Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

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.

  

No One is Superfluous

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, September 20, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 4,6 

JOSE SAID: WHOEVER HONOURS THE TORAH IS HIMSELF HONOURED BY MEN, AND WHOEVER DISHONOURS THE TORAH IS HIMSELF DISHONOURED BY MEN.

In explaining this Mishna the Bartenura suggests that one who is able to see the value of the Torah in it’s intimate details, one who is prepared to find meaning in every letter, surely realizes there is nothing extraneous in the pages of our most sacred book.   The Bartenura (Obadiah ben Abraham (Hebrew: עובדיה בן אברהם מברטנורא) was born and lived in the second half of the fifteenth century in Italy; died in Jerusalem about 1500.) Offers us a magnificent comment. He reminds us there is nothing extra. God doesn’t make superfluous material. And if that is true of words it is most certainly true of people.

No one is superfluous.  If we can learn to read a text with such care and concern that we want to understand every nuance and every syllable, then we should be equally motivated to find the same value in our fellow human beings.  And when we do we will find the respect we have earned through the respect we have given.

 

  

Live Right Now

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Friday, September 14, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 4:5 

ISHMAEL SAID: HE WHO LEARNS IN ORDER TO TEACH, THEY AFFORD HIM ADEQUATE MEANS TO LEARN AND TO TEACH; AND HE WHO LEARNS IN ORDER TO PRACTISE, THEY AFFORD HIM ADEQUATE MEANS TO LEARN AND TO TEACH AND TO PRACTISE.  ZADOK SAID: MAKE THEM NOT A CROWN WHEREWITH TO MAGNIFY THYSELF, NOR A SPADE , WHEREWITH TO DIG; EVEN SO WAS HILLEL WONT TO SAY, ‘AND HE WHO MAKES [UNWORTHY] USE OF THE CROWN [OF LEARNING] PASSETH AWAY.’ LO, [HENCE] THOU HAST LEARNT: ANYONE WHO DERIVES WORLDLY BENEFIT FROM THE WORDS OF THE TORAH, REMOVES HIS LIFE FROM THE WORLD.

In leading services on Friday night, my father would lead a great reading entitled “Listen.” This reading was placed just before the Shema and it challenged the congregation to listen and truly hear.  The second stanza offered this insight: “The person who attends a concert with his mind on business, hears- but does not really hear.” This reading was particularly poignant on Friday night as each of us tried to make the transition from the profane lives of our weekday to the holiness of Shabbat. It is in that transitional moment we must make a choice about our thinking. We have made the right moves.  We have placed ourselves in the right place. Now we have to flip the switch.

Our Mishna teaches flipping the switch makes all of the difference. We can go through the motions but without the intention the full potential of the experience cannot be unleashed. The human experience is far greater than the activities in which we engage. The full measure of living comes in emotion that accompanies those events.  It is wonderful to attend a symphony. Just getting out, entering the concert hall, watching the lights dim is exciting but permitting the music to enter the heart can be enlivening. This Mishna invites us to not only participate in our lives but to live them as well.