Thursday, March 7, 2019


NYT - The Real Victims of Victimhood
Dec. 26, 2015
…“Victimhood culture” has now been identified as a widening phenomenon by mainstream sociologists…
So who cares if we are becoming a culture of victimhood? We all should. To begin with, victimhood makes it more and more difficult for us to resolve political and social conflicts. The culture feeds a mentality that crowds out a necessary give and take — the very concept of good-faith disagreement — turning every policy difference into a pitched battle between good (us) and evil (them).
Consider a 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which examined why opposing groups, including Democrats and Republicans, found compromise so difficult. The researchers concluded that there was a widespread political “motive attribution asymmetry,” in which both sides attributed their own group’s aggressive behavior to love, but the opposite side’s to hatred. Today, millions of Americans believe that their side is basically benevolent while the other side is evil and out to get them.
Second, victimhood culture makes for worse citizens — people who are less helpful, more entitled, and more selfish. In 2010, four social psychologists from Stanford University published an article titled “Victim Entitlement to Behave Selfishly” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers randomly assigned 104 human subjects to two groups.
Members of one group were prompted to write a short essay about a time when they felt bored; the other to write about “a time when your life seemed unfair. Perhaps you felt wronged or slighted by someone.” After writing the essay, the participants were interviewed and asked if they wanted to help the scholars in a simple, easy task.
The results were stark. Those who wrote the essays about being wronged were 26 percent less likely to help the researchers, and were rated by the researchers as feeling 13 percent more entitled.
In a separate experiment, the researchers found that members of the unfairness group were 11 percent more likely to express selfish attitudes. In a comical and telling aside, the researchers noted that the victims were more likely than the nonvictims to leave trash behind on the desks and to steal the experimenters’ pens.
Does this mean that we should reject all claims that people are victims? Of course not. Some people are indeed victims in America — of crime, discrimination or deprivation. They deserve our empathy and require justice.
The problem is that the line is fuzzy between fighting for victimized people and promoting a victimhood culture. Where does the former stop and the latter start?...

“When the month of Adar enters, we increase joy.”[2]
The joy of Adar is rooted in the fact that at the time of the malicious and nefarious decree of Haman, the nation did not succumb to melancholy or terror. They did not lose their composure and collapse. They rallied behind Mordechai and Esther and rose to the occasion to create the incredible outcome which we celebrate on Purim.
One of the greatest impediments to joy is having a victim mentality and feeling no control over his life.
The gemara[3] relates the story of Elazar ben Durdaya, a man who was swept away by temptation and became addicted to immoral pleasures. This was clearly demonstrated when he undertook a difficult journey and was willing to pay a high fee to be with a specific woman of ill repute.
At one point during their ‘meeting’, the woman blurted out that Elazar would never be able to repent for his sinful indulgent ways[4]. Elazar ben Durdaya was so shaken by her words that he left her and sought to repent. The gemara recounts in detail his ‘teshuva process’ which entailed calling out to various natural forces to come to his aid.
The commentaries explain that when Elazar ben Durdaya appealed to the forces of nature, it was actually his way of attempting to shift the blame.
The Hebrew word for mountain, harim, is similar to the word horim, parents. Elazar ben Durdaya sought to blame his parents for his sinful lifestyle. He reasoned that it was obviously a deficiency in the way they raised him that caused him to seek pleasure in sinful manners.
When he realized that blaming his parents wouldn’t help him, he turned towards the heaven and earth. The heaven is symbolic of the generation’s spiritual leaders. Elazar ben Durdaya pointed to his teachers as the source of his problems.  If only they had understood me better… If only they were better educators… If only they knew how to relate to me better…
The earth represented his environment, which included his friends and social milieu. He sought to blame their negative influence for who he became.
Then he turned towards the sun and the moon, representing the glamour of society. There were too many immoral attractions luring me. What can be expected of a person living in a world which venerates money and pleasure?   
Lastly, he turned towards the stars and the constellations. He declared that he was not able to control his lustful tendencies because he was born under the wrong star. He was destined to be who he became and there was nothing he could have done to change it.
When Elazar realized that none of his excuses were valid justifications, he finally came to the correct conclusion that his destiny and choices were his alone. At that point he broke down and wept declaring, “the matter is only dependent upon me”. He continued to cry until his soul left him.
Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya[5] merited achieving complete repentance in his last moments on earth, when he took responsibility for himself, and stopped blaming everything and everyone else for his struggles and troubles.

During a Commencement address, delivered at Harvard in June 2008, noted author J.K. Rowling[6] discussed the challenges she faced to become a writer, despite her parents wishes that she pursues a different career path.
Rowling quipped, “I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticize my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticized only by fools.
“What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.”

