Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Rabbi Jay M. SteinWednesday, December 26, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 5:22
BEN BAG BAG SAID: TURN IT OVER, AND AGAIN] TURN IT OVER, FOR ALL IS THEREIN. AND LOOK INTO IT; AND BECOME GREY AND OLD THEREIN; NEITHER MOVE THOU AWAY THEREFROM, FOR THAN IT THOU HAST NO BETTER STANDARD OF CONDUCT.
Second guessing is sometimes helpful and sometimes it is an impediment to progress. Some people are willing to make a mistake and go back and fix it, while others would rather wait and evaluate before making a decision. Both can frustrate the other. Sometimes we have to just jump in and sometimes caution is a better approach and knowing when to employ each technique is the art of living.
Our Mishna teaches that Torah can help instruct us about life before we have to make the mistakes of standing idle or jumping in too soon. Our Mishna suggests all of the lessons we need to learn can be found within our holy canon. One must never say, “I already learned everything I need to learn from each verse, from each chapter and from each story.” Rather each time we encounter a text we ought to dig deeper for the mysteries of life and living, of family and friendship, communication and community are found within its pages.
Who to Be or Not to Be
Rabbi Jay M. SteinWednesday, December 12, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 5:19
WHOEVER POSSESSES THESE THREE THINGS, HE IS OF THE DISCIPLES OF ABRAHAM, OUR FATHER; AND [WHOEVER POSSESSES] THREE OTHER THINGS, HE IS OF THE DISCIPLES OF BALAAM, THE WICKED. THE DISCIPLES OF ABRAHAM, OUR FATHER, [POSSESS] A GOOD EYE, AN HUMBLE SPIRIT AND A LOWLY SOUL. THE DISCIPLES OF BALAAM, THE WICKED, [POSSESS] AN EVIL EYE, A HAUGHTY SPIRIT AND AN OVER-AMBITIOUS SOUL. WHAT IS [THE DIFFERENCE] BETWEEN THE DISCIPLES OF ABRAHAM, OUR FATHER, AND THE DISCIPLES OF BALAAM, THE WICKED. THE DISCIPLES OF ABRAHAM, OUR FATHER, ENJOY [THEIR SHARE] IN THIS WORLD, AND INHERIT THE WORLD TO COME, AS IT IS SAID: THAT I MAY CAUSE THOSE THAT LOVE ME TO INHERIT SUBSTANCE AND THAT I MAY FILL THEIR TREASURIES, BUT THE DISCIPLES OF BALAAM, THE WICKED, INHERIT GEHINNOM, AND DESCEND INTO THE NETHERMOST PIT, AS IT IS SAID: BUT THOU, O GOD, WILT BRING THEM DOWN TO THE NETHERMOST PIT; MEN OF BLOOD AND DECEIT SHALL NOT LIVE OUT HALF THEIR DAYS; BUT AS FOR ME, I WILL TRUST IN THEE.
This Mishna is strange in the sense that Abraham wasn’t perfectly good and Balaam wasn’t entirely bad. Abraham certainly had his shortcomings while Balaam ended up giving us one of the greatest blessings. The same is true of those who surround us. People aren’t absolutes. There are great people who have done bad things and vice versa. Therefore, we should have realistic expectations of all. We must evaluate everyone in context and then make good decisions about behaviors to imitate and which to not.
Sometimes in life, we decide who we are going to be and sometimes we just have to decide who we are not going to be. Role models function in both the positive and the negative. Sometimes we wish would could be like someone and sometimes we don’t exactly know how. This Mishna alerts us that maybe the first step in figuring out who we are going to be is by first determining which behaviors do and do not resonate with us.
Ego or Principle?
Rabbi Jay M. SteinSunday, December 2, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
Mishna Avot 5:17
EVERY CONTROVERSY THAT IS lN THE NAME OF HEAVEN, THE END THEREOF IS [DESTINED] TO RESULT IN SOMETHING PERMANENT; BUT ONE THAT IS NOT IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN, THE END THEREOF IS NOT [DESTINED] TO RESULT IN SOMETHING PERMANENT.
WHICH IS THE [KIND OF] CONTROVERSY THAT IS IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN? SUCH AS WAS THE CONTROVERSY BETWEEN HILLEL AND SHAMMAI; AND WHICH IS THE [KIND OF] CONTROVERSY THAT IS NOT IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN? SUCH AS WAS THE CONTROVERSY OF KORAH AND ALL HIS CONGREGATION.
We have a disagreement with another person that results in a lasting divide. When we look back on the argument we often find we can’t even remember what the conflict was about. To which, we realize it wasn’t all that important in the first place. We have important disagreements as well. True differences of opinion that create a certain and necessary divide. Principles are important, values make a difference and we need to stand up for what we believe. Unfortunately, the vast majority of controversies fall in between these two extremes and trying to determine when we ought let go and when we ought to hold on to the grudge is difficult.
Our Mishna teaches that we must take our egos out of the equation. We must search within and decide why are we arguing. Are just trying to make a point in order to prove we are smarter, stronger or is it really about the principle? This question must be asked and answered honestly. The result will be greater understanding of self and community.