1. Shabbat Shalom
2. There are times when a Rabbi has to really dig deep into Rabbinic Literature to find a topic to speak about for Shabbat. Sometimes we have to look for obscure commentators or arcane literature to find a topic that would interest the congregation. This is not one of those weeks. It is not only Shabbat, it is also Hanukah; it is the holiday season and we are rapidly approaching the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. There is even the obscure date of December 5th that will occur this weekend, one of the few solar dates, a date not connected to the Jewish lunar calendar, that changes the wording of our liturgy. There is no shortage of topics that we can talk about this morning.
3. Last week, in our Parsha, we saw Joseph who had dreams of glory, fall, not just into a pit, but sold into slavery. We saw him rise again in the house of Potiphar, only to fall again into prison after being falsely accused. This week we see him rise again to be the second most powerful man in Egypt, but we see him also fall in the way he treats his brothers when they come to Egypt looking for food. That is the story of Joseph, it is a roller coaster ride of success and failure, but he keeps picking himself up, learning from his mistakes and slowly growing into the greatest of the Patriarchs.
4. This week we saw, in the news, the fall of those who are in power. The name “Wikileaks” will never again be confused with water dripping or some internet shopping site. After publishing the secret documents that showed the world the kind of war we were fighting in Iraq, this week the internet site released over a quarter of a million secret diplomatic documents that revealed the workings of our State Department and the Embassies that do our diplomatic work around the world. There were no documents that were categorized as Top Secret or Highly Classified. Virtually all of the documents were simply privileged or not for publication. They were the diplomatic correspondence between the Embassies and the State Department assessing the situation in foreign countries around the world and the sources of the information that was being shared. It had private opinions of diplomats and ambassadors and some very sensitive ideas that were the thinking behind the foreign policy decisions of our government.
5. Some of the documents endangered important sources that our Government relies upon to get sensitive information. To their credit, the New York Times and other newspapers carefully edited out those documents that would endanger lives. They made a distinction between the papers that placed sources in peril from those that were simply embarrassing to the author. Newspapers print embarrassing documents all the time. But they didn’t want to jeopardize the lives of the sources and they also understood that nobody would ever become a confidential source to our diplomatic corps ever again if their words would not be anonymous. But even with this “editing” of the papers, the publishing of these papers rocked diplomatic circles around the world.
6. Many foreign rulers were discovered to have private feelings quite different from their public pronouncements. It turns out that Israel has many allies in its “existential” fear of Iran. Many other Arab states quietly agree that Iran is a very dangerous state and they encouraged the United States to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. It seemed almost comical to me that diplomats, who are trained to choose their words carefully as they negotiate agreements between governments, in private are not only candid but almost reckless with their opinions. I am sure that there were many ambassadors who had to call their counterparts in other governments to apologize, to explain and to try and mitigate the embarrassment and damage from the release of these private papers. It seems as if one low level office worker in Army Intelligence was the source of these leaks and he will face court-marital and jail. There is also many looking for the head of Wikileaks to bring him to trial for publishing the documents that were marked as secret. He has disappeared. There was also an attack over the internet on the computers that Wikileaks uses, in an attempt to prevent them from publishing anything at all.
7. So what is the Jewish angle to this sudden opening of the curtain behind the diplomatic dance that we see every day? Some of my colleagues see this as an example of Genivat Daat, the stealing of ideas and thoughts. They may be right. This may be the real sin behind the release of these documents. But I see a different lesson here.
8. A student once asked his Rabbi, “What Jewish lesson can we learn from a telephone?” The Rabbi thought and replied, “What is said here, is heard there.” We have this idea in our heads that words that we say in private, will remain private forever. I just hope that nobody in this room, with all the life experience that is represented here, still thinks that “What is said here, stays here.” The motto of Las Vegas may be “What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” but it is just not true. If someone is important enough and does something stupid in Vegas, you can be sure there will be someone to sell the words and pictures to the press.
9. A teacher once told me that I should only speak sweet words, in case I should have to eat them later. This is really good advice. There is a difference between candor and being offensive. There was no doubt that President Nixon was a tough politician. But when we heard all the swearing on the White House Tapes, it did not make us any more proud of our President. Presidential candidate Gary Hart thought that his private liaisons with a woman other than his wife would never become known to the public, and when they did, he gave up any chance he had of being elected again. Colonel Oliver North, testified before Congress that his conversations with the Nicaraguan Contras and the illegal sale of arms to Afghanistan rebels, had been carefully deleted from the National Intelligence computers. What he didn’t know that, for security reasons, there was a backup of all conversations on a different computer. And it all came out at his trial and almost brought down President Reagan.
10. The most embarrassing papers in the Wikileaks release are those that were basically unnecessary. Diplomats said things that should have never been said. They gave voice to opinions that should have never been voiced. They made a record of their thoughts thinking that they would never become known. But they did and now they have to eat their words. Judaism teaches us to watch our words. To say what we mean and not speak words that are hurtful or mean. We must speak with candor and not be afraid to tell the powerful that they are wrong and need to change their ways. But there is no excuse for words that hurt another person or words that tear them down. Our inner words should be the same as our published words. Just as our inner thoughts should be the same as our outer actions. What is said here, is heard there. If not by the one we hurt, by the God who hears all that we have to say.
11. What we see in these diplomatic papers is what amounts to Global Gossip; people who should know better writing things that should never be written. They thought that their words were read and then destroyed, but they were not destroyed and now they have destroyed reputations, friendships and feelings.
12. I am quite sure, that our State Department will officially apologize for the embarrassing letters and they will be forgiven because, in the Foreign Affairs department in every country of the world, they probably use similar language in their own diplomatic cables thinking that their words will never become public. Even in totalitarian regimes, the truth will eventually come out. We can save ourselves embarrassment and shame if we just watch the words we speak and print.
13. Rabbi Yani once heard a street vender hawking “the elixir of life.” When the Rabbi inquired as to what this elixir was, he was given this verse from Psalms, “Who is the man that desires life and desires many days that he may enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” And Rabbi Yani replied with a verse from Proverbs, “He who keeps his mouth and tongue, keeps himself out of trouble.” The Rabbis declare that words are like an arrow, that once they are shot into the air, there is no way to retrieve them. The Mussar literature also teaches, “The tongue is your slave as long as you keep quiet. After you have spoken, you are its slave”.
14. This week there are many important people in the world, including our Secretary of State who wish they could call back the words that were leaked to the press. The thoughts shared may be true, but the words were written carelessly and hurtfully. If we wish to avoid their mistake, we need to follow the advice of Psalms, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”
May God help us to watch our words, those spoken and those in print, and may we speak sweetly at all times, lest we one day have to eat what we have spoken.
Amen and Shabbat Shalom