The Devastating Power of Leitznus

President Ford a”h‘s passing brought something into sharp focus for me.

Here is how the OU remembers Mr. Gerald R. Ford:

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish Umbrella organization mourns the death of former President Gerald R. Ford. Mr. Ford, our country’s 38th president, took office amid tremendous internal divisions domestically and complex, dangerous challenges internationally.
With grace of personality, humility of character and nobility of spirit, Gerald Ford led our nation through those turbulent times, making difficult, and sometimes, intensely unpopular decisions that history would prove correct.
For the Jewish people, he remained a stalwart friend, demonstrated by his successful efforts to bring a cease fire between Egypt and Israel and committing the Soviet Union to the Helsinki human rights accords, a pact that helped Jewish prisoners of conscience. Gerald Ford’s leadership through the Middle East crises of the period remained guided by his principled support of Israel:

America must and will pursue friendship with all nations. But, this will never be done at the expense of America’s commitment to Israel. A strong Israel is essential to a stable peace in the Middle East…My commitment to the security and future of Israel is based upon basic morality as well as enlightened self-interest. Our role in supporting Israel honors our own heritage.

We join with all in offering our prayers and sympathies to former First Lady Betty Ford and President Ford’s family.

Here’s what I remember of his presidency:

The President of the United States
President Gerald R. Ford…..Chevy Chase

My fellow Americans.. ladies and gentlemen.. members of the press.. and my immediate family. First, may I thank you all for being here. And I am in my immediate family. [repeats his script] First, may I thank you all for being here. And I am in my immediate family. Thank you all for being here, and I am truly honored to be asked by you to open the “Saturday Night” show with Harvey Cosell.
[Ford chuckles, as he pours water into one of the glasses then proceeds to sip from the empty glass]
I do have — [confused by the empty glass, he puts it down] I do have two major announcements. [awkward pause] To make. Whoop! [suddenly falls to the fall behind the podium ] Uh-oh! [stands back on his feet] No problem. No problem, no problem. Okay.
My first announcement is one I think you’ve all been waiting for. [lowers his head and accidentally bangs it on the podium] Whoop! No problem! Nope! Okay! No problem! Sorry, no problem.
[Ford again reaches over to pour water into one of the glasses, then picks up the empty pitcher and sips from it instead. He is again confused by this action, and thus returns the pitcher to the table.]
[yelling] I know a fellow who is going to enter the New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Florida, and every other primary! And I know he is going to win! And if he has any other competition, right up to the end of 1976 – thank you! Hey. [he again falls behind the podium] Uh-oh! [picks himself up again] No problem! No problem! [continues his speech] And if I don’t win, I will continue to run in the primaries, even if there are none!

A couple of minutes of well placed barbs can undo memories of untold hours and months of presidency.

That’s the power of leitzanus. Leitzanus is more dangerous than kefirah (heresy). Exposing oneself to opposing viewpoints can hone one’s opinions. After all, as long as it’s on the level of the mind, one can choose to reject an opinion, to shelve open questions for later, etc… Ridicule and sarcasm go beneath that, changing one’s attitude on the emotional level. There is little defense.

This is the flipside of one of the points I made in the “Faith and Proof” entries on this blog. There I argued that while there is an obligation to develop one’s philosophical understanding of how G-d runs the universe and our role in it, proof doesn’t work well as a basis of religion. People need to experience a religion, to found it on the strength of relying on only a single postulate, that what I felt that Shabbos was real. Only then can that stance be deepened and filled in with detail through philosophical explorations. Proofs only convince those ready to be convinced, and therefore the opening of the mind to the idea or the willingness to believe a question has a yet unfound answer are the greater challenge.

Emotions lead us to decide which questions are insurmountable, and which ones we can shelve for later. Leitzanus can therefore lead the mind to places it never otherwise would have agreed to go.

(It is for this reason I have a very strict policy about which blogs can be pointed to on emails to the Areivim discussion group. Pointing to a challenging or non-Jewish idea is not as hazardous as pointing people to someone’s forum for venting about everything and he doesn’t like in our community.)

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  1. Jacob Farkas says:

    While I do agree on the premise of the post, that Leitzanus has tremendous power, and dangerous if used negatively, I don’t agree that President Ford’s legacy in your memory (and mine, for that matter) proves the point well.

    I was listening to NPR the morning after he died, and I learned more about his presidency in that news segment than I previously knew about Ford, and I quickly discovered why. Hearing the praise about his character and “leadership” as recounted by current officials and pundits, and no mention of his achievements as president, speaks volumes of his tenure.

    Yes, Leitzanus is strong. But Pres. George H.W. Bush and his infamous “Read my lips…” quote, while being an immensely popular phrase among all the comedians, his legacy will go beyond that one comment. Many other major events happened during his presidency, and he was actively involved in those events, and he will be remembered for them.

    It is appropriate for the OU to acknowledge his contribution to causes they find near and dear. But the reason you and others remember the Chevy Chase bits and not much else is not necessarily thanks to Leitzanus…

  2. Bob Miller says:

    “…I have a very strict policy about which blogs can be pointed to on emails to the Areivim discussion group.”

    Micha, which specific blogs do meet your standard?

  3. micha says:

    I don’t think I want to go there. I’m bound to offend someone by not mentioning their blog.

    The Areivim moderation team look at a blog and see if a sizable percentage of the posts are simple nay-saying. There are plenty of blogs that simply share life stories or worries or even Torah. So many, I couldn’t possibly no them all.


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