Monday, June 24, 2013

If Prophet Micha and Malcolm Gladwell (author of Outliers) Would Meet

If Prophet Micha and Malcolm Gladwell (author of Outliers) Would Meet This past Shabbat we read from the prophet Micha in our Haftarah for Parshat Balak. In Micha 5.6 – 6.8, the prophet tells us that we will arise successfully over every adversary that ever tries to push us down, clearly the message of what Balak tried to do to Israel through his emissary, Balaam. On the surface of this story Balak sends Balaam to curse the Jewish nation and of course instead we get these beautiful uplifting words of Mah Tovu (BaMidbar 24.5) that we all say as we enter our Batei Kneset/synagogues: “How goodly are your tents oh Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”. It’s a nice story and it warms the heard of every five year old and their great-grand parents. BUT, claims, Gladwell, not so fast! Let’s look carefully at this story. Maybe Balaam was a prophet with a conscious or one who was scared by the solidarity and sense of purpose he observed, perhaps not so familiar to him from his own people and experience. The people of Israel WERE in fact dwelling and working and cooperating together. To be sure, they must have been of different personalities and characteristics, but they were invested in each other. Just as the group of people that Gladwell opens his book Outliers with, namely the Rosetans of Pennsylvania, originally from Roseto Valfortore in the Alpennine foothills of Foggia, Italy. This group of people intrigued ethnographers and Gladwell himself as they were generally and significantly healthier and more successful in living their lives than other people and other communities. This group was relatively small and obscure but did not suffer from the diseases that plagued other people and generally were doing well. So what was the secret to their success? Their genetic markers were studied with no hints yielded. Their diet was examined—don’t ask, -- lard was used plentifully. So clearly, that did not explain anything. Location? From foothills to obscure location in Pennsylvania – nothing compelling here! So after much study and observation the secret was found. And here is the secret in Gladwell’s words: As the ethnographers, Bruhn and Wolf were studying this people they walked around town. “They looked at how the Rosetans visited one another, stopping to chat in Italian on the street, say, or cooking for one another in their backyards. They learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town’s social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded. They went to mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted twenty two separate civic organizations in a town of just under two thousand people.” I suspect Balaam might have said, if he had seen this, “How goodly are your tents oh Rosetans, your dwelling places , people of Roseto.” In other words, these people were not living under the magic earned spell of peace, they were creating it day by day, action by action. THIS was what earned them their health and happiness. Now, let us return to the prophet Micha for a moment. This Haftarah begins with what many people find problematic, the notion that Israel will prevail over all enemies and peoples that confront her. This will occur with G-d’s help and presence. Some people find this ethnocentric and question Israel’s part in such an unearned legacy. BUT WAIT!!!! IT IS EVERY BIT EARNED! Let’s skip to the end of this Haftarah, after we read how Israel will indeed preserve itself and succeed in the fact of enemies and challenges to its existence. In Micha 6.8, we read as follows: “O man, what is good and what does HaShem seek from you: only the performance of justice, the love of kindness, and walking humbly with your G-d.” Rosetans, YOU WIN YOUR PEACE!!!! You are doing these things. Rosetans, I would like to introduce you to the B’Nai Yisrael. They (or we) too visit each other, care for each other, meet in synagogue, chat with each other on the streets, have more civic organizations than people sometimes, and just generally care genuinely about each other. Well, anyway, that must be what Balaam saw!

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