I want to share two stories by Rav Nachman of Breslov about mad men.
But before I do, let me reflect on what the future may hold for Israel. Years from now, most normative Israelis will look back and wonder what possessed them to believe that destroying Israel’s economy, security and social fabric was a smart or acceptable tactic.
They will question why they listened to anarchists who plan to disrupt official Yom HaZikaron ceremonies for fallen IDF soldiers, or why they cosplayed and harassed private citizens while shouting “Busha” like zombies. They will ask how they were led to believe that defending the unmandated and overriding powers of self-selecting judges was pro-democracy.
And hopefully they will ask themselves how they were led like sheeple to believe that Israel’s democracy was in danger… from democracy.
Early this morning, someone offered an answer to these questions, but I’ll save that discussion for another time. For now, let me turn to Rav Nachman’s stories about mad men.
In the first Rav Nachman story we are introduced to a delusional prince who thinks he’s a turkey.
The young man prince had gone mad, and thought he was turkey. He undressed, made bird noises, and sat under the dining room table eating scraps from the floor.
His father, the king was beside himself, as no medical treatments worked to cure his son.
A wise man came and told the king he could cure his son and the king agreed to let him try.
To everyone’s shock, the wise man undressed, sat under the table, and mimicked the crazy prince.
The prince asked the man who he was, and he said that he too was a turkey. And the prince was happy he found a turkey friend.
The next day the wise man put on pants. The prince was shocked, but the wise man told him a turkey can wear pants too. So, the prince decided that he too would wear pants.
The next day, a shirt, then socks, followed by shoes, and on it went, with the prince mimicking his fellow turkey who was slowly putting back on the attires of civilization.
Then the wise man began to eat at the table, and the prince mimicked him there too, all the while, the wise man reminded him that he too was a turkey and its OK.
Eventually, the prince’s mimicry was enough to pass for normal behavior. The prince reintegrated into society and the wise man took his reward and went on his way.
And then there’s the second and seemingly very different Rav Nachman story about mad men.
The king’s forecaster warned him that this year’s wheat crops were infected, and everyone who ate from it would go mad. The problem is that the wheat was already delivered, and the nation was already eating it. There was no way to stop the nation from going mad.
The king and his adviser were faced with a dilemma.
If they didn’t eat the wheat, they would remain sane, but the rest of the mad nation would think the king and his advisor were crazy. But if they ate the wheat, they would go crazy too.
They devised a plan. They too would both eat the wheat and go mad. But they would put a mark on their heads, so when they looked at one another they would at least remember they were both crazy.
In the first story, the prince’s madness was cured, but in the second, the king gave in and chose to become mad too.
But is that really what happened? Was the prince cured?
No, the prince wasn’t cured. Internally he was still under the delusion he was a turkey, but externally he decided that a turkey could at least pretend to be a civilized human being.
As for the king, true, externally he went mad, but internally he recognized that he was acting crazy, even if he was helpless to stop it.
I believe Rav Nachman had a hidden message (one of many) in these two contrasting stories.
In the first story, the advisor was able to save the prince, while in the second story, the advisor could not save the nation.
Rav Nachman is telling us we can’t stop this social epidemic of anarchist madness in our nation, at a national level. We can’t control the madness of the masses. At best, we can recognize the nation has gone mad and accept it. But there’s no mass cure for it.
Instead, he tells us the solution to fighting this anarchist madness is on the individual level.
Perhaps we can’t help our fellow citizens who no longer think rationally about our elected officials, democracy and our country, but at least we can help them to act rationally and not sink the boat we’re all in together.
I don’t expect to be able to change the minds of anyone here.
Ten years from now, you’ll probably still believe that Israel’s democracy is in danger.
But perhaps we can help your side change its dangerous behavior. To understand that destroying our shared economy, our jobs, our army, our roads, our lives, is not the behavior a turkey needs to take.
Perhaps Rav Nachman’s message is that while we can’t control the madness of others or of society as a whole, we can control our own behavior and influence others through example and empathy.
Rather than engaging in destructive protests, BDS, and harassment, we can choose to act responsibly and constructively, even if we disagree with certain policies or leaders. Eventually we will recognize that our democracy was not threatened by democratic processes or institutions or even that we think differently, but rather by the purposeful erosion of civility, discourse and respect.