Boeing Nowhere Fast….Parshat Kedoshim 5779
On the morning of March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 took off from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and headed toward Nairobi, Kenya. Six minutes into the flight, the airplane, a Boeing 737 Max 8, began a nosedive and slammed into the ground, killing all 157 people on board. Even before the smoldering fires were extinguished, people began making the connection to a similar crash that happened not even six months earlier.
On the morning of October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 took off from Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and headed toward Pangkal Panang, a small city to the north. Twelve minutes after takeoff, the airplane, a Boeing 737 Max 8, began a nosedive and slammed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board.
Commercial airline crashes are thankfully quite rare these days, and whenever one occurs, especially with catastrophic loss of life, there is intense scrutiny to every detail from multiple governmental agencies, and copious reports are filed explaining how the crash transpired. But when two tragic crashes occur in close proximity, using the same model airplane, and following the same aberrant flight pattern, that scrutiny is multiplied many times over.
Within days of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, nearly every Boeing 737 Max in the world was grounded, and they remain that way until today. Reams of data have already been compiled, blame has been thrown at any person, company, or bird that was anywhere near the jets. So what was the cause of the two crashes?
To understand the crash, we need to understand the environment Boeing operates in. In the world of commercial airliners, there are two massive rivals that control 66% of the global market share; US-based Boeing and Europe-based Airbus. The competition between the two is fierce, such as that every time one company puts our a new product, the other rushes to produce a competing product. The biggest showdown came in the early 2000’s when Airbus debuted a massive super-jumbo jet, the A380 which had a significantly larger capacity than the 747, and Boeing released the 787 Dreamliner, a far smaller, quieter, and more fuel-efficient model. That battle was won by Boeing, as the A380 is being discontinued due to lack of sales, and the 787 is a smashing success, loved by passengers and airlines alike.
The next battle was launched in 2010, when Airbus announced that it would be updating their most popular model, the A320, a single aisle jet used mostly by domestic carriers, by changing out the old engine for a more fuel-efficient new turbofan engine. The new model, the A320neo would be 15% more fuel efficient, which would save airlines billions of dollars, but it would be so similar to the previous model, that pilots would need almost no additional training.
What Boeing needed to do was update their popular single aisle jet, the 737, by adding a similar engine, but they couldn’t because the 737 was much lower to the ground than the A320 and couldn’t fit the new engine. Scrambling for a solution, Boeing decided to simply mount the new engines higher on the aircraft, with the top of the new engine actually peeking out above the wing. This caused some flight differences, especially when the plan was under full thrust, which most often occurs right after takeoff. The new engine’s placement could cause the plane’s nose to veer upward making the plane climb at a sharper angle than intended, which could cause the plane to go into a stall pattern.
Instead of reengineering the plane, which would cost a lot of money and cause delays in deliveries, Boeing developed a software fix called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, which would point the plane back downward whenever this happened. Then Boeing made the audacious claim that the 737 Max was so similar to the old 737 that pilots barely needed additional training or testing, they could simply take 2 hour course on an iPad and then begin flying these new planes. The training material didn’t even mention the MCAS, a software that could take over the direction of the plane without warning. In 2018, a number of pilots complained to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that their planes were suddenly nosing downwards without any pilot imput.
In the Lion Air crash, the flight path shows that the airplane kept struggling to gain altitude. The pilot even asked the first officer to see if anything in the quick reference guide would explain it. The pilot kept pushing the plane up, but the plane kept pushing it back downward. Although the investigation is not complete, and won’t be for many years, it is likely that the MCAS was getting incorrect sensor data that indicated the plane was rising sharply so it kept pushing it back down. Eventually it pushed the plane right into the Java Sea. In the Ethiopian Air crash, the same thing was happening, and the pilot eventually was able to disable the MCAS, but it was already too late, and the plane could not recover.
But the problem for Boeing goes deeper than the MCAS system on the Boeing 737 MAX. The real problem for Boeing is that for the last decade it has been pushing shareholder value above all other values including safety. Many former Boeing engineers have stepped forward to tell their story, and it is not pretty. Engineers told of how their annual performance evaluations were based on how much cost cutting they could do, not how much safety they were adding. Adam Dickson, a manager of fuel systems engineering retired in November after working at Boeing for thirty years, in part because the performance targets being demanded of his team would create safety risks he was uncomfortable with.
