Talmud this Shabbat: What Does Klete Keller Teach Us About Human Nature, Our Beloved Country, and What We Can Do Now?


If you were going to write a story about somebody who could expect a fabulous life of untold blessing, it would be hard to think of a more promising candidate than Klete Keller. He is 6 foot 6, a star athlete, a world-class swimmer. He won 5 medals in two Olympics, including 2 gold. His greatest moment came in the Athens 2004 Olympics. He was the anchor on the USA relay team featuring Michael Phelps. He was going up against the unquestioned best swimmer in the world at the time, Ian Thorpe of Australia. In a shocking upset, he beat Ian Thorpe, and USA won gold. Pictures of him surrounded by his teammates show pure jubilation.

If we were writing his life story, he would come home, get married, raise a happy family, use his Olympic fame and fortune to live a comfortable life. He would live happily ever after.

But that is not what happened. The pedestrian nature of work paled in comparison to the thrill of Olympic competition. He was constantly disgruntled at work, and this bitterness infected his marriage. One day, on the same day, he loses both his marriage and his job. He lives in his car for ten months. In his distress, he reaches out to an estranged sister and says I need help. She warmly takes him in and restores his faith in himself and in life. He changes his attitude. He leaves her home and moves to Colorado to work at a real estate firm. He is bound and determined to live a stable and successful life.

But that did not happen either. This week he was charged by the federal authorities with several federal crimes arising from his presence at the insurrection in the Capitol last Wednesday. Since he stands 6 foot 6, and since he was wearing his USA team jacket, he was easy to identify. Attached are three links that tell his story: a New York Times article, his Wikipedia page, and a podcast in which he narrates his story from winning the gold medal to homelessness.

What do we learn from his life story about the human condition? What does his story teach us about what happened on January 6 at the Capitol? The poet William Blake taught us that you can see the whole world in a grain of sand. What does his grain of sand teach us about the insurrection?

I am also attaching an article I first read 40 years ago, when I was a college student, written by the great historian Richard Hofstadter entitled “The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Since he wrote it in the 1960s, inspired by the McCarthy era, and the campaign of Barry Goldwater, it is not about our time, our politics, our personalities. This piece of history is about a theme that always pervades American politics, what he calls the paranoid style. What light does this essay shed on Klete Keller and more generally on January 6?

Finally, at 3:48 or so in the morning of January 7, after Congress certified the election results, a religious leader named Barry Black offered a prayer. It was a stunning moment at the end of a traumatic day. Every Senator and Representative stood in their place, bowed their head, and heard his prayer, which is attached. Does his prayer help? What does his prayer call upon us to do now?

See you at 8:30.

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