 

And yes, it can escalate. In the article, “The Truth about TV,” Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen cites research that posits a clear correlation between the viewing of “indecencies” like violent crime, drug use, marital discord – and the rate they occur in the real world. 

Mussar, the Jewish character-building system, speaks about the idea of Shmirat Einayim – lit: “guarding one’s eyes.” When it comes to inappropriate images, we have the ability to make a choice. Just because something is out there (think of an Islamic beheading video) doesn’t mean we have to watch it.  

Making discriminating choices is a value – a skill, actually – that we need to teach our children. And the need for this is growing, with the increasingly constant bombardment of images and information on the Internet, billboards and smart phones. Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l offers some practical tools here

Maybe this Super Bowl incident will draw much-needed attention to what seems to me a genuine educational priority for today.

P.S. Now is a good time to say "hats off" to Rabbi Yaacov Deyo, who invented the concept of SpeedDating in 1998 while teaching at Aish Los Angeles. SpeedDating has garnered dozens of TV and film mentions over the years. On Sunday, before an audience topping 100 million, SpeedDating made its Super Bowl debut in this hilarious commercial for e-Trade.

Visitor Comments: 3

(3) Michal, February 9, 2012 10:08 PM

You were right in all you wrote, but the possibility to get into an article of Rabbi Weinberg, was wonderfull

I like on your articles, that they are "up to the point". I read a lot of other things also (all about spirituality). And normally I have to find, what is important. Here I mustn't look for the most important thing. I get it immediately with every word. -

(2) salem, February 9, 2012 6:47 PM


I have been an M.I.A. fan for many years and her doing somthing like "flipping the bird" is not out of the ordinary : ) If you have never heard her music, you must! It was not appropriate for the Super Bowl. I think parents should take this time to discuss what that hand gesture means and why it is offensive with their children. Also, in response to the other comment, Madonna was Liz Taylor in "Cleopatra" not an Egyption Goddess : )

(1) Eric, February 8, 2012 9:09 PM

What about...

...the blatant idolatry of the halftime show? Egyptian goddess & the whole works...? Didn't Israel even notice? Doesn't Israel care? Or was it just for show? Because if it was, then "whoever's" finger was just part of the stage show... But which was the bigger finger- Madonna's or the other woman's?