Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Do Good

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

When I graduated Rabbinical School our class commissioned a piece of artwork to hang at the Seminary. As part of the creative process, each of us chose a quote from our tradition that inspired us.  We were each given a lithograph of the piece that had been created and it hangs in my home. My quote, taken from the Talmud was, "Great is learning when it leads to action." 

Raised the son of an activist, I have always felt that the texts of our tradition must spur us to work for the betterment of the world.  In the polarizing society in which we live it is easy to retreat to our silos and dedicate our energies only to those of whom we are most closely connected.  This myopic approach leads to isolation and ultimately to greater polarity. It is a system that is truly damaging.

The number of sources within our sacred library that speak to the repairing the world abound.  They teach us over and over again of the need to fix the ills that beset us.  If each of us would devote ourselves tirelessly to alleviating one problem we would still have a world wrought with wrongs.  Yet we must not desist from the effort.


Quality Friends

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 1:7

Nittai of Arbel taught; Keep far from an evil neighbor; be not a partner with an evil person; never despair the retribution of the wicked. (Mishna Avot 1:7)

In last week’s installment I suggested that friends are important.  We cannot go it alone. This week I dial back that suggestion and offer a correction. Everyone needs good friends.  Rather, everyone needs friends that are good.  I have often remarked, “if you are the smartest of all of your friends, you need to get a few new friends.”   We need to surround ourselves with people who challenge us to be better, to be more open minded, to be more kind. We need to surround ourselves with people who gently guide us.  Unfortunately, because true, honest, sincere, deliberate friendships are so hard to come by we are willing to accept any that are offered. 

This week’s course correction suggests we ought to be more selective.  We have to find people who will elevate us not drag us down. The people we associate with are our compass and if their direction is off, our perspective will be as well.  We evaluate ourselves in comparison to those around us and morality ought never be relative.   Start with high quality people and then demand more from them. One last piece of advice this week, good luck finding them – they are hard to come by and if have already, don’t let them go so easily.


One Part Study, One Part Prayer, One Part Kindness

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Tuesday, October 3, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

Shimon HaTzadik was one of the last members of the Great Assembly, This is was a favorite teaching of his: The world rests on three things - on Torah, on service to God (prayer), on deeds of loving kindness. (Mishna Avot 1:2)  

When my son was a small boy we would take him for his regular visit to his pediatrician.  Each time I had a list of concerns and questions.  I was a new parent and was trying to navigate this complicated world of parenting.  One particular visit I was distraught over the fact that I could not get him to eat vegetables at every meal.  Some days he would eat them and some days he would not.  I was very concerned he did not have a balanced diet and he was missing out on necessary vitamins and nutrients.  Our pediatrician simply remarked that he was confident that over the course of a week our son was getting everything he needed.

The same is true of our lives.  We need to balance all of the varied requirements made on us.  We must find a way to get the spiritual nutrients required, offered, suggested by our tradition. A daily dose of each would be great but if that is not possible then at least over the course of a week we ought to find time to nourish our spiritual life fully.  To which our Mishna asks us to add one part study, one part prayer, and one part acts of kindness.  If we can find a way to live by this formula we can construct a more meaningful life.