Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein
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.
Reputations Ruined and Built
Rabbi Jay M. SteinFriday, October 26, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 4:11
ELIEZER B. JACOB SAID: HE WHO PERFORMS ONE PRECEPT ACQUIRES FOR HIMSELF ONE ADVOCATE, AND HE WHO COMMITS ONE TRANSGRESSION ACQUIRES FOR HIMSELF ONE ACCUSER. REPENTANCE AND GOOD DEEDS ARE AS A SHIELD AGAINST PUNISHMENT.
JOHANAN HA-SANDELAR SAID: EVERY ASSEMBLY WHICH IS FOR THE NAME OF HEAVEN, [WILL IN] THE END THEREOF BECOME [OF] PERMANENT [VALUE]; AND EVERY ASSEMBLY WHICH IS NOT FOR THE NAME OF HEAVEN, [WILL IN] THE END THEREOF NOT BECOME [OF] PERMANENT [VALUE].
I remember my small children throwing their arms out wide saying, ”I love you this much.” While that seems to quantify their sense of connection it does seem to fall a bit short. There are certain components in life that are immeasurable. There are parts of life that cannot be assigned a metric of success or failure. Reputation is one such element.
Socrates wrote, “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of - for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” Ben Sira wrote, “ The good things in life last for only a limited time, a good name endures forever.”
We can build our reputations one good deed at a time.
Living our Values in Difficult Times
Rabbi Jay M. SteinWednesday, October 17, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 4,9
JONATHAN SAID: WHOEVER FULFILLS THE TORAH OUT OF [A STATE OF] POVERTY, HIS END [WILL BE] TO FULFILL IT OUT OF [A STATE OF] WEALTH; AND WHOEVER DISCARDS THE TORAH OUT OF [A STATE OF] WEALTH, HIS END [WILL BE] TO DISCARD IT OUT OF [A STATE OF] POVERTY.
A popular leadership development activity for not for profit organizations is to ask the participants to imagine they are on a ship that is sinking because the cargo is overweight. They are then told they have brought on the ship their most valued possessions. First, they are to explain what they have brought and then they are asked with what are they willing part. It is classic values clarification exercise. (Coincidentally, this week’s Torah portion is that of Noah and what he is told to bring on his journey.)
Though you may be tired of listening to this same message, the Mishna has succinctly reminded us that living our values, as articulated by our tradition, must not be a matter of convenience. In difficult times and in prosperous times we must make time for those pursuits and people most important to us. Our morals must transcend circumstance and we attach ourselves to something eternal and Divine.