Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Move Over and Make Room

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Tuesday, September 4, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 4,4

LEVITAS (A MAN) OF JABNEH SAID:BE EXCEEDING LOWLY OF SPIRIT, FOR THE EXPECTATION OF MORTAL MAN IS [THAT HE WILL TURN TO] WORMS, JOHANAN B. BEROKAH SAID: WHOEVER PROFANES THE NAME OF HEAVEN IN SECRET, THEY EXACT THE PENALTY FROM HIM IN THE OPEN. [IN THIS RESPECT, IT IS ALL] ONE [WHETHER ONE HAS ACTED] IN ERROR, AND [IT IS ALL] ONE [WHETHER ONE HAS ACTED] WITH PRESUMPTION, IN [A CASE WHERE THE RESULT IS] THE PROFANATION OF THE NAME.

In order to be in any relationship we need to make room for the other.  It is what Martin Buber called the “I –Thou.” In order to make room for someone else we must be able, fully confident and self assured, to contract our needs in order to see another’s existence.  And if that is true of our relationship with each other, it is true of our connection to God.

So much of our modern society is about the self.  “Self improvement,” “self empowerment” have become the hallmark words of our generation. We seek better ways to satisfy ourselves.  We look for the healthiest relationships with the people who are most capable of reciprocating the love we need. That is good. That is important. But that is insufficient. Not only do we require our emotional and physical wishes met, we need our spiritual desires gratified as well.  

From the earliest of times, human beings have sought out the Divine, understanding intuitively that there is force greater than ourselves in the world.  And the pursuit continues. Each culture, in every way, has sought its own language and path to God. Our Mishna reminds us that the search begins inside ourselves. It doesn’t happen by means of a physical investigation.  The journey to meet God is an act of simply making room for the possibility of God’s existence.

  

Your Day in the Sun

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Friday, August 17, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 4,3 

HE (BEN ‘AZZAI) USED TO SAY: DESPISE NOT ANY MAN, AND DISCRIMINATE NOT AGAINST ANY THING, FOR THERE IS NO MAN THAT HAS NOT HIS HOUR, AND THERE IS NO THING THAT HAS NOT ITS PLACE.

Don’t forget the ”other people” would be the modern equivalent to this statement by Ben Azzai. But what is most remarkable about this Mishna is its cynicism. Rather than the ideal of all people have value; or, all people are created in the image of God and worthy of recognition, this Mishna offers a very practical construct for the individual who sees other people as merely a means to an end.  It says you can never know what role another person will come to play in your life.

Therefore, on your road to greatness, remember all of the people you may have stepped over on the way. They will certainly remember you.

Everyone has their day in the sun. Everyone has their hour of greatness. To you who have not yet experienced yours, know it is coming. The challenge of this Mishna is, how are you going to treat the other people in your life when it finally happens?

  

Small Alterations

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 4,2

BEN ‘AZZAI SAID: RUN TO [PERFORM] AN EASY PRECEPT, AS [YOU WOULD] IN [THE CASE OF] A DIFFICULT ONE, AND FLEE FROM TRANSGRESSION; FOR [ONE] PRECEPT DRAWS [IN ITS TRAIN ANOTHER] PRECEPT, AND [ONE] TRANSGRESSION DRAWS [IN ITS TRAIN ANOTHER] TRANSGRESSION; FOR THE RECOMPENSE FOR [PERFORMING] A PRECEPT IS A PRECEPT, AND THE RECOMPENSE FOR [COMMITTING] A TRANSGRESSION IS A TRANSGRESSION.

We have no idea how one decision we make will determine the other decisions we have to make later.

There are varied influences and patterns that develop in our lives. We make a small mistake and that leads to another, and on and on and on. We make a good decision and that leads to other positive opportunities. We never know what will unfold in our lives.

This Mishna suggests that small choices can lead to a pattern of living. One small donation in the morning to the tzedekah box on your way out may lead you to a life of generosity, a mindset of giving. One brief blessing before eating may lead to a life of gratitude.

This Mishna challenges all of us to make one small alteration to our daily lives and we will see the enormous impact it may have.