Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Who is Mighty?

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, 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. Stein

Tuesday, 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.

  

Your Day in the Sun

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Friday, August 17, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Mishna Avot 4,3 

HE (BEN ‘AZZAI) USED TO SAY: DESPISE NOT ANY MAN, AND DISCRIMINATE NOT AGAINST ANY THING, FOR THERE IS NO MAN THAT HAS NOT HIS HOUR, AND THERE IS NO THING THAT HAS NOT ITS PLACE.

Don’t forget the ”other people” would be the modern equivalent to this statement by Ben Azzai. But what is most remarkable about this Mishna is its cynicism. Rather than the ideal of all people have value; or, all people are created in the image of God and worthy of recognition, this Mishna offers a very practical construct for the individual who sees other people as merely a means to an end.  It says you can never know what role another person will come to play in your life.

Therefore, on your road to greatness, remember all of the people you may have stepped over on the way. They will certainly remember you.

Everyone has their day in the sun. Everyone has their hour of greatness. To you who have not yet experienced yours, know it is coming. The challenge of this Mishna is, how are you going to treat the other people in your life when it finally happens?