Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein
Live Right Now
Rabbi Jay M. SteinFriday, 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.
Who is Mighty?
Rabbi Jay M. SteinWednesday, September 5, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
"You are standing this day all of you before the LORD your God: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the people of Israel, your little ones, your spouses, and your stranger that is in the midst of your camp, from the woodchopper to the one who draws water." (Deuteronomy 29:10-11)
We will gather this coming week to recall those times when we have disappointed ourselves and others. We will vow to do better in the months ahead. This is an exercise we undertake yearly. Some years with greater urgency and others less so. Some of us will arrive at services impassioned and others will arrive waiting to be inspired. Some will arrive in new clothes bought just for this occasion and some will be wearing something of deep sentimental value. Some will arrive early in order to recite every word and some will arrive a little later. Some will be looking for something new and others will want it to be the same as it has always been. No matter, at some point, we will look around the synagogue and note the crowd and hopefully we will feel welcomed, feel at home, feel loved.
As we sit shoulder to shoulder in the coming weeks, let us commit ourselves to being open to those who share this experience with us. Let us try not to judge, not to compare, not to speak ill of others. As Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his famous speech, Man in the Arena, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.” But, let us learn from our teachers as it is said in Pirkei Avot, “who is mighty? One who overcomes one’s baser inclinations.” (4:1)
Shana Tova U’mituka have a healthy and sweet New Year. I’ll see you in shul.
Move Over and Make Room
Rabbi Jay M. SteinTuesday, 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.