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Speaking Softly

From The Other Side Of The Bench

By David J. Seidemann, Esq.

If you happened to have been at the Minnesota State Fair on September 2, 1901, you would be at least 112 years old now. But you also might have heard Theodore Roosevelt intone his famous quip, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Some sources have Roosevelt saying it in 1903, but in either event you would still be pretty old. Some sources record the quote as “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” While I was not there (although my kids think I was), I can assure you that the correct quote is “speak softly.”

That remark was Roosevelt’s advice for dealing with foreign governments whose philosophies were at odds with our nation’s interests. His prescription was to always keep an open ear to another country’s demands while simultaneously leaving open the option of military force to protect what we hold dear. Speak softly—tell the enemy in a nice way what you want—but be prepared to back it up with force. Teddy Roosevelt would never leave the stick behind.

Moses and his brother Aaron also had a stick—three, to be sure, but only one of those sticks had G‑d’s name inscribed on it. And there came a time when the deliverers of Israel, unlike Mr. Roosevelt, left the stick behind.

A cursory review of the ten plagues reveals that Moses and Aaron utilized the staff with G‑d’s name inscribed on it only for the first three plagues. After the third plague, one which the Egyptian sorcerers could not duplicate, it was no longer necessary to use the staff with G‑d’s name on it to impress the Egyptian king. Once Pharaoh realized that his magicians could not produce lice, he was convinced that the finger of G‑d was at play. The next seven plagues were to display G‑d’s might and not his actual existence. The fact that G‑d existed and was in control of the events was no longer in dispute. It was a lesson that no longer had to be taught. Anything more would have been overkill.

So G‑d instructed Moses and Aaron to leave the rod of G‑d behind because at that point it would have been “The Levi doth protest too much, methinks” (Hamlet, William Shakespeare, 1599—and no I was not alive to see the original either).

Bottom line? One has to know when enough is enough; one has to know when to put the stick down and move on. One has to be cognizant of how the message will be received. If the message will be lost in the hoopla, if the sideshow is in danger of becoming the main event, let it go, “let it be” (Paul McCartney, 1970).

Even when we are speaking to our own, we need to know when we are carrying too big a stick. When we encounter a man who has veered off the path, “Speak softly and leave the stick behind.” (David Seidemann, 2014). It is not for mortal man to presume to speak for G‑d. It is not our place to be judge, jury, and executioner. We cannot judge our fellow man more harshly than G‑d would judge him. And we certainly can’t pretend to know how G‑d judges him. One has to have pretty big shoulders to believe he can do G‑d’s bidding and even bigger shoulders to assume he speaks for G‑d.

And one has to be almost delirious to believe he can say whatever he wants, wherever he wants, without deep introspection prior to speaking in terms of assessing how the message will be received. Yes, we need to be concerned how our opinions of what happens in Israel, and how we express them, are interpreted by the nations of the world. We should never articulate a position against Israel, no matter what the issue is, if the end result will be that the nations of the world react by saying, “They deserve what they get.”

I do not mean to suggest that a healthy debate of policy is not warranted. What I am suggesting is that speaking softly is speaking wisely.

I shuddered, therefore, when I first learned of the plans of the great rabbinic leaders in Israel to come to the United States to protest against the Israeli government’s movement to have chareidim involve themselves in some sort of national service. What a colossal waste of time and money that would have been. Here is an idea: Take all that money and give it to the chareidi families whose fathers are not working! That would be a much better use of those sums.

What a waste of effort. Did the organizers think for one moment that Bibi would care how the U.S. media would cover it? And does anyone in their right mind, chassidish or Litvish, think for one moment that the response of the secular community would be sympathetic to their point of view?

Did any of them think that anyone in America would say, “Yes, it’s OK to take from your country but not give back?” So who was the planned demonstration for? American Jews?

No one I know would have been swayed. Net result: The world would have laughed at them, and whatever support they might have previously enjoyed would have dissipated. Thank G‑d, at least as of the time of my typing this article, the plans have been scrapped. The Agudah of America got it right this time by refusing to be sucked into this not-very-well-thought-out plan.

As for those in Israel who wanted to protest the proposed changes? I do not suggest for one moment that they are insincere or that their thinking is entirely without merit from their viewpoint.

I do not for one moment mean to trivialize the importance of Torah learning to Israel’s continued existence. What occurs in the halls of learning is just as important as what transpires on the battlefield. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s better to speak softly and leave the stick at home where it belongs. v

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or

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Posted by on January 2, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.