 “They completed all of the service of the Mishkan, Tent of the Meeting, and B’nei Yisrael did like all that Hashem had commanded Moshe, so they did.”[7]
What is the reason for the Torah’s glaring redundancy in saying “so they did”?  
Th Chasam Sofer explains that until the Mishkan was completed, the Avodah was performed by the firstborn of each family[8]. As soon as the Mishkan was erected and initiated, the Avodah was transferred to the Kohanim and Leviim. It would be understandable for the nation to be pained by the loss of the service from a member of each family, just as Korach complained about his not being appointed to a higher level of authority.
The pasuk is revealing that although “all of the service of the Mishkan was completed” which meant that the service was permanently removed from the firstborn of each family, nonetheless, “like all that Hashem had commanded Moshe, so they did.” Just as Moshe rejoiced in his special opportunity to perform the duties of the Kohain Gadol for seven days[9], so did the B’nai Yisrael rejoice in the initiation of the Mishkan, despite the personal loss that it entailed.

In March 11, 2016, Yisrael Kristal was officially named the world's oldest living man by the Guinness World Records. At the time, Kristal was 112 years, 178 days old.
Kristal, a religious Jew, lived through both world wars and survived Auschwitz. In an interview he said, "I don't know the secret for long life. I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why.
"There have been smarter, stronger and better-looking men then me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost."
Kristal was born to near the town of Zarnow in Poland in 1903 – the year Stalin joined the Bolsheviks in Czarist Russia, Ford produced its first car and King Edward VII was made British Emperor of India.
He survived the First World War after becoming separated from his parents when he was just 11. In 1920 he moved to Łódź in Poland to work in his family confectionery business. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland and the occupation of Łódź, Kristal was forced into the Łódź ghetto with his family in 1939.
Four years later he was sent to Auschwitz. Kristal lost his wife, Chaja Feige Frucht, and their two children in the Holocaust.
Kristal himself survived, performing back-breaking slave labor in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. He was rescued from the brink of death by the Allies in May 1945, weighing only 37 kilos.
A sole survivor of a large family, he emigrated in 1950 to the city of Haifa in Israel with his second wife and their son. Since that time, Kristal continued to grow both his family and his successful confectionery business until his retirement.
Kristal never had a bar mitzvah, due to the hardships of the First World War. However, he has never missed a day of wearing tefillin, with the exception of the Holocaust and the first world war.
After being crowned the world's oldest man, Japan's Koide credited his longevity to[10] abstinence from alcohol and cigarettes. But in a 2012 interview for Haaretz, Kristal gave no such advice, instead saying: "It's no great bargain. Everyone has their own good fortune. It's from heaven. There are no secrets."
His daughter, Shula Kuperstoch, told The Jerusalem Post that her father has kept his faith throughout his life, adding: "The Holocaust did not affect his beliefs. My father is someone who is always happy. He is optimistic, wise, and he values what he has.
"His attitude to life is everything in moderation. He eats and sleeps moderately and says that a person should always be in control of their own life and not have their life control them, as far as this is possible.
"He believes he was saved because that's what G-d wanted. He is not an angry person, he is not someone who seeks to an accounting, he believes everything has a reason in the world."

Life inevitably presents us with challenges that are often incomprehensible and overwhelming. The difference between someone who grows from such experiences and someone who becomes paralyzed and stymied, is often based on their perspective – do they fall into a victim mentality or are they able to embrace the challenges despite the pain.
Many people live their lives blaming everyone else for their shortcomings, circumstances, and struggles. The truth is that in many situations they may very well be right.  But such an attitude and perspective ensure that they will never transcend those impediments.
The most inspiring people are those who have all the excuses in the world, and yet somehow pushed past their limitations and achieved any level of success and greatness. The survivors of any trauma who not only don’t allow themselves to wallow in the pain of their past, but even utilize their terrible circumstances to help others and grow from their painful experiences.  
The completion of the mishkan was celebrated with great excitement and devotion, despite the personal loss it presented to the nation. That is also why Purim is a holiday of such intense external joy. In the face of the greatest danger our ancestors ever faced since the inception of our nationhood, they rose to the occasion and refused to allow themselves to wallow in self-pity.
Purim is a celebration of a nation that transcended a traumatic experience and used it to become greater and better people.   

“The matter is dependent only upon me”
“They completed the service of the Mishkan… so they did”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Pekudei 5776
[2] Ta’anis 29
[3] Avoda Zara 17a
[4] This was part of her tactic to lure him into enjoying the experience. She reasoned that since he anyway would never be able to rectify his wrongs, and he had already sunk so low, he might as well allow himself to become completely swept away in this sin. This is part of the lie our evil inclination tells us constantly. That is why the gemara makes it a point t relate this detail. The greatness of the story is that Elazar ben Durdaya did not succumb to her tactic, and in fact the opposite occurred, as it stirred his latent soul and moved him to want to rectify his ways.
[5] Because he repented, he merited being called Rabbi in the gemara
[6] Author of the Harry Potter series; Rowling’s story is one of rags to riches, complete obscurity to great fame
[7] Shemos 39:32
[8] See Zevachim 112b
[9] During the seven days of ‘Milu’im’, the seven days of preparation before the first day of Nissan when the avodah of the Mishkan began in earnest with Aharon as the Koahin Gadol and his sons as the Kohanim, Moshe performed the duties of the Kohain Gadol.
[10] Sadly, Yisrael Kristal passed away in August 2017 at the age of 113.


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