Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein
Balance Ideals with Reality
Rabbi Jay M. SteinFriday, July 20, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 3:17
ELEAZAR B. AZARIAH SAID:WHERE THERE IS NO TORAH THERE IS NO GOOD BREEDING; WHERE THERE IS NO GOOD BREEDING THERE IS NO TORAH. WHERE THERE IS NO WISDOM THERE IS NO FEAR [OF GOD]; WHERE THERE IS NO FEAR [OF GOD] THERE IS NO WISDOM. WHERE THERE IS NO UNDERSTANDING THERE IS NO KNOWLEDGE; WHERE THERE IS NO KNOWLEDGE THERE IS NO UNDERSTANDING. WHERE THERE IS NO MEAL THERE IS NO TORAH; WHERE THERE IS NO TORAH THERE IS NO MEAL.
This Mishna begins with a statement that without common courtesy, basic respect, there is no Torah and vice versa. This Mishna concludes thatwhere there is no food, there is no Torah and vice versa. Both the introductory and concluding thoughts offered by Rabbi Eleazar ben Azarriah is that Torah that lives only in the halls of academia cannot survive; and a world without Torah is equally at peril.
In order to live a meaningful life we need to balance ideals with reality. The principles found embedded in this mishna are wisdom;understanding; reverence and knowledge. They suggest that a full life is one in which we are thoughtfully engaged not just in actuality, but also in dreams. We should apply this approach, in modern context, to our personal lives.
Who is in Control?
Rabbi Jay M. SteinTuesday, July 10, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 3:15
EVERYTHING IS FORESEEN BUT THE RIGHT OF CHOICE IS GRANTED, AND THE WORLD IS JUDGED WITH GOODNESS, AND EVERYTHING IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PREPONDERANCE OF MAN'S DEEDS.
I wish I knew what was going to happen. I wish I knew how my life would unfold and what would become of my family, friends and career. I have some ideas about the future based on my current trajectory, but there are many potential outcomes. And there are still many variables for which I cannot account. This is not just my story but everyone’s. Or is it?
Do we really want to know what lies ahead? Do we really want to know how our story will develop? Or is watching the narrative advance, one of the great wonders in life? Anticipation can be energizing. I can envision the many possibilities for my future, for my family’s, our congregation’s. I am excited by what can be. If I knew the reality, I might be a little less inclined towards working to it. I might be less involved in attaining the outcome. Not knowing keeps me engaged.
As always our Mishna offers us a choice. We can live in dread of what will be; or we can openly embrace the infinite possibilities of the world that we are creating with God.
Rabbi Jay M. SteinThursday, July 5, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 3:14
HE , Rabbi Akiba, [ALSO] USED TO SAY: BELOVED IS MAN IN THAT HE WAS CREATED IN THE IMAGE [OF GOD]. [IT IS A MARK OF] SUPERABUNDANT LOVE [THAT] IT WAS MADE KNOWN TO HIM THAT HE HAD BEEN CREATED IN THE IMAGE [OF GOD], AS IT IS SAID: FOR IN THE IMAGE OF GOD MADE HE MAN.
BELOVED ARE ISRAEL IN THAT THEY WERE CALLED CHILDREN OF THE ALL-PRESENT. [IT WAS A MARK OF] SUPERABUNDANT LOVE [THAT] IT WAS MADE KNOWN TO THEM THAT THEY WERE CALLED CHILDREN OF THE ALL-PRESENT, AS IT IS SAID: YE ARE CHILDREN OF THE LORD YOUR GOD. BELOVED ARE ISRAEL IN THAT A DESIRABLE INSTRUMENT WAS GIVEN TO THEM. [IT WAS A MARK OF] SUPERABUNDANT LOVE [THAT] IT WAS MADE KNOWN TO THEM THAT THE DESIRABLE INSTRUMENT, WHEREWITH THE WORLD HAD BEEN CREATED, WAS GIVEN TO THEM, AS IT IS SAID: FOR I GIVE YOU GOOD DOCTRINE FORSAKE NOT MY TEACHING.
Each of us is highly critical of ourselves, be it our appearance or our behavior. Some of us do it publicly with self-deprecating remarks; some of us do it in front of the mirror as we analyze every curve; some do it in the subconscious, second guessing every decision. Every person seeks a path towards perfection. Self-help books abound. Meditative practices explode; diets are invented every day. All in the hopes of being able to overcome our own personally perceived inadequacies. Our Mishna says you have a mistaken premise.
Each of us can improve. Growth is a natural requirement of life. But the foundation must be a love of self, not self-loathing. Know you are child of the Almighty. Know you are great because you come from Greatness. Know you are of the highest quality already because it is coded in your genes (and value doesn’t come from the way you look in jeans).
The repetitive nature of this Mishna only reinforces the point that we should regularly revisit our own value until we understand and accept it. Daily, we should affirm this idea, God knows we spend enough time doing the opposite.