Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Instant Gratification

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

And Esau said, “I am at the point of death, so of what use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32)

No one can argue with the fact that we live in an age of instant gratification. We wonder why other aspects of our lives don’t unfold at the same speed as instant messaging or email.  We rush ourselves, we rush our thinking and we rush our relationships.  Waiting in traffic, waiting for a train, waiting seems interminable. We even want quick fixes to our lack of patience.

Breathing and counting to ten doesn’t really work; possibly, though, the Rule of Five might.  I learned this simple lesson, from my children.  Ask yourself the question, will this matter mean anything in five minutes? In five hours? In five days? In five months? In five years?  This approach asks us to put things into perspective. 

Had Esau asked himself those questions prior to selling off something that would later mean so much to him, might he have made a different decision?  If we can learn to look a little forward to see what we might be sacrificing, might we act differently as well?


Perception is not Reality

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Monday, November 28, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

"Abraham returned alone from Moriah, and Sarah, believing Isaac to have been sacrificed, died of grief." (Torah Sheleimah Vol. IV page 918 note 5)

But he didn't die.  The midrash cited above suggests that Sarah knew that Abraham was taking Isaac to be sacrificed. Somewhere in the back of her mind she hoped that Abraham would not go through with it.  But upon not seeing Isaac, she assumed the worst.  Unquestionably, the loss of a child is the worst possible occurrence.  I have met people who have lost children and it is devastating.  But Isaac wasn't killed.   

In life we may be confronted by terrible tragedy.  These are genuine challenges, obstacles and life altering events.  In some of those cases we never recover; sometimes we do, but are never the same. Life is hard.

It is those circumstances in which we may have imagined  a tragedy that never happened that concerns me here. We perceive slights. We conjure up old stories and intentions that don't exist. We see negative patterns where there aren't any and life becomes unbearable. According to the rabbis, the death of Sarah's son, whether real or imagined, was too much for her to bear. It is true for us as well.  Our perception becomes our reality.  Therefore, be careful what you see in your mind's eye, it could have debilitating consequences. 


Nervous Laughter

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?” Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?’  Is anything too wondrous for the LORD? I will return to you at the same season next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”  Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was frightened. But He replied, “You did laugh.” (Genesis 18:12-15)

Sometimes people tell me jokes that aren't funny and I laugh. Sometimes people tell me jokes that are inappropriate and I laugh.  Professor Robert Provine of Department of Psychology, University of Maryland explains that this happens 80%-90% of the time.  My kids remind me that people are often just being polite.  But this becomes a problem because it sends the wrong message.  

Much has been written about the laughter of Abraham and Sarah in this week's reading.  We learn that sometimes we laugh at each other; sometimes we laugh at ourselves; and sometimes we laugh with each other.  It is often difficult to know which is which. The difference between laughing at someone or with someone often depends on whether or not they are laughing.

We are complicated beings with diverse coping and defense mechanisms.  Laughing when we might be horrified or when we might want to cry is only an indication that we are complex beings.  Let's be careful with each other.