Why I Love the Lone Ranger

LR_1956_Moore_SilverheelsWhy would a 71-year-old rabbi spend time watching reruns of “The Lone Ranger,” a western television show more than 60 years old? The answer is simple: The message.

 As creatures created b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), our primary responsibility and purpose is to use our skills and talents to create a more just, caring, and compassionate world.

Although we may not cure cancer or make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, our covenant with God requires each of us to do what we can to fulfill the charge God made to Abraham in Genesis: to “[k]eep the way of the Eternal one, and to fill the world with tzedakah u’mishpat (righteousness and justice).

Pursuing righteousness and justice is exactly what the Lone Ranger and Tonto do. Battling hopeless odds, they right wrongs; thwart those who kill, cheat or exploit others; and help the good guys come out on top. In real life, of course, evil often triumphs over good, and fighters for justice and righteousness do not always prevail.

No matter what we have suffered, and no matter how dire things may have been, our people clings to the idea that the world can be better – and that we can be agents in that improvement.

We do well to remember that in the wake of Charlottesville!

Indeed, the Lone Ranger and Tonto symbolize the vital Jewish value of hope, always on the lookout for evil forces to defeat and never seeking or accepting rewards for doing what is “just and right.” Once their work is done, they ride off swiftly, searching for the next opportunity to make a positive difference in the world.

In particular, Parashat Re’eh, this week’s Torah reading, reminds me of what the Lone Ranger and Tonto represent. First, we read God’s ideal: “There shall be no poor or needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:4). But several sentences later, we confront the contradictory reality: “But the poor shall never cease from your land…open your hand to the poor and needy kin in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). Do not turn away from them. Do whatever you can to help.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto embody this ideal, fighting relentlessly to make the Wild West a place in which ruthless villains are nearly powerless to thwart others’ hard work or hope for the future.

But, just as these two cannot eliminate the bad guys entirely, neither can we create a world that is fully without evil. It is a glorious ideal that constantly eludes us.

But we, like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, can inch the world closer to that celebrated hope. Their work – and ours – takes on greater urgency as the Hebrew month of Elul approaches and with it the task of scrutinizing our conduct to determine how we – individually and collectively – might live closer to God’s hope for us.

Our tradition teaches that after shattering the Golden calf, Moses went back up the mountain on the first of Elul to try again. He hewed new tablets and spent 40 days in contemplation on Mt Sinai before descending, on Yom Kippur, with the second set of God’s commandments.

When we reach the first of Elul in less than a week, Yom Kippur will be just 40 days away. The Lone Ranger and Tonto model well how we can use these precious days, and it is reflected in this story I first heard from Rabbi David Saperstein more than 40 years ago:

A man who went every day to the wicked city of Sodom encouraging the people to repent.

His friends called him a fool saying, “Don’t you know those people will never repent. Why do you go down there every day wasting time and energy? Those people will never change and be like you.”

“Perhaps not,” the man answered, “but I must do what I can every day, so that I don’t change and become like them.”

No, the good guys don’t always win and the world will never be perfect. It is for these very reasons that I love watching “The Lone Ranger” because he and Tonto never stop trying to make our world a better place – and we can do the same.

 

What Disturbs Me Most About Donald Trump

In the year preceding the election and in the days that followed I wrote a number of essays about President Trump and included them in my book, Why the Kof? Getting the Best of Rabbi Fuchs https://tinyurl.com/jz4utns

For several months, though, I have had nothing to say about him.

The primary reason is that others have—more pointedly and eloquently than can I–written everything I feel about his policies, appointments and public statements.

But eight months after his inauguration I must express my dismay:

Donald Trump diminishes the pride I feel as an American.

When I see him dressed as the American flag in red (tie) white (shirt) and blue (suit) responding in such an equivocal, mealy-mouthed way to the violence in Charlottesville, I want to vomit.

As horrible as they are, moments of tragedy are golden opportunities for a president to stand tall and unite the country in pride and resolve.

Such horrible moments allow the president to speak for all decent Americans and express the country’s outrage and resolve to do all that is necessary to comfort the victims and condemn the perpetrators.

Even a president I did not like, George W. Bush, rose admirably to that responsibility in the aftermath of Nine Eleven.

But Trump? Uh Uh!

Whether you agreed with him or not, Barack Obama is a man of gentility and class. He was almost always eloquent and appropriate in his responses to terror and those who besmirched the values this country represents.

