Pack Some Heat!

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Life was getting rough for Miguel Sanchez. No more were the glory days of “coyotes,” the illegal immigrant smugglers who plied their trade along the porous Mexican-American border. Back then, he could charge $1,500 a head, shove 20 people in the back of a truck, cross the border at night, leave them in the middle of the harsh New Mexico desert, and make it back to Mexico in time for his morning brunch with Gen. Jose Chizan. The Mexican general, corrupt as Al Capone, took half the money. But in return, Miguel got the full protection of the Mexican Army, a never ending supply of “clients” from the military jails, and an excellent brunch with his favorite burritos and enchiladas.

The people he shepherded across the border treated him like he was a angel, showering him with blessings, rosary beads, and the telephone numbers of all their relatives who also wanted to “relocate.”

But the winds of change had swept across the Rio Grande, bringing increased competition, increased vigilance of the US Border Patrol, and the threat of violence. Coyotes had resorted to violence, stealing immigrants from other coyotes, occasionally killing their charges, and joining with the drug cartels to bring over not only people, but also kilos of pure cocaine. Gen. Jose wanted more money for protection, competition had brought the price of his services down to $1,000 a head, and he had to employ a miniature army of AK-47-toting teenagers, to keep the other coyotes at bay. Si amigo, the good old days were over.

Frank Trunelli rubbed his eyes, trying to focus on the spreadsheets in front of him. His job as Southwestern Texas Regional Director of the US Customs and Immigration office was about as pleasurable as open-heart surgery. The pressure on him had been mounting ever since 2003, when 19 of the 70 illegal immigrants, locked by their coyote in a sweltering tractor-trailer, had died of dehydration. It wasn’t his fault that the US-Mexico border has the highest number of illegal crossings of any land border in the world. It wasn’t his fault that despite spending tens of millions of dollars on sealing the border, his section was still the most infiltrated section of the 1,969 mile border.

It was the drug cartel’s fault because they kept bribing his employees with their never-ending cash flow to look the other way. A border guard could make his yearly salary in a week, just for doing nothing! With over 157 criminal cases pending against his guards, it was clear that, “When money talks, morality walks.”

It was the US Government’s fault for ignoring the fact that the US was being invaded by a foreign army. No matter how many times his men had to skirmish with Mexican Army regulars, in full uniform and armed to the teeth, Washington seemed blind to the war going on in its violent underbelly. The Department of Homeland Security reported that there were 231 documented incursions by Mexican military and law enforcement personnel into the U.S. since 1996, yet the US Army was not helping him one bit. The Mexican army was protecting the drug traffickers on US soil, but the US Army wasn’t protecting his men! The situation was so depressing that Frank seriously considered heading south of the border and retiring to some obscure village in Mexico!

John Ashford sat down for what must have been his four thousandth lunch with officials in the State Department. As a salesman for a high-tech company specializing in detection equipment, he had lunch with government officials at least twice a day. Half the waiters in Washington DC knew him by name, and he frequently had his gin and tonic waiting for him at the table before he even sat down. It was frustrating having all the answers, but having to convince other people of that five times a day.

In his hands he had newspaper clippings with the latest stories. A refrigerated semi-trailer carrying avocado over the border was found to contain 51 illegal immigrants, including a five-year-old boy, half frozen in the 57 degree container. In the dark of the night, a caravan of 362 illegal immigrants made it 34 miles into the US before being intercepted by the Minutemen, a wild group of anti-immigrant civilians who often did a better job of patrolling the border than the US law enforcement. One of the largest Mexican shipping companies was just indicted for importing over 10,000 humans in the past year along with TVs, cars, potatoes, and hair dryers. In the last month alone, over 4,100 illegal aliens were apprehended, along with 27,000 pounds of marijuana, and enough cocaine to keep everyone in Texas dancing the hora from Memorial Day to Labor Day!

About halfway through their dry-aged porterhouse steaks, John tried to explain the advantage of his company’s Forward Looking Infrared machines. These machines detected heat, and someone using them could immediately detect the heat signatures of humans no matter where they were. They could scan the black desert plains at night, or see right through the thousands of steel cargo containers crossing the border daily. One machine could cover more terrain than a dozen law-enforcement officials on the ground. The US military had used these machines successfully in dozens of locations in the world, and had even used them with great success on the Mexican border on the rare occasions it deployed in that corner of the world.

