Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Fixed Time and Focused

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Sunday, December 24, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 1:15

SHAMMAI USED TO SAY: MAKE THY [STUDY OF THE] TORAH [A MATTER OF] ESTABLISHED [REGULARITY] SPEAK LITTLE, BUT DO MUCH; AND RECEIVE ALL WITH A PLEASANT COUNTENANCE.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explains that truly successful people spent close to 10,000 hours thinking about the area in which they would like to be successful.  His point is that if we want to achieve success we will need singular focus, intensity and determination. I agree. The problem is that sometimes this leads to an unbalanced life and other parts of our lives may suffer. 

The Bartenura (Obadiah ben Abraham died 1500, Jerusalem), in explaining the first section of this Mishna, says that you don’t have to spend your entire life in the study of Torah; in fact, that would not be good.  But we do have to set aside time for it none-the-less. From this statement we can deduce that there is no minimum requirement for study.  The Bartenura suggests that we must fit Torah into our lives in a way that works for each of us.

And so we learn that not everything has to be done to the extreme.  We sometimes “sacrifice the good for the perfect.”   We want it all; we want to be the best; we want to become experts and as a result of this, there are many worthwhile activities we never enjoy.

  

Love Peace

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

HILLEL USED TO SAY: BE LIKE THE DISCIPLES OF AARON, LOVING PEACE AND PURSUING PEACE, ONE WHO LOVES ONE'S FELLOW CREATURES AND BRINGS THEM CLOSE TO THE TORAH.  (Mishna Avot 1:12)

In Avot D’rabbi Natan, another version of this same text, there is an explanatory story inserted.  The story answers the question, how did Aaron bring greater peace to the world. Avot D’rabbi Natan explains that when Aaron saw two people in an argument he would go to each person individually and explain that the other had just told him how apologetic he was and then he could bring the two together. (It is a story that bears a remarkable resemblance to a variety of “I Love Lucy” episodes.)  The message is clear, peace is the highest priority.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains, “To understand a civilization, it is necessary not only to know the values and virtues it embraces, but also the order of priority among them.” (taken from Conversations and Covenant 1/7/09).  We have always been a people that places the value of peace over truth.

Then the Mishna concludes, “and brings them close to Torah,” as if to suggest that bringing people close to Torah, a magnificent ideal, is brought about through pursuing peace.  The greatest sales pitch for living a life of Torah is living in accord with each other. If we are to become true representatives of God in this world we must learn the value of peace.  This must not just be a global mandate.  It must be a personal mission.  Let us create, generate, perpetuate, stimulate harmony with those in our immediate sphere of influence. As the great bumper sticker reminds us, “think globally, act locally.”

  

Tweet and Re-Tweet

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Monday, December 11, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

ABTALION USED TO SAY: SAGES BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR WORDS, LEST YOU BE CONDEMNED TO EXILE, AND YOU BE EXILED TO A PLACE OF EVIL WATERS, AND THE DISCIPLES WHO FOLLOW YOU DRINK AND DIE, WITH THE RESULT THAT THE NAME OF HEAVEN BECOMES PROFANED. (Mishna Avot 1:11)

I was regularly astounded by what came out our children’s mouths.  They used to say some of the most amazing things.  Then I realize they just picked it up from me.  I am afraid of all of the things I have said that may still emerge from their lips.  We all must be careful in words we use, they can bring healing or hatred. Our words are a reflection on who we are.

We are given so many tools for communicating today.  Twitter is one of them.  This platform emphasizes that not only does every word mean something, but every letter, every character as well. Recently, Twitter announced it is introducing a longer format entitling its users to double the number of characters. Apparently 140 characters is not enough to express what we need to say.

From some of the tweets I have read from prominent leaders 140 characters is more than enough.   My father used to say that we are each given a certain number of words to use for our entire lives.  If I wasn't careful, I might run out.  I wish some of our leaders would act with such discretion, or at least be careful with what they re-Tweet.