The Ropes of Kol Nidre

By

Leonard Zwelling

            Kol Nidre
is the holiest night of the Jewish calendar as it begins the Day of Atonement,
Yom Kippur. Like all Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur begins at sundown of the
previous day. This Kol Nidre evening, I spent at the service held by the
Orthodox Chabad Shul of Bellaire led by Rabbi Yossi Zaklikovsky.

            The rabbi
told the story of a man visiting a zoo. He walked by the elephant house where
the huge beasts were tethered to small wooden posts with thin ropes. It was
obvious that the adult elephants could break the ropes with a single tug of
their tree trunk legs and roar out the front gate, but they never did. The man
asked the zookeeper why there was no concern about rogue pachyderms bound by such
flimsy ropes.

            “When they
were babies that rope was more than sufficient to hold them in place. They
learned that then and have stopped trying to test their strength since
believing that nothing has changed and that small rope will hold them in.”

The mammoth elephants were fooled
into complacency, not even trying to break free.

            On Yom
Kippur in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, the head rabbi would enter the Holy
of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was to pray for all the Jewish people.
Because he was so close to God that day, he entered with a rope around him so
that if he was struck dead he could be pulled from the Holy of Holies, without
having to be retrieved by anyone else having to enter a forbidden place. This
rope was a Yom Kippur lifeline, but again, like the rope around the adult
elephants’ legs not for the benefit of the one tied to it.

            The faculty
of MD Anderson is as bound to a rope as the elephant or the rabbi. It is a rope,
like the elephants’, only sufficient to bind the faculty because the faculty
believe it to be. Just like the rope around the rabbi, it seems to protect the
collective faculty from ever having to deal with authority in the form of the
leaders of MD Anderson who I can assure you are not gods. Neither is the
Chancellor by the way.

            That rope around
the faculty is the belief that the faculty can do nothing to change the world
in which they work. That belief ties them to posts they could yank out of the
ground with the smallest of nudges. That rope keeps them at arm’s length from
the leadership they abhor, but follow diligently. The faculty adhere to the
leadership’s direction, if not actively extolling their virtues, passively
allowing the executives to lead the rest of the flock astray.

            There is
another element to the rope around the faculty. Money. The financial burdens on
so many of the faculty with mortgage payments, school tuition for their kids
and car payments is more than a rope. It’s a noose that maintains the silence
of a faculty so fearful of reprisal that they can’t even bring themselves to send
me emails to my gmail account and sign them.

            Whether you
are tethered into silence by false belief or huge bills, just recognize the
presence of the rope. It’s around your legs if not your necks every day you
drag yourself to clinic to see more and more patients and are urged to address
what you do in business rather than humanitarian terms. Is this what you signed
up for?

            You believe
that you are leashed? I don’t think you are, but you do.

            In The
Empire Strikes Back, Yoda levitates Luke Skywalker’s fighter out of the mire of
the swamp into which the young Jedi had crashed. Luke had tried to use his
newly acquired Force to lift the plane but could not being a novice in the use
of power Yoda mastered hundreds of years before.

            Staring at
the rising plane as it clears the water Luke says, “I don’t believe it.”

            And Yoda
says, ‘that is why you fail!”

            Cut the cord!

Leonard Zwelling