John spent twenty minutes talking about the advantages of the Forward Looking Infrared system. He explained how it would thwart the Miguels of the world, and immeasurably aid the Franks of the world. He explained how it would reduce the manpower needed to man the border by 72%, while effectively sealing the US border from illegal traffic for the first time since the Mexican American War. He explained how the newspaper clippings just represented the small fraction of traffic that was stopped, while the vast majority of immigrants, drugs, and weapons were still slipping through.

During his lecture, the State Department official ordered two desserts and an espresso. Finally, when John finished his presentation, the official gave him the final verdict: “You know, you have some really cool stuff there. Why don’t you forward all the information to my assistant, she takes care of all the technical stuff for me. We really should do lunch again sometime!” Now that business was all taken care of, he got up and left the restaurant, sliding into his waiting limo with the air of a man who works too hard solving the infinitesimal problems of the country he loves so dearly. John just sat there and ordered another gin and tonic.

I don’t know if the US will ever get Forward Looking Infrared machines for their borders, but I do know that G-d has been using a similar system for thousands of years. The Mesillat Yesharim, one of the most fundamental texts for Jewish character development, quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106B) when explaining this concept. The Talmud tells us that, “G-d wants heart.” The Mesillat Yesharim explains that G-d is not looking for us to simply perform the mitzvot, but rather He wants us to put our hearts and souls into the actions we do. God doesn’t want us to pray out of rote, but out of feeling. He doesn’t want us to light our Chanukah candles or conduct our Seders as robots mindlessly mimicking the actions of our parents. He wants us to learn about the meaning of the candles, the significance of the Seder and do it with enthusiasm and warmth.

It is as if G-d looks at this world with infrared glasses, seeking the warm bodies, the spiritual feelings. One can walk into a synagogue on a Yom Kippur and see five hundred people praying, but it’s possible G-d is mostly focusing in on fifty of them, the ones radiating spiritual heat, the ones caring about what they’re saying.

The Book of Isaiah begins with G-d telling the Jews that He was disappointed with their actions because they had become rote, empty, and devoid of all feeling. Although the Jews in that time period were traveling to the Temple and bringing numerous sacrifices, it was done with no thought or feeling, as was evidenced by their lifestyles, which were not in line at all with G-d’s Torah.

“Of what use are your many sacrifices to Me? says the Lord… When you come to appear before Me, who requested this of you, to trample My courts? And when you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you, even when you pray at length, I do not hear; your hands are full of blood. Wash, cleanse yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes, cease to do evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, strengthen the robbed, perform justice for the orphan, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:11-17).

G-d has little value for automatons, because G-d is looking for a relationship with us, not a string of actions. Based on this principal, the Jewish Code of Law rules: “It is better to pray a little bit with intent, than to pray a lot without intent” (O.C. 1:4). This is important, as people often find the prayer service moving too fast for them. The Jewish Code of Law is telling us that we don’t need to say everything, in a mad rush to keep up. We can slow down, say the more important prayers and focus on their meaning, and then, if we have time, get back to the ones we missed.

We have just completed the High Holidays, and are about to enter our Sukkah. Hopefully we all felt the heat, the spiritual lift of the prayers throughout the High Holidays. Let’s learn to take that heat with us into the year, by picking one prayer that we feel we connect with, and really focusing on it whenever we pray it. Each year, we can pick a different prayer, and slowly add more and more heat to our prayers, until they become fiery expressions of love, joy, and devotion.

Life is not about getting into G-d Country, but about triggering the Forward Looking Infrared!

Leiby Burnham, LMSW, is a rabbi, psychotherapist, and writer. He lives in Detroit with his wife, an ICU nurse, who is on strict orders to “leave her patients at work” and their two daughters, Orah and Shifra. Rabbi Burnham works for the Jean and Theodore Weiss Partners in Torah program of Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, where he does community outreach, and runs a Jewish educational programs at University of Michigan, Wayne State, and Oakland University. He taught learning-disabled high school students for eight years in NYC, while receiving Rabbinical training at Shor Yoshuv Institute, and obtaining his Masters in Social Work from Yeshiva University.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.