As we approach the observance and celebration of both Passover and Easter this week-end, I wish to point out a passage from the Talmud, about which Rabbi Ilana Grinblatt spoke with such eloquence at our Temple last Saturday. The Talmud is the body of Jewish civil, ceremonious law and legend that offers various interpretations and perspectives of the Bible. Rabbi Grinblatt’s reference to the Talmud was the following:
There are some who acquire their world in an hour and others
who lose it in an hour.
The origin of this saying, more than likely, comes from the time when God commands Moses to strike a rock with a rod that would bring water to his fellow Israelites. Moses fails to contain his temper toward the Israelites in calling them rebels. God then angrily tells Moses that he will no longer be permitted to take his people to the Promised Land. Maimonides, a renowned Jewish scholar, speaks of the importance of being able to control one’s emotions. His interpretation of this Biblical event is that God punished Moses for the moment, when he loses his patience with his People, defying the trust he had toward God in bringing forth water to them.
Rabbi Grinblatt cited Will Smith as a contemporary example of one who has lost his world in “one hour”. “One hour,” of course, is a metaphor representing how quickly one can go from the pinnacle to the nadir in one’s life. In reality, Will Smith’s slapping of Chris Rock was done in a matter of seconds with his ensuing expletives directed at the comedian moments later. This slap portrayed over and over by the news media quicky took on a persona of its own in being framed: “The slap heard around the world.”
In biblical times, shameful actions may have gone unnoticed. However, today we live in a time in which social media scrutinizes our actions ad nauseum. Whereas opinions and interpretations of the Bible took hundreds of years to form, social media devours us all in opinions within minutes, hours and days after an untoward event such as the Will Smith occurrence. The ubiquitous nature of social media is not necessarily a bad thing if one considers the case of Derek Chauvin, the police office who killed George Floyd. Certainly, Mr. Chauvin falls in the category of a man who lost his world in one hour in that, for whatever reason, he lost complete control of his emotions.
However, social media can become deleterious to diverse ideas when it suppresses those thoughts that may differ from the majority. Disagreement and dissent are the healthy barometers of a free society. They do no require the bearing of arms. But this is where the ability to have control of one’s thoughts and feelings is vital. I was once derided by a comedian when I arrived a bit late for his show with a friend. Perhaps he was angry at us due to our late arrival. I understood, implicitly, that no matter what I could say would have been ridiculed simply because comedians are most skilled at riposte and any type of verbal dueling. So, I chose not to engage in verbal warfare with him.
Likewise, Will Smith, though a great actor, is not a comedian. Any verbal exchange he might have had with Chris Rock, a comedian, could not have gone well. His best reaction would have been to grin and bear the comedian’s rather crude joke about his wife’s buzz cut, and respond to him the next day in a letter, statement or call telling the latter that his joke about his wife’s physical condition he found both offensive and inappropriate. This would have shown restraint on Will Smith’s part but also assertiveness in expressing his feelings, subsequently, when his temper had cooled.
The sad consequence of Will Smith’s actions buries the many good deeds that he has done in the past. An example of this is the fact that he has been barred from attending any Oscar’s event (even if he is a nominee) for the next 10 years. Judaism and Christianity both believe in the concept of repentance and forgiveness. My hope is that the remorse Will Smith has shown for slapping Chris Rock, in conjunction with his own subsequent achievements, will allow him to regain his former place in and out of the Hollywood circle.