Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein
Who to Be or Not to Be
Rabbi Jay M. SteinWednesday, December 12, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 5:19
WHOEVER POSSESSES THESE THREE THINGS, HE IS OF THE DISCIPLES OF ABRAHAM, OUR FATHER; AND [WHOEVER POSSESSES] THREE OTHER THINGS, HE IS OF THE DISCIPLES OF BALAAM, THE WICKED. THE DISCIPLES OF ABRAHAM, OUR FATHER, [POSSESS] A GOOD EYE, AN HUMBLE SPIRIT AND A LOWLY SOUL. THE DISCIPLES OF BALAAM, THE WICKED, [POSSESS] AN EVIL EYE, A HAUGHTY SPIRIT AND AN OVER-AMBITIOUS SOUL. WHAT IS [THE DIFFERENCE] BETWEEN THE DISCIPLES OF ABRAHAM, OUR FATHER, AND THE DISCIPLES OF BALAAM, THE WICKED. THE DISCIPLES OF ABRAHAM, OUR FATHER, ENJOY [THEIR SHARE] IN THIS WORLD, AND INHERIT THE WORLD TO COME, AS IT IS SAID: THAT I MAY CAUSE THOSE THAT LOVE ME TO INHERIT SUBSTANCE AND THAT I MAY FILL THEIR TREASURIES, BUT THE DISCIPLES OF BALAAM, THE WICKED, INHERIT GEHINNOM, AND DESCEND INTO THE NETHERMOST PIT, AS IT IS SAID: BUT THOU, O GOD, WILT BRING THEM DOWN TO THE NETHERMOST PIT; MEN OF BLOOD AND DECEIT SHALL NOT LIVE OUT HALF THEIR DAYS; BUT AS FOR ME, I WILL TRUST IN THEE.
This Mishna is strange in the sense that Abraham wasn’t perfectly good and Balaam wasn’t entirely bad. Abraham certainly had his shortcomings while Balaam ended up giving us one of the greatest blessings. The same is true of those who surround us. People aren’t absolutes. There are great people who have done bad things and vice versa. Therefore, we should have realistic expectations of all. We must evaluate everyone in context and then make good decisions about behaviors to imitate and which to not.
Sometimes in life, we decide who we are going to be and sometimes we just have to decide who we are not going to be. Role models function in both the positive and the negative. Sometimes we wish would could be like someone and sometimes we don’t exactly know how. This Mishna alerts us that maybe the first step in figuring out who we are going to be is by first determining which behaviors do and do not resonate with us.
Ego or Principle?
Rabbi Jay M. SteinSunday, December 2, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 5:17
EVERY CONTROVERSY THAT IS lN THE NAME OF HEAVEN, THE END THEREOF IS [DESTINED] TO RESULT IN SOMETHING PERMANENT; BUT ONE THAT IS NOT IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN, THE END THEREOF IS NOT [DESTINED] TO RESULT IN SOMETHING PERMANENT.
WHICH IS THE [KIND OF] CONTROVERSY THAT IS IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN? SUCH AS WAS THE CONTROVERSY BETWEEN HILLEL AND SHAMMAI; AND WHICH IS THE [KIND OF] CONTROVERSY THAT IS NOT IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN? SUCH AS WAS THE CONTROVERSY OF KORAH AND ALL HIS CONGREGATION.
We have a disagreement with another person that results in a lasting divide. When we look back on the argument we often find we can’t even remember what the conflict was about. To which, we realize it wasn’t all that important in the first place. We have important disagreements as well. True differences of opinion that create a certain and necessary divide. Principles are important, values make a difference and we need to stand up for what we believe. Unfortunately, the vast majority of controversies fall in between these two extremes and trying to determine when we ought let go and when we ought to hold on to the grudge is difficult.
Our Mishna teaches that we must take our egos out of the equation. We must search within and decide why are we arguing. Are just trying to make a point in order to prove we are smarter, stronger or is it really about the principle? This question must be asked and answered honestly. The result will be greater understanding of self and community.
Respecting Yourself Will Lead to Respecting Others
Rabbi Jay M. SteinThursday, November 1, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 4:12
ELEAZAR B. SHAMMUA SAID: LET THE HONOUR OF THY DISCIPLE BE AS DEAR TO THEE AS THINE OWN, AND THE HONOUR OF THY COLLEAGUE AS THE REVERENCE FOR THY TEACHER, AND THE REVERENCE FOR THY TEACHER AS THE FEAR OF HEAVEN.
In high school geometry I learned the transitive property. It is the rule that if A = B and B = C then A=C. It was one way of showing equivalents. That is, if we know something about one thing and we know it is the same as something else then they must share similar if not identical properties. It is the way we learn. It is the way we grow. We take something we understand and we see how it is the same or different from something else. We love our parents and our children, but not exactly the same way. Our Mishna teaches, if we show respect for ourselves, so too we can show similar respect for others.
But the Mishna offers other insight as well if we apply another geometric principle. If we apply the converse property we can gain greater understanding of the interconnectedness of the relationships in which we are engaged. If A=B and B=C therefore A=C then C=B and B=A therefore C=A. If we follow the Mishna backwards we begin to understand that maybe we show a reverence for God that ought to be shared with our fellow human beings as well.
If math isn’t your thing (and it certainly isn’t mine), here it is simply. Find ways to offer respect and reverence, respect for yourself, for others and for God. Start wherever you would like.