Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810, Ukraine) tells the story of a wise king who told his prime minister, “I see in the stars that everyone who eats from this year’s grain harvest is going to go mad. What do you think we should do?”
The prime minister suggested they put aside a stock of good grain so they wouldn’t have to eat from the tainted grain.
“But it’ll be impossible to set aside enough good grain for everyone,” the king objected. “And if we put away a stock for just the two of us, we’ll be the only ones who will be sane. Everyone else will be mad, and they’ll look at us and think that we’re the mad ones. No. We too will have to eat from this year’s grain. But we’ll both put a sign on our heads. I’ll look at your forehead, and you’ll look at mine. And when we see the sign, at least we’ll remember that we are mad.” (Source – Sipurim Niflaim)
This story describes well what can happen to normal people who are assaulted constantly by the tainted grain of stupidity, ignorance, incompetence, and cruelty. They either assume these qualities themselves, or to protect themselves, they disengage and become indifferent to truth, competence, and human kindness.
I’ve thought often of Rebbe Nachman’s story these last 3 plus years of Trump’s presidency. The story suggests the only way that we can understand why Trump’s political base continues to support him and perpetuates his ignorance, denial of truth, and immorality.
Thankfully, the mainstream media, many of our nation’s governors and mayors, scientists, and health care professionals are telling the truth about Covid19, and we are able to witness the goodness, kindness, courage, and decency of so many everyday Americans, most especially those on the front lines helping the sick and dying. That’s the good news, that most Americans did not eat the tainted grain, that as a nation we remain compassionate not only to those we know among our family and friends, but of others.
This Saturday is considered one of the two most important Sabbaths in the Jewish calendar cycle – the other is the Sabbath that falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur known as Shabbat Teshuvah (“Sabbath of Repentance”).
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Hagadol – the “Great Sabbath” – as it comes just before we celebrate Passover, a holiday that focuses our people’s attention on the importance of human freedom and the virtue of nurturing compassion in our ourselves and in the hearts of our children.
The Jewish people are traditionally called rachmanim b’nai rachmanim – compassionate children of compassionate parents – and so we are taught to care not only about each other, our families, and our people, but all people. That is who we are. And that is who Americans are. Thus, no tainted grain ought to corrupt us.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach.