A Smile Makes the World Go Around
More than forty years ago, a Chicago traffic court judge offered me the choice of paying a fine for some minor traffic violation or watching a movie. I chose the movie.
I suspect that the short cartoon that I watched did not come straight from the animation department at Disney Studios. Nevertheless its message found its way into my subliminal consciousness from which it resurfaces from time to time.
That message: One person's traffic courtesy begets the next person's. For example, if you allow someone to merge in front of you without hassle, the good feelings generated by your generosity will prompt the driver you let in to act in a similar fashion to another driver. Soon the highway will be filled with smiling drivers each trying to make life as easy as possible for the next driver. Needless to say, traffic flows freely.
Last week, I had occasion to think back to that cartoon. I was stopped at a light on Rechov Hertzl when a motorcycle pulled in front of me and turned perpendicular to my hood. The motorcyclist motioned to me to pull forward, which I did gingerly since I had absolutely no idea what he wanted. He signaled again, and as I came nearly in contact with him, he reached over and slammed down my hood, which had become partially unlatched.
I waved and smiled broadly. I was in one of the two left-hand lanes, and he turned his motorcycle around and sped off for the far right lane.
I noticed nothing to indicate that the motorcyclist was religious – no tzitzis hanging down. And if he was sharp-sighted enough to pick up the problem with my hood as he passed by, he surely could not have missed the large black velvet kippah on my head.
I actually hope he was not religious (at least as of that moment) because it gave me so much pleasure thinking that a non-religious Jew had gone out of his way to help a religious one. I was filled with a warm feeling and a great desire to find some stranger or another driver for whom I could do something nice.
That's when I thought back to that traffic court cartoon, and its message that we are each capable of triggering a wave of positivity with small gestures. Perhaps I am naïve, but it seems to me that this is a lesson that the Torah community has to take to heart and embrace.
Taking care to smile at others, to act courteously – occasionally lifnei meshuras hadin – and to be on the alert for opportunities to lend a helping hand have the potential to dramatically change perceptions of Torah Jews, and inevitably of the Torah that shapes them.
And it is easy to do. Usually easier than it was for that motorcyclist to divert from his path to make sure my hood did not flip up completely while driving. Not only must we all attune ourselves to thinking in this fashion, but teach it to our children as well.
Last week was not a good one for Hillary Clinton, with news reports that the FBI has 150 agents currently investigating her and her staff's handling of classified material when she served as secretary of state, and also possible corruption arising from the relationship between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation. Were the Clinton's running a "pay to play" shakedown operation, where governments and companies needing favorable rulings from the State Department offered enormous speaking fees to Bill Clinton or donations to the Clinton Foundation? (Even as one whose livelihood derives at least in part from public speaking, I'm hard-pressed to imagine how any speech could be worth $500,000 except as a covert bribe.)
But I prefer to focus on two other recent developments connected to the release of Hillary's emails as secretary of state.
Clinton has long been seen as the embodiment of the old saw: How do you know when a politician is lying? When his or her lips move. Actually, her strained relationship with the truth long precedes her political career. She was fired from her first post-law school job on the Watergate Committee for unethical behavior by her Democrat boss.
More than twenty years ago, William Safire wrote that Americans of all political persuasions are concluding that the First Lady is a "congenital liar," and spelled out in detail their reasons for doing so. She lies when she has to – e.g. about her 10,000 per cent profits trading in cattle futures (only slightly less likely than your chance of winning the next Powerball drawing) – and when she doesn't – e.g., misremembering landing under sniper fire in Bosnia, when, in fact, she was greeted by a flower girl or claiming to be named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who scaled Mt. Everest five years after her birth.
One recent lie, however, while not criminal, is particularly ugly. She flatly contradicted the testimony of three family members of those killed in Benghazi that she told them at a memorial service for the victims that Benghazi was caused by a video trailer offensive to Muslims and the filmmaker would be prosecuted.
When challenged in a New Hampshire interview as to who was lying, she replied, "All I can tell you is – not me." Of course she was careful to try to avoid calling the bereaved family member liars by pointing out that everyone was highly emotional and tears were flowing freely. But it is hard to imagine how any amount of tears could cause three people to independently conjure up Hillary telling them in separate conversations that the film trailer was responsible.
In this case, we need not rely on the testimony of three witnesses against one. Nor even on Clinton's unbroken record for lying: Every single statement she made at her first press conference after the State Department email scandal broke has been proven to be untrue.
Charles Woods, the father of slain Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, told reporters immediately after the memorial service that Secretary of State Clinton had told him that the filmmaker responsible for the film trailer would be arrested and prosecuted (as he was.) The statement was widely reported and commented on at the time. Yet in the more than three years from that time, Clinton never attempted to set the record state or contradict him.
Why now, then? Elementary, my dear Watson. Because in the House Benghazi hearings, Hillary was confronted with an email to her daughter Chelsea the night of the attack in which stated explicitly that it was a terrorist operation. Moreover, State Department records showed her saying the same thing to the Egyptian ambassador the next day. Only after those hearings, then, did Hillary have a need to contradict the claims of the bereaved family members or be viewed as having told them a bald-faced lie with the coffins of their loved ones before them.
Ultimately, the American voters will have to decide whether Mrs. Clinton's lifelong lack of probity disqualifies her for the presidency, though it is hard to see how she could ever be granted security clearance given what is known of her handling of classified emails as secretary of state or serve as president without such clearance.
But the latest State Department dump of Mrs. Clinton's emails raised specific concerns for voters wary of her stance towards Israel. We have written previously of emails from long-time Clinton family consigliere Sidney Blumenthal to Hillary, in which he proudly sent along his son Max's latest rantings against Israel whose end he calls for.
Worse by far, however, was an email from former ambassador to Israel Thomas Pickering in which he suggests using non-governmental NGOs to foment demonstrations by Palestinian women against the Israeli government. American fingerprints should be carefully wiped from this operation, Pickering counselled.
Pickering was appointed to head the State Department's Accountability Review Board of Benghazi, and managed to file a report without ever seeking the testimony of Secretary of State Clinton, Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who has testified to Congress that Benghazi was on HIGH alert and only the Secretary of State had the authority to permit Ambassador Chris Stevens to remain there, or the Libyan Embassy's second-in-command Gregory Hicks, who has testified that there was no question from the beginning that the Benghazi attack was a planned terror operation. Pickering, then, is clearly a trusted Clinton family factotum.
The goal of the Pickering memo has been reported as designed to force Israel back to the negotiating table. But that would have been unnecessary. Israel never resisted the negotiating table and even instituted a 10-month settlement freeze to encourage the Palestinians to come forward. But Abbas held to the strategy he outlined to the editorial board of the Washington Post on his first visit to President Obama: Avoid face-to-face negotiations with Israel and rely on American pressure.
And that was precisely Pickering's purpose -- to pressure Israel to offer concessions to Abbas that he could "live with" in a final settlement. But even the far more popular Arafat told President Clinton at Camp David that acceptance of Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer would make him a dead man walking.
While I doubt there is any final end to the conflict agreement to which the Palestinians could agree, at the very least one which Abbas could live with would have gone far beyond that which Arafat rejected at Camp David. And Barak's offer at Camp David was already far beyond the Israeli consensus, even before the lessons of the Gaza withdrawal and the breakdown of every state on Israel's borders. Pickering was basically talking about forcing Israel into a suicide pact.
A memo from Anne-Marie Slaughter, the State Department's Director of Policy Planning suggested that the Clinton's mobilize their vast network of millionaires and billionaires to take a "Pledge for Palestine," and thereby shame Israel into a cessation of settlement building, including presumably within sections of Jerusalem beyond the 1949 armistice lines. "I'm very interested – pls. flesh out. Thx.," Clinton replied.
The senders of these memos were Clinton intimates, with a clear grasp on her policy goals and what she wanted to achieve. If these are the memos they were sending her, Israel should look for no relief from the transition from the administration of Barack Obama to that of Hillary Clinton.