Set his teeth on edge
Why did Goldstone Recant?
I'd don't know what made Richard Goldstone issue last week's mealy-mouthed retraction of the central finding of the eponymously named Goldstone Report, just as I don't know what led the respected jurist, with a Zionist background, to put a Jewish imprimatur on an investigation of Israel's actions in Operation Cast Lead by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Goldstone admits in his Washington Post retraction that the UNHRC is undeniably biased against Israel, and that the commission's original mandate assumed, prior to investigation, that Israel had committed war crimes. Each of Goldstone's fellow panelists had long records of anti-Israel statements and at least one of them had publicly condemned Israeli "war crimes" prior to the investigation.
But one thing I know for sure: The answer to the first question is not, as Goldstone claims, that he suddenly discovered new evidence proving that Israel did not "deliberately [engage in] disproportionate attacks designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize [Gaza's] civilian population." Goldstone cites Israel's 400 investigations of alleged operational misconduct in Gaza as important new information. But if he once believed Israel capable of deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians in Gaza, why should he put any faith in Israel's investigations of its soldiers' alleged misconduct.
Goldstone claims that in the absence of Israeli participation in his panel's investigation there was "no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion" other than that Israel had set out to kill civilians. That's nonsense. Goldstone knew of the thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza over a three year period, and of Israel's great restraint in the face of those rocket attacks. He knew that those rockets were manufactured and launched from amongst Gaza's civilian population. And he further knew that he had no answer for former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Dr. Dore Gold, when the latter challenged him in a debate at Brandeis University to specify how Israel could have defended its citizens from rocket attack without going after Hamas and other terrorists using the civilian population as a defensive shield.
Further he knew of the Palestinians' penchant for exaggerating civilian casualties. For instance, the 52 Palestinians killed in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield (according to a subsequent UN fact-finding report), at least half of whom were fighters, became the deliberate massacre of 5,000 civilians in Palestinian propaganda and a complicit European press. (In his Post piece Goldstone acknowledges that Hamas has now confirmed Israel's claim that the overwhelming majority of casualties in Gaza were combatants.)
Goldstone knew of Israel's unparalleled efforts to protect enemy civilians, and of how 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in Jenin in a booby-trapped house that every other army in the world would have leveled at a safe distance. His panel heard Col. Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, and someone with as great experience in asymmetric warfare as any man alive, testify that no nation in the world goes to such lengths to avoid casualties against an enemy hiding behind civilians as Israel.
So if Goldstone changed his mind now, it had nothing to do with new facts before him. Perhaps the man who once relished the praise heaped on him by a world eager to hear the worst about Israel, and who allowed himself to be squired around Capitol Hill by the odious J Street to trumpet his findings, discovered there is a cost to be paid for selling one's soul.
The South African Jewish community, in which he grew up, debated long and hard whether to allow him to even participate in his grandson's bar mitzvah. Maybe he couldn't get a Seder invitation. Sometimes, as the Haggadah teaches us, the only hope of bringing the evil son back into the fold is to "set his teeth on edge" by refusing to address him directly.
No Diamond Ring for the Kallah
I have an acquaintance with whom I never exchange small talk. But three times in the last few years, I have given him a ride some place, and we have ended up talking for an hour or more. This week's subject was shidduchim, and he told me two stories that I think are worth sharing.
The first involves his mother's wedding ring. When his parents became engaged, his mother's father told her, "You are marrying a kli kodesh. His family doesn't have money for a diamond ring. So even if he offers a diamond ring, you are not to accept it." (She eventually received a diamond ring around fifty years later, around the time a son was marrying off his third child.)
The grandfather's point was that marrying a kli kodesh – the chassan had taken a rabbinical position in upstate New York as a bochur – meant making sacrifices. If his daughter was not prepared for those sacrifices, then she should not marry someone in rabbonus. A ben Torah, in short, is not just another bauble that one receives along with the jewelry that usually accompanies engagement. And being the wife of a ben Torah carries with it – or should – a whole set of implications about how one dresses, conducts oneself, and one's aspirations in life.
Next my friend told me a story from his own engagement. Prior to the engagement, he and his parents travelled to meet his kallah's parents. Before the parents met, my friend told his parents, "I don't want you to ask for anything from her parents – no demands, no discussions of money. I'm sure they are the kind of people who will do whatever they can to help their daughter."
At first, I thought he was just telling me what a romantic he had been, determined to marry the girl of his dreams, even if she were penniless. But he explained to me that was not his point. Rather he did not want there to be in his relationship with his new in-laws any trace of demands, of "its coming to me" because I'm a top bochur (which he unquestionably was). In short, he did not want to enter a relationship based as a taker.
Freedom from the Yetzer
As we burn our chometz on Erev Pesach, most of us recite a brief "Yehi Ratzon" beseeching Hashem to also help us burn the chometz within – the "se'or she'b'isa" that constitutes our yetzer hara. As the Mesilas Yesharim repeatedly informs us, we all need to develop stratagems for besting our yetzer, and, in that vein, I offer some scientific research on well-being.
A recent Wall Street Journal article by Shirley Wang ("Is Happiness Overrated?" March 15) details the different impact on our overall well-being of fun activities and those that provide us with a sense of purpose. The effect of fun activities tends to be short-lived and leave no lasting impact. Not only do hedonistic pleasures do little to increase overall well-being, but their pursuit often leaves people depressed as they constantly worry whether they are having as much fun as much as the next person.
A statistical review in Clinical Psychology Review finds that from 1938 to 2007 each successive generation of college students has reported higher rates of depression, paranoia, and psychopathology than the one before it. That trend, the authors note, corresponds to an ever greater emphasis on materialism and the status associated with wealth, and a decline in the importance attached to community and meaning in life.
But it is the feeling of purpose in life – a long-term state, not tied to specific events – that has the greatest impact on one's overall well-being. Those activities that contribute most to that sense of purpose – e.g., work that is intrinsically rewarding, child-raising, volunteering – need not be pleasurable on a day-to-day basis, and almost always involve some element of delaying gratification towards a long-range goal.
One study of 1,000 elderly patients (mean age 80) found that those with a greater feeling of purpose in life were less than half as likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease and 57% less likely to die over a five-year period. And another study tracking 7,000 individuals from middle-age to old age determined that individuals with a higher sense of purpose and fulfillment have lower levels of blood markers associated with cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer's.
We will be exploring the implications of this research in coming weeks.