But Trump is the opposite. He represents nothing but selfishness, greed and a callous disregard for the very people, as Emma Lazarus wrote on the Statue of Liberty, our country is here to protect: “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Donald Trump has offered these precious potential sources of our country’s future greatness nothing but an upraised middle finger.

He seems to wink at—if not fan–racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. His grandiose promises to repair our country’s infra structure, bring thousands and thousands of jobs back to America, bring an end to urban violence and uproot international terrorism have been nothing but empty words.

But what is most disturbing is that so many people continue to rally around him.

In addition to continuing to condemn Trump and protest his actions and policies, it is in our vital interest to understand why.

What is it that he brings to the table that induces so many to resonate to his words and persona?

Until we find the answers to what is really behind Trump’s appeal, we will continue to write essays that allow us to get things off of our chest. And yes, we should.

But we will really be no closer to fixing the problems that led to his election in the first place.

And that is what disturbs me most about Donald Trump!

Who Will Fill Their Shoes?

Reading the obituary of a Holocaust survivor this morning, reminded me that far too soon there will be no survivors left.

This stark realization brought to my mind a country song by George Jones–regarded by many as the greatest of all country singers–“Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”

In the song Mr. Jones refers to an impressive list of country singers who have died and asks essentially, “Who will take their place? Who will do for us what they did?”

I ask that question about the Shoah.

When there are no Holocaust survivors left, who is going to speak with first hand knowledge of Nazi cruelty? Whose stories will offer chilling testimony to the depths of bestiality to which human beings can descend? Who will speak with first hand knowledge of the power of hope in the face of unspeakable horror? Or in the words of George Jones, “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?”

Of course those of us in the second generation–we whose parents fled from or survived Hitler–must tell their stories with passion and empathy. We must do so not to wallow in the misery of the past but to learn from it.

When I speak in Germany to high school students I always say, “Wir können die Vergangenheit nicht ungeschehen machen, aber wir können gemeinsam an einer besseren Zukunft arbeiten. “We cannot undo the past, but the future is ours to shape!”

Yes, we of the second generation must do our best to tell the story, but the next decades will fly by quickly and soon, we will be gone as well.

When that time nears I hope others will find effective ways to teach a new generation to learn the lessons of the past in order to shape a better future. I pray that others will find ways to answer George Jones’ question: “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”

 

To Thwart God’s Wrath

In his wonderful book, Ten Sheaves, Rabbi Paul J. Citrin reminds us:

“Idolatry is more than the worship of a statue” (p. 117).

It is a vital lesson to remember as we read the retelling of the incident of the Golden calf in Ekev, this Shabbat’s Torah portion.

My revered Bible professor Chanan Brichto repeatedly reminded us:

“Idol worship is selfishness and greed. It is a failure to live up to God’s ideals of justice, righteousness, concern for others less fortunate than we.”

In this week’s reading, after an eloquent recitation of all God had done for the people and God’s hopes for their future, the Torah retells the heartbreaking story of their great apostasy.

After God freed them from slavery and brought them to Mount Sinai where they received the charge to be examples of God’s values to the world, the sin the Children of Israel committed was far worse than “worship of a statue.”

Indeed the Israelites rejected the Ten Commandments, which they had just received, and all for which God stands.

God is so furious that the Eternal One threatens to destroy the people. Bravely, Moses–in what arguably is his greatest moment–restrains the Eternal One.

And so begins the arduous forty-year journey of instructing the newly freed slaves in what God wants from them.

Three thousand plus years later we are still trying to assimilate those values.

Learning not to worship statues has been relatively easy. But learning to create the just, caring and compassionate society God wants has proved more elusive.

Thanks to Moses for convincing God not to give up on us, and thanks to God for holding back the Divine wrath we deserved.

But after all this time God’s patience must be wearing thin at how little progress we have made.

Scientists may scoff at me, but I advise us all to view the despoliation of our environment and the increase we have witnessed in natural disasters around the globe as a sign of God’s displeasure.

What can we do? Small things.

  • Stop and talk to the guy on the street with a sign asking for change and a beaten down look on his face.
  • Give him a dollar or two. You won’t miss it.
  • Volunteer to tutor a child struggling to learn to read.
  • Contribute to a local food bank.

The list is endless.

Change begins with each of us, and each of us can, like Moses, forestall God’s wrath by turning from idol worship.

But we can do more!

By performing small acts of kindness and compassion we can evoke God’s pleasure!

Wow!