In the last four years, since Boeing brought on a new CEO, Dennis Muilenberg, whose compensation is tied to stock performance, the cuts and workarounds have only increased. The workforce has been slashed by seven percent, despite the number of planes being build growing dramatically. In an interview with Bloomberg news, the Chief Financial Officer, Deborah Hopkins said that it was important not to get “overly focused on the box,” the box meaning the plane itself. “The box itself is obviously important, but customers are assuming the box is of great quality…” Boeing engineers listening to that interview heard, “we don’t need to put so much effort into putting out a great plane, because people expect they are getting quality when they buy our product anyway.”
Rick Lutke could tell you more about that. He was the lead engineer on the flight crew operations team and his staff was cut from 30 to 15 in one fell swoop. Just after the 737 MAX was certified by the FAA in March of 2017, Lutke himself was cut from the team, and fired from Boeing. The way he saw it, Boeing was firing a lot of the older more experienced engineers because they were far more expensive than the younger less experienced ones. If parts were too expensive to make in house, they simply outsourced them to companies that would charge less, despite the fact that not making things in house increases the risk of integration problems. Being penny smart and pound foolish cost Boeing dearly in the development of the 787, which came in three years late and billions over budget, much of it due to third party suppliers not delivering what they promised.
To demonstrate who Boeing felt its loyalty to, when the previous CEO was on a phone call with investors and journalists in 2014, and was asked whether he planned on retiring, he told them not to worry, “the heart will still be beating, the employees will still be cowering.” Former employees describe how the sales division would sell planes years before they were ready, at prices and timelines that were impossible to meet, creating enormous pressure on engineering and design teams to rush things through and cut costs. William Hobek recently filed suit against Boeing, claiming he was fired because he kept complaining to managers about defects. According to the suit, a manager said to him, “Bill, you know we can’t find all defects…” Those are not words you want coming out of a manager working for a company that launches 150,000 pound blocks of steel and aluminum filled with human beings 35,000 feet into the sky. A camera snuck into a Boeing plant caught employees saying that they would never fly on any of the planes they were producing due to their inferior quality.
Weirdly enough, the FAA, the governmental agency who was supposed to be watching over Boeing, seemed to be working for Boeing. Under some obscure rule, Boeing was able to pick and supervise the FAA employees who were inspecting them. They generally chose young, inexperienced FAA employees, and the implicit messages was: “mess with us and we’ll find someone else to do your job…”
Today, Boeing has some real egg on their face. Their stock slid over 20%, erasing close to $40 billion dollars from its market valuation. Almost every country in the world grounded the 737 MAX, and then the US and FAA followed suit, and to this day close to 400 of them are sitting parked on tarmacs all around the world. Boeing has had two planes grounded by the FAA in the last six years, the 737 MAX in 2019 and the 787 Dreamliner in 2013 after a few battery fires. Being grounded by the FAA is serious business, before Boeing, the last plane grounded was in 1979. Many fliers say they won’t fly the 737 MAX, even after its been fixed, for at least a year just to make sure there is no funny business underfoot.
Boeing has some penance to pay.
In Judaism, we have a phrase to describe being a chazzer in business. The Talmud says (Yoma, 80A), “Tafastu meruba lo tafasta, if you try to grab too much, you end up with nothing.” There’s nothing wrong with making money, profit incentive is probably the greatest incentive of innovation and creativity (which is why Communist Russia was so far behind the US on almost every metric, there was no drive to innovate because no matter what you did, you got the same salary…). However, when you try to squeeze every last shekel out of your employees and suppliers, something is going to break, and you are going to end up holding an empty bag. You can cut and slash engineering teams, you can order parts from suppliers for bargain basement prices, but you may just end up producing planes that can’t stay up.
