Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein
Rabbi Jay M. SteinWednesday, December 27, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
RABBAN GAMALIEL USED TO SAY: APPOINT A TEACHER FOR THYSELF AND AVOID DOUBT, AND MAKE NOT A HABIT OF TITHING BY GUESSWORK.
We all need life coaches. We can’t do it alone. It is easy to lose perspective and begin to second-guess ourselves and the choices we have made. Because the task of being human requires introspection, something many of us avoid, we can lose our objectivity. We either judge ourselves harshly or kindly but rarely fairly. We easily make excuses or we readily jump to never letting ourselves off the hook. But both are equally damaging.
Mayor Ed Koch used to ask “How am I doing?” Some believed it was a way of keeping in touch with the people of New York, others found it to be disingenuous. Some were even annoyed by the sense of insecurity it belied. But the sentiment is one we can all relate to. We all would like to know how we are doing.
In school there are tests. In careers there are promotions. In sports there are statistics. But in life there don’t seem to be the same metrics for success. Our Mishna explains, ask someone whose opinion you value – if they are willing to share it, take heed. They may have a perspective you have lost.
Fixed Time and Focused
Rabbi Jay M. SteinSunday, 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.
Rabbi Jay M. SteinWednesday, 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.”