Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Learning and Doing

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Sunday, July 29, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 3:17b

HE USED TO SAY: ONE WHOSE WISDOM EXCEEDS HIS DEEDS UNTO WHAT IS HE [TO BE] COMPARED? UNTO A TREE THE BRANCHES WHEREOF ARE MANY AND THE ROOTS FEW, SO THAT WHEN THE WIND COMES, IT UPROOTS IT AND OVERTURNS IT UPON ITS FACE… BUT ONE WHOSE DEEDS EXCEED HIS WISDOM, UNTO WHAT IS HE [TO BE] COMPARED?UNTO A TREE THE BRANCHES WHEREOF ARE FEW AND THE ROOTS MANY, SO THAT EVEN IF ALL THE WINDS IN THE WORLD COME AND BLOW UPON IT, THEY MOVE IT NOT OUT OF ITS PLACE.

The obvious meaning of this Mishna is that our actions are what grounds us in this world. Learning permits us to provide shade for others maybe even shelter, but it is our actions that ground us. Our strength, our stability is found in our how we behave.

However, we cannot overlook the analogy to a tree and the repeated comparison of Torah to a tree of life, as in that famous statement, “It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it.” It is because the analogy of the tree is wonderful. It allows us to immediately recognize the varied components of a tree that must be appreciated. The same is true of deeds and learning. Each has its place, each has its value, one without the other renders the entire enterprise somewhat futile.

  

Balance Ideals with Reality

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Friday, 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. Stein

Tuesday, 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.