Interestingly, there is another Talmudic dictum that is relevant here as well. It states (Kesubos, 66B), “The salt of money is giving it away.” Rashi, the primary commentator on the Talmud explains that in those days salt was a preservative. If people wanted to preserve meat in the times before refrigeration, they used to salt it heavily and the salt would keep it from spoiling. So too, if someone wants to preserve their money, they want to maintain the wealth that G-d gave them, they should continually give away from their wealth to charity, and that “loss” will be the preservative in whose merit they keep their wealth.
While that is the primary explanation of the Talmudic dictum, I think we could apply it in a different way as well. The preservative of your business is giving away money can also be seen as advice that if you want to be successful, you can’t hold onto all of your money. You have to spend, and spend properly. Give away money for better engineering, give away money to people who make referrals, take a slightly lower rate to earn new business, pay your employees above average salaries, give your loyal customers a little extra something-something from time to time. “You have to spend money to make money.” People who hold onto every penny and cut costs all the time, eventually end up cutting off their customers as well.
This is not a call for wasteful spending, but rather a recognition that when you are generous hearted in business, it will work out for you in the long run. Sure you can needle a contractor down on the price here and there, sure you can find employees who will work for minimum wage, and sure you can find machinery at a bargain price, but don’t expect loyalty from your employees, top quality work from your contractors, or longevity out of your bargain priced machinery. When you leave the last dollar on the table, you end up earning a lot more dollars.
May we learn from our Rabbis not only how to keep kosher and Shabbos, but how to run our businesses and financial affairs as well!
Parsha Dvar Torah
According to American law, if you were to stand at the edge of a pool doing nothing while watching someone drown, you have committed no crime. Even if you stand impassive while he’s screaming for help and there is a life preserver lying by your feet, you could not be prosecuted. The Torah however specifically prohibits this, “You shall not stand idly by the blood (life) of your fellow (Lev. 19:16)” The Torah sees humans as having responsibility for one another, and mandates it as law.
Interestingly, in the next verse, the Torah tells us that we also have a responsibility to help someone who is struggling spiritually. “You shall surely reprove your fellow,” (Lev. 19:17). Not only does the Torah require us to help people who are making moral missteps, but the Torah also gives us clue on how to successfully do so.
“Reprove not a scorner lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)” Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, otherwise known as The Shelah (1564-1630 Prague/ Safed), tells us that this verse does not necessarily refer to two different people, but rather to two ways of correcting someone. “Reprove the scorner” means that if you call him a “scorner,” i.e. if you point out his negative habits, he will hate you. “Reprove a wise man” means that you call him “wise” or point out his otherwise good qualities that make his behavior unbecoming, and he will love you!
Some even read this into the continuation of the verse in the Torah that tells us to reprove others: “You shall surely reprove your fellow; [but] you shall not bear a sin on his account.” Reprove someone, but not by bearing down on him with the weight of everything wrong he ever did. One of the people who had the greatest effect on my life was a Rabbi who, regardless of what I was going through, would always point out my best qualities and encourage me to live up to the potential he saw in me.
The Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933) was once traveling throughout Europe to sell his books, when he stopped at a Jewish inn for the night. As he sat in the corner of the dining room waiting for dinner, he saw a sorry sight. A big burly fellow barged in, sat himself down at a table and demanded a huge meal. He was gruff with the waitress, made rude jokes at the people at neighboring tables, and cursed loudly when anyone said something that was not to his liking. When his meal came, he noisily wolfed it down without reciting any blessings, washed it down with a big mug of ale, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
The Chofetz Chaim began approaching him, when the innkeeper intercepted him. “Don’t even attempt to talk to him. That guy was a cantonist, conscripted into the czar’s army at age seven, and he was not let out until twentyfive years later. People have tried to change his ways, but he’s stubborn. It seems he missed the stage of developing his manners or his Judaism.”
Unperturbed, the Chofetz Chaim pulled up a chair and said to him: “Is it true that you were a cantonist, drafted into the czar’s army for 25 years?” The cantonist grunted in affirmation. “You must be such a holy individual! I can’t imagine what it took for you to retain your Jewish identity. Countless times they must have beaten you for not converting to Christianity! You never even had a chance to study Torah and yet you held on! You’ve been through the worst of conditions and yet you stayed strong! I wish I would have the merits you must have! I wish I could have your portion in the World to Come!”
