Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein
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.
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.