The Blame Game
This week’s Torah reading continues with the lengthy speech Moshe gave to the Israelites before he passed away. It begins by simply stating…
“Re’eh”, Look! I set before you today a Blessing and a Curse: The Blessing if you will listen to and follow the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today. Or the Curse, if you will not follow and listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day.
Moshe is giving the Jewish people a simple choice – go with God and win, or abandon Him and lose. Free choice. Nothing more and nothing less. It’s in our hands.
Free choice and its cousin, Responsibility are one of the hardest things for humans to live with. From the very beginning, with the creation of Man, playing the blame game has been part of the human condition. When Adam was confronted with the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, of which he was explicitly told to keep away from, he punted his problem back into God’s lap and said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from that tree and I ate it.” Implying, it is really Your fault, God. You were the one who gave me this troublemaker that led to our downfall.
Things did not fare much better in the next generation either when Cain killed his brother Abel. Again, when confronted about it by God, he also did not accept responsibility for his actions and even feigned ignorance of the whole matter with the infamous line of, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Things have gone downhill ever since. We live in a society which worships the victim who seemingly has no free choice. Gone is the notion that “The fault (dear Brutus) is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” People no longer make bad moral choices but instead we call them illnesses – diseases like cancer of which we have no control. We are all victims who wish to blame someone or something else for our failings.
It’s the wealthy 1% who keep me down and prevent me from succeeding. Israel is still blamed in many circles as the main problem in the Middle East. The decimated economy and life in Venezuela, despite having the largest oil reserves in the world – yes, even more than Saudi Arabia – isn’t related to failed Chavista socialist policies and the idiotic and evil decisions of his lackey successor, Maduro but instead is a plot by American designs. The Palestinians are victims and have been for over 70 years, even though all other victims of national injustices have managed to move on, such as post-Holocaust Jews or Jews of Arab lands who lost everything in 1948 but have managed to recreate their lives. No Ashkenzi or Sephardi Jew holds onto the key from his home in Poland or Iraq from two generations ago like the Palestinians still do. We have moved on and made new and better homes.
College students need safe spaces from horrors such as when someone a few years back wrote “Trump 2016” in chalk on steps at Emory that created such great consternation that the university president declared that, “During our conversation, they (the students) voiced their genuine concern and pain in the face of this perceived intimidation.”
Victims, all of them; none with the choice or ability to improve their lot without the efforts of some outside party, be it the government or the UN or Bernie Sanders bearing promises to forgive college loans.
And when we look to the so-called leaders, the politicians, we see that most of the time they get themselves in trouble, not over their failings (for all of us have failings) but for their denials, obfuscations and cover ups. Anything except taking responsibility for their deeds and saying that they actually were wrong about something. As parents we all know that our children make mistakes and do wrong things and we can live with that. What we cannot live with is their inability to fess up to the wrongs they have committed.
I remember feeling this deeply a number of years ago when we bought a new bedroom set for the girls room and one of our kids decided to carve his name into the wooden sideboard of one of the beds. When confronted about it, he totally denied doing it. He was quite young at the time and did not think that leaving his own name in the wood would be incriminating evidence. Nevertheless he kept denying it over and over despite pointing out to him that it was his name right there in front of us. Raising the possibility that maybe someone else wrote his name and framed him, we then took a writing sample of all the kids to see whose would best match the etchings – and it still came out to be him. What I most recall during this episode, what bothered me more than anything was not the fact that the brand new Rooms To Go blanched wood bedroom set was marred, but that my son would not fess up to it. The destructive act wasn’t the issue, his denial of it was.
Rabbi Weinberg zt”l used to say that one of the most difficult things in life is to take responsibility for one self. This is the difference between being a great person and a mediocrity, between being an adult and a child. Think of some of the people whom you most admire. Now think of why you admire them. Time and again you will find that it is those people who did what they knew they had to do despite the difficulties and challenges they faced. And they did it quietly and consistently and didn’t look for excuses.
Our parents or grandparents generation, who faced all kinds of trials and tribulations, didn’t complain but merely went about their business without fanfare, Facebook postings or complaints. We never heard them talking about being “slammed”, their lives were never “crazy” and things were never “insane”; the frequent lingo heard today that didn’t exist 40 years ago. The women had children and didn’t think that theirs were the first children ever born in the history of mankind, finding it necessary to blog and post about every detail. I never heard my father talk about what “a nightmare traffic was” as he sat in his non air-conditioned car with no phone service, no heated leather seats with lumbar support, Sirius XM radio or tinted windows. On second thought, he probably didn’t run into traffic because he got up at 4 am to go to work – which he also never complained about or blamed anyone for.
Blame, blame, blame… complain, complain, complain – it is the hallmark of our day and age. We live in the easiest and most magical times in all of history with all kinds of conveniences literally at our fingertips, but we make it sound like we live in the dark ages surrounded by plagues.
Moshe gives us a simple solution to life and how to succeed at it. You want blessings? Follow God’s ways of Wisdom, Truth and Goodness. Not to is to invite Curses into your life. But more important than any of this are Moshe’s initial words, “Look, I set before you today” – it is placed right in front of our eyes and in our own laps right there in front of us. We have the power to choose, to make our own choices, to define our own fate and create our own lives to go in one direction or another. We just need to “Re’eh” Look! – and see that is totally up to us.
Blame is better to give than receive….
There are those who think
That they were dealt a losing hand
The cards were stacked against them…
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill