By David Seidemann 

After close to three months in COVID mode, most of us are ready to lose the masks. Except, perhaps, for Michael Flynn.

On that point, there is a debate among legal scholars whether the constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures are meant to protect the innocent or to prevent rogue law-enforcement agents. If meant to protect the innocent, then no matter what the intentions of law enforcement were, the accused would always be able to suppress evidence that was obtained in violation of his constitutional rights or in violation of sound practice and procedure.

If, however, the framers sought to protect society from rogue law-enforcement officials, then as long as law-enforcement was acting in good faith, searches, seizures, interrogations, and the like that resulted in prosecution should be sustained.

Whether the FBI and now the judge in charge of the case were acting in good faith then and are now acting in good faith is a discussion for another time. But suffice it to say, Michael Flynn is not the only actor whose motives and actions should be scrutinized.

There is a lot of unmasking to be done of all involved persons.

Jewish law compels us to follow sound medical advice when dealing with issues of health and to defer to the medical experts not only in questions of life and death but also in questions of potential situations of life and death. So for the time being, I will leave my mask on and follow my rabbi’s lead and pray at home.

Rabbi Mordechai Gifter was born on October 15, 1915, in Portsmouth, Virginia, and passed away on January 18, 2001. He grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and attended the local public schools. He grew in scholarship and stature and became the rosh yeshiva at the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, Ohio, and then at a branch of Telshe in Israel. He returned to Cleveland to lead the yeshiva once again, until his passing.

He was, without a doubt, one of the leading Torah sages of our time. Rav Gifter was a prolific writer and a brilliant orator. Legend has it that he once lectured at Northwestern University and when he finished, he was offered a professorship there. Rav Gifter obviously declined.

When he was but a young man of 17, Rav Gifter was sent to Lithuania to study in the famed yeshiva. His mode of travel was by boat. The budding scholar could not afford to lodge in the expensive cabins and instead took up residence in the bottom of the boat. On December 31, the future gadol ha’dor heard a tremendous commotion across from his cabin. He peered from his vantage point into a window that gave him visual access to a large ballroom.

It was New Year’s Eve, and everyone on the boat, besides him and his travel companion, was dressed in full costume complete with outlandish masks. The music was blaring, the food and liquor unending.

As the vessel cut through the water, calamity struck. The boat had hit an iceberg and began to tip on its side. The young man observed that the music stopped. All of the patrons who, moments earlier, were dancing wildly, eating and drinking as if there were no tomorrow, soon realized that there might not be a tomorrow. The 17-year-old witnessed the entire crowd take off their masks, drop to their knees, and begin to pray.

The lights went off on the boat, flickered back on for a moment, and then went off again. In the brief moment that the lights flickered back on, 17-year-old Mordechai witnessed prayer that he was used to seeing on Yom Kippur. The wild screams of exhilaration and partying were replaced by desperate pleas for salvation.

A few moments later, the ship suddenly righted itself. Young Mordechai was relieved. What he witnessed next would impact him for the rest of his life. The entire assembly — all of the people who had stopped eating and drinking and dancing wildly, all of those people who had removed their masks and fell to their knees in prayer — stood up, put their masks back on, and resumed their revelry.

The music blared as if nothing had happened. The alcohol began to flow as if nothing had happened. The masks were repositioned on faces as if the ship’s near-fatal capsizing was but a fantasy.

All of the people simply ignored their brush with death and went back to the party. They put their masks back on and danced the night away.

When this COVID-19 nightmare is over — and it will end — the question will be if we go back to the party. Will we crank up the music, let the food and booze flow, dance like we did before our ship hit the iceberg, or will we take stock? Will we make changes to our lifestyle? Will we adjust our value system? Will we make the changes ourselves or will we cower, fearful of being the first one on the block to examine our priorities and, once and for all, change?

How many icebergs do we need to hit, how many near-misses do we need to encounter, before humility replaces ego?

The lights will soon be turned back on. The ship will right itself. Turn the music down a bit. Unmask yourself.

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 ds@lawofficesm.com.

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