By Rabbi Steven Bayar
This past Shabbat we engaged in contemplative prayer on the most holy of days…Yom Kippur, the Sabbath of Sabbaths.
So, let’s talk about late night television. I don’t even watch late night television. But when I do, I try to watch David Letterman. (This sounds like the person who once told me proudly, “I don’t go to synagogue Rabbi, but if I did, I would go to yours.”) I read something about David Letterman’s show a long time ago in the preface of Randy Cohen’s book “The Good, the Bad & the Difference.” Randy Cohen was the “Ethicist” in the New York Times Magazine; the book is a compendium of his articles.
In the preface of the book, he talks about the Letterman show, “Late Night,” where he was once a writer. He describes the thesis of the show’s comedy, “The show was built around a sense of right and wrong, and its mission was to articulate the difference between the two (sometimes through the use of glamorous actresses and trained circus animals). This was undertaken in honorable ways, governed by implicit guidelines for the writers. Most comedy attacks, the important question is whom do you attack and why? Dave intended the show to assail the wicked and powerful, not bully their victims. It was his policy that we attack someone only for what he does (e.g. his inept acting), not for what he is (a guy with a big hideous nose). That is, we are free to attack that which is volitional but not those things over which a person has no control.”
So, every now and then I watch the show to see if it lives up to the ideals it espouses.
I think most of us know by now that life is not always easy. It is hard to act and interact for the good of the community without coming under scrutiny and criticism. However, there is a difference between disliking what someone does vs. who they are. Too often, much too often, we err in anger and hurt when we should be helping.
I have never thought of David Letterman as a wise man – but his advice to his writers is wisdom itself. Something I wish we all could follow.