Yaakov Gruenstein


The Laura Walker In Us All

Some people look at me funny when I mention WNYC as my preferred news station. I can’t say I agree with everything they broadcast, but I do find them to be informative and engaging.

You can imagine, then, how shocked — or unfortunately not so shocked — I was when WNYC joined the “me too” storm alleging sexual allegations against the legendary John Hockenberry. Mr. Hockenberry was the co-founder and host of The Takeaway on WNYC for nearly a decade.

Leaving my office at LIU Post, I heard that Laura Walker, the president and CEO of New York Public Radio, was scheduled to be on the Brian Lehrer show to discuss the station’s response to the sexual misconduct and bullying allegations against John Hockenberry. As I drove to Hillwood Commons for common hour, I listened as Brain Lehrer grilled Laura Walker. I lingered in the car listening to how uncomfortable Laura Walker seemed.

I couldn’t help but sense that Ms. Walker deeply regretted her handling of the allegations, and would have acted differently had she known she would be required to come on air with Brian Lehrer to explain and defend her response to these allegations.

I started thinking to myself: How often do we all act like Ms. Walker? How often do we rationalize our ways of acting and living?

We, as human beings, are very resourceful when it comes to excusing our own actions. We all have a conscience, and we either spend time being honest with ourselves or we spend time denying our own truths.

In his amazing book The Path of the Just, the Kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (1707-1746) spends four entire chapters on exactly this point. He explains how a lack of time contemplating and monitoring our actions to determine whether they are good or not puts us in grave danger of acting in ways we would not want to be remembered. He says we are like a blind person walking on the edge of a cliff.

In other words, we are virtually certain to stumble.

We all have cravings for honor and wealth. We are all very concerned about our social standing and reputation. This leads us to rationalize our actions to reach these “lofty” goals. ‘

Perhaps a good litmus test when looking at how we act is to ask ourselves “How would I act if this was a ‘me too’ campaign?” “How would I act if I knew there were investigative reporters uncovering everything I do?” “How would I act if my actions were to make it to the front page of The New York Times?”

It’s important to realize that one day we will stand in front of G-D, the King of all Kings, and we will give an accounting of our lives. There are no rationalizations in Heaven, and everything is on the table for all to see.

Do we want to be hemming and hawing like Laura Walker, or to be comfortable and confident in the ways we acted in life? When we look back and review our day, our week, and our year, do we see someone who spent their energies being honest with their conscience or burying it?

Lessons for Modern Life Found in Ancient Story of Hanukkah

We live in an amazing world. Technological advancements seen in the last 20 years have changed world dynamics. There is so much good will in the world, yet negativity exists as well.

Initially, we begin our lives as selfish babies and only focus on ourselves. Our world starts off so self- absorbed that we are not able to reciprocate any thanks to those taking care of our every need.

A goal in life is to evolve out of this egocentric state, and begin to focus on others. When we grow up in a world surrounded by instant gratification, it’s much harder to evolve into the person we are meant to be.

We used to go to the store to buy food, clothes, furniture, and toys. Today we have Amazon Prime, and life is always a click away. Walking to Blockbuster is a thing of the past. We once had to trek out to the movies, now we watch online.

It seems like a beautiful, easy, and happy life. What’s wrong?

Things that are truly important in life, are often not easily attainable. There’s no app to refine your character so you can have a loving relationship. Amazon “Alexa” is convenient, but it won’t teach how to acquire job satisfaction. Apple’s “Siri” is really sweet but can’t demonstrate how to live a meaningful life.

Author Simon Sinek explains that when kids grow up with instant gratification, it is nearly impossible for them to hone the skills needed to navigate lives that will definitely be filled with challenges, hardships, and bumps. When childhood has provided a life void of hard-earned gratification, and provided a false sense of success, it will be difficult for youths of the future to function in what we call the “real world.”

Dr. Angela Duckworth calls this phenomenon “Grit.” From the TED stage she describes grit as having the “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Having stamina and sticking with your future day in and day out, not just for a week not just for a month but for years; and working really hard to make that future a reality.”

The Story of Hanukah highlights the secret ingredient to live a meaningful life. During the time of the Second Holy Temple, the Syrian-Greek regime of Antiochus outlawed Jewish observance. Many Jews, called Hellenists, began to assimilate into the Greek culture. Thus began the deterioration of the foundation of Jewish life and practices.

A few courageous Jews, called Maccabees, openly revolted in the hills of Judea against this threat to Jewish existence. The Maccabees saw that Jewish tradition was in danger, and in the face of a seemingly impossible mission, fought to save the Jewish nation. They knew the secret to success. They knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Only after three years were they victorious.

We embody this lesson on Hanukkah by lighting one extra candle each night on the Menorah. We remind ourselves that when life throws curveballs, our job is to persevere, have grit, and climb that emotional mountain. Slowly but surely we will taste the sweet reward of success.

This Hanukkah, may we commemorate the enormous courage of the Maccabees, both physically and spiritually, and enrich our own personal lives one candle a time.

Happy Hanukkah!

Yaakov Gruenstein is the Campus Rabbi at LIU Post.