The Observant Jew
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
A Star on the World Stage
A friend of mine, also a writer, got into a bit of a tiff last week. He said something, there was a misunderstanding, and tempers flared. The big difference here was that the whole world was watching this unfold.
My friend’s name is Jake Turx. He writes for AMI magazine and just so happens to be the first Chasidish White House correspondent to my knowledge.
At a public press conference, he got up to ask a question. President Donald Trump was looking for a friendly face in the media. Apparently, the beard and yarmulke make Jake look friendly.
Jake began by saying that though others had accused Mr. Trump of anti-Semitism or racism, he had not heard people in the Orthodox Jewish community making those allegations. However, he wanted to know what the government would do about the uptick in Anti-Semitic threats since the November election.
Unfortunately, President Trump, used to hearing denigrating comments about himself from members of the press, understood Jake’s comment in the opposite way from which it was intended. He believed Jake was saying that he, Donald Trump, was anti-Semitic.
He got very emotional, and raised his voice. The press had a field day with it. In a matter of moments, news outlets around the world were talking about how the President yelled at this Jewish reporter.
That night, Jake was interviewed on television, one of dozens of interviews that would take place over the next few days. He was asked how he felt when he was yelled at by the President in public. He smiled, and said “I’m not sure I’m going to say what you want me to say.”
The interviewer recoiled and assured Jake that he had no preconceived notions. He wanted to know how Jake truly felt.
I may not have mentioned this before, but Jake Turx is a pretty smart guy. Let’s put this into perspective: He has an opportunity to lambaste the President of the United States. He doesn’t need to convince anyone that he’s right, because everyone saw what happened.
He could express his outrage at being treated shoddily and pointed out the shortcoming of the Commander-in-Chief who had jumped to a conclusion about what he was asking. As I said, Jake is a smart man, and that is not what he did.
Instead, he said, “I am hopeful. A President who is so against Anti-Semitism that it bothers him on a personal level to be accused of being Anti-Semitic makes me hopeful that he will work with our community to fight Anti-Semitism. “
Jake realized, I’m sure, that if he had taken that opportunity to stick it to the Donald, it would not only be the last time he was called on at a press conference, but would destroy the relationship they had built over the previous several years of his covering Mr. Trump’s campaign. He might have become a media sweetheart, but that would a fleeting benefit.
More than that, he has a tremendous respect for the office of the President. As the Torah tells us in Parshas Mishpatim, “A prince (or President) of your nation you shall not curse.” Even though that’s said about a Jew, the requisite respect applies to a wealthy person too, as we saw with Bava ben Buta and Herod in Bava Basra. That’s another reason not to bash President Trump.
Therefore, instead of focusing on the way he was hurt, or on trying to get sympathy for what he had gone through, he focused on the positive of the other person, in this case the POTUS.
Even though he had sympathetic ears waiting to hear him bash the President, perhaps rightly so, he opted not to do it. He realized that too much was at stake to give up his principles, disrespect the President, and ruin the relationship he had.
How much we could all learn from this. So many times, someone with whom we have a relationship will misunderstand what we say and lash out at us. They may be very hurtful, and we may feel betrayed. We may have sympathetic friends waiting to hear all the venom and pain we’re expressing. But what will we gain versus what we will lose?
By tearing apart the other person, ignoring what may have made him or her defensive and the fact that at the end of the day it was a misunderstanding, we may cause irreparable harm to our relationships aside from the countless prohibitions we’d violate by speaking negatively about them.
So take a lesson from someone who was able to rise above the fray like a star on the world stage. Know what’s really important and think twice or even more before you say something you’ll regret.
Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world. You can find him at www.facebook.com/RabbiGewirtz, and follow him on Instagram @RabbiGewirtz or Twitter @RabbiJGewirtz. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion. Sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English. E-mail info@JewishSpeechWriter.com and put Subscribe in the subject.