Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Living our Values in Difficult Times

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, October 17, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 4,9

JONATHAN SAID: WHOEVER FULFILLS THE TORAH OUT OF [A STATE OF] POVERTY, HIS END [WILL BE] TO FULFILL IT OUT OF [A STATE OF] WEALTH; AND WHOEVER DISCARDS THE TORAH OUT OF [A STATE OF] WEALTH, HIS END [WILL BE] TO DISCARD IT OUT OF [A STATE OF] POVERTY.

A popular leadership development activity for not for profit organizations is to ask the participants to imagine they are on a ship that is sinking because the cargo is overweight. They are then told they have brought on the ship their most valued possessions. First, they are to explain what they have brought and then they are asked with what are they willing part. It is classic values clarification exercise. (Coincidentally, this week’s Torah portion is that of Noah and what he is told to bring on his journey.)

Though you may be tired of listening to this same message, the Mishna has succinctly reminded us that living our values, as articulated by our tradition, must not be a matter of convenience. In difficult times and in prosperous times we must make time for those pursuits and people most important to us. Our morals must transcend circumstance and we attach ourselves to something eternal and Divine.

  

Listen

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Sunday, October 7, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 4,8

HE [R. Ishmael] USED TO SAY: JUDGE NOT ALONE, FOR NONE MAY JUDGE ALONE SAVE ONE; AND SAY NOT ACCEPT MY VIEW’, FOR THEY ARE FREE BUT NOT THOU.

Henry Martyn Robert was an engineering officer in the regular Army. Without warning he was asked to preside over a public meeting being held in a church in his community and realized that he did not know how. He tried anyway and his embarrassment was supreme. This event left him determined never to attend another meeting until he knew something of parliamentary law.

There is nothing more exasperating than having a conversation with a person who refuses to hear your side. Robert’s rules of Order were established in order to give every person the opportunity to express their view. The problem is that still doesn’t insure that every person is heard.

In discussions and debates, alike, we often are planning our next rebuttal before the other has even had a chance to finish what they are saying. It means we aren’t listening. Our Mishna tells us there is great benefit in having an open mind. There is great value in hearing others’ opinions. If we are ever to be heard ourselves, we must be willing to listen.

  

Justifications and Excuses

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 4,7

ISHMAEL SAID: HE WHO REFRAINS HIMSELF FROM JUDGMENT, RIDS HIMSELF OF ENMITY AND ROBBERY AND VAIN SWEARING; BUT HE WHOSE HEART IS OVER-CONFIDENT IN GIVING A JUDICIAL DECISION, IS FOOLISH, WICKED AND OF UNCOUTH SPIRIT.

Simply put,we can justify almost anything. The creative capacity of the individual mind is unleashed to its fullest potential when we behave in a manner we find to be unacceptable. A person takes office supplies home and says to himself, they owe it to me. Or, I work long and hard and I don’t get paid what I am worth. On the other hand, when asked why you helped an elderly person across the street you can only muster, “because it is the right thing to do.”

We all make allowances. We wish we could have done better but we fall short. It happens. We are only human. Making excuses is the first step in the process of turning isolated circumstances into a pattern.

Just as we have grown capable of making excuses for behavior that less than admirable, we ought to learn to how to explain our behavior worthy of replication.