Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein
Life is too Serious
Rabbi Jay M. SteinTuesday, November 21, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
"And it was when his days extended there: and Abimelek, king of the Philistines, gazed through the window, and he saw: and here was Isaac “fooling around” with Rebecca his wife!" (Genesis 26:8)
26:8. fooling around. Hebrew , a pun on the name Isaac. (Friedman, Richard Elliott. Commentary on the Torah)
Life is so serious. People we love pass away. Relationships fall apart. Friends get sick. Careers turn. Politics gets us down. Wars abound. People are displaced and starving. There are days we want to pull the covers over our heads and shut the world out. The news is depressing. Our Facebook feed no longer provides the relief it once did. There is no real drive to go out because the traffic is unbearable. It's getting dark so early not just because the sun sets early but because it seems as though the world is just a little more bleak.
In this week's reading, things look pretty bad for Isaac and Rebecca. They have been forced to leave their home and separate from each other. The stresses in their life abound. However, they are able to sneak away and laugh a little. It seems to make life a little more tolerable.
I know I have been labeled "a funny rabbi." People often joke I should have become a comedian or at least an opening act for events here at the shul. Well, if it brings a little relief, I am pleased to do my part.
Presumption of Innocence
Rabbi Jay M. SteinTuesday, October 31, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
One last comment about Friendship...
JUDAH B. TABBAI SAID: DO THOU NOT [AS-A JUDGE] PLAY THE PART OF AN ADVOCATE; WHILST THEY [I. E. THE PARTIES IN A LAWSUIT] ARE STANDING BEFORE THEE, LET THEM BE REGARDED BY THEE AS IF THEY WERE [BOTH OF THEM] GUILTY, AND WHEN THEY LEAVE THY PRESENCE, [AFTER] HAVING SUBMITTED TO THE JUDGMENT LET THEM BE REGARDED BY THEE AS IF THEY WERE [BOTH OF THEM] GUILTLESS.
In American law there is a presumption of innocence. We ought to give people the benefit of the doubt. The problem is there are so many factors that sway us in one direction or another. There are specialists who prepare people for trial, helping the individual to select the appropriate clothing, the best posture, even facial expressions all in an attempt to influence a jury to rule in their favor. We know there are many factors that go into how we judge others.
That is where this Mishna is particularly powerful. We instinctively, sometimes for self-preservation, sometimes merely out of habit, judge others. This Mishna teaches us to be mindful of that inclination and then compensate for it. Be scrupulous in deciding on whether or not a person is telling you the truth, but then make sure, if it is at all possible, to believe them.
Human interaction is filled with moments of judging. In those moments we must always find a balance. We must regularly hold our skepticism in check with our optimism about the human spirit.
Rabbi Jay M. SteinTuesday, October 24, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
When I graduated Rabbinical School our class commissioned a piece of artwork to hang at the Seminary. As part of the creative process, each of us chose a quote from our tradition that inspired us. We were each given a lithograph of the piece that had been created and it hangs in my home. My quote, taken from the Talmud was, "Great is learning when it leads to action."
Raised the son of an activist, I have always felt that the texts of our tradition must spur us to work for the betterment of the world. In the polarizing society in which we live it is easy to retreat to our silos and dedicate our energies only to those of whom we are most closely connected. This myopic approach leads to isolation and ultimately to greater polarity. It is a system that is truly damaging.
The number of sources within our sacred library that speak to the repairing the world abound. They teach us over and over again of the need to fix the ills that beset us. If each of us would devote ourselves tirelessly to alleviating one problem we would still have a world wrought with wrongs. Yet we must not desist from the effort.