By this time the hardened veteran was crying like a baby, and kissing the hand of the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim continued, “There are just a few things you probably need to work on, but if you could improve in those areas, there would be no one like you!” After this, the man who was previously never affected by the years of people rebuking him became a changed man. For years he remained a close student of the Chofetz Chaim, and truly lived up to his true potential. We may not let people drown, but we don’t help them when we knock them down. The only way to truly help someone is to lift them up and out of their difficult situation!
This week’s parsha, Kedoshim, starts off with G-d telling Moshe to tell the Jews “You shall be holy, for holy am I, Ha-shem your G-d.” I could write volumes on this statement alone but then you would all put me on the “Block- Spam” list so I’ll keep it simple. This is G-d’s way of telling us to stay away from excess even in things that are allowed. Even though there is plenty of kosher wine, and good USDA Grade A Angus steaks, that doesn’t mean that we should sit all day drinking wine and eating steaks. Even within that which is permitted to us, we must learn not to overindulge, not to constantly focus on fulfilling our physical desires as that takes us away from pursuing spiritual growth.
The Torah then enumerates so many fundamental laws that Rashi says that “most of the essentials of the Torah depend on it (this Parsha).” Included in them are keeping Shabbos, honoring your parents, not serving idols, being honest in your dealings with others, paying your workers on time, not giving bad advice, leaving certain parts of your harvest in the field for the poor, not perverting justice in favor of the rich or poor. (O.K. lets take a deep breath and we’ll dive right back in!) The commandment to love your fellow like yourself, the requirement to save your friend from physical harm, and to give him reproach in a way that will save him from spiritual calamity. The prohibition against gossiping, taking revenge, bearing a grudge, and hating your brother in your heart. This portion concludes with the words “I am Ha-shem!” because many of these things cannot be discerned from the outside, such as hating someone in your heart, or giving someone bad advice, so Ha-shem says I am G-d and I know what you’re thinking!
Immediately after the above laws, many of which seem to be moral laws that we as a thinking society would probably institute anyway for the preservation, the Torah brings the laws of Kelaim. Basically, you can’t wear clothes made of wool and linen, you can’t mate two different animal species together, nor plant mixed seeds in your field. These mitzvos seem to have no apparent rationale.
The reason the Torah juxtaposes these two types of commandments is to show us that just like we keep the laws of Kelaim solely because G-d commanded it, so to we should keep the laws that we think are moral solely because G-d commanded it. Human morality is flippant. The “great” Greeks and Romans on whose civilizations our Western world is modeled, killed children on childbirth for the crime of being female and justified it. Some cultures sent elders out into the wilderness to die when they became too old, and justified it. In order for us to be able to really say something is right or wrong, in order to have an absolute morality, it has to come from G-d, who would be the only One who could classify things as right or wrong and everyone would be bound by it. By definition, some parts of it we will understand and some parts we won’t as He is divine and we are human. This is the message of the unfathomable laws of Kelaim coming right after such simple laws as don’t cheat, steal, and take revenge.
The torah continues with more mitzvos including not eating from the fruit of a tree for the first three years, then consecrating its fruit on year four, and only on year five is it yours to enjoy as you please. The prohibition against indulging in sorcery, believing in lucky times, getting tattooed, cutting yourself to show sadness over someone’s death, or totally shaving your head (hence the mitzvah for men to have peyot, or side locks), or of shaving your beard with a razor are also found here. There are some more laws still in this incredible Parsha, but alas, the candle is beginning to dim, and the hour is late, so I’m going to have to sign off here. Let’s try to take one or two of the many lessons in our Parsha and integrate it into our lives, and we will surely find our lives enriched, enlivened, enthused, enervated and energized!
Quote of the Week: Friendship will not stand the strain of very much good advice for very long. – Robert Lynd
Random Fact of the Week: 1995 was the first year Americans used credit cards more than cash.
Funny Line of the Week: Help Wanted – Psychic – you know where to apply.
Have a Stupendous Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham